Here we publish the final agreed, amended and approved version of the Thesis on the European situation voted on at the meeting of the CWI International Executive Committee in November, 2017.
The dramatic events that have erupted in Catalonia and the Spanish state are a reflection of the underlying social and political crisis gripping many European countries. While the propaganda of the ruling classes was that they had re-stabilised and resolved the political and social crisis which unfolded in Greece; Brexit and now Catalonia, reveal the underlying social and political situation which exists in many EU countries. There has not been a generalised upsurge in the class struggle in Europe since the last IEC in December 2016. Yet this does not mean that the capitalist classes face a stable situation. Political shocks, crisis and upheavals continue to confront the capitalist classes across Europe. The revolutionary events that have rocked Catalonia are of importance for the Spanish state, the EU and internationally.
Some capitalist commentators confidently look towards a return to substantial economic growth based on the rising levels of the domestic product within the Eurozone in the last quarters. However, the growth that has taken place – 2.1% – this year, has at best been sluggish and extremely uneven. It has not been accompanied by a rise in living standards but by continued austerity alongside an increase in speculation again and the building up of ‘bubbles’ as capitalists look for possibilities to invest their overaccumulated capital. Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy remain gripped by mass unemployment, especially amongst the youth. Across the Eurozone the real level of unemployment, not just those officially registered, including hidden unemployment, stands at 18%! Precarious jobs and menial wages, especially for the youth, is increasingly the norm throughout the EU. The slave labour scheme in Italy, which compels students to work for employers for no wages, is an indication of the scale of the attacks which have taken place.
At the same time the underlying problem of the debt crisis has not been resolved. Apart from a re-eruption of the Greek crisis, which is possible, there is the possibility of a crisis in Italy unfolding should it be unable to continue to service its public sector debt which accounts for 130% of GDP. The Scandinavian countries emerged relatively unscathed from the 2007/8 crisis. However, the build-up of debt in these countries points towards them being more dramatically affected in a future crisis which will have important repercussions in the class struggle that we must be prepared for.
There are also major issues developing in the European economy that will arise from the introduction of robotics and other changes in production. In Germany there is a discussion about the need to restructure the auto-industry. The tensions which will arise between the trade blocs was recently shown in the conflict between the US and Canada over Bombardier which then spilled over into Britain.
In addition to Brexit there have been increased clashes within the EU itself. In the east there are heightened tensions with Poland and Hungary. Poland is preparing to lodge a claim for war reparations from Germany. Donald Tusk, the former Polish Prime Minister, went so far as to declare, “the EU did not need Poland and vice versa” prompting some commentators to pose the question of a “Polexit” triggering a new crisis.
There are signs of Kremlin concern about the coming 2018 Presidential election, brought forward to mark the anniversary of the take-over of Crimea. In part this is due to the continuing economic crisis – real wages have been declining for four years in a row, but also because the patriotic rhetoric following the Ukrainian events is wearing off. Although the Russian military in percentage terms costs three times more than the NATO average, there is insufficient money for education, health and pensions. The regions and internal republics are being starved of cash, a third of them have debts greater than 85% of their income and are threatened with default. This, together with new attacks on language rights by the government, makes practically inevitable the return of ethnic tensions between Moscow and Tatarstan or the Caucasian republics.
Putin will undoubtedly win the election, with no serious opposition candidate allowed and by distancing himself from his own party “United Russia”, which gained less than 20% in the major cities this Spring. A genuine workers’ alternative is desperately needed to mobilise the huge discontent at corruption and inequality but in its absence, the vacuum is filled by Navalnii, a right-wing populist using left wing slogans on pay and free healthcare. The overwhelmingly youth protests have broken the ice – the number of protests during the year has grown significantly. By putting off its problems, the Kremlin is only increasing the possibility of further and larger protests after the election.
