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The News Line: Feature LEON TROTSKY’S ‘WHITHER FRANCE’ TODAY – 1. European capitalism gripped by a revolutionary crisis
LEON TROTSKY (centre) with supporters in France in 1933 during his period of exile
A REVOLUTIONARY situation exists in Europe today as a result of the world capitalist crisis.

Social Democratic/Labour and Stalinist reformists, and revisionists, may scoff at this statement in order to defend their counter-revolutionary support for the bourgeois order, or hide their cowardly capitulation to the ruling class.

To them we offer Leon Trotsky’s riposte to similar characters in the 1930s when he wrote: ‘The most vulgar prejudices now serve as the official doctrines for the political and trade-union leaders of the French working class.

‘Contrariwise, the voice of revolutionary realism rings against this artificial sounding board like the voice of “sectarianism”.

‘It is all the more insistently necessary to repeat over and over again the fundamental truths of Marxist policies before audiences of advanced workers.’ (Whither France? by Leon Trotsky, New Park, p2)

Look at the current situation in the European Union (EU) and the eurozone!

When the banks crashed in October 2008, states within the EU put up about four trillion euros (£3.6tn) to bail out the banks and stop an immediate financial collapse.

Governments in the countries of Europe either took over debt-laden banks, or merely the debts of other banks.

The financial collapse rapidly hit production and trade. GDP within the EU went from increasing by 3.2% in 2007 to only 0.3% in 2008 and a fall of 4.3% in 2009. Growth in GDP was 2.0% in 2010, 1.5% in 2011 and is forecast to be zero this year. Figures for the eurozone were similar to these.
In 2009 GDP fell by 5.1% in Germany, 3.1% in France, 4.4% in Britain, 5.5% in Italy and 3.7% in Spain.

Of course unemployment rates rocketed across Europe.

In April this year the official unemployment rate within the EU was 10.3% (24.667m) compared to 10.2% in 2011 and in the eurozone it was 11.0% (17.405m) compared with 9.9% last year.

In November 2009 a new aspect of the capitalist crisis in Europe manifested itself.

Greece revealed that its budget deficit was 12.7% of GDP, more than twice that previously admitted. It was a sign that the country was heading for bankruptcy.

The European sovereign debt crisis began to surface, not only in Greece, but in Ireland and Portugal too. All three countries had to be bailed out at least once in 2010-11.

In March 2012 Greece got another 130bn euro bail-out through an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and other European central banks.

In June 2012 a 100bn euro bail-out for Spanish banks was agreed by the eurozone states, because the Spanish government declared it could not do so on its own.

Both Spain and Italy have seen interest on 10-year government bonds jump to up to 7%, an indication that investors are doubtful that these states will have the funds to redeem the bonds.

It is clear that the banking crisis continues. In addition there is an economic slump and state indebtedness leading to bankruptcy. These processes are all taking place simultaneously today.

After governments across Europe either took over debt-laden banks, or the debts of the banks in 2008, they demanded ‘austerity measures’ to repay the debts they had taken over from these banks.

It was right-wing capitalist governments and parties, like those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi and Tory leader David Cameron, who were leading the pack demanding rapid and draconian ‘austerity measures’ in all the states of the EU.

The economies of Europe have been built on the foundations of credit, that is fictitious capital. These right-wing leaders are driven, in their desperate search for real value, to slash the living standards of the working class and increase exploitation.

In exchange for financial bail-outs for small EU states like Greece, Ireland and Portugal, EU leaders have demanded unprecedented budget cuts and wholesale privatisation of state assets.

The present crisis is unprecedented. It is a world crisis and the huge collapses of production, trade and finance have never been seen before.

The credit-fuelled 65-year expansion up to 2007-08 led not only to a quantitative change in the nature of the collapse, in terms of its scale, but a qualitative one in which capitalism’s death agony manifested itself directly and immediately.

The crisis is worldwide. In addition, it is significant that it has centred on the US and Europe, the powerhouse of post-war capitalism after World War II, and the historic birthplace of capitalism.

The attempt by the European bourgeoisie to overcome the contradiction between the development of the productive forces and the anachronistic small nation states of Europe, through the EU and the eurozone, is being blown apart by the historic forces of capitalism in decay
It is clear that Europe is the key to the international situation.

For workers to have a future, that is not dominated by poverty, repression and war, they must put an end to capitalism and the bankers’ and monopolists’ EU, and go forward to a Socialist United States of Europe.

It is for that reason that Leon Trotsky’s writings Whither France? are relevant and his approach is instructive in offering guidance concerning what has to be done today.

Having said that the present crisis is unprecedented, there are certain similarities between Europe today and the situation in France in the mid-1930s.

Trotsky began his articles just over four years after the 1929 Wall Street Crash, when the Depression had begun. Today we are living through the fall-out from the 2007-08 banking crisis.

Trotsky was living in France in 1934 and was working with the organisation of his supporters there, providing theoretical, political and practical guidance.

The economic crisis was having dire consequences in France and there was a huge escalation in the class struggle which had revolutionary implications.

Trotsky wrote: ‘The present crisis, which encompasses all countries and thrusts economy back decades, has definitely pushed the bourgeois system to absurdity. . .

‘The further maintenance of the private ownership of the means of production threatens humanity with degeneration and barbarism.

‘The basis of society is economic. That basis is ripe for socialism in a double sense: modern technology has advanced to a point where it can assure a high standard of living to the nation and to all mankind; but the capitalist property system, which has outlived itself, dooms the masses to ever-increasing poverty and suffering.’

And: ‘Under the domination of industrial capital, in the era of free competition, the cyclical booms exceeded by far the crises: the first were the “rule”, the second the “exception”. Capitalism in its entirety was advancing.

‘Since the war, with the domination of monopoly finance capital, the cyclical crises far exceed the upswings. We may say that the crises have become the “rule” and the booms the “exceptions”; economic development in its entirety has been going down and not up.

‘However, the cyclical oscillations are inevitable, and, with capitalism in decline, they will continue as long as capitalism exists.

‘And capitalism will continue until the proletarian revolution is achieved. This is the only correct answer to the question: “Is this the final crisis of capitalism?” ’ (p41)

Trotsky’s approach was clear. He wrote: ‘Marxist revolutionists see their duty in looking clearly into the face of reality and calling things by their names.

‘To make a timely deduction from the objective situation concerning the perspectives of the second stage is to help the advanced workers not to be caught unawares, and to introduce as much clarity as possible into the consciousness of the struggling masses.

‘In this consists at present the task of the serious political leadership.’ (p142)

This is the approach that must be adopted in examining the revolutionary crisis gripping Europe today.

• continued tomorrow



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