Europe in a time of rising class struggle

In Europe, as worldwide, we are in a period of multi-crisis – increasing polarisation of wealth and in politics, war and militarisation, climate emergency and the rising cost of living. All of these crises have a radicalising effect on workers and youth, with the potential to transform political consciousness.

It is in Europe where, at this stage, the CWI has most of its forces. The plenary discussion on Europe at the 2023 CWI school in Berlin met to discuss developments on the continent, and to draw the necessary conclusions about our tasks. “To learn, in order to act”, as Sascha Staničić, national spokesperson of SOL (CWI in Germany), put it, introducing the discussion.

Of all the political, social and economic developments in Europe, the most important is the upsurge in class struggle. In many countries, workers’ strikes take place against the background of economic crisis – a crisis that was already developing independently, but has exacerbated by war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The lives of workers in most European countries are dominated by a cost-of-living crisis fueled by inflation. This is combined with weak or non-existent economic growth.

In an attempt to avoid social explosions during the pandemic, European governments spent huge sums, building up unsustainable levels of government debt. Now, budget cuts, except on military spending, follow with attacks being prepared everywhere.

A consequence of the economic crisis is the political instabilty of capitalist governments. A whole number are in crisis, on the verge of collapse or having recently collapsed.

Increasingly falling behind the other capitalist blocs, the capitalist states within the EU are motivated, on one level, towards greater collaboration. At least at this stage, war in Ukraine exerts the same force.

But the same contradictions which brought into question the continued existence of the EU, ten years ago, with the development of sovereign debts crises, have not been resolved and will come to the fore again at a certain stage. The prospects for the fracturing of the EU or eurozone will be posed again.

Contributions to the discussion reported on the strike waves that, in different ways, have swept Britain, France and Germany, and other places, such as the North of Ireland.

Corresponding to the developing strike waves, with their different characteristics, CWI members have been putting forward the concrete next steps for the struggles. In the French strikes against President Macron’s pension reforms, CWI comrades argue for the unions to take up wider demands to bring together broader numbers. In Germany, we make the case for coordination of strikes across different sectors, and in Britain, comrades call for  ‘strike together’, including, at certain stage, raising the slogan for a 24-hour general strike.

Workers taking part in the strikes, many for the first time, are learning lessons through the struggle.

Strikes and inflation

The strikes may have reached their first peak, but they are not over. Inflation will continue to compel workers to struggle. In France, where the struggle over pensions has come to an end, strikes are now developing over pay.

In Europe, strikes have been the main form of class struggle. But there have been protests on any number of other issues, to defend health services in Madrid for example, and housing remains a crucial issue which can lead to mass movements and campaigns.

The youth revolt in France expressed the anger and disenfranchisement that has accumulated over years. Members of Gauche Révolutionnaire (CWI in France) intervened in the movement in solidarity against state repression. But also, making it clear the need to struggle for socialism and putting forward a strategy for struggle, arguing that the workers’ movement should take up the demands of the youth.

Practically none of the new left formations that developed in many European countries in the previous period have established a stable mass base and none have taken on the character of mass workers’ parties. In a series of countries, they have let the working class down. At least for a time, this can lead to workers turning away from the political field.

One consequence of the lack of working-class political representation is mass abstentions from elections, another is the development of right-populist forces. Far right forces, although small, have held provocative street events in southern Ireland targeting refugees and other minorities, exploiting the housing crisis and cost of living crisis. The populist right are in government in Hungary, Finland and Italy, among others.

But there is typically no stable popular support for their policies, and many workers who have given the temporary electoral support, could be won to mass workers’ parties.

Political expressions of workers’ discontent will develop in response to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. In many countries, CWI members put forward the need for the working class to have its own party, posed differently relating to the existing political forces in each country.

Reports from Austria explained the  recent significant increase in support for the Communist Party and the impact of a new left leader of the Social Democratic Party.

CWI members will continue to adopt the approach of proposing the concrete next steps for the movement, fighting for these forces to adopt a full socialist programme.

In addition to assisting with the popularisation of socialist ideas and the strengthening of the broad organisations of the working class, the primary task for sections of the CWI is to build our own forces – those who have drawn the necessary conclusions about what is needed to bring an end to capitalism. We will strive to build the CWI, as an embryo for the mass revolutionary party that will be needed to lead the working class in taking power and carrying out the socialist transformation of society.

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August 2023