Yanis Varoufakis: more erratic than Marxist

While the ‘enfant terrible’ of the financial media, Greece’s new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, enters key negotiations with other Eurozone finance ministers on a deal over Greek debt and economic recovery, I have been reading up on Varoufakis’ economics and philosophical ideas.

As a trained economist who has held many academic posts in various universities around the world, YV considers himself a Marxist, but an ‘erratic’ one. As he put it in a post on his blog back in 2013 (http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2013/12/10/confessions-of-an-erratic-marxist-in-the-midst-of-a-repugnant-european-crisis/#_edn2), “while an unapologetic Marxist, I think it is important to resist him passionately in a variety of ways. To be, in other words, erratic in one’s Marxism.”

In his confessional post, VF explains that, although he considered himself a Marxist, he avoided studying Marxist economics at university because he wanted to understand and take on the basic premises of mainstream bourgeois economics. “When I chose my doctoral thesis, back in 1982, I chose a highly mathematical topic and a theme within which Marx’s thought was irrelevant, by design.” He is apparently an expert on the role of game theory in markets and the economic behaviour of ‘market agents’, being employed at one time by a gaming company for his expertise.

But he recognised that bourgeois economic theory bore little relation to reality. “When called upon to comment on the world we live in, as opposed to the dominant ideology regarding the workings of our world, I had no alternative but to fall back on the Marxist tradition”.

And what were key merits of the Marxist tradition in the eyes of YV? First, it was Marx’s insight that the world was full of contradiction: wealth and poverty; growth and collapse; democracy and the rule of the elite. “This dialectical perspective, where everything is pregnant with its opposite, and the eager eye with which Marx discerned the potential for change in the seemingly most constant and unchanging of social structures, helped me 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.”

It was Marx’s dialectical thinking that enabled him to make his most important discovery about the capitalist mode of production, namely the “binary opposition deeply within human labour. Between labour’s two quite different ‘natures’: (i) labour as a value-creating (“fire breathing”) activity that can never be specified or quantified in advance (and therefore impossible to commodify), and (ii) labour as a quantity (e.g. numbers of hours worked) that is for sale and comes at a price.”

Thus Marx’s “brilliant insight into the essence of capitalist crises was precisely this: the greater capitalism’s success in turning labour into a commodity, the less the value of each unit of output it generates, the lower the profit rate and, ultimately, the nearer the next nasty recession of the economy as a system.”

Thus VF correctly captures the key law of contradiction under capitalism: the accumulation of capital through the exploitation of labour has a tendency to lower profitability and engender regular and recurrent crises in production.  So as YV puts it: “Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic, mechanised input, without destroying itself. That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp! “If the whole class of the wage-labourer were to be annihilated by machinery”, wrote Marx “how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labour, ceases to be capital!”

For YV, Marx exposes the ‘false consciousness’ of bourgeois economics that reckons “wealth is privately produced and then appropriated by a quasi-illegitimate state” when the opposite is the reality “wealth is collectively produced and then privately appropriated through social relations of production and property rights”.   Moreover, YV also recognises that Marx does argue that what is wrong with capitalism is not inequality (that has existed in all class societies) but that it is wracked with continual crises that are “irrational, as it habitually condemns whole generations to deprivation and unemployment”.

All this would seem to make YV a Marxist by most definitions. But YV goes onto to say that he is really an “erratic” one because, in his view, Marx was wrong in two key areas.

First, he was far too dogmatic and closed in his views. As a result, he bred Marxists after him who adopted authoritarian policies and actions. Marx “failed to give sufficient thought, and kept a judicious silence, over the impact of his own theorising on the world that he was theorising about… He just did not consider the possibility that the creation of a workers’ state would force capitalism to become more civilised while the workers’ state would be infected with the virus of totalitarianism as the hostility of the rest of the (capitalist) world towards it grew and grew.”

Thus YV agrees with the superficial view of the populist right-wing papers and conservative thinkers that there is a straight line from Marx to Stalin and Pol Pot. There is no space here to deal with this ludicrous calumny of Marx and Marxism. I leave the reader to consider how justified YV’s argument is.

That’s because, according to YV, Marx’s other big error is even worse than breeding authoritarian and totalitarian regimes calling themselves Marxist. “It was his assumption that truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models (the so-called ‘schemas of reproduction’). This was the worst disservice Marx could have delivered to his own theoretical system.”

According to YV, Marx was determined in his determinism (my phrase).  Marx wanted to find economic models and laws that ‘proved’ capitalism would collapse or be subject to crises, when no such proofs can exist. By “toying around with simplistic algebraic models, in which labour units were, naturally, fully quantified, hoping against hope to evince from these equations some additional insights about capitalism.” As a result, we epigones of Marxist economics have “wasted long careers indulging a similar type of scholastic mechanism…Fully immersed in irrelevant debates on the transformation problem” and thus being ignored by mainstream economics.

YV’s argument smacks of empiricism and opposition to theory. Actually, the ‘scholastic’ debates over the ‘transformation problem’ by Marxists in the 1980s and 1990s eventually culminated in an important advance in Marxist economic theory that successfully defended Marx’s law of profitability against the attempts of mainstream neoclassical and neo-Ricardian economics to rubbish it (see Andrew Kliman’s seminal book, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, http://akliman.squarespace.com/reclaiming/). That is what theoretical debate is about: to advance our understanding in a rigorous way.

