Out September 15th: “Syriza – Inside the Labyrinth”

syriza_ovendenBy Pluto Press (200 pages | 5 x 7 3/4 | © 2015).

With a Foreword by Paul Mason.

In January 2015, Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, became the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament, winning 149 out of 300 seats and badly defeating the then-ruling conservative New Democracy party. In Syriza, Kevin Ovenden presents an in-depth analysis of the political events leading up to this seemingly sudden reversal of political power in Greece, exploring the origins of the turbulent Greek political climate, from the beginnings of the Communist Party of Greece and the Greek workers’ movement following the First World War, to the brutal civil war that shook the country in the aftermath of the Second World War; the rise and fall of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement and the growth of radical politics in the 1970s; and finally the crushing austerity demands following the debt crisis of the 2010s.

Ovenden also examines the far-right movements in Greece as well, focusing in particular on the negative impact that the xenophobic and nationalistic Golden Dawn party has had and continues to have to this day.

Syriza’s victory in Greece is a central event of the twenty-first century, whose ramifications are sure to be felt for decades.

Go to Pluto Press to order your copy.

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Unite the left and anti-racist movements against cynical right-wing disruption

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Not just in Britain, but also in France, austerity governments are attempting to confuse and disrupt general opposition and anti-racist sentiment.

This is an important article firmly rejecting the decision by the president of the French equivalent of the Board of Deputies in Britain, the CRIF, to ban Jean-Luc Melenchon and La France Insoumise from last night’s demonstration in memory of Mireille Knoll, an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor murdered in an anti-semitic attack last Friday.

In so doing, he bracketed together the radical left and the fascists of the Front National.

CRIF president Francis Khalifat claimed: “Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far left and the far right, making those parties ones that you don’t want to be associated with.”

It is an outrageous lie about Melenchon and the radical left. As this piece makes clear it is to equate a man with an impeccable record of opposition to anti-semitism and an anti-racist with a party founded by a vicious racist who trivialises the Holocaust, referring to it as “a minor detail of history”.

Khalifat went further and spelled out that his objection is that Melenchon and the left are critical of Israel. So unquestioning support for the state of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is to be the requirement for protesting against racism and an anti-semitic murder in France.

It’s difficult to imagine a more effective way to divide anti-racist feeling in France at the murder. Melenchon turned up. He was booed – but not by some spontaneous section of the crowd. It was by supporters of the ultra right and extremist “Jewish Defence League”, which has under the common banner of Islamophobia, anti-leftism and support for the Netanyahu government in Israel, established contacts and cooperation with the Front National.

After harassing Melenchon and La France Insoumise supporters, this group escorted Marine Le Pen onto the march.

She was rightly jeered by ordinary participants. But she got airtime for her argument that the “real problem” is “Muslim anti-semitism”. She has space for that lie because that is a false argument that has been put by some pro-system, pro-centre-right Jewish community leaders and by politicians of both the centre right and centre left who, unlike Melenchon, fail to name Le Pen and her party as fascist. They also suggest that racial antagonism in France is generated by poor immigrants.

Meanwhile, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, who is upping the rate of deportations and strengthening Fortress Europe, was welcomed to the demonstration.

What we are seeing is a close parallel to the Tory and right wing efforts in Britain to maul anti-racism, divide the movement, try to make themselves the arbiters of opposing anti-semitism and racism, and to smear the radical left.

It shows that while there is a particular focus on Jeremy Corbyn, it is part of a wider trend. There is no mural from five years ago at issue in the smears on Melenchon – only that he is a radical left politician who rejects both racism and France’s Middle East policy.

In fact, he has gone out of his way – unlike Corbyn – to present his anti-racism in conventional terms, which in France mean support for a “colour-blind” Republic. All to no avail – he’s still smeared.

That’s because there is a political agenda here from the centre right and its allies to break the left and militant anti-racism.

An instrument in that is the false claim that to oppose anti-Jewish racism you must support the state of Israel. This is deeply embedded in German politics also, where it is used as a stick to beat the Turkish and Kurdish and Arab immigrant minorities.

In so doing, it actually boosts the real fascists of the AfD and their lie that the problem of racism in Germany is about the attitudes of recently arrived Arab refugees from Syria.

The AfD gets some space to do that as it claims to be a strong supporter of Israel, so ludicrously that can give it a claim to membership of the official family of “anti-racists”. That they do not get far in that is thanks to the rising and left-led anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in Germany.

A genuine anti-racist movement is being built in Germany against the AfD and against the Merkel government with its deportation policy and hard right interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who says: “Islam has no place in Germany.” There has been an alarming increase in the firebombing of mosques in Germany over the last few months.

The AfD is not the same as the Merkel government. But the specific response to it is rightly also angled against the government and its mainstream racism that feeds the AfD.

In France, a gang of masked suspected fascists attacked the student occupation in Montpellier last Thursday night in apparent collaboration with the university authorities. It triggered widespread protests against the real threat of fascism and racism.

The radical left, including La France Insoumise, are at the centre of the protests.

The student occupations are part of a rising wave of protest and strikes against the government on a number of fronts – critically by the well organised rail workers who have called weekly two-day strikes over the coming months.

The protest wave is uniting working people of all backgrounds and ethnicities. It is a major potential force against racism and to break the influence of the Front National.

But Macron is seeking to smash the movement. And this abuse of the memory of a victim of a racist murder is about trying to undermine the left and the potential for a militant anti-racism that truly unites people.

This is a logic that goes beyond one country. The disgraceful smears against Corbyn in Britain are not unique.

This is built in to desperate – and reckless – attempts by mainstream governments in Europe to head off both social movements of opposition and the formation of militant, united anti-racist struggles.

