The recent events in Greece provided the backdrop to the discussion on Europe at the 2015 Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) School (see below). Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party and member of the CWI’s International Secretariat introduced the discussion. This is an edited version of his speech.
‘Sharp turns, sudden and abrupt changes in the situation’ is a phrase we used in the past, but it characterises the period which Greece has entered today, and the rest of Europe will experience tomorrow.
The historic and magnificent landslide in the referendum was the result of the marvellous response of the heroic Greek masses – particularly the working class and the youth summoning up its reserves of revolutionary energy, even after more than 30 general strikes!
The result clearly shocked not just the capitalist class in Greece and throughout Europe but also Prime Minister Tsipras and the Syriza government.
The huge ‘No’ vote gave him no excuse to apply the brake, yet he did not know what to do with this colossal victory. He was afraid of power, the power that was now vested in him and his party by the masses.
A week later came the gigantic sell-out by Tsipras and Syriza leadership. Syriza began to split. Tsipras has embraced the capitalist pro-austerity parties, which could lead to a ‘national government’.
This was like a football team winning the World Cup one week, only to be relegated to the 54th division of its national league the next!
Laboratory for capitalism
But the fate of the working class is at stake, not just in Greece but throughout Europe and worldwide. Greece has become a laboratory in which capitalism, reformism and revolution are being tested.
The Greek working-class has gone through agonies; the Greek unemployment rate would mean 8 million unemployed in Britain! Yet this will now be added to by this rotten capitulation. The economy will plunge a further 4.2% on top of the 25% drop in GDP already.
This could lead to a rise in support for the openly Nazi Golden Dawn but there will be more opportunities for the workers’ movement to go forward before a threat of fascism is posed.
In the negotiations with the Troika, Tsipras was ‘waterboarded’. Yet it is not true that Tsipras had no alternative or that Greece is too small to resist. This capitulation will now be used by the bourgeois and their social democratic echoes as well as some fainthearts on the left, but there are big possibilities lodged in the Greek situation.
The fighting record of the Greek working-class is immense. This is borne out by the vicious reaction of the European and world bourgeois to their defiance in the referendum. In contrast, the reaction of the international working-class was one of solidarity.
A big ideological shift against the ‘market’ is threatened, which is why the IMF declared the programme for Greece “unsustainable”. The capitalists fear ‘contagion’ in southern Europe and Ireland but also in Britain and northern Europe if the Greek workers won.
What is this if not an expression of Trotsky’s permanent revolution? Anti-austerity and socialist forces would have been boosted. Obama urged a settlement, as did the French and Italians, signifying a deep split with serious consequences for the future of EU and the likely breakup of the euro.
The programme of our Greek comrades and our organisation, Xekinima, is the best guarantee of a victory for our class.
At each stage, Xekinima has put forward a clear analysis and they have intervened magnificently with the demands for the nationalisation of the banks and workers’ control and management, the taking over of the decisive commanding heights of the economy, and the spreading of the movement internationally.
Every activist should read Lenin’s ‘The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It’ to understand the programme for socialists in the face of a crisis.
Greece has had a new government on average every 14 months since 2010. A new general election is likely in the near future.
The political reflection of the crisis has been expressed in a frenzied form in southern Europe and particularly in Greece itself. This has resulted in political fracturing; in many countries the old two-party domination has gone with the rise of nationalist, far right and left parties.
“Inherent in reformism is betrayal.” The ex-social democratic parties have been utterly incapable of offering progressive reforms in this organic crisis of capitalism.
They have openly gone over to the side of the capitalists and propose counter-reforms. Unfortunately, Syriza has gone through ‘Pasokification’ ending in its betrayal, the same outcome as the Greek social democratic party Pasok.
The ground is being prepared everywhere for new formations, including in Britain where the general election and the Labour leadership election have produced interesting developments.
The working-class, checked on the political plane, is turning to the industrial plane. There is a bitter, determined mood developing in reply to the offensive of the employers and Tory government.
The overall situation in Europe is extremely unstable, which can worsen because a new crisis – maybe deeper even than 2008 – is on the horizon.
The slowdown of the Chinese economy, which has sustained world capitalism, has had an immediate impact on commodity producers in the neo-colonial world and aggravates their crisis. On top of this are the recent gyrations in the peculiar Chinese stock exchange.
The capitalists have huge ‘savings’ but nowhere to invest. If the US increases interest rates in the autumn, it could drag the world economy into another crisis.
