The Greek people vote ‘Oxi’

B1C3rezCMAIo8HjThe historic significance of this vote cannot be overstated. Despite the huge external pressure levelled against Greece by the Troika – the ECB, IMF, and the European Commission – with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, particularly aggressive in demanding the imposition of austerity on a population and society that was already on its knees, the Greeks have delivered a resounding message of defiance via the ballot box.

Regardless of the ultra left voices that have extended themselves in attacking Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza government, at a time when the stakes involved demanded solidarity, they have delivered a masterstroke with this referendum, successfully and magnificently counterposing democracy to the tyranny of global capital. In so doing, they have provided people across Europe with an education in where true power resides.

The demands made by Merkel on the Greek Government have been astoundingly irrational and almost biblical in their cruelty. Greece’s total debt of 317 billion euros is clearly unsustainable and the only realistic and humane solution is its cancellation. Of the 252 billion euros lent to Greece by the Troika since 2010, only 10% has actually reached the Greek people. Most of it has left Greece again in repayments to lenders, mostly European banks, primarily German banks, which lent more money to Greece than any other country during the boom years.

As for what happens now, it is unconscionable that the Troika will not step back from the brink. The notion of an advanced European country being ejected from the eurozone due to indebtedness is hard to conceive. Merkel and the ECB have overplayed their hand and exposed the iniquity of the EU and its role as a servant of neoliberalism and global capital.

But this is for another day. Today belongs to the people and to Syriza. The forces of reaction have been delivered a message of defiance that will resonate across Europe.








Yanis Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist

In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.

If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.

For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.

I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession. And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.

Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative. Click to continue reading

Syriza fights for all of us

Already, after just two weeks in office, the Syriza-led coalition government in Greece has put every other government in the EU to shame.

Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, the country’s new Prime Minister and Finance Minister respectively, have reaffirmed our faith in politics as a way to transform and improve people’s lives – specifically the lives of those crying out for transformation and improvement. For far too long we have been accustomed to politicians as machine-men devoted to upholding a status quo of gross inequality and the interests of the rich over those of the poor and ordinary working people.

In the UK we are into the fifth year of a coalition government that has extended itself in crushing the lives of the least well off beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of austerity. In the same period the rich have seen their wealth increase, the banks continue to operate as before, and all is well in Toryshire.

In Greece this assault on the poor and working people has been even more extreme, threatening the very fabric of society, unleashing the ugly recrudescence of fascism in the shape of Golden Dawn, a party with a penchant for demonising and attacking immigrants and people with skin darker than their own. Does this ring any bells?

Syriza’s historic election victory came as a last gasp of hope in a valley of despair, the voice of a proud and ancient people summoning the collective will to defy the forces unleashed against them in the name of fiscal responsibility. A spirit and soul-crushing attack on the very foundations of a civilised society, which had been criminalised by the powerful in service to an ideology that holds human beings as the means to the end rather than the end in itself, had been rejected. The question now became: who rules Greece? Is it the people through the ballot box or the Troika?

The evidence of the disaster unfolding as a consequence of the terms attached to a bailout package to meet Greece’s crippling debt is irrefutable. Its economy contracted by 25% in 2014 alone, resulting in a spike in unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. Greece’s healthcare budget was decimated, the impact measured in an increase in infant mortality, untreated infections, and suicide.

No matter, the Troika of the IMF, European Commission, and the European Central Bank had tried and convicted Greece and its people in the court of high finance and neoliberal orthodoxy, and only the most egregious and exemplary punishment would do. The description of this punishment as “fiscal waterboarding” by Yanis Varoufakis was witheringly accurate.

The scenes of joy and jubilation that met Syriza’s recent election victory in Greece were consistent with a country and society that had just been liberated from an occupation. A seminal moment in Greece’s long history had arrived, with hope replacing despair and optimism in place of the oppression that had reduced life for millions to a struggle for survival.

The media followed Yanis Varoufakis as he toured European capitals economy-class in the immediate aftermath of his appointment as finance minister. His objective was simple: cooperation, compassion, solidarity, and common sense. Dressed in leather jacket and open-neck shirt rather than the contrived stiff suits of his counterparts, Mr Varoufakis epitomised someone come to do battle and fight in the interests of the common man.

The short shrift he received was entirely predictable. However in the process he succeeded in drawing a clear ideological line between the haves and have nots, the one percent and the ninety nine percent. Since the economic crisis crashed on top of our heads seven years ago, this line had been increasingly blurred as political parties and voices emerged which diverted attention away from the one percent, inequality and the concentration of wealth and power as the locus of the problem, turning our guns instead against immigrants and immigration.

Alexis Tsipras and the newly installed government he leads will back down, commentators predicted. And it was hard to argue, given the commitment made to servicing the debt and to remaining within the EU and the Eurozone, despite the fact the political capital allowing him to default and withdraw from both the aforementioned was his.

But, no, it seemed Mr Tsipras had only boxed himself in, as his attempt to gain respite and a restructuring of the debt was rebuffed. Worse, it was followed by a move by the ECB to tighten the screws with the decision to cancel the facility allowing Athens to use government debt as loan collateral, thus opening the door to a run on Greek banks.

But so far the Greek government is holding fast. Alexis Tsipras has pledged to raise the minimum wage, re-employ public sector workers, maintain the current retirement age, and various other reforms with the objective of reintroducing aggregate demand into the economy.

The defiance demonstrated by Tsipras and Varoufakis in face of huge pressure to back down is a breath of fresh air. Their message that it doesn’t have to be this way, that there is an alternative, is not meant per se for the ears of Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, or David Cameron. It is meant for the masses, not only in Greece but also throughout Europe and the Eurozone, in response to an economic crisis that has morphed into a humanitarian crisis.

A struggle is now underway for the future not only of Greece but every country in Europe currently labouring under the iron heel of austerity and austerity governments and parties.

What happens in Greece does not stay in Greece. Syriza fights for all of us and we must fight for them.

Greece, the state & anti-fascism

This is a guest post by Kevin Ovenden. This article is cross-posted at Left Flank.

Golden Dawn arrests

Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos under arrest

The struggle against the most pernicious and entrenched neo-Nazi force in Europe is at a critical moment.

At stake in the dramatic arrests of Nikolaos Michaloliakos and other leaders of the Golden Dawn in Greece is not only the immediate future of a Nazi party that has 18 MPs, with 7 percent of the vote at the last general election, and a considerable street-fighting arm, but also the course of the social and political resistance in the European country hit hardest by crisis.

At issue too is the wider struggle in Europe against fascism, racism and xenophobia — as the rise of Golden Dawn has acted as an exemplar and loadstone for radicalising, far Right forces across the continent.

The sudden turn by the state and government of Antonis Samaras against GD is testament to sustained anti-fascist campaigning in Greece and to the eruption of popular fury at the fascist murder of much-loved, anti-racist hip hop artist Pavlos Fyssas. Within hours of Pavlos’s murder, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of dozens of cities across Greece targeting GD, one of whose cadres wielded the knife that felled him.

It was fear of a repeat of the uprising of December 2008 — resulting from the police murder of 15-year-old school student Alexandros Grigoropoulos — intersecting with a rising strike wave and the growth of the radical Left that led the government to act.

It certainly was not some inherent hostility towards the fascists on the part of Samaras and his New Democracy party. At least three leading figures of the centre Right had entertained a possible coalition with the fascists (if they “moderated” slightly) as the ruling coalition dwindled to just the centre Right and the zombie social democratic party, Pasok.

Anti-fascist lawyers Evgenia Kouniaki, Takis Zwtos and Thanasis Kampagiannis outline the tip of a mountain of evidence linking GD to criminal activity and murder over the last few years, including to the murder of Pakistani worker Shehzad Luqman in January this year: one of his killers had piles of GD leaflets and a portrait of Michaloliakos in his flat. There were no raids of GD offices or of police stations implicated with the Nazis eight months ago.

Costas Douzinas, Hara Kouki and Antonis Vradis here sketch some of the extensive links between the fascists, and the centre Right and elements of the state. Last week brought revelations of paramilitary fascist training conducted by reserve elements of Greece’s special forces and the collusion of a leading figure of the secret service, EYP, in obstructing investigations into GD crimes.

