Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Class Struggles in Southern Europe (1)

The embourgeoisment that has been enabled by the massive credit injection over the last years, plus the shifting to the super-exploitation of overseas workers ('outsourcing') rather than those at home, plus the expert predominance of bourgeois culture through the media, has seemed to create European societies without working classes. It is not that the economic relations of class difference have disappeared, far from it, but that these were smoothed over and erased as feelings, and so as corresponding ideas:- there is no working class culture, or if there is, it is rather like dark matter and dark energy in the cosmos (it is there, it has mass, has a huge effect, but it is unknown). This is one reason why the big economic crisis has had few obvious political effects by the standard routes so far. Parliaments remain what they are, representative democracies unshaken by the crisis, except in the places in Europe where the effects have been most acute, where the crisis brings the reality of class exploitation into sharper relief, Greece for example, where Syriza, a radical left party, has risen dramatically to become the second primary force, dissolving the hitherto entrenched certainties of the false dialectic of the 'balance' of pseudo Left and Right. What we see, therefore, is a slow dawning realization of the shakiness and falsity of the bourgeois sensibility and ideology as it comes into contradiction with the economic reality of the crisis for large sections of 'middle class' people who are being thrown down (losing their employment, being evicted from their homes, falling into debt and poverty).

One feature of this is and has been the sense of indignation (i.e. the 'Indignado' movement) that the 'middle class' sensibility has when it finds itself in this situation. To be 'indignant' expresses the loss of dignity, but also a dignified sense of that loss: so it is actually an assertion of dignity against the forces that are stripping it away. For this section of the people the relation between them and workers unions and the working class who also struggle, always, but also specifically now against the effects of the capitalist crisis in various, usually traditional, ways is not exactly or always harmonious, they grate against each other and jockey for position. So this is a cause of division among those who oppose such policies as the troika directed austerity drive, and prevent a Popular Front from being as effective as it could be, although things are still rapidly developing. The case of Argentina is mildly instructive, their earlier, similar, crisis led to the fall of governments and leaders, a great amount of suffering for ordinary people, inspirational uprisings, and a similar movement to the Indignados (the piquiteros, or pickets), but not so much has changed in terms of class division in Argentina, to an extent because of the separation of the opposition into factions and the lack of clarity about what was (and is) to be done.

This lack is to be expected and is not to be taken as a sign of failure, I suggest. The strongest positions become adopted through the struggle and not by imposition, but it is always necessary to point this up and engage in the ideological debate. Socialism remains the only real alternative to the neoliberal policies of the European bourgeoisie and its troika, whose aim is always to push more loans and debt as the answer, but there are so many illusions about what constitutes socialism, and illusions that are 'made real' and acted out too, that the broad Popular Front is the best current movement that serves these struggles. One fear is that 'socialist' or 'communists' wish to impose their 'grid' for revolutions upon these struggles, probably harking back to the USSR's socialist imperialism in Eastern Europe. This could not be further from Leninist principles, but nevertheless these feelings are widespread, there is a great deal of associating the name with the thing itself, as if all Communist Parties in Europe are by default therefore communist or Marxist, as if the act of naming alone means that. And then there is the question of democracy. Probably the most advanced critique of the current democracy in Europe is that of the updated Hannah Arendt version of performative democracy, which in the end and in practice seems to have the US republic as its ideal form, and so is very limited given this form is also currently being severely criticized as failing to represent. Will this theoretical limit form the actual limit of these anti-austerity protests? It looks as if Argentina reached this limit, a kind of buffer zone, hovering at the edge of something new, something greatly resisted by the established powers.

Gary Tedman