Rob Ford, brought to you by …

Support for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is evaporating with stunning speed. Few want to be associated with a man who has publicly and brazenly lied about past behaviour, engaged in open and obnoxious physical bullying, and now on public television used misogynist and degrading language. His mayoralty is disintegrating in a cloud of scandal and shame. We need to be clear, however, that Rob Ford is more than just one, dysfunctional, white former football coach from Etobicoke. He came to this dance party with many partners. Think back to the 2010 municipal elections, and remember the luminaries and institutions that counselled us to take a chance with Mr. Ford. A partial list would include …


Jim Flaherty, Tory Finance Minister, Government of Canada, who “said on CBC radio … that he was endorsing Rob Ford for mayor” (Fiorito, 2010).
Don Cherry, Hockey Commentator: “I was in their [the Ford brothers’] corner right from the start … Rob’s honest, he’s truthful” (HoofandCycle, 2010).
• Toronto Sun editorial board (2010): “It’s time to take City Hall and the City of Toronto in a bold, new direction. Rob Ford is the man to get it done”.
• National Post editorial board (2010): “In our opinion, Rob Ford is the best candidate”
Christie Blatchford (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail: “Every blue-collar, working-class, anti-intellectual bone in my body finds him [Rob Ford] oddly endearing”.
Margaret Wente (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail: “Sometimes, I think only a moron [sic] could vote for Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto. And sometimes, I think I might vote for him myself”.
David Booth (2010), Driving columnist for The National Post: “Let’s get rid of streetcars; Vote for Rob Ford”.
Marcus Gee (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail would eventually step back and come to warn his readers about the potential problems of a Rob Ford mayoralty. But in February, 2010 – when Ford had yet to announce his candidacy – Gee was calling Ford “the right guy for a lefty race”, and urged him on with the rallying cry: “Run councillor, run”.
• On city council, Ford backers included Mike Del Grande, Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt; Giorgio Mammoliti, Ward 7, York West (“I don’t want to be a backbencher”); and three members of the “Responsible Government Group” – Peter Milczyn, Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore (“it’s time for a real change in attitude at city hall”); John Parker, Ward 26, Don Valley West (Rob Ford is “the only mayoral candidate who will delivery the change that Toronto taxpayers are looking for”); and Frances Nunziata, York-South-Weston (Alcoba, 2010; Anonymous, 2009; Moloney, 2010; Thomas & Rider, 2010)

It is incredibly satisfying to dwell on the 2010 positions of these one-time Ford backers and revel in the error of their ways. Don Cherry can now retreat from politics and restrict his retrograde musings to the hockey rink. David Booth can focus on mufflers instead of municipal politics. Christie Blatchford can find other means to demonstrate her self-professed anti-intellectualism (an odd label-of-choice for a career journalist). And Margaret Wente – well, she’s probably busy in plagiarist rehab at the moment (Kenyon, 2012).

But revelling in the disintegration of the Ford posse will only take us so far. We need to ask ourselves how someone as horrendous as Ford could find himself in the mayor’s chair, and that raises some uncomfortable issues which need to be addressed by the Toronto left and progressive community.

The political terrain of 2010 was the perfect petri dish where the Ford bacilli could multiply. That terrain featured a municipal left which was demoralized, in disarray and discredited in the wake of the 2009 city workers strike (the following is based on Kellogg, 2009).

In 2007, David Miller would let his membership in the New Democratic Party (NDP) lapse (Donovan, 2008). But in 2003 when he ran for mayor and won, his NDP membership was well known. Miller gathered around him a cadre of NDP and left-leaning councillors, and this left wing council was the political face of Toronto for much of the first decade of the 21st century.

The Miller era shed a spotlight on a perennial questions in politics – where does progressive change have its roots? Is the key thing to have good people holding office? Or is the key thing the mass action of the workers’ and social movements? Toronto’s historic 39-day city workers’ strike in 2009 showed just how important these questions are.

The 24,000 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 79 and 416 – were asking for a modest pay increase. The issue, however, around which the dispute came to revolve, was an old provision in their collective agreement, allowing retiring workers to “cash in” unused sick days.

This was a very small benefit – a few thousand dollars at the end of a long career is a small price to pay workers for years of service. It is also a benefit shared by police and fire-fighters in the city – a point that few opponents of the strike bothered to mention. But small or not, this benefit became the rallying cry for an extremely organized anti-union right-wing on City Council (Bonnar, 2009).

This is the moment that the “Responsible Government Group”, mentioned above, emerged into prominence. Constantly represented in the press by right wing councillors such as Case Ootes and Denzil Minnan-Wong, this pro-business section of council demagogically portrayed itself as “friends of the common person,” inconvenienced by the withdrawal of city services (Hanes, 2009a, 2009b).

It would not have been hard to counter their propaganda. A “Solidarity Caucus” could have made a few simple points to galvanize those who supported the unions.

• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for childcare?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved pension benefits?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved health and safety?

Importantly, however, this would have meant not just attacking the right-wing members of the “Responsible Government Group”. It would have meant attacking the position of the “progressive” Mayor David Miller.

This was the challenge facing Adam Giambrone, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher, Pam McConnell, Howard Moscoe – all individuals whose entire political careers had been bound up with the left and the workers’ movement. They did not meet that challenge. To do so would have meant showing up on the picket lines (which Moscoe did, to his credit) supporting the striking workers, and openly standing against the position of the mayor. It would have meant a political divide. They were not prepared to take this step. Instead of solidarity, we got silence.

Miller, the ex-NDPer, stood hard against the unions. The left-wing members of Toronto’s city council at worst sided openly with the mayor, at best sat silently. The combined effect was disorientation and disorganization of the left in the city, and the creation of a huge opening through which someone like Rob Ford could enter.

We had seen this film before. In the early 1990s, then-NDPer Bob Rae, as premier of Ontario, led a sharp attack on workers’ rights through the “Social Contract.” NDP members of the legislature (with the honourable exception of a small handful, most prominently, the late Peter Kormos) would not break from Rae. As a result, the anti-Rae sentiment was captured by the Tories, leading to the brutal years of Mike Harris (MacDermid & Albo, 2001).

We need to remember this history. The electoral pendulum could well swing left in the next election. Currently leading the polls is prominent NDP politician Olivia Chow (That, 2013). But replacing Ford with Chow is only a small part of what is necessary to change politics in Toronto. We need a left willing to stand with the social movements, the workers’ movements and the oppressed, even when that means dividing from progressive politicians.

© 2013 Paul Kellogg

References

Alcoba, N. (2010, September 25). Team Ford asks supporters to fight back. National Post, p. A.18.

Anonymous. (2009, March 26). Milczyn garners local support for “Two Per Cent Solution.” Etobicoke Guardian, p. 1.

Blatchford, C. (2010, August 21). Built Ford tough: The gadfly that Torontonians need. The Globe and Mail, p. A.2.

Bonnar, J. (2009, July 17). Incomplete information turns the public against CUPE strikers. rabble.ca.

Booth, D. (2010, October 22). Let’s get rid of streetcars; Vote for Rob Ford. National Post, p. DT.2.

Donovan, V. (2008, September 9). Miller won’t back any candidates; But mayor urges voters to ask how parties will invest in cities. Toronto Star, p. A.16.

Fiorito, J. (2010, September 24). With mayoral endorsement, Flaherty will get us nowhere. Toronto Star, p. GT.3.

Gee, M. (2010, February 6). Rob Ford, please run. You’re the right guy for a lefty race. The Globe and Mail, p. M.3.

Hanes, A. (2009a, July 18). “It’s getting harder with every day’; Councillors facing prospect of a long civic workers’ strike. National Post, p. A.15.

Hanes, A. (2009b, July 22). Poll serves as warning to pols. National Post, p. A.10.

HoofandCycle. (2010). Don Cherry and Rob Ford “…for all the Pinkos out there, that ride bicycles…” Youtube.

Kellogg, P. (2009, August 13). Toronto city workers’ strike: Silence on the left strengthens the right. PolEcon.net.

Kenyon, W. (2012, September 26). CBC turfs Wente from media panel: Q radio show “suspends” her from ethics segment. Toronto Star, p. A.13.

MacDermid, R., & Albo, G. (2001). Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right. In The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories (pp. 163–202). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Moloney, P. (2010, October 16). Councillors choosing sides as Ford, Smitherman battle: New poll suggests Ford still has small lead. Toronto Star, p. GT.2.

National Post. (2010, October 23). Rob Ford; Editorial: Why a vote for Ford is a vote for fiscal sanity. National Post, p. A.1.

That, C. T. (2013, November 14). Poll: 62% of Torontonians wouldn’t vote for Ford in 2014 “under any circumstance.” CTVNews.ca.

Thomas, N., & Rider, D. (2010, September 23). Not everyone is on Ford bandwagon: Even some right-leaning councillors say they will wait and see before backing a mayoral candidate. Toronto Star, p. GT.1.

Toronto Sun. (2010, October 17). Rob Ford for Toronto: Editorial. Toronto Sun.

Wente, M. (2010, October 5). Two and a half cheers for Rob Ford. The Globe and Mail, p. A.21.

For the Record – Flawed Methods, Unnecessary Divisions

OCTOBER 9, 2013 – Charlie Kimber and Alex Callinicos (2013) have written a defence of the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a party wracked by crisis since late 2012. This crisis was precipitated by the response, on the part of the SWP leadership, to allegations of rape and sexual assault. However, Kimber/Callinicos assert that “all those involved … have agreed that the case itself should be treated as ‘closed’” and therefore barely address issues of sexual violence, sexism, women’s oppression – the substantive issues that have generated the current crisis.

Others will, no doubt, respond to Kimber/Callinicos on these points. This contribution concerns one specific aspect of their text. To illustrate one point in their article, the authors cite a passage from a 2001 Callinicos pamphlet, The Anti-Capitalist Movement and the Revolutionary Left (2001), a pamphlet which was to circulate quite widely in the years which followed, prominently featured on the SWP website until late 2009 (SWP 2009). This is a very questionable text, in 2013, to be used as an authoritative source.

The first 6,000-word portion of Anti-Capitalist Movement is relatively straightforward. It paints a picture of the political terrain at the turn of the century, the birth of a new left, and a reflection on what Callinicos sees as a parallel period – the radicalization of the 1960s. The concluding 6,000-word portion is completely different. The year of the pamphlet’s publication, 2001, was the year that the SWP argued for and won the expulsion of the U.S.-based International Socialist Organization (ISO) from the International Socialist Tendency (IST). The final 6,000 words of Anti-Capitalist Movement are entirely devoted to justifying this expulsion.

It is a justification based upon three very flawed methods: inflated rhetoric, careless use of historical analogies, and a misleading political economy. Many of us – who at the time were convinced to support the SWP leadership’s drive to expel the ISO –with the benefit of hindsight know now that we were quite wrong. Two years ago, for self-clarification, this author drafted, but did not publish, a critique of Anti-Capitalist Movement. With this 2001 pamphlet now resurfacing as a part of current debates, perhaps these notes – slightly revised – will be of interest to others. So, for the record …

Seattle

The political environment at the turn of the century was shaped by anti-corporate activism. In 1999, a coalition of young anti-globalization activists and veterans of the trade union movement disrupted the annual meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held that year in Seattle, Washington (Bakan 2000a; Bakan 2000b). Ralph Nader called this Seattle moment a “fork in the road” (1999) – a watershed pointing towards new waves of struggle against corporate globalization. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands challenged the symbols of corporate capitalism – in Genoa, Quebec City, Prague and elsewhere.

The first section of Anti-Capitalist Movement documents the emergence of the anti-globalization wave of protests. Callinicos argues that “there has crystallized in the advanced capitalist countries a politically active minority that sees global capitalism as the source of the world’s ills”. He lists the key moments in the “new cycle of protest” which had emerged since the Seattle events, including demonstrations in “Washington (16 April 2000), Millau (30 June 2000), Melbourne (11 September 2000), Prague (26 September 2000), Seoul (10 October 2000), Nice (6-7 December 2000), and Washington again (20 January 2001)”. Even larger protests were to occur in the months following the publication of Anti-Capitalist Movement – the huge 300,000 strong mobilization in Genoa and the 80,000 who challenged the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City (George 2001; Ritsema 2011). For those of us who participated in various of these protests against corporate capitalism, reading through the history outlined in Anti-Capitalist Movement is a useful reminder of their importance. For others, it might provide a good summary and history of an historic movement.

With the benefit of hindsight of course, some of the analysis needs to be modified. Twelve years ago, many of us, including Callinicos, saw Seattle as the central fact in the new movement. But Seattle did not emerge in a vacuum. Its organizers had been deeply influenced by Global South mass movements against neoliberalism and imperialism, movements which – from January 1, 1994 – exploded onto the world scene with the anti-neoliberal uprisings in Chiapas, Mexico. Seattle needs to be seen as one link in a bigger chain – in part, being an echo of the mobilizations against neoliberal globalization and imperialism that emerged out of Latin America in the 1990s, going back to the Zapatistas and beyond. Even after the events of 9/11, this radicalization continued, with the 2002 mobilization against the attempted coup in Venezuela and the massive uprisings associated with the gas wars in Bolivia in 2003 and 2004. Both of these events served as part of the immediate background to the election of Evo Morales in 2005.

Another aspect of the analysis in Anti-Capitalist Movement needs to be re-examined. In a comparative evaluation of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Seattle protests, Anti-Capitalist Movement asserts that the Intifada “is driven by the Palestinians’ burning resentment of the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Zionist state … but the system itself is not at the centre of their consciousness”. This implies that the Seattle-inspired movements were at a higher level, being directed against the system as a whole. But the Al-Aqsa Intifada was a key spark for the radicalization in the region, not least in Egypt, a radicalization which exploded in 2011 in the Arab Spring. For many in the Arab Spring revolutions, both Palestine and “the system itself” were very much at the centre of their consciousness (Barghouti 2011). It does not seem credible, more than a decade later, to see the post-Seattle anti-globalization protests as existing at a higher level than the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The Global North protests in Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Washington and elsewhere were significant. But looking back from the second decade of the 21st century, it is clear that the main streams of mass movements and radical change since the 1990s have flown through the Global South – Chiapas, Caracas and Cochabamba; Palestine, Egypt and Tunisia. However, hindsight is always 20/20, and this contribution by Callinicos is a worthwhile part of an ongoing discussion.