Macron’s attempt to push for greater integration of the Eurozone economies with an agreed budget has been partly checked as Merkel is compelled to draw back, looking over her shoulder at the far right. Further attempts to increase the integration of the Eurozone are possible. However, how far these go is not at all certain and they go against the grain of the centrifugal features currently at work. This will lead to further conflicts within the EU and also within the Eurozone. Sections of the German ruling class were concerned that they would be footing the bill for a more integrated Eurozone which they are not prepared to do.
Revolution and counter revolution in Catalonia
The upheavals in Catalonia have included elements of both revolution and counter revolution. They have also revealed the importance of the national question for the working class and revolutionary Marxists and exposed the crisis of leadership which exists. Such dramatic events are a test for all left and socialist organisations and especially for revolutionary Marxists. The comrades of Izquierda Revolucionaria and the CWI have correctly defended the right of the Catalan people to decide their future and demanded a Socialist Republic of Catalonia, fighting together with the working people of the rest of the Spanish state to oppose the ruling class and PP in a common struggle to establish a voluntary, democratic socialist confederation of all the peoples of the Spanish state.
A complete contrast with respect to the traitorous role played by the PSOE, which has actively supported, on each measure, both the PP Government and the State apparatus in its repressive escalation. The leaders of the United Left and the Communist Party have also acted regrettably, abandoning in practice the defence of the right to self-determination of the Catalan people and manifesting a complete hostility to the mass movement. They have even denied the existence of political prisoners in Catalonia and some of their leaders even participated as speakers in the demonstrations organised by the Spanish nationalist right-wing in Barcelona. The position of the Podemos Spanish leadership has been different, remaining outside the reactionary Spanish nationalist bloc, but it has also shown enormous shortcomings. On the one hand, they have opposed the cancellation of Catalan autonomy and have also recognized the existence of political prisoners. But they have refused to participate in the process of mobilizations in favour of the Catalan Republic, and to promote the struggle in the rest of the Spanish state against the repression of the State apparatus. They defend, as the only solution, a referendum agreed with the same parties and the same State that refuses to recognize the right to decide. Iglesias has even forced the exclusion of the general secretary of PODEMOS in Catalonia, who had a much more coherent position regarding the independence movement. At the same time, the Left-nationalist CUP has lost an important opportunity to push the revolutionary crisis in Catalonia beyond the limits imposed by the bourgeois and petty bourgeois leadership of PdeCat and ERC. Its leaders have refused to put forward an independent left programme and mobilize the working class in Catalonia around a socialist policy, subordinating themselves in practice to the constant manoeuvres of the bourgeois nationalist government of the PdeCat-ERC, led by Puigdemont. In spite of everything, the profile of the CUP, especially among broad layers of youth, has grown significantly and it is perceived as the most combative sector.
In varying degrees, these mistakes by the Catalan left and the left in the rest of the Spanish state have been echoed by others on the left internationally. At the same time, the pro-independence SNP in Scotland, along with the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, have not been prepared to support Catalonia and oppose the stance of either the EU or PP government.
The vicious reaction of the PP government and its determination to crush the independence movement has alarmed sections of the ruling classes throughout Europe who fear that the conflict could spiral out of control and open a major crisis throughout the EU. At the same time this did not prevent the EU, especially the “3 Ms” – Macron, Merkel and May – from backing Rajoy in declaring the referendum illegal.
The brutal response of Rajoy reflects in part the composition of the state machine and the PP in the Spanish state. There is a powerful Francoist legacy and tradition which was never purged following the transition in 1978. This includes extremely repressive, bonarpartist elements. This is combined by a fear of the consequences of Catalan independence. Catalonia accounts for more than 20% of Spanish GDP and exports. Moreover, if Catalonia were to separate then the Basque country could follow.