Everywhere the left’s answer must be to deepen the movements of opposition, the strikes and protests; to construct the politically independent and militant anti-racism that targets the governments as well as the far right; and to give the political battle against this attempt to make the arbiter of anti-racism support for the racist exclusion of Palestinians from their own homes.

The forces of the centre are prepared to disfigure and destroy anti-racist sentiment in a false name of anti-racism.

They must be resisted. It is these cynical attempts at divide and rule – even through falsely claiming to champion one oppressed group at the expense of another – that right now are a serious threat to anti-racist and working class unity.

And the immediate target is to place further repressive burdens on the Muslim communities.

The beneficiaries – as history attests – if that is not stopped will be the actual fascists in Europe: Islamophobic, racist, and anti-semitic, and a threat to all working people.

In uniting against this, it means a fighting anti-racist unity led by the left, against the right – and prepared to take head on the divide and rule of Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.

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Anti-semitism: cynical misuse of a real problem to pro-capitalist and right-wing ends

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Demonstration by the Jewish workers socialist Bund in Warsaw in 1936.

The FT yesterday published an absolutely outrageous column by Edward Luce.

In it he ostensibly addresses the serious issue of anti-semitism, particularly in Donald Trump’s America, but then closely brackets Jeremy Corbyn with Trump and articulates a loose conception of anti-Jewish racism which makes it almost identical to any opposition to globalised, corporate capitalism per se.

He rightly states that “Mr Trump initially refused to disown David Duke, the pro-Nazi leader of the Ku Klux Klan. During the 2016 campaign, Trump ads demonised George Soros, a leading target of anti-Semitic campaigns from Viktor Orban’s Hungary to America’s alt-right. And he forgot to mention Jews on Holocaust remembrance day in his first week in office.”

Tellingly, he misses out Trump retweeting the fascist Britain First, whose leaders are now in prison, and its vicious anti-Muslim propaganda – something which rather undermines the thesis of the article that the Trumpist right operates solely, or largely, just through innuendo or by omission or even, in Trump’s case, possibly unwittingly.

That’s necessary for Luce then to go on to take the well worn trope of the radical left and the far right being two sides of the same coin into frankly defamatory territory by claiming that Trump and Corbyn are very similar, including in their political imagery and anti-Jewish predilections. He writes:

“But the biggest Trump effect comes from his anti-globalist imagery. Like Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour party, the president has a taste for authoritarians, notably Vladimir Putin — the leading sponsor of online vitriol. Both disdain Nato, the EU and international bankers. But they differ on Israel. Mr Trump is a big fan. Mr Corbyn is one of Israel’s biggest detractors.”

Now, Cambridge Analytica with its massive targeted propaganda operation under the supervision of Steve Bannon for Trump’s campaign might contest the idea that they are not leaders in this field.

And it is simply a smear to say that Corbyn has “a taste for authoritarians” – a claim promoted by the millionaire-funded far right in Britain that shares Orban’s obsession with Soros (particularly as Soros is funding efforts to overturn Brexit).

But the larger dishonesty here is the sleight of hand whereby detecting genuine anti-semitic innuendo on the right is turned into insinuating anti-semitism on the left – by a parallel and artful use of innuendo.

A section of the transatlantic far right is attempting to cast the political faultline as between “globalisers” and “national identitarians”. That was the central strategic overlap between Bannon and his audience at the Front National, now Rassemblement National, conference he spoke at earlier this month in Lyons.

“Globaliser” for many of them connotes the old racist tropes of “Jewish [finance] capital” apparently loyal only unto itself and to some hidden mechanism or conspiracy at the expense of “the nations” in which it operates but of which it is not an authentic part.

But it is a logical fallacy and a political lie to claim the converse: that anyone objecting to globalised neoliberal capitalism and its negative effects, or to the overweening role of the bankers whose rampant greed was a critical proximate cause of the 2008 financial crash, is in reality harbouring an animus to Jews or is playing with anti-semitic imagery.

We’ve had that smear for nearly 20 years now and from the same publications promoting neoliberal, capitalist globalisation – such as the Financial Times and the Economist.

At the beginning of the movement against corporate globalisation, of the anti-capitalist movement or of the altermondialiste movement as it was called in France, the Economist would scarcely publish an issue without claiming that the radical farmer and environmentalist José Bové and the veteran French fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen were but two peas in a pod because both opposed McDonalds.

As rage grew on both sides of the Atlantic ten years ago over the bankers, there were some propagandists of the finance sector who tried to deflect it by claiming that the anger at what they had wrought to the economy was in reality motivated by anti-semitism or was a thinly veiled deployment of old anti-semitic tropes.

It was cynical and cowardly. It was also reckless. In each case over the last two decades this ideological intervention to defend capitalism – in its globalised neoliberal phase – has in fact rested upon making the same false identification of “Jews” with finance capital, or with transnational capitalism stretching beyond the nation state, as do actual anti-semites.

Jews do not run the banking system or the few score giant transnational corporations that dominate the world economy. Attacking the role of the banks and corporations is not, therefore, attacking Jewish people.

Of course it is possible for anti-semites to conflate the two. The telltale is often a focus upon a minor investment bank such as Rothschilds (established by a Jewish family) and not major ones such as JPMorgan Chase, HSBC (the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), Crédit Agricole, Barclays, Bank of America, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Deutsche Bank…

But it is absurd to claim that when the Irish left said “burn the bondholders”, the Greek left said “nationalise the banks under workers’ control” and rupture with the euro, the British left said “jail the bankers” and the US left highlighted the outright robbery by the banks of poor Black families that they were “in reality” attacking “Jewish” finance capital.