The eurozone is predicted to experience sluggish growth this year and next. European Central Bank president Mario Draghi commented: “At such a pace, the European continent may never shake off persistently high unemployment and will be mired in debt into the distant future.” This is what lies behind the calls for ‘debt relief’.
In reality, there is an element of Greece everywhere in Europe. Thomas Piketty highlighted the dilemma facing Greece: it is supposed to pay 4% of its GDP for 30 years to the ‘lenders’. It would be much easier to just cancel the debt.
The willingness to fight has been shown in the German train drivers strikes (the shameful German Social Democrats support anti-strike legislation against them), the general strike movement at the end of 2014 against the spectre of Thatcherism in the new Belgian government and struggles in France to preserve what is left of the 35-hour week.
Conversely, in most countries in Europe there has also been a growth in the far right, a side result of the crisis of capitalism and the failure of the left. Part of the rise in their support is due to their exploitation of the migration crisis.
Collapsing societies in the Middle East and Africa mean between half a million and a million people in Libya alone are threatening to cross the Mediterranean while thousands have already died in the attempt.
This is a big challenge to the workers’ movement, and socialists have to propose a programme against the right’s vicious anti-immigrant campaign, including fighting for the right to asylum.
Conflicts over the ‘boat people’ show the unbridgeable national divisions in the EU, as does the Greece crisis. They demonstrate that monetary union is clearly impossible without political union, but that is also impossible on a capitalist basis.
The breakup of the eurozone is inevitable. But as Karl Marx once wrote: “Tradition lies on the brain of the living like an alp.” There is a big stumbling block in Greece: the so-called ‘advantages’ of membership of the eurozone, identified with the emergence from backwardness into a modern society.
The same strong sentiments exist in southern Europe and Ireland, and to some extent in the rest of Europe. Workers don’t want to go back to the drachma but the euro has already dragged Greece, and other countries, to the backwardness of the past and worse.
If Greece eventually leaves the euro, it will be the end, or the beginning of the end, of the common currency. With Italy and France having unsustainable debts, there is a fear of a larger country needing assistance.
The Troika were determined to crush and completely discredit Syriza, and have, in a sense already achieved ‘regime change’.
This will undoubtedly have an effect on anti-austerity struggles in smaller countries like Ireland and Portugal, and even big countries like Italy and Spain. Podemos, with no real programme and top-down organisation, is already beginning to move to the right as a result.
But in Ireland attacks on conditions, through water charges for instance, have provoked mass discontent and movement with 57% not making the first payment. The incredible referendum result on ‘same sex’ marriage saw a huge defeat for the forces of Irish reaction including the Catholic Church.
This opposition of the Irish working-class has already resulted in the election of Socialist Party members as TDs (MPs), with more SP and Anti-Austerity Alliance TDs possible in the approaching general election. This could become an important reference point for European struggles
Similarly, the referendum on Scottish independence reflected national and class revolt against Tories but also the ‘Red Tories’ (Labour) in the battle against austerity, which had big consequences in the general election.
The 56 Scottish National Party MPs have offered a bloc with Labour against the Tories, including on anti-union legislation.
Greek workers will reap a bitter harvest of even more suffering, but capitalism is teaching all workers some brutal lessons in the school of the class struggle. It is possible, even likely, that the broad masses will be discouraged and temporarily resign themselves to the suffering before engaging in new offensives.
But the more politically developed workers and youth will have learnt, will ponder and draw far-reaching revolutionary conclusions.
There is no alternative to creating new mass working class parties in the countries of Europe. Such parties will prepare the way for real mass revolutionary parties.
In the past year, Europe and the world have gone through a stormy, in some ways brutal period. Eastern Europe and the Middle East are in turmoil, impacting on Europe through the Ukraine war, the refugee crisis and terrorism. Only the working-class can unify the masses and go on the offensive against sectarianism and capitalism.
It will take time, but the CWI is confident that the masses will find the road to struggle against capitalism and that young people, in particular, will embrace the liberating ideas of socialism.
300 socialists from 24 countries met in Leuven, Belgium, from 19-24 July for the CWI’s annual European Summer School. As well as the discussion highlighted here, there was a more in depth report from Greece, a discussion on ‘world in turmoil’, reports on the building of the CWI in different areas and many commission discussions on topics from marxist economics to the anti-water charges movement in Ireland. Socialist Party branches should plan reports from those members who attended from England and Wales.