The election of an anti-austerity government in Greece is a political milestone for the working class; a moment in the process of a struggle, which, though rooted in the urban revolts of 2008, specifically began with the May 2010 protests against welfare cuts. This struggle not only hasn't ended yet, but with the election of Syriza, has entered a new and critical stage. Austerity - the issue at the heart of this struggle - is directly related to the conflict between labour and capital, not only in Greece, but throughout the world. This conflict will ultimately become polarised around the question of the very survival of capitalism as an economic system. However, at the beginning, and as long as the question of political power, from a class point of view, has not been resolved, this conflict will retain a political character. The question is: the perspective and politics of which class will ultimately prevail and be established as the general expectation and perception of the mode and structure of political power and the state?
The governmental crisis of the bourgeoisie
The bourgeoisie lacks a viable model of governance. The deadend of the traditional governments and parties in Greece, notwithstanding the active support of the EU and all the major international institutions, resulting in their defeat from a party they call ‘extreme left’ and ‘destabilising’, is the clearest proof of the bourgeoisie’s lack of a governmental alternative. However, the governmental crisis of the bourgeoisie is not limited to Greece. The bourgeoisie’s strategic institutions, think tanks and advisers, such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Economist, etc., ever since the collapse of Wall Street in the winter of 2008, have been talking about the impossibility of continuing the status quo, about a ‘crisis of democracy’, people’s desertion of the mainstream parties and a general mistrust towards the established system of government, specifically in the United States and Europe. They accurately show that not only is there no prospect for improving the present conditions, but the situation is increasingly getting worse.
In a briefing to the World Economic Forum at Davos last year, Oxfam reported that the minority economic elite, in collaboration with the political elite, had driven the world to a state where “the bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world”. Also, a survey by Oxfam conducted in Brazil, South Africa, Spain, UK and the USA, showed that “a majority of people believe that laws are skewed in favor of the rich”, and that opposition to monopolisation of power in the hands of a privileged wealthy minority is growing.
A Gallup survey last year found that 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way they are governed, and the Economist in an editorial, entitled ‘The West’s malaise’, warned that, with the rise of the radical left, as in Greece and Spain, the political crisis of the West will deepen. Also, a study last year, part-funded by NASA, predicted that if the current trend of unsustainable exploitation of resources and the growing inequality in wealth continued, the global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades.
The bourgeoisie has itself become the harbinger of capital’s apocalypse. Unlike other times in the past, the crisis that the bourgeoisie now is facing is not a purely economic one. It is an all-round strategic, political and social crisis. Friedmanism’s economic model, with its corresponding socio-political doctrine, i.e. neoliberalism and neo-conservatism, have reached a dead end, and a return to Keynes and the Social-Democratic Welfare State is not plausible either.
This situation has hit the world bourgeoisie with a crisis of governance, of which Greece is a striking example. The mass abandonment by the people of the system of government and state of the 1%, as evidenced by the result of opinion polls, has developed into a critical political issue in Greece and Spain (and will perhaps become one later also in Portugal, Ireland and Italy). Bourgeois strategists are understandably worried that the crisis will spill over to the whole of Europe and the West. And no doubt if the bourgeoisie in the West catches a cold, in the rest of the world it goes through its death throes.
This all-round crisis has no solution within the framework of the bourgeoisie’s political and economic system. The ruling 1% will not give up its privileged status and economic and political power for all the warnings and advice from their well-wishing institutions; nor is this a requirement for the resolution of the current crisis and for securing the conditions for the renewed profitability and accumulation of capital. You can neither return to Keynes, nor extend democracy beyond the power zone of the 1% who have “skewed [the laws] in favor of the rich”. The political and economic “solutions” proposed by the more prudent institutions of the bourgeoisie, more than anything else demonstrate the gravity and undeniability of capitalism’s dead ends, rather than offering a realistic way out of such dead ends.
What is then the solution from the viewpoint of the working class, and the interest of the 99% whose cause and fight has been tied to that of the working class?
