The crisis in Greece and the prospects for the Left
Platypus Review #81 | November 2015
The political life of Greece during the last months has been determined by the quick and complete failure of SYRIZA to achieve its goals through negotiations with the leading powers of the European Union (EU): relaxation of the harsh austerity policies being applied to the country, a partial write-off of its unbearable debt, and thus mitigation of the humanitarian crisis. Though quite modest, SYRIZA’s aspirations were not therefore more realistic. Because of its commitment to Greece’s Eurozone and EU membership, SYRIZA from the very start subordinated itself to the operating principles of these institutions and the negotiating framework set by the creditors. With Germany playing a decisive role, the representatives of the EU, European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) treated the SYRIZA government with strong aggression, thereby demonstrating that in today’s Europe there is very little, if any, room for left–reformist policies.
In essence, in most of the world, capital forces are promoting most intransigently the neoliberal strategy of abolishing the “social state” and all Keynesian forms of economic regulation. Against this global backdrop, the European integration envisioned by the EU, and in particular by the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) policies, are institutionally grounded in relentless cuts to labor costs, dramatic restrictions to the welfare state and social protections of labor, and the elimination of any possibility for independent national monetary and fiscal policy. Altogether, these developments underscore just how little potential there is for reformist interventions geared toward redistribution of wealth in favor of working class people. The EU/EMU’s existence is based fundamentally on institutionalized neoliberalism and austerity.
The intransigence shown by the dominant powers of the EU is particularly noteworthy given that the project of consolidating the EU/Eurozone economy is facing major problems, such as growing inequalities among its member states, the inability of most of them to withstand the competition of countries with stronger economies (Germany in particular), and the debt crisis and economic stagnation of countries in the periphery. The effort to hold together the EU/EMU seems to be piling on structural problems that the global ruling class is in no position to resolve. In today’s world, where the traditionally powerful countries of Europe are challenged by new emerging capitalist powers, there is intense pressure on the stronger economies in the EU to derive growth from hyper-exploitation of weak economies and from intensified exploitation of workers all across the EU, a phenomenon accompanied by broad deregulation of employment relations and extensive privatization, including the commercialization of public goods and services.
The EU/EMU integration process has proven unable to reduce inequalities among the different capitalist economies of its member states. On the contrary, liquidating every mechanism of state economic regulation makes it easier for capitalist corporations and the bank–financial oligarchy of the strongest countries (mainly France and Germany) to plunder the wealth of the weakest ones. In these conditions the poor indebted countries of the EU/EMU, lacking any fiscal sovereignty, any control of their banking system, any independence in their public financial and budgetary policy, suffer significant destruction of their productive forces and an immense deterioration of working people’s living conditions. The EU/EMU represents a group of institutions that, acting under the hegemony of Germany and its allies, serve as a collective apparatus of European big capital, promoting its interests in the continent and worldwide, elaborating and imposing neoliberal strategy, and carrying out a well-coordinated policy of aggression against the people of wage-labor.
In most respects these institutions are advancing the consensus among major political parties of every member country, even the less economically developed countries. The acceptance of EU/EMU neoliberal rules and policies serves to prevent any political process from reaching conclusions that could challenge the status quo. In other words, the EU/EMU institutions represent something like a super-state of the European bourgeoisies, securing their rule against any struggle of the working class. Unfortunately, as the Greek experience shows, the EU/EMU institutions can easily overcome the people’s political choices, expressed via the official system of bourgeois democracy in parliamentary elections, referendums, and so on, whenever those choices do not conform to the neoliberal strategy these institutions centrally implement and impose. In fact, what we have witnessed is the marginalization of bourgeois democracy and its traditional institutions. In their place we have highly centralized bureaucracies that, in practice, dictate orders to national governments, with little to no input from democratic legislative organs.
Given the above, we cannot avoid the conclusion that any hope for a simply parliamentary pathway back to the policies of left–reformism, within the framework of the EU and EMU, is unrealistic. For Greece and several other EU member countries there is no easy solution. Reconstruction of Greece’s productive forces and the implementation of a social policy for the benefit of workers seem extremely unlikely within the Eurozone and the EU, but they also seem unlikely in the context of dominant property relations more generally. Therefore, the struggle to provoke a rupture of the EMU/EU should be considered an integral part of the struggle for the socialist emancipation of labor, as the institutions that represent the consensus of the EU and EMU serve to guard capital’s hegemony in the whole continent.