Additionally, this is a government that has implemented the savage austerity memorandums while deliberately stoking racism, rounding up refugees and migrants, all as it increased state repression against the social movements. As this statement puts it succinctly, “It is the government that closed schools and hospitals, and opened concentration camps.”

It is also a government which, faced with the rise of the radical Left — with the main Left opposition party Syriza the potential victor of the next general election, has sought to vilify the whole Left, and by implication legitimise the fascist Right, by describing both as “twin extremes”, which are equally a threat to democracy.

Samaras revived that smear only this week on a visit to the US, comparing those in favour of an exit from the Eurozone and EU with GD thugs. That and the fact that the courts decided to release on bail several leading Nazi thugs — including Ilias Kasidiaris, who went on the run after attacking two female left-wing MPs on television last year — should be warning enough that the moves by the government and state against GD will not of their own accord destroy the Nazis. Still less will they tear out the links between GD, the centre Right, elements of the state and figures in the capitalist class.

Indeed, if the anti-fascist struggle is left at the institutional and “constitutional” level, there is a great danger that the Nazis can weather the storm and re-emerge as the anti-establishment pole in a society where there is an endemic crisis for the governmental parties.

The anti-fascist movement in Greece is contending with some key political lessons in order to avoid that and instead to turn this great upsurge into a movement that can liquidate the fascists as a political/physical force and in so doing undermine the government and policies that have incubated GD’s growth. These are lessons that have great salience elsewhere in Europe:

1) Fascism is a distinct threat — necessitating a broad yet militant response

The Greek anti-fascist and anti-racist coalition KEERFA was formed before GD entered the parliament last year and grew sharply. It argued that while, of course, the Nazis grew out of conditions and policies imposed by the governing establishment — austerity, institutional racism, the vilification of the Left using imagery from the civil war of the 1940s and so on — opposing fascism requires a specific political response rather than focusing on challenging its causes instead.

The fascist Right is not merely a resultant of political and social crisis. It is an actor in its own right, with force and direction. If allowed physical and political space to grow, the result is both its rapid establishment of street terror (under conditions of generalised crisis) and with it the radicalisation of the state machine and the politics of the Right as a whole.

The anti-fascist movement in Greece has argued consistently for closing down that space. It has meant popular mobilisations and the militant argument that the fascists are not a legitimate political force, but a violent gang, which should be treated as such in all arenas. On the basis of that argument it has sought to build the widest possible fighting unity across the Left, trade union movement and immigrant communities.

Anti fascist march in Athens 8-6-12 A demonstration called against recent electoral gains by the neo nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece. Thousands of people marched through Athens on the demonstration called by Keerfa and the Immigrant Workers Union.

Immigrants have become central to anti-fascist activity

2) Anti-fascism requires anti-racism

After GD broke through many European media outlets honed in on fascist stunts, such as providing food distribution or blood banks for “Greeks only”. But GD’s growth was not the result of it being able to replace in any serious way state functions. Central to it was deepening institutional and popular racism. GD could say that while the politicians talked of being “overrun by immigrants” it was fascist cadres who were prepared to drive immigrants out of neighbourhoods and to take direct action.

So strategies that said that it was possible to deal with GD mainly by competing from the Left to provide social services missed the point. Challenging GD’s racism, concentrated into violent attacks on immigrants and then on the Left, was central. That meant putting the mobilisation and leading role of the immigrant communities who were directly under attack at the centre of resistance.

In so doing, migrant communities were re-presented as a part of the wider social resistance — part of “us” not “them”. At the same time such united mobilisations provided a visible and material basis for a fundamental anti-racist argument directed against the government and state.

While the fascists can attract some layers who are just disillusioned with establishment politics and the impact of austerity, their core support is from those who accept large numbers of racist myths. Opposing austerity without explicitly drawing anti-racist and anti-xenophobic conclusions, which usually do not “spontaneously” arise, will not destroy the fascist base.

3) Fascism grows with the state — not against it…

It was shocking, but not a surprise, to read reports that possibly half the Athens police force voted for GD in the second general election last year.

For all the pseudo-anti-capitalist and radical rhetoric, fascist formations have only ever seized power with the support of a dominant section of the capitalist class and their state. That was true of Mussolini, Hitler and the classical fascist parties.

The growth of fascism represents an extension and radicalisation of the state. The actual formation of a fascist regime comes after large elements of the state machine and ruling apparatus have already gone over to fascism as a final instrument when “normal” methods of police repression and right-wing, parliamentary politics have failed.

4) … But it matters enormously what the state does

That does not mean that we should be indifferent to what the state does or that the struggle against fascism is some kind of diversion from the battle against the governments of austerity and the repressive states they deploy.

Protest following the murder of Pavlos Fyssas

Protest following the murder of Pavlos Fyssas

To respond to the collusion between the police or government and the fascists by saying that the state and the fascists are as one is in effect to accept that the fascists are already on the road to power or that the state is so powerful it can militarise its response to the social movements at will. The seeming radicalism of that position reveals a fatalist despair.

It’s not that the establishment and the repressive forces of the state are not capable of terror. They are. It’s that the extent to which they feel able to deploy repression depends upon the balance of forces in the society. A key part of that balance is the extent to which fascist gangs are able to entrench inside neighbourhoods and in the social space.

The Left and working class movement have every interest in exposing collusion between the state and the fascists, rooting out fascist ties to the state and forcing the state to act against the fascists — not because the state is a reliable barrier to fascism, but because if it is forced to act the space to delegitimise the fascists grows and the door to weakening the repressive state itself widens.

5) The fascists are unconstitutional — but they will not be stopped through a “constitutional consensus”

Faced with the enormous backlash at the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the government temporarily dropped the language of the “twin extremes” of Right and Left and called on all the political parties to form with it a “constitutional arc” rejecting the fascists.

Its aim is to usurp the very anti-fascist movement it has attacked. And what is meant by “the law” and “the constitution” is contested. Successive Greek governments have ruled “unconstitutionally” over the last two years, with the appointment of an unelected prime minister — banker Lucas Papademos — and now the increasing use of executive diktat rather than parliamentary norms.

The article of the criminal code — number 187 — under which GD leaders face prosecution as a criminal enterprise has indeed been used against the Left. This is not a “constitutional” axis that the Left can be part of, especially as the prosecuting authorities wish to limit investigations so as to leave untouched the establishment while, for example, the district attorney of Athens has laid charges against a key leader of the anti-fascist movement, Petros Constantinou, a councillor in Athens.

None of this means that the Left should somehow champion the “constitutional rights” of the fascists, directly or implicitly. Rather it means precisely cutting through establishment manoeuvres in order both to liquidate the fascists and undermine the government from the Left.

The “constitution” that is of value for the Left is the freedom and space that have been won for the workers and social movements, whether reflected in attenuated form in the official laws of the state or accepted as a political fact or convention on account of accumulated struggles. That is what is threatened by fascism, and it is that popular “constitution” that masses of people can be won to defend.

6) A mass movement beyond establishment limits

The mass movement has political effect. It is why the Greek government has been forced to take what action against the fascists it has.

To fail to engage with the political reality the movement itself creates, to disavow its effects, is both to undermine its confidence in its own capacity and to surrender the political initiative to others.

The demands and next steps of the anti-fascist movement in Greece are directed at widening the breach it has already created. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, last week said that he was “not for placing GD outside the law [i.e. banned as a party], but brought before the law”. This week he said he “trusted the Greek judicial authorities”.

Today the judge hearing the remand cases of various GD leaders “accidentally” gave the fascists’ lawyers the name and details of the former GD member turned whistleblower, who has provided testimony against them.

So holding the criminals of GD to account cannot be left to the authorities, which have collaborated with them. It requires systematically arguing for the gang to be dismantled at every level and for the trail of investigation into its violence and criminality to be pursued wherever it leads.

It means forcing the government to cut off the state funds that go to GD. If GD is a criminal gang, then its offices in neighbourhoods are centres of organising terror. They should be closed down, by any means necessary.

In other words, the official moves against GD will only have purchase if they continue to respond to an independent, militant movement that goes beyond the official confines and is prepared to act.