Inflated Rhetoric

In the second half of the pamphlet – announced with the headline “An American Tragedy: the International Socialist Organization” – Anti-Capitalist Movement takes a quite different turn. Prominent throughout the next several thousand words are examples of what Leo Panitch has called “inflated rhetoric” (1987) – the exaggeration of differences to the point of caricature through the use of highly-charged language. The SWP and the ISO disagreed as to the significance of the Seattle protest. Anti-Capitalist Movement elevates this disagreement far above a mere question of tactics. According to Anti-Capitalist Movement, the Seattle events revealed “the ISO’s metastasis into a sect”. The ISO had “become so ossified that they are unable to relate to the revival of the left for which they have waited for decades”. It argues that there had been a long history of “sectarian degeneration” in the ISO, that there was, in various of the writings of the ISO, “evidence of a deep-rooted sectarian mentality”, and that even when there were moments of health, there was a recurring tendency of “retreating into the sectarian bunker”. Already, during the Balkan Wars, “we can see the ISO displaying the attitude that by which Marx defined a sect”.

Anti-Capitalist Movement does not hesitate to amplify, arguing that the “ISO leadership’s urge to differentiate … is reminiscent of some of the worst sectarian aberrations of the 1960s, for example, the refusal of the orthodox Trotskyist followers of Gerry Healy and Pierre Lambert to participate in the student and anti-war movements”. Raising the ghost of the late Gerry Healy is a strong clue signalling where the argument is headed. Perhaps no left group more captured the essence of sectarianism than Healy’s Socialist Labour League (SLL) and its successor the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP). These were formations on the British far left, known among other things for their adulation of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and for the scandal of sexual abuse which ultimately shattered both Healy’s reputation and the current which he had led.[1] Phrases such as “sectarian bunker” have a known content in the socialist movement, clearly intended to identify a group which has turned in on itself and retreated from the reality of day-to-day life and struggle – hence the reference to Healy.

This use of inflated rhetoric was characteristic of the whole debate. An earlier letter to the ISO (drafted by Callinicos and Tony Cliff), argued that the ISO had “failed the test of the 1999 Balkan war” (cited in Birchall 2011, 548). This accusation – “failing the test of war” – also has a known content. The phrase emerges from debates triggered by the First World War. The socialist left was a mass, united movement in the first years of the 20th century. August 1914, this unity was shattered, when the world’s largest socialist party, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), voted for war credits and gave its blessing to the horrors of patriotic war. The German SPD, and most other member organizations of the Second International “failed the test of war”. This led to profound isolation for internationalists such as Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin, forcing on this minority the necessity to, from scratch, begin again the project of constructing an international socialist movement. Taking this known term from the World War One era, and applying it to tactical differences over the war in Kosovo, is an extreme case of inflating the rhetoric.

The invective had the effect of sharply polarizing the discussion along apparently irreconcilable lines. The engaged realistic activist was counter-posed to the sectarian. The anti-war socialist was counter-posed to those who had supposedly capitulated to patriotism. But was such rhetoric and extreme polarization actually necessary? It is really very difficult to discover any meaningful political differences, at the turn of the century, between the ISO and the SWP. In his biography of the late Tony Cliff, leading SWP intellectual Ian Birchall argues that “[i]n principle the different assessments of the anti-capitalist movement could have been contained within the international tendency” (2011, 549). The ISO, like the SWP, participated in the Seattle protests, and many of the other anti-globalization mobilizations. The ISO, like the SWP, took a clear position against NATO’s bombing of Kosovo. There were differences, not over matters of principle, but rather over matters of expectation, nuance and tactics. What are the prospects of this new movement? This is about expectations. Should the movements be characterized as anti-capitalist or anti-globalization? This is a nuance. How do you combine opposition to NATO’s bombing campaigns with criticism of Serbia’s attacks on Kosovo? This is a tactic. All are appropriate subjects for reasoned discussion and debate. When they become wrapped in distortion and extreme invective, that discussion and debate becomes difficult, and the value of diverse views becomes lost in an urge to silence disagreement.

The SWP leadership, however, insisted on the limitations of the ISO, and the urgency of isolating and then expelling the organization from the IST. At a 2001 meeting of the IST, held in London U.K., the ISO was formally expelled.[2]

Careless Use of Historical Analogies

It would be fairly straightforward if this use of inflated rhetoric could be ascribed solely to problems of etiquette. Bad manners can be addressed and corrected fairly easily. However, the inflated rhetoric was, at least in part, a linguistic expression of a second problematic method. Argument by way of careless historical analogy – drawing too straight a line between the Russian Revolutionary era and our own – is a central method employed by Anti-Capitalist Movement.

Callinicos argues that the new movements in the wake of Seattle demanded the adoption of new modes of work, and the abandonment of old ones from a different era. To make this point, he quotes Trotsky. “[I]f in the preceding period too many elements of inertia have accumulated in the leading organs of the party, then the party will prove itself unable to fulfill its leadership at that supreme and critical moment for which it has been preparing itself in the course of decades. The party is ravaged by a crisis, and the movement passes the party by – and heads toward defeat”.

The quotation is from Trotsky’s work, The Lessons of October, an analysis of the challenges which confronted the European left in the context of revolutionary upheaval in 1917 and 1918. Callinicos says that it represents Trotsky “reflecting on the experience of the Bolsheviks”. That is not entirely accurate. In the paragraph from which the selection has been culled, Trotsky contextualizes his analysis. “On the basis of our experience – even taking only one year, from February 1917 to February 1918 – and on the basis of the supplementary experience in Finland, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, and Germany, we can posit as almost an unalterable law that a party crisis is inevitable in the transition from preparatory revolutionary activity to the immediate struggle for power” (1937, 4). These words are absent from Anti-Capitalist Movement.

Surely we should be careful about the applicability to our times of any analysis thinking through the challenges faced by socialists “in the transition from preparatory revolutionary activity to the immediate struggle for power”. Further, look at the parties Trotsky was analyzing, – parties based in Finland, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany and Russia. Unlike the small organizations which comprise the IST, the key parties on this list were real, mass parties. According to Tony Cliff, the Bulgarian socialist group which “voted to affiliate to the Comintern” in 1919” was a mass party with 35,478 members in 1920” (1979, 10–11). In Germany, the communists numbered some 50,000 until December 1920, when they were joined by the left-wing of the Independent Social Democrats to create a party of 350,000 (1979, 11). The Hungarian Party was significant enough to be at the centre of a 133-day “Soviet” republic in 1919 (1979, 12). When the Italian Socialist Party voted to affiliate to the Comintern it had 300,000 members (1979, 10). As for the Bolsheviks, they were formed in 1903 and two years later were confronted by a revolution involving the birth of workers’ councils. Years of defeat and reaction followed, then the horrors of world war, then the two revolutions of 1917 and the working class seizure of power. In those tumultuous years, the Bolsheviks were variously a group of dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands(1975, 98–138; 168–182; 235–252; 352–366). It is a rich and complex story. But from the standpoint of the 21st century, it is little more than just that … a story. Anti-Capitalist Movement tells this story selectively. It insists that lessons appropriate to mass organizations in conditions of autocracy, confronted with the transition to state power, are directly applicable to the experience of small left formations confronted with demonstrations and movements in the context of liberal democracies.

Britain and North America in the 21st century have no mass socialist organizations. There are no workers’ soviets (self-governing popular councils). We do not at the moment have a Tsarist-like reaction forcing the left and organizers underground. Russia between 1903 and 1917 could not really be more different than Britain and North America between 1989 and 2001, or, for that matter, 2013. It is not at all clear how lessons from the one period could be applied to the other, except in the most general manner. To offer real lessons from the Russian Revolution, demands paying careful attention to specific contexts and precise differences. A method based on selective out-of-context quotation is the mark of internalized factionalism. It does nothing to contribute to clarity.

Anti-Capitalist Movement reduces the key lesson from this complex story to Lenin’s leadership method of “bending the stick”; “of focusing on the key tasks in the current situation to the exclusion of all secondary factors and indeed to the point of exaggeration … the price of failing to develop this approach is sectarianism”. The argument is crystal clear. The ISO did not “bend the stick” towards the Seattle movement, and hence became sectarian.

Contemporary research is calling into question this whole take on Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Lars T. Lih has argued that Tony Cliff’s biography of Lenin, where the “bend the stick” thesis is advanced, took one moment in Lenin’s life quite out of context (Cliff 1975; Lih 2006, 22–27). Further, even were we to agree that Lenin frequently did exaggerate to make his point, what exactly does this imply for the very different circumstances we confront in the 21st century? Until 1917, Lenin was almost always in exile. Trade union and party organizers inside Russia operated underground. Activists faced frequent arrests, jail, exile and deportation. The Russian state was a repressive, Tsarist nightmare. The Bolshevik movement in 1905, and then again from 1912 until 1917, was a mass movement, with deep roots and real influence in the working class. Navigating this situation must have been extremely difficult. There would be a premium on tacking and turning, avoiding traps and obstacles, looking for the key next step. Perhaps we might label this tacking and turning, “bending the stick”.

But for small left currents and individuals in the context of advanced capitalism and liberal democracy in the 21st century, it is not at all clear how this has relevance. When groups are on the margins, have little influence, can at best participate in struggles, but rarely lead them, then to invoke “bending the stick” is unlikely to mean much in practice, unlikely to be a factor in changing the direction of the mass movement. In the absence of being able to “bend the stick” in action, there is only one choice left. The stick bending is done in words. The invective and the inflated rhetoric take flight. At best, it is just pretentious. At worst, it becomes a justification for yelling and verbal abuse.[3]

Misleading political economy

The third flawed method underpinning the analysis of Anti-Capitalist Movement is an extremely misleading political economy. Callinicos defends the practice, current in the IST since the early 1990s, of using – in the U.K., North America and elsewhere – the decade of the 1930s as an analogy for the decade of the 1990s (albeit in “slow motion”) (Callinicos 1994; Cliff 2000, 81–82). In 2012 and 2013, for Greece and some of the other countries in Southern Europe, the 1930’s decade has certainly returned as a point of reference. However, the situation in Greece in 2012 and 2013 is one thing and the situation in North America and Britain in the 1990s is quite another. The ISO leadership challenged the 1930s in slow motion framework, Callinicos acknowledges, pointing “to the American boom of the 1990s as a decisive counter-example to the ‘1930s in slow motion’ analysis”.

Surely the ISO leadership had a point. Let’s try to get a picture of the 1930s, and then contrast it with the 1990s. The most basic measure of economic health is the value of GDP (output) per capita, adjusted for inflation. When that figure is rising, then the economy is growing. When that figure is shrinking, so is the economy. The first chart here takes the output per capita for the U.S. in 1929 as 100, and then shows the trajectory of output per capita in the years which followed, from 1930 until 1940. It is an extraordinary picture of decline. By 1933, output per person was almost 30 percent below what it had been in 1929. It was this kind of economic collapse which led to mass unemployment, soup kitchens and bread lines. By the end of the 1930s, output per person was slowly increasing, inching back to where it had been in 1929. But we now know that output per person was finally able to surpass the 1929 figure, and the economy could return to growth, only because of manufacturing gearing up for World War II.

If that is the profile of the 1930s, how does it compare to the 1990s? The second chart applies the method of the first to the decade of the 1990s, and includes three countries, the U.S., the U.K. and Russia. 1990 is used as a baseline, output per capita that year expressed as “100”. For one of the three countries, the 1930’s analogy clearly has some relevance. The chart documents the catastrophic decline of the Russian economy in the 1990s. By 1998, output per capita was barely half what it had been in 1990. The end of Stalinism in Russia and the transition to the market were very big stories in that decade. But Russia’s experience was qualitatively different from that of the U.S. and the U.K. There was decline in 1991 for the U.S., and for 1991 and 1992 in the U.K. But from that point on, the story is the opposite of the 1930s, output per capita rising in both countries. By 2001, output per person, in both countries, was 25 per cent greater than it had been in 1990. Clearly, for those two countries at least, any analogies with the Great Depression of the 1930s would have to be treated with some suspicion. If a fourth country had been added to the picture, the entire analogy would have collapsed. The spectacular economic take-off in China was well underway in the 1990s. In 2001, output per capita in China was an extraordinary 162 per cent greater than it had been in 1990.


Anti-Capitalist Movement insists that, in using the analogy with the 1930s, they were “very careful to stress the differences between the 1930s and the 1990s”. The truth is, once the 1930s analogy had been put on the table, being “careful” was going to be difficult. The problem with invoking the 1930s, even with many qualifications, is that, for millions of people, the phrase has real, and instant meaning. It is not ambiguous. “The 1930s” is a headline signifying social and economic collapse. The decade of the 1930s was one of catastrophic economic decline, catastrophic levels of unemployment, catastrophic collapse of living standards, the rise of fascism, the occupation of the factories in the United States, civil war in Spain, horrendous war and social collapse in China – and ultimately the beginning of the Second World War. It was a decade of wars and revolutions, of socialism or barbarism. In that context, Trotsky argued that the objective basis for capitalist crisis was clear for all to see, the objective material for socialism was at hand, but what was lacking was subjective – the organized, experienced cadre in the leadership of mass socialist organizations. “The crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership” (Trotsky 1981, 2). This was a desperate formulation from a desperate decade, misleading but perhaps understandable given the horrors of fascism and the stark failure of the Stalinist parties. That was then. When the analogy with the 1930s was (quite wrongly) applied to the 1990s in the U.K. and the U.S., in such a way as to imply that the only barrier between the 1990’s generation in those two countries and the move towards socialism was a subjective one – in other words, when the bar was raised so high that success was absolutely impossible – then the finger-pointing and divisions soon followed. It became a political economy justification for the inflated rhetoric, invective, factionalism and splits, which proved to be very damaging.

It is also not hard to see the way in which a viewpoint fixated on the lessons of the 1930s might also lead to unrealistic expectations. Anti-Capitalist Movement argues that, “in the second half of the 1990s the long downturn in class struggle drew to an end”. This would be a logical expectation flowing from a focus on the 1930s – a decade which opened in North America with a deep downturn in working class struggle, a downturn which finally came to an end, in both the United States and Canada, through an explosive wave of strikes and factory occupations (Preis 1972; Dobbs 1972; Palmer 1992, 214–267; Jamieson 1968, 214–275). But while there have been important moments of struggle in Britain and North America, a sober assessment of the state of the workers’ movements in both places would indicate that Callinicos’ assessment was rather inaccurate. This would certainly be the case for the first few years of the 21st century in the United States, where strike levels remained at historic lows, and where most years the rate of unionization was lower than the year before.

The final chart accompanying this article is not the last word on this issue, but it needs to be seriously examined as part of the discussion. By a very basic measure of working class combativity – days not worked because of strikes and lockouts – a clear picture emerges for the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. There is considerable combativity through the 1970s, underpinning the deep radicalization of that decade. But this slowly declines in the 1980s, then falls precipitously in the 1990s, remaining at very low levels into the 21st century. There is an interesting and important spike in 2000 in the U.S., the year after Seattle. But it is not sustained, and it certainly does not provide – at least as it concerns these three countries – confirmation for the assertion that “the long downturn in class struggle drew to an end”.