We should not forget, however, that Greece’s membership in the EU (and in NATO, as well) is of strategic importance for the Greek bourgeoisie. Through membership of Greece in the EU and affiliation with its institutions, the Greek bourgeoisie ensures its continued dominance within the country and protection against the risk of reformist redistributive policies. At the same time, the Greek bourgeoisie thereby attains a stronger presence in international markets and greater scope to develop sub-imperialist activities on the regional level. Consequently, it should be presumed that any effort to disengage the country from these institutions would involve direct and fierce conflict with the Greek bourgeoisie and its social allies. Furthermore, given that Greece’s membership in the EU/EMU and NATO is of great geostrategic importance for the Euro-Atlantic imperialist pole, and given that an eventual exit of the country from these institutions would damage the economic-political structures of this pole, it should be presumed that a Greek exit from the EU would result in a fierce conflict with Euro-Atlantic imperialism.
Taking into account the fact that today there is no room for left-wing reforms in the EU/EMU institutions, the decisive role of the Left in challenging neoliberal policies seems to be associated with much deeper social upheavals than those involved when a left-wing party (or coalition of parties) rises to governmental power via the usual parliamentary process. The left-wing, anti-capitalist forces of Greece that favor refusal to pay off debt and an exit from Eurozone and the EU—a development which would inevitably require exiting NATO, too—and see in these positions the will and interests of working-class people expressed must realize, however, that successfully pursuing such an endeavor will constitute a revolutionary social change, bringing with it a most intense conflict with the Greek bourgeoisie and Euro-Atlantic imperialism.
Unfortunately for the Greek Left, the rupture with the EU/EMU is significantly hindered by the very small production capacity of the country. Heavily dependent on the import of technological equipment, as well as fuel and certain raw materials, Greece lacks clear alternatives for how it might be included in a different, more equitable international division of labor. Any potential rupture between Greece and the institutions of Euro-Atlantic imperialism is also hindered by the fact that, for the time being, it seems unlikely for such an endeavor to meet with corresponding movements in other EU countries, without which Greece’s future is indeed bleak. In most countries of the European continent, the left-wing forces are small, with little real social influence, while the radical mood of working-class people, where such a mood exists at all, is sporadic at best. Especially in the southern and eastern regions of Europe, which are most directly affected by competition with the northern countries of the EU but also by the global crisis of capitalism, the anti-capitalist spirit is far from claiming a leading historical role.
The anti-capitalist and communist Left in Greece, as in other crisis-stricken EU countries, faces a great challenge and a still unresolved problem. The Left must defend working-class rights and needs, while promoting the political changes necessary for progressive social development, even though there are very limited (if any) possibilities to reform capitalism and, at the same time, there is not yet any possibility to undertake revolution in order to overthrow it.
It needs to be stressed that any radical action in Greece must be met with respective ones in other European countries. Only in the case of a general, international challenging of the EU institutions and capitalist rule, in a group of countries, in an entire region of the continent, could we reasonably hope for victory within each country. Only through coordinated action of this kind would it be possible to inactivate the response mechanisms of the dominant imperialist powers and, subsequently, reduce the power of domestic bourgeois forces in each country. The anti-capitalist and communist forces of the Left in Europe, as well as in other continents, must seriously and dispassionately examine whether radical social changes, which might be initiated by disruptions in a few specific countries, can survive and deepen without synchronized or chain upheavals in groups of countries.
Rupture of the EU/Eurozone must be conceived on the scale of an entire region of the continent in light of the global division of labor and its dynamic internationalization of scientific, technological, and productive activity. Under such conditions, no economy, let alone an economy as small as Greece’s, can progress in isolated self-sufficiency. The strategic goal of the Left—the socialist emancipation of labor, in tandem with the growth of productive forces—is not possible under a closed economic model in which all basic products are produced internally, nor a primitive exchange model in which national economies are only minimally interconnected via trade of finished goods alone.
We must try to imagine the socialist transcendence of capitalism in the context of the growth and integration of productive forces that capitalism has attained within the EU. Today, that integration involves the imperialist exploitation of weaker economies by the stronger ones, but the emancipatory response to this ugly state of affairs is not the construction of purely national-state socialist economies. Rather, in addition to the socialized enterprises of each country, we must strive for the development of transnational networks of socialist enterprises, production complexes, and infrastructure that all operate under the planned management of transnational institutions. It is the prospect of socialized production on the international level that is needed, not only in order to preserve and develop the current productive forces, but also to transcend capitalism on the national level. Radical social endeavors may start in specific countries but, even if they usher in major social changes on the national level, they will have no future unless they are incorporated in larger, transnational projects that offer real alternatives for the economic integration of nations within an international socialist economy. Such a perception of social emancipation in our time requires a radical redefinition of revolutionary left strategy.
