Category Archives: Socialism

Greek tragedy and dreams of a Star Trek future


Yanis Varoufakis is a political hybrid, perceived as so a dangerous radical by the financial powers of Europe that they forced his ouster as finance minister in the supposedly radical leftist government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had be voted into power precisely to resist that Troika of European Central Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.

His term in office lasted less that six months, from 27 January to 6 July of 2015.

Varoufakis now serves as Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens and as private consultant for Bellevue, Washington, video game  development and software distributor Valve Corporation. He’s also a prolific blogger and Twitterpater.

In a 3 August 2015 profile by Ian Parker of the New Yorker, Varoufakis described one incident during his brief tenure a Greek money manager:

At the White House, Varoufakis repeated a line that he had used at Brookings: “Mr. President, my government is planning, and I am planning, to compromise, compromise, and compromise, but we’re not going to be compromised.” (“He liked that,” Varoufakis recalled.) Varoufakis told him, “Mr. President, of course one has to suffer costs in order to get the benefits, but the question is the balance. There has to be a positive balance.” He went on, “We are being asphyxiated for trying to simulate what you did, right?”

Obama showed more solidarity than Varoufakis was expecting. “I know — austerity sucks,” Obama said. (“He used those words. Very un-Presidential.”) According to Varoufakis, the President was referring less to austerity’s unpleasantness than to its ineffectiveness. Obama meant that austerity “doesn’t work — it creates misery, and it’s self-perpetuating, and it’s self-defeating.”

Varoufakis told Obama that he hadn’t felt quite the same comradeship when speaking with the U.S. Treasury Secretary. “Jack Lew is not toeing the Obama line,” he said.

Lew’s views prevailed.

In the following interview for The Real News Network by Canadian lawyer, journalist, and environmental activist Dimitri Lascaris, Varoufakis details the pressure on Greece and the reasons he abandoned his office:

Yanis Varoufakis: How The Greek People’s Magnificent “No” Became “Yes”

From the transcript:

LASCARIS: Let’s talk a little bit about the future, what the future holds for Greece in particular. As you know, I’m sure all too painfully, the Syriza government has been implementing a series of so-called reforms at the insistence of the Troika, which many regard as being harsher than the terms previously dictated to the right-wing New Democracy-led government. And recently Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, expressed the view that 2016 would mark the beginning of the end of the economic crisis in Greece. Do you think that that’s a realistic assessment in light of the nature and harshness of the austerity measures being implemented?

VAROUFAKIS: Dimitri, a simple one-word answer: no. Look. This program that was agreed in August, and which I voted against in Greek parliament, was designed to fail. There is precisely zero probability that it will succeed. The prime minister himself, Tsipras, said so back in August. He described the treaty that he signed, the agreement that he signed on [I think] the 13th of July, as a document that was extracted from him by coup d’etat. These were not my words. These were his.

Now, the great disagreement we had, we had this personally, as well, in a very comradely and friendly way, but it was nevertheless a strong, intellectual disagreement, was this. He said to me, and he said to the parliament, and he said to the public, that we have to accept this toxic, failed program that is never going to work, because if we don’t then the banks will never open again, and we’ll then have blood on the streets, more or less.

Well, what he intended to do was to introduce a parallel program, legislative program, comprising his own, his own government’s agenda for looking after the weak, sustaining those on very low pensions and income. A parallel program, he called it. So there is the [proposed] failed program, which is the price we have to pay according to Prime Minister Tsipras, for the surrender, the defeat. But we introduce a parallel program which justifies why you are staying in power to implement the toxic program.

Now, it is indeed the case that Prime Minister Tsipras and his government tried to do that. In early–late November, early December, they did table in Greek parliament the parallel program. Two days later, the president of the Euro Working Group, which is the effective functionary of the Troika, it came out and said, uh-uh, you have to withdraw that. And a Greek minister humiliated himself and the Greek government by making it sound as if it was his own idea that they should withdraw this parallel program. So this parallel program now has been withdrawn by the Greek government itself, at the behest of the Troika.