Conclusion

Twelve years ago, just before the expulsion of the ISO, this author (at the time a member of the IST) and Paul D’Amato (a leading member of the ISO, and managing editor of the International Socialist Review) both travelled to Jakarta, Indonesia, to participate in a small anti-globalization conference. The conference was physically attacked by an armed group of right-wingers, aided and abetted by the armed forces of the Indonesian state. Paul and myself, along with some 30 other activists – after a long ride through the crowded streets of Jakarta, crammed onto the back of an army truck – ended up spending a night on the floor of a Jakarta police station, our passports seized and under threat of arrest (Wearmouth et al. 2001). Following a weekend of protests both inside and outside Indonesia, we got our passports back, and the threat subsided.

But at the time, in the face of the overwhelming Global South challenges confronting the poor and the working class in Indonesia, the Global North differences between the IST and the ISO receded into the background. In fact it was impossible to even begin to explain the nature of the division to the activists in Jakarta. They participated with us in conference discussions, formal and informal, worked with us shoulder to shoulder against the repression of the Indonesian state, and drew the quite correct conclusion that our politics were, for all intents and purposes, identical. If there is one single lesson from the last twelve years, that experience in Jakarta probably frames it best.

Sometimes there are meaningful political differences. But to sort out the meaningful from the meaningless, we need to reject methods which serve to artificially inflame and exaggerate. In other words, we have to reject the methods employed in Anti-Capitalist Movement.

In 2006, three Palestinian rights’ activists, leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)  movement, outlined a helpful alternative approach. “The roots of sectarianism” they said “lie in fetishizing minor programmatic differences and organizational forms ahead of the interests of the movement as a whole”. As an alternative, “[w]e need to change the way we relate to each other, realizing that building unity in practice is our most powerful weapon. … [T]he best political line is something developed through a common political practice – not bequeathed to the movement from historical texts” (Hanieh, Jamjoum, and Ziadah 2006).

© 2013 Paul Kellogg

Endnotes

[1] Those who wish to understand just how sectarian Healy was, should examine the little pamphlet, Politics as Religion (Hallas 1974) written by the late Duncan Hallas, a key article from which “Building the Leadership”, is now available online (Hallas 2008).

[2] There was another key issue involved late in the dispute, an allegation that the ISO was involved in a split in the Greek section of the IST (Birchall 2011, 549), an allegation which pushed many to vote with the SWP CC. In 2012, I had the privilege of attending an ISO public meeting addressed by Antonis Davanellos (2012), leading member of one of the groups in question, the International Workers Left (DEA). This connection with the DEA was invaluable in providing material for an article on the crisis wracking the Southern Mediterranean (Kellogg 2012). It also made it quite clear that, in 2001, we were all operating with very partial information. In any case, the bulk of the polemic in 2001 was focused on the issues discussed here, Seattle and anti-war work.

[3] This analysis relies on research developed by Abigail Bakan (2009).

References

Bakan, Abigail. 2000a. “After Seattle: The Politics of the World Trade Organisation.” International Socialism II 86 (Spring): 19–36.

———. 2000b. “From Seattle to Washington: The Making of a Movement.” International Socialism II 87 (Summer): 85–94.

———. 2009. “Party, Movement, Class: Gramscian Reconsiderations and the Case of the BDS Movement.” Conference Paper, Seventh International Conference, Rethinking Marxism: New Marxian Times. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Barghouti, Omar. 2011. “BDS: The Global Struggle For Palestinian Rights.” Socialism 2011. Chicago: WeAreMany.org.

Birchall, Ian. 2011. Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time. London: Bookmarks.

Callinicos, Alex. 1994. “Crisis and Class Struggle in Europe Today.” International Socialism II 63 (Summer): 3–47.

———. 2001. The Anti-Capitalist Movement and the Revolutionary Left. London: Socialist Workers Party.

Cliff, Tony. 1975. Lenin Volume 1: Building the Party. Lenin. London: Pluto Press.

———. 1979. Lenin Volume 3: The Bolsheviks and World Communism. London: Pluto Press.

———. 2000. Marxism at the Millennium. London: Bookmarks.

Davanellos, Antonis. 2012. “Greece After the Elections.” Evening Plenary, Socialism 2012. Chicago: WeAreMany.org.

Dobbs, Farrell. 1972. Teamster Rebellion. New York: Monad Press.

George, Erin. 2001. “300,000 March Against the G8.” Rabble.ca. July 26.

Hallas, Duncan. 1974. Politics as Religion: The Degeneration of the Fourth International. Highland Park, Michigan: International Socialists.

———. 2008. “Building the Leadership (October 1969).” Marxists Internet Archive. February 24.

Hanieh, Adam, Hazem Jamjoum, and Rafeef Ziadah. 2006. “Challenging the New Apartheid: Reflections on Palestine Solidarity.” Left Turn – Notes from the Global Intifada. June 1.

ILO. 2010. “Strikes and Lockouts – 9C Days Not Worked, by Economic Activity.” LABORSTA Labour Statistics Database. Geneva: International Labour Organization. http://laborsta.ilo.org/.

Jamieson, Stuart Marshall. 1968. Times of Trouble : Labour Unrest and Industrial Conflict in Canada, 1900-66. Ottawa: Task Force on Labour Relations.

Kellogg, Paul. 2012. “Greece in the Eye of the Storm (the Greek Left, SYRIZA and the Limits of the Concept of ‘left Reformism’).” Links, November 18.

Kimber, Charlie, and Alex Callinicos. 2013. “The Politics of the SWP Crisis.” International Socialism II 140 (Autumn).

Lih, Lars T. 2006. Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? in Context. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.

Nader, Ralph. 1999. “Seattle and the WTO.” The Nader Page. December 7.

Palmer, Bryan D. 1992. Working-class Experience: Rethinking the History of Canadian Labour, 1800-1991. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Panitch, Leo. 1987. “Working Class Politics in Capitalist Democracies”. Lecture Notes, Graduate Course. Department of Political Science, York University.

Preis, Art. 1972. Labor’s Giant Step: Twenty Years of the CIO. New York: Pathfinder Press.

Ritsema, Noreen Mae. 2011. “Rabble Turns 10! Our Story: Launching During the Quebec City FTAA Protests.” Rabble.ca. April 16.

SWP. 2009. “Theory & Discussion.” Internet Archive. November 25.

Trotsky, Leon. 1937. The Lessons of October [1924]. New York: Pioneer Publishers.

———. 1981. The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International [1938]. New York: Labor Publications.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. 2013. “Table 1.1.6. Real Gross Domestic Product, Chained Dollars [Billions of Chained 2005 Dollars].” National Income and Product Accounts Tables. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1975. “Chapter A: Population.” In Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census.

UNdata. 2012a. “Population.” National Accounts Main Aggregates Database. Washington, D.C.: United Nations Statistics Division. http://unstats.un.org/.

———. 2012b. “GDP, at Constant 2005 Prices – National Currency.” National Accounts Main Aggregates Database. Washington, D.C.: United Nations Statistics Division. http://unstats.un.org/.

Wearmouth, Alexis, Paul Kellogg, Tom O’Lincoln, and Giles Ungpakorn. 2001. “On the Edge of the Abyss.” Socialist Review 254 (July).

Reflections on the Crisis in the SWP

JANUARY 13, 2013 – 1. Richard Seymour is author of the widely read blog, “Lenin’s Tomb,” and a prominent member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the largest group left of the Labour Party in Britain. In an article written in the days following the January 4-6 annual conference of the SWP, Seymour made public a controversy inside the party, a controversy so serious he says: “the future of the party is at stake”. Speaking of the party’s Central Committee he said: “they are on the wrong side of that fight”. Speaking to fellow members of the party, he wrote: “You, as members, have to fight for your political existence. Don’t simply drift away, don’t simply bury your face in your palms … You must fight now” (Seymour, 2013a).

2. China Miéville is a prolific author (Miéville, 2006, 2010, 2012) and another prominent member of the SWP. Like Seymour, he has publicly expressed concern about recent developments inside the party. There is, he says: “a terrible problem of democracy, accountability and internal culture that such a situation can occur, as is the fact that those arguing against the official line in a fashion deemed unacceptable to those in charge could be expelled for ‘secret factionalism’” (Cited in Penny, 2013).

3. The SWP has a student group on various campuses called SWSS (Socialist Workers’ Student Society). The SWSS group based at Leeds University released a public statement after the SWP conference, where it “condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the recent handling of very serious accusations against a leading member of the SWP Central Committee”. The Leeds SWSS group argues that: “an atmosphere of intimidation has been allowed to develop in which young members are viewed with suspicion and treated as such” and that there exists “a culture where members feel unable to raise disagreements” a culture which is the “opposite of the kind which should exist within a healthy revolutionary organization” (Leeds University SWSS, 2013).

4. In the days after these same events at the SWP conference, a full-time journalist working for Socialist Worker, the party’s weekly paper, announced his resignation from both his job and from the SWP. He described his reaction to the conference discussion that triggered his resignation as: “one of simple, visceral disgust. I was shaking. I still am. I did not know what to do. I walked out of the building in a daze” (Walker, 2013).

5. The SWP is the largest and most prominent organization in the International Socialist Tendency (IST). In the wake of the SWP conference, there was a public announcement by the IST organization in Serbia that it no longer wished to be part of the tendency. They pointed to what they saw as “a stifling party culture and regime” inside the SWP, and stated that four pre-conference expulsions represented “conduct that reflects bourgeois management techniques” (SWP’s Serbian Section Splits From IST, 2013).

I begin with these five points to indicate only one thing – there is a very serious crisis inside the SWP. What is the background to this crisis? The references that accompany this article, provide copious detail. Below is a short summary.

1. Two years ago at the SWP conference, there was a report to conference, concerning a personal relationship between a Central Committee member (a man) and a woman member of the party. It seemed, at the time, that what was involved was “an affair that was badly ended, with the accused merely hassling the person long beyond the point of propriety” (Seymour, 2013b). The situation, serious in itself, had apparently been resolved.

2. It was not. In 2012, the issue returned, this time with the Central Committee member charged with sexual assault. A committee of the SWP (Disputes Committee) adjudicated the matter, concluding that the charges were not proven.

3. Among the criticisms made of the process by which this decision was reached, was the very serious one, that at least some of the committee members were personally acquainted with the man accused.

4. While all this was ongoing, a second woman came forward with a complaint of sexual harassment, directed against the same member of the Central Committee.

5. In the run up to the SWP conference in January 2013, four SWP members, apparently all themselves former full-time employees of the party, were discussing, on a Facebook group, how to respond to this situation. For this, they were expelled from the party, as this, apparently, amounted to “secret factionalism”.

6. This then resulted in the formation of two formal factions, which garnered considerable support at the SWP conference. The positions of the factions – calling for a reversal of the expulsions and a review of the Dispute Committee’s decision – were voted down by the majority of the conference delegates. One of the votes, however, was by a quite narrow margin.

7. At the end of the conference, these factions were instructed to disband, as organizing “across branches” on these matters is only allowed in the SWP in the three months before conference. To continue to meet and discuss these matters is a breach of discipline, making members subject to expulsion.

8. However, the issue has not gone away. The Central Committee member involved, while now not a member of that body, is still apparently engaged in high profile party work. The controversy has now become the object of speculation and discussion in the mainstream press (Penny, 2013; Taylor, 2013).

What is at stake? There are two issues, one to do with women’s oppression, the other to do with left organizing. In terms of women’s oppression:

1. The charge of sexual assault is extremely serious. It is completely inappropriate to adjudicate such a matter by a committee some of whose members know the accused well. This puts the woman bringing the charges in a very painful, impossible position. It is an approach that will be repulsive to many in the movements.

2. The current radicalization – in Occupy, during the student strike in Quebec in 2012, in Idle No More, in the Arab Spring, in the extraordinary upsurge in India against rape – is leading to a welcome revival of feminism. A new generation of young people is rejecting the anti-feminism that was perpetrated by the right-wing during the years of the backlash, and reconnecting with and extending the traditions of women’s liberation from the 1960s and 1970s.

3. However, in the current crisis in the SWP, according to Tom Walker, “‘feminism’ is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters” (Walker, 2013). Seymour says that “old polemics against ‘feminism’ from the 1980s, always somewhat dogmatic, are dusted off and used as a stick to beat dissenters with” (Seymour, 2013a). These old polemics were based on a stark counterposition of Marxism and feminism. Tony Cliff in 1984, for instance, wrote: “Two different movements have sought to achieve women’s liberation over the past hundred or more years, Marxism and feminism … There can be no compromise between these two views, even though some ‘socialist feminists’ have in recent years tried to bridge the gap between them” (Birchall, 2011, p. 467; Cliff, 1984, p. 7). This quite sectarian orientation in theory is being helpfully challenged from within the Marxist tradition (Bakan, 2012; Ferguson, 1999, 2008; Smith, 2012).

In terms of left organizing:

1. The expulsion of four members for discussions in a Facebook group is absurd on its face. This is particularly so in the era of the Arab Spring. Facebook has become a tool of resistance, used to help the social movements bring down authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. For Facebook conversations, in this same era, to be seen as a threat by leading left-wingers, is risible. In addition, the very thought of trying to monitor Facebook, as well as being impossible, implies a culture of surveillance which is antithetical to effective left politics.

2. The Facebook expulsions were justified with reference to the Bolshevik tradition and democratic centralism. This is based on a complete misunderstanding of both. One example will suffice. As the Bolshevik Party was preparing an insurrection towards the end of 1917, two leading party members, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, openly expressed their opposition to the insurrection in a non-party paper. Vladimir Lenin was furious, called them strike-breakers, and argued for their expulsion from the party (Lenin, 1917). He failed. The editors of the paper, in which his call for the expulsions was printed, responded by saying that: “the sharp tone of comrade Lenin’s article does not change the fact that, fundamentally, we remain of one mind” (Bone, 1974, p. 120). Zinoviev and Kamenev went on to play prominent roles in the Russian movement, as leading members of the Bolshevik and its successor, the Communist Party. This is worth underlining. The strike-breakers Zinoviev and Kamenev were not expelled in the context of the Russian revolutionary upsurge of 1917. The Russian Revolutionary tradition cannot be used as a pretext, therefore, to expel four individuals for comments on Facebook in the rather less revolutionary conditions of Britain, 2012.