I hasten to clarify here that, by “revolutionary left forces,” I refer to those who definitely set as their target the goal of transcending capitalism and building a socialist–communist society—putting aside, for the moment, the fact that there are very diverse views on the Left as to what the character of such a society would be, concretely. Regardless of these differences, I consider it necessary to stress that a feasible socialist society of the future must be understood in international and indeed global terms. While such a society would initially have a national dimension and would be greatly influenced by national particularities, at the heart of socialism is the prospect of emancipation for humanity, worldwide, founded on the achievements of global civilization, which it is often impossible to grasp through the prism of an ethnocentric analysis of social phenomena. The growth of productive forces par excellence consists in scientific and technological progress, which in our time has a highly developed social character, from the means of planning and management to the manifold interactions between people and nature in order to satisfy human needs. More than ever before, these developments should allow for a more consistent and profound elaboration of socialist strategy.
The current discussions on socialism and communism can be meaningful for the Left and for working people when they examine the material production system in order to reveal possibilities for how to turn workers into genuine subjects of that system, into collective administrators of the productive forces and processes of society. Such possibilities result from dynamic trends of automation of the means of production and what this could bring: the gradual release of workers from the current terms of their engagement in the production process, as servants of the means of production. Great potential can likewise be found in the development and spread of communication and artificial intelligence technologies that can process huge volumes of data, in the extremely accurate modeling and planning of productive activities, and in better means of communication. All of these technologies allow for greater cooperation between remote producers, but also between producers and end consumers, while broadening the decisive productive role of scientific thinking and knowledge, what Marx called the “general intellect” and “general productive force” of humankind.
The development of the contemporary multinational monopoly corporations, the organization of production in multinational networks, and the deepening of economic interdependence among countries and among regions of the planet all demonstrate that the social character of production is growing on the global scale. Humankind is moving towards the integration of its production, which nevertheless cannot be accomplished under the conditions of dominant capitalist ownership of the means of production. Of course, the trend I am referring to has a contradictory character. Humankind has now developed huge powers that enable the transformation of its living conditions on earth to a great extent; on the other hand, these very powers make the destruction of life possible, to the extent that such powers continue to be used in the service of private, self-seeking interests.
The Left can have a political future and play a leading role in social developments to the extent that it is able to put forth a consistent strategy of social emancipation, grounded in the contemporary achievements of labor and culture, and to the extent that it is able to display to working-class people the modern possibilities for their emancipation and the true pathways leading thereto. The indifference of significant parts of the Left to the fundamental development of socialist theory is the other side of their conformist submission to the prevailing conditions of capitalist society. In other words, today’s class struggles in Greece, Europe, and across the world cannot take the offensive and emerge victorious unless they have a clear end goal based on the theoretical awareness of how the organization and development of labor, and therefore of society, could be feasible without the rule of capital, of how it is possible for workers to regain all those functions that capital, as an alienated and uncontrollable social force, performs in the production system. I might add that the various efforts to achieve left unity, in Greece and abroad, tend toward utter irrelevance when they are not focused on strategic goals and the prospects for the emancipation of labor. The power of the Left cannot simply result from gathering its various components; it rather consists in the social importance and the range of its strategic goals and the establishment, based on these goals, of a powerful working class front.
Especially in the developed capitalist societies of the 21st century, discussion about how to create such a working-class political front must take into account the necessity of a crucial alliance between the traditional working class strata, mostly related to physical–manual labor (both industrial and non-industrial), and today’s massive and rapidly proletarianized representatives of intellectual labor—scientific and technical workers, production specialists, salaried intelligentsia in the service sector, educators, etc. Both these groups make up the collective worker today, in that the continued functioning of the material production system on a global scale is only feasible in the unity of their labor activities. If, for the class struggles and socialist endeavors of the 20th century, the alliance between industrial workers and the poor peasants were of decisive importance, then today, in the developed capitalist societies, political unity between the representatives of physical and intellectual wage-labor has become crucial. The number of the latter is increasing drastically, even as their traditionally better social status is deteriorating, leading to radicalization. The internationalized character of intellectual wage-labor, and thus its stronger capabilities for understanding the world and organizing, provide more favorable conditions for a decisive reinforcement of the workers’ movement in the great class struggle against the power of capital.
