Syriza’s victory in the Greek elections on an anti-austerity programme has been hailed by leftwing groups in Britain such as TUSC (which is among our opponents in Swansea West, Oxford East and Folkestone and Hythe) as showing the way forward here. “If they can do it so can we”, TUSC proclaimed , so vote for us to end austerity.
No doubt, in theory, people in Britain could vote for anti-austerity parties and a Green/TUSC government, supported perhaps by the SNP, (since that’s what we’d be talking about) come to power. In practice of course this is fantasy politics. But let’s continue to fantasise and imagine that a government committed to ending austerity did come to power in the general election, what would happen?
We need look no further than, precisely, Greece. The people there have voted against austerity, but the government can’t end it.
All the Syriza government will be able to do – and seems in fact to be doing – is to reorganise austerity so as to mitigate its effects on those who have been the hardest hit. To distribute austerity differently, but not to end it. This, not because they are sell-outs or not determined enough but because they have been set an impossible: to stop conditions for workers getting worse when capitalism is in one of its recurring economic downturns.
Voting against austerity is one thing; ending austerity is another. The electorate proposes, but capitalism disposes. Which shows how democracy can’t function properly under capitalism since people can vote for something but the economic forces of capitalism prevent it being carried out.
An anti-austerity government in Britain would be in no different a position. It, too, would only be able to redistribute austerity. TUSC is pretty vague about what it thinks should be done to end austerity: nationalise the banks, renationalise the denationalised industries, “tax the rich”, “invest to create and protect jobs”, as well as increasing pensions and benefits. In Greece the group linked to the Trotskyist group which is the dominant force behind TUSC , the old Militant Tendency, is more explicit.
“ … Syriza should put the question squarely in front of the Greek working people: Keep the euro and the memoranda or go for a national currency and pro-workers' policies … Exiting the euro on its own will not solve the crisis of Greek capitalism. The re-introduction of a national currency must by necessity be combined with bold socialist policies: like capital controls, state monopoly of foreign trade and democratic public ownership of the big corporations and banks – and a class internationalist appeal to the workers of the rest of Europe.”
Such a state-capitalist siege economy would no more be able to end austerity (capital controls and a state monopoly of foreign trade are “bold” state-capitalist measures not “socialist policies”) than the discredited Keynesian policies other propose. In all probability, it would make things worse. It’s not as if some countries haven’t been there before.
The anti-austerity promises of TUSC are just as empty as the promises of the conventional politicians.
The way forward is socialism, real socialism, where the productive forces of society have become common property of the whole community and democratically used to produce what people need, instead of being used as at present to produce for sale on a market with a view to making a profit for those who currently own and control them (or for some emergent state capitalist bureaucracy).
The Workers’ Choice
Brighton Kemptown - Jacqueline Shodeke
Brighton Pavilion - Howard Pilott
Canterbury - Robert Cox
Easington - Steve Colborn
Folkestone and Hythe - Andy Thomas
Islington North - Bill Martin
Oxford East - Kevin Parkin
Oxford West and Abingdon - Mike Foster
Swansea West - Brian Johnson
Vauxhall - Danny Lambert