3. This austere (and incorrect) interpretation of the Bolshevik tradition is compounded by the rigid prohibition on cross-branch discussion about party matters after the conference. This rigidity, combined with a sectarian habit of counterposing Marxism to feminism, can create an unhealthy internal dynamic leading to more and more punitive actions by the leadership.

These reflections are written by someone who is not a member of the SWP, and who does not live in Britain. However, the current crisis of the SWP has implications beyond the ranks of the SWP and outside the borders of Britain. As an important part of the English-speaking left, the SWP over the years has influenced many individuals and groups. Without correction, the actions by the current leadership, along with the errors regarding women’s oppression and left organizing, risk damaging the project of building a new left for the 21st century.

© 2013 Paul Kellogg

References

Bakan, A. (2012) ‘Marxism, Feminism, and Epistemological Dissonance’, Socialist Studies / Études socialistes, 8(2), 60–84.

Birchall, I. (2011) Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time. London: Bookmarks.

Bone, A. (trans.) (1974) The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution: minutes of the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (bolsheviks) August 1917-February 1918. London: Pluto Press.

Cliff, T. (1984) Class struggle and women’s liberation, 1640 to today. London: Bookmarks.

Ferguson, S. (1999) ‘Building on the Strengths of the Socialist Feminist Tradition’, Critical Sociology, 25(1), 1–15.

Ferguson, S. (2008) ‘Canadian Contributions to Social Reproduction Feminism, Race and Embodied Labor’, Race, Gender & Class, 15(1/2), 42–57.

Leeds University SWSS (2013, January 12) Leeds University SWSS Statement [online]. Swiss Leeds Uni.  [Accessed12 January 2013 ]

Lenin, V. (1917, October 18) ‘Letter To Bolshevik Party Members’ [online], Pravda.

Miéville, C. (2006) Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Miéville, C. (2010) Kraken. New York: Random House Digital, Inc.

Miéville, C. (2012) Railsea. New York: Random House Digital, Inc.

Penny, L. (2013, January 11) ‘What does the SWP’s way of dealing with sex assault allegations tell us about the left?’ [online], New Statesman.

Seymour, R. (2013a, January 11) ‘Crisis in the SWP’ [online], Lenin’s Tomb.

Seymour, R. (2013b, January 12) ‘A reply to the Central Committee’ [online], Lenin’s Tomb.

Smith, S. (2012) Marxism and Women’s Liberation [online]. wearemany.org.

SWP’s Serbian Section Splits From IST’ [online], (2013, January 11) [online], Grumpy Old Trot.

Taylor, J. (2013, January 13) ‘Ranks of the Socialist Workers Party are split over handling of rape allegation’ [online], The Independent.

Walker, T. (2013, January 10) ‘Why I am resigning’ [online], Facts For Working People.

The Tar Sands: A made-in Canada problem

JANUARY 4, 2013 – The tar sands development in northern Alberta is an ecological nightmare, and an insult to indigenous land rights. This nightmare and this insult are profoundly Canadian – shaped by Canadian corporations and Canadian government policies. Unfortunately, there was a tendency by some in the movement in 2012, to try and “off-shore” the problem, shifting the blame, in particular to China. This has no basis in fact, and opens the door to a nasty politics of xenophobia.

Listen to the rhetoric. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, rightly highlighted concerns about a trade deal between Canada and China. But she irresponsibly raised the stakes, saying that, as a result of the deal, Canada would “become the resources colony in that context” (Scoffield, 2012).

Nikki Skuce from B.C.-based ForestEthics Advocacy, in a report on the tar sands that is receiving wide circulation, similarly argued that “Canada is about to move one step closer to being a resource colony for China” (2012a). She bases this claim on the assertion that “the vast majority of tar sands production is not owned by Canadians,” and focuses on the growing role of “rising Chinese Investment”. The combination, she says, is “positioning Canada as China’s resource colony” (Skuce, 2012b).

May and Skuce are quite wrong. Targeting an Asian country as “the problem” should set off alarm bells – particularly when that targeting takes place in British Columbia, a province with a noxious history of “yellow peril” politics. China might be undergoing a massive industrial revolution, but it remains a society far more impoverished than Canada.

More seriously, the term “colony” should not be used lightly. It is a very heavy term, loaded with meaning. For China in the 19th century, the encounter with European colonialism, meant the horrors of the Opium War (1839-1842), the Arrow War (1856-1858, sometimes called the Second Opium War), the resulting disintegration of social order in the 1850s and 1860s, and the subsequent carving up of various ports into “concessions” open to the imperialist powers (Dillon, 2010, pp. 29–119). There is a colonial history in Canada in the same century, but it is not a story about Canada’s subjection by non-Canadians. It is rather a story of colonial violence, carried out by the newly created Canadian state, directed against the Cree, Assiniboine, Métis and other peoples, as Canada used force to consolidate its developing capitalist economy (Ryerson, 1975, pp. 309–423). Canada is not a victim of colonialism, but is rather a colonial power in its own right.

Further, this alarmism about Canada becoming anyone’s resource colony has no basis in fact. Statistics Canada has systematically collected data on all sorts of aspects of “who controls what” in the Canadian economy, going back decades. For oil and gas, we have access to two separate databases. One is from 1954 until 1986 (based on percentage of capital employed in petroleum and natural gas), and the other is from 2000 until 2010 (based on percentage of assets in oil and gas extraction and support activities). The story told by these statistics is quite straightforward: Canadian control of the oil and gas industry is steadily increasing.

Go back 60 years, and control of the oil and gas sector was in its majority held outside of Canada – principally by corporations and individuals based in the United States. Through the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, in any given year, typically less than 40 per cent was in the hands of Canadians, with U.S. control at times approaching 60 per cent.

This steadily changed through the 1970s and 1980s. By 1986, the year the first database ends, the situation had reversed, Canadian control sitting at about 60 per cent, U.S. control at below 30 per cent.

When we pick up the story with the new database series, beginning in 2000, the pattern continues. By 2010, Canadian control of the oil and gas industry was approaching the two-thirds mark, while U.S. control was down to just above 20 per cent.

There are other ways by which to measure control of oil and gas production in Canada. Calgary-based Peters & Co. has developed a database for country of control in the oil and gas industry based on the 50 biggest companies in the field, as measured by 2012 production of Barrels of Oil Equivalent per Day (BOE/D). The next chart takes their figures, their four categories (number of companies, oil production, gas production and then oil and gas production combined) and then divides the universe of companies into four categories – Canadian, non-Canadian (total), non-Canadian (U.S.) and non-Canadian (other than U.S.). The results provide a momentary, one-year snapshot, perfectly consistent with the 66-year Statistics Canada time series, highlighted above. In all four categories, Canadian control is above 60 per cent, and sometimes close to 70 per cent.

Peters & Co. would suggest that the Canadian figures depicted here are just a bit too high. Their statisticians decided that the third biggest company on the list – Husky Energy Inc. – should be classified as “non-Canadian”. As Husky is responsible for 314,000 out of the daily total of 5,107,000 BOE/D, this would reduce the Canadian control figures above by about six per cent.

This is a very arbitrary classification. It is true that Husky, although headquartered in Calgary, does have 70% of its shares held offshore in companies based in Barbados and Luxemburg. However, those companies are in turn controlled by a man called Li Ka-shing and his family (Husky Energy, 2012, p. 4). Li Ka-shing was born in China, but according to the Globe and Mail, is also a Canadian citizen (MacKinnon, 2011). If he is a dual citizen, Chinese and Canadian, it is not surprising that this is a fact about which he is fairly circumspect. China does not recognize dual citizenship, and Li Ka-shing has substantial holdings in China. Frequently referred to in the press as a “Hong Kong billionaire”, in 2000 “his two main companies, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. … and property developer Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd.” accounted for “about 15% of the market capitalization of Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s main board” (Cattaneo, 2000). But this corporate empire – including Husky – is in large part managed by Li Ka-shing’s two sons, Victor and Richard Li, both of whom are absolutely Canadian citizens (York, 2005). So Canadian are these two, that they ranked a mention in 2003 as two of the three new additions to Canadian Business’s annual list of Canada’s richest individuals (Erwin, 2003).

In other words, the family which controls Husky Energy has some pretty good credentials as being Canadian, as Canadian as many of the other estimated 2.8 million Canadian citizens who some of the time live outside the country (Hoffman, 2010). When Céline Dion sings, Wayne Gretzky plays hockey, or Justin Bieber breaks hearts, we don’t question their Canadian bona fides.

ForestEthics Advocacy uses a different method by which to assert minority Canadian control in the tar sands. They argue it is misleading to call companies Canadian just because they have headquarters in Canada. The key is to examine the nationality of those who own their shares, and since “71 per cent of all tar sands production is owned by non-Canadian shareholders” it is justifiable to deny that what is going on in the tar sands is made in Canada.

Certainly having a head office in Canada is not sufficient as proof of Canadian control. Imperial Oil, the sixth biggest oil and gas producer in Canada, proclaims its head office as being in Calgary, but also indicates, in the same source, that it is 70 per cent owned by Exxon Mobil Corporation, the pre-eminent U.S.-based oil multinational (Imperial Oil, 2012, p. 32 and 29). No one argues that Imperial Oil should be considered as being under Canadian control, any more than anyone would make a similar argument about several others on the list, including Statoil Canada, owned by Statoil Norway and Murphy Oil Corp., headquartered in El Dorado Arkansas (Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 2012; Murphy Oil Corporation, 2012, p. 1).

But ForestEthics goes further, claiming that we should also exclude from the Canadian list: the biggest oil and gas producers in Canada, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.; the second biggest, Suncor Energy Inc.; the seventh biggest, Cenovus Energy Inc.; the 13th biggest, Canadian Oil Sands; and the 33rd biggest, MEG Energy Corp. (Skuce, 2012b) These companies, they argue, have more than 50% of their shares owned outside of Canada, and are therefore not really Canadian.

Look at the four biggest corporations on the list. Canadian Natural Resources, Suncor, Cenovus, and Canadian Oil Sands are all headquartered in Calgary. None of them are subsidiaries of another corporation (Canadian Natural, 2012; Canadian Oil Sands, 2012; Cenovus, 2012; Suncor, 2012). To say they are “foreign controlled” because slightly more than 50% of their shares are held by people living outside of Canada, displays a misunderstanding of the way in which corporate control is exercised in a capitalist economy. According to a very standard understanding of corporate power, provided by the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD), “control of a corporation occurs when a single institutional unit owning more than a half of the shares, or equity, of a corporation is able to control its policy” (2003). In other words, identifying that 50% of the shares of a corporation are owned outside of Canada, would only be significant if those shares were controlled by a single entity.

The OECD goes further. “In practice, when ownership of shares is widely diffused among a large number of shareholders, control may be secured by owning 20 per cent or less of total shares”. This is actually fairly basic economics. ForestEthics Advocacy’s “resource colony of China” paradigm is based on a flawed understanding of the way in which control is exercised in the real world of contemporary capitalism.

Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, speaking November 17, 2012 to a packed Toronto teach-in on the pipelines, also mistakenly asserted that “more than two-thirds of the tar sands production is now in foreign hands”. But Barlow is aware of the fact that the tar sands problem cannot be blamed on non-Canadians. She immediately qualified her statement, saying this “doesn’t mean that it would be fine if it was in Canadian hands” (LeftStreamed, 2012).

Our movement needs to be completely clear – the tar sands are in Canadian hands, and those hands are dirty.

This article is based on research which will be presented in more detail as a chapter in Meenal Shrivastava and Lorna Stefanick, eds., Beyond the Rhetoric: Democracy and Governance in a Global North Oil Economy. Edmonton, Athabasca University Press.

© 2013 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article has been published as “Is Canada a ‘resource colony?’” Climate & Capitalism, 7 January.

References

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (2012, December 27) Statoil Canada Ltd.: Private Company Information [online]. Businessweek.com. [Accessed27 December 2012 ]

Canadian Natural (2012) 2011 Annual Report [online]. Calgary: Canadian Natural Resources Limited.

Canadian Oil Sands (2012) 2011 Annual Report [online]. Calgary: Canadian Oil Sands Limited.

Cattaneo, C. (2000, October 30) ‘Lau details Husky’s plan for growth’, National Post, C1.

Cenovus (2012) 2011 Annual Report [online]. Calgary: Cenovus Energy.

Dillon, M. (2010) China: A Modern History. New York: I. B. Tauris.

Erwin, S. (2003, December 9) ‘Thomsons top Canada’s rich list’, Kingston Whig – Standard, 36.

Hoffman, A. (2010, July 31) ‘A Canadian key drives a Chinese success’, The Globe and Mail, B4.

Husky Energy (2012) Management Information Circular [online]. Calgary: Husky Energy.

Imperial Oil (2012) 2011 Summary Annual Report [online]. Calgary: Imperial Oil Limited.

LeftStreamed (2012) Tar Sands Come to Ontario – No Line 9! [5/5] [online]. Toronto.

MacKinnon, M. (2011, October 31) ‘China test drives the concept of charity’, The Globe and Mail, A3.

Murphy Oil Corporation (2012) 2011 Annual Report [online]. El Dorado, Arkansas: Murphy Oil Corporation.

OECD (2003, March 3) Control of a corporation [online]. OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms.   [Accessed27 December 2012 ]

Ryerson, S. B. (1975) Unequal union: confederation and the roots of conflict in the Canadas, 1815-1873. Toronto: Progress Publishers.

Scoffield, H. (2012, October 30) ‘Investment deal with China would leave Canada a resource colony: opponents’, Whitehorse Star, 8.

Skuce, N. (2012a, October 24) ‘It’s a bad deal’, The Globe and Mail, A14.

Skuce, N. (2012b) Who Benefits? An investigation of foreign investment in tar sands [online]. ForestEthics Advocacy.

Statistics Canada (2000) CANSIM Table 3760047 – International investment position, capital employed in non-financial industries by country of ownership, annually. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada (2012) CANSIM Table 1790004 – Corporations Returns Act (CRA), major financial variables, annually. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Suncor (2012) 2011 Annual Report [online]. Calgary: Suncor Energy Inc.

Vanderklippe, N. (2012, December 12) ‘How much of Canada’s energy resource lies in foreign hands?’, The Globe and Mail, B4.

York, G. (2005, November 29) ‘Canadians by choice, Hong Kongers by nature’, The Globe and Mail, H4.

