A new Left is emerging in Europe to lead the anti-austerity struggle. David Jamieson argues that it’s development is based on a break with dogmas old and new.

It has certainly been a cruel winter – the crazed austerity of recent years, the long slow death march of the four decade economic liberalisation. Not just in Britain but across the continent; popular organisation wrecked, democracy impounded, many millions driven deep below the poverty line. Who would have dared believe in the late 70’s that this black dog would be living with us today, or that it would have grown to such monstrous proportions as can be witnessed in Greece or Spain in 2012?

Worse, this great turn in the development of capitalism changed the contours of class struggle such that the left was entirely disorientated – its once proud mass organisations reduced to rightward peeling rumps – its intellectuals pining for the past and without bearing.

For over a decade the populations not just of Europe but of the world have cultivated an increasingly volatile radicalism which has exploded in a Seattle, a Tahrir, Miraflores, Millbank only to shrink back from the confrontation after a time – lacking the organisation, homogeneity of thought and action, and crucially leadership, to mount a more lasting or profound assault on the reins of class rule.

For most of that time, especially in the West, this new radicalism has curbed its own progress by making virtues out of neccesities. The weakness of permanent, political organisation is a reflection of ideological confusion and a lack of serious ambition to fight for power within the movement, rather than a higher form of consciousness that understands all politics as corrupt. Collective identity, discipline and combination are a necessity in the struggle for power, and ‘movementist’ dogma is already breaking down in the face of that reality. The political upturn – the surge in radical sentiment – is finding organisational form.

France and Greece

Melenchon’s result of 11.01% in the first round of French Presidential elections may have been a little disappointing, but only by the standard of what the Left is daring to imagine for the first time in years. Hollande’s victory in the second round, putting the Socialist Party in power for the first time in 17 years, does little to mask the intense polarisation in French society.

The success of Syriza in Greece owes only its ferocity to the extreme degree of social disintegration in Greece, its political spirit lives everywhere in Europe. Having won 16.8% of the vote in recent elections and sitting in a hopelessly hung parliament Alex Tsipras’ party stuck to their word and refused to enter a government with those who advocate continued austerity – reflecting a consciousness of the radical lefts recent history perhaps, a recognition that, as for Refondazione, a fundamental breach of principals and capitulation to ‘mainstream’ politics is death for any radical left project.

With no possibility of a coalition government in a parliament split over the E.U and its austerity measures, Greece is once again returning to the polls and once again presided over by an unelected government. The air around the Greek chaos is humid with the cruel compulsion of violence and tyranny.

It is not beyond the possible that these new elections never materialise, or that if Syriza achieve anything like the 32% which one of the more favourable polls has suggested that the movement will be confronted by Greece’s bullish military power – no doubt with the acquiescence at least of the U.S, U.K and central European powers. It was the discredited George Papandreou who first had to sack military chiefs for fear of a coup.

It is this potential violence of the Greek state that the Left should be most concerned with, as opposed to the ‘street level’ fascist movement of the barmy and ramshackle ‘Golden Dawn’. The hysteria that has marked their growth is a queer fetish of the Left across Europe, seemingly enthralled more by the activities, no doubt menacing, of Nazi thugs than of the growing Greek far Left’s challenge to the European ruling class.

The End of Spontaneity

Both the Front de Gauche and Syriza offer an outline – and that only – for a serious political challenge to neo-liberalism and austerity. It is certainly the case that austerity demands an electoral challenge. This is obviously true of the European ‘periphery’, where the E.U has become the soveriegn vehicle for the class interests of the major European powers and national parliaments perform the role of austerity managers at best. But it’s true everywhere that dilapidated and discredited parliamentary arenas are increasingly vulnerable to a radical left challenge.

There is regroupment and there is renewal. In the immediate term it is necessary that what exists of the organised (and disorganised) left regroups to confront the immediate struggle over Europe, war and austerity. For the future we need renewal. We need a break from the past as intellectually profound as the break from utopian to scientific socialism, as audacious as the break from first wave Social Democracy to Bolshevism. For now it should be an article of optimistic conviction that if regroupment is two steps towards renewal, renewal will take one step towards us.

