Europeans know splendor like they know decadence (and its consequences), but even throughout several different generations of experience, they have not always learned from their history. Will they learn this time? There has been anger, confusion, rebellion, xenophobia and impotence. Will anything good emerge from this?
By Nicolás Barros
International Left Review • SPRING – SUMMER 2012 • YEAR 2, NUMBER 2 •
The situation in Europe is far from good. Europeans have routinely trashed and irrationally exploited the environment for centuries. More recently there has been a lack of investment in new and improved technologies and manufacturing plants; instead there has been only pushes to spend on useless and unnecessary construction, to withhold capital from increasing manufacturing capacity, and even at times to invest capital in manufacturing outside of Europe. After all this, the chickens are coming home to roost.
The European Union is a thing of the past; it has drowned. It is the subject of much speculation and conjecture as to how it may continue to splinter, but there is no argument over the grim circumstances of its current status. England began its retreat before finishing its entrance. The country’s political and financial leadership is alarmed by the inevitable slide of its financial market under the domination of Zurich. With the dismantling of its former industrial power, England will simply be converted into a semi-colony of France, Germany and India.
The nucleus surviving the collapse “only for now” is made up of all the semi-colonies that both Germany and France have managed to retain and without which their mutual future as important nations would be finished.
Sweden, Hungary and Switzerland, waved goodbye as they left the port. There will be more countries departing soon. It is absolutely false that Germany and France are looking “to help” other nations with their fiscal problems by trying to prevent their escape. To the contrary, they cannot allow these countries (who have arrived at their current situation through the oppression of their “friends”—are these countries the ones oppressing their friends or the ones being oppressed?) to disconnect themselves from the EU because they would then lose their captive markets. Concretely, the problem of the European nations (to begin with) are Germany and France.
The old sinking ship in the Mediterranean is taking on water without relief. For Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Northern Europe and England it is only a matter of time before they all follow in the footsteps of Ireland and Iceland. In the center of all these countries, are Belgium, Hungary and Poland, which are in search for their place in this shipwreck.
The recent decisions of the Greek and Italian parliaments to establish ‘technical’ governments in order to implement brutal austerity plans with the EU are remarkable. Earlier governments had no chance to advance in that direction. These governments are implemented without allowing any public input and the Greek and Italian parliaments refuse the call for elections precisely because they know that they would not receive support for these measures. These are clearly fascist traits akin to specific aspects of Italy under Mussolini. This is an alarming development that we need to keep watching.
Meanwhile, the Russian ship is waiting at the dock for the inevitable collapse in order to go fishing in troubled waters. It would be a farce of history- although not too improbable – for the resuscitation of the Sacred Roman Empire of the East, with its capital in Moscow and an influence reaching the Danube and beyond.
The mass uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East are not neutral or unrelated to this reality. These huge mobilizations, regardless of their outcome, are a mortal blow to the imperialist European nations already in decline. These newly governed countries step into the world arena disputing control of their internal markets, getting better deals for the natural and energy resources they export and better contracts for their brand new transnational corporations and banks.
On the side of the Masses
In many European nations serious conflicts have arisen as a result of thousands of layoffs, as well as the losses of social and labor gains which were won after decades of hard struggles. Some of these losses include raising the age of retirement to nearly converge with the average age of death, the dismantling of free health and education systems, ending access to funding for housing, and more. At the same time, the far right is becoming increasingly xenophobic, sexist, and more stubbornly individualistic and narcissistic. .
The measures European capitalists are taking just to keep their ship afloat consist of pouring copious amounts of money into supporting the big banks and financial institutions that are drowning as a result of their own greed and irresponsibility, and instituting draconian adjustment measures in order to save massive amounts of money to pay for those bail outs— a prescription in the tradition of the IMF.
This medicine has already been administered in many areas of the world in the last 20 years, varying in terms of their territorial, historical, social, economic and political particularities, but always ending with the same result: more pain and repression. There is no doubt: what remains left of Europe is being sacrificed on France and Germany’s altar.
In the face of this situation indignation is spreading throughout those countries; protests and street fights are breaking out everywhere, essentially incited by workers and youth against the adjustment measures. Those at the forefront of this struggle include students who face the growing challenges of remaining in school while having no real prospect of getting jobs, along with unemployed workers displaced by cuts, and the youth of immigrant families living in the urban poorest neighborhoods.
They all come out to fight, pushing forward the struggle, and pressing on the existing labor unions which, under the leadership of entrenched labor bureaucracies, either try to ignore them or end up mobilizing in order to prevent the emergence of independent forms of organization beyond their influence or control.
In many of the European urban centers the conflict for the moment is taking the form of popular eruptions that are often impotent and above all lacking in the participation of workers in an organic form (as a social class). After the discontinuity and defeat of some of these struggles we have seen a swing in the direction of sweeping conservative electoral victories (Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands and Poland) and opinion polls in the same direction in Italy, Greece, Hungary and Iceland. This has been confirmed with the results of the first round of the French elections where the neofascist National Front obtained 18% of the votes and an emerging political map is showing that, together with similar groups, this trend is reaching dangerously 25% of the European electorate.
In the last five years we have observed dozens of regional and national crises like the current one. In all of them there is mass popular resistance of different magnitudes, some of which have even provoked the fall of national governments. Nevertheless the end result has consistently been merely the imposition of new and deeper economic adjustments which only produce more pain than the one that prompted the original resistance. None of these solutions offered by the state are ever any improvement to the social conditions for the impoverished masses.
How does this process work?
Why is it that despite the brutal fall in the standard of living coupled with state repression as the only response to demands, we still can not get to replace the official policies for others that benefit the masses. What should the people do to achieve changes in their favor? Is this something impossible to accomplish?