Notes on Greece 6: The Challenge of the United Front

NOVEMBER 15, 2012: Note 6 of 6 – SYRIZA, as its name “Coalition of the Radical Left” implies, is an expression of the coalescence of anti-capitalist forces in Greece, a coalescence produced through the struggles of the first years of the 21st century as well as the resistance to austerity and crisis from 2007 on. It is not the only such expression. Earlier notes have also mentioned another such coalescence with a very similar name – ANTARSYA, “Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left”. The SYRIZA coalition has 12 components, ANTARSYA has nine.[1]

The deep crisis of Greek society, the collapse of support for the mainstream parties, and the sudden surge towards SYRIZA, have all combined to create an intense climate favouring unity against austerity. In the run-up to the June elections, without question the principal issue flowing from this, was the call from SYRIZA for an electoral united front with the KKE, a united front which was rejected out of hand by the KKE, leading to a steep drop in support for what had been the historic left party of the Greek working class.

But the much smaller electoral force, ANTARSYA, also rejected the call for an electoral united front. While this of course had nowhere near the impact of the actions of the KKE, in terms of the unfolding of the anti-austerity movement in the coming months and years, it deserves attention. If with the benefit of hindsight, it is very clear that the refusal of the KKE to link arms with SYRIZA in June 2012 was a lost opportunity for the anti-austerity forces throughout Greece, then surely the same is true, on a smaller scale, for the similar stance taken by ANTARSYA.

The lost opportunity of June 2012 is, of course, yesterday’s issue. But today and tomorrow, the need for a united front approach will be posed, both electorally and on the streets. In future elections, there are certain to be new alignments. Between elections, in the coming months and years, there will be huge challenges confronting the social movements in Greece, as the austerity policies intensify. What is posed on a weekly and daily basis, is the daunting task of building unified resistance to attacks on wages, cuts in services and the disappearance of jobs. Here, a premium will be on activists and local organizers, and both ANTARSYA and SYRIZA have been important sources for these movement resources. What, then, has divided ANTARSYA from SYRIZA?

First, the contours of this division have been quite different from those characterizing the divide between the KKE and SYRIZA. For the KKE, deep-rooted inertia and sectarianism were the over-riding issues. For ANTARSYA, by contrast, the key issue was programmatic. ANTARSYA saw it as essential to make visible its program for combatting the crisis, a program that in crucial respects differs from that of SYRIZA. Here are some of the key issues on which ANTARSYA campaigned during the May 2012 election:

  • Immediate termination of the loan agreement, of any memoranda and the related measures;
  • Non-recognition of the debt, debt cancellation and suspension of payments;
  • Break with the system and decoupling from the euro and the EU;
  • Nationalization of the banks and corporations without compensation under workers’ control (ANTARSYA 2012b).

Contrast that with the points, outlined by SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, during the attempt to form a coalition government after the May 2012 election.

  • The immediate cancellation of all impending measures that will impoverish Greeks further, such as cuts to pensions and salaries.
  • The immediate cancellation of all impending measures that undermine fundamental workers’ rights, such as the abolition of collective labor agreements.
  • The immediate abolition of a law granting MPs immunity from prosecution, reform of the electoral law and a general overhaul of the political system.
  • An investigation into Greek banks, and the immediate publication of the audit performed on the Greek banking sector by BlackRock.
  • The setting up of an international auditing committee to investigate the causes of Greece’s public deficit, with a moratorium on all debt servicing until the findings of the audit are published (ekathimerini.com 2012).

There are of course differences between the two programs. Unquestionably the most visible difference, and the one which has been the focus of much of the debate, has been ANTARSYA’s call for a break with the euro, a call which SYRIZA does not make. But this difference does not justify a divide. It is after all, not a difference of political principle, but rather one of political analysis. The key issue in determining an orientation to SYRIZA is the fact that SYRIZA has become the political expression for mass anger against austerity.

Prominent economist Costas Lapavitsas is widely known for advocating a “progressive exit” from the Eurozone, particularly for economically peripheral countries such as Greece (Lapavitsas et al. 2010, 369–371). He strongly believes SYRIZA is making a mistake in not advocating such a course of action. However, he did not see this as a reason to stand aside from its call for unity during the elections. “[T]he pressing issue at the moment is to free the country from the stranglehold of debt and austerity. As long as SYRIZA is prepared to take action to achieve these aims, and the Greek people wish to give it the benefit of the doubt on the euro, its role can be positive. At the very least, it offers a chance for Greece to avoid a disaster that might truly lead to the rise of fascism” (Lapavitsas 2012).

It is also the case, that there is nothing inherently radical about calling for a break from the Eurozone. Prominent SYRIZA spokesperson, Michalis Spourdalakis, argues forcefully that for the KKE at least, there is something “extremely conservative” about its call for a break from the euro. The KKE’s call, he argues, builds illusions that a solution to the deep crises in Greek society can be found in institutional change far away in Brussels, while the truth is, regardless of any institutional changes, the only hope for Greek society lies in the strengthening of the mass movements (Spourdalakis 2012b; see also Spourdalakis 2012a; Baltas 2012).

We also need to take seriously the opinion of the Greek people themselves. An overwhelming majority of the Greek population – in some polls as many as 80 per cent – favours retention of the euro (Giles, Spiegel, and Hope 2012). There are legitimate fears inside Greece that a break with the euro would massively worsen the already catastrophic situation in the country. Perhaps these fear are an expression of conservatism on the part of the Greek population. But perhaps they also reflect a common sense appreciation of a real truth – that in a globalized world, there can be no national solution to the crisis, that any solution has to be in concert with the rest of Europe. Almost 90 years ago, Leon Trotsky made just this point.

The European continent in the present state of development of its productive forces is an economic unit – not a shut-in unit, of course, but one possessing profound internal ties – as was proved in the terrible catastrophe of the world war … Europe is not a geographical term; Europe is an economic term, something incomparably more concrete especially in the present post-war conditions – than the world market. Just as federation was long ago recognized as essential for the Balkan peninsula, so now the time has arrived for stating definitely and clearly that federation is essential for Balkanized Europe (Trotsky 1972, 342–343).

This is an important discussion, something to be developed in more detail at a later time. The central point of these notes has been to emphasize another issue, the challenge in Greece, and a challenge shared by social movements in every other country, that of finding our way to united fronts against austerity. This is not a new story. John Riddell (2011) has very helpfully reminded us that this was precisely the dominant issue facing the social movements 90 years ago, where debates about how to form united fronts were dominated progressive political debate.

In very difficult circumstances, the social movements in Greece have taken steps towards such a united front. Both SYRIZA and ANTARSYA – coalitions of very diverse forces – represent organizational expressions of the desire for unity. The same sentiment for unity was revealed sharply when the base of first PASOK and then the KKE moved en masse towards SYRIZA during the two elections of 2012. We have seen the case for unity in elections made electorally by the gesture towards the KKE and ANTARSYA by SYRIZA, and for unity in action by Panos Petrou of SYRIZA who indicated that it was SYRIZA, “together with forces from ANTARSYA” who gave “important organizational and political support” to the movement of the squares in 2011 (Petrou 2012). The call for unity in action also comes from ANTARSYA, which in its election material issued an appeal to “all of the collectives and movements struggling for the past two years against the terror of the memoranda, the Troika, and the euro-junta to communicate in solidarity and to cooperate before, during and after the elections. This appeal is directed to all forces that have bled in the strikes and clashes, that have filled the squares with life, that want to strengthen the rebellion of the labour movement” (ANTARSYA 2012b).

In the coming months and years, we will undoubtedly learn important lessons from our friends in Greece, about how to turn these sentiments for united action into reality.

Previous in the series
Notes on Greece 1: Economic Crisis
Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval
Notes on Greece 3: The KKE

Notes on Greece 4: SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA
Notes on Greece 5: Greece, France, and the limits of the Concept ‘Left Reformism’

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This note is one of six. The six notes have been published together as  “Greece in the eye of the storm (the Greek left, SYRIZA and the limits of the concept of ‘left reformism’)” Links, November 18.

End Notes

[1] For SYRIZA, in the order presented on its web site, these components are Renewing Communist and Ecological Left (AKOA), Anti-capitalist Political Group (APO), Internationalist Workers’ Left (DEA), Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI), Active Citizens (Energoi Polites), Movement for the Unity in Action of the Left (KEDA), Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), Red (Kokkino), Eco-socialists of Greece, Rosa – Radical Left Group, The Radicals (Rizopastes), and Synaspismós (SYN). For ANTARSYA, again in the order presented on its web site, these components are Left Recomposition (ARAN), Left Anti-capitalist Group (ARAS), Revolutionary Communist Movement of Greece (EKKE), Communist Renewal, New Left Current (NAR), Youth Communist Liberation (NKA), Alternative Ecologists, OKDE-Spartakos, and Socialist Workers Party (SEK). (SYRIZA 2012; ANTARSYA 2012a)


References


ANTARSYA. 2012a. “Organizations Involved in ANTARSYA.”

———. 2012b. “Statement on the Parliamentary Elections to Be Held on May 6 in Greece.” International Viewpoint 447 (April).

Baltas, Aristides. 2012. “The Rise of Syriza: An Interview.” In The Question of Strategy: Socialist Register 2013, ed. Leo Panitch, Greg Albo, and Vivek Chibber, 120–136. Pontypool, Wales: The Merlin Press.

ekathimerini.com. 2012. “Tsipras Lays Out Five Points of Coalition Talks.” Kathimerini, May 8.

Giles, Chris, Peter Spiegel, and Kerin Hope. 2012. “Eurozone: If Greece Goes …” Financial Times, May 14, sec. News.

Lapavitsas, Costas. 2012. “Why Europe Needs Greece: Syriza’s Success Starts the First Major Battle Against Austerity. The Continent Should Will Them to Win.” The Guardian, May 12, sec. News.

Lapavitsas, Costas, Annina Kaltenbrunner, Duncan Lindo, J. Michell, Juan Pablo Painceira, Eugenia Pires, Jeff Powell, Alexis Stenfors, and Nuno Teles. 2010. “Eurozone Crisis: Beggar Thyself and Thy Neighbour.” Journal of Balkan & Near Eastern Studies 12 (4) (December): 321–373.

Petrou, Panos. 2012. “The Making of SYRIZA.” SocialistWorker.org, June 11.

Riddell, John. 2011. Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Spourdalakis, Michalis. 2012a. “Left Strategy in the Greek Cauldron: Explaining Syriza’s Success.” In The Question of Strategy: Socialist Register 2013, ed. Leo Panitch, Greg Albo, and Vivek Chibber, 98–119. Pontypool, Wales: The Merlin Press.

———. 2012b. “Left Strategy in the Greek Cauldron: Explaining Syriza’s Success”. Panel: The Crisis of the Eurozone and the European Socialist Parties presented at the Weighs Like a Nightmare. Ninth Annual Historical Materialism Conference 2012, November 11, London, U.K.

SYRIZA. 2012. “Components SYRIZA.”

Trotsky, Leon. 1972. “Is the Time Ripe for the Slogan: ‘The United States of Europe’? (A Discussion Article).” In The First Five Years of the Communist International, trans. John G. Wright, 2:341–346. New York: Monad Press.

Notes on Greece 5: Greece, France, and the limits of the Concept ‘Left Reformism’

NOVEMBER 13, 2012: Note 5 of 6 – There are, as Alex Callinicos outlines, New Lefts forming across Europe in countries other than Greece. How should we assess these New Lefts? Callinicos, in a short newspaper article attempted to survey the development of the left throughout Europe as a whole, putting the entire New Left of four countries – Germany, Greece, France and Holland – under one label. He asked: “What is the politics of this rising left? Over-simplifying a little, it is essentially some version or other of left reformism. It’s true that SYRIZA includes within its ranks an assortment of far-left groups, but the dominant force, SYNASPISMÓS, originates in the more accommodating and pro-European wing of the Greek Communist movement”. This left reformism, he argues, is “filling a space left by the rightward shift of mainstream social democracy.” Leaders of left reformism “are able to reach out to traditional social-democratic voters by articulating their anger in a familiar reformist language.” However, “ambiguity is inherent in any version of reformism, which seeks simultaneously to express workers’ resistance to capitalism and to contain it within the framework of the system” (Callinicos 2012a).

It is always difficult in a short newspaper article to convey all the nuances of a political position. But Callinicos is also the editor of a quarterly theoretical journal, and in a much longer analysis in that theoretical journal in the Summer of 2012 he developed exactly this position at more length, including direct quotations from the earlier, shorter newspaper article (Callinicos 2012b). For Callinicos (and others, as we shall see below), the starting point in an analysis of SYRIZA is categorizing it as one of several formations in Europe of “left reformism”. But adjectives such as “left reformist”, “accommodating” and “pro-European” are not helpful when it comes to understanding the political dynamics being unleashed by the new social facts taking shape on the European political landscape.

This can be shown through a brief, comparative analysis of the situations in Greece and France –one of the most important countries where New Left formations have been takng shape. Such an examination will show that there are in fact interesting and important parallels between the situation in France with that in Greece. But there are also important differences, which make over-generalization difficult and misleading.

Perhaps the most important parallel, has been the challenge posed, in both countries, by large breaks to the left from the traditional parties of social-democracy. The Front de gauche is an electoral coalition, originating in a left split, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, from the Socialist Party in France. His grouping was joined, in 2009, by the French Communist Party. The 2012 campaign of the Front de gauche had a movement feel to it, marked as it was by enormous mass meetings. “Around 20,000 people turned up at Mélenchon’s meeting in Lille, 70,000 were present at a huge open air meeting in Toulouse, 100,000 were in Marseille and around 50,000 attended an indoor rally in Paris”, and it ended up achieving a vote of 11% in the April 2012 elections (Wolfreys 2012, 40).

François Sabado – a leading member of the Nouveau Parti Anti-capitaliste (NPA) – deploys the same label used by Callinicos, “left reformist”, to describe the Front de gauche. He does so as part of an analysis to try and situate the rise of the Front de gauche and the relative eclipse of other forces on the left, including his party, the NPA. He offers an interesting analysis to explain the ability of the Front de gauche to become the main expression of the radicalization in France. He suggests that the 2012 pre-election situation in France was “marked by social defeats, which encouraged the hope and the illusion that ‘what is blocked in the struggle can be unblocked by the election’” (Sabado 2012, author’s translation). He is undoubtedly referring to “the defeat inflicted on the impressive movement that developed in the autumn of 2010 against Sarkozy’s pension reforms, reflecting a displacement of hopes invested in struggle onto the promise that they may be realized by electoral means” (Wolfreys 2012, 41).

