Wednesday, 18 February 2015


Beware Greeks bearing debts: Yanis Varoufakis

The Guardian has just published a long, rambling article by the man of the moment, the Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, entitled "How I became an erratic Marxist."

The article, which is adapted from a lecture originally delivered at the 6th Subversive Festival in Zagreb in 2013, shows the confused, ambivalent, blind, and downright dishonest tendencies of the modern Left. It also gives a good insight into how the Left in Greece and other countries will seek to deal with the developing economic crisis.

This crisis is essentially one of financial incontinence, caused by the alliance of big capital and big government, working to bloat credit and parasitical profits on a base of economies over-stimulated by the expansion of the public sector. Greece is just the best specific example of this general trend.

From the article, it soon becomes apparent that the most important point for the Left is to maintain this toxic alliance at all costs, while also finding some way of feeling morally good about itself – an almost Augustinian moment of “Make me good, God, but not yet.” Varoufakis states this clearly near the start of the article:
“Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.”
Later he is more explicit about the consequences:
“A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe is would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone.”
Rather than taking the honest way out, either by advocating Grexit or a full-blown Marxist solution (which of course would fail), he instead advocates sheltering under the umbrella of Euro-Capitalism while assuming an air of moral superiority, based on a semi-mystical understanding of Marxist complexity.
“This dialectical perspective, where everything is pregnant with its opposite, and the eager eye with which Marx discerned the potential for change in what seemed to be the most unchanging of social structures, helped me to grasp the great contradictions of the capitalist era. It dissolved the paradox of an age that generated the most remarkable wealth and, in the same breath, the most conspicuous poverty. Today, turning to the European crisis, the crisis in the United States and the long-term stagnation of Japanese capitalism, most commentators fail to appreciate the dialectical process under their nose. They recognise the mountain of debts and banking losses but neglect the opposite side of the same coin: the mountain of idle savings that are ‘frozen’ by fear and thus fail to convert into productive investments. A Marxist alertness to binary oppositions might have opened their eyes.”
Of course, it’s just possible that savings, along with initiative and enterprise, have been frozen in places like Greece because of over-regulation, taxation, devaluation of honest labour, and the various other distortions that have been introduced into the economy by the rigged game that big capital and big government have been playing now for decades.

"Marxism failing in 3...2...1..."
Varoufakis sounds almost eloquent on the question of labour, referring to it as “living, form-giving fire,” but there is something deeply disingenuous and ambivalent about his views on labour, and those of the Left in general. Like most modern middle-class Marxists, he hates the actual working class with a vengeance, and despises its chief characteristic of productive labour. Under the mask of “critiquing” Neo-liberalism, he argues for an approach that conflates efficient labour with inefficient labour, or, more simply labour with non-labour, using emotive words like “dehumanisation” to describe productive labour and “freedom” to describe its opposite:
“Every non-Marxist economic theory that treats human and non-human productive inputs as interchangeable assumes that the dehumanisation of human labour is complete. But if it could ever be completed, the result would be the end of capitalism as a system capable of creating and distributing value. For a start, a society of dehumanised automata would resemble a mechanical watch full of cogs and springs, each with its own unique function, together producing a ‘good’: timekeeping. Yet if that society contained nothing but other automata, timekeeping would not be a “good”. It would certainly be an output but why a ‘good’? Without real humans to experience the clock’s function, there can be no such thing as 'good’ or ‘bad.”
Essentially, this is the old Marxist slogan of “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” repackaged for the post-modern generation – he even throws in a reference to Invasion of the Body Snatchers although Night of the Living Dead is probably a more accurate description of the Greek economy at the moment. Productive individuals and nations “need” the unproductive individuals and nations in order to go on producing. If everybody was productive, we’d all be too busy producing to buy each other’s goods and services, apparently.

Look, free money.
This “insight” of course has particular application to Greece and the wider European situation. Thanks to Germany’s need to avoid an over-appreciating Deutschmark – caused by its “excessive” productivity – and its creation of the eurozone as a solution, the Greeks have been able, for the last decade or so, to assume the role of “professional consumers,” living a lot larger than their collective abilities and efforts would otherwise have warranted. The present unsupportable debt is a relatively accurate measure of this.

What this all reveals is that the New Left is just as anti-labour as big capital, although the reasons may differ. While big capital seeks to use its power to cheapen and degrade labour in the economic equation in order to strengthen its power and maximize profits, the New Left seeks to conflate labour with consumption, efficiency with inefficiency, hard work with parasitism, and superiority with inferiority. It is this warm fuzzy form of economic cancer, so amenable to political packaging and the machinations of big capital that is the real reason for the growing economic entropy of the international system.

For Leftists like Varoufakis, Greek public officials retiring in their 50s on fat pensions or Somali refugees turning some Swedish suburb into a rape camp are just as important cogs in the great machine as the Chinese factory labourer putting in back-breaking twelve-hour days or the hyper-productive German engineer. They are all equal because “everything is pregnant with its opposite” – including Swedish rape victims!

Varoufakis writes about how Marxists and Neo-Liberals divvied up the main buzzwords – freedom, equality, and justice:
“In the 20th century, the two political movements that sought their roots in Marx’s thought were the communist and social democratic parties. Both of them, in addition to their other errors (and, indeed, crimes) failed, to their detriment, to follow Marx’s lead in a crucial regard: instead of embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for equality and justice, bequeathing the concept of freedom to the neoliberals.”
Varoufakis obviously thinks that Marxists should own all the buzzwords, but the problem of course is that “equality” is an extremely bad fit not only with “freedom” both even more so with “justice.”

The solution to the increasingly moribund global economy is to emphasize justice, as in just deserts. But this runs counter to everything that Leftists hold sacred, because any serious application of justice would result in massive inequality of outcome. If those who work harder, who are smarter, and more disciplined – the “automata” and hollowed-out zombies in Varoufakis's article – were rewarded according to their merits, then the economy would crackle with energy and life.

Instead, the poisonous creed of egalitarianism, manipulated by clever but dishonest financiers, politicians, and academics, has been leeching merit out of the global economic system at every level for years, and this trend looks set to continue, even with the example of a collapsing Greece.

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