Who wants a ‘Party of the People’?
Recently there has been a number of calls from within the UK anti-capitalist left, for the formation of a ‘party of the people’ to rescue the working class from the current crisis and the austerity measures implemented by the present political elite. Few of those making the call from within this anti-capitalist milieu, have bothered to seriously consider how a party might distort or dismember the necessary self-activity of the working and oppressed classes. Fewer still have described what such a party might look like or what efforts it would take to form one. For this reason these calls have been left as yet mere abstractions formulated out of a mixture of wishful thinking, impatience and lack of serious study. Suggestions of ‘a new political formation, which rejects austerity’ and recognition of ‘the obstacles’ to getting elected to the parliaments or other organs of political administration, are about as detailed as they get.
I shall ignore for the moment the obvious fact that the sources of power under the capitalist mode of production, lie outside of its Parliamentary or congressional ‘talking shops’ and consider what a more detailed proposal for such a party includes. In this regard, it cannot have escaped many observers notice that in the shape of Syriza, such a ‘party of the people’ is taking shape within Greece. Therefore, a recent speech in London (March 15 2013) by the current leader of this ‘party‘, Alexis Tsipras, allows us a glimpse into what ideas it takes to form one and what policies it adopts in order to get elected. Syriza, Tsipras asserted, will offer the ‘radical democratic changes’ which are necessary as ‘the only way out of the crisis’. The European elites he stated have ‘no viable prospect of exit from the crisis’ . Whilst this – as far as it goes – is undoubtedly true, let us consider what else he and Syriza think will prevent such an exit.
The current problems according to Syriza.
The first and emphasised problem identified in his speech was ‘austerity’. “Austerity is leading the Greek economy and society down a catastrophic path.”, he argued. He made no mention of the fact that it was the capitalist mode of production and its domination by finance-capital whose agents have devised these policies – and not always out of mistaken ignorance or meanness! Instead his primary focus was on the symptom – not the cause. From this viewpoint it is austerity policies – the symptoms – which have led to ‘cuts in benefits, deregulation and deterioration of the welfare state’, not the underlying fundamental crisis of the entire economic and political system. Superficially, this abstract and partial formulation is of course stating no more than what is glaringly obvious to every working person in every advanced capitalist economy. However, it remains a surface analysis and one woefully inadequate to enlighten or guide the very ‘people’ he seeks to recruit to assist him and his colleagues to obtain governmental ’power’.
He also identified the following problems – also notably formulated as bourgeois abstractions – a lack of ‘justice’, ‘equality’ and ‘freedom’‘. A further and related problem, he noted, concerned the current elite in Europe and Greece;
“They seek the creation of an economic environment based on cheap labour, special economic zones, de-regulation of the labour-market, tax exemptions for capital and extensive privatisations of public goods and services.” (A. Tspiras. London March 15 2013.)
This too is telling us nothing new! Haven’t they always sought and achieved these? Then follows a perhaps revealing formulation which claims the powerful forces of neo-liberalism aim to; “exclude alternative political programmes”. I shall come back to this point later, but a few other points of the speech are worth considering. He points out that sections of the political elite had ‘circumvented the separation of powers’ and the constitution’ and have passed legislation and decrees; “..without Parliamentary approval“! Isn’t that what any ruling elite do – tear up their own laws when it suits them? Isn’t that what they will increasingly do as the crisis deepens. Will the capitalist class and their elite supporters really allow a ‘constitutional’ overthrow of their system or even a radical reform of it – if it does not suit their purposes? A study of history suggests otherwise.
The speech by Mr Tspiras continued to attempt to hook a left audience into agreement with him with descriptions of the present governing elite unleashing ‘unlimited state violence’, repression, torture and fascist thugs’ all of which endanger – the European liberal and humanist tradition’. Indeed it does, but what is the purpose of this one-sided seductive talk about the European tradition of liberalism and humanism? Aren’t such ideological abstractions nothing but a bourgeois smokescreen for ruthless exploitation of their own working people and those of foreign countries? The tradition of European capitalism, despite its public rhetoric of liberty, fraternity, equality, justice and declarations of human rights, has been one of unmitigated ruthless genocidal, Colonialism, and Imperialism. Even in the 21st century, Europe still authorises the bombing of villages in Iraq, Afghanistan etc., and has done elsewhere since the 19th century. The European Community still chooses to ignore the slow genocide of the Palestinians by the Zionist state of Israel and supports the latter in many economic and military ways.
The solutions proposed by Syriza.
Some of the solutions to the above noted ‘problems’ suggested by Mr Tspiras, are as follows. Stop austerity, stop tax avoidance, reform the taxation policies, restore the minimum wage, freeze the current reductions in salaries, wages and pensions, re-capitalise the banks and restore the dignity of the working classes. But it also includes more. For example;
“A future government will put a stop to the austerity policies, while at the same time re-negotiating the loan agreement with our creditors. Syriza argues that an economically viable strategy must follow the model of the 1953 London Debt Agreement which gave post-war German economy a kick start and helped create the economic miracle of the post-war era.” (A.Tsipras. March 15 2013.)
