Faced with the capitalist management of the pandemic and the new offensive of capital, organise the response to the governments and the EU.

By IWL-FI European sections

The so-called Porto Social Summit (Portugal) on 7 May exposed the extreme hypocrisy of the EU and its true nature.

The summit aimed to disguise with false social proclamations the macro-operation of the Recovery Funds, aimed at rescuing the big European corporations and strengthening the dominance of the German and French oligopolies. They also wanted to mask the new wave of structural reforms and cuts along with the Funds.

The official communiqué is nauseating in its shamelessness. They say that “Europe, more than ever, must be the continent of social cohesion and prosperity“. But three and a half years have passed since the previous social summit in Gothenburg and not a single measure has been taken against the spread of precariousness and poverty. On the contrary, they were fostered in all countries, while increasing the differences between member states and accentuating the dependence of the periphery on the richer central countries.

However, the demagogy they had planned has collapsed due to their scandalous rejection, led by Merkel, to support a patent waiver on Covid vaccines. A few days ago, Biden changed the US position in favour of temporarily waiving patents, fearing that the very serious pandemic situation in Latin America, with its new variants, would scupper vaccination efforts in the United States.

The refusal of a patent waiver is a crime against the masses. The EU bears direct responsibility for the deaths of millions of people, sacrificed on the altar of the profits of American and European, including German, big pharma. This is nothing but an element of barbarism, a consequence of the continuity of capitalism in Europe and the world.

Infamous management of the pandemic by the governments and the complicit silence of the trade-union bureaucracy and the mainstream left.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, all European governments and the EU, although there were differences between them, have applied a policy dictated by the pressures of big business, putting capitalist profit above human lives, which has already resulted in around 1.2 million deaths in Europe, according to official figures.

Despite various restrictions, in a continuous “stop and go”, they have never halted the activity of the non-essential productive sectors, they have not reinforced the public health system that was severely hit by previous harsh cuts, transport has remained overcrowded, the poorest families have not even had conditions to confine themselves while the hotels were closed and there has been a great delay in vaccination due to the submission to the big pharma and the secret commercial deals with them.

Huge sums of public money have been spent on bailing out big business, while the crumbs went to the workers, who saw their wages substantially reduced by lay-offs. Not to mention the most exploited and precarious sectors, which have not been able to access the meagre official aid and have been left in total helplessness. This is the case of migrant workers and many women and young people. Alongside the lay-offs, there has been a significant increase in unemployment and underemployment, which have massively affected services but also industry. Housing evictions have continued and “hunger queues” have formed. At the same time, governments have left small entrepreneurs out in the cold, many of them facing bankruptcy, particularly in the countries most dependent on tourism and services.

During the pandemic, xenophobic laws against the migrant population and the policy of border control, in flagrant violation of the EU’s and its governments’ own asylum and protection laws, plus the social exclusion of ever-larger segments of the population, are fuelling racism and Islamophobia, from which the far-right directly benefits.

Frontex (i.e. the EU) and border countries are directly responsible for the murder of 2,000 people deliberately thrown in rafts adrift in the Aegean Sea in 2020, in a criminal form of “hot refoulement”, in addition to the migrants drowned on the routes from North Africa to the Canary Islands. This is followed by subcontracting Erdoğan (president of Turkey), the official Libyan mafia and the Moroccan government to intercept and detain refugees and migrants in inhumane conditions. The latest European feat has been the criminal, hypocritical and inhumane action in the colonial enclave of Ceuta, forcing the “hot refoulement” of thousands of migrants. The EU and its governments lock up the migrants they cannot expel in refugee and migrant camps in Lesbos, Lampedusa or the Canary Islands, in overcrowded and totally unprotected conditions.

Governments, with few exceptions, have also taken advantage of the pandemic to restrict rights and freedoms and intensify repression and police impunity. In the name of public health, they have decreed states of emergency which they have used to prohibit the right to strike or demonstrate, while giving free rein to arbitrary repression, particularly in the poorest and most peripheral neighbourhoods. In several countries, we see an increasing recourse to the military, further cuts in democratic rights and the granting of more powers to the police, as in the Global Security Act in France, the Policing and Crime Act in the UK or the Spanish Organic Law (the Gag Law), which the PSOE-UP coalition government was going to repeal only to end up using it across the board.

But we cannot forget that if governments have been able to act in this way it is because they have been supported at all times by the bureaucracies of the big trade union centres which, in close alliance with the bosses, have been necessary accomplices in their measures. In the political arena, the mainstream left has also supported the actions of the governments, without criticising them or presenting any alternative.