That’s why it was absolutely right at the huge anti-fascist rally outside the Greek parliament last week that the anti-fascist movement broke with the constitutional and legalistic consensus and set out to march on the GD headquarters.

The move was not ritualistic or by a small ultra-radical minority. It was the political assertion of the centrality of a mass movement, by that mass movement, in driving the struggle against fascism and racism.

That movement, which is holding an important conference in Athens this weekend, is now in a position to push forward the dismantling of GD and also — in combination with ongoing mass strikes and social struggles — to raise the pressure on the government to go.

These are some of the general lessons, put rather telegraphically, from the last week of struggle in Greece.

The biggest lesson, however, is that politics, strategy and tactics are not deducible from abstract schemes. Radicalism does not come from rhetoric or finding ultra-militant postures or points of distinction. They all come from concrete engagement in building a mass movement and with it fighting for a politics that seeks to cut through, rather than evade, the responses of the state and establishment.

Kevin Ovenden is a national officer of Unite Against Fascism.

Gaza: what means this war?

This is a guest post from leading Palestine solidarity activist Kevin Ovenden.

What means this war?

The response from Western capitals and their allies to Israel’s latest war on Gaza was as expected. 

There was no hand-wringing about a “no-fly zone” to protect civilians; no cliched demarche from Paris calling for “humanitarian corridors”; no emergency London or Doha conference to agree “non-lethal” defence supplies to the people of Gaza; no total or even token sanctions on Israel; no calls for Binyamin Netanyahu to step down; no media castigation of the “regime” in Tel Aviv; no arms or billions in largesse flowing from Western allies in the Persian Gulf and Turkey to those fighting an illegitimate, murderous aggressor. 

Instead, there was full-throated support for Israel. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague led the pack in laying “principal responsibility” for the aggression on its victims – the Hamas government in Gaza and those who elected it. His subsequent advice that Israel risked “losing international support” through a ground invasion merely indicated the West’s preferred parameters for this bout of slaughter.

All predictable, perhaps wearily so. Why then rehearse this litany of hypocrisy? Because if we become inured to it, let it stand as a harsh fact of life in a cynical world, then unwittingly we allow the West and its allies to shift the narrative in the Middle East, to frame events and to determine which questions will be asked and which buried. And not just there.

That has been a central aim in Washington, London, Tel Aviv and the rest for the last 12 months as they attempt both to grapple with a region that is in a process of long-term profound change and to manage their equally long-term decline. 

It is almost exactly a year ago that Palestine was last at the centre of official international attention, when Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen pushed at the UN Security Council for the recognition of a truncated Palestinian state. Voted down by the US and its allies, he is set to make the same bid at the wider UN General Assembly, where there is no great power veto, at the end of this month.

But in those 12 months, Palestine was off the agenda – as Israeli settlements expanded, the siege on Gaza continued and the apparatus of apartheid deepened. So much so that when Netanyahu visited the US earlier this year to rally the pro-Israel AIPAC conference and nakedly boost the fundamentalist Republican election campaign against Barack Obama, he was able to get away with barely mentioning the word “Palestinian” whilst agitating for war on Iran and seeking to bend the outcome of events in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere to Israel’s and the West’s advantage. 

The return of Palestine (which didn’t go away from the minds of those genuinely driving change in the Middle East), as so often through massacre and tragedy, lays bare the true fault-lines and course of development in the wider region. It illuminates also the manoeuvres to subvert progressive change and to distract us – which have preoccupied the Empire since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago. 

Israel and US decline

The proximate reasons for Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud are interlinked and reasonably clear. At the end of October Israel bombed the Yarmouk factory in Khartoum, Sudan, accusing it of being a staging post for the supply of Iranian missiles to Hamas and other resistance organisations in Gaza. Of course, the standard Western government and media portrayal of some kind of equivalence between Israel, a nuclear-armed state with the fourth most powerful army in the world backed by the most powerful, and the Palestinians, occupied, besieged, exiled, without an airforce or air defence and with the most minimal of arms, is risible. And we are told from reliable reports that far from escalating confrontation and triggering the war, Hamas was in fact seeking a truce with Israel when its military commander, and close ally of leader Khaled Mishaal, Ahmed al-Jaabari was assassinated, signalling the start of the war. 

Nevertheless, the arrival of rockets such as the Fajr-5 in Gaza is of considerable concern to the Israeli state. It means, as the last week has shown, that Israel’s assault on Gaza, while overwhelming, is not entirely without response. Air raid sirens have sounded in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An Israeli public, promised that the 2006 war on Lebanon and the 2008-09 war on Gaza would leave them safer, faces the reality that the security balance is shifting even as they have state of the art shelters and the Dalou family, all but wiped out in an Israeli raid on their apartment block in Gaza, had nowhere to hide in the world’s largest open air prison camp. Crushing or disciplining resistance in Gaza has a politico-military logic for Netanyahu – especially as he presses on towards military confrontation with Iran and wants to pre-empt any fighting response from the Palestinian territories and from Lebanon. He has been frustrated from forcing through the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities this year and before the US presidential election. His cartoon performance at the UN two months ago, however, signalled a determination to bring things to the boil by next spring. Unable to lash out at Iran or directly against the resistance in Lebanon after Israel’s defeat in 2006, the caged Palestinians of Gaza provide a convenient target for a barbaric “demonstration effect” of Israel’s power. 

The message is clear – despite the changes in the region, we can still do this. We are serious about a greater Israel and “solving” the “Palestinian problem” on Egyptian and Jordanian territory, with the apartheid infrastructure of occupation taking most of the West Bank into an expanded Israel. It is a message for domestic consumption. Netanyahu faces a general election in January. The fusion between his Likud party and the ultra-right Avigdor Lieberman did not produce a poll bounce. It is a message to the Palestinians, including Abu Mazen as he plans to go to the UN and is increasingly desperate in the face of settlement building, the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and the bankruptcy of the Oslo process. It is aimed at Arab capitals – especially Cairo. And it is addressed to Washington, where even Obama’s craven support for Israel does not have the required zealotry of Netanyahu’s friends on the Republican right, who were rejected in the presidential and Senate elections. It’s a gambit that shows every sign of backfiring, as in 2008-09 and 2006. Ceasefire talks this week could not avoid the calls to lift the six year siege on Gaza.

This isn’t the first time an Israeli prime minister has flayed the Palestinians – pour encourager les autres. In 2001, following 9/11, George W Bush toyed with the call for Palestinian statehood and a renewed peace process. It was window dressing to garner support for the impending wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel’s Ariel Sharon responded with a massive military incursion into the West Bank and Gaza. Israel was going to make no compromise even to assist its benefactor’s war drive. 

Israel remains at the centre of the US establishment’s – both Democrat and Republican – calculus of control in the Middle East. Washington provides unique access to weapons and billions of dollars of subventions to Tel Aviv – and the EU and Britain give preferential trading agreements – because it is calculated as in its interests to do so. The pro-Israel lobby does not determine those interests or high policy. But it does exert a vice-like grip on policy discussion to sideline alternatives, and their bearers, which might loosen the relationship with Israel and its right wing for the purpose of securing a broader, more stable set of alliances in pursuit of Persian Gulf oil. Keeping its hand on that spigot remains vital to US strategic policy. Even as it tries to reduce its own dependence on foreign oil, it still wants to control the supply to others, such as China, whose economies cannot function without it. The Israeli tail does not wag the US dog. But an ageing dog can lose full command of its faculties.    

The grand gamble under George W Bush and the authors of the Project for the New American Century a decade ago did not pay off. The war on Iraq resulted in weakening the US position in the Middle East, a deep and persisting decline of militarist public opinion in the US and Europe, and the strengthening of Iran in Iraq. The Afghanistan war is lost. Western prestige is falling and the political costs mounting alongside the rising Afghan and Nato death tolls and the destabilisation in Pakistan. 

But it would be a foolhardy mistake to read off from that either the impotence of US-organised imperialism or the prospect of pacific development in the Middle East, where those striving for progress would have the space to skirt around the rocks of occupation, military aggression and foreign interference. Changing the Middle East without confronting state power, great and local, as it were. 

