Debt Colony? Why communists must stop playing the nationalism card in Greece

by Jehu

I received this comment to my last post:

Jehu you only go halfway with your workers’ solution and end up with a peaceful parliamentary transition to socialism. German imperialism is recolonising and virtually occupying Greece to extract more surplus labour to raise its profits. It is using the Greek state to impose austerity backed by the police, the fascists, army and if necessary NATO. Workers cannot defend their power to control their labour time without taking state power and expropriating capital. To do this they must organise, occupy and arm themselves to defeat the fascists, the state forces and NATO. They need to be supported by the workers in the other PIIGS and in France, Britain and Germany. Greece can either capitulate to German colonisation or launch the workers revolution in Europe. There is no half-way house.

Several good points were raised by Dave Brown that require a full response:

First, I want to say I strenuously object to the “colonization” framing of this issue. This argument resonates both in Greece and elsewhere on the Left, but it is a fundamentally and openly fascistic framing of the problem. Greece was not forced to enter the euro common currency. It literally lied to get in the door. It voluntarily entered the European Union and the euro common currency on its own volition and with no credible evidence of force.

To be frank, this is the sort of argument that make sense coming from Golden Dawn or some other neo-Nazi formation. The fact that German capital is dominating Greece does not in any way make Greece a colony of Germany. It simply means a backward Greece national capital is the loser in the competition between national capitals.

We already know from historical materialist theory that one capital kills many; this applies to entire national capitals as well. It is completely unacceptable for communists to play into nationalist sentiment among the working class in this regard. Communists, especially in Greece, should be leaning over backwards to avoid this fascistic nonsense.

Moreover, we need to make it clear we want German capital to ‘dominate’ Greece capital, not because it is the capital of a superior nation, but because German capital represents more advanced productive forces than Greece national capital.

Greece is not a colony

Let’s be clear here on one thing: Greece national capital voluntarily entered the euro with Germany’s national capital. It thus sought to compete with Germany national capital on a “level playing field”. If, as a result of this competition, it is now losing to Germany’s national capital and is forced to stand idle with the rest of the excess capital in the world market, all the better for us. In place of two national capitals, there is only one, and in place of two national working classes, there is now one, with the same enemy. Having defeated Greece national capital, Germany’s national capital now finds itself facing combined working classes of Germany and Greece.

To throw this colonial analogy into the analytical mix does nothing for us and only serves a now weakened, marginal, Greece national capital. It is a pure and simple political opportunism on the part of communists that cannot even be explained by the expressed wishes of the Greece working class, which is overwhelmingly pro-euro.

Leaving this aside, I agree that the aim of Germany is to increase the extraction of surplus value in Greece. I also agree that it is using the Greece state to facilitate this increase, through imposition of a cruel austerity regime. The Greece fascist state at this point only serves the interest of German, French and American national capitals — the dominant national capitals in the European Union area. This sets up a dynamic or contradiction that must be resolved.

The Greece state now effectively represents only the interests of German, French and American national capital, but it directly constituted through the suffrage of the Greece working class. How does this contradiction get resolved? Merkel explained how it gets resolved: national elections have no significance for a country under an austerity program. The nation state exists only to impose austerity on the working class in Greece. Thus, for the democratic will of the working class to have any meaning at all, it must put an end to the Greece state, not whine about the loss of its sovereignty.

Blaming SYRIZA

Additionally, a lot of people consider it quite revolutionary to dismiss SYRIZA as a radical party. They think this dismissal proves their own radical credentials, but it does the opposite: it exposes their own reformism. The upshot of their argument is that what happened these five months is the result of the errors or outright betrayal of a party that pretended to be radical, not the state itself. This is just a variation of the same liberal view that with the right people in power the system itself works just fine.

By contrast, I fully accept that SYRIZA is a radical party, that had a clear, well thought out, radical agenda and held to this agenda sincerely. I might disagree with their agenda, but not with SYRIZA’s intentions. Nevertheless, despite this clear agenda it was clear from day one that SYRIZA would fail. This had nothing to do with their agenda, but with character of the nation state itself. The state cannot simultaneously express the interests of these national capitals and the working class.

The ‘colony’ narrative you employ adds nothing to this because it is not possible for the state to express the interests of the Greece national capital; it can only express the interests of German, French and American national capitals. To fight this state, the Greece working class must link up with the German, French and American working classes to abolish it.

Your colony analogy leads us to the opposite conclusion. In it Germany’s national capital is still the enemy, but (in some variations) the backward Greece national capital is an ally. And the working class of other countries are ignored or, as you put it, turned into “supporters”.

However, the development of capitalism itself has turned all of these separate national working classes into a single global working class that shares a single market in labor power and are drawn into competition with each other within that market. The idea there is today a “Greece working class” is utterly regressive and backward looking; the term should be expunged from our vocabulary. Only once we understand there is only one working class in Europe, does the actual role of the separate national states become clear: local expressions of the interest of a now global capital. There is no more a Greece working class, than there is a ‘Massachusetts working class’ or a ‘California working class’ in the United States.

Toying with nationalism is reprehensible

The concept of a national working class is reprehensible and should be rejected by all communists. This is especially true now when events, as well as the explicit statements of the Eurogroup, have shown conclusively that the nation state cannot represent the interests of the working class of Greece. To retreat from what we have learned through hard experience in the most recent Greece events is a terrible blunder. And to couple this blunder with a critique that seeks to place all the blame for this debacle on SYRIZA and not the state itself only magnifies the error.

Since there is only one working class and since this singular working class is global, it follows — by definition — that no particular nation state can represent the interest of this working class. At a time when euroskepticism is rampant in many countries, for communists to give into this impulse even tangentially is unacceptable. It is disgusting to hear Greece communists whining about loss of Greece sovereignty along with UKIP, Golden Dawn and FN. Who gives a fuck about Greece sovereignty? We want it to be crushed and the sovereign state along with it.

Final comments

The working class has to look away from national politics as the focus of its attention. The defect of SYRIZA is that it is a national political form, while its program is European. The form of organization must follow directly from the focus: it should be European as well (at least this); it must clearly reflect that this is a European wide conflict between labor and capital, not an inter-national conflict between states.

I could not say how this organization would look, since it will arise out of actual struggle, but old forms like national confederations of labor and national political parties have no place in a directly European struggle. This much is clear:

  1. In any case the working class and labor itself will be abolished. This is already given in the mode of production itself.
  2. The distinction between socialism and fascism is whether this abolition is consciously undertaken as the aim of society or remains the result of a blind process.
  3. The “colony” narrative is fascist; it suggests the problem here is national (Germany versus Greece), not class (labor versus capital).
  4. If this is a Europe wide conflict between labor and capital, the forms of struggle follow from this analysis.
  5. Brown’s argument suggests not a Europe wide struggle, but a national struggle, which is reprehensible; it cannot lead anywhere but back to national conflicts and wars.

I want to reiterate that the “colony” argument is really sleazy and unforgivably opportunistic. It is unacceptable for communists to give in to any nationalist sentiment at all, with UKIP, FN and Golden Dawn around. Communists who opportunistically play on nationalist sentiments within the working class should be severely criticized. Our response to them should be:

“Get into Europe or join UKIP and FN, we communists will have none of that.”