Greece, France and Venezuela: Will the Left ever get a fucking clue?

by Jehu

One of the reasons Marxists spend so much time trying to develop a theory of crisis is that crises are widely seen as material, although perhaps not necessary, trigger of a social revolution that eventually leads to the end of capitalism. Heinrich criticizes this view in Marx writings, focusing on a private correspondence where Marx predicts   “A new revolution is possible only in consequence of a new crisis. It is, however, just as certain as this crisis.”

It is no real argument against labor theory that the evidence for a direct or indirect link between crises and social revolution is at least questionable. We have known this for decades. The worst crisis to hit capitalism in the historical record was the Great Depression, which produced not the hoped for social revolution, but the fascist state.

Nevertheless, many Marxists continue to, if not insist on a link between crisis and revolution, then at least organize their agitation  as if there is a link. Marxists are not alone in this: many mainstream fascists parties and middle class radicals routinely place their hope on crises. If the opposition wins, they warn, a crisis of one sort or another will immediately follow.

Crises are now welcomed, even encouraged, as excuses to introduce one or another “reform”. The capitalist mode of production, where crises are as common as changing seasons, they are now seen by mainstream fascist parties as opportunities.

The link between crises and social revolution, however, remains, at best, hypothetical and tenuous, lacking any real evidence. To demonstrate this I need go no further than five years of ruthless IMF guided austerity in Greece for evidence. After five years of crushing austerity, the working class of Greece managed to elevate a third international party whose avowed aim   was no more radical than capitalism with a human face.

Few people on the “real” Left had any faith in the success of SYRIZA, because it stated up front it would not leave the euro and NATO. SYRIZA, we were told, would be a tool of US imperialism, and the neoliberal imperatives of the European Union and European Central Bank. The only possibility of a radical Left program was for SYRIZA to take control of industry, reestablish sovereign control over its currency, manage its domestic economy and reject neoliberalist policies of the IMF. This program of the “real” Left, was not invented out of thin air, mind you; this radical Left program was already underway in Venezuela.

Yeah, that’s right: Venezuela — the Bolivarian revolution. All the programs SYRIZA failed to implement, were being carried out vigorously by the Chavistas. Since this was the program of the “real” Left for Greece, you would think they would rush in to dissect why their pet project was crushed.

Instead of a real dissection of the failed Bolivarian revolution, crickets.

Why is it that the “real” Left program for Greece, collapsed into utter failure in Venezuela? Jacobin trots out the tried and true explanation that — quelle surprise! — the capitalists were against a Keynesian-style state managed capitalism that didn’t focus on the economic interests of capital:

“The basic argument here is that the chickens — in the form of Chávez’s populist policies — have come home to roost, generating extreme hardship. Some anti-leftist writers such as Mexico’s Jorge Castañeda even maintain that the social programs of leftist (or “populist”) leaders such as Chávez (as well as Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa) are inherently unsustainable.

“According to these writers, the original sin of the Chávez government was not so much its socialism but its Keynesian-style intervention in the economy. Indeed, the allegedly unsustainable policies responsible for the nation’s economic predicament — such as price controls and currency exchange controls decreed by Chávez in 2003 — were longstanding features of state interventionism in Venezuela.

“Even Chávez’s nationalization of basic industry carried out in 2007 and 2008 was a fixture of non-socialist political parties in Venezuela dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. Some of the industries that Chávez took over, including steel, telecommunications, and electricity, had long been state-owned only to be privatized in the 1990s.”

In 2015, now seven years into the crisis, far from a much hoped for social revolution, the Left has been kicked in the face repeatedly. First in Greece, then in France and now Venezuela. You can’t blame the disaster the Left suffered in Venezuela on the euro, on Venezuela’s membership in the EU or NATO,  on its lack of a sovereign currency, or on failure to take control of critical industries and other economic factors.

In truth, Venezuela played completely by the radical Left handbook: “How to manage capitalism for the people: 101 fun ways to use the fascist state for your social revolution.”

Here is the thing: Greece and Venezuela took two completely different radical Left paths, but ended up in the same catastrophe. On the one hand, you have SYRIZA’s Plan A: begging Merkel for help with Merkel’s banks, which, unsurprising, led to a vicious ECB-managed effort that brought the entire economy to its knees in a single weekend.

On the other hand, you have the Chavista Plan B: progressively taking the entire economy under your control. While the path taken by SYRIZA led to crushing sanctions that crippled the economy, Venezuela’s radical program, endorsed by many on the “real” Left, had its own entirely predictable costs, when, as the Jacobin article explains, in a throwback to the Soviet economy, “Venezuelans face hours-long lines to purchase some basic commodities and an inability to obtain others”, an inflation rate that has now topped 180%, currency and capital controls, and an ongoing effort by the hostile capitalist class, working hand in glove with the United States, for the overthrow of the revolution.

It is not my intention to argue “It’s their fault.” It is no more Maduro’s fault than it is Tsipras’ fault. There is no “fault” here, because no one is in control of events within the world market. But there has to be some reason why two different and incompatible radical programs managed to end up in the same disaster.

My expectation is that the Left will do what it always does: Treat Greece, Venezuela and France as three isolated events from which we can learn nothing of substance. The Left has struck out three times in the middle of the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

This matters.

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