Capitalism and finance capital

The term “finance capital” gained wide currency and was the subject of much serious theoretical work at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries among both pro-capitalist and socialist thinkers.

The reason for that was the series of interconnected and rapid transformations of the capitalist system that in different combination gripped all its leading centres:

– the concentration of the units of capital into larger corporations as the bigger and stronger absorbed the smaller and weaker.

– the immense growth of the credit and finance system so that banks became not merely the lenders to productive or mercantile activity but in many cases fused in complex patterns of ownership with large firms themselves.

– the further extension of capitalist firms and relations into areas of everyday life hitherto barely touched.

– the growth of their activities beyond the borders of even the most powerful nation states.

– the projection of power abroad by those nation states in a process of inter-imperialist competition, including at that time the direct establishment of colonies in a violent and competitive process.

– relations between capitalist states becoming more and more governed by the effects of the “hidden hand” of capitalist competition fusing with inter-state competition for resources, markets and sources of extra-economic power the better to advance the growing power of the corporations they were entwined with.

For anti-capitalists, especially Marxists, this phase of the growth of “finance capital” was but an aspect of the fundamental problem of the capitalist system from the beginning. Finance capital (and with it imperialism) was not a distinct and special problem, it was an outgrowth of the deeper mischief of capitalism as a whole.

For others ranging from liberal economists to reform socialists, finance capital – the banks, to put it crudely – was an aberration. They looked to dealing with that excess and returning to what they saw as some kind of progressive or controlled capitalist expansion. For the liberal theorists that was the end of the matter; for the reform socialists it would lead inevitably to the end of the matter through an essentially evolutionary transformation of “productive capitalism” into egalitarian socialism.

Conservative elites and the radical reactionary right wing forces associated with them faced a problem. They were of (even if ultimately) the big sections of capitalism, but they had to appeal to popular layers – workers, peasants, a mass of small producers and professionals – who in all sorts of ways bridled at the effects of capitalism, even if they described those as mere “excesses”.

It is here that was laid the breeding ground for reheating and modernising old anti-semitic tropes about Jews as the “bad” form of wealth – unpatriotic and parasitic – as opposed to the “good”, national, aristocratic and “productive”.

That was not a spontaneous expression of anti-capitalist sentiment. It was the product of reactionary elites trying to manipulate and disrupt the growth of, often confused but nevertheless, anti-capitalist sentiments.

It is put well in the description of the rise of the national conservative mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger, who pioneered the use of anti-semitic ideology in mass politics at the turn of the twentieth century. It was said of him that he proceeded in the logic of his ideology and politics “from anti-capitalism, through anti-socialism, to anti-semitism”.

The critical step was his “anti-socialism”. His seeking to undermine the growing socialist left in conditions of widening anti-elite feeling propelled him to rediscover the “pseudo-anti-capitalism” of anti-Jewish racism in which the ills of society were the product not of capitalism, and with it finance capital, in general, but of “anti-national” or “cosmopolitan” Jewish capital and of Jewish people in toto.

It remains the case today that racist, nationalist and anti-semitic sentiment is not generated spontaneously out of popular rage at a capitalist system that is increasingly unequal, incapable of meeting people’s needs and careering from one disaster to another. The mechanism is, rather, reactionary forces that are at one and the same time pro-capitalist but also trying to tap anti-capitalist resentments.

Crucially, they are viscerally anti-leftist forces. Edward Luce enters fantasyland trying to equate Corbyn with Trump. He and the bereft ideologues of neoliberal capitalism hold themselves up as paragons of progressive politics. But in his anti-leftism Luce and with him other hired prize-fighters of the liberal capitalist establishment should know that they are fuelling the very Trumpist phenomenon they imagine they are refuting.

Worse, Luce is implicitly conceding the very anti-semitic imagery he implies in others. That is to ascribe or impute some “essential Jewishness” which is in someway coterminous with features of globalised capitalism, including its rapacious effects. He ends his piece examining the apparent paradox of the pro-Israel evangelicals in the US who form part of Trump’s base and also harbour all manner of anti-Jewish prejudices. He writes, “Evangelicals are politically philo-Semitic and theologically anti-Semitic. Mr Trump is their instrument.”

That holds a large measure of truth. But there is no contradiction in these apparently conflicting “philo-semitic” and “anti-semitic” ideas. The philo-semite projects an essence upon Jewish people as miraculously embodying the dizzying modern culture of global capitalism: cosmopolitan, polyglot and ever disruptive of old national traditions. The anti-semite merely takes that and replaces a moral and cultural positive sign with a negative.

Both share a common basic stereotyping. And both commit the crime against reason and all historical understanding of ascribing some racialised, ethnic essence. That’s how the same right wing Evangelicals in the US can hold such apparently conflicting positions. But it is not just them. Luce and others who see themselves as the antithesis of reaction end up echoing some of the same rubbish in their tortuous efforts to defend neoliberal capitalism from an anti-capitalist critique.

More anti-capitalism, not less

It is possible, and frequently happens, that reaction to the most obvious depredations of capitalism stops short of a fundamental opposition to the system as a whole. The most common and influential form that takes is some variant of the reform socialist ideology of a century ago which failed in generalising the struggle for a new society, preventing this one plunging into world war and stopping the growth of fascist extensions of elite conservative reaction.

The peculiar structure of post-Empire British capitalism has often led radicals in this direction. The British economy is extraordinarily dependent on the finance sector and the City of London. They appear in national accounts as flattering how the economy is doing, but they are parasitic upon anything that could be described as a productive or sustainable organisation of economic affairs. And that produces egregious scandals – think the bankers’ bonuses lapped up in the City or Canary Wharf, when sandwiched between the two live some of the poorest people in England.