So even by the logic of the prime minister, the answer to your question is no.

If you’re curious about Varoufakis’s political and economic beliefs, here’s a December TED talk in which he expounds of a set of ideas that he believes is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian, via his post on Social Europe:

Why Capitalism Will Eat Democracy

Program notes:

Have you wondered why politicians aren’t what they used to be, why governments seem unable to solve real problems? Economist Yanis Varoufakis, the former Minister of Finance for Greece, says that it’s because you can be in politics today but not be in power — because real power now belongs to those who control the economy. He believes that the mega-rich and corporations are cannibalizing the political sphere, causing financial crisis. In this talk, hear his dream for a world in which capital and labor no longer struggle against each other, “one that is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian.”

A transcript of the talk is posted here.

Curious numbers of the day: What’s with Iowa?


Those pinko Iowa Democrats.

From the Washington Post [emphases added]:

A little-noticed data point in the new Selzer & Co. Iowa poll, in fact, shows that 43 percent of likely voters in the Feb. 1 caucuses say they would use the word “socialist” to describe themselves.

And to be very clear, this question was not whether they would vote for a socialist or sympathize with socialism; it’s whether they consider themselves socialist.

The 43 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers who self-identify as socialist is actually more than the number who identify themselves as capitalist — 38 percent.

Podemos: Seen on the brink of a breakthrough


Podemos, a political movement born on Span’s college campuses 22 months ago out of anger of the extreme austerity measures immiserating Spain’s young people, because the third most powerful political force in the country in elections 20 December, capturing 21 percent of the national vote, one point behind the Spanish social democrats [PSOE], and just eight points behind the ruling neoliberal Popular Party.

Their rise to big numbers effectively ended Spain’s long duopoly and gave organizational form to the demands expressed by the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards who took to the streets for the marches of the 15-M Movement in 2011.

Writing in the 17 December issue of the London Review of Books, Dan Hancox examines the party’s origins:

The roots of Podemos lie in the huge 2011 indignados protests against the Spanish political system in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. The crisis left a quarter of Spanish families living below the poverty line, and a majority of the rest earning no more than a thousand euros a month; 400,000 families were evicted over the next few years, while more than three million homes lay empty. Unemployment rose above 26 per cent, and above 60 per cent for 16-24-year-olds; a significant proportion of Spain’s graduates left for the US and Northern Europe. In 2012, under the guidance of the Troika, the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, who has led the PP since 2004, made deep cuts to public sector jobs and public spending while also introducing labour reforms to make it easier to sack employees.

The Spanish establishment, meanwhile, thrived. The market for luxury goods soared, and rates of corporation tax plummeted: revenues dropped from €40 billion in 2007 to €22 billion in 2012, while income tax revenue rose by €10 billion. Spain’s nightly TV news was dominated by corruption scandals affecting both of the main parties, the judiciary, the unions, the royal family and any number of private sector corporations. Few of these scandals have been prosecuted, let alone ended in convictions. It is unsurprising that a new political formation emerged to challenge the complacency and corruption of the politicians, bankers, royals, media barons and judges: the political and economic establishment Podemos refers to as ‘la casta’.

To get a better sense of what drove this dramatic rise, the Guardian’s Owen Jones, himself a Podemos supporter, traveled with the party’s leaders on the day of their last pre-election rally.

From the Guardian via Journeyman Pictures:

Podemos: On The Path To Election Success

Program notes:

[The] Spanish general election saw anti-austerity party Podemos win 69 parliamentary seats, and 21% of the vote. This report followed Podemos and their leader Pablo Iglesias during their pre-election campaign, up to the surprising results.

“We are experiencing in the city councils in Spain, in the very small margins of the state, of the administration, it is possible to change many things” said Pablo Iglesias, the party’s secretary-general in an interview last week. During the last week of their campaign before the general election strong support is evident, with 13,000 people attending a Valencian rally. Does this signal the collapse of the two party system in Spain? As Ada Colau, Major of Barcelona explains “The nation-of-nations approach that Podemos has articulated is an authentic revolution in this country.”