Yet YV goes on “It was this determination to “have the ‘complete’, ‘closed’ story, or model, the ‘final word’, is something I cannot forgive Marx for. It proved, after all, responsible for a great deal of error and, more significantly, of authoritarianism. Errors and authoritarianism that are largely responsible for the Left’s current impotence as a force of good and as a check on the abuses of reason and liberty that the neoliberal crew are overseeing today.”  Thus Marx was a closed mind thinker, a determinist who had no room for error and doubt and thus wasted the time of later Marxists in pointless debates and he was so harsh on those who criticised this determinist view that he bred authoritarian attitudes in his followers.

Serious crimes, indeed, if they were true. But YV is talking nonsense. YV criticises Marx’s Volume 2 of Capital for trying to find a mathematical formula to show that capitalist accumulation can grow smoothly, when the real world is indeterminate, full of chance and change. But like many others, YV fails to recognise that Marx’s reproduction schema in Volume 2 are not meant to depict the reality of capitalism with all its warts. They are a model of ‘capital in general’, where capitalism is reduced to the basic forces of value creation and reproduction, excluding competition between capitals, credit, money, the equalisation of the rate of profit between capitals and the differences engendered between values and prices of production, let alone daily market prices.

Marx’s schemes of reproduction in Volume 2 were not a ‘closed model’ of capitalism. What they show is that capitalist accumulation will not stumble because of the ‘lack of effective demand’. Accumulation can take place with demand for capital goods and consumer goods. It is possible for a balance. But in reality that never happens except by accident. It is as indeterminate as YV wants.  Marx recognised and argued that the capitalist mode of production was a dynamic and uncertain system, but he delved below the level of uncertainty and appearances to the essence of capital in general and then added back each stage of reality to the level of many capitals (Volume 3) and then to market prices.

As Henryk Grossman explains in his essay on value and prices of production, at the level of many capitals, it is prices of production that move to establish an average rate of profit not values (see here Intro to Grossman Value-price trans and crisis 141101). And this is where the crux of crises rests – in the movement of the average rate of profit (Volume 3), not in the value reproduction schemes (Volume 2). This is a key mistake of Luxemburg and Bauer’s understanding of Marx’s reproduction schemas – and it seems YV as well.

Having convinced himself that Marx had a serious whiff of authoritarian determinism, he contrasts this with his delight in John Maynard Keynes’ eclectic indeterminancy. Yes, Keynes was on the side of the bourgeois and yes he was a snob etc, and he supported the ideas of that arch conservative thinker of classical economic, Rev Thomas Malthus, but “Keynes embraced Malthus’ scepticism regarding (a) the wisdom of seeking a theory of value which is consistent with capitalism’s complexity and dynamics, and (b) Ricardo’s conviction, which Marx later inherited, that persistent depression is incompatible with capitalism.”

You see, YV says, the trouble with Marx’s theory of crises is that it too generous to capitalism. Once sufficient capital values are destroyed and profitability is restored, capitalism can recover into a new cycle of accumulation and growth. But Keynes (and Malthus apparently) saw that this was wrong because capitalism can get locked into Great and Long Depressions that it cannot get out of. “Marx told the story of redemptive recessions occurring due to the twin nature of labour and giving rise to periods of growth that are pregnant with the next downturn which, in turn, begets the next recovery, and so on. However, there was nothing redemptive about the Great Depression. The 1930s slump was just that: a slump that behaved very much like a static equilibrium – a state of the economy that seemed perfectly capable of perpetuating itself, with the anticipated recovery stubbornly refusing to appear over the horizon even after the rate of profit recovered in response to the collapse of wages and interest rates.”

So “Keynes’ gem of a ‘discovery’ about capitalism was twofold: (A) It was an inherently indeterminate system, featuring what economists might refer to today as an infinity of multiple equilibria, some of which were consistent with permanent mass unemployment, and (B) it could fall into one of these terrible equilibria at the drop of a hat, unpredictably, without rhyme or reason, just because a significant portion of capitalists feared that it may do so.”

YV’s view that Marx’s theory of crises under capitalism cannot encompass long and lasting depressions and only explains regular and ‘normal’ recessions is again poppycock. Indeed, this blog has spent loads of words and time on arguing that Marx’s theory of crises provides the best explanation of the Great Depression and the current Long Depression, unlike Keynesian answers (see my posts, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/why-is-there-a-long-depression/). And my upcoming book, due out in June, deals exactly with this issue.

YV exalts Keynes’ notion of ‘animal spirits’, i.e. that what drives capitalist accumulation is not the movement of profitability but the psychological and emotional ‘confidence’ of individual capitalists. According to YV, this is a “deeply radical idea” because it captures “the radical indeterminacy buried inside capitalism’s very DNA.”, a concept that Marx had abandoned “so as to establish his theorems as mathematical, indisputable proofs.” Again I have not the space to deal with the fallacies of Keynesian uncertainty and animal spirits as an explanation of capitalist crises (see my essay on Keynesianism here, APPENDIX TWO).

But most erratic is YV’s views about the current global economic crisis and in particular, the crisis in the Eurozone. He dramatically points out that “Europe’s present crisis is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for particular groups, social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.”  Yikes, the end of civilisation: this suggests the need for radical socialist policies before it is too late.

But no. You see, the long depression being experienced in Europe (which I agree is a correct interpretation) “puts radicals in a terrible dilemma.” You see, it is not an environment for radical socialist policies after all. Instead “it is the Left’s historical duty, at this particular juncture, to stabilise capitalism; to save European capitalism from itself and from the inane handlers of the Eurozone’s inevitable crisis”.