Critics ranging from the mildly Keynesian economist Will Hutton to the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm have focused upon this grotesque distortion. From the point of view of the radical left, the limitation in what they have said is not that it bashes the City of London, still less that it leads automatically to some nativist opposition to “cosmopolitan capital”. It is that it has not gone far enough and, such is its imprecision, it allowed Hutton and others to laud the turn to New Labour, which in fact further accelerated the very imbalances he railed against.

It is also true that an artificially restricted politics that focuses solely upon the “globalised” moneymen (as if the “nationally-minded” bosses were better) weakens the argument that must be made against the reactionary right trying to set social antagonisms along nationalist and racist lines.

But the two are not the same. At all. It is out of recognition of some capitalist “excess” (epitomised by the banks) that most people move in an anti-capitalist, socialist direction. That is why the economic programme put forward by Corbyn, John McDonnell and the Labour frontbench is attracting such support. For the anti-capitalist left it is a step in the right direction. For Luce and the ideologues of capitalism it portends a nightmare.

That is so obvious it is something of an asinine truism. What’s novel is that a section of the defenders of a failing capitalism is brigading false claims to represent progress in their efforts to derail a radicalising left. In so doing, they both invoke the spectre of the anti-semitic right and also do the immense disservice – crime, actually – of identifying opposition to anti-semitism with the defence of capitalism. Noticeably, they either never mention or at best downplay the even more extant and rising form of racism generated in contemporary capitalism: Islamophobia and ubiquitous state attacks upon Muslims, be it under Trump, Macron, May, Merkel or their predecessors.

In all of this, of course, they must efface the actual history of the struggle against anti-semitism, against racism in general, and that fight’s umbilical cord to the socialist movement against capitalism. We are talking not only Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, Walter Benjamin and countless other major Jewish figures of the Marxist left. We are talking the Polish Bund, the massively disproportionate Jewish component of the Russian revolutionary movement, the very creation of the working class and revolutionary Marxist movement in Greece and much, much more.

Then as now the process inverts the logic of the anti-semitic reaction of Lueger and of what came after: from instinctual fury at aspects of capitalism, through a greater anti-capitalist understanding and its twin of anti-racism, and to international socialism.

The intervention by Luce and others aiming to sever that process is an abomination. They hold up as scarecrows the fascist right, but turn their attention to smashing the socialist left – in so doing they largely ignore racist realities and try to shore up the failing capitalist system by identifying it with the victims of the greatest racist crime in European history.

With friends like that, who needs enemies? What we need instead is more, and more thoroughgoing, anti-capitalism – not less. And upon that a revolutionary anti-racism.

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No to the Russia hysteria – rally to Corbyn and the left

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Right about Iraq – and he’s right now

Jim Pickard of the FT makes this point about Corbyn’s response to May on the Russia hysteria in parliament:

“Corbyn looks almost entirely isolated in the House of Commons with his ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ approach to Moscow….but he probably felt pretty isolated in the run-up to the Iraq war, which he considers one of his greatest Parliamentary moments.”

To which one may add – not only is Corbyn entitled to feel his speeches in parliament over Iraq were wholly justified, they have been vindicated entirely. And a majority of people in Britain agree with them. But we were denounced as traitors at the time.

It is absolutely clear to what political purpose the incident in Salisbury is being put.

It is not for the British government to “do something” serious over Vladimir Putin – because it cannot, even as it goes beyond the evidence it itself puts forward to claim a state-sponsored plot.

It is certainly not to do anything about peace and the international rule of law because it has just signed over more arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
It is being used to bomboozle working people in Britain and to attack the left, Corbyn and the prospect of him coming to office.

That’s where the major effort of the Tories and their supporters is going – as they say that the Royal Family will not be visiting the World Cup in Russia, as if that is going to change anything.

For all the farce of Theresa May’s response, this is a serious moment.
It is a reminder that the British establishment will stop at nothing to turn any issue into a single-minded effort to throw back the left advance.

Anyone who thought that the cohort of Labour MPs who follow the lead of the establishment would be contained by intra-party manoeuvres must think again. They are once again mounting an offensive against their own leader. And it is more often than not over foreign affairs that they do this. That’s because they can marshall the old reactionary saw about “national interest” and uniting the nation against its “foreign enemies”.

The whole left needs to rally in response. There is no triangulation or nickel and dime stuff on this. Calling for higher defence expenditure or a “stronger line against Putin” is not only wrong, it is fantastical.

How is supporting the immense and dangerous waste of Trident renewal going to deal with the possibility of something like the Salisbury event? Ending drone assassinations and making a radical turn to a foreign policy of peace, not killing and spying, can.

The class lines are clear, a day after the Tories cut free school meals to a million children.

There is no room for artful equivocation. The forces of the left and for peace need to hit back.

And as you look at the backstabbers on the Labour benches it is also clear why there needs to be a left that is not constrained by that or by the inner dynamics of the Labour Party.

One that can unite people beyond itself, but can maintain a principled politics that can systematically focus on opposing the Tory government and the ruling class interests it represents.

And do that under all circumstances.

– We won’t be fooled again
– Tories out, and no to May’s sabre-rattling.
– The government lies on the NHS, why trust it on Russia?
– We want peace and an anti-war government.

Friends in Britain should know they are not alone in this. From the Balkans connected in a stream of blood to the terrible wars in the Levant, socialists are having to confront governments and reactionary forces trying to use the crisis to promote a path that leads to greater conflict and war.

You cannot concede to that and to hysteria over international crises today in the hope of tomorrow returning to the domestic class confrontation.
The Labour Party under the leadership of Michael Foot did that 36 years ago over the Falklands crisis. And it suffered catastrophic defeat at the general election a year later.