Prospect of socialism and a state based on people’s councils
Working-class and revolutionary communism responds to the issues of the world today by socialism vis-à-vis capitalism and by council power, i.e. direct intervention of people in politics and the running of society, vis-à-vis democracy. This is a solution from the standpoint of the working class on behalf of the camp of the 99% who have been crushed under capital. This is not a solution to save capital, but a solution to save the overwhelming majority of the people, to save the ‘global industrial civilisation’, and the earth itself from the danger of destruction.
Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, bourgeois states and ideologues, pointing to the failed experience of state capitalism, i.e. bourgeois communism, in the former Eastern bloc, have tried to portray socialism and a state based on direct participation of the people in political power through their councils as something evil. However, the more we move away from the time of the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Cold War rhetoric, the more such propaganda loses credibility. Not only is the time for spreading illusions about the ‘miracles’ of democracy and the free market over, even the most ‘reputable’ institutions of capitalism describe the monopoly of power and wealth in the hands of a tiny minority as explosive and unsustainable. People too, not through any educational work by communist groups and parties, but through their own experience have come to realise the necessity of breaking the monopoly of the 1% on wealth and political power.
Life itself has pushed the necessity of the political and economic expropriation of the bourgeoisie onto the centre stage of intellectual and political discourse. This reality expresses itself more than anything else in the mass movements of the past several years, in the so-called Arab Spring revolutions and the Occupy Movement in the West. The ousting of dictators allied to the camp of democracy in the west, with the slogan of Freedom, equality, human dignity, joins up with the power of organised people in the Occupy Movement and with the demand for the abolition of the above-people state. The Occupy Movement declares that the parliament, the army, the Wall Street and the banks are in the hands of the ruling 1%, and extends the model of Tahrir Square occupation to the occupation of streets and squares in European and North American cities, offering models of ‘direct democracy’ by the people. The monopoly of power and wealth in the hands of the 1%, about which the Economist, Oxfam, the World Economic Forum at Davos and the World Bank warn, is challenged in people’s own practice on the streets. The Arab Spring is unable to go beyond the ouster of dictators, and the Occupy Movement rises and then winds down. But this is only the beginning of the road, and not its end. These protests and revolutions, which are unprecedented in the recent history of the West and the Middle East, are merely pre-seismic tremors in the world system of the bourgeoisie; a system, which by the admission of the bourgeoisie’s own global institutions, is driving the world towards an explosion. Getting rid of some of the western-backed dictators in the East, giving identity and political expression to the camp of the 99%, and declaring war on the world’s ruling 1% are the first achievements of these political pre-seismic tremors.
Greece at a historical crossroads
The developments in Greece should be placed and studied within this world confrontation between the camps of labour and capital. What is happening in Greece differs in form from the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. However, in substance it is of the same kind, and is in the continuation of those movements.
Masses of people rise up in protest in the midst of an economic crisis in a country, which, as Alexis Tsipras has put it, has been picked as a guinea pig for the austerity programmes. From 2010, around the same time as the Occupy Movement and the beginnings of the Arab revolutions, mass strikes and protests break out against austerity. People in their own experience see that the prescription which the ruling 1%, along with the states and banks and their internal and international centres of decision-making, have issued as a ‘solution’ to the crisis is not only failing to mitigate the problem, but by the passing of each day is making life harder and more unbearable. So people’s protests escalate, resulting in the end in the election of a leftist government, as a representative for the anti-austerity movement. However, this achievement, which, as noted earlier, marks a turning point in the recent history of struggles of the people of Greece, is still not even the final political victory of those struggles.