The fraud of “European solidarity” and the EU’s recovery funds

The EU is currently presented as a “cohesive” structure, by which its hierarchy and the up-down ties of dependency between the countries, so far, are half-hidden under the fallacy of “European solidarity”, the major expressions of which are the joint purchase of vaccines and the recovery funds.

The unified purchase of vaccines, after the initial scandal in which Germany and France banned the export of medical supplies to other EU countries, was a must: they could not allow part of the EU to run out of vaccines (or buy them from Russia or China) while they secured their own supplies, at the risk of provoking a major crisis. But the European Commission’s disastrous management, withholding information, kowtowing to Big Pharma and getting involved in their trade disputes has already cracked this unanimity.

The EU and its governments are now in the midst of a propaganda campaign for the “Next Generation” recovery funds, which they present as an expression of European solidarity and a panacea for job creation and general prosperity.

But these funds have nothing to do with solidarity between European peoples. They will in no way compensate for the overall loss of jobs and the jobs they will generate will be, above all, precarious. It’s public money subordinated to the plans of German and French capitalism, which will reinforce the dependence of the peripheral countries and their subordinate place in the European division of labour, with countries demoted to semi-colonial status, such as Greece, and others such as the Eastern countries, which have joined the EU as economic semi-colonies of Germany.

German and French capitalism need the EU to try not to be overwhelmed in the confrontation between the US and China. The recovery funds should also serve to close the door to the Chinese capital, to refrain it from purchasing assets and infrastructure as it carried out in the previous crisis, as happened particularly in Portugal (the energy company EDP) or Greece (the port of Piraeus).

The EU justifies the funds as necessary for the ‘green and digital transition’. But they are less concerned about global warming and the environmental emergency, for which they are largely co-responsible. Their main concern is how to cope with the depletion of fossil (and mineral) fuels while continuing their business and oligopolistic profits.

There is no plan to change the logic of the capitalist production system and the accompanying brutal waste that is leading us headlong into an environmental and social disaster. Its reduction of CO2 emissions is based more on its “capture” than on its elimination, on formulas such as the so-called “green hydrogen” (energy inefficient, with a production associated with the destruction of natural and agricultural ecosystems and affecting the ozone layer) and finally on a barrage of “green” taxes on the backs of the working people. The “green transition” also goes hand in hand with plunder, super-exploitation of labour and environmental destruction in the semi-colonial countries that concentrate mineral resources.

Moreover, support for “electric mobility” means massive public funding for the restructuring of the big German and French carmakers and a transfer of funds to the better-off social sectors, that are subsidised for the purchase of luxury electric cars, the only ones with a real market outlet. The “digital transition” or the so-called Industry 4.0, developed under the control of big capital and their governments, instead of having an impact on the reduction of working hours and a consequent improvement in the workers’ lives, comes to cause huge job losses and further precariousness.

As in the 2008-2015 crisis, they want to impose on us a new generalised social regression

The approval and implementation of the recovery funds are expressly conditional on compliance with the “recommendations” of the European Commission, which must approve them. This means not only that they must be invested in projects in line with the interests of German and French big industry and finance, but also that governments must strictly comply with “structural reforms” and austerity measures dictated by the European Commission.

Some of the concrete measures in the secret plans that the governments have agreed with Brussels have been unveiled in dribs and drabs. At the forefront are attacks on the public pension system and labour rights (collective bargaining, job stability, redundancies, unemployment benefits…) or adjustments in taxation at the expense of the working classes. The public health and education systems will be severely affected. Cuts in social spending will accelerate when they reactivate the Stability and Growth Pact, planned for 2022.

We are suffering the beginning of the offensive of the EU and its governments before the end of the pandemic, to impose on us new generalised labour and social regression, a new pattern of exploitation, along with the brutal ongoing regression imposed on us in the past years. But now the social cushion that the working families had at their disposal has been used up and they face this new regression involved in an already degraded social tissue.

This general regression is having a particularly virulent impact on the EU peripheral countries, just as it did in the 2008-2014 crisis. The enormous indebtedness with which countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have already entered the pandemic has skyrocketed in 2020, continues to rise in 2021 and leaves these countries at the mercy of the ECB and the European Commission. The Greek government, a true herald of the EU, has already presented a bill to make the working day more flexible, ending the 8-hour working day and allowing employers to extend the working day to 10 hours. In Portugal, in the middle of the pandemic, the Costa government’s commitment to cut hospital emergency services has been made public.