Puidegmont and PdeCat have demonstrated their fear of mobilising the masses in a real struggle against the PP and for independence. They have demonstrated the incapacity of these bourgeois nationalist politicians to lead an effective fight for independence. Puigdegmont, along with five ministers, fled to Belgium, “home” to the EU which opposed Puigdemont’s declaration of independence and backed the PP government. Puigdemont, then appealed to the same EU to intervene and support the independence movement! The Catalan bourgeois politicians fear above all the prospect of an independent movement of the working class which would be necessary to defeat the repression being served up by the PP. The repression of the PP and arrest of some of the Catalan government will, however, boost their standing for a period. The Spanish state, due to its repression, has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of millions of Catalans especially the youth. This will have serious consequences for the ruling class in the coming period.
The national question is of vital importance for the workers movement. Marxists defend the right of self- determination and also the unity of all sections of working class. While not capitulating to bourgeois nationalism, it is important to recognise that within national independence movements are often contained an “immature Bolshevism”. Each national question is very concrete and it is necessary to analyse each specific situation in determining our exact demands and slogans. As we have seen in Scotland, support for independence can wax and wane and we need to take this into account in the demands we advocate at each stage. A mistake on the national question can have devastating consequences, as has been seen historically. Corbyn’s wrong approach on this issue in Scotland was a major factor which prevented Labour making important gains there which ultimately resulted in May being able to form a government at the last election in Britain. This was despite the fading illusions in the SNP as it has carried through cuts in Scotland bringing it into collision with sections of the working class.
In Catalonia, it was correct to defend the right to call a referendum on independence. However, in the north of Ireland, our comrades correctly do not advocate a border poll as is being demanded by Sein Fein. This would only re-enforce the sectarian divide between Catholics and Protestants without resolving anything. This needs to be explained with great sensitivity to the different communities.
The repressive response of the PP government undoubtedly increased support for independence in Catalonia. Significant sectors of the Spanish-speaking working class that instinctively reject the Spanish nationalist right but view with distrust the independence movement because of the role played by the bourgeois PDeCAT, mobilized in the referendum of 1 October and the general strike of 3 October. If the struggle for the Catalan Republic had been linked to a plan of action against cuts and austerity, maintaining mobilization in the street with general strikes and mass demonstrations, organized and extended the Committees in Defense of the Referendum (CDR), it would be possible to decisively win the working class of immigrant or Spanish-speaking origin (which represents a high percentage, especially of the industrial working class) to the struggle. This task was the responsibility of the pro-independence radical Left party, CUP, and the leaders of Unidos Podemos (electoral alliance of Podemos and the United Left). But the leadership of the CUP remained attached to the wagon of the bourgeois nationalists, and the reformist leaders of Unidos Podemos feared like the plague a revolutionary challenge of such calibre. In short, the political limits of Podemos, and their organic parliamentary cretinism, have been exposed through a test as serious as this.
It is not certain that a majority supports independence at this stage, as happened in Scotland. The last poll (at the time of writing this document) indicates that support for independence has increased to 48.7% while 43.6% oppose. However, in such a volatile environment it is necessary to view all polls with caution. The situation is very fluid, and may undergo changes after the elections of December 21. Nor should we rule out, as many leaders of the ERC and the PDeCAT are saying, that after the elections they try to open a path of negotiation with the PP government and renounce the proclamation of the republic and independence. These bourgeois and petit bourgeois pro-independence parties have also understood the risks of what happened, and are aware that a republic imposed by popular mobilization and revolutionary methods, would open an escalation in the class struggle that could sweep them away in a short time.
In Catalonia it is important to win the mass of the working class to support independence which can only be done on the basis of explaining a clear opposition to austerity and the need for a Socialist Republic of Catalonia. It is also necessary to explain that an independent socialist Catalonia would enshrine the democratic and cultural rights of all. This is also important to answer the propaganda of the right-wing in the rest of the Spanish state which is attempting to split the people in Catalonia – and also to assuage the fears of those opposed to independence in Catalonia – especially those who migrated there from the rest of the Spanish state.
