Greek ‘leftist’ Yanis Varoufakis seems to be exercising a strange charm over those sections of the liberal left and the youth who are beguiled by his indeterminate theoretical ‘Marxist’ self-identity.
Yanis possesses the talent of evocative prose when it comes to exposing the ills that people have suffered under neoliberalism. Many are seduced by his colourfully descriptive diagnosis of the harms caused by our ruling class. However, Yanis refuses to engage with any real Marxist economics, instead opting to market some novel terminology to brand capitalism as “metacapitalism” or “technofeudalism”.
His is a sophistry where any definition of capitalism goes, as long as readers understand his main messages: that the Soviet Union was a failure, that communism is impossible and that only the modified market can save us.
Ioannis ‘Yanis’ Varoufakis was a former member of the Greek party Syriza, and served as minister of finance of Greece from January to July 2015 under prime minister Alexis Tsipras. A former academic, he has also been secretary-general of MeRA25, a political party he founded in 2018. MeRA25 is part of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (Diem25) a ‘pan-European’ movement that aims to ‘democratise’ the European Union before it disintegrates. Diem25’s bid is “to effect change enshrined in our Green New Deal for Europe”.
Varoufakis is well-known in Britain as he attends and influences quite a few apparently ‘progressive’ platforms and his articles appear frequently in the Guardian. In 2015, he spoke about the UK’s upcoming European Union membership referendum. He said that the UK should remain in the EU, “but also campaign to democratise it”. (EU referendum: Yanis Varoufakis says Britons should vote to stay in the Union by John Keenan, The Guardian, 24 October 2015)
In May 2016, Varoufakis stayed in England in the final stages of the campaigning, again to urge a remain vote. In 2018, in an on-stage book festival interview in Edinburgh, Varoufakis pressed Jeremy Corbyn, head of the British Labour party, to “be a bit more ambitious” and become involved in the international progressive movement, saying: “We need a progressive international.”
Varoufakis penned an op-ed piece in the Guardian about the need for an international progressive movement, alongside a similar piece by fellow progressive US senator Bernie Sanders. On 26 October in Rome, Varoufakis announced the Progressive International, which was described as a “common blueprint for an International New Deal, a progressive New Bretton Woods”. The organisation officially launched on 30 November in Sanders’ home town of Burlington, Vermont.
Varoufakis is quite appreciated as a supporter of former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. In November 2019, he signed a letter endorsing the Labour party under Corbyn’s leadership in the 2019 general election. The letter stated: “Labour’s election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership offers a transformative plan that prioritises the needs of people and the planet over private profit and the vested interests of a few.” (Exclusive: New letter supporting Jeremy Corbyn signed by Roger Waters, Robert Del Naja and more by Matthew Neale, New Musical Express, 16 November 2019)
Yanis Varoufakis is seen by some circles of the so-called ‘left’ as an innovative and creative ‘Marxist’. These people clearly confuse Marxism with a branch of postmodern performance. Varoufakis has declared many things in the past: most importantly, his admiration for Margaret Thatcher who “campaigned against totalitarianism in Moscow”.
According to Yanis, “the world was a better place when it allowed formidable personalities, like that of Mrs Thatcher, to rise to the top.” (Farewell Mrs Thatcher: In spite of everything, you are being missed already, Yanis Varoufakis website, 9 April 2013)
Many are seduced by Yanis’s ‘anti-systemic’ performances and self-identification as a new alternative force. However, it is useful to remember the record of Varoufakis as a minister of the Greek government of Syriza, from January to August 2015. During that period, and in true postmodern fashion, Yanis, the minister of finance, was the creative writer and artist of new prose obfuscating the reality of the ‘Troika’ (ie, the loan sharks of the European commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank [ECB-EU-IMF]), which he named “institutions” and the ‘Memorandum’ (ie, the three-year memorandum of understanding signed in August 2015 that released €86bn of funds, much of it to repay debts related to two previous rescue deals, in exchange for the imposition of swingeing austerity measures, including changes to the state pension system and selling off government assets) that he euphemised as a simple “agreement”.
Varoufakis has mastered the craft of creating a vague context and playing with semantics. That became quite clear to the Greek people, who at first believed in his rhetoric of “tearing up the Memorandum” and quickly realised that he used it as an empty symbolic phrase, while reassuring the troika that he had never referred to any real move that could be hostile to them.
A conjuror of concepts and master of deceit
Varoufakis introduced the concepts of ‘mild austerity’ and the ‘austere lifestyle’ (whilst posing extravagantly as Greek bon vivant for the cover of Paris Match) to conceal the Greek reality; instead of ‘tearing up’ the Memorandum as he had promised, the Greek people were asked to endure new sacrifices and to go on living in poverty imposed by the European Union.
The Greek bourgeoisie owe Yanis a lot for the way his tricks blunted the radicalism of popular discontent and turned it to despondency. Varoufakis is an expert of the 50 shades of ‘Tina’ (There Is No Alternative to capitalism).
An important milestone in his political career was the agreement of 20 February 2015, which ratified the measures of all the previous EU memoranda and opened the way for the third and continuous memorandum. During all the Eurogroup meetings in which Yanis starred, the basis of negotiation was never to reinstate the rights of the Greek people; his contribution was always about securing the recovery of the capitalist economy with perhaps the relaxation of some measures that were posing challenges to that recovery.
His brand of ‘tough negotiations’ with the EU and the IMF made sure that the working people of Greece bailed out the capitalists.