First, the US remains immensely powerful – militarily more powerful than the next 19 states together, many of them its allies in any case. Its presence in the Persian Gulf is entrenching – in Bahrain and Qatar. Perversely, that is not Washington’s strategic intention, which is rather to concentrate military deployment encircling China. The doctrine is outlined in the Pentagon’s “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for a 21st Century Defense”. It’s forced to maintain direct deployment in the Middle East because the second limb of policy to manage upheaval and relative decline is unreliable. It is more dependent on proxies and allies in the region. They have their own distinct interests. So Israel and Turkey, a member of Nato, are both close allies of the US. Turkey is no longer a simple client of the US. A decade of AKP rule by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan and his foreign secretary, Ahmet Davutoglu, has meant a policy of putting the interests of Turkish capital first. But it remains a close, though more independent ally, and is pitching for the role of US suzerain in the Levant. The problem is that Israel already sees itself as the regional power. Turkey has ambitions which clash with that. Both have conflicting interests over, for example, the future of Algerian-levels of natural gas reserves discovered under the sea between Lebanon, Israel and the divided island of Cyprus. The tensions persist even as Erdogan seeks a tight fit with the US and Nato. So the story of Washington’s response to armed conflict in Libya and more so Syria is not simply of reluctance to intervene directly in conditions of circumscribed power. It is also one of relying on allies who have their own aspirations – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Gulf Cooperation Council. This is not a recipe for ending direct Western intervention – as Libya and the moves to cohere a pro-Western political leadership in Syria demonstrate. It is certainly not a prelude to less war in the Middle East. 

There is a parallel with the US response to its greatest ever imperial defeat: Vietnam. The victory of the Vietnamese people encouraged forces of liberation everywhere. It did not mean that a wounded US imperialism tiptoed from the stage, leaving others to play the principal. There followed a new doctrine of intense re-engagement though allies, state and others, overt and covert. The Contra war in Nicaragua; the strengthening of support for Israel after the US presence in Lebanon was forced to a close by the loss of 241 of its soldiers in 1983; the arming of Saddam Hussein against revolutionary Iran; the disastrous meddling in Afghanistan to back favoured sons of the mujahideen; the second Cold War, with the stationing of Cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe directed against the then main strategic competitor, the Soviet Union, upon whose collapse there followed the 1991 Gulf War and a resurgence of direct US interventions throughout the late-1990s. The cycle culminated in the full-blown occupation of Iraq in 2003.  

For sure, there are major differences between the position of the US three decades ago and today (though the sanctimonious Western baiting of Russia and China at the UN over Syria is redolent of 1980s Cold War rhetoric, as is the stationing of a missile “defence shield” in Eastern Europe and Turkey). The most obvious difference is the re-emergence of revolutionary upheavals across the Middle East/North Africa region. In 1979, the US lost a pillar of support with the fall of the Shah of Iran. Three decades later, and despite billions of dollars of support, it lost Mubarak. 

Response in the Arab region

Anger and shame in Egypt at the complicity of the Mubarak regime in the oppression of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, was at the centre of the movement that tore him down. It was the Al Aqsa Palestinian intifada a decade ago which led to a generation of young activists breaking the stranglehold of the Egyptian security state and taking to the streets for the first time in many years. Rage intensified at Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, during which Mubarak sealed the border with Gaza while – let us never forget – pledging along with every other Arab president and prince undying love for “our Palestinian brothers”. A fresh generation faced the ugly triptych of neo-liberal dislocation, national humiliation at their country’s prostration to imperialism and a police state viciously repressive in proportion to its declining legitimacy. That powered the great upsurge of protests and strikes that went on to topple Mubarak, in the wake of Tunisia’s Ben Ali. Underlying those movements are deep shifts in Arab societies, and in the configuration of imperial power. It is not only that these transformations are processes, rather than simply events (a journalistic commonplace now). They are likely to be drawn out over many years. Many Arab historians identify the start of a new epoch in the region. That’s why it is a mistake – understandable from those who continue to experience declining living standards and repression in the Middle East – to imagine that what Western journalists called the Arab Spring has ended, to be replaced not with a glorious summer but by a seemingly permanent winter of dispossession. Equally, to imagine that the movement would simply surge forward and rapidly transform everything, or to exaggerate what has changed, is to underestimate the resources of the other side, their tenacity and the critical political junctures the movement continues to face. Operation Pillar of Cloud poses one such juncture for those fighting for democracy in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere: is this to be done alongside those bombing Gaza, or against them? The answer from the popular masses in Syria and in every Arab state is already known and is resounding. But the same people know from their own bitter history that unfortunately popular sentiment and principle are not automatically reflected in the politics of those who rise to the top – in fact, they rarely have been. 

Compared with 15 years ago, the position of Israel and of its Western backers is demonstrably weaker. Then Israel could look to two treaty-allies on its frontline – Jordan and Egypt – an ongoing, though faltering, occupation of southern Lebanon, and a Syria that was contained, almost a Cold War relic which had recently joined the US-led assault on Iraq, then the strongest Arab state.  

A lot has changed, but much has not. Saudi Arabia (the oldest US Arab ally), Qatar and the regional capitalist hub represented by the Gulf Cooperation Council states have been pivotal in muting the response to Israel’s aggression on Gaza. Naturally, there have been words. It is easily forgotten, however, that strong words came from all of them, and from Egypt’s rulers at the time, in 1982 over the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, over the first intifada, the second intifada, the siege of President Arafat in Ramallah, Operation Cast Lead… No Arab leader can do anything other than rhetorically boast he is with the Palestinians “until Jerusalem”. The emir of Qatar promises reconstruction aid for Gaza, while hosting the US Centcom base, a keystone of US, and by extension, Israeli military might – which is… flattening Gaza. They cannot be judged on words. At all. Ever. 

Their actions are to suppress, cajole or crush the militant heart of the movement which is best exemplified in Egypt. So they have systematically repressed the movement in Bahrain over the last 12 months, with the full support of the West. British prime minister David Cameron earlier this month toured Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. He was selling arms and grovelling his apologies to the House of Saud for a rare, critical British parliamentary report on the total absence of human rights in the kingdom. He cemented the recent military agreement with Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet. All this while Cameron and the kings posed as champions of democracy in Libya and Syria. The nauseating hypocrisy is summed up by Britain’s William Hague. Six days into the assault on Gaza, which as a great friend of Likud he backs above and beyond the call of his office, he proclaimed that the British government would now recognise the latest umbrella group of the Syrian opposition. It’s the one which the West – Britain and France above all – has with Gulf allies spent months ensuring is safely politically aligned. If they get their way, the fruit of the appalling fighting in Syria will be a government still more amenable to the West. We expect the Western media and politicians to fall silent about their double standards. The movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people and with the mass of Arabs cannot. 

Wiping Palestine off the map of public concern as thoroughly as it was wiped off the geographical map in 1948 has been key to Western and Gulf efforts to redirect and redefine the “Arab Spring” over the last 12 months. That has gone hand in hand with the direct suppression of the movement in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and with the effort to usurp and bend political forces from Libya to Syria and Egypt. The strategy has had some success. Until now. Until the renewed Israeli aggression on Gaza, which provides a moment in which the central issues are again clarified. 

The process is concentrated in Jordan. Last week tens of thousands of protesters broke a taboo and the law by calling for the fall of King Abdullah (the monarch, who rules by sole virtue of being his father’s son but who with no hint of irony said last year that Syria’s Bashar Al Assad lacked “democratic legitimacy”). The protests and strikes over fuel hikes in Jordan began on the eve of Operation Pillar of Cloud. Israel has an embassy in Jordan, where two thirds of the population are expelled Palestinians. The tripartite treaty and security arrangements between Israel, Jordan and (still) Egypt are central to Tel Aviv’s capacity to hold down the Palestinians. Fear of an Egyptian-style confluence of rising social discontent and heartfelt support for the Palestinians led Abdullah to cancel a visit to London in order to manage the crisis on Saturday as protests intensified. Part of his arsenal of response was, along with other Arab leaders, to call for a ceasefire and to issue a verbal fusillade against Netanyahu. He and they were licensed to do so. Words. Words – while the embassy of Israel and the mutual treaty stayed in place. Words while Jordan’s secret police host the CIA to train those approved by Israel to serve in the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, containing the incipient Palestinian spring in the West Bank and Jerusalem. 

