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Let us simplify in order to understand; at least the general picture.
1. The crisis under way is a crisis of capitalism. Because capital is a relation and not what we save for future needs, it does not exist unless it is being continuously invested for profit. The crisis is a crisis of over-accumulation: the accumulated capital encounters grave difficulties in finding outlets for profitable investment. Hence the problem is not lack of wealth. On the contrary, the problem is that immense wealth has been accumulated in the form of capital.
2. The preceding (unstable as always) equilibrium was the outcome as well as the manifestation –at least in the developed countries– of an accumulation regime based on loaning: capital profited by drawing from future incomes. The unregulated and unrestrained development of this form of profiting (subprime loans, sophisticated banking products etc) led Lehmann Brothers to default and thereby, through the dissemination of such products and the worldwide interdependence of banks, to the crisis of the financial system and of capitalism in its entirety. We should not forget that financial capital has long been the spearhead of capital generally.
3. After a short period of oscillation (when the option of somewhat regulating the financial system was timidly discussed) governments decided to save the banks by spending enormous amounts of money (i.e. social wealth) and leave them unfettered. The dominant dogma was and still is that markets (under the hegemony of the banks) regulate themselves.
4. But the financial crisis has undermined crucially the preceding accumulation regime: unlimited loaning was out of the question. And since globalization had practically exhausted the profit capabilities of the third world while novel fields of profit are nowhere to be found, capital was forced to turn toward the developed countries so as to open to private profit what the welfare state had left somewhat outside its reach: education, health care, pensions, infrastructures, energy, water, telecommunications, waste, small enterprises and professions have to be opened to the major forces at play in the corresponding spheres. Such opening could not but go together with the radical deregulation of work relations so as to lower the cost of labor, with unemployment being a determining factor. This is the content as well as the goal of all austerity programs throughout Europe.
5. The public debt crisis has two sides. On the one side, it is the blackmail mechanism leading to austerity programs. On the other side, it forms the field of short term (if not instant) profit for financial capital as such. Insofar as there are no regulation mechanisms, financial capital, aided by its own institutions (credit rating agencies, CDS market etc) acts as a totally unrestraint usurer against the governments that choose to guarantee above all its own flourishing. We are witnessing how European governments act in a way ensuring the profits of the usurer who ‘forces’ them to adopt austerity programs. European governments have thus become functionaries of financial capital without the fig leaf previously assured by the welfare state. Even the CVs of many government officials vindicate the claim.
6. The present course has no visible end. The utopia of capital actually being enacted is turning the whole of Europe into what Engels has described in The Situation of the Working Class in England, written in 1845.
7. The preceding accumulation regime fostered social alliances. Unrestrained loaning allowed relatively large portions of the middle classes to participate in a form of uncertain prosperity and thus to anchor socially the policy of capital. Immigrant and native precarious labor took care of the rest. The new situation shakes past allegiances and creates forms of ideological confusion. The Medias cultivate systematically such confusion. They aim at promoting social automatisms and at elaborating methodically the idea of shared guilt. We should not forget that the mainstream Media are part and parcel of big capital, at least on the Greek scale.
8. But ideological confusion can fade away. This is the moment of merciless authoritarianism. The repressive state apparatuses are already preparing for such eventualities. And this independently of which party will be in power.
9. If the austerity programs have no visible end, authoritarianism has no intrinsic limits. Proclaiming a state of emergency is not out of the question, with ‘extremist’ political parties being outlawed in tandem with all the associated measures. Already in December 2008 flirtation with such ideas had become conspicuous while the present systematic attacks against the ‘irresponsibility’ of the Left are preparing the ground even for such ‘necessities’.
10. If the crisis under way is indeed a structural crisis of capitalism and if the above points are basically correct, then the goal of the European Left can only be democratic socialism on the scale of Europe.
11. This may sound today too exulted because all strategies without exception aiming at socialism and its cognates (Social Democracy, Anarchism, Communism, Euro-communism, “Third Road”, Trotskyism, Maoism, etc) have failed despite significant victories here or there. 1989 is important because it appeared as the emblem of the definitive historical demise of all such projects. What we are undergoing today begun then.
12. We are not starting from scratch. First, because we already posses valuable theoretical contributions. Second, because social movements for the protection and expansion of what we may call the public sphere have been and are actually being deployed. And the public sphere is the cornerstone of democratic socialism. Third, because left political forces with different origins, experiences and sensitivities have recognized, at least implicitly, the fact of such defeat and are trying, with various degrees of clarity or success, to unite their forces. There are examples in Greece, in Portugal, in Spain, in Germany and elsewhere. Such unity is not yet stable. But mutual criticism –sometimes necessary– should not hide the main point: the politically and theoretically adequate critique of the failed strategies toward socialism concerns the Left in its entirety.
13. The socialist movement will develop unequally in the different European countries. Successes (or failures) in one country will influence importantly the conjuncture in the others, posing new questions each time. It is impossible to forestall such questions and foolish to try.
15. National leader is the bourgeois leader –the bourgeois political force– which does not disconnect the interests of capital from the situation in the corresponding country. The transformation of government officials into functionaries of finance capital makes the absence of leaders such as Roosevelt, De Gaulle or Willie Brandt dramatically conspicuous.
16. A national leader in Greece would refuse to destroy the country in order to satisfy capital’s unquenchable thirst for profit. Such a force would rely on the interdependence of European economies (a default of Greek economy would lead to the demise of the Euro and to an uncontrollable crisis) and would negotiate –after establishing appropriate alliances– the elongation of the repayment period for the public debt in the scale of the hundred years and with interest rates close to inflation. Such a political force would have put Greek banks under state control and would have tidied up what is urgent: taxing system and tax evasion, pension funds, work relations, defense costs, church property, upgrading of the public sector, development prospects, etc. At the same time such a political force would fight for the appropriate restructuring of the Euro architecture and of Europe generally.
17. Given the actual force relations, the Left could, under certain conditions, ally itself to such a political force, if it existed.
18. The ongoing capitalist crisis is connected with the democratic revolts in the Arab world and with the ecological catastrophe in Japan. The crisis is global and therefore the fight for socialism all the more urgent.
19. The fight for socialism starts today. It is up to us assume the necessary initiatives relying on two principles already expressly stated in the founding document of the Left, the Communist Manifesto: first, the proletariat, whatever the word might refer to in the present circumstances, cannot be emancipated unless it emancipate the whole of society. Second, communists do not constitute a separate party but are simply those who put the interest of the whole above the interest of the part.
Prof Aristide Baltas
Professor of Philosophy of Science in the National Technical University of Athens