The other side of precariousness, poverty and social inequality is the drive for corporate concentration and centralisation of capital, around the most powerful and at the expense of the weaker capital. This movement benefits from the unequal impact of the pandemic among the different economic sectors and is fuelled by quantitative easing never seen before, promoted by the European Central Bank (ECB), the financial support of governments to large companies, and the European recovery funds. The merger agreement between Peugeot and Fiat-Chrysler (Stellantis) and the vulture-like action of investment funds are eloquent examples of this.

The Eastern European people show the way amid latent explosiveness

So far we have mainly mentioned Western Europe, but we cannot talk about Europe without taking Belarus, Russia and Ukraine into account. What is happening there directly affects the Eastern EU countries, Germany and the European balance as a whole.

Of particular relevance is the revolutionary uprising in Belarus, that started in September last year, headed by the working class, aiming at the ousting of Lukashenko and his corrupt bourgeois regime, based on the political police (KGB), the riot police (OMON) and the military. If Lukashenko’s regime persists, it is first and foremost because of Putin’s support, but also because of the complicit passivity, covered by lip service, of the EU and the very impotence of the bourgeois political leadership of the revolt. But the revolution in Belarus has not been defeated, it is still alive and will seek its own course.

So are the demonstrations for Navalny’s freedom and against the corruption of Putin’s Bonapartist regime. In defiance of brutal repression, tens of thousands of demonstrators have repeatedly taken to the streets of Moscow and 140 other cities in the country, turning the political situation around and pointing, for the first time, to the beginning of a crisis of the Putin regime, a friend of the European far-right and one of the mainstays of reaction on the continent and in the Middle East.

Within the EU, it is necessary to mention, due to its relevance, the demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women, backed by massive popular support, who took over the cities of Poland in October last year in defence of the right to abortion and against the pseudo-parliamentary and clerical regime of Kaczyński. These demonstrations are a continuation of those that took place in 2016 and in the spring of 2020, and constitute the largest social mobilisation in the country since the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement in the 1980s.

With the popular movement of the Yellow Vests and the struggle against the pension reform still alive, we have to point out the big demonstrations at the end of 2020 in France against Macron’s Global Security Law and the ever more accentuated Bonapartism of the French regime. We must also refer to the protest movement developed in Spain, with a strong youth protagonism, against the imprisonment of the rapper Pablo Hasél in February 2021. A movement that has exposed the heavy Francoist legacy of the monarchist regime and the complicity of the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition government.

At present, there are many workers’, social and environmental struggles. There are many struggles against redundancies and company closures. However, the enormous restraint of the trade union bureaucracies and the weakness of militant trade unionism mean that they remain isolated and can’t be united in a general struggle that would allow the balance of power to change and stop the attacks of bosses and the government.

In this context, it is necessary to highlight the mobilisation of the Alitalia workers against its dismantling and in defence of a public company, united and without dismissals. It is the first big movement of workers against the brand new Draghi government. Their struggle is probably the most important in Europe today. It is so because of its economic and political relevance, the massiveness and militancy of its mobilisation, the overcoming of the trade union bureaucracies, and the attempt of the workers to put the struggle directly into their hands, giving an example to the European working class.

In the different countries, there are partial experiences of breaking with the bureaucracy of the big trade union centres, and there are alternative unions in many sectors and companies. However, there is often dispersion among them, some of which suffer corporatist pressures and in some others, there are bureaucratic tendencies against giving a leading role to the rank and file and advancing towards the unity of action. Sometimes, especially in the more established alternative unions, there is pressure to reconcile with the big bureaucracies. We still have a long way to go to build alternative trade unions capable of challenging and overthrowing the big bureaucracies.

The delay in the organisation of the movement and in the construction of a revolutionary political leadership to lead the clashes with the governments point to a scenario of spontaneous social explosions headed mainly by the precarious youth.

Apparent political stability but many cracks, and the far-right on the rise

In the EU countries, there is a situation of political and institutional stability that, nevertheless, hides great fragilities. This is the case in Italy, with a technical-political government of national unity around the “saviour” Draghi, a distinguished representative of Italian big capital and the EU board, supported by a spectrum ranging from the far-right of Salvini, to the Movimento 5 Estelle (Five Stars movement), the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party) and sectors of the institutional left (LEU). This government was formed to prevent instability in Italy from reaching the centre of the EU. Paradoxically, however, its constitution reflects a great deal of underlying political and institutional instability, which will resurface as the crisis unfolds and anti-social measures are deployed.

The recent election results in the autonomous community of Madrid, in the Spanish state, have exposed the enormous weakness of the PSOE-UP coalition government which, with its unfulfilled promises and its false “social shield” against the pandemic, has favoured the right-wing vote and the strengthening of the far-right. Macron, for his part, with a dwindling social base, is trying to regain ground on the right by promoting Islamophobia, attacks on rights and relaunching his anti-social offensive, against unemployment benefits now but soon, again, against pensioners. This policy, however, strengthens the far-right (RN) aspirations to the presidency, while encouraging a large group of generals and reserve officers to call for more military intervention, in a rabidly chauvinist, racist and Islamophobic proclamation.

