In the face of a deepening crisis, the markets, and the capitalist governments that serve them, have declared war against the lives and futures of working people. In Europe, currently the epicenter of the economic crisis, workers and youth have been hit by wave after wave of austerity and worsening prospects.
In the periphery of the Eurozone – Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Ireland – the dominant process is one of mass unemployment, especially among young people, growing poverty, and vicious attacks on vital social services like education and health care. The policies of austerity are the result of the crisis of world and European capitalism and the determination of the capitalists across the world to make workers pay for the crisis. These drastic cutbacks by the pro-capitalist governments, whether elected like the Popular Party in Spain or imposed by the banks and the speculators like the “technocrat” governments of Italy and Greece, only further depress these economies.
The stronger imperialist European powers, and German capitalism in particular, with the obedient and servile collaboration of the national ruling classes of the weaker countries, are returning to an open colonial-style system of rule. This can be seen most clearly in the case of Greece, where the German government outrageously proposed to install a special commissioner to oversee Greek economic policy!
The overt dictatorship of the banks, speculators, and corporations now openly bypasses so-called democratic “norms,” exposing more clearly their role in the rotting capitalist system. The capitalist leaders across Europe are desperate to prevent the people using democratic methods to defeat their policies, as we see with the refusals to hold referenda in Ireland and Greece this past fall, despite essentially rewriting the European constitution to push through their unpopular policies.
2011 saw massive struggles of working people in a series of European countries. Greece saw seven general strikes (including two of 48 hours) in 2011. This is in addition to another seven in 2010. 2012 began with another wave of general strikes in early February, as government parties discussed new brutal austerity measures and cuts in wages.
The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) reported on the development of the 48-hour general strike and militant mass demonstrations of over half a million angry protesters at Syntagma Square across from the Greek Parliament, where massive cuts would be voted on February 10-11 (Paul Murphy’s visit: www.socialistworld.net/doc/5605; Interview with Xekinima: http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5582).
This shows the depth of the anger and the determination to resist by the Greek workers. Faced with a desperate situation, Portugal saw general strikes last November and in February this year, and Italy has seen waves of strikes and protests. Portugal, along with Spain, saw the explosion onto the surface of the movement of “Indignados” (angry poor youth) articulating a rage against the bankers’ dictatorship. The entry of the masses onto the streets of Bucharest and other cities brought down the Romanian government earlier this year.
The response of the establishment, alongside increased brutal state repression, has been a campaign of fear-mongering and blackmail. They are capitalizing on the legitimate fears of workers that an exit of a number of countries from the Euro would indeed provoke a period of deeper economic crisis, with rising unemployment and poverty affecting millions of working people, above all in the weaker countries – Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.
The working class and social movements, with the assistance of more radical left parties where they exist, have the duty to develop a program to overcome this crisis that challenges and goes beyond the framework and logic of the current market system.
Any such program has to begin with an open rejection of the payment of the national debts to market vultures and states, as well as European institutions like the European Central Bank (ECB). These huge debts, racked up on the basis of capitalist speculation, criminal mismanagement, and cronyism by successive neo-liberal governments, including those previously made up of so-called “socialist” (now completely pro-capitalist) parties in Spain, Greece, Portugal, and elsewhere, have been multiplied by the bank bailouts to which there is huge public opposition.
These debts are not the responsibility of workers and young people in these countries, and the resources that these debts represent should be utilized to create millions of jobs and establish dignified welfare systems, public health, and education, and to increase productive economic activity through huge programs of public investment.
On the basis of public ownership of the banks, the financial sector, and other key sectors of the economy under the democratic control and management of the majority of the people, an emergency plan could be developed to retool the economy to create millions of new jobs and reverse the attacks on living standards. We could then see genuine democratic socialist policies put into place that could begin to overcome the fundamental problems imposed on workers and the unemployed by the failed markets and capitalism.
The corporate-controlled mass media continues to blackmail the population with the threat of suffering economic isolation and poverty on the basis of ejection from the Eurozone, or face complete demolition of living standards by remaining in the Eurozone!
But working people in Europe have a different option: breaking with the capitalist system. This will need to be extended into united struggle of the international working class, especially in the countries most affected by the crisis. The unity in struggle of the workers of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Spain to overturn the rotten “bailout” deals and austerity is a key requisite step towards the building of such an alternative.
Socialists reject the various narrow nationalist views that think that leaving the Euro alone is a solution in itself. Nationalist tensions have exploded to the surface in the course of the crisis after the spewing of anti-Greek propaganda by representatives of capitalism in Germany, France, Austria, and other countries, which gave rise to the danger of divisive and nationalist sentiments. These sentiments can be played on by sinister far-right and populist forces, which given the vacuum in working-class political representation on the left can make dangerous gains, as seen in Hungary, Austria, and elsewhere.
A real way out for working people can only be achieved on the basis of an internationalist anti-capitalist struggle and perspective and by a government representing and serving the interests of working people.
In the weaker countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, or Italy, a working people’s government could implement an emergency program, including state control over imports and exports and the imposition of capital controls to stop the “flight of capital” by profit-hungry rich property-holders and multinationals, under the democratic control of elected representatives. On such a basis, there could be a genuine integration of the European economy and society.
Crisis of Leadership
However, despite the magnificent movements and protests of workers and youth across Europe, the working class in many countries confronts this crisis with a trade union leadership unworthy of the name, that has systematically refused to mobilize the full power of the majority against capitalism.
The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) fights for the democratic transformation of the trade unions, for the building of left oppositions, and for the replacement of the conservative union leaders by those who are willing to struggle, are fully accountable and controlled by trade union members, and are paid the average wage of their members. The general strikes of the coming period should be democratically controlled and built from below through mass assemblies in workplaces, communities, and committees of action to ensure that struggles achieve victories and are not sold out from above.
We are confident that, armed with such organizations and policies, a positive socialist alternative can win mass popular support. But an essential part of this process must also be the building of mass left political organizations, democratically controlled by mass memberships of workers, youth, and the poor, to build support and campaign for an alternative to cuts and capitalism. Such a new movement of the left must be capable of channeling the anger of those disgusted with the political establishment into the building of left forces that are totally distinct from those who have betrayed them.