Thus, YV says, his interventions in the public debate on Greece and Europe (e.g. the Modest Proposal for Resolving the Euro Crisis (see http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/euro-crisis/modest-proposal/), that he, Stuart Holland and James Galbraith (see my post, https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/from-establishment-to-anti-establishment/) co-authored and have been campaigning in favour of “does not have a whiff of Marxism in it.” Modest indeed!

YV says he would rather promote socialist policies as an answer to the Euro crisis but that would be unrealistic. Radical policies did not achieve anything against the forces of neoliberalism and Thatcherism in the 1980s: “What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Mrs Thatcher’s neoliberal trap? Precisely none.”  Apparently, it was a waste of time advocating socialist policies (assuming we did) in the 1980s because the people of Britain just swallowed Thatcherism hook, line and sinker (just a point, Thatcher never gained more than 40% of the vote in any election and most voters voted against her in all elections).  So when will socialist policies be worth advocating, according to YV – after we have saved capitalism? I don’t follow the logic.

This erratic Marxist, now negotiating with the neo-liberal Euro leaders aims “to save European capitalism from itself” so as to “minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis; the countless lives whose prospects will be further crushed without any benefit whatsoever for the future generations of Europeans.”  Apparently socialism cannot do this.  YV says “we are just not ready to plug the chasm that a collapsing European capitalism will open up with a functioning socialist system”.

Instead, according to YV, “a Marxist analysis of both European capitalism and of the Left’s current condition compels us to work towards a broad coalition, even with right-wingers, the purpose of which ought to be the resolution of the Eurozone crisis and the stabilisation of the European Union… Ironically, those of us who loathe the Eurozone have a moral obligation to save it!”  Thus YV has campaigned for his Modest Proposal for Europe with “the likes of Bloomberg and New York Times journalists, of Tory members of Parliament, of financiers who are concerned with Europe’s parlous state.”

An erratic Marxist indeed!

46 thoughts on “Yanis Varoufakis: more erratic than Marxist

  1. That’s right, sit there in your corner, write up a blog and be completely irrelevant for what’s really going on in the world. You can be right in some things – though this text contains nonsense that I have never seen from you before – now the question is how you can get your right. I find it all pretty disgusting actually.For the first time in 40 years a left party wins an election but for some of the Marxists there’s nothing good about that. Make yourself irrelevant. Have your superior analyses. Get absolutely nowhere. Come on!

    1. Michael has done a wonderful job of outlining the practical difficulties (impossibilities) and ideological aberrations that enable “socialists” to try and steer the Greek (capitalist) state.

      I’d rather “get absolutely nowhere” within capitalism than join the ranks of its cheerleaders.

    2. You are so right, Will. Really, can’t you Marxists learn the lessons of history and get on board with the good people who have, unlike you irrelevant sectarians, contributed so mightily to real progress that has been made almost everywhere? and pretty much continuously throughout history?

      Look, you guys were against Obama, weren’t you? Look how well he’s done. And the guy has absolutely earned every penny of that Nobel Prize, predator drones to the contrary not withstanding.

      But technically, no this is not the first time in 40 years a so-called leftist party has won an election. Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, even Brazil (it would be sectarian to not admit the Partido dos Trabalhadores to the pantheon of progressive, relevant heroes) all saw left parties winning elections.

      And before Syriza, there was this so-called left wing party in Greece, PASOK, that won election in 2009.

      Hot damn, the future is bright, so bright you better bring your sunglasses.

      Yes, Will, I’m with you; let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in, supporting Syriza unconditionally, because after all, we know that renegotiating the debt is so much more relevant on non-sectarian than demanding its repudiation.

      Tell me, in your regular life, do you work for a collection agency?

  2. @Will. Yes, well, we have already seen where this kind of “left” alliance with right wing bourgeois parties (i.e. popular fronts) leads to in Spain (1936-9) and Chile (1973). Some people never fucking well learn.

    Roberts’ critique is a fair and balanced contribution to understanding Syriza’s bankrupt economic ideas.

  3. It is not at all clear when socialists will be “ready” to “plug the chasm” if we exert all our energy concocting elaborate ways to rescue capitalism from itself. Yes, theoretical innovations may come along in the intellectual world that might allow for new ways of thinking about economic organization. Yes, technology will likely continue to improve productive potential. Yes, workers may continue to become better educated still and more able to manage their own enterprises. But this does not mean very much without practical experience with the problems of building socialism.

    How can we possibly build the strong socialist movement that Varoufakis dreams of if we concern ourselves first and foremost with keeping capitalism afloat and limit our discussions of socialism to vague talk about the future? Furthermore how can we see a future for the socialist movement if workers keep electing socialists and those socialists keep telling them that the best they can expect of them is an accommodation with the capitalist class?

    Varoufakis is correct to see the movement as weak and embattled, and the chances it has in Greece as very important not only to Greece but to the whole world. He is also correct in pointing out that throwing away tactical concerns and going out in a blaze of defiant socialist glory is hardly a savvy strategy. However I hope that he is not so committed to his self-described “Menshevik” position that he will not consider abandoning it for a socialist one if the Troika decides to make an example of Greece by pushing it out of the Euro.

    Syriza deserves credit for showing some backbone in their negotiations with the Troika, but it would be a mistake for them to dismiss socialism out of hand.

    As for Varoufakis’ argument that Keynes was a more radical thinker than Marx, well I haven’t seen much in the history of Keynesianism or in the Keynesian arguments that have popped up since 2008 to suggest that there’s much merit to that idea. Certainly a very narrow comparison of the Keynesian “animal spirits” model to the reproduction schemas would suggest that Keynes attributed more importance to psychology and institutional agency than Marx’s mechanical “process without a subject.” But we get plenty about institutional agency in the rest of Capital, for example in the Vol. III section on finance. In fact if Keynesianism actually worked as advertised it would be just as “mechanical” as a servomechanism when viewed from a distance. I am no great Marx scholar, but Varoufakis’ criticisms here seem fairly superficial to me.