The struggles of 2009 and 2010 were in fact, massive. “In March 2009, over two million workers supported a general strike organized by the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) against President Sarkozy’s handling of the economic crisis. … This was followed in October 2010 by major stoppages and street demonstrations (including a week-long blockade at France’s twelve oil refineries and a three-week dockworker strike in Marseille) over Sarkozy’s privatization and austerity measures, which included plans to raise the minimum and full retirement ages to sixty-two and sixty-seven, respectively, a move the government claimed was vital to stem a soaring pension deficit” (Burnham 2011, 503–504). Millions participated in the 2010 “rolling strike” strategy of the French union leadership (Davies 2010). On October 12 and 19 2010, the CGT claimed that 3.5 million people took to the streets each day against the pension reforms. The Interior Ministry had lower figures, putting the demonstrations of October 12 at 1.23 million, and those of October 19 at 1.1 million (Erlanger 2010). But even these lower figures indicate a social movement of enormous proportions.

It is also true that these struggles did not, in fact, stop the pension reforms. Just weeks after the massive October protests, then president Nicolas Sarkozy signed the reforms into law, in this sense, defeating the movement. Sabado is suggesting that demoralization from the failure of these street battles turned peoples’ eyes towards the ballot box. In that situation, the left-reformist Front de gauche could do very well, while the more radical NPA, with its emphasis on extra-parliamentary action, would do more poorly.

Is this persuasive? In Greece, as earlier notes have outlined, there have been equally massive strikes and street protests. And, as in France, those struggles have not prevented the imposition of austerity measures. But the austerity measures imposed in Greece are far more serious than those in France. Sarkozy’s pension reform “increases the minimum pensionable retirement age from 60 to 62 and the full state pension entitlement age to 67 from 65 for anyone who has not contributed to the system for 41 years. The measures will come into effect gradually from July next year, and be fully enacted by 2018” (Samuel 2010). But contrast this with the immiseration being imposed on the Greek workers through the various “memoranda”. The attacks on the living standards of the Greek population are qualitatively worse than those in France.

By the same logic, shouldn’t the Greek movements failure to stop these memoranda constitute a “social defeat”, a much more drastic social defeat than that experienced in France? Should we then see the rise of SYRIZA – like the rise of the Front de gauche – as a result of demoralization from the failure of street protests? In the case of SYRIZA, this seems entirely unpersuasive, given the scale of the break from social-democracy.

It also feels unsatisfactory as an explanation of dynamics in France – a search for an objective explanation for problems that are actually rooted in serious, subjective political errors. While the Front de gauche has been galvanizing tens of thousands, Sabado’s party, the NPA has entered a very serious internal crisis. Part of this is certainly rooted in the party’s inability to consistently challenge Islamophobia – a very big problem in a country where the extreme right is building a base on hard, anti-Islamic politics. In 2010, this erupted into a nasty controversy when Ilham Moussaid was chosen as an NPA candidate in her region. Moussaid is a hijab-wearing woman, and her candidacy sparked a storm of controversy, including a resolution put forward by a minority “that hijab wearers can’t be candidates for the party”. Moussaid ended up resigning from the party, along with several other members (Mullen 2010). This is an open door through which many internal problems can enter. But a probably bigger reason for the crisis in the NPA has been its decision to stand aloof from the Front de gauche. Jason Stanley argues that, even before the April 2012 elections, the NPA was “hemorrhaging members and struggling to stay afloat”. He roots this crisis in large part in the NPA decision to not participate in the Front de gauche, something he labels “sectarianism” (Stanley 2012).

Even if we do decide to call both SYRIZA and Front de gauche “left reformist,” it does not justify standing aside from the radicalizations they represent. Sabado uses the label “left reformist” to emphasize the ambiguities and contradictions inside the Front de gauche – and there are many such ambiguities and contradictions. The Front de gauche refuses to take a stand against nuclear power “because of the many ties linking the French Communist Party to the French nuclear industry” (Sabado 2012, author’s translation). Mélenchon himself, while very much opposed to U.S. imperialism, is more muted when it comes to French imperialism, reaffirming his position in a recent publication that “in the current situation, the nuclear deterrent remains the essential element in our defense strategy” (2012, author’s translation). Sabado emphasizes these ambiguities and contradictions, in order to justify his party – the NPA – standing apart from the Front de gauche electoral coalition. But labeling the Front de gauche “left reformist,” outlining its contradictions, and on that basis standing aside from its campaign is quite one-sided. Surely more important than the ambiguities of the Front de gauche and its “left reformism” is the social fact of it representing a new radicalization of tens of thousands? When the latter is seen as the key factor, then without question the task for groups like the NPA is to stand in solidarity, not stand aside. To refuse to engage with a new radicalization, whatever its limitations, will push formations like the NPA into political crisis – the bigger the radicalization, the bigger the crisis. If this is true for the challenge created in France by the rise of the Front de gauche, it is doubly true for the challenge created in Greece by the rise of SYRIZA.

There is a general point, relevant to this analysis, which can be gleaned from this short survey of France. In the tumultuous political situation which currently exists in Europe, the traditional architecture of mass politics is in flux, and in key countries – certainly in both Greece and France – this has resulted in important new “social facts” emerging, mass left political formations expressing a radicalization to the left of traditional social democracy. The key task is to engage with these mass processes, not to label them and use the resulting categorization as an excuse to stand aside. But we shouldn’t stretch the comparison between France and Greece too far. There are very big differences between the New Lefts of France and Greece, and of the political and economic terrain in the two countries. To conclude this section, some of these differences will be highlighted.

First, in their attitude to imperialism, the Front de Gauche and SYRIZA are quite different. Sabado shows clearly that the Front de gauche is ambiguous at best on the question of French imperialism. By contrast, one of the strengths of SYRIZA is its roots in the anti-imperialist movement. In a message from SYRIZA to anti-NATO protesters in the United States in May of 2012, this was made extremely clear.

Here in Greece, the struggle against NATO has always been important and the demand to exit the war machine, and shut down its military bases in Greece had always been central for the Greek left since the ’70s. More recently, we still remember that the foundations for the emergence of the radical left, SYRIZA, that today is on the rise, are back at the anti-war movement of 2003 against the invasion in Iraq. And today, the country that is most hardly hit by the crisis and austerity, maintains military presence to Afghanistan, it supported actively the war on Libya, it deploys its navy in Somalia and Lebanon. Greek governments, in their competition with the Turkish state about which power can act best as the ‘military bully’ of the area, had been spending billions of euros in a frenzy of constant armaments. And the military spending continues even now, at the time of the most severe austerity that threatens public schools and hospitals with collapse (Davanellos and Martalis 2012).

Second, the impact of elections in 2012 was completely different on the political landscape of the two countries. In Greece, there was a coalescing of support for the extreme right, including the fascists, but it was not the main story. The main story was clearly the emergence of SYRIZA. In France by contrast, the main story of the April 2012 election was precisely the third place finish of the far-right National Front, which won more than 18% of the vote in the first round, “a stunning result for the far right … a record for France’s Front National, beating the previous best in 2002 … Everyone had said it could not happen. The opinion polls suggested it would not. It did”. The Front de gauche did manage to receive just over 11% of the vote, but “the Front de gauche leadership had hoped for results above 15%, and above all, to finish in third place, ahead of Marine Le Pen” (Sabado 2012, author’s translation). This “caused deep disappointment” among its supporters because the result was “several percentage points lower than had been expected” (Willisher 2012). In short, while the elections in Greece crystallized the rise of a New Left, the elections in France led to widespread disappointment in the ranks of the New Left, a disappointment mixed with fear in the presence of a very dangerous emergence of a mass base for the racist far right.

Third, the economic terrain in the two countries is quite different. We saw in earlier notes the continuing decline in GDP in Greece, and the inexorable rise of unemployment to truly painful levels. In France, there was a decline of GDP for five quarters in 2008 and 2009, a decline not unlike that experienced in Greece, but in the years since, the economy has expanded, not contracted. That expansion has slowed considerably in 2012, it is true. But the difference between contraction and expansion is not trivial. Unemployment in France did spike, as a result of the recession, from 7.5% to 10%. But this is not significantly higher than the unemployment rates experienced through the economic expansion in the first years of the 21st century, and is certainly far removed from the catastrophic levels in Greece, outlined at the beginning of these notes (Trading Economics 2012a; Trading Economics 2012b).

It is instructive to extend the gaze beyond France. In the summer of 2012, unemployment in Germany, at just over 6%, was at levels lower than at any time this century. In Austria, unemployment was 4.3%; in Denmark, 4.5%; in the Netherlands, 6.3%; in Belgium, 7.2%; in Sweden, 7.8% (Trading Economics 2012c). The contrast between the economic situation in these countries, and that in Greece could not be more pronounced.

To this point in the aftershocks from the 2008-2009 recession, Europe has proceeded on two tracks. The weaker economies, largely in the south (Greece, Portugal, Spain, and to some extent Italy) have experienced very severe economic contraction, and – in Greece, and Spain – depression-era levels of unemployment. But the stronger countries, largely in the north, have returned to growth – shaky and uneven growth – but growth nonetheless. Now of course, this could change. Perhaps Greece’s present is France’s future. Perhaps. But the political perspectives of the present cannot be built upon the objective conditions of the future. An abstract category such as “left reformism” – when applied to New Lefts developing in different countries in quite different circumstances – can obscure more than it reveals.

A comparative analysis of the Europe’s New Lefts must be sensitive to these differences. Without question, the development of a New Left is far more advanced in Greece than in France and the rest of Europe. The Front de gauche of Mélenchon is a welcome development to the left of social democracy. But it contains within it nothing like the deep history of development through struggle experienced over years by SYRIZA. It is at a much earlier phase of development than the New Left in Greece. This is not surprising. The economic and social crisis in Greece is incomparably deeper than that in, for instance, France. The very depth of that crisis has accelerated the conditions which have produced a very rapid decomposition of old political parties, and a radicalization to the left. The French working class has engaged in many, very militant struggles. But no one could paint the compelling picture of workplaces and neighbourhoods becoming the “fortresses of resistance” outlined so dramatically by Antonis Davanellos in his sketch of the state of working class resistance in Greece.

The concrete is always more difficult than the abstract in political analysis. The abstract formula “left reformist” hides more than it reveals. The contexts in which the New Lefts are developing in these four countries are quite different, and each one of the emerging left formations has its own story. This is part of an international phenomenon, which includes formations as different as Die Linke in Germany and Québec solidaire in Quebec. To properly assess each, including SYRIZA, we are going to have to concretely study their roots and history. Without such an attempt, there is a danger of political analysis falling back on extremely generally-formulated abstractions which tell us little about the real content of a political current, and can in fact can become a barrier to developing a proper understanding. Most seriously, there can be a tendency to use the label “left reformist” as an excuse for standing aloof from an unfolding radicalization. Interestingly, this point has been made very well by Callinicos himself. In 2009, in a debate with, among others, François Sabado, he argued that the using the label “left reformist” for the New Lefts in Europe can be used to “accentuate the negative” and runs the risk of an analysis which “ignores the fundamental fact that, for the first time in decades, the decay of social democracy has produced a serious breakaway to the left” (Callinicos 2009).

Previous in the series
Notes on Greece 1: Economic Crisis
Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval
Notes on Greece 3: The KKE

Notes on Greece 4: SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA

Last in the series
Notes on Greece 6: The Challenge of the United Front

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This note is one of six. The six notes have been published together as  “Greece in the eye of the storm (the Greek left, SYRIZA and the limits of the concept of ‘left reformism’)” Links, November 18.

References


Burnham, Peter. 2011. “Towards a Political Theory of Crisis: Policy and Resistance Across Europe.” New Political Science 33 (4): 493–507.

Callinicos, Alex. 2009. “Revolutionary Paths: a Reply to Panos Garganas and François
Sabado.” International Socialism 122 (Spring) (March 31).

———. 2012a. “The Politics of the Rising European Left.” Socialist Worker (London), May 19, 2303 edition.

———. 2012b. “The Second Coming of the Radical Left.” International Socialism 135 (Summer) (June 28): 10–22.

Davanellos, Antonis, and Sotiris Martalis. 2012. “Message from SYRIZA to Chicago anti-NATO Protests.” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal (May 20).

Davies, Lizzy. 2010. “Nicolas Sarkozy Calls for Calm as French Pension Protests Gather Pace.” The Guardian, October 19.

Erlanger, Steven. 2010. “Amid Strikes, French Leader Vows Order.” The New York Times, October 20, sec. News.

Mullen, John. 2010. “Islamophobia and France’s NPA.” SocialistWorker.org, December 15.

Sabado, François. 2012. “Front De Gauche : Et Maintenant ?” Tout Est à Nous, June 2.

Samuel, Henry. 2010. “Nicolas Sarkozy Claims He Has ‘Saved’ French Pensions as Bill Becomes Law.” The Telegraph, November 10.

Stanley, Jason. 2012. “France: The NPA in Crisis.” Against the Current 26 (6) (February): 25–26.

Trading Economics. 2012a. “France GDP Annual Growth Rate.”

———. 2012b. “France Unemployment Rate.”

———. 2012c. “Unemployment Rates, List by Country.”

Willisher, Kim. 2012. “Marine Le Pen Scores Stunning Result in French Presidential Election.” Guardian.co.uk, April 22.

Wolfreys, Jim. 2012. “France After Sarkozy: Confronting the Politics of Despair.” International Socialism 135 (Summer) (June 28): 27–50.

Notes on Greece 4: SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA

NOVEMBER 7, 2012: Note 4 of 6 – The explosive changes in Greek economics and politics have introduced the entire world to SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA, the anti-capitalist coalition of which SYNASPISMÓS is the leading part. The roots of SYNASPISMÓS go back to the 1968 opposition to Russian imperialism in Czechoslovakia, the original dividing point in the old KKE.

At its core the opposition to Russian tanks was based on the marvellous, instinctive anti-authoritarianism of the 1960’s youth radicalization. This willingness to be influenced by a new generation is more important in categorizing SYNASPISMÓS than the label “eurocommunist”. Stathis Kouvélakis captures this clearly. The wing of communism from which SYRIZA emerged was “marked by eurocommunism” but was also “open, since the 1970s, to the new social movements. … It is a party which is at ease in the feminist movement, youth mobilizations, the anti-globalization, anti-racist and LGBT currents, all the while keeping an important orientation on the workers movement” (Marlière 2012, author’s translation). There is, in other words, a generational divide between the two historic wings of Greek communism. One study of the KKE concluded that, after the political developments of the 1990s, “the KKE has become a party of retired people with limited education and resources. SYNASPISMÓS has, instead, a far more dynamic social profile, reaching its peak among people in their thirties and forties, with a higher degree of education” (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 682).