The absence of a political party acting as the representative and leader of people’s struggles in the revolutions in the Middle East and in the Occupy Movement was a critical weakness in those movements and revolutions and the key reason for their inability to capture the political power. Such a weakness did not exist in the struggles of the people of Greece. Syriza is in fact the party and representative of Greek people’s protest movement against economic austerity, and for this reason the election of Syriza is an important advance for this movement. But this progress is neither entrenched nor even irreversible. To firmly establish this victory, one has to go beyond the anti-austerity movement. The question then is: go beyond in what direction and with what slogans and aims? The global framework mentioned above gives a clue to the answer: the question of Greece is not a local or national one, and not, in the first instance, an economic one. It is in fact a critical and concrete example of the governmental crisis of the bourgeoisie, to which one can only respond by the working-class alternative of political power, i.e. direct exercise of the will of the people organised in their organs of power.
Greek society has risen up against economic austerity. It must, however, also be able to respond to the question of the laws, relations and mode of governance of society, which currently “are skewed in favor of the rich”. Without resolving this problem, the question of economic austerity will also ultimately remain unanswered. Occupation of squares and state institutions, and the activation of mass movements such as Direct Democracy Now!, have been a prevalent feature of the Greek protests right from the start, and inspired by the global protests and revolutions. With the election of Syriza, this direct participation of the people becomes critical.
The political significance of the economic measures
In Greece today, as in all societies in transition and undergoing revolutionary developments and crises, one could say politics is the basis of the economy, not the other way round. Any economic measure is bound to result in political struggles between the main social classes, pushing laws, relations and methods of government and the whole state apparatus to the centre of the struggles. If people around the world are expressing their mistrust of the existing system of government in opinion polls, in Greece they have started to act against the system. People of Greece have the power to offer a model of a viable system of government, the key to which is people’s intervention and direct exercise of power.
The empowerment of Syriza has so far taken place through the power of the people on the streets, even if its rise to power came about through parliamentary elections. Syriza has won political power by its active support for, and participation in, strikes and street protests. However, this cannot and should not mean the end of the street protests and the return of people to their homes.
As I pointed out in the article ‘Which way forward for Greece’ in the previous issue of the International, with each step which Syriza takes towards revoking the austerity programmes, the question of the capitalist system of production also inevitably arises and is pushed to the centre of class confrontations; issues such as the attractiveness of Greek markets for foreign capital, capital’s profitability, the capacity of various capitals in Greece to compete with similar sectors internationally, securing funding for the welfare programmes, the taxation system, etc. This is an objective and inevitable process, which will take the society from ‘no to austerity’ to ‘no to capitalism’.
The problem first asserts itself in the form of the incompatibility of the capitalist system with the most basic welfare needs of the people. Thus, the question of the control and monopoly of the 1% over laws and politics and the structure of the state, i.e. over the question of political power in the broad sense of the term, and not merely the cabinet, is highlighted and pushed onto the society’s agenda. The immediate anti-austerity measures which the Syriza government has introduced so far are an important achievement. However, even the continuation of such measures will depend upon the strengthening of political power in the hands of a force that is willing and able to go all the way to the end, i.e. the complete political and economic expropriation of the bourgeoisie. Such a force can only rely on the force of people organised in their mass organs of power. It is for this reason that the role of organised and active people becomes crucial not only for defeating the austerity programmes, but also for subverting the bourgeois state, for undermining the political power of the capitalist 1%.
Greece stands today at the crossroads of world events. It has the capacity to change from ‘a guinea pig for austerity programmes’ to a model of socialist solution to the political and economic crisis of capitalism. In this process, Syriza and the current government will no doubt undergo a transformation. One should hope for, and vigorously work towards, the strengthening of the force within Syriza which is reliant on the organised power of the people, and which represents the people not only in the fight against austerity, as it has done so far, but also in the formidable struggle against the political domination and state of the capitalist class. However, even failing this, the people and workers of Greece have shown that they are ready and willing to move forward in the decisive battles that lie ahead. This struggle will create its leadership too.
First published in the International, a Farsi-language weekly of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, 13 February 2015. Translated by Bahram Soroush
DROP THE DEBT! Sign the petition in solidarity with the people of Greece!
DROP THE DEBT! Sign the petition in solidarity with the people of Greece!