Notes from the front – of the week 14/1/2015

SYRIZA retains poll lead despite co-ordinated opposition campaign

SYRIZA has remained at the head of Greek opinion polls as the 25 January election moves closer, despite a concerted campaign by domestic and international representatives of big business to drive down its support. SYRIZA’s opinion poll lead has varied from 3 per cent to 8 per cent throughout this calendar year with no sign so far of it falling. 
Domestically within Greece the main tactic of the anti-SYRIZA campaign is to attack SYRIZA for ‘extremism’, while attempting to pretend that they are also anti-austerity but more ‘realistic’ and moderate than the leftist poll leader. This includes former Prime Minster Samaras and his right-wing New Democracy Party which now tries to pose as anti-austerity, as well as various centrist parties who claim the same mantle. This is failing miserably.

Similarly the external interventions from EU and ECB officials have been if anything counter-productive, simply reinforcing the widespread anger at diktats from Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington.
However the stakes are so high for the ruling classes of Europe that the Stop SYRIZA campaign will not be left to discredited pro-austerity Greek politicians. The Samaras government fell because it could not gather sufficient Parliamentary support for the implementation of the latest tranche of austerity measures demanded by the IMF, reflected in his failure to gain the necessary share of Greek MPs’ votes to elect a President.

The next round in the Stop SYRIZA campaign is likely to be the widely-anticipated announcement by the ECB of ‘Quantitative Easing’, or government bond buying. There are already strong hints that Greek government bonds will be excluded on the grounds they have been downgraded too far by the credit ratings agencies.
In Britain the solidarity efforts continue to be led by the Greek Solidarity Campaign and a recent packed meeting at the UNITE HQ heard representatives of SYRIZA analyse the current situation. Central Committee member Stathis Kouvelakis argued that even with an electoral victory the battle only begins: ‘Achieving office is not the same as winning power’.  The next event is a ‘Drop the debt’ protest in Parliament Square at 12 noon on Saturday 17 January. Find out how to support the GSC’s activities here.

Je suis toujours pas Charlie

Sunday’s grotesque march of the dictators, human rights abusers, war-mongers and hypocrites in Paris was a self-serving attempt to promote the cause of the Western imperialists and their international allies.

It had nothing to do with mourning the unjust deaths of 17 people in the two terrorist attacks last week, whatever the wishes and thoughts of the many ordinary people that attended.

In a display of imperialist unity Francois Hollande, Merkel, Cameron, the US Attourney General and NATO were joined by their key allies, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, the Gulf States, Egypt, and hangers on like the Western Ukraine government.

Between them the regimes they represented have been responsible for millions of deaths, torture, extraordinary rendition, imprisonment without trial and suppression of human rights including that of free speech across the Middle East and North Africa. If the right to free expression is left in their hands then it is lost already.

The reality of their vaunted ‘values’ and is seen in their own systematic terrorism that has been unleashed again and again against populations unwilling to accept subjugation to the behests of the West. In the post-war period the West has intervened repeatedly in primarily Muslim countries from North Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the far east. In the 1960s France itself was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands Algerians. Today it shares in the responsibility for the horrors that rained on Afghanistan, and still rain on Iraq, Syria, Libya and Gaza.

Similar hypocrisies are also playing out within France. While the security forces are deployed to protect Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish caricatures of Muslims, Muslims themselves are prohibited from wearing the veil. Hollande marches with Netanyahu, but banned demonstrations in support of Gaza during the bombings last summer.

Islamophobia has been unleashed in France, fanned by a government that has simply endorsed the blame laid on all Muslims and made no concerted stand for a multicultural France. As a result there have been scores of anti-Muslim incidents across France in just these past few days, including shootings and a Mosque fire, with more than 50 attacks reported outside of the Paris area.

Against this backdrop, the Charlie Hebdo edition published today (Wednesday 14 January) resolutely affirms its anti-Muslim campaign with yet another front cover caricature using a deliberately offensive cartoon.

France’s Muslim community is under attack and needs solidarity. As the article published on this website put it last week, in the face of this nauseating imperialist led anti-Muslim solidarity and Charlie Hebdo’s continued offence to Muslim sensibilities – and those who oppose racism – there is still no choice but to say Je ne suis pas Charlie.

Countdown to General Election – and kicking out the Tories

With less than four months to polling day the likely shape of the election campaign is beginning to become clear.

First, while the most likely outcome of the election remains a Labour-led government fully committed to austerity, the ruling class would prefer the continuation of the ideologically and politically completely reliable Tories.

However it is extremely difficult for the Tories to get to the minimum they need to be the largest party, due both to their own unpopularity and also because of the haemorrhaging of votes to UKIP. Therefore, alongside defeating Labour, a key priority is to drive down UKIP’s support.

Primarily this means digging the dirt on Farage, and any of his motley bunch of candidates that can be caught out financially, or making prejudicial statements or generally opening themselves up to ridicule and censure. Rather than the eulogies to UKIP that characterised the media in the run-up to the European elections and after, the tone has decisively shifted.

But it is also why the Tories, in announcing their five priorities for the election this week, have not included immigration. They know making immigration a central issue in the campaign chiefly aids UKIP. This is also why, incidentally, Cameron and co were surprisingly muted in their attacks on Muslims in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo events. Of course this is purely tactics, and anti-immigrant anti-Muslim racism will reappear with a vengeance as soon as the election campaign is over.