He then informed the audience that Syriza sees no reason in 2013 that a similar ‘Marshal Plan’ for the whole of the south and Greece why such a settlement should not be an appropriate way forward. In other words Syriza wants ‘debt reduction’ and financial terms from Europe ‘linked to export and growth performance‘. It cannot escape the notice of listeners to the speech or readers of its printed reproduction that everything in these policy headings are completely in accordance with the most enlightened members of the capitalist classes. They are the same bourgeois aspirations which informed and motivated the tendency of ‘bourgeois and petite bourgeois socialism’ castigated by Marx and Engels. It cannot have escaped anyone who lived in the post Second World War or who has studied its politics and economics, that these – and more – were largely granted by the capitalists and their supporters at the time. They did so in order to stave off revolution and have clawed everyone of them back as fast as possible.
In the face of the most profound and sustained crisis of capitalism since the 1930’s, Syriza in its pursuit of power seems it cannot envisage anything further than the temporary heights of the post-war socio-economic accommodation granted by the then guardians of the capitalist system. It’s policy proposals represent a mood of understandable nostalgia among the working and middle-classes, for the brief period in which a small degree of welfare and well-being was created. That is to say on the basis of the post-war re-construction needed because of the massive destruction of life, property and means of production during the intensity of total war during 1939 – 1945. It is a feeling of longing for the past which is particularly strong in the UK and is largely behind the Left Unity ideas of ‘People’s Assemblies’, the ‘need to reject Tory cuts’ and form a new party headed by the unions, Labour activists and the Green Party. Such nostalgia has been vividly illustrated by the recent film ‘The Spirit of ‘45’ by Ken Loach. Yet it was only this 20th century massive capitalist inspired destruction of human and non-human capital which created the foundation for the short-lived post-war European growth which Syriza considers is now possible for Greece and other struggling capitalist countries.
In the 21st century, this foundation no longer exists. Indeed the very crisis of the system which has given rise to the symptoms of ’austerity’ are the very opposite of those in the 1950’s. The current crisis is one of massive over-production of commodities, industrial capacity, financial instruments, together with over-production of pollutants, over-exploitation of natural resources, over production of arms and armaments and over-production of government debt. These problems cannot be exited or overcome by any of the policy means outlined by Syriza. Indeed the means proposed by Syriza are the very ones which many of the more naive and disolusioned capitalists themselves now vainly wish to see implemented. This then goes some way to describe the content and essence of the alternative political programme, noted earlier, which Syriza has identified as being one of the ones the elite wish to ‘exclude’.
The revolutionary alternative to nostalgia.
Not all, the bourgeoisie have benefited from the last two decades of neo-liberal globalisation. Many of them, particularly small business proprietors, local shopkeepers and local trades-people, have suffered from high monopoly prices now charged by the social utilities, high taxation, bank collapses and competition from mega producers and suppliers. Many have also suffered losses of investments due to the collapses of speculative finance. More are yet to see their lucrative posts in the higher levels of government and the capitalist state, disappear as the sovereign debt crisis matures. There is therefore, growing criticism of the capitalist mode of production from these sectors along with the above noted nostalgia for parts of the post-war consensus.
In face of this situation there are several possibilities for intervention. One can play to the mood of nostalgia and try to create and offer a reformist programme or one can face people with the reality and explain the real situation they face. The reality is that austerity is not the result of a new bout of meanness or incompetence, by the pro-capitalist elite but a considered strategy motivated by the fundamental contradictions of capital. Yet instead, of probing below ‘appearances’ and wanting to mobilise the working and oppressed classes to take control of production, Tsipras says Syriza wishes to mobilise; “all the social forces who have an interest in fighting corruption, cronyism, clientelism, and public sector inefficiency.” In other words almost a perfect late 20th century bourgeois programme. And, incidentally, by asserting reform is possible, it is a programme which plays into the hands of the authoritarians who also want to reform capitalism – in their own fascistic way.
Those who are currently suffering from the crisis – in all its forms – can of course, be encouraged to look backward for inspiration and try to replicate an elite-led resurrection of welfare capitalism – without the post EEC immigration – or they can be encouraged to look forward to a self-determined alternative. The melancholy pro-capitalists and workers ‘leaders’ and those who bought the high-value dodgy derivatives, are among the forces which are pressing in the direction of creating a reformist programme for the continuance of capitalism in a more gentile form. Obligingly, Syriza in Greece is providing one. These sectors are getting more voluble at every setback in the banking system. Instead of explaining reality to them, the needs of the moment and the logic emerging from a study of the capitalist system, Syriza offers them ‘hope’ for future growth. Instead of a revolutionary transformation of the mode of production which is essential, Syriza offers in its own words, ‘a minimum wage‘, ‘a prevention of tax avoidance’, an economic ’kick-start’ to capitalist economic growth and a restoration of the ‘dignity’ of the working and oppressed classes.”