Just what impact Podemos will have in the short term is still unclear, though the Popular Party, as the leading vote-getter, is trying — still unsuccessfully — to form a coalition government.

The PSOE has rejected a coalition with the Popular Party and instead has announced plans to call for a coalition of the Left should Prime Minister and Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy fail to forge a coalition.

On thing is certain: Things are going to be interesting.

Greek economist announces Euro leftist alliance


We begin with a report from Deutsche Welle:

German socialist newspaper “Neues Deutschland” reported Sunday that Greece’s former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who rose to fame after being given the ministerial position by the left-wing Syriza party last year, is planning to launch a movement which he hopes will reform European Union institutions.

The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – or DiEM 25 – will be presented in February by Varoufakis at Berlin’s Volksbühne theater, according to the organization’s website.

The theater mentions within its program that Varoufakis will be attending the February 9 event to introduce DiEM25 “with ‘collaborators’ from across Europe to present concrete ideas on how to democratize Europe and how to avoid its creeping fragmentation.”

In an October interview, Greece’s former finance minister said his familiarity with tough Eurogroup meetings – held to discuss the country’s third bailout package – had shown that the European Union was not autonomous and that transparency was urgently needed.

Varoufakis is an interesting figure, a Marxist with a libertarian bent.

He won election to the Greek parliament, gaining the most votes of any candidate, in the January 2105 elections that passed the reins of government from a coalition led by the conservative New Democracy into hand of a coalition led by the leftist Syriza party under Alexis Tsipras, who became prime minister with the Varoufakis as finance minister.

Syriza won power because of the parties strong opposition to the harsh economic regime installed by the Torika of the European Union,, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

When it became apparent that more draconian measures would be required before the Troika would extend another bailout, Syriza called for a 5 July national referendum in which Varoufakis played a leading role. When 61.5 percent of Greeks backed the anti-Troika measure, the Troika apparently handed down a mandate: Dump Varoufakis or nor further help.

Two days later he was gone and the Troika subsequently approved the bailout, including mandatory selloffs of more of the already gutted Greek commons.

By way of background, here’s a fascinating interview of the former finance minister by German journalist Dirk Pohlmann for KenFM:

Yanis Varoufakis Candid Interview: Shocking Disfunction and The Power Of Oligarchs

Amazon’s paper fires last U.S. labor columnist


Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos has been a bitter foe of Unions from the start, as Wikipedia notes:

Amazon has opposed efforts by trade unions to organize in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2001, 850 employees in Seattle were laid off by Amazon.com after a unionization drive. The Washington Alliance of Technological Workers (WashTech) accused the company of violating union laws, and claimed Amazon managers subjected them to intimidation and heavy propaganda. Amazon denied any link between the unionization effort and layoffs. Also in 2001, Amazon.co.uk hired a US management consultancy organization, The Burke Group, to assist in defeating a campaign by the Graphical, Paper and Media Union (GPMU, now part of Unite the Union) to achieve recognition in the Milton Keynes distribution depot. It was alleged that the company victimized or sacked four union members during the 2001 recognition drive and held a series of captive meetings with employees.

And now that Bezos has bought the Washington Post, it comes as no surprise that the paper has dismissed Harold Meyerson, the last remaining journalist on a major newspaper to devote his fulltime energies to the labor beat.

From Talking Union, the labor blog of the Democratic Socialists of America [Their website is down at the moment, but you can read the fukll post at the blog of the Sacramento Progressive Alliance]:

Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor, has fired columnist Harold Meyerson, one of the nation’s finest journalists and perhaps the only self-proclaimed socialist to write a weekly column for a major American newspaper during the past decade or two.

At a time when America is experiencing an upsurge of progressive organizing and activism — from Occupy Wall Street, to Black Lives Matter, to the growing movement among low-wage workers demanding higher minimum wages, to Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president — we need a regular columnist who can explain what’s going on, why it’s happening, and what it means.