Concern about UKIP is also why – if anyone was fooled – Cameron has suddenly become a champion of ‘fairness’ to the Greens in the election debates. What he really means is that he doesn’t want to debate UKIP. Though of course Labour’s corresponding silence is because Miliband doesn’t want to debate Greens!

On the Labour side, the first week of campaigning of the New Year was at last one spent on issues that matter: NHS cuts, living standards and cuts to fuel bills. The latter has been given particular momentum by falling wholesale energy prices.

This shift in Labour’s campaign, albeit for just one week, is in significant contrast to the latter half of 2014, when it gave the strong impression it was doing its best to jettison support by playing to the agenda of the Tories on the one hand and UKIP on the other. In December it announced its first two pledges were the deficit and immigration – to the electoral benefit of no one except its opponents. The approximately four percentage point fall in Labour support since last summer has been the result.

If Labour maintains its approach of the last week then it can see off the Tory challenge in England. However the Tory media will try to prevent that by increasing its attacks on Labour and Ed Miliband as too ‘left wing’, trying to force a defensive reaction from Labour that shifts it onto the Tories’ electoral ground. Tony Blair’s New Year interview with the Economist – warning that Labour may lose as it is too left wing – is just a taster of what is to come.

Labour support, which was above 40 per cent for most of 2011 and 2012, has dropped over the past two years to around 33 per cent – almost level pegging with the Tories. But due to the electoral system and uneven distribution of party support, Labour is still likely to be the largest parliamentary party in May, if it halts the decline in support.

However it is extremely difficult for Labour to regain a position where it is looking at an overall majority, primarily because of the situation in Scotland. The drift in support from Labour to the SNP will not be halted by the election of Blairite Jim Murphy to head up Scottish Labour.

The Tories, which only secured 36.1 per cent at the 2010 General Election, are on around 31-33 per cent (YouGov), with long-term trends suggesting they may poll little over 30 per cent this May.

While there are only two candidates for prime minister coming out of this election – Cameron or Miliband – the pro-austerity consensus between the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems is creating some radicalisation both to the right and the left in Britain, as in the rest of Europe.

As in most of the stronger European countries, in Britain this nascent radicalisation is more to the right than the left, with UKIP the main beneficiary currently at around 14 per cent in the polls. However both the Greens and the SNP in Scotland are also attracting support to the left. The Greens support has risen to 5 per cent, and Caroline Lucas launched the Greens general election campaign with the strident attack on austerity has last week. Nicola Sturgeon has firmly positioned the SNP as an anti-austerity party as the election looms.

Gearing up to fight against the racist offensive

The outpouring of racism sweeping across Europe is now a permanent feature of the political situation.

This reactionary ideological offensive, aimed at immigrants and Muslims in particular, aims to capture opposition to austerity policies and falling living standards within the framework of the right.

As economic stagnation continues, more cuts are demanded by governments and as real wages fail to recover to pre-crisis levels, the population demands to know who or what is to blame. Scapegoating immigrants and Muslims distracts attention from the real culprits and prevents a flood of votes to the left.

In a new development Germany has also seen a wave of anti-Muslim mobilisations. Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) has marched in Dresden every week since October – mobilising up to 18,000 people and attracting openly neo-fascist elements from across the country. A record 25,000 attended on 12 January in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo in France.

From January the antifascist counter-demonstrations that have taken place in response to this have begun to receive support from the mainstream parties, including Angela Merkel herself. On 5 January anti-Pegida demonstrations in Cologne, Stuttgart and Berlin had dramatic support. The lights of Cologne Cathedral were switched off in support, as were the lights at the Volkswagen plant in Dresden.

With this breadth of support is not surprising that in general the anti-Pegida demonstrations have been larger than the Islamophobic protests. On 10 January 35,000 people rallied against Pegida in Dresden. But the anti-Muslim mobilisations continue.

In the run-up to the general election in Britain the issues of racism and scapegoating migrants are actually being tactically pushed back. On the one hand ethnic minorities have the vote and determine the outcome in many seats, and on the other, as outlined above, making immigration the issue could help UKIP make significant gains at the Tories expense.

After May 7, without these immediate electoral constraints, a renewed wave of racism will be rapidly unleashed. The Labour leadership has already indicated it will introduce immigration legislation if it forms the government. The experience of France shows the likely result of that, where a Socialist Party government implementing austerity and making concessions to racism has fed a rapid growth of France’s far right.

A Labour-led government on a similar trajectory will build UKIP, possibly even lead to the resurgence of openly neo-fascist currents like the BNP, and encourage street-fighting currents like the EDL.

We cannot wait for this offensive to be renewed. A broad anti-racist movement to challenge the racist offensive has to be built now. This year’s Stand Up To Racism march and rally on 21 March will help take this forward, so should be supported and built as widely as possible. The greater its impact the more pressure against racism will be exerted into the General Election and after.

The Unite Against Fascism National Conference on 21 February will provide an opportunity to discuss the racist offensive, including racist policing and black deaths in the US, rising Islamophobia across Europe, scapegoating of migrants and building the fight in opposition to this reaction.