Egypt and Turkey

The venue for the ceasefire negotiations was Cairo, where President Mohamed Morsi on the one hand recalled Egypt’s ambassador to Tel Aviv and on the other received warm praise from Washington and London for his “mediation efforts” between Israel and Hamas. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is not only closely linked to Hamas, which has moved through Cairo to normalise relations with Doha, Riyadh and other Arab capitals. The Brotherhood also stakes much of its claim for legitimacy on pan-Islamic solidarity to recover Palestine. Of course, by the standards of political leaders in Britain, where I’m writing this from, the recall of an ambassador from Israel is a huge step forward. But Morsi came to office in Egypt thanks to the revolutionary overthrow of Mubarak. The yardstick is very different. What may be lionised in Britain is lamentable in Egypt. Throughout the Israeli assault on Gaza restrictions have remained in place at the Rafah crossing with Egypt. The argument from Morsi and from the Brotherhood since his election has been that caution is necessary – a balancing act – so as not to provoke the still powerful Egyptian military or Western powers, who warily see the Brotherhood as a force they are obliged to do business with, rather than one they would have freely chosen. Egypt has just secured a loan from the International Monetary Fund, with the customary attendant neo-liberal conditions. Now, no friend of the Egyptian people would relish war or a reckless military confrontation with Israel. But we are not talking about some preemptory abrogation of the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt at a moment when Egypt would be isolated and seen to be inviting reprisals. We are talking about the moment when Israel launches its biggest aggression against Palestine since Mubarak sat idly by (while telling us he was praying for Gaza) four years ago. If not now, when? Operation Pillar of Defence has produced significant protests in Egypt, including from Muslim Brotherhood members. A gathering of parties, among them the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, called for action, rather than words, from Morsi. 

His election run-off against the candidate of the SCAF military council this year produced a division in the revolutionary movement in Egypt. First there was a liberal argument – echoed by sections of the historic left – that the Muslim Brotherhood, indeed Islamist forces generally, are simply reactionary, as much an enemy of the mass of the population as the military junta which hankered for continuity with the Mubarak years. At the extreme end were pro-Western liberals or social democrats who openly said they preferred the “secular”, military-backed Shafiq to the “Islamist” Morsi. A second, more difficult, argument was among those who rightly do not equate the Muslim Brotherhood with the military, but who differed over the tactics of whether to boycott the election or to vote for Morsi in order to stall the direct attempt by the military to roll back the revolution. I believe that the narrow victory of Morsi and the course of politics since is a vindication of arguing for the defeat of Shafiq in the election, which meant favouring the victory of Morsi, against the understandable feeling of overwhelmingly young, urban revolutionaries to boycott the election in the name of radical street action against all the old conservative faces. 

Be that as it may. The point for all the radical wing for the Egyptian revolution was what were the best tactics to propel it forward. It was about how to go beyond the chronically cautious, vacillating Brotherhood leadership and how to defeat the move by Western powers to limit the changes to a parliamentary/presidential facade, behind which Egypt’s role in the region would remain little changed, as would the position of working people, peasants, the poor and the oppressed at home. 

The assault on Gaza and the tepid response from the Egyptian government provide a moment when radical revolutionaries can aspire to do just that: to win broader layers to the radical goals of the revolution as workers and the poor continue to resist at home and the government’s vaunted Islamic solidarity stands diminished abroad. The divisions among the Brotherhood over Morsi’s performance mean that the genuine left can pose a militant way forward alongside those disappointed with Morsi – in common initiatives.  

This is so not only in Egypt. Turkey, under Erdogan’s AKP Islamist government, has issued strong words against Israel, calling it “a terrorist state”. Erdogan and Davutoglu have been at the centre of steering the “Arab Spring” towards an outcome in their own image, a kind of Islamic version of European Christian Democracy. 

No one can doubt the sincerity of the mass of Turkish people, religious and secular, in their support for the Palestinians. Those of us who were aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship attacked by Israel two years ago will forever attest to that. Erdogan also issued strong words against Israel in 2009, during Cast Lead. But since his “just one minute” speech at the Davos summit in Switzerland nearly four years have passed. In that time, and despite diplomatic spats, trade between Israel and Turkey has increased 60 percent to $4.4 billion. That provides a significant portion of Israel’s foreign earnings. It is exactly the vulnerability identified by the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. But there are no Turkish economic sanctions on Israel. Erdogan is on the point of requesting extra missiles from his Nato partners. They are not to protect the Palestinians or even theatrically to wave at Israel. They are for pointing at Syria, as the border tension between the two countries escalates and Turkey wishes to play kingmaker in Damascus. 

The US, Britain, Europe and the war at home

Suggestions and observations from those in the West to friends in the Middle East are cheap – in fact worthless – if they do not flow from and are subordinate to building a serious movement in the heart of the Empire. There is a long tradition of “progressives” in the West refusing to oppose or giving tacit support to their states’ war machines in the name of “liberating” people from only carefully selected “despots” in far off lands. It may indeed be inadequate for one Middle Eastern foreign minister after another ritualistically to visit Gaza under bombardment. But the US and British governments are not inadequate. They are self aware and irreplaceable backers of Israel. They are participants in this war. The EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton, with the war criminal Tony Blair as Middle East peace envoy, was despatched not to Gaza under bombs, but to the West Bank. There they sought to pressure Abu Mazen not to push recognition at the UN. 

The Western public response to Israel’s attack on Gaza has been angry. In most countries support for Israel continues to fall. But those of us active in the West must be honest: we have a very long way to go. The ease with which the British media and political class supported this aggression on Gaza shows that. Too easily and too often have we allowed Palestine to be sidelined over the last 12 months. Too readily have some of us not singlemindedly honed in on the crimes of our own governments. Failing to do that allows greater space for them to sow confusion and division; falsely to pose as liberators; to redefine the public perception of the Arab Spring as a movement directed mainly at those at odds with the West, while our allies are supposedly quietly reforming. And our core allies in the region are spewing an ethnic-religious poison against “Persians”, “Alawites” and Shia minority Muslims in a sickening reheating of Sykes-Picot divide and rule. That poison has entered the veins of even some in Britain’s Muslim communities. While the venom weakens the body, the ideological barrage softens the mind. Few may buy the brazen trickery of Israel’s venerable war criminal Shimon Peres, who claimed last year that he welcomed the “Arab Spring” as it represented, he said, an overdue, pro-Western modernisation of the Middle East, directed against the “old politics” of “Hamas, Hezbollah” and Arab nationalism. But the more we allow Palestine to be glossed over, the easier it is for all those who wish to derail the movements to rid the Middle East of all foreign domination and of corrupt rulers, and who manipulate the better part of the feelings of Western citizens, mostly prey to the media corporations.   

The return of revolutionary events to the Middle East did not mean that the struggle against imperialist interference ended. It meant that that struggle could be refounded on mass, revolutionary movements. There is every reason to stand with mainly young people in the Middle East facing over a century of dismemberment, disfigurement and disillusion with those who have promised to solve it. There can be no excuse in the imperialist states for mature movements not to confront systematically and in all fields our governments. The century-long foreign domination of the Middle East is weakening, thanks in no small measure to the continued resistance of the Palestinian people. Tensions and conflicts in the US-organised hierarchy of control are mounting. But there is still a hierarchy of control. It is that which defines the problems it faces, not the other way around.  

Britain, post-Suez, has been wedded as a junior partner, an adjutant to the US. When Cameron’s government backs Israel in deed and not just word, helping to arm it, covering for it at the UN, when it props up the Gulf dictators and seeks to usurp the future of the Syrian and Arab people more generally, then these are not simply Middle Eastern questions, the subjects of theoretical debate or ideological elucidation. They are British political questions. 