Corresponding to the inescapably international dimension of social revolution in the current situation, and the necessarily global dimensions of socialist strategy, it is essential that political forces of the Left be established not only on the national, but also on the international level, in order to forge a common, cohesive view on the direction, objectives, and content of social change in entire regions of the planet. Only a force of this kind will be able to challenge the power of capital, even on the national level, much less be able to act as a political subject in historical events and transformations. The character of contemporary economic-social relations requires viewing social emancipation from such a perspective. Class struggles on the national level will acquire an invincible dynamism only when they grow as part of coordinated international struggles for revolutionary social changes.
Unfortunately, the necessity of genuine internationalism is often not understood, or is understood only in part, by the Left in Greece and in Europe. Of course, this necessity does not concern the left forces that view the existence of EU/EMU as a given and see the future of European countries only in the framework of this imperialist institution. The forces of the Left that have accepted the EU and, consequently, have accepted the power relations that are characteristic of it, and the principles and rules governing the operation of national economies imposed by it, are in essence subservient to the strategic interests of European capital. They are unable to express a radical alternative.
At the same time, there are left-wing political formations seemingly moving in the opposite direction: challenging the European Union, but under the rubric of ethnocentric perceptions. According to their interpretative framework, European nations are being oppressed and exploited just by neoliberal elites, international bankers, and financial speculators. This is the political framework of patriotic social democracy, which, in its confrontation with the neoliberal strategy of the EU, is systematically downgrading the class character of social problems and concomitantly the class character of the resistance to neoliberal policies. Within countries with highly developed class contradictions, they seek the recovery of “national sovereignty,” a return to national currency, and implementation of social welfare policies within a state-regulated capitalist economy. Such a stance is completely hopeless against the scale of production in the EU member countries, much less against global capitalism, which has gone far beyond the borders of national states. The lure of a patriotic defense of social democracy entraps the Left in conservative utopias that deform its true mission: the emancipation of labor and society from the power of capital.
As a revolutionary social force, the Left cannot but be internationalist. Internationalism for the Left means commitment to the final goal of emancipation of labor—a class goal that is at the same time a panhuman goal—which can be fully accomplished only on a global scale. Internationalism of the Left is identified with the universal, emancipatory character of the strategic interests of the working class, from which the necessity of militant solidarity among workers across the world stems, as an essential condition of victory in the struggle for the socialist–communist unification of humankind.
Therefore, internationalism for the Left means unshakeable commitment to conducting independent class politics, defending within specific national-state entities not the interests of the nation, but the strategic interests of wage-labor, as these are the interests that by nature are common for all workers throughout the world. The “national interest” is by definition deceitful, corresponding to the dominant interests of big capital, as well as to the interests, illusions, and aspirations of the small and middle-class property owners and the national state bureaucracy. In societies of generalized alienation and antagonism, such as the capitalist ones, “national unity” is spurious. Against the fake unity among “citizens,” the Left should always put forth the revolutionary prospect of genuine socialist–communist unification of humanity.
It is necessary to note here that a genuine proletarian socialist internationalism in Europe must challenge the EU project and its super-state institutions. The Left should be clear that EU capitalist integration cannot be considered as a way to overcome nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. Indeed, it is exactly the EU and EMU that have created the best conditions for widespread reproduction of nationalist-fascist, racist ideas and movements, due to the severe antagonism the EMU policies have engendered not only between different capitalist enterprises, but also between different national economies, causing unemployment, immiseration, and marginalization, while guaranteeing the domination of the strongest countries.
Faced today with the deep crisis of capitalist integration in Europe and the rise throughout the continent of nationalist-fascist forces that this crisis has politically emboldened, the Left can carry out its historic role only by cultivating, through its political action and theoretical discourse, the workers’ strong trust in the feasibility of transcending the relations of exploitation and antagonism among people and nations, and in the feasibility of developing universal relations of comradeship and solidarity. If the concept “Left” continues to have a real social meaning, it cannot but be linked to the theoretical and ideological activity of displaying the current possibilities for the socialist emancipation of labor, while undertaking social struggles and political efforts to establish a social front of workers, on the international level, capable of overthrowing the power of capital. |P