More than any other columnist for a major U.S. newspaper, Meyerson provided ongoing coverage and incisive analysis of the nation’s labor movement and other progressive causes as well as the changing economy and the increasing aggressiveness of big business in American politics. He was one of the few columnists in the country who knew labor leaders and grassroots activists by name, and who could write sympathetically and knowledgeably about working people’s experiences in their workplaces and communities.

Since Steve Greenhouse retired last year as the New York Times’ brilliant labor reporter, no other major paper has a reporter who covers unions and working people on a full-time basis. Now with Meyerson’s firing, there’s not one weekly columnist who understands the ins and outs of organized (and disorganized) labor.

Back when esnl began his life in newspapers, most newspapers had a labor beat, either as a full time assignment or as a major emphasis of a general assignment report.

Those days are long gone, and with newspaper ownership now mostly in the hands of a few giant corporations and, increasingly, investment funds, labor is a beat that doesn’t suit the interests of owners.

It’s rather ironic that as, for the first time in nearly a century, a socialist candidate makes a strong showing in public opinion polls, the last socialist newspaper columnist is sacked, and the era of full time labor beats has come to an end.

But then, as that great media critic A.J. Liebling famously wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

H/T to Undernews.

The School of the Americas: Evil unleashed


There is no institution more symbolic of the arrogance and violence at the heart of U.S. foreign policy than the School of the Americas, or as it was rebranded following revelations about the bloody deeds of its graduates, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. And do catch the logo, most notably the Crusader Cross on the right, symbol of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, one of the two leading monastic military orders during the Crusades [the other being the Knights Templar]:

BLOG SOA

The School of the Americas, by whatever name, has served as the Western Hemisphere equivalent of a Nazi SS leadership training school, turning out an elite crew of highly trained butchers eager to serve the interests of the rich and of U.S. corporations threatened by democratically elected Left-leaning Latin American governments.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds of thousands of citizens of countries governed by SOA graduates have fled, and they now comprise the leading source of undocumented immigrants to the U.S., the very immigrants railed against by those very same politicians who can be relied upon to fund the SOA’s damnably dirty deeds.

All of which brings us to the latest edition of Abby Martin’s The Empire Files, her weekly series for TeleSUR English:

Empire Files: The U.S. School That Trains Dictators and Death Squads

Program notes:

On November 22, thousands gathered at the gates of Fort Benning, GA at the 25th annual protest of the School of the Americas to memorialize the tens of thousands of people who lost their lives at the hands of the U.S. Empire’s brutally repressive juntas it used to rule Latin America by force.

The dictators and death squad leaders, who committed acts of genocide, were trained within the gates of Fort Benning, at the School of the Americas – otherwise known as the “School Of Assassins.”

Abby Martin investigates this notorious school that is largely hidden from the American public; it’s crimes around the world, it’s star graduates, why it exists and the movement to shut it down.

Featuring interviews with School Of the Americas Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois and other SOAW leaders. [Follow @SOAWatch and visit SOAW.org for more info on the movement]

Quote of the day: An old American tradition


Dr. Cornel West, speaking to the Story County Democratic Party annual fall barbecue in Ames, Iowa, via Esquire:

“Brother Bernie [Sanders] and I come from a great tradition,” West continued, his tone rising and falling in the familiar cadence and modulation of the pulpit. “The tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Einnnn-stein. The tradition of Helen Keller and Ella Baker. The tradition of John Dewey, who is the founder of pragmatism, but he was a democratic socialist, too. Reinhold Niebuhr! And my dear brother, one of the greatest folk I’ve ever met in Iowa, his name is Reverend Gil Dawes, who’s a Methodist minister, who has been struggling for fifty YEARS and still on fire for justice! The point is that, you see, democratic socialism is not some kind of alien element. It’s organic and indigenous in the history of this nation. Don’t allow the ‘ism’ get in the way of the love of poor people, the love of working people, the love of people of color, the love of gay brothers and lesbian sisters, the love of the elderly and the children and the physically challenged. It’s a question of what kind of human being do you want to be.”