Three generations ago several leaders of what would become successful anti-colonial liberation movements spent time in London: it was the capital of the biggest empire. Gandhi, Kenyatta and others, discussed with Labour Party people, the Independent Labour Party, Communists, Fabians and more besides. They did not look to progressives in Britain primarily for an organised discussion about politics in the Indian subcontinent or East Africa. Principally, they sought out people here who would construct a movement that could help lift the Union Jack-boot off the necks of people in the two thirds of the globe then run from London. 

Britain’s despicable support for the latest war on Gaza shows why a movement and political principles opposed to contemporary imperialism remain vital. Keeping Palestine as “the issue” is central to that movement. It embraces the welcome reality that globally for tens of millions of people, especially young people thirsting for change, Palestine has become the symbol of the world struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter – as Malcolm X used to put it. Palestine is also a loadstone. Real progress in the Middle East, in deeds not empty words, brings the liberation of Palestine closer, not more distant. 

The change from Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 or the war on Lebanon two years earlier is not only in the Middle East. It is in Europe and north America. Here, now, we are in the throes of a long economic crisis. Austerity grips the US, Britain and Europe in a way that was only dimly discernible on the horizon when Israel killed 1,417 Palestinians four years ago. The stakes for the old imperial powers are very high. So too for their people. 

In addition to the considerable minority who were already moved to side with the Palestinians, there are many others in Britain who ask or who can be encouraged to ask – why should we stand with Cameron behind Israel’s shooting war on the Palestinians, when it is Cameron and his Etonian millionaires who are at economic and social war with us? As austerity bites deeper and domestic support for the government withers, then foreign imperial adventures are all the more risky. Ensuring that the risk is realised requires an unswerving focus on the duplicity and crimes of our rulers, intensifying every argument against them through whatever actions we can muster with broad support. With a British government in occupation of Afghanistan, a belligerent in Gaza and at war against us at home this is not a distraction. It is the most meaningful thing we can do in solidarity with those resisting in Palestine and across the Middle East. 

Greece is the European country hardest hit thus far by the economic war of the rich against the rest. There have been many demonstrations, strikes and electoral battles by the left over the last four years. On the annual commemoration of the Polytechnic Uprising against the military junta in 1973, a massive demonstration unsurprisingly took to the streets of Athens on Saturday, 17 November. There were many excellent candidates for where the march should go to, given the manifold domestic and international tormentors of the Greek people today. The demonstration, three days into the assault on Gaza, chose to go the Israeli embassy in Athens. To its credit, on that evening at least, the Communist Party contingent argued with the police that its permit for that route should also include everyone else who wished to protest against the outpost of the Zionist entity in solidarity with the Palestinians. The anti-capitalist left and the bulk of the demonstration did wish to; they marched there together. 

It was more than a gesture of solidarity, splendid alone as that would have been. The governments of austerity Greece, a member of Nato, have drawn increasingly close to Israel over the last two years. In striking at that pact and for the people in Gaza, the Polytechnic demonstration revealed a political intent for a radical break with all the filth of Western capitalism and imperialism. 

Internationalism is not simply support for those elsewhere; it is the beating heart of a truly radical politics at home. And the meaning of this latest Israeli war? More war and imperialist meddling are to come. Alongside them, further upsurges and resistance. And for those of us who resist – Palestine is still the issue. 

Kevin Ovenden
20 November 2012

European Action: the Potential of November 14th

This is a guest post from Andrew Burgin & Kate Hudson

14 November day of actionEvents themselves are driving us towards greater European cooperation. In the context of the social, economic and political catastrophe that is facing much of Europe, this increasing cooperation – of trade unions, left parties and social movements – must be understood as an urgent necessity, not as a luxury or a diversion from national struggles.

Against a backdrop of daily protests across the continent on a gigantic scale, the ETUC has issued a call for action that is set to impact on the movement in Britain in an unprecedented fashion. Such ETUC calls are usually disregarded here. They make no impact, even amongst those most willing to look above the parapet of strictly British concerns. But the modest resonance of the recent ETUC initiative is indicative of both the scale of the crisis we are all facing and of the increased receptiveness to the necessity of cooperation with our brothers and sisters in struggle across Europe.

Last week the ETUC called for a day of solidarity action across Europe on November 14th, ‘including strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other actions’. It follows the decision of national trades unions in Spain and Portugal to co-ordinate strike action on that day, which have since been joined by unions in Greece, Malta, Italy and Cyprus.

Far from being a routine call to be met with routine indifference, this call opens the path for unions throughout Europe to take solidarity action in support of the general strike action in the southern European countries. It presents an opportunity to take action that is appropriate and possible in any local and national context, to feed into a powerful continent-wide expression of refusal, of resistance, and a demand for pro-people alternatives.

Clearly we cannot expect the same forms of action in each country. As Die Linke central committee member, Florian Wilde, argued at the recent Europe against Austerity conference, on the 21st October, the economic crisis and the response to it by the youth and the working class is proceeding in an uneven way in different European countries.

Whilst the ruling class has used the crisis to expedite the destruction of all social gains in health, education, welfare and employment rights achieved in the post-war period, the path and the speed of the destruction of these gains varies from country to country. Equally, what is possible in each country depends on the state of the working class movement as well as the pace of the onslaught it faces.

We have seen the intensification of the general strike as a weapon by the working class, combined with mass action against austerity and new waves of social struggles expressed by the indignados and occupy movements. These developments are of great importance.

Yet although throughout Europe many millions have been mobilised, nowhere has it so far been possible to push back the austerity offensive and assert the interests – and politics representative of the working class – on a governmental level.

Greece has seen the most widespread action against the onslaught of capital, with 20 days of general strikes over a three year period. It is at the cutting edge of the austerity offensive with the disintegration of everyday life a lived experience by millions. Greece also stands as the country closest to the achievement of a government which will reject austerity, defend the people and advance their interests. The tragedy here is that while the left – through the SYRIZA party – stood on the threshold of political office in June 2012, the failure of other left forces to join them in a workers’ government has thrown open the door to extreme reaction – a door already prised ajar by the policies of the Troika.

There can be no hiding from the appalling events already taking place in Greece as the Golden Dawn fascist party has gone from 0.23% of the vote to 12% in the most recent polls. They have infiltrated sections of the state and have organised themselves as a paramilitary force which now attacks the immigrant community, the left and other progressive forces. Anti-fascist activists now face beatings and torture at the hands of the fascists.

We must not stand idly by and allow this to happen, unchallenged. Solidarity work with the people of Greece must be a top priority for the trade unions and the left throughout Europe. And it is much hoped for and expected. As Greek trade union leader, Giorgos Charisis, said at the Europe against Austerity conference, ‘We need an internationalist coalition of the working class. Britain has a tradition of international solidarity. We take for granted you will extend it to us and we look forward to it.’

The message is clear, from the people themselves, and also repeatedly from our television and computer screens: we cannot have business as usual, either in the trade unions in Britain or in the wider movement. The consequences of inaction are too terrible to contemplate, either on a political level, or on a human level.

November 14th, with its potential for the co-ordination and intensification of struggle across Europe, offers the possibility of being the spark to ignite a generalised offensive against capital to reverse the defeats being inflicted on the peoples on a daily basis.

Whilst Britain, for a variety of reasons, has not yet achieved the level of mobilisation seen in other parts of Europe, it has nevertheless seen mass demonstrations against austerity. The TUC ‘March for the Alternative’ in March 2011 was the largest trade union mobilisation this country has seen, with more than half a million taking to the streets. It followed from a radicalisation amongst the student population emerging from a campaign against tuition fees and it fed into a struggle to defend pension rights.

The second TUC march ‘For a Future that Works’ on the 20th October 2012 was smaller in size but with more than 150,000 marching was nevertheless significant and was marked by a hardening of the anti-austerity message from a significant section of the trade union leadership. Three general secretaries called for a general strike at the demonstration rally and others referred to the TUC congress resolution to explore the practicalities of organising such a strike.

General strike is, for many reasons – legal, historical and political – not on the current agenda in Britain in the same way that it is across much of Europe. Apart from anything else, we have the most draconian anti-trade union laws in Europe, designed to avoid anything other than the most localised, workplace specific strikes. But take action we must, and in solidarity with the struggles taking place in Europe on November 14th. It may be that some unions can take co-ordinated strike action on that day and that such developments are already being considered. This would be no mean feat to achieve and it would be a major step forward for the struggle, in Britain and Europe.