The events in Catalonia and the Spanish state are likely to evolve in the short term with many contradictions and complications arising mainly due to the lamentable role of the left – IU, and PODEMOS, and also the failure of the CUP to adopt an independent position from Puidgemont. The right-wing around the PP and Cuididanos have launched a ferocious Spanish nationalist campaign which the bigger left organisations in neither the Spanish state or Catalonia are countering. It remains uncertain how these events will develop but they signify a turning point in the Spanish state with repercussions for the whole of the EU.
Brexit and historic crisis in Britain
These developments have unfolded alongside the other major crisis, triggered by Brexit. May and her government have managed to stumble on from crisis to crisis since her election “victory”. An election where the winners lost and the losers won! The crisis gripping the Conservative Party is historic. It has been split into bitter factions over Brexit. A split along the lines of the division which took place over the ‘Corn Laws’ (for Free Trade) in the 19th century is a strong possibility. This was one of the oldest and most successful parties of the ruling classes anywhere in Europe or possibly internationally. At one stage, with over 1 million members, it enjoyed a large social base including amongst sections of the skilled working class. This has now been reduced to a rump, with a claimed membership of approximately 100,000 – the average age of which is 71! May – or Maybot, as she is dubbed – has little or no authority and remains Prime Minister on sufferance.
The two factors allowing her to stagger on from crisis to crisis is fear of an electoral slaughter of the Tories and the victory of Corbyn at an election and also the absence of a serious alternative candidate from the Tories to replace her. This crisis is a reflection of the long term historic decline of British imperialism and sums up the parlous state of British capitalism.
Like in other countries, there is a deep ingrained bitterness in the popular consciousness about an “unequal society” with vast wealth concentrated in the hands of very few. In cities like London this is compounded by extreme wealth being side by side with desperate poverty. This was reflected in London with the out pouring of raw, seething class anger and hatred that erupted following the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower.
The polls point to an increase in support for Corbyn’s Labour Party since the last election and likely, although not certain, victory at the next election. Corbyn’s “victory” at the last election has temporarily served to demoralise the right-wing Blairistas in the Parliamentary Party. However, they remain there and still have control over the party machine and the overwhelming majority on city councils. In the local councils the Blaristas continue to carry out cuts and austerity measures which Corbyn refuses to publicly attack in order to maintain “party unity”. The Blairistas nationally are waiting as a 5th column to sabotage and undermine a Corbyn-led government should he win the next election. The party remains two parties in one and its character is unresolved as we have explained in previous documents and articles.
New Left parties – character and programme
The majority of the forces involved in Momentum and the Labour Party have many of the features and characteristics of the new left parties which have emerged in other European countries. While Podemos has won the support of young people and important layers of workers, especially the new younger sections of the working class, it has also included big layers of the radicalised petty bourgeois youth. The BE (Left Bloc) in Portugal lacks a consolidated solid base amongst the industrial working class. Its membership is largely amongst young “precariat” workers and petty bourgeois youth. Momentum in the Labour Party in Britain is largely composed of petty bourgeois layers. This does not detract from the importance of these developments and our sections orientating towards them and developing the necessary tactics in each country. In France, the existence of France Insoumise around Jean-Luc Mélonchon is an important factor in the explosive situation unfolding there. However, they are not the classic mass workers parties that have existed historically. They are not yet comparable even to the PRC in Italy at its peak which had a much stronger base amongst the metal workers and other layers of the working class for a period.