    1. “Process without a subject” is one side of the unit. The other is “social relation.” Taken as a unit it avoids the “mechanic” and empiricist reading. The dialectical logic implies something different from the teolological and positivist reading of YV. There is not a certain and guaranteed outcome. Formal logic has been used to read Capital, but it usually creates confusion.

      1. It is true that the reproduction schemas not only demonstrate a certain understanding of the mechanics of the reproduction and (as a necessity of reproduction) circulation of the system, but also demonstrate how the working class (through the alienation of the product of its labour) reproduces the conditions of its own exploitation and thereby reproduces the capital-labour social relation. This is the sense in which Marx discusses the matter of simple and expanded reproduction in Vol. I, and this interpretation can be carried over into reading Vol. II.

        Of course this does not make the working class the collective subject of the reproduction schemas. The reproduction process is obscure to the workers in our lived experience of capitalism, similarly there is no sense in which the capitalist class is taken to be orchestrating the process. It is precisely the role of Marx’s “science” to illuminate these obscure characteristics of the whole. If the reproduction process was self-consciously transparent there would be no dialectical movement to be had, but it is not, so we have the moment of theory that negates this obscurity, but it only does so abstractly.

        Therefore Varoufakis’ praise of Keynes’ focus on the psychology of capitalists and on government planners as powerful subject-agents capable of diagnosing the psychological failings of capitalists as a group (and intervening to remedy the problem) appears to be legitimate when compared exclusively to the reproduction schemas. However the comparison is really not an appropriate one since it is a very one-sided view of Marx. Dialectically speaking, it is only when the working class makes the abstract implications of the reproduction schemas concrete through social change that we have a “subjective” moment that is manifest in the negation of the existing social order (subjectivity being essentially negative).

        To whatever extent we can speak of Keynes’ social diagnosis as dialectical, it is only in that the resolution of the investment problem through the “subjective” intervention of the state produces its opposite through the normalization of this action and the reassertion of the “mechanical” or alienated character of capitalist reproduction at a higher level.

  4. Economists in bourgeois universities are just trained statisticians. There can be no end to austerity within a big business EU for Greece. Surrounded by Balkan countries with their own currency bosses shift manufacturing there or they import cheap Labour and added to the fact that China has become a manufacturing hub, no jobs are planned to be created by Syriza.

    Unless a radical plan is created in less work but work for all with no loss of pay and controls are placed on the import of goods, services, capital and Labour with a return to a national currency there won’t be any end in sight…

  5. “It is prices of production that move to establish an average rate of profit not values. And this is where the crux of crises rests – in the movement of the average rate of profit.”

    Prices of production merely shuffle surplus value among capitals. It doesn’t matter whether commodities sell at these prices, at their values, or whatever; the general profit rate remains the ratio of total surplus value over total capital. When accumulation works – the prosperity phase – it inevitably generates a falling rate of profit, and then the prosperity phase collapses.

  6. Did anyone here read any of Varoufakis’ books?
    I rest my case.

    Here is a thesis for you to think about: I’ll use the usual parlance. The extreme left, the fossilized CPs, are the objective allies of Angela Merkel. It is absolutely disgusting to stand there and talk about the revolution and then stand there and criticise everybody else. The arrogance of it all. But things are getting better. Give it another 10 to 20 years and then these guys will be all gone. I can’t wait. In the meantime, get 1, 2 or 3% of the votes and hallucinate that you have actually a mandate to say anything at all. I suspected nothing else than that the KKE would work against Syriza, just as the communists work against Podemos. To hell with them. Nobody needs you. With all your rhetoric, you never accomplished anything. Those who receive an unemployment benefit in Greece today, or sleep inside a house, or those who can feed their children and get them to school are grateful to you. The extreme left doesn’t care about these people. It cares about nothing. It cares about being right. Disgusting. If Marx would be a live, he would vote Syriza.

    1. It amazes me how hollow and empty of arguments supporters of Syriza are demosntrating to be. One thing is to be “reformist” and another to be a “progressist”. Sryza is not a reformist party, not in the vein of the SPD until 1914, not like SPD after 1914 and until the 1930s, nothing like Chile’s PCs until the 1990s. Its roots as a party are way more bourgeois than the PCs led by the VIIth congress of the third international, far more bourgeois than stalinism until 1980.

      Its own origins are in eurocommunism, a vein of the PCs that rejected reformist politics and joined bourgeois socialdemocrats. Eurocommunism not only thought that the working class needed to ally itself with the medium and small capital, but also with “top managers” (gerentes).

      Many of Syriza’s leading figures come from Pasok, a bourgeois liberal party that implemented the most brutal attack on the greek working class since 1990. Also, its social base isnt a working class base (as was the base of the reformist parties), but a fraction of the dominant class.

