Monday, July 13, 2015

Sectarianism and the Greek working class

EEK [Workers Revolutionary Party] banner at rally for a NO vote in the referendum. 

Part I: The WSWS proclaims the defeat of the Greek working class.

The sectarian journalists of the WSWS,  after closing down their reporting team in Athens, have proclaimed  that the Greek working class has been defeated as a result of the unprecedented betrayal of their aspirations by Prime Minister Tsipras and the majority of Syriza.  The WSWS artice, titled,
Syriza’s betrayal of the Greek working class, []  makes the following statement, 

"Syriza’s move to impose an unprecedented EU austerity package is a serious defeat for the working class." 

This is important because in the context of Marxist literature the word, 'defeat', implies the crushing of the working class by the counter-revolution, as for instance the defeat of the working class in Germany by Nazism.

Lest there be any question whether the author really meant  defeat,  he quotes a passage from Trotsky's writings to drive home the point. Here is the quote:

“This impotent philosophy, which seeks to reconcile defeats as a necessary link in the chain of cosmic developments, is completely incapable of posing and refuses to pose the question of such concrete factors as programs, parties, personalities that were the organizers of defeat. This philosophy of fatalism and prostration is diametrically opposed to Marxism as the theory of revolutionary action.”

Following the usual practice of the WSWS the author provides no citation for the quote from Trotsky's writings and fails to provide any context. The quote is in fact taken from Trotsky's 1940 essay, The Class, the Party and the Leadership.  [] The essay is a masterful analysis by Trotsky of the causes for the defeat of the Spanish working class in the Civil War that lasted from 1936-1940.  Now has anything like this happened to the  Greek working  class?  There is no question of course that the Greek working class has been terribly betrayed by Syriza. But have they lost their fighting capacity? Are they in the same position as the Spanish working class was in 1940 or the German working class in 1933.  To ask the question is to answer it.  The response of the Greek working class to the betrayal by Syriza has yet to be heard. 

At this moment in time millions of Greeks are in a state of shock, hardly believing the news they are hearing that they have essentially lost their independence and will be governed in the future by the institutions of the troika. We can predict that in short order the shock will wear off and there will be massive resistance to this historic betrayal, not only in Greece but throughout Europe.  But for the pundits of the WSWS, that is of no interest.  They are satisfied to proclaim that their perspective has been "confirmed", the working class has been defeated. Such premature burials are typical of sectarians because for them what is important is not the mobilization of the working  class but the confirmation that their predictions were correct. They see the end of the struggle where the revolutionary Marxist sees the beginning of a new phase of the struggle. 

In the same article we also find a good example of the crude reductionism that characterizes much of the WSWS "analysis" when the author ascribes Syriza's opposition to a Grexit [ie. of Greece leaving the Euro] to the size of the stock portfolio of various members of Syriza.  He writes,

"...former Syriza leader Alekos Alavanos (€350,000 in savings, a stock portfolio and 11 real estate properties), and former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis (whose wife Danae Stratou is a millionaire) cannot imagine or tolerate a break with the EU because—like the rest of the Greek ruling elite—they would lose a great deal of wealth if Greece exited the euro and their assets were re-denominated in a heavily devalued national currency."
One of the comments this article received noted that Alekos Alavanos is no longer a member of Syriza but has formed his own party, "Plan B", which advocates a Grexit! Needless to say no correction was published by the WSWS.

We also note that in the same article the author states that, 

"The events in Greece are a major strategic experience of the international working class."

Now this is interesting because up till now the WSWS has been "rejecting with contempt" the idea that that in order to learn that revolutionary socialism is the only alternative to austerity, the working class must go through a number experiences and those who aspire to lead them must go through those experiences with them.[See our previous article on this issue, Experience in Scare Quotes,

How to account for this turnaround by the WSWS? Perhaps, having pronounced the defeat of the Greek working class, the WSWS is now willing to embrace experience because the lesson from that experience for them is that there is nothing left for them to do but to write obituaries of the Greek working class.

Alex Steiner

Part II: A comment on sectarianism and the Greek referendum.

In response to our essay, 
A postscript on sectarianism and the Greek referendum, [ ], we received the following comment:

"I am a long-time reader of the WSWS and have just come across your blog. I find your arguments in this post entirely unconvincing. I have re-read the WSWS articles on Greece and I can detect no "reversal" or "head-spinning turn".

1. The WSWS denounced Syriza's call for a referendum as a reactionary fraud aimed at creating the conditions to push through the diktats of the troika-- a position since confirmed in the most striking manner. (Incidentally, on July 7 the Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard provided his own confirmation of the WSWS warnings, stating that Tsipras called the referendum "with expectation--and intention--of losing it: )

2. The WSWS called for a No vote. What else should they have called for in response to the specific referendum question put to the Greek people? A Yes vote? an abstention? 

