2nd Congress of the ISL: Europe, among war, crisis and social struggles

This text is an initial outline on the most important aspects of the European situation; its precision and improvement will be the result of collective elaboration in the upcoming II Congress of the ISL. In the Old Continent there are three main phenomena that interact at different wavelengths: the crisis of the capitalist economy, the consequences of the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although the dominant aspect is the continuity of the economic crisis, here we will start by highlighting the new events that have taken place since the I ISL Congress (2021), the main of which is the war in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine impacts on governments and peoples

When Russia invaded the Ukraine nearly a year ago, Putin envisioned a short, successful “blitzkreig” operation. But a crisis unprecedented since the end of the Cold War began, the war conflict continues due to the Ukrainian resistance to the invasion and most likely it will mark a good part of 2023. With its epicenter in the East, the shock wave of the war and its derivations affect the structure and superstructure of the whole of Europe. Western imperialism and its governments, though unevenly, in general continue to support Zelensky. The European Union (EU) accepted Ukraine’s candidacy for the bloc, allocated 18,000 million euros in economic aid for this year, supplies weapons, war equipment and encouraged its member countries to increase military budgets. NATO acheived support for deploying more troops in the region and the adhesion of traditionally neutral Sweden and Finland.

The torture and killings of the civilian population in the towns that the Russian army abandons and the attacks with drones and missiles on cities generate rejection of Putin’s invasion and activate solidarity campaigns. Solidarity is not reflected in a massively organized movement against the invasion due to the political and union leaderships, which act from two perspectives: one pro-NATO and the other pro-Putin campist. The occurrence of European war conflicts generates concern in society: between 1991 and 2001 it was the Balkan War, since 2021 the War in Ukraine and the threats between Serbia and Kosovo persist. The clashes between the Western and Russian imperialist blocs have brought back the fear of the use of nuclear weapons and a new world conflagration.

The economic crisis worsened and an energy crisis broke out

The measures that governments took in 2008 were insufficient to reverse the crisis, which has deepened with the pandemic and the war. There is a recession, a deterioration in the standard of living and the rise in prices reappeared, even in the great powers. During 2022, inflation reached historic double-digit peaks, but ended the year dropping to an annual average of 8%. This percentage compared to that of other latitudes seems insignificant, but in Europe it implies an important change, since it has not appeared for decades. Inflation makes rents, mortgages, services and food more expensive; it depreciates wages, pensions and social benefits. In short, it deteriorates the standard of living, increases inequality and spreads poverty, in a continent that still remains relatively rich.

According to the OECD, “the world economy is suffering the most serious energy crisis since the 1970s.” Before the war, Russia supplied oil and gas to much of Europe, especially Germany and Italy. But in retaliation for the West’s economic sanctions, Putin limited exports, gas prices reached all-time highs and the search for alternatives began. The EU slowed down the “energy transition” with coal and nuclear power, brought new terminals online and secured other international suppliers. With these measures, favored by the late impact of winter, they managed to cover 90% of the reserve capacity, which reduces the possibility of massive supply cuts and, for the moment, the aggravation of social unrest due to this circumstance.

“Anti-crisis plans” and attacks on the working people

Governments invest millions of euros to sustain corporate profits and prevent capitalist collapse, while applying palliative social measures. In Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and other countries such measures include: temporary reduction in the price of fuel; subsidies for rent, services and transportation; social bonuses, recomposition of salaries and pensions (though behind inflation) and VAT reduction in the prices of some foods. This does not mean bringing back the “welfare state,” which the bourgeoisie does not want to or cannot do. They do want to prevent an extreme deterioration in living conditions from generating general strikes, mass mobilizations and popular rebellions like those seen in other regions. Such “anti-crisis plans” are an important, but partial and insufficient, mitigation.

In perspective, the multimillion-euro financial aid announced by the EU will be an incentive, but it is insufficient to motorize the economy towards a real recovery. In addition, its acceptance implies: accepting labor and retirement reforms and assuming a part of the aid as a debt to be repaid by the receiving states. The ECB and the IMF foresee a recession, the economic slowdown may reach a peak in the first months of 2023, the recovery of employment will slow down and inflation will continue, encouraging greater social unrest.

