Editorial: Europe turns left
As we go to press, news is breaking of victories for the left in France and Greece. François Hollande, first Socialist Party president for a generation, told his cheering supporters, “Austerity is no longer an option,” and pledged himself to seek policies from the European Union for “growth, jobs and prosperity… a new start for Europe”.
In Greece well over half the electorate – 65 per cent of Greeks – voted for parties that rejected EU-IMF austerity. One of them, the left reformist Syriza, more than tripled its vote replacing PASOK as the second largest party in terms of the popular vote.
On a more modest scale, Labour performed better in local elections than commentators predicted, gaining 823 councillors, 38 per cent of the vote and taking control of 32 councils from Glasgow to Southampton.
Years of savage austerity have hit the workers of Greece, Spain, France, and Britain hard. Of course if, instead of awaiting elections, they had unleashed a wave of direct action which culminated in indefinite general strikes then they could have thrown out their tormentors before millions lost their jobs, houses and pensions.
But thanks to their own leaders bungling and cowardice resistance rarely exceeded one-day strikes and mass demonstrations Despite heroic exceptions, like French oil refinery workers and Greek hospital staff, union movements did not act “all together’ and go all out for victory.
This was not the fault of the workers themselves, but of their reformist leaders, who blocked the road to unity and limited the effectiveness of the actions.
Given workers do not have the option of accepting defeat – given there are further economic storms ahead for all the countries of Europe (see page 4) – they used the only political weapon they had at their disposal to give the slump politicians a battering and voted for those who at least promised some respite.
Breaking illusions in reformism
The great mass of working people view elections from a practical angle – not mainly from the point of view of the ideas a party represents but from what it can do, either in parliament or the local council. Thus even when mass reformist parties have a track record of betrayal and holding back the struggle, if they are the only weapons with which to drive out the right workers will use it.
Of course it is pure foolishness to sit back and say, “our people are now in charge. They will do the business for us; all we have to do is support them.”
But the small numbers of revolutionaries who long ago shed illusions in these parties should not adopt smug but passive attitude of “they will soon learn their mistake”. Sectarianism, especially today, is quite as useless as opportunism.
When millions of workers and young people have pushed the mass reformist parties into office – or at least given them a huge electoral boost – revolutionaries need to relate to these mass illusions in a positive way. They need to do so by urging action to force the leaders to fulfil there promises and indeed go on to adopt more far-reaching change.
While the union and party leaders, after an election, will try to demobilize the masses using the argument that “we should not embarrass a friendly government” (France) or “we must wait for Labour in 2015” (Britain), experience shows that only worthwhile reforms are a by-product of the most militant class struggle.
Through using these tactics of the united front – unity in action plus criticism of the delays and sell outs by the reformist leaders – forces like the NPA in France and the embryonic new Anticapitalist Initiative in Britain can grow and become alternative poles of attraction for workers and youth demanding an end to austerity.
Such parties and initiatives need to present their own action programme, a strategy outlining the road to a workers government that can put an end to capitalism altogether.
These are times full of revolutionary potential. The road to an effective revolutionary party is not a broad and direct highway. It will demand tactical turns, temporary compromises and alliances but always combined with timely and forthright criticism of reformist misleaders. There will be defeats and setbacks, that is the nature of the class struggle. But the past few weeks should fill us with confidence that we can make real advances in the coming period.