The most recent case is Portugal, where for the first time since the April 1974 revolution, a far-right party, Chega, has burst onto the political scene, winning 12% of the vote in the presidential elections of 24 January. In places like Belgium, especially in the Flemish region, far-right parties have become a majority and in a French-speaking city like Liège, the far-right dared to launch the provocation of calling on its followers to “cleanse” the city of immigrants on May Day.

The actions of governments, either those of the traditional right or of the “left”, provoke disenchantment among workers, despair among the most precarious and vulnerable social sectors, and impoverishment and ruin among large sectors of small businesspersons and professionals. The mainstream left and the trade union bureaucracy not only offer no alternative but also stifle the combativity of workers with their policy of conciliation with big capitalists. In doing so, they open up space for the far-right that pretend to offer alternatives, when its project is to increase exploitation to even more barbaric levels and blame it on the most exploited and oppressed sectors.

The reformist left is bankrupt. Revolutionary parties must be built

Today we are no longer in the same conditions as when the previous crisis broke out, where parties like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain or the Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal appeared before broad sectors of activism and the working population as a real left alternative to the old socialist parties that have been converted into managers of capital for many years now, alternating with the parties of the traditional right.

Syriza took office in January 2015 as the great hope and in only six months betrayed the Greek people (who had voted massively against the EU memorandum) to become the new troika’s hitman in Greece. It was Tsipras who implemented the plans to plunder the country and the most brutal attacks on the rights and living conditions of the Greek people. After a while, he ended up being integrated into the top echelons of the European “socialist” parties.

Podemos controlled the movement of the indignados in Spain just to sterilise it by putting it on the tracks of the monarchical regime. It saved the PSOE from bankruptcy and ended up becoming a subordinate force of the Sánchez government, helping to legitimise it and being discredited with it.

After Syriza’s betrayal, Podemos became the great international benchmark of the new left. However, in record time it has gone into a tailspin. The recent elections in Madrid symbolise its failure, which includes the abandonment of its leader Pablo Iglesias. His designated successor, the Minister of Labour Yolanda Díaz (CP-Spain), has been quick to declare that Podemos-UP’s mission is to “generate calm and tranquillity” and that what it is all about is dialogue and going hand in hand with Biden, the EU, the ILO… “because the common sense of the times has changed”. Nor have they opened their mouths about the human drama in Ceuta.

The Bloco de Esquerda which, together with the CP of Portugal, was decisive in saving the Portuguese PS (Socialist Party) through the Geringonça, is now an institutionalised party, integrated into the Portuguese regime, including a presence in the Council of State. The British Corbynites, unable and unwilling to confront the bourgeois Labour Party apparatus, have been reduced to a harmless pressure group within Labour, with which they are incapable of breaking away.

The NPA (New Anti-Capitalist Party), although it has lost its relevance years ago, was for a time an important reference point of the French and European “far-left”. It is currently experiencing an acute crisis of decomposition. It was founded 12 years ago by the LCR (French section of the USec), which later dissolved into it. They said that we had entered a “new epoch” in which the socialist revolution had disappeared from the horizon; that a “new programme” corresponded, in which the struggle for the seizure of power by the working class disappeared in favour of “radicalising democracy”; where the Leninist party ceased to make sense and had to be replaced by a party of a new type, grouping the “anti-capitalists”, like the NPA.

But the social, ecological and health barbarism into which the imperialist system is dragging us, and the exacerbation of the class struggle that accompanies it and which will become more acute, make it extremely urgent to advance, in the course of the current struggles and the explosions to come, in the construction of revolutionary parties and a revolutionary international. Parties and an international based on the Marxist tradition and supported by a programme that bridges the gap between the most urgent demands of the moment and the struggle to overthrow capitalism and open the revolutionary road to socialism. This is the task to which the parties of the International Workers League (IWL-FI)) are committed.

For a programme to rescue the workers and the peoples and prepare for the explosions to come

The European governments are preparing to announce the near end of the pandemic. They do so when the situation in Asia and Latin America is far from being under control and no one can be sure that the spread of new variants of the virus in these regions which are denied vaccination will bring about the return of the pandemic. The immediate patent waiver on vaccines, their marketing at cost price and free mass vaccination of the population is an elementary demand in the face of the mass crime of the big pharma and imperialist governments. It is equally essential to strengthen public health care, something that clashes head-on with the EU’s constituent rules, that advocate privatisation and the subjugation of public services to the logic of the market.