It is necessary to highlight the situation in Germany, the economic and political pillar of the euro zone. During 2022, it suffered a sharp economic slowdown, reaching 10% inflation (not seen since 1949) and the reduction in the Russian gas supply affected its productive apparatus. It averted disaster with massive state aid, new terminals and gas suppliers. The predictions for 2023 do not rule out further collapses in the financial system, they foresee recession and inflation, with which the German economy does not appear to be the locomotive of a sustained continental recovery either.

Migration crisis, climate change and gender violence

Every year thousands of people die trying to enter the EU, sometimes stranded at sea. The construction of “Fortress Europe” implies several aspects: a) the establishment of extra-border gendarmes through EU agreements with countries like Turkey or Morocco to stop migrants; b) if migrants pass that barrier, the application of immediate arrests and deportations, “in the moment;” c) in cases of temporary admission, the operation of detention camps under increasingly harsh and inhumane conditions; d) if migrants manage to enter and not be detained or expelled, they survive undocumented and in precarious conditions and even in under of semi-slave labor conditions. The war in Ukraine has aggravated this situation, with hundreds of thousands of new forced migrants into Western European countries.

On the other hand, climate change has caused the highest temperatures ever recorded in the Old Continent, which left a terrible socioeconomic balance: extended drought, 660,000 hectares of burned forests, damage to agriculture and at least 20,000 deaths. Extractivist capitalism and its consequent environmental destruction generate popular actions and mobilizations in response throughout Europe.

In turn, sexist attacks against women and LGBTI people continue to be serious: there are murders, individual or group sexual assaults, attempts to curtail the right to abortion and other gender rights. The feminist and LGBTI movement organizes protests, marches and strikes, but they have not reached the same magnitude as before the pandemic. The reformists and institutions continue to operate to try to stop and shackle the actions and the independent organization of the movement.

The lies and limitations of reformism

The reformists (PS, PC, Greens) continue betraying their popular support, applying or collaborating with austerity plans and eroding their support among the masses.

Emulating the betrayal of Syriza in Greece, Podemos took a reactionary leap in the Spanish State, joining as a junior partner of the bourgeois government of Pedro Sánchez and the PSOE after the fallacy of “achieving change from within.” That coalition and the “City Halls for Change” that support the ’78 regime and capitalism did not make substantive changes in favor of the popular majorities. Podemos and its IU partners are in electoral and membership decline.

France Inssoumise, which, as part of NUPES (with the PS, PC and Greens), achieved a high vote, is led by Mélenchon without internal democracy and prioritizes a dead end parliamentarism. The Portuguese Left Bloc maintains its policy of adaptation to bourgeois institutions. Die Linke has assimilated to the German regime and is plagued by internal disputes that could lead to divisions. These organizations show a similar dynamic: when they emerge, they propose more radical positions, but they gradually dilute them when they obtain positions or reach the government. They leave mobilization aside, lower their program and adapt to the political caste with the excuse of the “lesser evil” and the reactionary utopia of “humanized capitalism”.

In the absence of strong revolutionary socialist leaderships, the lies and failures of the center-left pave the way for the most reactionary political forces and social sectors.

The EU in question

The economic and political viability of the EU, the advantages and disadvantages for poorer countries or those in crisis of belonging to the block and the development of Brexit continue to generate doubts among workers and the people. These are debates maintained between “Eurosceptics” and “Europeanists,” different sectors in terms of their political identification and electoral dispute, but with strategic points in common: both support the exploitation of imperialist capitalism and its oppressive regimes. We have to differentiate ourselves from both, patiently denouncing that the European Union, the European Central Bank and other institutions operate at the service of the European imperialist bourgeoisie and proposing our own alternative way out.