If this putitive programme is not part of some convoluted manoeuvre then the ‘dignity’ of the working class is to be achieved not by revolution, but by their so-called representatives ‘grovelling’ to the European Bond-Holders and ‘begging’ for a Marshal Plan from the IMF. On the other hand, if these policies are part of a convoluted top-down manoeuvre to fool the capitalist class until Syriza achieves a majority in parliament, then such deceit will effectively fool the working and oppressed. It will also deflect and prevent any large-scale alternative self-activity of the workers and oppressed as many will be diverted into divisive electoral activities, rather than solidarity in community defensive activity. And it is only the development of the latter which will create an effective – crucial – defence for embattled communities and at the same time create the necessary solidarity from which any revolutionary opportunities can be launched.
The reactionary nature of political solutions.
The reactionary nature of those ‘socialists’ – not just those in Syriza – who exclusively raise demands which have already been met by capitalists at one stage and withdrawn at another, is demonstrated by the illusions they are now trying to inflict upon the present generation of workers and oppressed. Facing as they do, a war against them, the working and oppressed classes are to be armed by Syriza and others by accepting a belief in outmoded abstractions and miracle promises of economic ‘growth‘. Such ideas, purporting to be socialist but not thoroughly and clearly anti-capitalist, amount to a subterfuge which is either the result of dishonesty or naivety. These bourgeois abstractions are fundamentally reactionary; for in the current situation they sow illusions and confusions among those who seek to struggle against the impositions of the pro-capitalist elite. They also serve to create an ideological basis for solidarity between workers in struggle with those proponents of the capitalist mode of production – who also want change – but also want retain the economic essence of their system.
Such parties ‘of the people’ are projects for class collaboration in which the capitalist class – who have managed to screw-up the world in so many ways – will retain their positions of power and influence through their continued control of the means of production. Such ‘socialists’ who promote these ’parties’ are happy to direct demands upon the bourgeois state and promise benefits from it, because they see themselves as becoming an influential part of it. Yet even if the honest and naive ones among them succeed in gaining a majority in the ‘talking shops’ of parliaments or congresses, they will remain powerless to do anything of lasting benefit to workers and the oppressed. The power of the bourgeois classes lie not in Parliaments or Congresses, but in their control of the means of production, the commodities and services resulting from this production, the production of the ‘means of production’ the means of circulation and the means of repression (police, judiciary, army, navy, air-force, prisons etc.).
In any attempted electoral ‘coup’ of parliament or congress by a radical left political force, those who are not bumped off beforehand will be arrested and incarcerated during or after the attempted coup. It is naive to think, or Machiavellian to pretend, otherwise. The history of the bourgeois class, provides ample evidence of this method in all countries of the world. Are the workers to be really conned into working their guts out to create a reformist political organisation? Are they to sink all their energies and slender resources into building it, only to recreate the very pro-capitalist social scaffolding which has failed them before and will later be used to dismantle their organisations and decimate their ranks? I think not! The circumstances of the fundamental crisis of capitalism, ecologically, financially, economically, socially and morally, require nothing less than a revolutionary solution.
Not to make this revolutionary necessity clearly, unambiguously and continually available by the anti-capitalist left to the masses of working people and oppressed is to betray every sacrifice made before in the struggles to overcome the capitalist mode of production. To prioritise the building of a political party over the facilitating the self-activity of the working and oppressed classes is to continue to blindly make the tragic mistakes of previous attempts to go beyond capital. It also serves to disarm large sections of them. As Marx noted in his critique of the Gotha Programme, anti-capitalists cannot pass over in silence such bourgeois phrases as appear in the speech by Alex Tsipras. Marx considered the insertion of such bourgeois and petite bourgeois phrases ‘a monstrous attack upon the understanding‘. And deplored the;
“…dogmas, ideas, which in a certain period had some meaning but have now become obsolete verbal rubbish, while again perverting, on the other, the realistic outlook which it cost to instil..” (Marx. Critique of the Gotha Programme. Section 3)
The realistic outlook is that there is no way back to the conditions of European capitalism during 1945 -1965. There is only the prospect of a re-run of 1920’s and 1930’s situation in Europe and North America or of moving on to a post-capitalist form of production. These stark alternatives need to be presented clearly and unequivocally to all we can reach. Nostalgia may be comfortingly soporific but it is no basis for deciding where to put ones energies.
Roy Ratcliffe (March 2013
[In this context see also ‘The Five-fold Crisis of Capitalism’; ‘Crisis: So what else can we do?‘ Uprisings and Revolutions’ and ‘Form and Essence in the anti-capitalist struggle.’ and ‘Leaders or Facilitators?’]