      Not only Syriza aligned itself with ANEL about a year ago and not only this month (and this party is linked with the high fascist posts in the military, and represents the magnates of the ports and thir alliance with the chinese) and one of its first actions was to bow to the greek ortodox church (not bernstein, kautsky or even krsichev got that far),but it is its program that is a bourgeois and capitalist one:

      El programa de este “radical” partido griego implica:
      a) La articulación de un “Nuevo trato europeo” (un guiño al new deal de roosevelt). El mismo propone implementar una política de relajamiento cuantitativo, tal como hizo Obama desde 2008 (con flujos constantes hacia el sector financiero) y Abe en Japón desde 2013. Ambos ejemplos son ejemplos de políticas keynesianas que no se diferencian demasiado de una política neoliberal, ya que las mismas fueron acompañadas de masivos recortes salariales, flexibilización y precarización laboral,pérdida de conquistas obreras fuera y dentro de la fábrica, etc. De ahí que el reformismo sea algo más que un mero keynesianismo, de ahí que para ir más allá del mero “progresismo” sean necesarias otras cuestiones bien distintas

      b) La adopción de una política de compra de bonos soberanos por parte del banco central europeo (bce). Política apoyada por Italia, España y hasta cierto punto Francia (y también por el presidente del bce, Draghi). A la misma se opone fuertemente la alemania de merkel. Que esta no es una política reformista y que sus tintes progresistas son incluso dudosos, lo muestra su apoyo por el pp español, renzi en italia, etc. Las implicaciones de la misma serán (i) proporcionar algo más de autonomía a los países europeos no centrales (que no sean alemania), ya que sus economías ahora no dependerán exclusivamente de los bancos alemanes; (ii) aumento de las fricciones en el seno de la zona euro.
      c) Se propone un “Plan de reconstrucción nacional”. El mismo “suena” como el new deal yanqui de 1932, Sin embargo, en lo hace su contenido concreto, no es muy diferente de lo que podríamos conceptualizar sin temor a equivocarnos como “subsidiareidad neoliberal”. Esto porque apunta a “apoyar solo a los estratos más vulnerables de la población” (como ha hecho la concerta chilena desde 1990), esto con medidas como electricidad gratis (pero solo hasta 3.600 kw al año), subsidios alimenticios para 300 mil familias, atención médica y remedios gratis para los desempleados sin cobertura, una tarjeta de transporte libre para los desempleados de largo plazo, etc. Para obtener una interpretación correcta del significado concreto de estas medidas, debemos retrotraernos hacia el volumen de recursos monetarios que implican. Las mismas suponen un gasto de 1,8 billones de euros (de los 11 billones que suma el programa total de Syriza). Ahora bien, estos 1,8 billones son una ínfima parte de los 62,5 billones de recortes que implicaron las medidas de austeridad aplicadas entre 2010 y 2014 (según datos del “Centro para la investigación de políticas progresistas”)

      d) Respecto de la deuda de las personas, el programa de Syriza propone solucionarlo no mediante medidas masivas y ejecutivas, sino que evaluar “caso por caso”. Por lo demás, solo se le reajustará la deuda a aquellos bajo la línea de pobreza, y se trata de un reajuste con el criterio de que lo que la gente debe pagar no debe ser mayor a 2/3 de sus ingresos mensuales (en serio, ¡2/3!…)

      e) Respecto de la elusión y evasión impositiva propia de los grandes conglomerados, el programa del partido de Tsipras consigna la necesidad de recuperar 20 billones de euros de los 68 que se calcula como totales, esto en un período de 7 años.

      f) Este programa fue conversado con altos personeros del gobierno de merkel, tales como Jorg Asmussen, según relata el diario italiano la Stampa. El mismo fue diseñado entre otros por: i) John Milios, ex miembro del colegio privado más prestigioso de atenas, hijo de padres sin filiación de izquierda, y un tipo que declara su desprecio por el marxismo soviético; ii) Giorgos Stathakis, un compa que dice sin ambages que el 90% de la deuda griega es “tradicional” y no debe discutirse su pago

      g) Economistas patronales le han dado el vamos a este programa de Syriza (como declaró Krrishna Guha en el financial times). Con todo, alemania sigue amenazando con aislar a Grecia si es Syriza llega al poder.

      Las consecuencias del término de una fase de derrota para la clase obrera internacional comenzada en 1980, se hacen sentir en este momento trasicional derivado de una crisis estructural derivado de la TDTMG: las alternativas políticas oficiales en europa no son siquiera reformismo vs fascismo, sino que entre un “progresismo light” y un “neoliberalismo que no tiene problemas con el fascismo” (como alemania y francia demostraron en el caso ucraniano)

      communist greetings from Chile,

    2. You rest your case on what? We haven’t read his take on game theory?

      I’ve read his blog; I’ve watched his interviews. And you know what? He is quite simply full of himself, and full of shit. Just that simple.

      The issue is what are the dynamics of the class struggle in Greece and how those dynamics part of, connected to, the overall struggle between capital and labor.

      Once we answer that we can judge whether Syriza represents a “viable” organization for advancing the interests of the working class, or whether it represents now a diversion, soon an obstruction.

      You think you know how “Marx would vote”? You are a being a bit self-aggrandizing– not unlike VF. You don’t know what Marx would do. You don’t even know what Marx did do, since you think it’s “disgusting” to talk about revolution but then “criticize everyone else” when in fact that– merciless criticism of everything in existence– is precisely where Marx begins, and maintains his analysis.

      With all your support, concerns, sympathy– you’re the one who hasn’t accomplished anything– except smooth the road for the bourgeoisie’s tanks.

    3. Varoufakis wrote:

      “Radical policies did not achieve anything against the forces of neoliberalism and Thatcherism in the 1980s: “What good did we achieve in Britain in the early 1980s by promoting an agenda of socialist change that British society scorned while falling headlong into Mrs Thatcher’s neoliberal trap? Precisely none.”