The mixed class composition of these parties is reflected in the programme and ideas they defend which are not yet of a classic reformist or left reformist character, with little or no reference to socialism at this stage. Even Corbyn, with the most “left” posture at this stage does not generally raise the question of socialism. One of the tasks of the CWI is to explain the need to oppose capitalism as a system and raise the idea of socialism as an alternative to it. From an historical perspective Corbyn’s programme is to the right of left-reformists like Tony Benn in the 1970s/80s, reflecting the impact of the historic setback and shift to the right which took place in the preceding period, following the collapse of Stalinism, these programmes appear radical to the many of the new generation. But considering the period from which we have come, the political consequences of the collapse of Stalinism and its effects in the retreat in the consciousness of the masses, the Corbyn programme represents a break with decades of Blairism and is also a reflection of the change in the attitude of the masses and the advances in their consciousness, although these are still insufficient to understand the need for a genuine socialist programme. For Marxists, the Corbyn phenomenon, like Podemos, the Left Bloc and other expressions that arise to the left of a completely degenerate social democracy, represent a clear sign of the advance of the class struggle, and open up opportunities to advance in our positions and strengthen ourselves among the youth. Of course, the ruling classes do not fear the programme of these new left parties. What they fear is the massive pressure they would come under from the masses to adopt more radical measures. This is not a static process and more radical left-reformist or even centrist programmes and leaders will develop at a certain stage. Leaps forward in this process can take place under the impact of a renewed capitalist crisis and mass struggles combined with the experience of the masses in struggle.
The crisis of capitalism means that they are reformists without reforms. This does not mean that the ruling class will make no concessions when confronted with a powerful revolutionary movement of the working class that threatens their existence. However, the era of lasting reforms under capitalism has long passed. This is reflected in the timid and limited nature of the programme defended by these modern day “reformists” at this stage.
One of the consequences of the economic crisis of 2007/8 was a devastating assault on the middle class in many countries. This has very dangerous implications for the ruling class in undermining its social base of support. A significant section of these former petty bourgeois layers have been radicalised to the left which is a positive development. Sections of them, like the junior hospital doctors in Britain, have entered into important struggles adopting the methods of the more traditional sectors of the working class. However, the inexperience and semi petty bourgeois character of this layer is also reflected in the make up big sections of these “new left” parties and organisations.
The attacks on the middle class has also been accompanied by other important developments in Europe and internationally. There has been a strengthening of authoritarian repressive methods used by the capitalist state apparatus. This has been reflected by the degree of repression used in Catalonia, Germany, Britain and other countries against demonstrations and protests. At the same time in some countries like Britain the part privatisation of the police and cuts has led to widespread discontent amongst this layer and even a certain left political radicalisation amongst sections of them. This was reflected in opposition to the Tories from a section of the police in the British election campaign. The threat of a de-facto strike of the police in Ireland was further evidence of this. In Ireland, our comrades have taken up the cause of the appalling pay levels for rank and file soldiers, which has resulted in us winning widespread support amongst the soldiers, receiving letters from soldiers. These developments within the state machine in the medium term are extremely dangerous for the ruling classes of Europe and will give the workers’ movement the opportunity to at least neutralise sections of it.
The weakness in programme of New Left parties also reflects partly the consequences of the collapse of the former Stalinist regimes and the throwing back in political consciousness which took place and the fact that the working class has not yet moved decisively to take hold of these parties and shape them as a political instrument of class struggle.
This was an important aspect of the Greek crisis identified by the Greek comrades. While workers had voted for SYRIZA they had not joined it and fought within it. These features point to these organisations being extremely unstable with an uncertain future especially when tested in great historic events such as Greece, Brexit and now Catalonia. The collapse of the PRC in Italy, which had a more solid active layer of industrial workers, is a warning of the limitations of these new parties. The consequences of the failure of the PRC and its collapse, is one of the main factors which has result in the difficult and complicated situation which currently exists in Italy.
Recent experience has shown – in Momentum where our comrades have been excluded, the Left Bloc in Portugal with a renewed witch-hunt against our comrades, or the actions of Iglesias in Catalonia – that the leadership of these new parties can resort to bureaucratic undemocratic methods when faced with opposition from the left – especially from Marxists.
The exact character and history of these parties is different in different countries – for example in Die Linke such undemocratic actions have not been taken against us, at this stage. Our tactics and how we intervene in each of them therefore is determined by the concrete conditions which exist.