The answer is no, it is not impossible. Nobody is saying it is easy; the possibility exists and depends – in principle – on our ability to learn the lessons of the historic struggles of the past, on one side, and also the ability of the workers and the youth to regain faith in their own strength.
Will the Spanish or Greek workers who lose their jobs be able to purchase a taxicab with their severance pay? Would that increase their capacity to demand and mobilize themselves? When the situation is worse are conditions more ripe? None of that is true. The laid off workers, most of them from the middle class and or the labor aristocracy are defenseless to resist, after decades of co-optation by the system.
Europe, along with the USA, has most of the middle class of the world, including the petit bourgeoisie and urban and rural workers that earn high salaries. Historically, they have enjoyed privileges as a result of the imperialist exploitation of colonies and semi-colonies. They represent the social base of a labor bureaucracy that is characterized by its expertise in corrupting the working class and preventing the unions from being vehicles capable of defending working class economic and political rights.
The study of the history of the last four centuries of capitalism has taught us many things, among them is the fact that workers produce everything in society and that capitalists depend on them for profit. It also has taught us that every social and economic gain made by the workers comes at the cost of huge struggles, gains including access to affordable housing, medical care, education and even the right to leisure time. In addition, these gains have been uneven throughout the world, and the biggest gains have taken place in the imperialist countries that have exploited colonies overseas or on their own continent.
Another lesson consists of remembering that the workers of old Europe – the cradle of capitalism – only achieved changes when they led the whole of the people, accepted the challenge, broke up with capitalist organizations, parties and leaders and built their own organizations, parties and leaders.
This situation is not Greek, Portuguese or Polish, it is European and global and the response has to be at the same level. We need to have a movement that raises the issue of the integration of Europe as a new base, a regime led by the working class and the oppressed, only that type of a leadership that will be able to reorganize production and distribution and put it in the service of the masses. In the current stage, isolated nation-states cannot guarantee the maintenance of a standard of living that is even minimally acceptable for the population as a whole.
One common characteristic of the current struggles is that they do not raise the issue of the need to challenge the rule of the existing powers themselves and they end in isolation and defeat, without reaching the critical mass they need to develop their organizations. They do not go beyond isolated chapters, or outbursts of anger and do not evolve into some stable organizational form, capable of containing and channeling these isolated struggles which at any given moment could emerge as a vehicle of social change that invites, attracts and organizes all of those that sooner, rather than later, will be thrown into the arena of struggle of a drowning Europe.
For a very long time the working class movement has not produced any type of organizational progress. One of the most important reasons for this is the knowledge and expertise acquired by the employers and their state about how to derail the movements, and their ability to count on the support of the traitors, the labor lieutenants of capital, who take the form of the bureaucratic union leadership. They are capable of destroying any attempt of independent organization inside the work places.
However, the main aspect is that the left itself abandoned this task; they gave up trying to build these structures and decided to build a nest for themselves only among the youth and the urban petit bourgeoisie. They did not use the previous period to organize and today the conditions are not so favorable. While the left is dispersed, the right wing has been getting better organized and consolidated and the far right is growing.
We understand that advancing demands and mobilizing are indispensable in the class struggle, but the work does not end there, we must consolidate these actions into organization. The proposal of any organizational form is in principle an option to be considered, history has taught us that all credible social change has been sustained by organizational forms that are related directly to the existing system of production at a given moment. If those who want to change the situation do not participate directly in the productive process they cannot mount an effective alternative and mobilize behind them strength of all those under attack by the economic adjustment.
In other words, without mobilization there is no organization, and without organization, politics cannot be developed and political cadres of the working class cannot be formed. They are needed to advance the mobilization and impact the consciousness of wider layers of the mass movement through its own praxis as a movement.
It is not enough to produce propagandistic material with political programs that are sound in theoretical terms, nor is it enough to construct “horizontal” political apparatuses, if we do not contribute to the emergence of currents that dispute power from the factories, ports, fields, etc. Otherwise Europe — more exactly, the Europeans — will once again follow the path of Rome.
It is necessary to resist the economic offensive of the ruling class, the layoffs and plant closures, with the rank and file organizations needed to organize the resistance. It is urgent to do political work among workers, especially industrial workers and at the same time patiently explain to the youth and the students that they should take this task on as their own, otherwise there is no future for the movement, society will also go backwards, return to feudalism, or even much worse.
It is important to remember that any attempt to organize workers against capitalist degradation, will find the union bureaucracy as an irreconcilable enemy that must be confronted and defeated by removing them from the leadership of the unions, and/or creating new ones if necessary.
We must demand that the corporations and the banks open their books, and prevent them from closing or relocating the factories, stop the layoffs, and redistribute work hours among the employed and unemployed, without pay cuts. The corporations must take responsibility for their impact on the environment, treating all of their pollution and residue. They must bring the troops home that were sent to invade other countries and regions, cut military budgets at least in half and direct these resources to fund public investment in health, education, and infrastructure, and reducing the retirement age to 60 years old.
No European worker will be able to struggle consistently against their own exploitation by financial capital, if they do not at the same time fight against military invasions, colonialism and the economic domination of other nations by large corporations that have headquarters in their own countries and maintain the oppression of millions of workers.
It is imperative to repudiate all de facto governments, demand free direct elections and referendums to reverse the adjustment measures and break all of the agreements and treaties that subordinate most of the European nations to France and Germany.
All of these measures, although necessary to deal with the current emergency, are not in themselves the definite solution to the current degradation. Any gain that we achieve through the struggle will only be temporary if we do not continue moving forward, building our strength with these partial victories leading up to the destruction of the decadent imperialist capitalism and its replacement with a new socialist Europe.