In the last few months, the world economy has been going through a disaster which the ruling class has found it harder and harder to conceal. The various international summits aimed at ‘saving the world’, from G20s to endless Franco-German meetings, have only revealed that the bourgeoisie is powerless to revive its system. Capitalism has reached a dead-end. And this total lack of any solution or prospects is beginning to stir up tensions between nations, as we can see in the current threats to the unity of the Eurozone and even to the European Union itself, and within each country, between the various bourgeois cliques who make up the national political panel. Serious political crises have already broken out:
- in Portugal: on 23 March, the Portuguese prime minister, José Socrates, resigned following the refusal of the opposition to vote for a fourth austerity plan aimed at avoiding a new plea for financial aid from the EU and the IMF;
- in Spain: in April, prime minister José Luis Zapatero had to announce in advance that he would not be standing in 2012, in order to get his austerity plan adopted; but his plan with its very sharp attacks on pensions was paid for by a heavy defeat for his party, the PSOE, at the legislative elections of 20 November, resulting in a new right wing government led by Mariano Rajoy;
- in Slovakia, the prime minister Iveta Radicova was forced at the beginning October to scuttle her government in order to get the green light from parliament to a salvage plan for Greece;
- in Greece: after the surprise announcement on 1 November, just after the European summit of 26 October, of a planned referendum, which caused a huge storm among the other European powers, Georges Papandreou had to quickly give up the idea under intense international pressure and, pushed into a minority in his own PASOK party, he resigned on 9 November and handed over to the Papadopoulos team;
- in Italy: because he was seen as incapable of pushing through the drastic measures that were needed, the highly controversial president Silvio Berlusconi had to give up office on November 13, when neither mass protest in the street nor endless scandals had managed to make him go before that;
- In the USA: the American bourgeoisie has been torn over the question of raising the debt ceiling. This summer, a very short-term deal was made at the last minute. And the same question is threatening to cause trouble in a few weeks or months. Similarly, Obama’s inability to take real decisions, divisions within the Democratic Party, the vehemence of the Republican Party, the rise of the obscurantist Tea Party… show to what extent the economic crisis is undermining the cohesion of the world’s most powerful bourgeoisie.
What are the causes of these divisions?
These difficulties have three interlinked roots:
1. The economic crisis is sharpening the appetites of each national bourgeoisie and each clique. To use an image, the cake to be shared is getting smaller and smaller and the battle to grab a slice is getting more and more savage. For example, in France, the settling of scores between different parties and sometimes within the same party, through moral and financial scandals, revelations about corruption and sensational trials, are clear expressions of this ruthless competition for power and the advantages that go with it. In the same way, ‘differences of opinion’ (in other words, once the diplomatic language is decoded, ‘full-on clashes between irreconcilable positions’) which come out at the big summits are the fruit of the deadly struggle over a world market in crisis.
2. The bourgeoisie has no real solution to the catastrophe facing the world economy. Each faction, whether of the right or the left, can only put forward vain and unrealistic proposals. Each faction clearly sees the uselessness of what their rivals are proposing, but can’t see the ineffectiveness of their own. Each faction knows that the policy of the other leads to a dead-end. This is what explains the blockage over the decision to raise the debt ceiling in the USA: the Democrats know that the Republicans’ policies will lead the country to ruin… and vice versa.
This is why the appeals launched all over the world, from Greece to Italy, from Hungary to the USA, for ‘national unity’ and a sense of responsibility from all parties are all desperate and delusional. In reality, in a ship that’s threatening to go under, ‘save what you can’ predominates in the ruling class. Each one is trying to save his own skin at the expense of the rest.
3. The anger of the exploited with all these austerity plans is growing all the time and the parties in power are more and more discredited. The oppositions, whether of right or left, have no other policy to put forward and often alternate with each other after each election. And when the scheduled elections are too far away, they are being artificially precipitated by the resignation of presidents or prime ministers. This is exactly what happened several times in Europe recently. In Greece, if a referendum was proposed, it was because Papandreou and his acolytes were ejected from the national parade of 28 October by an angry crowd!
In Greece, or in Italy with the Mario Monti government, the discrediting of politicians has reached the point where the new teams in power have had to be presented as ‘technocrats’, even if these new representatives of power are just as much politicians as their predecessors (they had already occupied important posts in the previous government). This gives an indication of the level of discredit towards the ‘political class’ as a whole. For the mass of the population, for the exploited, nowhere has there been any real support for the new governments but simply a rejection of the old ones. This is confirmed by the record rate of abstention in Spain, which went from 26% to 53% of the voting population. In France, 47% of electors don’t intend to choose between the two favourites at the second round of the presidential election in May 2012, arguing that they are neither for Sarkozy nor Hollande.
Against right and left – the class struggle!
It is flagrantly clear that changing governments doesn’t change anything about the attacks on our living conditions, that all the divisions within the camp of the bourgeoisie don’t alter its unanimity when it comes to pushing through drastic austerity plans against the exploited. The proof if this that, not long ago, the period before, during and after elections used to be marked by a relative social calm. Today, there is no such truce. In Greece, there was already a new general strike and massive demonstrations on 1st December. In Portugal on 24th November we saw the biggest country-wide mobilisation since 1975, with numerous sectors (schools, post offices, banks and hospital services) closed, while in Lisbon the metro was paralysed and the main airports widely disrupted, as was the highways department. In Britain on 30 November there was the most widely followed strike in the public sector since January 1979 (around two million people). In Belgium, on 2 December, the unions called a 24 hour strike, which was again broadly followed, against the austerity measures announced by the future Di Rupo government, formed with great difficulty after 540 days in which the country was officially ‘without a government’. And the political crisis is not about to end because none of the sources of tension between the various bourgeois parties have gone away. In Italy, on 5 December, as soon as the draconian austerity plan was announced, the moderate UIL and CISL unions were obliged to call a symbolic two-hour strike on 12 December.
Only this path – the path of struggle in the street, of class against class – can lead to an effective resistance against the attacks on our living standards. What’s more, even though in France we see an arrogant right wing, symbolised by the fatuous Sarkozy, holding the reins of government, the national bourgeoisie is to some extent paralysed by the danger of class struggle. Faced with a downgrading of its AAA economic status, which could make it lose its leadership position in Europe alongside Germany, this government has only been able to introduce an austerity plan which is on a far lower level than those of other states. A significant example of this is the attack on sick pay, which is its nastiest component: the government had to manoeuvre to ensure it didn’t appear to be making too frontal an attack. Having announced that in case of absence through sickness all workers would no longer receive wages for the first day off sick, Sarkozy then had to look as though he was being less hard on the private sector (where the rule was already no pay for the first three days off work) and only maintained the measure for the public sector (who previously would not be penalised for the first day off). This shows that the French bourgeoisie, more than any other, does not dare to hit out too brutally, because of its fear of major proletarian mobilisations in a country which has historically been the detonator of social explosions in Europe, in 1789, 1848, 1871 and 1968. And the movement of ‘precarious’ youth in 2006 against the CPE, when the French government had to back down, was also a very sharp reminder of this.
The whole of this situation is inaugurating an era of growing instability in which governments can only become more and more discredited because of the attacks they will be forced to carry out. And in these political crises, behind the flimsy and short-lived agreements they may come to, the principle of ‘every man for himself’, tensions and rivalries between different factions and between competing countries can only accentuate.
We on the other hand, proletarians at work or unemployed, in retirement or in education, have to defend the same interests against the same attacks. Unlike our class enemy which is torn apart by the crisis, this situation is pushing us to respond in a more and more massive and united manner!