European imperialism tries to reverse the economic and political decline that relegates it behind the US and China, but it has serious difficulties in achieving this. Its institutions lose credibility (Brexit, Qatargate, etc.). Its governments and regimes adopt an increasingly authoritarian character, repressing struggles and persecuting activists (Catalonia, “yellow vests,” etc.). They include parasitic and corrupt monarchies, a judiciary subject to political power and anti-democratic mechanisms for the election of presidents and prime ministers that distort the popular will. The high percentages of electoral abstention are another indicator of the popular discredit of the traditional parties. The EU is being questioned and, beyond the lies of the propagandists at its service, it is not a progressive bloc for the workers and the peoples. Quite the contrary, for the workers and peoples of the continent as well as for those of the dependent or neocolonial countries of Africa and other continents. For example, the EU facilitates the Moroccan oppression of the Saharawi people and several European countries maintain agreements of plunder and troops in African countries. Part of our policy in the imperialist metropolises is to denounce and reject that economic, political and military domination and intervention.

The danger of the far right

Although the political-electoral defeats of Trump and Bolsonaro weaken the extreme right globally, in Europe, this sector has a presence in all parliaments and governs several countries, as before in Austria and Finland. Currently, for example, Hungarian President Viktor Orban has won his third re-election; ultra-conservative forces rule in Poland and Slovenia; in Italy, Giorgia Meloni of the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia party is Prime Minister; in France the National Group of Marine Le Pen is the first parliamentary opposition and in Sweden the Democrats remained as the second force; n Spain, Vox grew in regional elections.

However, the current extreme right forces have notorious differences with the fascist and Nazi organizations that emerged before World War II, since they remain within bourgeois-democratic institutionality. Their discourse combines racist, sexist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic aspects with populist positions for liberty, native nationals and the youth. They are gaining strength in petty-bourgeois and even working class sectors, but for now the European imperialist bourgeoisie is not betting on the extreme right to modify the current regime towards a counterrevolutionary option with methods of civil war against the working class and oppressed sectors. However, in several countries, violent actions encouraged by the discourses of this sector against migrants or the radical left are growing.

The growing social and political polarization

Expressing a global phenomenon, the political and social situation in Europe is also polarized: at one pole there are the expressions of the right and far-right, while at the opposite pole there is the working class, youth and popular sectors that, at different rhythms, carry out strikes, mobilizations and rebellions in France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and other countries, including general strikes in Belgium and Greece.

The European working class is acquiring an ever greater role in the confrontation with their respective governments, the bosses and their austerity plans. New layers of workers, especially young, are participating in these struggles. This climate of discontent and social protest also includes sectors of the middle classes, but the most important element is that it fuels political changes, debates and questions in people’s heads, especially among the worker class and youth vanguard, which opens space for dialogue and opportunities for the construction of our groups and parties.

The reformist forces, whether in government or as opposition, are part of the dominant capitalist regime, which is why they show all their limitations and their support in the mass movement is eroded. This generates a vacant political space on the left, which opens up better conditions to build revolutionary and internationalist socialist organizations and parties.

France, vanguard of struggles and political processes

France is the second power in the EU after Germany. Macron’s government is quite weak, having come to office with few votes in an election with record abstention and depending on parliamentary pacts. The political-electoral polarization is expressed by the ultra-right Le Pen and the center-left Melenchón, who received a large number of votes. The country has somewhat less energy problems than others, since, unlike Germany, which depends on Russian gas, 70% of French electricity is of nuclear origin and the rest is supplied with Algerian oil. But it is strongly affected by the economic crisis, from which it has not been able to recover after the pandemic. The government applies cuts to the public sectors, but increases the budget for the military and repressive apparatus. Annual inflation was 6% and 10% or more in food, which generates marked social discontent due to the deterioration of wages, pensions, social subsidies and student scholarships.