Jeremy Corbyn and team are to be commended for spurning that line in parliament today.

The left – all the left – should rally to bolster that position and take it out into the wider working class movement.

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German lesson: the continuing centrality of the organised working class movement

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Workers of the IG Metall union on a warning strike at VW in Wolfsburg in a campaign that won significant concessions towards a decent working week and employment for all

Fascists in the AfD have put major effort into trying to translate their electoral support into gaining a presence inside the organised working class in Germany. That is all the better to dis-organise it along nativist and racist lines that serve the bosses.

For the neonazi wing it is an important strategic objective. They aim to show that they can reach parts that the racist centre right cannot and can be a direct instrument in breaking working class organisation. That is a critical objective for real fascism, as opposed simply to varieties of racist populism, in its goal to offer itself in the future as a uniquely valuable force for the elites.

These, however, are the results for the elections to the works councils across the Daimler combine in Germany. The councils are official bodies elected by workers and staff in which unions and others can put up candidates. They have been a central tripartite mechanism – workers, bosses, state – of the German method of incorporating labour through controlled expression of worker representation.

– Wörth / Germersheim
IG Metall has emerged stronger with 24 out of 39 places. No place won by the AfD’s front the “Centre”.

– Mercedes Benz, Untertürkheim plant
Turnout was relatively high at almost 65 percent. The IG Metall list has provisionally 37 seats out of the 47. The “Centre” has gained 2 mandates and thus has 6 mandates (13.2 percent).

– Sindelfingen
The largest site with over 40,000 eligible voters. Some 57.5 percent of the employees participated in the works council election. According to the provisional result, IG Metall received almost 75 percent (16,992 votes) and thus has 46 of the 59 works council seats. The Centre received 764 votes, which corresponds to 3.4 percent and 2 mandates.

– Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart
From 6626 votes cast, the Centre has received, according to preliminary results, just 108 votes and thus remains without a mandate. The various independent and Christian lists have received fewer votes than at the last elections in 2014. The winner is IG Metall. It was able to gain 4 mandates. With 22 mandates, it now has an absolute majority in the 41-member body.

– Mercedes Benz, Rastatt
According to preliminary results, 29 IG Metall members have been elected to the 35-member works council via various lists. The Christian Metal Union (CGM) got no seat. The Centre ran for the first time, got 447 votes and moved to 3 mandates in the 35-member works council.

AfD leaders had predicted sweeping gains, claiming that they would reap a feeling against vested interests, such as the established IG Metall union. But with the exception of the Untertürkheim plant these are very poor results – far lower than the average vote of the AfD in last September’s general election and even among “workers” as an atomised electoral and demographic category, as opposed to considered through their place of work.

This is of enormous strategic importance, and not only in Germany.

It confirms a pattern seen repeatedly throughout different epochs of the last century. Even when the far or fascist right can make frightening advances electorally among the population as a whole, it has the greatest of difficulties in penetrating the workplace and organised labour.

The Nazis were able to conquer the workplace and worker organisation in the 1930s only after being handed state power, abolishing the unions and introducing an alternative fascist corporation supposedly representing workers and employers together. Even then, that fascist body ended up repeatedly expressing worker discontent and opposition to regime policies.

As the historian Tim Mason highlighted, the Nazis allied with the state could destroy working class organisation, but they could never win their dreamed of incorporation of the working class into a racist, totalitarian dystopia.

The reason for the rejection of the AfD now is not primarily because of the politics of the unions concerned. That is important. There are strongly anti-racist activists and officials of IG Metall. But at the same time it has its fair share, as does any union, of routinist bureaucratism and accommodation to prevailing reactionary ideas.

Primarily, however, this barrier to the far right – and this potential battalion that can shift the society as a whole – arises from the everyday conditions of the world of work and of the existence of union organisation.

That depends on the most basic notions of collectivity. It means that ideas and political forces that break that unity – divisions on any conventional basis: race, sex, grade, age, sexuality, type of contract, immigration status, marital status, etc – are like a fatal poison.

That does not mean that the poison is automatically and fully purged from the collective body. But it does mean that there is an immune system that may be strengthened and is a potential organised bastion that can project a militant collective politics within and beyond the workplace and the union.

And thus it follows that despite the weakness overall of the AfD’s intervention into these big workplace elections, its toehold must not be dismissed, but smashed. That is obviously the case in the plant where the fascists got over 13 percent and which also, IG Metall activists report, has the weakest shopfloor organisation and trade union consciousness among the workforce.

There are moves to do this on two fronts. Anticipating the incoming grand coalition, scores of left and militant union representatives made an initiative last month repudiating the line of the DGB union federation that endorsed the deal between the SPD and Merkel.

They laid out red lines with union interests and policy on one side and the pro-business coalition deal on the other. It was in preparation for conflicts with the coalition government. Importantly, one area of dispute they highlighted was over the shameful abandonment of the rights of refugees by the SPD.

They put forward a position of defence of refugee rights, opposing xenophobia, refusing the siren voices against migrants, and for an end to an expansionist and militarist foreign policy. The initiative unites supporters of the SPD, Die Linke and those of no party affiliation.

The second front is the gathering, mass social movement against the AfD. It has made a point of strategically fighting to unite the forces of the left and workers movement, with immigrant and migrant communities, and aiming particularly to draw in the latent strength of the trade union movement.

This has also been the experience of Greece, where one aspect of it – as was also the case in Britain in the 1970s – is the popular slogan: fascists out of the unions.