There is a tendency to see this in “class” terms – the KKE keeping its roots in the poor and the working class, SYNASPISMÓS (and by extension, SYRIZA), evolving away from the working class towards “urban bourgeois intellectuals” (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 681). But we should be cautious before so easily pigeon-holing the class character of these parties. The same authors who define the base of SYNASPISMÓS as that of “urban bourgeois intellectuals” also use the term “young, professional, urban and affluent” to describe the party’s base. However, the authors argue that SYNASPISMÓS acquired this base by appealing “to the ‘new-left/post-materialist’ segments of Greek society. It is creatively combining all kind of anti-globalization, ecological, anti-nationalist, pro-immigrant messages” (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 680).

Is it really meaningful to see the anti-globalization, ecological, anti-nationalist and pro-immigrant movements as expressions of young, professional, urban, affluent bourgeois intellectuals? Or are these issues the developing concerns around which are cohering the most advanced sections of the modern working class – a class which is increasingly educated, increasingly urban, and (from certain perspectives) increasingly professional?

Class needs to be seen, not as static layers of privilege within society in the manner of Max Weber, but rather as a relationship between exploited and exploiter in the manner of Karl Marx. The working class cannot meaningfully be restricted to those who have little education and who work in factories. The working class encompasses all those who have to sell their labour power to capital. An elementary point about the modern working class in advanced capitalist countries, is that increasingly – alongside blue-collar, factory workers – the working class (and the union movement) is more and more comprised of white-collar, office and service workers, many with quite a lot of education. Where would the class struggle in Greece (and Canada, and Britain, and the U.S.) be without teachers, civil servants and nurses? Perhaps the divide between the KKE and SYNASPISMÓS should not be seen as one of class (factory workers versus urban bourgeois intellectuals), but as one within the working class, between the old working class and the new working class? With the latter perspective, the evolution of SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA makes sense.

In any case, much of this discussion has been made moot by the rapid developments of 2012. The social composition of the electoral base of SYRIZA has been dramatically transformed. In the May 2012 election “SYRIZA came first among young voters, as well as among the voters ageing up to 55 years.” But the party also “prevailed in the big urban centers, where the economic and social crisis is particularly acute. It even managed to represent big parts of the popular strata in the poor neighbourhoods of Athens and other big cities, where traditionally its penetration had been low” (Golemis 2012). These tendencies accelerated in the June election, with the shift of a quarter of a million votes from the KKE to SYRIZA. The KKE, in other words, no longer has a monopoly on the left in terms of having a base among the poorest strata of the working class in Greece.

One of the component parts of SYRIZA is a group called the International Workers Left (DEA, from its Greek initials). Panos Petrou, a leading member of DEA, outlined the evolution of SYRIZA from 2004 until 2012. His history dovetails very nicely with the above analysis. Petrou argues that SYNASPISMÓS was in some difficulty in the early part of the 21st century.

A left-wing turn was needed, and it was expressed mostly through the involvement of SYN in the anti-globalization movement and the antiwar movement of 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. Regular joint actions between SYN and organizations of the radical and anti-capitalist left – DEA among them – took place in the anti-globalization and antiwar movements, and in the creation and activities of the Greek Social Forum. This kind of coordination represented an important break with the sectarian past of the traditionally fragmented Greek Left. The pressures from the movement itself – for unity of action and to express in the political field the dynamic of the Social Forum and the anti-globalization and antiwar movements – gave birth to SYRIZA.

The process that unfolded in the following years was, again, not straightforward. There was resistance to the left-turn in SYNASPISMÓS, the turn which had allowed for its formation in 2004. There were individuals and groupings which split to the right, more comfortable working with PASOK than with the new radicalization. But again and again, it was the pressure of the social movements which pushed SYRIZA to the left.

There was a mass student movement against the New Democracy government in 2006 and 2007. “Universities were occupied for months, thousands of students attended the general assemblies on their campuses, and tens of thousands of students marched in every city of Greece each week … It was during these months of struggle that SYRIZA re-emerged. In the student assemblies and in the university teachers’ union, activists from the radical left worked together to lead the struggle”.

This was followed in December 2008 by a youth revolt “after a 15-year-old student was killed by two police offers in Athens. SYRIZA was the only force in parliament that supported the youth revolt.” Finally, in 2011, in the wake of the occupation of Tahrir Square, harbinger of revolution in Egypt, and as part of the “Occupy” movement which swept the entire world, “the so-called ‘movement of the squares’ broke out – massive occupations of public plazas, like Syntagma Square in front of the parliament building in Athens, led largely by youth, in imitation of the indignados movement in Spain. SYRIZA activists threw themselves wholeheartedly into the movement. Together with forces from ANTARSYA, they provided important organizational and political support to the demonstrations and the assemblies held in the squares” (Petrou 2012).

One central story completes this picture. The big social movements tha shaped SYRIZA (and ANTARSYA) were underpinned by the extraordinary militancy of Greek workers. In 2010 and 2011, there were 17 general strikes in Greece, as workers mobilized against the harsh austerity measures (Garganas 2012). Here we can only give short accounts of a few of these – but in truth, each was a story in itself.

On May 5, 2010, “a general strike was called … and a hundred-thousand-strong demonstration resulted in rioters attacking the Greek parliament and burning banks in Athens … [T]he protest was the biggest, and most violent, seen in the country since the return to democracy in 1974. In February 2011, a twenty-four hour general strike effectively closed Athens airport and over thirty thousand protesters clashed with police outside the Central Bank of Greece” (Burnham 2011, 504).

In 2011, a 48-hour general strike on October 19 and 20 “confirmed that this cycle was entering a new phase. According to the most reliable estimates, around 300,000 turned out for the demonstrations in Athens and at least 200,000 in the rest of the country, out of a total population of 10.5 million. … Participants included workers from the public and private sectors, the unemployed, young people, small business owners and entrepreneurs, retired people. The scale, spread and diverse social composition of the demonstrations indicated the support of the majority of society. The two days of protest also included a range of spontaneous actions: occupations of public buildings, including government ministries; refusal to pay the new taxes; prolonged strikes by groups such as dustmen and hospital staff” (Kouvelakis 2011, 18).

These strikes and mass street protests have not stopped the austerity measures. But neither have Greek employers or the Greek state been able to impose a significant defeat upon the Greek workers’ movement. SYRIZA’s Antonis Davanellos, in a recent speech in Chicago, gave an extraordinary picture of the way in which this working class resistance has carved deep roots into civil society.

The backbone of the resistance has been the working class movement – a series of strikes, then a general strike, then a new cluster of walkouts, a new general strike, occupations and on and on … [T]his resistance has spread everywhere in Greek society. We say that we are protecting public space in Greece. That means that every public hospital has become a fortress of resistance – not only, by the way, involving the workers inside the hospital, the doctors and nurses, but the people who are in the hospital and their friends [and] relatives. Everyone together works to protect and save the hospital. Around the hospital is the neighbourhood, and the chains of solidarity are built between them. The same is true with public schools. The same is true about child care facilities, which are absolutely crucial for working-class families. But it’s not only that – it’s parks and other public facilities. This is the public space that we are protecting against privatization, against speculators and against austerity (Davanellos 2012).

This is an extraordinary picture of a class in mobilization. It is the immediate background to the rise of SYRIZA.

The preceding short history is a modest attempt at concretely locating SYRIZA within the history of the Greek working class, and the current Greek economic and social crisis. The most important thing here is not the label that is applied to this current, but an awareness that it has become the vehicle which is expressing, in mass politics, the current radicalization in Greek society.

Previous in the series
Notes on Greece 1: Economic Crisis
Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval
Notes on Greece 3: The KKE

Next in the series

Notes on Greece 5: Greece, France, and the limits of the Concept ‘Left Reformism’

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This note is one of six. The six notes have been published together as  “Greece in the eye of the storm (the Greek left, SYRIZA and the limits of the concept of ‘left reformism’)” Links, November 18.

References


Burnham, Peter. 2011. “Towards a Political Theory of Crisis: Policy and Resistance Across Europe.” New Political Science 33 (4): 493–507.

Davanellos, Antonis. 2012. “From Crisis to Resistance in Greece.” SocialistWorker.org, July 5.

Garganas, Panos. 2012. “Greek Vote Proves Disaster for Ruling Class.” Socialist Worker (London), May 5, 2301 edition.

Golemis, Haris. 2012. “A Triumph of the Radical Left in Greece – A Message to Europe.” Transform! European Network for Alternative Thinking and Political Dialogue.

Kalyvas, Stathus N., and Niko Marantzidis. 2002. “Greek Communism, 1968-2001.” East European Politics & Societies 16 (3): 665–690.

Kouvelakis, Stathis. 2011. “The Greek Cauldron.” New Left Review II 72 (November-December): 17–32.

Marlière, Philippe. 2012. “« Syriza Est L’expression D’une Nouvelle Radicalité à Gauche » (Entretien Avec Stathis Kouvélakis).” Mediapart.

Petrou, Panos. 2012. “The Making of SYRIZA.” SocialistWorker.org, June 11.

Notes on Greece 3: the KKE

NOVEMBER 6, 2012: Note 3 of 6 – Throughout the entire modern period in Greece, the principal party to the left of PASOK has been the KKE. There is a real loyalty to the KKE among many in the Greek working class, and this loyalty has legitimate political roots. Party members faced severe repression during the years of the dictatorship between 1967 and 1974. Before the dictatorship, its cadre were forged in the terrible years of World War II and the civil war which followed it. This very small country, between 1940 and 1949, saw some 650,000 people lose their lives in war, resistance to fascism, and civil war (Hitchens 1983, 177). The KKE was at the centre of anti-fascist resistance. This has not been forgotten, and explains in part the intense loyalty towards the KKE displayed by thousands of Greek workers.

After the civil war, tens of thousands of KKE members were forced into exile. The communist movement then developed in two sharply different ways, shaped by being either outside or inside Greece itself. The leadership of the party was centred in exile – many in countries of the former Soviet bloc (Russia and Russian-occupied Eastern Europe) – and developed a peculiar kind of deep Stalinism, so deep it was to survive the collapse of that bloc in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “In 1995, the KKE … suddenly rediscovered that Stalin was allegedly one of the greatest Marxist thinkers and began doing absurd things … like glorifying the 1930s purges” (Karadjis 2012).

Inside the country however, there was a quite different political evolution. The Communist Party of Greece of the Interior was formed in 1968, in opposition to the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. The label ‘Interior’ “carried an important symbolic charge insofar as it implied that the KKE, often mockingly referred to as KKE Exoterikou (KKE Exterior) … was not really an independent party but a Soviet puppet” (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 667–668). An uneasy history ensued, culminating in 1991 in a final split between on the one hand what is now the current KKE (essentially a continuation of KKE Exterior) and SYNASPISMÓS (essentially a continuation of KKE Interior) (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 676).

To see the relationship between this history and current developments is not straightforward, and frequently, old images from the past are not helpful. Typically, the KKE is seen as being a more orthodox group, and SYNASPISMÓS (and the KKE Interior which preceded it) as being more heterodox, from 1968 on part of the Eurocommunist current. Kalyvas and Marantzidis call the post 1991 KKE “hard-line” and the post 1991 SYNASPISMÓS “reformist” (2002, 676). Alex Callinicos says that SYNASPISMÓS “originates in the more accommodating and pro-European wing of the Greek communist movement” (Callinicos 2012a).

These labels, however, are of little use in charting the evolution of either the KKE or SYRIZA. Examine first the KKE. Terms like “orthodox” and “hard-line” usually imply more radical and left-wing. But the hard Stalinism of the KKE, outlined above, has served to disguise, behind left-sounding rhetoric, a deep political inertia and an adaptation to quite traditional nationalist politics.

The latter point is revealed openly in its publicly-accessible program, where the party on the one hand says it is rooted in “scientific socialism” but on the other that it is “a profoundly patriotic party” (KKE 2012). For the left in other member states of NATO and the European Union, the term “patriotic” is usually a label claimed by the right and not the left. This nationalism is based on its “view of Greece as a colony of Western imperialism rather than a mini-imperialist power in its own right” (Karadjis 2012).

The former – the deep political inertia – is revealed in its response to the electoral crisis of 2012. SYRIZA put out a call for a left government, calling on the anti-austerity parties to campaign together in the June elections. ANTARSYA, the other anti-capitalist coalition, had received 75,000 votes in the May election, and its cooperation with the SYRIZA list would have been important. Much more crucially, however, would have been winning the cooperation of the KKE with its half-million voters, and much bigger party apparatus (Davanellos 2012a). The issue of a government of the left poses its own issues, which very much require separate treatment at a later date. One in-depth analysis, deploying the older concept of a “workers’ government” was developed by Britain’s Richard Seymour (2012). John Riddell (2012) has helped to re-introduce this concept into the contemporary discussion. However, the point of an electoral united front is not measured solely by the prospect of office, but by the way in which an electoral united front could lead to an increase in confidence, determination and unity for the bitter struggles on the ground that are inevitable in the coming years.

Given the depth of the crisis, the collapse of PASOK, the emergence of an open fascist threat and the sudden rise in support for SYRIZA, it would seem elementary that the call for an electoral united front between the two big formations on the left, the KKE and SYRIZA, would be met with enthusiasm. In the May election, the Greek “masses handed their votes to SYRIZA, and secondarily to the KKE, with the mandate for them to take power, reject the memorandum, reject austerity [and] restore their livelihoods”. However, this prospect of a united front against the crisis foundered on the rocks of the “spectacular sectarianism of the KKE, which … point blank refused to join a united front with SYRIZA. More than that – criminally – the KKE … refused to even talk about it … [T]he KKE claims it will not work with SYRIZA who it denounces as social democrats who will inevitably sell out” (Karadjis 2012).

The KKE leadership might have refused to link arms with SYRIZA, but many supporters of the KKE went a different direction. Tens of thousands of workers abandoned the KKE and voted for SYRIZA in June 2012. The KKE ended up paying a very steep price for its sectarian position, losing half of its electoral base, and receiving the fewest votes it has ever received in a modern Greek election.

So clearly, one image from the past is not useful. It is not useful to see the KKE as being “extremely left”. The KKE is better seen as being extremely sectarian, a sectarianism shaped in its peculiar embrace of hard Stalinism, political baggage leading to a terrible, conservative inertia in the face of the most profound crisis in Greece since the Second World War.

Previous in the series
Notes on Greece 1: Economic Crisis
Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval

Next in the series

Notes on Greece 4: SYNASPISMÓS and SYRIZA


© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This note is one of six. The six notes have been published together as  “Greece in the eye of the storm (the Greek left, SYRIZA and the limits of the concept of ‘left reformism’)” Links, November 18.

References


Callinicos, Alex. 2012. “The Politics of the Rising European Left.” Socialist Worker (London), May 19, 2303 edition.

Davanellos, Antonis. 2012. “A New Stage of the Resistance in Greece.” SocialistWorker.org, May 23.