In Belgium, the strengthening of the former Maoists in the PTB/Pvda is significant. Despite the opportunist basis this party has built a certain electoral base it still applies a tight Stalinistic internal regime. In the Walloon it is currently third in the polls. In Antwerp it is proposing a block be formed with the Socialist Party (SP.a) and the Greens to fight in the local council elections. The joining of coalitions at local level and the carrying out of cuts was a crucial factor which contributed to the collapse of the PRC.
The failure of the new left parties to offer a strong alternative to the pro-capitalist parties has in some countries allowed the far right to make significant gains and capitalise on the concerns amongst layers of workers and the middle class about immigration. The unexpectedly larger gains made by the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in the recent elections reflected this. Maybot in Britain was not the only victor in an election to emerge substantially weakened. Although to a lesser extent, Merkel, has been substantially weakened in Germany. She is increasingly seen as becoming a “lame duck” leader.
The historic demise of Conservative Party in Britain is echoed in other countries. The German elections led the boss of the giant Siemens to describe the elections in Germany as “a defeat of the elites”. 20% of AfD’s support came from people who had not voted previously. This “defeat of the elites” has produced severe difficulties in forming a new national government. A coalition of CDU/CSU with the neo-liberal FDP and the Greens could not be formed. At the present stage it is open whether Germany have new elections or if another “grand coalition” government of CDU/CSU and the SPD can be formed (possibly involving the Green Party). While such a government might promise some “reforms” in their coalition programme, it is not for sure that these will be implemented. The German ruling class wants to push forward with attacks on the working class and youth, especially through further privatisations and weakening working time regulations.
Decline in support for social democracy
At the same time the “social democrat” SPD saw its’ vote fall to its lowest percentage share since the early 1930s – paying the price of joining Merkel’s coalition and the role of the party in initiating the attacks on workers especially under Schröder. The decline of the electoral support of the “social democracy” is an important feature of this period especially amongst the youth.
The electoral slaughter of the PSF in France which lost 90% of its seats in parliament, the decline of PSOE which lost 50% of its vote since the crisis in 2007/8, the prospect of the Irish Labour Party losing all of its seats at the next election, the decline of the PS/SP.a in Belgium and of course the collapse in support for PASOK in Greece are all a reflection of this. Even in Austria while the SPÖ held onto its vote in October’s election, the collapse of its support amongst youth and manual workers was extremely significant. It only won the votes of 17% of those under 29 and 19% of manual workers!
Sections of the new left leadership are attempting to revive “social democracy” from the ashes of its decline. Yet they are attempting this in a new era of capitalist decline and decay when there is no room for the reforms conceded for a protracted period in the past. They are reformists without lasting reforms. They see their programme as a means of “reforming capitalism” to end its neo-liberal phase and introduce a more humane form of the market. Left advisers like Paul Mason in Britain make this explicitly clear. This will lead the new left leadership to rapidly betray the aspirations and illusions of the masses when or if they come to power and face the constraints and crisis of capitalism. This was graphically shown in Greece with the betrayal of Tsipras. This has now resulted in him being praised by Trump following his recent visit to the US and announcement of his government purchasing of military fighter jets from the US! Earlier this year the brief hopes that developed that the German SPD could recover in opposition under the leadership of Schulz slumped as he backtracked on his hints at a more radical turn to the left. The SPD now has decided to enter negotiations to form a “government of the election losers” with the CDU/CSU. Under pressure from sections of the ruling class the SPD leaders agreed to negotiate with Merkel to show their statesmanlike character and loyality to capitalism. In Spain, Pedro Sanchez, and the movement which developed around him in PSOE, crashed against the wall of the mass movement in Catalonia and the possible radicalisation and split in PSOE seems to have evaporated.