 

The Labour left’s unedifying squabble  

This does have relevance to debates on the radical left in Britain today. That is despite considerable political differences with the situation in Germany. Britain does not have a grand coalition. It has a weak minority Tory government and a Labour opposition that has recovered massively through a surge of the left. It doesn’t have either a significant far right party. Both facts are connected.

But in its own circumstances, the movement in Britain faces a similar strategic question about how a surge of the left can translate into unlocking the hidden power of organised workers, or of workers yet to be organised at the place of work.

Here, it has been a little dispiriting – perhaps even shocking – to see an internal argument inside the Labour left over a bureaucratic position turn into egregious statements either admonishing trade union organisation, or saying that the advance of the left will come through weakening the unions in politics.

That is to turn reality on its head. The fundamental basis, the wellspring, of the left and of socialist advance is the collective organisation of the working class. It was the fusion of the socialist idea with the semi-spontaneous efforts of working people to organise themselves over 170 years ago that forged what is still the modern socialist movement.

Sure, all unions since then have shown the problem of bureaucratism and through that the subordination of working class interests within the confines of capitalism.

But that is equally, in fact more so, characteristic of the parties of the centre left that the unions either gave birth to or have looked to for political change.

It’s true of the British Labour Party, with its peculiar amalgam of differing centres of power – the affiliated unions, the MPs and party bureaucracy, and the members.

The problem is political, not constitutional, and it is not solved by internal constitutional battles. The SPD in Germany does not have the structure of union affiliation that the Labour Party singularly has. But in a one member, one vote referendum it has just voted suicidally by two to one to go into a coalition that will feed the far right and be in confrontation with the trade union movement and workers.

There is a difference between the unions and the centre-left parties. The unions are by their very nature closer to the basic antagonism in society, even if there are conflicting strands within them over what to do about it. They provide, or can, the most basic level of class organisation through the experience of their members.

This is why the condemnation of the unions and their role by some figures on a part of the Labour left in the dispute over who should be the next appointed party general secretary is so totally misguided.

It’s not to do with voting rights and the allocation of bureaucratic positions, whatever weight one puts on those. It is profoundly wrong because it is, out of an internal spat, castigating the very mechanism that for all its imperfections contains the seedbed of progress and countering reaction. That is the basic organisation of the working class – for evidence, look to the works council elections in Daimler. The Labour Party is at two remove from that basic organisation and is designed to be so. So is the SPD, with a greater constitutional distance from the unions that some Labour left figures appear to be promoting. Is the left more advanced in Germany on account of that? No.

There is another way forward. It has been voiced by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, as well as by socialists and trade union activists in and outside the Labour Party.

It is to put at the centre of this moment of radicalisation the aspiration to double trade union membership; to extend it beyond residual organisation in certain sectors into new ones.

It is to revivify it in the areas it already exists (as the strike in the old universities is showing splendidly). It is to fuse again the great internationalist principles of the left with the raw intelligence and potential power of the combination of working people.

And it is to find the fresh, living ways in which that organisation at work can mesh with all other sites of struggle against exploitation and oppression – from the women on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood to the mosque congregations organising to fill the murderous gap for the homeless left by a decade of austerity.

There is the most enormous crisis of the elite way of running things that has dominated for over 30 years.

There is massive popular anger and alienation – look to the Italian election results.

An inward-looking and petty left will not rise to that. It will fail and deserves to. Far larger organisations of the left than any that exist today have failed.

A left that can concert its efforts to help millions at the base of society organise themselves and in so doing shift things in a truly radical direction may contribute to resolving this manifold social, environmental and human crisis.

But that means a turn towards the millions, and to embracing their good sense and basic collectivity that is shown in these elections in Daimler at the heart of German industrial capitalism.

It’s a radical socialist politics – by the many, not by a few.

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Macedonia crisis: clarity not ambiguity against the nationalist right’s offensive

 

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Militarism on display at the Macedonia is Greek demonstration in Salonika on 21 January

This is a press release from Popular Unity in Greece highlighting the intervention of its leader Panagiotis Lafazanis this week in advance of a second nationalist right wing rally, this time in Athens this coming Sunday.

It is headlined: Lafazanis – “we need rallies, but rallies against the sell-off of our national wealth and the ‘new occupation’.”

Speaking at a rally of striking port workers on Monday, he said: “There are rallies in order not to sell Macedonia [the nationalist rallies of the right].

“Unfortunately, Macedonia [the region of Greece] has already been sold out to a significant extent and is constantly being sold slice by slice.

“Today the port of Thessaloniki was sold to German, French, Chinese and domestic vultures…

“At the same time, Greece is an occupied country, which has mortgaged all its public wealth for a century.

“We need rallies, but rallies to save our ports, airports, water, our strategic operations, our infrastructure, our roads, our public wealth. Rallies for our freedom, democracy, sovereignty and independence, against the memorandums, the austerity, the Nato stewardship and the new colonialism.”

Unlike Zoe Konstantopoulou two days later he did not endorse this coming Sunday’s nationalist demonstration called by the hard right. We shall, however, see the impact her intervention yesterday has on others on the left as the rally draws near.

Konstantopoulou, the former speaker of the Greek parliament who split from Syriza over the capitulation of 2015, issued a youtube on Wednesday urging people to attend the demonstration over the Macedonia issue. She says she “hopes that Syntagma Square is full” and that she “stands with the citizens who will attend”. Yet this is not a demonstration of ordinary citizens. It is organised by the deep right.

While not making the mistake of Konstantopoulou, which flows from her “beyond left/right” national sovereigntist politics, neither does Lafazanis’ press release actually oppose this Sunday’s rally or make an argument why people should not attend.