In both cases the WSWS was fighting for the rights and interests of the Greek workers, in opposition to Syriza and all of the parties of the Greek ruling class. WSWS has advocated a revolutionary struggle by the working class against the diktats of the EU and capitalism. But for you this is "boilerplate rhetoric".

I see that your blog is called Permanent Revolution, but you don't seem to agree with socialism at all. Your vituperative post concludes by attacking the WSWS as a cult because... their members vote unanimously for conference resolutions. What a crime. Perhaps it's because the members agree with them!" 

This is our response: 

Your second point is disingenuous. You ask, what else could the WSWS have called for except a No vote. But if the referendum was a reactionary fraud, as the WSWS repeatedly insisted, then the obvious position would have been to abstain. To participate in a reactionary fraud is to lend that fraud legitimacy. This should be as clear as day to any politically literate person, let alone a Marxist.

By calling for a No vote the WSWS was BY IMPLICATION conceding that the referendum was NOT JUST a reactionary fraud. And that NOT JUST makes a big difference because it's a crack in the bourgeois power structure through which the masses can push their way on to the scene. Which is why the European elites were so dead set against the referendum. If it really were just a reactionary fraud, the elites wouldn't have given a damn.

But the WSWS never acknowledged this glaring contradiction in their position. That was the point of my comment. They never examined the implications of their position because to have done so would have undermined the sectarian political line they've taken since the election of Syriza in January. Specifically their blanket denial that the EXPERIENCE of the Syriza government could prove crucial to raising the political consciousness of the masses and open opportunities to win large numbers to revolutionary socialism.

When it came exactly to that kind of experience - the referendum - the WSWS  persisted with its sectarianism but simply stuck on a call for a No vote, assuming - cynically - that their followers were either too naive or uncritical to notice any problem. It would seem, from your letter at any rate, that such cynicism wasn't entirely misplaced.

If you believe the WSWS, they were the only organization to have seen through Syriza. What nonsense! Dozens of other groups in Greece and internationally understood the impossible contradictions that afflicted this party. Even the sclerotic Stalinists of the Greek Communist Party saw through Syriza; indeed this was true even of some people in Syriza itself.

But seeing through Syriza is only the barest beginning of a revolutionary policy. Far more important is to get the masses to see through Syriza. In revolutionary politics IT ISN'T ENOUGH TO KEEP PROCLAIMING THE TRUTH. If it were enough, the revolution would have happened decades, even centuries, ago.

YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE MASSES UNDERSTAND THAT TRUTH, and for that you have to engage with them and their struggles. You have to BUILD A BRIDGE between their 'Syriza consciousness' and socialist consciousness.  And for that you have to stand with them in their experiences - the election in January, the countless marches, the historic OXI to austerity.

The sectarians of the WSWS reject this. They have only contempt and hostility for the experiences of the real working class. Instead they promote visions of a fantasy working class, one that never voted for Syriza or ever had any illusions in it, a Sleeping Beauty working class that only awaits the magic kiss of the sectarian's propaganda to wake up to revolutionary consciousness.

This is why the revolutionary rhetoric at the end of every WSWS article is boilerplate: because they NEVER say a word about HOW the working class is going to be won to revolution. There is no word for how in sectarian vocabulary.

As for your remark about unanimity, give me a break. Do I really need to spell this out? Unanimous passing of EVERY resolution at EVERY conference?? This is democracy?? You're being willfully blind. This was NEVER the tradition of the revolutionary movement in Marx's day or Lenin's or Trotsky's. This is rather the tradition of Stalinism.

Nobody makes a virtue of factions, but equally there is nothing healthy about suppression of dissent. And suppression of dissent is THE ONLY WAY to get this kind of blanket unanimity. You browbeat dissenters or expel them, and thereby create a chilling effect so that anyone with a wayward thought keeps their mouths shut. To state the overwhelmingly obvious, a movement that operates this way will never liberate anybody.

Frank Brenner

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a former member of the SEP, I can say with certainty that that resolution was not arrived at "unanimously" because everyone "agreed" with it. Most likely, several people abstained from the vote or simply kept their mouths shut because they were too afraid to give their actual opinion on it for fear of being lambasted by the leadership and eventually shunned by the party. I've witnessed this happening several times myself. "Unanimous"... anything but. The WSWS NEVER ever reports how many abstentions took place in the course of passing a resolution. I hope this SEP supporter wakes up to reality soon! A healthy organization has disagreements and the record should reflect that in the form of votes cast. It wasn't until the Third International became Stalinist that everything suddenly became "unanimous". I bet all those people "agreed," too...