The decline of the social democracy is of course not uniform and there are exceptions to this. As we have explained the Labour Party in Britain has seen a large increase in support and membership for the reasons explained about Corbyn. In Portugal, the PSP, remains at this stage, relatively popular. It is propped up in power by the Left Bloc and the Communist Party and while continuing with cuts it has carried them out more selectively. Coupled with the idea of a shallow, ephemeral economic upturn, there is a certain sense that at least “we have not been crushed like the Greeks”. This mood can rapidly change especially with the onset of a renewed economic crisis or more cuts being made by the government.
Gains by the far right
The CWI has recognised the threat of the growth of the far right in some countries. Often this has been achieved on the basis of right-wing populist ideas, sometimes, as the case of France, demagogically stealing from the traditional policies of the socialist left to win votes. In Germany, the AfD played down its most ardent neo-liberal policies.
However, although the AfD is not yet a consolidated political force it may emerge to be so as the Vlaams Belang in Belgium or the Front National has in France. Such parties however are limited in how far they can go and can rapidly go into crisis when they face obstacles or set-backs. This has been seen in the FN following the recent Presidential election. Yet in the absence of powerful mass workers’ parties the existence of such parties is now established as a permanent or semi- permanent feature politically in Europe. This is illustrated by the FPÖ in Austria which will need to be challenged by new mass parties of the working class. The fact that the FPÖ won support of 59% of manual workers illustrates the alienation which exists and concerns of this layer particularly following the refugee crisis.
The forces of the CWI have a crucial role to play in this in intervening to defend the rights of immigrants, opposing racism and fighting for workers’ unity and also addressing the fears and concerns of many workers. The threat from the far right will also produce a backlash, especially from the youth, as has been seen in Germany. The tremendous demonstration of 20,000 in Gothenburg against the fascist NMR in which the Swedish CWI section, Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna, played a decisive role was an illustration of this. Sweden has remained relatively unscathed by the economic crisis of 2007-8. However, the constant jostling and re-aligning of parties and an increase in quite determined social struggles is an indication of the convulsions to come.
The coming to power of the right-wing, populist nationalist parties in some countries of central and eastern Europe is a warning of the threat which these forces can pose. For example, the extreme nationalistic rhetoric and bonapartist measures adopted by the Law and Justice governing party in Poland. Yet its attacks on democratic rights and attempts to shackle the judiciary have provoked a backlash. At the same time it has introduced some social reforms on child benefit, an hourly minimum wage and a pledge to reduce the retirement age which has enabled it to maintain a level of support amongst some workers. Yet the government’s policies have provoked a series of protests and some struggles. Significantly, the initial protests against the proposals to tighten government control of the judiciary were initiated by the small left forces around Razem and the trade union federation, OPZZ.
In the Czech Republic, the right-wing populist billionaire, Asdrej Babis, and his party ANO won the elections promising tax reductions, increased investment and curbs on immigration.
The growing opposition to Macron in France illustrates how ephemeral the election victories for bourgeois candidates are in this period. Macron won the election but with the support of only 25% of those eligible to vote. In the parliamentary elections his party, REM, took a mere 15% of the vote in the first round. Since then, in a matter of months, Macron’s approval ratings have crashed through the floor as he has announced brutal cuts, attacks on labour rights and tax cuts for the rich.
Macron has assumed bonapartist trappings, summoning the parliament to Versailles for his swearing in ceremony. As in some other countries, the French ruling class has adopted increasing measures of parliamentary bonapartism. The Labour Law in France was enacted by presidential decree with no detailed debate or voting in parliament. The recourse to similar methods has also been adopted by May in Britain, of either avoiding votes in parliament or simply ignoring them.
Disapproval of Macron soared to 57% just four months after his election and his approval ratings plunged 15% in one month. The worst drop since Jacque Chirac in 1995. Macron is now less popular than this predecessor Francois Hollande! A potentially explosive situation exists in France. This has been reflected in the strikes and protests which have already taken place. Even Force Ouvriére (FO) and CFDT have been compelled to call strike action.