      It is evident from this confession that Varoufakis (who was studying in Britain at Essex university and presumably participated in the resistance to Thatcher in the 80s) did no better than the Brit left in getting out its so-called “sectarian corner”. If the left did fail, it was not for want of effort or commitment during the long series of attacks on the unions carefully planned by Ridley, culminating in the 1984-5 miners’ strike. And at least Thatcher was finally nailed by the success of the Poll Tax campaign. By the time the “Iron Lady” left office, she was iron filings.

      So, please, spare us the cheap scorn about sectarianism and irrelevancy–Varoufakis was here himself in Britain in the 80s and thus shares all of that with us. He has drawn all the wrong conclusions from that experience. Opportunist “get rich quick” schemes always backfire. When Syriza’s fucks up in office, the advanced workers of Greece will turn from the Mensheviks to the Bolsheviks (who were also an “irrelevancy” in February 1917).

      1. Self proclaimed revolutionaries are two a penny. Organisations that stand in elections to receive 0.04% aren’t all there. The importance of the vote ie that 22% of Greeks that voted for Syriza will only have far reaching consequences if the EZ unravels.

        Until then it will be about trying to square two circles Brussels and the Greek electorate. The majority of people don’t believe elections actually solve anything as evidenced by the 40% abstention rate.

        The real struggles aren’t in Parliament but on the streets factories shops. Who will provide work to 2m unemployed will be the issue that destroys or maintains parties intact.

  7. Will, for crying out out loud, this is just a blog! I doubt Roberts mistakes his efforts here for the proletarian revolutionary party.

    I do agree with your sentiment regarding the current “Marxist” sects, large or small (the KKE is simply a larger sect), whether they describe themselves as “Stalinist”, “Maoist” or “Trotskyist” . They are all holdovers from the Russian Revolution era that definitively ended 1989-91. A lot of old habits need to be shaken off.

    The task now is to create the new historical forms for revolutionary proletarian politics. In relation to that, Syriza as a whole is a new type of reformist political formation. Neo-reformism is clearly moving in advance of the reconstruction of revolutionary politics – they are out ahead of us. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a potentially revolutionary wing of Syriza (I hope so!), or that a revolutionary organization couldn’t arise outside of it.

    It also doesn’t mean that such an effort is “inevitably” doomed to sectarianism, any more than the idealist concept that “the spirit of Marx’s thought” leads to totalitarianism holds water. However it must be borne in mind that Syriza asa a whole is bound to operate within the limits of reformism. Yet it does not mean that there is no possibility of the emergence of a real revolutionary situation in Europe, despite Syriza and indeed, in part to the extent that Syriza sticks to its “merely” reformist guns.

    For even slight reform appears intolerable to the EU bourgeoisie, and reform can boil over into revolution. That is what I look forward to.

  8. Marxism is about how the working class can come to power. The strategy of Syriza is clearly not about that. Syriza is not a Marxist party.
    The strategy of Syriza is how to repair Greek capitalism to the satisfaction of the capitalist class. That can only be done at the expense of other capitalist classes, and most of all of the Greek working class.
    That is why Syriza is making minimal attempt to mobilise the working class, who are to be victims.
    Victims spared as much pain as Syriza can manage within its overall strategy, but victims nevertheless.
    It is harder to make victims of an active and confident working class.

  9. I fail to see any anti-authoritarian or democratic policies emanating from the the Syriza leadership. While one appreciates that their room for reforms to the economy is determined by the international capitalist system, as the home of democracy, there is a considerable area for political reforms, such as the abolition of judges and the expansion of the power of juries, the decision on all major questions to be decided by referendum, the institution of peoples’ militia etc., all of which existed in Ancient Athens. However, if the purpose of Syriza is to save capitalism, such reforms would be very inimical to the oligarchic structures appropriate to that economic system; hence one suspects they will not be forthcoming. My own fear is that Syriza will soon go the same way as the old Communist and social democratic parties by disillusioning the people and preparing the ground for fascism, which will certainly be more radical and need one add authoritarian!

    1. There is a widespread perception that fascism is something new and something distinct or separate to what is going on. The previous govt under IMF occupation imposed around 500 laws by Presidential decree without requiring parliamentary approval.

      What we have is a split between the compressor bourgeoisie between its republican parts and its open compressor elements. Syriza is a populist radical pettybourgeous movement in alliance with the bourgeoisie. We don’t have a popular front.

  10. A super blog post. Time somebody pricked the neo-Stalinist Syriza bubble.

    `First, he was far too dogmatic and closed in his views. As a result, he bred Marxists after him who adopted authoritarian policies and actions,’ said no sectarian, opportunist, reformist, centrist ever.

  11. It is, I believe, for such failings that Michael and others criticise Syriza, and such failures follow in part from Varoufakis’ theories.
    Firstly, in my view Marx was certainly a determinist, but one has not to understand ‘determine’ in the sense of uniquely causing, deciding or giving rise to. Determine means to set boundaries to and ‘determinatio est negatio’ ( cf the brilliant discussion in McMurty, ” The Structure of Marx’s World View” 1978 ). There is nothing at all ” closed” in Marx’s economic theories: the capitalist economic structure of society posits boundaries to what can be achieved within it and negates what is inimical to it. Thus I fear we will not be seeing Syriza advance the democratic measures I have suggested above.
    As for Keynes’ appreciation of Malthus on value, one can only quote Ricardo, ” Have you seen Mr Malthus’ book on the measure of value? His arguments appear to me fallacious from beginning to end……those which he uses are delusive and are scarcely to be understood.” To which even McCulloch replied, ”Though he should gain no other palm, he must be allowed praise for having rendered himself so very unintelligible” ( quoted in ”Notes on Malthus’ Measure of Value” Cambridge 1992).