The period we have entered is marked by redundancies and company closures, structural unemployment, falling wages, new attacks on pensions, public health and education, and new records in job insecurity, poverty, evictions and environmental degradation. This offensive is especially targeting the peripheral countries and the most exploited sectors of our class: immigrants, women and youth, and is closely linked to the exacerbation of xenophobia, racism and sexism, as well as attacks on freedoms.

All this brings to the forefront the fight for the rejection of the EU treaties, the Stability and Growth Pact and the reforms and cuts associated with the recovery funds. The battle for the non-payment of the public debt of the countries; against precariousness and discrimination, redundancies and company closures; for the sharing of work without wage cuts and for a general restructuring of industry and the economy in the service of popular needs, full employment and a real programme of environmental sustainability is again given all its importance.

A programme that has nothing to do with the EU “green capitalism” fraud and its Green New Deal. It demands the expropriation of the big energy companies, the banks and the strategic sectors and enterprises, their democratic control by the workers and the people. It demands the expropriation of empty housing in the hands of banks, investment funds and big landlords to turn them into social housing. None of this will be possible without breaking with the EU, the great war machine of European capital against public services, labour rights and social rights.

The offensive of capital includes a new round of attacks on democratic rights, the strengthening of repressive legislation and police impunity and, more generally, the strengthening of the authoritarian tendencies of states. That is why we must fight to repeal repressive laws, to demand exemplary punishment for police abuses, to disband special repressive bodies and eliminate professional armies. We must oppose to them armies based on the democratic principle of the people in arms, armies of voluntary militias and universal military training.

We must ensure respect for basic democratic rights such as the right to national self-determination of peoples, which is a basic right in states such as Spain. No enforced union!

The battle against the far-right is increasingly playing a key role. The recent response from the working-class neighbourhood of Vallecas (Madrid) is a magnificent example to follow. The far-right Vox wanted to launch its Madrid election campaign by holding a rally in Madrid’s main working-class and left-wing neighbourhood, a full-fledged provocation. The governmental left of the PSOE and Podemos called to “ignore them”, that is, to do nothing, to leave them the field free and allow their provocation to go unpunished. For them, the answer boiled down to asking people to vote for their candidates. However, hundreds of activists and young people from the neighbourhood, far from following their advice, resisted the police and faced heavy repression, and prevented the event from taking place. Soon May Day was celebrated in Madrid and the fighting trade-unionism united to organise a self-defence operation in collaboration with the anti-fascist youth, to prevent and face any provocation of the far-right. This is the path to follow and to deepen, that of the organisation of workers’ and popular self-defence.

The EU that closes its doors to immigrants is the same EU whose multinationals plunder their countries’ resources and overexploit these countries’ peoples; and whose population emigrated en masse all over the world during the world wars. We must oppose the policies of the EU and its governments that first condemn millions to misery and then erect borders and laws condemning them either to die in the Mediterranean when they try to flee from hunger or to live in overcrowded refugee camps that reproduce the ghettos of the past. We need the repeal of the laws on foreigners and defend the legalisation of immigrants, the closure of camps and detention centres, the recognition of nationality rights for those born on European soil and the right to refuge for those fleeing war and death, and the dissolution of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). Native or foreigner, the same working class!

The EU is an instrument of the big European powers to defend their economic and geopolitical interests in the world. That is why we demand the withdrawal of all European military detachments from Africa, Lebanon or Asia, the dissolution of NATO and the dismantling of the American military bases in Europe.

The worsening crisis will reaffirm, especially in the peripheral countries, the need to break with the EU and the euro in the near future. The battle to defeat the plans of capital is a joint struggle against their own governments and against the EU because they form an inseparable, imperialist, anti-worker and anti-popular package.

The battle for our demands opens a strategic perspective of the struggle to raise workers’ governments supported by rank-and-file, democratic and fighting bodies. They will be the first act of the battle for a Europe of the workers and peoples, for a free and voluntary union to form the socialist united states of Europe. This remains the strategic goal of every revolutionary programme in every country of the EU and beyond, in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.

Let us organise to fight for a workers’ and democratic way out of capitalist degeneration!

For a socialist Europe of the workers and peoples!

European organisations of the International Workers League (IWL-FI)

Pd’AC (Partito di Alternativa Comunista), Italy

Corriente Roja, Spain

Em Luta, Portugal

ISL (International Socialist League), United Kingdom

LCT/CWB (Communist Workers League), Belgium

MezhRP (Internationalist Workers’ Party), Russia