Nevertheless with much of southern Europe on the verge of general strike action even the most modest solidarity action here in Britain would be of enormous significance.

Every initiative taken by the trade unions and wider movement, whether symbolic or of greater practical solidarity, must be supported. November 14th presents us with an opportunity that must be seized.

Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson

28 October 2012

Greece: Answering the Critics of a United Front

This is a guest post by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson

Greece stands on a precipice. There can be no return to the old politics there and a revolutionary situation is emerging amid the chaos of everyday life. The classic conditions for revolution are present: a working class no longer prepared to live in the old way and a ruling class no longer able to rule in the old way.

Even the people who decide to end their own lives are not doing so quietly. They are going to the squares to die and they are leaving messages that talk not so much of their own despair but of struggle – ‘hang the bankers and the politicians’, said one.

The political situation in Greece has to be resolved either by the working class or by the forces of reaction – there is no third way. Either Greece will have a workers’ government or the forces of the extreme right will grow and threaten the existence of the left as a whole.

One force has emerged on the left and has galvanised mass support – Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, a coalition of communists, Maoists and Trotskyists and other progressive currents. In Marxist terms it is a left-centrist formation – different in essence from the Socialist Party in France or the Labour Party in Britain.

Syriza has come under fire, since its stunning election result in May where it went from 4.4% to 16.8% of the popular vote, from the entire Greek establishment – from all the media and the main bailout parties. The attempt to demonise Syriza is also being promoted throughout the whole of the European Union and the Troika have concentrated their fire on Syriza. You only have to listen to the lectures being given by Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, about Greeks not paying their taxes to know which way the wind is blowing.

Syriza have rejected the bailout terms. The party has refused the memorandum and called for the defence of workers’ rights. Their leader Alexis Tsipras outlined 5 demands that a new government would undertake. In addition Syriza are on record as calling for the complete nationalisation of the banks.

There is no doubt that Syriza is under enormous pressure to compromise its principles and that within Syriza there may be rightist tendencies that might buckle under pressure from the EU and others. These are decisive days in Greek politics. In this situation what should other forces on the left do?

This week major comment pieces have appeared in the two main left papers in Britain, the Morning Star and the Socialist Worker, written by Kenny Coyle and Alex Callinicos respectively. Rather than calling for critical support for Syriza in opposing the memorandum and defending the working class both articles argue that the working class have chosen the wrong party to support -‘it should have been me’ shout the jilted revolutionaries and expecting a quick divorce proclaim that once the working class have come to their senses it will be [one] of them.

The sister party of Socialist Worker [SEK] works within a much smaller left coalition than Syriza called Antarsya. Antarsya picked up 1.2% of the vote in the May general election. They did not pass the threshold for parliamentary representation in Greece which is 3% and although they are standing again are unlikely to increase their vote significantly and certainly not to that threshold – as Callinicos admits ‘I don’t expect Antarsya to get a big vote’. Callinicos is not wrong here – polls show Antarsya support dropping to 0.5% – the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition got more votes on the London Assembly list.

So why are they standing?

Callinicos’s main point seems to be that the election itself is not that important. In fact his piece is titled ‘Greece’s real battle comes after the election’. So the election is not a real battle – the real battle is taking place on the streets in the struggle against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. No one doubts the bravery of Antarsya comrades and their commitment to anti-fascist work. Their offices have been attacked by the fascists in recent days because they are at the heart of anti-fascist work in Greece. Everyone there knows that.

But this is not a good reason for Antarsya to stand against Syriza and possibly deny it the possibility of becoming the largest party – which given the peculiarities of Greek electoral law gains an extra 50 seats. In fact in return for calling on its voters to support Syriza it should put down a number of proposals for joint anti-fascist work – some of which could only be introduced by a government – outlawing paramilitary activity, purging public institutions of Golden Dawn supporters.

Elections are important and the May election saw the vote for Golden Dawn increase from 0.3% to almost 7% – this has emboldened them and they have been at the heart of anti-immigrant riots in Patras this week. They are not fascists in suits but fascists in uniform and bearing arms. Almost 50% of the police voted for Golden Dawn.

Callinicos argues that Antarsya has a distinctive programme and lists Greek default, bank nationalistion, shorter working day and leaving the Euro. It’s not that distinctive – in fact the KKE has the same programme and Syriza has three of the four. They only differ on the question of the Euro – and there are those who support Syriza such as Costas Lapivitsas who are arguing for Greece to leave the Euro. The question of the Euro anyway does not lie in the hands just of the working class – the Troika are making preparations for Greece to leave the Euro. In any case a distinctive political position does not have to be jettisoned because you lend electoral support to another organisation. The SWP would presumably not dream of standing against Jeremy Corbyn in his constituency especially if it jeopardised his seat.

Callinicos argues that the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and Antarsya are the most important forces battling against austerity on the ground. If this is the case why has the working class in a period of struggle turned to Syriza? The fact is that this is simply untrue. The Coalition of Resistance took a delegation of national trade unions to Greece and saw for ourselves how embedded Syriza was in the struggles of the class – it was Syriza who took us to the town councils in the working class areas of Athens at Nea Ionia and Ellinikon where local committees have been set up to distribute cheap food and free medical care.

Syriza are arguing for and part of setting up committees of action throughout Greece. In a poll last week for the Greater Athens area they were at 31% – the working class is looking for a left party willing to take office and improve their daily lives. Nobody is arguing that the KKE and Antarsya do not contain good militants devoted to the class but they are being misled – and many are now joining Syriza. Callinicos says that ‘the stronger Antarsya’s voice the greater the pressure will be on Syriza to stand firm’. But as Antarsya’s electoral voice is likely to be diminished it is hard to see the value of this position. In fact, the decision of Antarsya to stand weakens the whole left and makes it more likely that Syriza will not be able to form a government and if the left is disunited the forces of the right will grow. Antarsya should either be inside Syriza arguing its politics or – if remaining separate – calling for a critical vote for Syriza.

What of the KKE?

The KKE received 8.8% of the vote last May and had MPs elected. Nobody is calling for them not to stand. They should. The question is what their MPs will do when elected. Will they support the formation of a Syriza-led workers’ government or will they open the door for the pro-bailout parties to return?

Comrades in Athens tell us that the main message of the KKE is ‘Don’t Trust Syriza.’ The KKE leader, Aleka Papariga, has refused to meet with Alexis Tsipras and, according to Kenny Coyle, has reserved her sharpest words for Syriza – not for the forces of the bourgeoisie. Coyle’s article strives to explain the politics behind this extraordinary decision: to make attacking Syriza – a party of the working class – central to the work of the KKE in the forthcoming election. From the KKE’s own publications it is clear that it sees Syriza as part of a ‘facelift’ of the Greek political scene organised by the bourgeois class ‘in order to preserve its power’. But the reality is that the regrouping of right-wing forces around New Democracy and the political and media war against Syriza comprise the attempts of the Greek – and European – bourgeoisie to preserve its power.

The KKE analysis and approach has diminishing support from the Greek working class, and like Callinicos, Coyle acknowledges that his sister party will fare badly at the polls. But the KKE is determined to disregard the desire of the Greek workers to choose political representation that will take concrete steps in their interests – an intention clearly outlined by Syriza. Coyle tries to explain why the development of the mass movement in Greece, with numerous general strikes and mass ‘can’t pay won’t pay’ campaigns, has led to the rise of Syriza electorally but not the KKE. He is forced back on the KKE argument that Syriza has pulled the wool over the workers’ eyes – that they are lying to the working class and must be exposed. But the great weakness is that the KKE’s exposure of the great Syriza ‘confidence trick’ relies on words and propaganda alone. The hollowness of this approach is dismaying given the gravity of the situation facing Greece. The real test of the KKE as a workers’ party would be in joining a Syriza-led workers’ government and holding it to its pledges.

The terrible irony is that Coyle says the KKE would support a Syriza government if it had a plan B – a programme to deal with exit from the Eurozone. The problem for the KKE is that their decision not to critically support a Syriza-led government will lead to Christine Lagarde’s plan A – further austerity measures being imposed on the people of Greece by a New Democracy government supported by PASOK and others.