  12. The above critics of Syriza are saying the following:

    Socialists cannot take power in places like Greece, it is an impossibility. Which begs the question, what should socialists in Greece do?

    I think the criticism is overly harsh anyway, Syriza are a lone voice at the moment, they have little room to maneuver. We are expecting too much. It is what Syriza may inspire that is interesting.

    But anyway, maybe give them more than a week in office before sticking the knife in. Some comradely criticism in a spirit of understanding and solidarity wouldn’t go amiss.

  13. Sorry, the fact he refuses to wear standard business attire when everyone else is, to the point of distraction, is a red flag. It smacks of branding in the worst sense.

  14. YV’s post really is truly remarkable and somewhat disheartening. He favours what he calls ‘immanent criticism’, to adopts the premises of that which one critiques to show the supposed the conclusions do not follow from them:

    “A radical social theorist can challenge the economics mainstream in two different ways, I always thought. One way is by means of immanent criticism. To accept the mainstream’s axioms and then expose its internal contradictions. To say: “I shall not contest your assumptions but here is why your own conclusions do not logically flow on from them.” … My view on this dilemma has always been that the powers-that-be are never perturbed by theories that embark from assumptions different to their own. No established economist will even pay attention to a Marxist or neo-Ricardian model these days. The only thing that can destabilise and genuinely challenge mainstream, neoclassical economists is the demonstration of the internal inconsistency of their own models.”

    Let us then proceed with such an immanent criticism of YV. Let us accept for the sake of argument that Marx,

    ‘failed to … show concern that his disciples, people with a better grasp of these powerful ideas than the average worker, might use the power bestowed upon them, via Marx’s own ideas, in order to abuse other comrades, to build their own power base, to gain positions of influence, to bed impressionable students etc.”

    In what world would the concerns of any one man immunise posterity against the threat of those with a better grasp of any subject taking advantage of those with a lesser grasp? The idea is ridiculous and merely leads to a logical infinite regression. Even a Catholic priest’s vow of chastity is a threat to the altar boy.

    Let us assume again for the sake of argument that it never occurred to Marx that external pressure from hostile capitalists could and would corrupt the workers’ revolution (Is that not one reason why the revolution had to be international?). What could he conceivably have done to avoid this? Is he a God with limitless power over historical forces?

    Let us then assume for the sake of argument that all marxists are intellectual lemmings set by Marx on a predetermined course to fruitless discussion about the Transformation Problem. Could another approach from Marx have anticipated the tendency of neoclassical economists to hide their lack of substance behind moats and walls of mathematical proofs?

    And did YV not just tell us that the only way to challenge the economics mainstream is to play their own game, accept their premises? Well, part of their game against Marx was the Transformation Problem (value theory), and the failure of marxists to answer it effectively for a long time was due precisely to their all-to-meek acceptance of the premises of the game.

    Finally, YV is now a popular politician, he is a ‘power-that-be’, not (only) an economics professor playing Trojan Horse with his colleagues in obscure journals and darkly lit corridors of power. Why does he think he has to treat the people the same way as he treats the mainstream – that they would never pay attention to marxist ideas? Here’s the latest news: The Greek people does not worship the premises of the economic mainstream. They kicked them out.

    This last point more than anything shows YV’s orientation vis a vis the people and the ‘powers-that-be, and the sight of this new supplicant isn’t pretty.

  15. Lumpenproletariats like me enjoy serious Marxist arguement w/ the erratic Varoufakis! Miscreants awake and arise! Maybe with time we can learn useful social production and grok this heavyweight critique even though we ought to just be thankful a crippled leftist has walked onto the stage — but really this is a great read: and all this delivered with some very convincing authority, yet not an unpleasant rain on our parade.

  16. “Europe will do the usual trick: It will pull a good agreement or an honourable agreement out of what seems to be an impasse.”

    He looked very shellshocked when EU leaders withdrew a possible agreement yesterday and demanded total surrender from Greece. I wonder if he has a plan B if he is wrong about the “honorouble agreement”?

    1. Come on, Varoufakis knows that the content of these negotiations is getting more coverage than any other EU related topic ever before. And moreover I do not think they have been so stupid as not to predict the position of finance capital and the not exclusively german exporters.
      Syriza is a reformist project and it should be judged exactly by this. It actually shocks me that Michael Roberts is not realizing what crucial point this election is.
      This is disappointing, given that Varoufakis himself points to the UK experience (nobody cares about the majority that never voted for Thatcher. She won anyways). And he is absolutely correct indeed. Neither in southern Europe nor in the EU centre the left has been in any way able to fight neoliberal crisis policies.
      And it appears to me the most clamorous defeats took place where the “radical” left disregarded the parlamentary political process the most (f.i. Italy, parts of Germany, Austria; though it is a weak argument, I have to admit).
      Antineoliberal “government resistance” in Greece can be a chance for radical change all over Europe and it appears to me the last thing leftist should do is marx exegesis with the point of proving this guy wrong here or there. Inside or outside the parlaments Varoufakis’ negotiations cannot but help us. You do not have to necessarily be a reformist to support them.
      PS: What does the rest of the left offer anyways? In the end it’s different variations of the gosplan. I think this is what Varoufakis’ talks about when he complains about debates on the transformation problem. Klimans position potentially rules this out, I think this is not what he talks about. My guess is that he is more focused on super-pointless debates among economists in the cpi and kke milieu in Greek and Italian universities during the 1980s and 1990s, involving lots of math, transformation problem debates (using a sometimes very substantialist concept of commodity) and Leontiew input-output tables. Sorry, but I doubt that these methodologies are going to play a meaningful role in any potentially coming socialist transformation.