As in other countries, any action called by the trade unions has only been the result of massive pressure from the working class with no serious strategy or plan of struggle to fight against Macrons draconian laws. The trade union bureaucracy has in most cases acted as a break on the workers movement throughout Europe. The emptying out of many of the trade union structures and the failure and incapacity of the bureaucracy to organise amongst the new layers of the working class where the youth are concentrated is a crucial question. The organisation of this new layer of young workers is not a simple question and is greatly complicated by precarious contracts and the work force often working in two or three jobs. However, it is one of the crucial tasks facing the workers’ movement and the CWI.
Upheavals in Ireland and economic “recovery”
The development of the industrial struggles in Ireland in the recent period has important lessons. Against the background of a minority FG government, including Independents and propped up by FF from outside, a series of important industrial battles have broken out, especially in transport. In effect, a general strike of public sector transport workers in Dublin took place. Other struggles involving the teachers and other sectors have broken out. Significantly, these have taken place against the background of a certain economic recovery which the government has emphasised is proof of the need for the austerity packages in the past. Inevitably, the conclusion of many workers has been if the crisis is over, then we want our share back. A similar process has been seen in Slovenia and Slovakia. In Greece there has also been a small growth of GDP of 1.5-2% in the last twelve months. This has resulted in a small fall in unemployment from 25% to 21%. A layer of workers in Greece hope that this signals the end of the crisis. Tsipras is using this in a desperate attempt to regain some support. However, at this stage, the economic “growth” has not been sufficient to lead to resurgence in workers struggle. This “recovery” is a long way from replacing the 28% fall in GDP which shattered Greece during the crisis.
This was an important element in the tremendous victory scored by the Irish comrades on the water charges issues which was seen as the hall mark of the austerity policies. The mass mobilisations and non-payment campaign which our comrades led inflicted a major defeat on the Irish ruling class on the water charges. This was then re-enforced by the victory comrades scored in defeating the attempts to convict the Jobstown protestors in which our comrades played a crucial role. These victories were an important factor in boosting the confidence of sections of workers to take action. This was an important element in the tremendous victory scored by the Irish comrades on the water charges issues which was seen as the hall mark of the austerity policies. The mass mobilisations and non-payment campaign which our comrades led inflicted a major defeat on the Irish ruling class on the water charges. This was then re-enforced by the victory comrades scored in defeating the attempts to convict the Jobstown protestors in which our comrades played a crucial role. These victories were an important factor in boosting the confidence of sections of workers to take action. At the same time Ireland has seen a revolt on the social issues of gay marriage and now the movement in support of abortion rights and repeal of the 8th Amendment. As in many other countries women, and especially young women, get active in an outcry against token equality while their future is taken by social cuts and their reproductive rights are under attack by conservative governments. But the wheel cannot simply be turned back so attacks on women’s rights lead to mass resistance as the Czarny protest in Poland and the #metoo phenomena reflects. We have correctly intervened and led initiatives in many countries all over the world and played an important role in this struggle not only organising women, but also fighting for a socialist programme linking it up with the movements of the working class.
Such issues can be an important arena of struggle especially for young people. This was also seen in the protests against attempts by the Polish government to restrict abortion rights. Significantly this movement was then followed by a struggle in the education sector which followed the government being forced to retreat. It is important that we intervene in such social movements from a class point of view and linking such struggles to a fight against the capitalist establishment and the need for a socialist alternative.
The shocks which have erupted in the past period; Brexit, Catalonia and the growth of the AfD in Germany, are an anticipation of even greater upheavals which will erupt in Europe in the coming period. These will include the elements of revolution and of counter revolution as we have already seen. Through the application of flexible and bold tactics and initiatives the CWI in Europe can make significant steps forward and assist workers and young people entering political and industrial struggles draw the necessary conclusions of the tasks and programme necessary to defeat capitalism.