With the yellow vests in 2018 and the wave of strikes in 2019 as background, in the last months of 2022 there was a wave of strong strikes and mobilizations for wage increases for workers in oil refineries, railways, transport, health, education and various private businesses. If at that moment the general strike was not called, it was because of the restraint imposed by the trade union bureaucracies: CFDT, CFTC, CGT led by the CP, CFE-CGC, FSU teachers, FO and SUD centrists. There were also feminist and environmental protests. Unevenly, a radicalized youth vanguard participates in all the processes of struggle. Now, Macron’s announced pension counter-reform (raising the retirement age to 64 years and reaching 43 years of contributions in 2027), in a new attempt after his failure in 2019, caused such widespread rejection in the rank and file that the Intersindical of all the plants, for the first time in 12 years, launched a general strike with mobilization that was massive and counted with the participation of new sectors of the working class. But the bureaucracy does not call for a consistent struggle until the reform is defeated, but for isolated strikes to stop the movement. For now there is no general overflowing of the leadership, but yes partial advances in the continuity of the struggle and coordination from below. Due to all these elements, the prognosis of the result is open.

In parliament, Macron has the support of the Republicans; Le Pen, ambiguous, announces that she will “oppose” but not “obstruct” it. The result of this wrestling will mark the balance of social forces in the future. In addition, it is not ruled out that Macron may dissolve parliament and call early elections.

From a political point of view, in the extreme left – with a strong tradition in France – very significant developments have taken place. Although Lutte Ouvrière, even in decline, continues to be a large sect, the other important force, the NPA, has split in two halves due to the responsibility of the Mandelist sector that aims to become the left wing of LFI-NUPES, the institutional reformist left, sustaining a course of abandonment of the construction of the revolutionary party. This liquidationist and opportunist course was correctly and unitedly resisted by a revolutionary wing of the NPA made up of three factions, beyond their divergences: in order of importance they are The Spark, Anticapitalism and Revolution, and Revolutionary Democracy, plus some non-aligned militants. They are forming a new organization, with all the political-organizational challenges that it implies. Thus, the prognosis of another sectarian Trotskyist current, Permanent Revolution – linked to the Argentine PTS – which left the NPA a year and a half ago foreseeing the “impotence” and disintegration of the left wing, proved to be mistaken. The ISL has been developing relations with The Spark. Our militants in France, through this current, are integrated into the new revolutionary organization. From there we will continue working for the regroupment of the revolutionaries on a national and international scale.

Great Britain in political crisis, recomposition of the working class and its struggles

The Brexit process evidenced the disastrous leadership of the British bourgeoisie. The standard of living worsened: inflation reached 10%, poverty, unemployment and social inequality increased. Since the separation from the EU in 2020, there have been five heads of government. Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who lasted only 44 days in office and staged major scandals and failures. Since October, Rishi Sunak, a conservative and representative of the City, has been prime minister in the midst of unprecedented instability.

The historic transport strike (RMT) opened a new stage of ascent and recovery of the working class from the defeat suffered under the Thatcher government. The struggle did not stop for vacations or holidays. In October, the neighborhood movement against the rate hikes Don’t pay arose. In December and January there was a wave of struggles and marches for wages, better working and living conditions, against attacks on public health, education and transportation. There were strong strikes by nurses, university teachers and other sectors. The union bureaucracy was forced to call a mobilization, but it did not coordinate the struggles. And although there are full conditions and even a process of growth in union membership, it does not call for a general strike.

The monarchical-parliamentary regime is experiencing serious problems. In addition to the death of Elizabeth II, the previously solid Conservative-Labor bipartisan regime is having more and more difficulties. Unresolved historical national problems reappear. In 2014 the British government allowed a referendum on the independence of Scotland, where the “No” won. But the claim reappeared with the demand for a new referendum, which was rejected by the Supreme Court. The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) will respect that decision, but the conflict remains simmering. In Ireland there will be elections in 2025, but Sinn Féin, which has the support of more than 30% of the electorate, especially in the youth, calls for them to be anticipated. It appears as a progressive, nationalist, pro-unity of Ireland, republican, anti-monarchist and anti-British force with a center-left program that sets off the alarms for British power. It should not be ruled out that in the United Kingdom and other European countries the demands for self-determination of oppressed nationalities may resurface. Trotskyism appears more and more divided, with strong elements of sectarianism. In this framework, the need to build a new political tool of the revolutionary left becomes indispensable.

