Notes from the front – of the week 27/1/2015

Step up solidarity with Syriza

Syriza’s victory in Sunday’s elections is the first time there has been an advance of the left in Europe on such a scale since Portugal in the 1970s.

As such it will be an inspiration to the left across Europe and will undoubtedly lead to some increase in votes for parties of the left opposed to austerity across the continent. It will be a major boost in those countries where there are already left parties with mass support fighting on an anti-austerity plan such as Podemos in Spain and Sinn Fein in Ireland.

In Britain, where the impact of the crisis has been less severe, it is not yet leading to the emergence of anti-austerity currents on the scale of Greece, Spain or Ireland, but will nonetheless strengthen the left, including the Greens, which have welcomed Syriza’s victory.

However the election of Syriza is only the beginning of an intense struggle to turn hope into reality to not only end the austerity policies that have been imposed on the population but to find solutions to the economic problems confronting Greece.

Huge forces within the EU and the IMF are utterly opposed to any cancellation of Greece’s debt, which they fear will lead to ‘contagion’, that is other countries also seeking degrees of debt forgiveness. The historic left-wing government of Tsipras will have an enormous fight on its hands. It will need to introduce economic policies that can deliver growth.

Progressive opinion across Europe needs to step up its solidarity with the government in Greece, supporting the call for an international debt conference and for an end to austerity policies across-the-board.

This solidarity call will kick-off tomorrow (Wednesday 28 January) at an election report back public meeting at the TUC in London, hosted by the Greece Solidarity Campaign. To attend people are advised to register in advance.

ECB’s Quantitative Easing will not bring recovery

The European Central Bank has launched a programme of ‘Quantitative Easing’ of at least €1.1 trillion over the next 18 months, in an effort to stave off ‘deflation’, the persistent fall in prices. It could be larger still if deflation remains a risk.

This is a desperate measure, taken years after the central banks of the US, Japan and Britain had done the same. Their experience shows that there is no prospect that simply printing money like this will lead to a sustainable recovery.

QE is a massive electronic creation of money, which is pumped into the banks, in effect another form of bank bailout. Creating more money causes its price (interest rates) to fall. The effect of this loosening of monetary policy is to drive down long-term interest rates and so push up the value of financial assets such as stock markets and house prices.

It does nothing to address the fundamental problem of the economy, which remains based in a private sector investment strike. On the contrary, fiscal policy (government taxation and spending) continues to constrict the economy through the impact of austerity policies.

In the US, Japan and Britain living standards for the overwhelming majority have continued to decline even as asset prices have risen sharply. Loose money combined with austerity represents a transfer of incomes and wealth from workers and the poor to landlords, owners of shares and the rich.

The ECB’s decision has caused a sharp fall in the value of the Euro versus other major currencies. The surge in the Swiss Franc was in part an anticipation of the ECB’s move. Underlying this widespread financial turmoil is the continuing crisis of the world economy and the role of the US. In order to achieve even mediocre growth the US is obliged to suck in capital from the rest of the world. As a result the global economic instability and feeble growth is unlikely to be resolved in the period ahead.

Labour left calls for investment not austerity

15 Labour MPs have launched a statement calling for an alternative to austerity and for state investment in the economy. The statement focuses on three key points: it proposes the next government should take advantage of low interest rates to raise loans for investment purposes to kickstart the economy and create jobs; it calls for the re-nationalisation of rail and reprioritisation of public ownership; and for the restoration and enhancement of trade union rights.

The statement, coordinated by Michael Meacher MP, can be read here.

With the General Election a little over three months away, currents on both Labour’s right and left are agitating on the orientation of Labour’s campaign.

For the Blairite right wing of the party even Ed Miliband’s minimal proposals to constrain parts of the private sector – such as the proposed energy price freeze – are an unacceptable attack on capital. Both Blair and Mandelson have dropped attacks on Miliband into the public domain in recent weeks, implying his policies are “too left wing” to win in May – giving succour to the Tories who are facing defeat. Alan Milburn is also attacking Labour’s unwillingness to publicly embrace NHS privatisation.

But far from turning to the left, Ed Miliband has reinforced Labour’s support for austerity. On 14th January Miliband’s front bench voted to support the Tories’ so called ‘Budget Responsibility Charter’. It is concessions to the right like this that have helped drive Labour opinion poll support down from over 40 per cent to the low 30s.

At the same time parties that are against austerity are clearly advancing in the polls, with the rise of support for the Greens and SNP, reflecting a radicalisation to Labour’s left.

This is pressing on Labour’s own left wing, which is becoming more animated. Neil Findlay and Katy Clark fought hard to stop the Blairites with their pro-austerity agenda take control of Scottish Labour. John McDonnell is convening a meeting on 7 February to discuss a Labour Left Platform to campaign for a more radical agenda – his appeal letter can be read here. Diane Abbott, who will seek Labour’s nomination for London Mayor, is campaigning against austerity and racist scapegoating whilst Jeremy Corbyn is building solidarity for Syriza, with support from the Labour Assembly Against Austerity.

The left initiatives being taken within Labour aid the growing movement against austerity, with Meacher’s statement setting out the basic programme necessary for a Labour government to succeed.

Imperialism’s rank hypocrisy about Saudi’s dictatorship

The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and the subsequent fawning tributes from the West are a reminder of imperialism’s total hypocrisy and abject dishonesty about this human rights abuser and bloody dictatorship.

Despite its record of locking up journalists, beheadings, stoning women to death for adultery, absence of women’s rights where women are not even allowed to drive cars or go out at all without a chaperone, and general repression, torture and floggings of anyone who raises the slightest dissent, the West’s attitude is determined not by these crimes but the fact it is its key Middle Eastern ally and recipient of arms sales.

Saudi Arabia allows no freedom of expression for opponents of its policies. It is the country where the brutal practises of Al Qaeda originated.

The reason vast tracts of the Middle East are in chaos and in various states of civil war or outside intervention is precisely because the Saudis helped instigate these conflicts at the West’s behest. ISIS’ battlegrounds across Syria and Iraq owe much to Saudi support. As does the current fighting in Libya.

Imperialism props up this brutal client because the regime works to advance Western interests. Therefore we had the spectacle of Obama praising the late King’s ‘contribution to peace’ in the region, as did Cameron who ordered flags to be flown at half-mast, the IMF head Christine Lagarde hailed him as a ‘strong advocate of women’ and Tony Blair said he would be ‘deeply missed’.

The Saudi dictatorship is not at all concerned about peace, but solely with its own survival at any cost. It is utterly terrified of – and hostile to – any unrest in the Arab world, particularly genuine movements for democracy. So it helped brutally crush the progressive movement in Bahrain in 2011 and backed the Egyptian military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi’s elected government in 2013.

The US and Israel are the Saudi dictatorship’s key supporters. In return for this support it offers entirely reliable assistance to the US. A current example is its intervention within OPEC to block any reduction in production levels of oil, strengthening the downward pressure on oil prices – economically damaging the US’s opponents.

The Western mourning of this brutal dictator and backward-looking patriarch are as much a testimony to how little the ruling classes of Europe and America actually care about democracy and human rights as they are a spotlight on the brutality of one of their key allies.