There has been no twilight of the idols either – those on the left who allowed themselves to believe in either the viability or the permanence of a ‘horizontal’ movement yesterday are walking into the wind today. Melenchon, Tsipras – even Galloway, are for now the faces of a growing sentiment that could never reach public acclaim faceless. It is in the nature of people that we must not only hear an argument we believe in; but must hear it from somebody we believe.

Enigmatic leaders. For better and for worse they are our crux and our cross. The only way to bear them and to immunise the movement against their potentially toxic influence is to spread intellectual and practical leadership thick and far across the movement. Bad figure heads don’t make themselves. We make the guru when we spurn intellectualism, and we make the demagogue when we deny the need for leadership.

It’s Not ‘Social Democracy’

Social Democracy is the creature of an earlier stage in the development of capitalism in Europe. It owed its social weight for the most part on an ‘Industrial Unionism’ –sectional, economistic and rooted in a Fordist economic model – which itself is in dusk. The dialectical other of ‘do-it-yourself reformism’ at the workplace is ‘don’t-do-it-yourself reformism’ at the ballot box. The post-war welfare consensus created a consistent divide between politics and economics which has disintegrated in the free for all of market madness.

The new left sentiment, ‘reformist’ though it most often is, is not born primarily from industrial combination but is rather a formal expression of the growth in radical class consciousness. The form of organisation this sentiment takes naturally represents not one theoretical tendency born of past splits, but the extent of political consciousness amongst an advanced class element.

The idea that such a vanguard section of the class can be, let alone is, represented by tiny ‘Revolutionary Socialist’ grouplets or electoral projects is absurd. The NPA in France is on the verge of collapse after a risible performance in the elections, even the more vigorous ANTARSYA took 1.19% of the vote in Greece. And its politics- as Lenin so repetitively emphasised- that is primary in the class struggle as it provides the only means of hegemonising the masses into a challenge to bourgeois orthodoxies. On this most crucial terrain Melenchon and Tsipras, no matter what their faults, represent the real head of the vanguard and their organisations the vanguard’s institutions.

With the country in the deepest imaginable crisis, with the radical left in rapid ascendancy, and with the real threat of imminent violent confrontation with ruling class power, what is the point of revolutionaries operating outside of Syriza? Especially when the unity project contains at least 13 distinct socialist organisations – about half avowedly revolutionary? One has to be at the battlefield if they are to direct the war- Syriza is the front-line of the war against austerity. Critiques of Tsipras ‘reformism’ are all well and good, but history will be made by the forces of Syriza.

The Lightning Rod

The news that Greece is going back to the polls, as well as the rejection of austerity by voters at the heart of the Eurozone, is causing mayhem in the markets and prompting fears of the unwinding of the Eurozone project. Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England has complained that growth in the UK is near impossible given that:

“We have been through a big global financial crisis, the biggest downturn in world output since the 1930s, the biggest banking crisis in this country’s history, the biggest fiscal deficit in our peacetime history, and our biggest trading partner, the euro area, is tearing itself apart without any obvious solution.”

The economic crisis, with all its political and geopolitical repercussions is gaining momentum. There is nothing the left cannot achieve in this period if it rallies to meet the challenge, discarding as it does so adolescent dogma’s old and new.

The crisis of representation and democratic sovereignty has made a weapon of class war from succession in Greece, where the left must prepare to divorce itself from the Eurozone. In similar fashion, the referendum campaign in Scotland will become a lightning rod for all the furious energy emanating from the break-down of the neo-liberal project. In the UK too then, where neo-liberalism has lasted longer and gone farther than most places, the storm will break, and our constitutional future will become a battle between staying in the conservative immiseration of the past or a break to a more egalitarian future. Politics, as always, will be the decisive factor.

From International Socialist Group site.

David Jamieson

David Jamieson is a politics graduate, RIC activist and member of the International Socialist Group based in Glasgow