Hitchens, Christopher. 1983. “Eleni.” Grand Street 2 (4): 173–181.

Kalyvas, Stathus N., and Niko Marantzidis. 2002. “Greek Communism, 1968-2001.” East European Politics & Societies 16 (3): 665–690.

Karadjis, Michael. 2012. “Greece: SYRIZA, the Communist Party and the Desperate Need for a United Front.” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal (May 16).

KKE. 2012. “Programme of KKE”. Document. Communist Party of Greece.

Riddell, John. 2012. “What Would Lenin’s Comintern Have Made of SYRIZA?” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, September 3.

Seymour, Richard. 2012. “The Challenge of SYRIZA.” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal (July 12).

Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval

NOVEMBER 5, 2012: Note 2 of 6 – Greece’s deep economic crisis has led to a revolution in the traditional structures of mass politics. New Democracy (Tories) won elections in 2004 and 2007, and were in office as the crisis struck its first blows. October 4, 2009, they were swept out by a newly resurgent PASOK (social-democrats), as voters turned to the traditional party of the workers’ movement and the left in the face of the clear failure of conservative politics. But PASOK’s social democracy proved equally bankrupt. The only “solution” PASOK (and New Democracy) could come up with, was to agree to two so-called “bailouts” supervised by the “troika” – the European Central Bank (ECB), European Commission (EC) and International Monetary Fund (IMF – a €110 billion “bailout” in May 2010, and another €130 billion “bailout” agreed to in February 2012.

The word “bailouts” is put in quotation marks, because what in fact is being bailed out is not the Greek government, let alone the people of Greece, but rather financial institutions, particularly key European financial institutions, which stood to lose heavily should the Greek economy go under. So – while the second bailout agreement involved a “forgiveness” of 70% of the debt owed by the Greek government to certain key lenders, it came with a key condition that the Greek government’s first priority was to use the money advanced to keep servicing its still massive remaining debt. A European Commission report outlining the nature of the conditions wrote: “the government has expressed the intention of adopting legislation giving priority to the debt service vis-à-vis other cash outflows” (European Commission 2012, 45). The bailout money does not go into the pockets of Greek workers and the unemployed. The bailout money is “recycled” from the European Central Bank and the IMF in particular, back onto the balance-sheet of key financial institutions (Fontevecchia 2012).

And there were other conditions – the imposition of truly drastic austerity measures. Those austerity measures were codified in a series of “memorandums” associated with each of the bailouts. These memorandums make for shocking reading, mandating extraordinarily severe cuts in jobs, wages and services (European Commission et al. 2010; European Commission et al. 2012a; European Commission et al. 2012b). From May 2010 on, much of Greek politics has polarized around this one word: for or against the “memorandums”. The February 2012 memorandum agreement between the troika and the Greek government, called for:

  • a 22-percent cut on the standard minimum monthly wage;
  • for those under 25, a 32-percent reduction;
  • wage freezes on several categories of workers until the unemployment rate falls below 10 percent;
  • €3.2 billion in spending and pension cuts so that;
  • monthly pension payments above €1300 will be reduced by 12 percent;
  • supplementary pensions, paid out of workers’ own contributions, will be slashed by up to 30 percent;
  • reduction in pharmaceutical expenditure by at least €1,076 million;
  • reduction in overtime pay for doctors in hospitals by at least € 50 million;
  • an average reduction by 10 percent in the so-called ‘special wages’ of the public sector (Reuters 2012a; European Commission et al. 2012b).

Because New Democracy and PASOK were both equally implicated in this horrendous attack on the population, they have each paid a huge political price. Throughout the first elections of the 21st century (outlined in Chart 3), New Democracy and PASOK took turns winning elections, each normally polling around 3 million votes, New Democracy in 2004 almost reaching the 3.4 million mark. But in June 2012, when New Democracy managed to top the polls, it did so with just 1.8 million votes, a decline in support of more than 1.5 million from its 2004 peak.

For PASOK, the situation is even worse. In three of the four elections held between 2000 and 2009, it won just over 3 million votes. But having accepted responsibility for the austerity packages designed by European and international bureaucrats as part of the “rescue” of the Greek economy, PASOK saw its base evaporate. In May of 2012, it could not even reach the one million voter threshold. In June it just barely held on to three-quarters of a million voters. Between 2004 and 2012, more than two million voters had abandoned the traditional party of the trade unions and the left. The social-democratic pillar of mainstream politics has been eroded to an even greater extent than the conservative pillar.

The rise of SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) is the other side of this picture. This is a political formation with roots in the Greek communist tradition. Its activists have been prominent in the big movements of the 21st century – anti-globalization, anti-war and (since 2007), anti-austerity. Inspired by the occupation of Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, a worldwide rebellion against capitalism took shape through the various “Occupy” movements. Its Greek counterpart was “the movement of the squares,” and SYRIZA was a key part of that movement. SYRIZA combines, then, both an electoral presence and an activist presence in the mass movements, a distinct break from the passivity of traditional social-democracy.

Through the elections of 2009, SYRIZA’s vote was fairly modest, ranging from just over 200,000 to just over 350,000. This did not even mark SYRIZA as the most popular of the parties to the left of PASOK, being surpassed in every election by the votes of the KKE (the Greek Communist Party). But this changed dramatically in the election of May 6, 2012, when SYRIZA’s vote soared to just over one million. In the election of June 17, 2012, that total soared again to over 1.6 million, SYRIZA winning more than twice as many votes as PASOK, and trailing by only a few thousand the winning total of New Democracy. There has clearly been a pronounced shift to the left in Greece, with hundreds of thousands of voters moving from PASOK to SYRIZA.

But the crisis in Greece has not simply produced a move to the left. Chart 4 shows this very clearly. First, with each passing election fewer and fewer people have even bothered to vote. The voter turnout in June 2012 was fully 1.2 million below that of March 2004, this in a country where the electorate is just over 9 million. So while one million have turned left towards SYRIZA, an equal number have turned their backs on electoral politics altogether. This evidence of mass, political disengagement is extremely worrying. More worrying still has been the advance of the right. Just over a decade ago, a useful analysis of the Greek left could make the following claim. “It is interesting to note that as of 2002, no successful extreme-right party had emerged in Greece” (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2002, 690). This is no longer the case. In the election of 2009, an openly neo-Nazi party, the so-called “Golden Dawn”, entered the electoral arena, winning just under 20,000 votes. But by May of 2012 that total soared to 440,000. When a Golden Dawn member physically attacked a left politician on television, many presumed that this would lead to a collapse in its vote. These hopes proved illusory, Golden Dawn keeping the bulk of its votes. In fact the truth is, Golden Dawn has built its base through violence – racist violence – feeding on and encouraging a situation where there have been literally “thousands of attacks against immigrants” (Marchetos 2012). It is also not the only new right-wing party in Greece. A proliferation of splinter-right parties has developed, some basing themselves on extreme Greek patriotism, others on a politics of scapegoating immigrants. The total vote for these splinter-right groups topped 1.2 million in May of 2012.

Finally, to complete the picture emerging from these six elections, Chart 5 maps the changing contours of politics to the left of social democracy. Traditionally, that left has been a terrain dominated by the KKE, the Communist Party of Greece. The chart shows that as recently as 2009, the KKE outpolled SYRIZA, winning more than half a million votes. But in the turmoil of 2012, almost half of those votes have disappeared, undoubtedly in their majority moving to support for SYRIZA. ANTARSYA, the Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left, is a third important component of the left-of-PASOK. In 2004, 2007 and 2009, ANTARSYA slowly increased its support from just under 20,000 to just under 25,000. In the election of May 2012, its vote tripled to 75,000. However, in the very polarized campaign of June 2012 it, like the KKE, saw many supporters move to SYRIZA, ANTARSYA’s result returning to the 20,000 vote level.

The big parties have lost millions of supporters because of their inability to deal with the crisis of Greek society. There has been an important coalescing of the left, and SYRIZA has emerged as a legitimate player on the terrain of mass politics. But there has also been the emergence of a hardened far-right threat, violently profiting from the stew of chauvinist and anti-immigrant politics churned up on the right of the political spectrum.

Previous in the series
Notes on Greece 1: Economic Crisis

Next in the series
Notes on Greece 3: the KKE

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This note is one of six. The six notes have been published together as  “Greece in the eye of the storm (the Greek left, SYRIZA and the limits of the concept of ‘left reformism’)” Links, November 18.

References


European Commission. 2012. The Second Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece. Occasional Paper. Brussels: European Commission – Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs.

European Commission, ECB, IMF, and Hellenic Republic. 2010. Greece – Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP). Brussels, Washington, Athens: European Commission, ECB, IMF, Hellenic Republic.

———. 2012a. Greece – Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies. Brussels, Washington, Athens: European Commission, ECB, IMF, Hellenic Republic.

———. 2012b. Greece—Memorandum of Understanding on Specific Economic Policy Conditionality. Brussels, Washington, Athens: European Commission, ECB, IMF, Hellenic Republic.

Fontevecchia, Agustino. 2012. “Greek Bailout Deal A Farce To Benefit Banks At The Expense Of Greece.” Forbes.com (February 21): 19.

Kalyvas, Stathus N., and Niko Marantzidis. 2002. “Greek Communism, 1968-2001.” East European Politics & Societies 16 (3): 665–690.

Marchetos, Spyros. 2012. “Golden Dawn and the Rise of Fascism.” Guardian.co.uk, June 19.

Ministry of the Interior. 2012a. Results of Parliamentary Elections in June 2012. Athens: Ministry of the Interior.

———. 2012b. Past Election Results. Athens: Ministry of the Interior.

Nohlen, Dieter, and Philip Stöver, eds. 2010. Elections in Europe : a Data Handbook. Baden-Baden, Germany: Nomos.

Reuters. 2012. “Greece Cuts Minimum Wage, Austerity Begins – Greek Cabinet Agrees to 22 Per Cent Cut in Minimum Wage.” The Times – Transcript, February 29.

Greece in the Eye of the Storm

NOVEMBER 5, 2012: Note 1 of 6 – An economic crisis of enormous proportions has erupted in a first world country in the Global North. The scale of the economic crisis in Greece has few modern equivalents, and is at the root of a massive social and political upheaval. Navigating that crisis poses difficult challenges for the social movements in Greece, and has important lessons for activists around the world. The notes that follow are an attempt to provide information that can assist those, unfamiliar with the situation in Greece, in navigating this situation.

Notes on Greece 1: Economic crisis

The economic crisis in Greece rivals that which broke out in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s. There have been two “bailouts” of the Greek economy, orchestrated by key European and international institutions. Panos Garganos is editor of the Athens-based Workers Solidarity, and a leading member of The Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left (known by its Greek initials as ANTARSYA, a pun on the Greek word for “mutiny”). In March, 2012, Garganas wrote: “We are now in the middle of the second bailout and it is imposing worse conditions than in 2010 when the IMF first came to Greece. Wages have been cut by 22 percent, pensions by 15 to 25 percent, and there has been a whole wave of destruction in social services, in terms of access to hospitals, doctors and childcare. For working class families survival is a real, real struggle” (Garganas 2012a, 9).

The 21st century began with steady growth for the Greek economy, but with quite stunning speed, that economy went from growth to slump in 2007. It has stayed mired there ever since, something that Chart 1 clearly demonstrates [double-click to see in full]. Annual growth rates for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) were usually close to, or just under 3% from the first quarter of 2001 until the third quarter of 2007. On several occasions, GDP growth came in at above 6%; once, in the second quarter of 2006, at almost 7.5%. But in the last quarter of 2007, growth slumped to near zero, stayed just above zero for two more quarters, and then turned negative. GDP has shrunk every quarter since, except for a brief moment in the first quarter of 2010. From the fourth quarter of 2010 on, this slide has been exceptionally steep, often hitting 7%, and on one occasion coming close to 9%. By the first quarter of 2012, GDP sat at €40.6 billion, a level not seen since the first quarter of 2001. To put this another way – absolutely all of the growth experienced in the first years of this century in Greece has been wiped out by five years of slump.

This economic contraction has led to a jobs crisis, outlined in Chart 2. Just five years ago, in 2007, overall unemployment was at 8.5% and falling, dropping to 7.8% n 2008. But it has risen steadily since then to 16.2% in 2011 and a truly shattering 22.5% in the 2nd quarter of 2012. For young people, aged 15-24, it is far worse. From 22.9% in 2007, unemployment has risen to 51.15%. More than half of young people in Greece, who wish to have a job, can’t find one.

This unemployment is not restricted to the young – for whom high levels of unemployment have become a chronic condition in many countries. For those 45-54, unemployment is now at 17.2%; for those 35-44, 19.2%; and for those 25-34 it is almost at 30%. These figures are the statistical profile of social calamity. And it may get even worse. “Given the fact that the jobless rate is a lagging indicator of broader economic activity, unemployment may not have reached its peak yet,” said Platon Monokroussos, an economist at EFG Eurobank (Reuters 2012b).

A terribly revealing and sobering statistic, is the one to do with suicides. According to James Meadway, “Greece used to have the lowest suicide rate in Europe.” But in the wake of the economic crisis, “[s]uicides have increased by 40% in the last year” (Meadway 2012). The individual stories are heart-rending. Antonis Perris was a young man who, in 2012, had been unemployed for two years. “Perris wrote in an online forum late one night that he had run out of money to buy food and cursed those responsible for the economic crisis in Greece. ‘I have no solution in front of me,’ he typed. The next morning, Perris took the hand of his ailing 90-year-old mother. They climbed to the roof of their apartment building and leapt to their death” (Cha 2012).

Next in the series:
Notes on Greece 2: Political Upheaval

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing history

This note is one of six. The six notes have been published together as  “Greece in the eye of the storm (the Greek left, SYRIZA and the limits of the concept of ‘left reformism’)” Links, November 18.

References

Cha, Ariana Eunjung. 2012. “‘Economic Suicides’ Shake Europe as Financial Crisis Takes Toll.” Associated Press, August 14.

ELSTAT. 2012a. Quarterly GDP – Expenditure Approach (Constant Prices) (1st Quarter 2000 – 1st Quarter 2012). Quarterly National Accounts. Athens: Hellenic Statistical Authority.

———. 2012b. Labour Force Survey: April 2012. Athens: Hellenic Statistical Authority.

Garganas, Panos. 2012. “Greece: The Struggle Radicalises.” International Socialism 134 (Spring) (March 27): 9–19.

Meadway, James. 2012. “Greek Austerity: The End of the Line.” The New Economics Foundation.

Reuters. 2012. “Record Jobless Rate Marks Greek Woes.” The Star (South Africa), July 13, p. 21.