Contradictions and protests accumulate in the Spanish State

Spain is one of the weak links in the EU. Inflation climbed to a peak of 10.7% (the highest in 38 years), although it ended the year at 5.6%, which is one of the lowest European rates. The unemployment rate is 12.7%, 20% of the people are in risk of poverty and the wealth gap has grown. The Sánchez government did not make fundamental changes, but rather social patches. The “progressive” PSOE-Podemos coalitionstaggered several times, but recovered with the support of ERC (Catalans), PNV and EHBildu (Basques) and others. However, as crises are recurring, the end of the Legislature is not yet assured. The ruling block is suffering from erosion in the relations among its components and in its popularity among the masses. In the block of the right and far-right, the PP seems to be recovering, Vox is growing and Ciudadanos, in three years, went from being a candidate for government to an expression in danger of extinction. This year there are regional and presidential elections, with an open forecast. An eventual victory of the PP could open the possibility of a co-government with Vox.

The crisis of the ’78 regime is expressed in the scandals of the monarchy, the reactionary judiciary, the “State sewers” and other areas. It is sustained by the staunch defense of the majority parties, which reject constitutional changes and because of the ebb of the Catalan process, which directly questioned the monarchical-parliamentary institutionality. This was due to the betrayal of the ERC-JxCat Catalan government, which aimed to recover limited autonomy instead of applying the self-determination mandate of the 1-O referendum. The PSOE and ERC agreed to establish a misleading “dialogue table,” modify the crime of sedition, continue with the embezzlement and release imprisoned pro-independence leaders, but without amnesty or self-determination. The Catalan process retreated due to the betrayals of its leaders, but the people are not defeated: they will continue to generate mobilizations and political crises, which could revive their own claims and those of the Basques.

The effects of the crisis stoke workers’ struggles. The most dynamic process is in the defense of public health, which stirs strong sentiments in the entire population. In this sector, the budget cuts of 2012 were never recovered and the deterioration is evident. During the pandemic there were conflicts that gave rise to strikes in several regions; the main one was in Madrid, with a mobilization of 300,000 people. Teachers also resumed strikes and there are other partial struggles. The CCOO and UGT bureaucracy, union arms of the PCE and PSOE, act to prevent the unity of the struggles and the general strike. In Catalonia, the CUP continues to define itself as anti-capitalist and criticizes the government, although it allowed the presidential inauguration of Pere Aragonés (ERC) and is in a front with other reformist sectors. Since its split with Podemos, Anticapitalistas is oriented towards building Adelante Andalucía: a project of autonomous sovereignty and a limited program that seeks to represent local “progressivism.” This political context raises the need to establish a new alternative of the revolutionary left with a consistent program.

Some axes of our political orientation

1. Respond to the progressive initiatives and debates on the war in Ukraine based on the policy and program of the ISL. Use the web, flyers and publications and promote our international campaigns.

2. Participate in working class, youth, and social struggles, promoting mobilization, coordination of struggles, the general strike, self-organization, and self-defense. Put forward a transitional political program that responds to the needs of the workers and the people, for the crisis to be paid for by the capitalists. Intervene in political processes, against the reformists, the right and the extreme right, raising the need to confront them in the institutions and in the streets with the greatest possible unity of action, and to build new political alternatives of the radical left.

3. To the defense of social rights, we must add democratic, gender and ecological rights within a revolutionary socialist and anti-imperialist framework. Among other points, we propose the dissolution of the repressive apparatus, the radical democratization of the justice system, the abolition of monarchies and senates, and the opening of constituent processes, always as part of a program that proposes a revolutionary solution.

4. Against the Europeanists (like the social democrats) or the nationalist eurosceptics (like the right and far right), in all their variants, we propose a different, third, strategy: for governments of the working class, for a Europe of the workers and peoples, for a free federation of socialist republics of Europe.

5. All this is part of the strategy of building, consolidating and making our current groups grow. In order to advance, we need to recruit new militants and train new cadres, especially among the youth. We must also look for politically related groups in the revolutionary left to get to know each other, intervene together in practice and establish relations of debate and exchange in the perspective of their integration into the ISL.