Europe: Intractable crisis and spectre of revolution

CWI International Executive Committee debates European perspectives


The CWI IEC discussion on Europe reflected the political instability and upheaval seen this year across the continent. Tony Saunois from the International Secretariat introduced the session, firstly making the point that the CWI must be ready to respond to opportunities that can be created by the political crisis of Europe’s capitalist elites.

The snap British general election in the summer saw the “winners” Theresa May and the Conservatives become the losers to the surge in support for the radical programme of Corbyn’s manifesto. Against the ongoing background of the divisions caused by Brexit, the historic successful (Tory) party of British capitalism suffered a major setback, and is literally ageing and dying in terms of its social base of support.

During the autumn European capitalism’s most serious problem is the crisis, with revolutionary features, in Catalonia and the Spanish state. But the political instability has also spread north with the German election results unable to yet produce a government, and Merkel, previously one of the world’s more “stable” leaders, looking vulnerable. At the time of this discussion, the fallout from the Maurice McCabe and police scandal in Ireland saw the resignation of the Irish deputy Prime Minister and the possibility of a general election being called in the coming weeks. The main capitalist parties in Ireland, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, pulled back from this but it is a strong possibility in the New Year.

This political instability comes before the outbreak of mass movements and struggles across Europe of the working class and youth. Catalonia saw one of the largest general strikes in its history, against the repression of the independence referendum. There have also been sizeable protests of workers against the neo-liberal agenda of Macron in France.

Fresh layers of radicalised workers and youth and of the middle class are present in the Corbyn movement and the support for Melenchon in France but the heavy battalions of the working class have not yet decisively moved into action. One of the main factors in this is the lack of a decisive intervention in events from “new left” forces, including Podemos in Spain, Melonchon in France, the Left Bloc in Portugal and Die Linke in Germany. Among all these forces there is a lack of perspective of leading struggles and even a tendency towards compromise.

Cécile from France pointed out the huge potential support for Melonchon’s ‘France Insoumise’. But so far this has not created the democratic structures to enable mass participation and a turn towards struggle. Comrades from Belgium also discussed similar features with the ex-Maoist, PTB. This party is a reference point for many workers but is becoming more electoralist and not orientated towards struggle and puts forward a limited programme.

There has been optimistic talk of economic growth in Europe but, in reality, it is sluggish, with no improvement in the living standards of the working class. There is low unemployment in Germany and Britain but historically also low wages for many and the explosion of temporary and zero hour contracts. Andros, from Greece, made the point that the debt crisis is ever present. There is still the possibility of a re-emergence of the Greek crisis and a new financial crash. Countries like Italy have a huge accumulation of sovereign and bank debt and ‘sovereign debt toxicity’ has now spread to Scandanavian countries. Mass levels of youth unemployment still exist in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Lucy from Germany highlighted the gloomy economic prognosis which means the German ruling class are not receptive to Macron’s calls for more European integration – although a government in Germany may have to be formed with the SPD (social democrats) who support this project. However Merkel and the German capitalists are under increasing pressure from the right wing, anti-migrant and euro AfD party, which made big gains in the recent elections, and there widespread feeling in society that Germany has had to ‘bail out’ the rest of the EU. Micha explained that the AfD was is unstable and a more effective campaign from Die Linke could have blocked its rise in support.

Social crisis and inequality, akin to Latin America, exists in Europe, causing bitterness, as seen with the rage of working class people over the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Changes in consciousness and a willingness to struggle can arise from the establishment claiming “recovery”, as in Ireland. Here a wave of strike action took place after decades of limited trade union action. The victory of the Jobstown trial defendants, including Socialist Party members, also lifted the confidence of the working class.

Kevin and Paul from Ireland explained the key role of the CWI in the battles against the water charges and against the attacks of the state against Jobstown protesters. The capitalist sate and the police have been exposed. In 2018 there will be a referendum around the 8th Amendment and abortion rights, which is likely to be a lightning rod of radicalisation for women and young people.

Elin from Sweden spoke about the ‘women’s strike’ for abortion rights in Poland, and the #metoo movement against sexual abuse and violence in Italy and Sweden. CWI sections have launched successful socialist feminist initiatives in a number of countries, including the ‘Rosa’ campaigns in Ireland and Belgium and Libres y Combativas in the Spanish state.