  17. I think you guys are missing Varoufakis’s central point: it is not that he does not think that socialist solutions can be implemented, but that they cannot now be implemented without causing immense suffering. His view seems to be that the humanitarian crisis engendered by the rentiers of the Eurozone is so great, that the first priority must be alleviating the suffering of the affected, not bringing about a socialist social-economy in Greece. He prioritizes short-term disaster response over long-term structural changes. (Although he hopes to start work on the latter.) And who can blame him? If his analysis is correct, then his left opposition can only discredit itself by opposing his accomodations with capitalism. The real issue is whether he is correct, or whether MMTers like Bill Mitchell, Neil Wilson, and Warren Mosler are correct that the cost of immediately leaving the Euro zone can be as easily borne as his proposed accomodations with the proponents of the Eurozone, and whether it really would take 8 months to establish a new working Greek curreny.

      1. Thomas Bergbusch – if socialists cannot take power because there is a capitalist crisis, then in real life we can never take power, because crisis will always be when we are in a position to do so.
        Your position is exactly that of the reformist SPD, that socialists must be the doctors at the bedside of capitalism.

  18. Why should Syriza’s “project should be judged exactly by this [reformism]”? It should be judged by what represents progress for the working class. In the situation of Greece what represents progress is mass activity and a revolutionary project.

  19. it’s not the job of a political party elected by less than a quarter of the population to make a social revolution. Until the unions become more organised, democratic and militant, Syriza would do well simply to reduce unemployment and remove fascist elements from the state. Criticising them for not implementing a full communist programme is a bit like criticising your shoes for not keeping your head dry. It would be interesting to hear if there is any development of activity in the unions or the social movements at the moment but it is hard to find any news from Greece about this.

  20. Mr Roberts,

    I agree with your critique of Varoufakis’ blog. Though I am glad that a Minister of Finance has written such a blog, I am suspicious of his arguments and, especially, of his convenient attack on Marx’s contribution.

    More importantly, however, I noticed from Varoufakis’ blog that we still have a ways to go to understand the forces behind the demand for a ‘new social contract’ in the last quarter of the twentieth century — i.e. the Thatcher initiatives and the Reagan trickle down model. It seems to me that these forces were already present in the developing consensus among financial leaders and state budget administrators in the mid-1970s that the rate of profit had to be stabilized and guaranteed by the state. I am very interested in getting a better understanding of how this policy was translated into a popular demand for a ‘new social contract’ and how step by step that new contract was made acceptable to voters (specifically voters in the UK, the US and Canada).

    Are there any key narratives which you would recommend that would assist me in better understanding this subject?

    Thanking you in advance,


  21. In complete agreement with Will (February 10, 2015 at 2:15 pm, and the following), Thomas Bergbusch (February 18, 2015 at 10:24 pm) and Phil Pope (March 1, 2015 at 6:32 pm).

    The other comments – and the main post – are, more or less, a classic, I’d say textbook-like, example of the usual, dogmatic maximalism of the (ex-)communist left, all over the world.

    Thanks to which, a guy like Warren Buffet can easily proclaim that «There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning».

    Sure they’re winning: because, while they successfully fight their class struggle, the maximalist and dogmatic (ex-)communist left, which keeps on holding the whole left part of the political spectrum hostage of its own delirious and archeological dogmas, is busy in deliberating whether Varoufakis is, or is not, a true marxist in the sacred and undisputable meaning of the word…

  22. Michael Roberts,

    “Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic, mechanised input, without destroying itself. That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp! “If the whole class of the wage-labourer were to be annihilated by machinery”, wrote Marx “how terrible that would be for capital, which, without wage-labour, ceases to be capital!”

    What the hell does that mean?
    Capital without wage-labour ceases to be capital? Why? It doesn’t make sense.

    1. If you cant sell jack to Jack the whole show starts tumbling down. When capital negates capital capitalism is on the brink. Read the neo marxist Mark Carney Governor of tge Bank of England

      1. How come he is a neo-marxist with that kind of conventional speech?

        Click to access speech946.pdf

        By the way, what is the difference between a marxist and a neo-marxist?

        And I ask again: Why do capital without wage-labour ceases to be capital? It seems to me that the author does not really know what he is writing because it does not make sense. Yanis Varoufakis says a similar thing, but there is no argument to it because there are other potential buyers besides workers…

      2. Capital can only be capital as a by product of wage labour. Without wage labour capital ceases to be capital much like the landed aristocracy ceased to have a function once products were produced en mass for consumption using mechanised machines as opposed to horse and cart.

      3. Okay…but can you elaborate on that or at least send a document paper that explains it clearly?
        Because when one says that capital will cease to be capital, one is talking about the future. So one has to describe what that future is.
        The comparison with the past is interesting, but it would be more productive to give an argument. If wage-labour ends (that’s a big if), why does capital cease to be capital? Is the point about society questioning private property rights? Because i don’t see capital just ceasing to be capital…

        The author of this post says: “That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp”.
        So maybe he could give a good explanation for that. Or not?

  23. I wonder how all the idiotic zealots who left angry (and profoundly anti-communist) comments in 2015 may be feeling today, after the the “syriza” experiment failed more flamboyantly than any other attempt by the so-called “progressive” and liberal left.

    Syriza’s only achievement has been to remind us that Marxism is more relevant and crucial than ever. And thankfully it opened the eyes of millions.
    Let’s see how many more failed attempts like syriza will be needed throughout the world for people to finally come out of their liberal narcosis.

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