It says, “we need rallies…” but ones on the basis he goes on to outline. The ambiguity is obvious. The statement is perfectly compatible with people going on the right wing rally but perhaps saying we need other ones as well, or to widen the basis of the demands to add in economic concerns. That would not change the reactionary character of the mobilisation – it would provide a left-economistic fig leaf to it.

It is a weak position politically. It does not arm the activists of the left with clear, sharp arguments with which to intervene in the society, undermine support for the rally and inoculate the social base of the left against this political swindle by the deep right and the nationalist hysteria it is trying to whip up.

It is possible to deploy arguments about the reality of Greece (including the Greek region in the north called Macedonia) being sold off to corporate power and its sovereignty enervated by the EU and troika. But not in this ambiguous, “patriotic” way.

It is an argument that has to be directed firmly against the leaders of the nationalist fiesta. They are all Greek, all of the right, all advocates of the capitulationist Yes vote in the 2015 referendum, all supporters of successive memorandums, all pro-EU and pro-Nato.

In other words, the argument can be made strongly only in the negative, premised upon what is not said here: flat opposition to Sunday’s mobilisation.

In the absence of that, these arguments do nothing to halt the right, and they evade the question of the domestic class struggle – against the Greek state, Greek capital and the government, against racism and fascism – by false analogy with literal foreign occupation, a new colonialism. The way in Greece to oppose Nato is not through chauvinist threats to the neighbouring state, but simply to withdraw from the warmongering alliance and slash the arms budget. That means direct confrontation with the state and with the militarist political forces who will rally on Sunday.

I addressed in my book on Syriza the theoretical and political problem of seeing the austerity crisis and struggles in Greece as a direct parallel with an anti-colonial liberation struggle, which informs the Lafazanis response to the Macedonia-naming crisis:

“It was the Greek business class and its political allies who sold the contemporary pass and opened the way to the nightmare years of austerity.

“For the entire policy, far from being a foreign imposition from without, was for them a means to prosecute the kind of class war and shift in wealth from working people to the rich which they had tried but failed to accomplish in the period of neoliberal modernisation.” (p43)

That is not to say that the EU and eurozone membership were or are irrelevant. Far from it. They provided the critical mechanism to enforce the austerity. When the capitalist political forces in Greece collapsed in 2014-15, it was the EU that battled on behalf of capital in general, and allied Greek capital in particular, to humble the Syriza-ANEL government and protect bourgeois interests.

It did so with the Greek bosses’ organisations and key parts of the Greek state – from the central bank to sabotage in the finance and other ministries. But sovereign decision-making in Greece was not conquered by an EU army from without, it was surrendered by capitalist interests within, and then by the government’s capitulation.

So the struggle for recovering “national sovereignty” over fiscal policy, and the currency, is not tilting at German, French or Chinese multinationals. It means a reckoning with Greek capital and the Greek state. And it is nationalist delusions of all kinds that are weapons of that state, that class and the right in preventing such a reckoning.

The struggle requires an anti-capitalist and internationalist politics – that’s as true of the fight against port privatisation as it is of opposing the nationalist hysteria, and even on the fringes war-talk, over the Macedonia Question.

Lest any supporters of Syriza who are still with the party seize on Lafazanis’ words to score points, the criticisms made of the “national liberation” parallel applied to most of Syriza three years ago – and to a lot of the unnecessary “patriotic” rhetoric attending solidarity movements of the radical left in Europe.

Ambiguities from then now stand rudely exposed in a sharpening polarisation, in which there is a push by the nationalist right to get back in the game. The demand for clarity becomes more urgent.

It is on the basis of such clarity, even on at least a part of the left, that a line may be held against the nationalist hysteria, and the radical left able to give its own lead, with its own unambiguous slogans to wider working class and popular layers.

Absent that, and the danger is, as happened to the Syriza government as a whole, that today’s ambiguity becomes tomorrow’s capitulation.

The issues at stake are not confined to Greece. They go to the heart of the strategic debates on the radical left across Europe, particularly in France and Germany, in the wake of the Syriza debacle of 2015.

There was a considerable reluctance on large parts of the left in the period running up to the election of the Syriza government and its capitulation six months later to explore fully the strategic dilemmas, with any and all criticisms too often dismissed as “sectarian” no matter how fraternally or intelligently made.

We have to do better this time round.

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Return of the Macedonia-naming issue, and what it means for developments on the Greek right

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The memorial in Freedom Square, Salonika, to the city’s Jewish inhabitants who were rounded up by the Nazi occupation in the spring of 1943 and murdered in Auschwitz. It was desecrated by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn on Sunday 21 January as they participated in a larger nationalist and right wing rally. 

Some 90,000 people took part in a right wing nationalist demonstration in Thessaloniki (Salonika) in northern Greece yesterday, according to police figures.

It was a national demonstration, with 500 buses bringing people in and delegations from as far as Crete, on a chauvinist basis demanding that the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia not be allowed to use the word “Macedonia” in its official name. That still has not been resolved in international bodies, though 100 states have recognised the state with that name.

It was a demonstration of the “deep right” spanning nationalist elites, with popular support, and the reactionary forces in Greece hailing back to the time of the Junta and before.

The powerful Orthodox Church had been pushing daily chauvinist agitation on the issue. While the archbishop in Athens formally disavowed the demonstration it is clear that lower down the bishops and priests mobilised. Friends report relatives going to church on Sunday and being called upon to attend.

There are echoes of the right wing campaign of 25 years ago. But it is far weaker than then, when the state essentially organised the protests and perhaps as many as a million demonstrated in Salonika.

The pressure to resolve the issue is in order to lift the Greek veto on Macedonia joining Nato. The right wing opposition New Democracy party had been looking forward gleefully to the issue splitting the government. The nationalist ANEL junior coalition partner says it will never accept the word Macedonia in the official title of the neighbouring country.