There is a continuation of the process of the collapse in support across Europe for the traditional parties of capitalism. In the 1990’s, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and SPD won 77% of the German vote. Now they are now down to 53%. The capitalist class had to create a new political force in Macron to rule in France and he is now collapsing in the polls. Massive declines in support have been seen in the old social democracies, with the exception of specific circumstances around Corbyn and the Labour Party in Britain, which is, in reality, a phenomenon of two parties in one. Spain’s PSOE (social democrats) lost 50% of its electoral support since 2007 and the German SPD had its worst election result since 1945.

The Portuguese Socialist Party (social democrats) is propped up in government by the communist party and the Left Bloc. Goncalao and Minerva from Portugal explained how the CWI is being witch-hunted from the Left Bloc because they make criticism of the leadership’s position and boldly support workers’ demands from the current government. The comrades in Portugal have gained support among young people, including in the Left Bloc, and are building the Sindicato De Estudantes (students’ union) based on struggle.

If the new left forces do not present a clear alternative, there is a space for Trump-like populist right forces, as seen with the rise of the AfD and the mobilisations of the far right in countries like Poland. It is not enough also to just present an anti-austerity programme, especially in countries where the national question is a key issue. The revolutionary crisis in Catalonia has exposed Pedro Sanchez, and the leaders of IU (united left) and Podemos. In Scotland, Corbyn’s refusal to support the right to self-determination incorrect position on the national question was a key factor in losing the general election and the lack of a pro-Corbyn surge there. Comrades from Scotland explained that despite a ‘Corbynista’, Richard Leonard, being elected as Scottish Labour leader against a Blairite, the national question is still a significant block on support for Corbynism.

In Catalonia today and in Scotland during the mass movement of 2014, the CWI based its perspective on the most combatative sections of workers and youth, millions of whom is these scenarios are open to the linking of demands for national rights with the struggle for socialism.

We also have to be conscious of the need to fight for the unity of the working class. Ciaran from Northern Ireland, explained how Brexit and the collapse of the Stormont government has led to sectarian polarisation, further deepened by the discussion around a ‘border poll’. Such a poll would split Catholic and Protestant workers. Ciaran gave examples of how trade union action and class struggle, in which the Socialist Party plays a key role, can effectively cut across this.

Tony also highlighted that levels of state repression, even Bonapartist measures, were being deployed across Europe and they can provoke a mass response. This was echoed by Kacper who gave experiences from Poland and the behaviour of the Law and Justice Party government which has not prevented significant protests.

One of the key features of the discussion was the recognition that the left new forces represented a positive shift to the Left in consciousness, a catch up with the objective reality of the economic crisis of 2007-8. However, despite their limits the classic left reformist programmes put forward in the 1970’s and 1980’s were much more advanced than, for example, that of Corbynism today.

The CWI, while putting forward a principled programme, participates in processes such as those around Podemos and Corbynism, while maintaining an independent profile, as seen in the Spanish state with Izquierda Revolucionaria and its leadership of the SE students’ union. Paula, Judy and Lenny from England and Wales discussed the contradictions of Corbynism. While there was enthusiasm for Corbyn’s policies in the general election campaign, it is not always reflected in Labour and Momentum structures. A striking example of this was seen in the victorious Birmingham bin workers’ strike against a right wing Labour council, in which Socialist Party (CWI) members gave assistance ( and were publicly thanked by the Unite union leadership). The Socialist Party raised demands around mandatory reselection and a constitutional review to open up the Labour party to fighting anti-austerity forces and for the Corbyn leadership to help build a mass student movement against fees. The prospect of a Corbyn government is now more possible. Judy warned of the approach of John McDonnell meeting city financiers rather than preparing workers and youth to struggle against the potential sabotage of the capitalist class against a left government.

Dennis from Russia reported on the protests of over 100,000 against Putin this year, as presidential elections loom in 2018. Economic woes are increasing opposition to the regime, with Navalny, a right wing populist, gaining the most from the discontent in the absence of a strong, independent workers’ movement.

Hannah Sell from the International Secretariat replied to the discussion on Europe. The CWI can become a key factor in the developing politicisation. The history of the ‘Militant Tendency’ in Britain is the main scarecrow used by the Labour right wing. The Socialist Party (England and Wales) held its largest ever ‘Socialism’ event in 2017, as did the CWI in Germany and there was big interest and turnout for ‘Dangerous Ideas’ event held by the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland).

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