The great tragedy is that the KKE and its supporters are willing to pursue this hand-washing isolationist line, expecting electoral losses to be short term and assuming that at some point in the future the working class will rally to the KKE: a kind of ‘after them, us’ analysis. As Coyle observes, the KKE has decided it is better to suffer short-term electoral losses than to participate in a Syriza-led government whose policies ‘will result in rapid disillusionment and the demobilisation of Europe’s most vibrant extra-parliamentary mass movement’. But many will interpret this as an abdication of the KKE’s responsibility to the working class, potentially unleashing even more extreme austerity and brutality on the Greek people at the hands of a resurgent right.

As Marx said, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Coyle and the KKE’s argument is one that we have heard that before – it is remarkably similar to those used by the German Communist Party (KPD) in the late 1920s and early 1930s to defend the decision not to work with the SPD, the German Social Democratic Party. In Germany this led to disaster and the coming to power of the Nazis.

These are momentous days in world history. Capitalism has entered the period of its structural decline. Unlike the 1930s little can be done to halt the ever-increasing economic crisis. A solution in one country opens up economic fault lines in another. The Euro cannot be saved; the real question – and one posed more by mainstream economists than by Marxists – is whether capitalism itself can be saved.

Both Callinicos and Coyle downplay the importance of the parliamentary elections, saying that the real struggles lie on the streets and ahead. What they fail to understand is the relationship between parliament and the street. There is a deep desire amongst the Greek working class for a government that will begin to solve the problems that they are facing. Of course no solution is possible for any workers’ government without a mass mobilisation of the people but in their refusal to support a Syriza-led government they are merely vacating the space for the right, undermining the mass movement on the streets and potentially ensuring their defeat.

From Cairo to Quebec via Athens and Mexico City and Santiago millions are fighting back.

The task for socialists is to try and unite the working class under a single banner.

Callinicos and Coyle take a sectarian approach – sectarian in the sense that they represent the interests of their political currents and confuse those with the interests of the class as a whole.

Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson
Wednesday May 30th

Greece: the Responsibility of the Left

This is a guest post from Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson

In the run up to the recent elections in Greece, a number of facts became increasingly clear: the people of Greece can suffer no more austerity – they are at breaking point; Greece is being used as a gigantic social experiment and if it succeeds other countries in Europe will suffer the same fate; the working people of Greece are increasingly supportive of anti-austerity parties and there is a need – and strong desire – for unity of these forces on the left.

The elections showed a stunning result for Syriza, the main recipient of the anti-austerity vote, pushing its support to 16.7% and outstripping the former governing party PASOK whose vote fell from 44% to 13%.

The KKE vote also increased, but only marginally, to 8.5%. The other party experiencing rapid growth was the neo-nazi Golden Dawn, whose vote rose from 0.23% to 6.9%. Further polls taken since the election show Syriza’s support is now at 27%. Its popularity has been enhanced by the five demands proposed by its leader Alexis Tsipras.

They are:

• Cancelling the bailout terms, notably laws that further cut wages and pensions
• Scrapping laws that abolish workers’ rights, particularly a law abolishing collective labour agreements due to come into effect on 15 May
• Demanding proportional representation and the end to the 50 seat bonus to the first party
• Investigating Greece’s banking system which received almost 200bn euros of public money and posing the need for some kind of state control over the banks
• Setting up an international committee to find out the causes of Greece’s public deficit and putting on hold all debt servicing.

That Syriza must form a government on this basis is now the central political demand and one which reflects the political reality facing the country. It seems likely that a new election will be called for June and Syriza will emerge as the strongest party. The working class are looking to the left to resolve the problems they face in their daily lives and many middle class voters are also turning to Syriza as the mainstream parties have plunged them further and further into an economic nightmare. There is an increasing recognition from across the board that the policy prescriptions of finance capital hold no future for the country.

However, whilst support from ordinary people is increasing, the response from the left outside of Syriza has not been good. The KKE leader Aleka Papariga has refused to meet with Tsipras and the KKE have released a statement which includes this: ‘Syriza is lying that it will cancel the memorandum and the loan agreement and that it will free the people from the debt.’

The KKE calls not for a government in which Syriza can be worked with, tested out and held to its five demands, but for a strengthening of the KKE. It is likely that this isolationist policy has been shaped by its negative experience in the late 1980s when it helped form and briefly belonged to Synaspismos – the main element of Syriza – and participated in government coalitions with both New Democracy and PASOK. As a result of this experience, in 1991 the KKE began the process of reconsolidating itself as an explicitly communist party. But these experiences should not prevent the KKE from fighting for working class unity today. Syriza is not PASOK or New Democracy – it stands on a clear anti-austerity programme.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that left organisations put the interests of the class first – a principle which should be applied in Britain or any other country as much as Greece.

Any cooperation between Syriza and the bourgeois parties should be opposed but it is not currently on the agenda, and has been explicitly rejected by Tsipras. But nevertheless the KKE believes that a government led by Syriza would “meet the needs and interests of capital, the choices of the EU and the IMF.” However, this is not what the majority of the working class believes and the election results show it has made a different assessment. Syriza triumphed strongly in working class areas where it was the first party and amongst unemployed youth where it was also the first party. The second party for the young unemployed was the fascist Golden Dawn.

The KKE should now use its political weight, built largely on its undoubted courage during the second world war, civil war and military junta, to demand that Tsipras takes office in order to defend the working class. The role of communists in such a government would be to ensure practical steps forward for socialism.

What is necessary in Greece is a united front of all workers’ parties. The situation is so grave that historical and programmatic differences must be set aside in the interests of the working class. Parties can maintain their own organisational independence and slogans whilst the government centres on concrete political and economic issues for the benefit of working people.

The current position of the KKE is a tragedy both for itself and the people of Greece. At the next election its vote is expected to fall and many KKE supporters will switch to Syriza – but even then it is unlikely that Syriza will be able to form a government without the support of the KKE.

The same support for a united front should come from all sections of the left in Greece. Whilst it does not have the same political weight as the KKE, the far left anti-capitalist coalition Antarsya should also back a Syriza-led government. But as a leader of the British Socialist Workers’ Party – its British sister organisation – tweeted ‘Anti-capitalist left Antarsya will not prop up SYRIZA govt but is calling for joint-action to beat austerity in strikes, occupations’.

Antarsya is not in a position to prop up any government – they got 1.2% of the vote and polled 75,000 which is down on their result in the 2010 local elections when they polled 97,000. However, Antarsya contains many good activists and they have been at the forefront of anti-fascist activity and the call that they make for united action on the streets is important. On some demonstrations in Greece this is beginning to happen in practice, notably in February when cadre from the KKE opened their lines to protect Syriza supporters from the riot police in Syntagma Square.

But the lessons from Germany in the early thirties show that united action on the streets has to be supplemented with clear agreements between working class parties in defence of the class as a whole. We cannot repeat the errors of the left at that time, when calls for a united front from below isolated social democratic workers from communists and split the movement, allowing Hitler to take power. Of course there is not an exact parallel between then and now, and as yet neither a military coup nor a fascist take-over are in prospect. But it cannot be denied that the consequences of unbridled neo-liberalism and the effective dictatorship of finance capital are already creating the most devastating consequences for the people of Greece and must be understood as a most savage onslaught whose consequences will ultimately equal those that would be experienced under political or military dictatorship and may in fact lead to either of these being established. Those would be the consequences if the left fails. At the moment what is in prospect politically is the ascendancy of the working class. How can the left contemplate anything other than a united front to take that possibility forward and reject any possible resurgence of the right?

By the same token, the left across Europe should express the strongest possible solidarity with the working people of Greece in whatever practical and political ways can be established. Seventy-five years ago, the left from across Europe gave unstintingly and often with great personal sacrifice to support the Spanish republic against fascism. How can it now do less, in ways appropriate to the situation today, in support of the Greek people and to advance the prospect of a working class government?

At the moment the working class in Greece is undefeated and the opportunity to take the movement forward must not be rejected.