The working class in fantasy and reality
by Frank Brenner
|Greek PM Alexis Tsipras addresses Parliament during stormy debate on the referendum|
Two recurrent threats to a revolutionary policy are opportunism and sectarianism. And both entail distorted – read non-dialectical – conceptions of the revolutionary potential of the working class. For the opportunist the working class has a past but no future. For the sectarian the working class has a future but no past.
If you want a textbook example of sectarianism, read the World Socialist Web Site on the crisis in Greece. We already did a breakdown of this political disorder (as Lenin would have called it) back in January, when the latest phase of the Greek crisis began with the election of SYRIZA. (See “Experience in scare quotes”). Back then, the WSWS was categorical in insisting that nothing had changed with that election:“Syriza’s election victory does not express a political development, a step forward, progress or anything of the kind by or for the working class.”
If this were true, then the crisis now gripping Europe makes absolutely no sense. If Syriza were no different than the previous regimes of Pasok or New Democracy, they would have agreed months ago to the latest austerity blackmail measures demanded by the European financial elites.
Of course Syriza is not a revolutionary party, as anyone with even the barest understanding of Marxism could have figured out. But neither is it just more of the same, one more bourgeois regime among others. The difference lies precisely in the role of the masses.
Syriza was elected on an anti-austerity program by the votes of millions of working class and middle class people. For the past six months it has tried desperately to find some middle ground between the financial vampires in Frankfurt and the aspirations of its electoral base. But unlike its predecessors, Syriza cannot totally ignore those aspirations. Which is why, in the end, it had to say no to a deal and call a referendum.
To a revolutionary, this matters enormously because it opens up possibilities for the growth of revolutionary consciousness. Workers are learning THROUGH THEIR OWN EXPERIENCES that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive, and that only an end to the system will bring an end to austerity. For the first time in generations, socialism can come to be seen as a PRACTICAL PROJECT by the masses. The road to revolution in Greece lies through the electoral base of Syriza. A revolutionary party that can exploit the fissures between that base and the Syriza leadership can win mass support for socialism.
But none of this matters to sectarians. The WSWS reaction to the referendum was that it was “a reactionary fraud, designed to lend a veneer of democratic legitimacy to the looting of Greek workers and middle-class people by the banks.” (See the WSWS article "Greek prime minister calls for referendum on EU austerity demands".)
This makes no sense. Having failed to get even the most meager concessions from Eurozone officials, the government has turned to the Greek people and asked them to decide: yes or no to more austerity. There is no indication the referendum has been fixed in any way; if anything, the government is the underdog in this campaign and it may well lose, which would immediately bring about its collapse. In what sense is this a fraud? On the contrary, this is a very rare occasion when bourgeois democracy actually lives up to its hype. Which explains why the European elites are furious at the Greek government: how dare the people be allowed to have a say when it comes to something as important as cold hard cash! The opportunities for revolutionaries to intervene in such a campaign and raise revolutionary consciousness would be evident to anyone not blinded by the sickness of sectarianism.
The WSWS contends that not only is the referendum a fraud but the government is maneuvering to get a yes vote: “Broad sections of the Syriza-led government and of the Greek ruling class as a whole are pushing for capitulation to what Tsipras acknowledged were humiliating demands. After Greece’s central bank came out with a call to remain in the euro, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stressed yesterday that Greece was doing everything it could to satisfy the 'strange demands' of its creditors and was determined to remain inside the euro zone.”
This too is nonsense. It would be impossible for Syriza to continue to govern if the referendum vote is to accept ongoing austerity. If this really was the secret agenda of Tsipras and company, they could have just made a deal and tried to ignore the outrage on the streets. In fact, reports from Athens say that the cabinet was unanimous in backing a No campaign.
Sectarians live in a fantasy world. Bereft of any dialectical understanding of how political consciousness develops, they change facts to fit their 'perspective'. Here is one such example:"The Financial Times recently reported on a pool party held in the 'leafy, affluent northern suburbs' of Athens and attended by a pro-EU crowd of 'well-heeled businessmen, politicians, academics, and socialites.' For these layers, the FT noted, 'life without the euro is almost unimaginable. The single currency made it easier for them to send children to study abroad and purchase property and luxury goods elsewhere in Europe.' Given that Syriza largely consists of similar affluent middle-class academics, politicians, and socialites, divorced from and hostile to the working class, similar moods are well represented inside Syriza itself.”
This is a rather crude example of guilt by association: the quote from the Financial Times says nothing about this pool party being a gathering of Syriza supporters, but somehow in the WSWS article they become exemplars of that party's political base. In any case, this is an article of faith in all WSWS coverage of Syriza: that the party's base is bourgeois and upper middle class.
|A pool party in the affluent Athens suburb of Kifisia|
But what then becomes of the Greek working class? Who exactly did they vote for in January? If not Syriza, who then? The mainstream bourgeois parties? The fascists? Did the workers not vote at all – were there mass abstentions? To ask such questions is to answer them. But sectarians never ask them.
For sectarians, the only working class that matters is the working class of their fantasies. All this fantasy working class needs to be woken into revolutionary consciousness is the 'magic touch' of the sectarian's propaganda. You might call this a 'Sleeping Beauty' approach to revolutionary politics.
And so, in the end of the article, you get what is a ritual incantation in all WSWS propaganda: “The only way forward for the working class is to set its policy independently of all the factions of the capitalist class, whose social order has utterly failed. The critical task is to prepare to mobilize the working class in Greece and across Europe in revolutionary struggle against the reactionary intrigues of Syriza and the EU.”
How any of this is to happen is a total mystery because this isn't about real Greek workers who really voted for a party called Syriza. Rather it is about a fantasy working class that only exists in the heads of sectarians – a Sleeping Beauty with a glorious future and no past.
|Workers who were not invited to pool party in Kifisia reading about referendum at kiosk|