Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tariq Ali on the political impact of the crisis in Europe

From a recent interview:

'[The economic crisis] is a big crisis of perspective for the capitalist and neoliberal parties of Europe. And all the social-democratic parties of Europe, which had become neoliberal parties and defended the Washington consensus quite openly, are now in severe crisis. The British Labour Party, "New Labour," to begin with is completely bankrupt, like the economy it’s been promoting for the past 12 years.

Labour’s first response to the financial meltdown was to blame the United States, saying "it’s all Wall Street’s fault" — but people responded, "what about the City of London?" My colleague Peter Gowan had a very funny response: The City of London was the Guantanamo of Wall Street capitalism, because every kind of abuse was permitted.

The problem we face in terms of the Labour Party is that there was such a clean sweep by (Tony) Blair and (Gordon) Brown that they effectively destroyed it as a political party. They changed its structure, so that everything is top-down almost like a Stalinist sect. There’s no internal life, they’ve lost tens of thousands of members, the trade unions have put up no serious fight. It’s a big mess, and the only people who have benefited are the Conservatives, who are positioning themselves as more human than Labour, sometimes even attacking from the left.

The left as a whole in Britain is incredibly weak. In the rest of Europe it’s somewhat uneven. In France the unions weren’t defeated or smashed, the public sector unions put up a big fight, and Sarkozy couldn’t put through all the neoliberal reforms he wanted. When asked about it, he said "I don’t forget what country I’m living in. The people who smile today at me and my beautiful wife can set up street barricades tomorrow."

In France the largest far-left group (Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, LCR) has set up a new anti-capitalist party. It hasn’t yet attracted many other groups, but in many towns quite a number of people have joined from the anti-globalization movement and from the Communist Party. The new party’s leader Olivier Besancenot has a higher popularity rating than the official leader of the Socialist Party. This is an interesting phenomenon.

In Germany you have the most significant party to the left of social democracy, Die Linke. It’s now doing well in the west (i.e. beyond the eastern base of the former PDS) — it got a good vote in Hamburg and other cities. It has a major leader from the Social Democrats, Oskar Lafontaine, a left socialist who’s given the party enormous credibility in western Germany. This party strongly opposes the U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan; they demand an independent foreign policy.

The biggest German bank, Deutschebank, was heavily entangled in the whole subprime mess; but the state banks are severely regulated and reasonably healthy, so the Germans haven’t suffered to the same degree as others. Even Angela Merkel said, thank god we didn’t go down the Anglo-Saxon road. So there’s a lot of support in Europe for state control. But the biggest problem is the weakness of the left on a Continental level, despite the better situations in France and Germany.'

Tariq Ali is speaking on 'The American Empire in Crisis' at Marxism 2009 in London in July.

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At 4:56 pm, Blogger Doug Nesbitt said...

I can't help but indulge in a couple of what-ifs after reading Ali's comments.

What if Respect had not split in late 2007 and survived the 2008 elections to be around as a force at least in some important locales when the financial crisis hit in late 2008 and the invasion of Gaza in 2008/9? What if the aborted OFFU had gained a degree of momentum within the unions because Respect was still intact?

To what extent did the split and subsequent collapse of both wings of Respect set the political and economic wings of the working-class movement back in Britain? Or at least set back the most class conscious and organized sections of this movement?

At 9:41 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Ah, the great what-ifs of history...it is difficult to judge the extent of the impact of Respect/OFFUs demise. On the one hand, the split was certainly a significant set back for both us and Galloway's group and damaged the effectiveness of our ability to respond to the crisis, Gaza and now the euro-elections.

On the other hand, one critical reason for the split with GG in the first place was a result of Respect's/OFFU's weakness up to that point - we had not successfully united wider sections of the left/trade union movement and so it had essentially boiled down to us/GG and some radical Muslims - in itself an inherently slightly unstable combination the moment that the anti-war movement began to lose momentum.

The only hope is that after the Euro-elections, the whole left/trade union movement will have a serious debate again about the need for a new left of labour party of some kind, perhaps akin to the French NPA model.


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