But the question is also dividing the right. The Syriza-led government is saying that all it is doing is putting forward the position which the then government of New Democracy’s Kostas Karamanlis approved in 2008 – with a name along the lines of Upper Macedonia.

That was rejected at the time by a highly nationalist and right wing Macedonian government – as Karamanlis had hoped. So he took it off the table and declared a Greek veto on Macedonia’s Nato membership.

Rising rivalry with Russian influence in the Balkans is now leading Nato and the EU to press hard for a resolution of the naming dispute to get Macedonia into Nato. And the incoming Bulgarian rotating presidency of the EU says it is looking to extend the Union into the western Balkans, putting more countries on the track to joining the EU and for Bulgaria itself to adopt the euro.

The current government of Macedonia has downplayed the rampant nationalism of its predecessor, signalling all sorts of compromises in order to pursue membership of the western institutions.

This all poses a problem for the right and New Democracy, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis. How can it denounce a solution along the lines that were proposed by its own leader, Karamanlis, ten years ago and one which has the blessing of Nato and EU institutions?

New Democracy faces its own divisions, with its own hardened chauvinist wing associated with Antonis Samaras. It was he who led a split from New Democracy over two decades ago accusing it of betraying the nationalist cause over Macedonia by not being chauvinist enough.

The leader he split from was… Konstantinos Mitsotakis – father of the current one. Many years later he rejoined the party, just in time to win the leadership and defeat another Mitsotakis – the daughter of Konstantinos.

The issue has the potential to reopen very deep wounds and feuds. It is not the only problem on the right. Although the social base of the Church was partially mobilised, the rally on Sunday 21 January did not attract the mass of average “patriots”, but instead revealed the ugly face of the hard, militarist and pro-junta right.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn sensed an opportunity to try to recover some ground by presenting itself as taking up a national cause. Yet it faces difficulties. It said it would participate but not bring its banners and insignia, but just protesting as national citizens.

But that left the field open to an assorted ragbag of former generals and nationalist right wing political figures, chief among them former head of the armed forces Fangoulis Frangos. That was something of a humiliation for Golden Dawn: a party with a parliamentary fraction and claiming to be leaders of the nation reduced to random members of an audience addressed by other political currents of the far right.

Golden Dawn tried to recover some “honour” by desecrating the memorial to the Jewish inhabitants of Salonika who perished in the Holocaust. Another group of the fascistic right broke off at the end of the demonstration and burnt down a left wing squat serving as a social centre.

But for the broadly radical-right currents, the fact that Golden Dawn has been so isolated and discredited by the anti-fascist movement and ongoing trial as a criminal organisation means that it doesn’t play a useful role for them. Nor does it assist the idea being floated of launching a new far right formation, not neo-Nazi like Golden Dawn but inspired by some of the northern European and north American developments on the radical right scene.

Such a new formation, which various figures have been touting for over a year, would be a threat to Golden Dawn electorally.

But it might also eat into New Democracy’s base. It would certainly mark a reversal of the strategy by Mitsotakis and the mainstream conservatives to reunite all the forces to the right of centre behind him.

Instead of any prospect of a government which could exclude Syriza and the centre left (something not yet possible on the current party system and its share of the vote), it would mean a further fragmentation of the Greek political system.

Mitsotakis is desperate to avoid that; but equally desperate to present himself as a modern European leader, not a dinosaur like Samaras, who could take the place of Tsipras. New Democracy did not speak from the platform at the demonstration, but several of its MPs participated – as “ordinary citizens”.

We shall see how these tensions play out in the coming months. Some things are clear. From Northern Ireland in the furthest north west, to the Balkans in the south east, European historical questions that were meant to have been solved by EU and Nato expansion have been shown in this crisis merely to have been suppressed.

There is a return of History. In that context, we also know that the positions taken by the internationalist left in Greece over the Macedonian question in the 1990s, drawing on a tradition going back over a century, have been critical to resisting the right’s capacity to inflame and to use national chauvinism and antagonisms.

And lastly, the systematic effort to isolate and push back Golden Dawn means that for both it and the wider right, this new round of the Macedonian dispute is not the straightforward gain that they might have hoped.

Imagine no anti-fascist movement and no trial of Golden Dawn, and then what its capacity might be to hegemonise a “national issue” like this.

The Keerfa anti-fascist and anti-racist coalition put out a statement on Sunday night following the fascist violence associated with the rally. It says:

“The anti-fascist movement has the memory and experience to stop this preaching of hate. No matter how much effort the right wing and church circles put in, today’s rally was many times smaller than that of 1992. Workers and the youth of Thessaloniki have turned their backs massively on the peddlers of ‘patriotism’.

“The efforts of every chancer like Frangoulis, who supported a yes vote in the 2015 referendum and who today remembered to denounce the…  austerity memorandum, leave the vast majority of the city indifferent.

“Our perspective on the Balkans is not the repetition of wars and massacres, but to strengthen internationalism and the conflict with NATO and the capitalists. We have nothing in common with those who imposed the memoranda in the name of ‘public interest’ and who now want to impose Macedonia’s naming dispute in the name of ‘national interest’.

“The next major step in this struggle is the international day of action on 17 March against racism and fascism, for which there will be large demonstrations and rallies across Greece.

“We call on the unions, student societies, movements and parties of the left to give this battle together – to isolate the nationalist shrieks and to send the fascists to prison.”

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What I did this Christmas – Volunteering in Calais

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Originally posted on Just a Thought :
This Christmas holiday I decided to volunteer for 10 days with Care4Calais to help refugees. For those of you who don’t know, yes, there are still hundreds of refugees living in and around Calais.…

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