In July 2015, Varoufakis appeared to disagree with the decision of the Syriza-Anel government to sign an agreement, considering it a betrayal of the mandate of the Greek referendum (a referendum to decide whether Greece should accept the bailout conditions in the country’s government debt crisis proposed jointly by the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) on 25 June 2015 took place on 5 July 2015. The result of the referendum was that the bailout conditions were rejected by a majority of over 61 percent to 39 percent, with the No vote winning in all of Greece’s regions.)
In that particular role, Varoufakis was projecting the image of the one person who would not back down. In reality, the proposal submitted by Varoufakis to the government differed very little from the proposal of the EU-IMF-ECB troika. Varoufakis had argued passionately that the government was playing games on the backs of the people in order to pass their agreement.
He cited the difficulty of passing the troika proposal through parliament, acknowledging the unpopular nature of his own proposals. In essence, all Yanis asked for was more time for the government to be able to pass the most sinister, anti-working class measures. He even offered assurances of the government’s commitment to the implementation of the agreement.
It is a well-known fact that in the summer of 2015, Yanis Varoufakis served the plan of the Syriza government to confuse the terrorised Greek people and to make them accept one of the versions of the memorandum, even after 61 percent of Greeks voted against the EU proposal in a historic referendum. Later on, he decided to differentiate himself from the Syriza-Anel government, capitalise on the sentiment of the voters of the Greek OXI-NO campaign and pursue his own political path to found a new party, MeRA25.
The signing of the third memorandum caused wide discontent in Greece. Varoufakis’s MeRA25 attempted to recycle the so-called radical ‘anti-memorandum’ rhetoric and present itself as an anti-systemic force, despite the fact that its founder was one of the protagonists responsible for the extension of memoranda ad infinitum. It has to be emphasised that it was Varoufakis who in January 2015, instead of abolishing the memoranda “with a law and an article” as he had claimed was possible before, instead sought a “bridging agreement” until the summer of 2015 – ie, an extension of the reactionary measures and of course Greece’s remaining in the Eurozone.
This was not a momentary slip-up but the connecting link that was needed between successive programmes of austerity imposed on Greece, all of them bearing Yanis’s signature. The result of the 2015 negotiation and the signing of the third loan programme do not constitute a painful compromise imposed on Greece owing to a negative correlation, nor are they a product of the incompetence of the negotiating team or of Tsipras’s betrayal.
They reflect the aspirations of the Greek bourgeoisie and the interests of the EU; Yanis knew and served both with flair.
MeRA25 first appeared on the stage of the European elections of 2019 and was extensively covered by the media. Varoufakis presented himself as the self-criticising, wiser successor of Syriza, misleadingly offering a reheated meal as freshly prepared.
He repackaged the programme with which Syriza had risen to power and presented it this time as feasible, continually regurgitating the myth of ‘tough’ negotiations with the troika to declare himself as heroic and unspoilt by the government’s deceptions. He accused Syriza of abandoning its principles and proceeded to cast himself in the role of a radical alternative to the management policy of then prime minister Alexis Tsipras.
Varoufakis and his party have very strong international connections in Europe and in the USA. The international network, DiEM25, of which it forms a part consists of parties from different European countries that are supposed to unite and cooperate, with a few having parliamentary representation. DiEM25 has been supported by various so-called ‘progressive’ celebrities such as Slavoj Žižek, Noam Chomsky, Antonio Negri, Naomi Klein, film director Ken Loach, economist John Galbraith and others.
MeRA25 uses the same repertory of stretchy acrobatics and the same wardrobe of alternating masks that made Varoufakis famous. MeRA25’s specialism is in supporting a ‘good’ liberalism, a neoliberalism with fewer and better monopolies. Varoufakis’s party presents itself as a rendezvous of eclectic ideological fads, gathered around a loose programme aiming at stabilising the capitalist economy.
Varoufakis has no qualms in throwing accusations at those who want to overthrow capitalism. In an interview in Greece, he avowed that “unlike some of our comrades on the left who believe, as in 1929, that the collapse of capitalism is a good thing because socialism will come, we believe that the collapse of capitalism only strengthens Nazism”. What better apology for capitalism could there be than this? (Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Everything we did until 2025, then we lost’, 20 June 2019)
Varoufakis is an academic interlocutor of finance capitalism par excellence and as such he brings cosmopolitan kudos to his party. Yanis has become famous in the international circuit of celebrity lecturers for his research in game theory and his trendy image as a technocratic professor with a young following.
After a career in US and Australian universities, Varoufakis entered the political scene having a firm network and family connections in favour of capital. Advertising his ‘heterodox’ economic concepts, Varoufakis never really distanced himself from accepted and well-funded bourgeois economic thought. His profile and books were useful tools in creating the illusion of ‘hard’ negotiations with the establishment and in imposing the signing of the third and memorandum as inevitable force majeure.
Varoufakis’s articles feature regularly on Open Democracy, a website funded by the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) of the US government. He maintains strong links with the Institute for New Economic Thinking (Inet), an American think tank favoured by David Rockefeller and George Soros.
It would be very naive to assume that Yanis is fighting capitalism ‘from within’, knowing its weaknesses, and really ridiculous to believe that he has turned against the devil he has served so well. Yanis and his MeRA25 are clearly and comfortably in bed with the ideological and political elites of capital.
Serving the agendas of those elites, Varoufakis is one of the most fervent exponents of the ‘Green New Deal’. He promotes so-called ‘green growth’ as a new engine of the economy. In the name of environmental protection, Varoufakis, a veritable Keynesian, promotes extensive changes in the economy, the destruction of existing infrastructure and its replacement with new, ‘green’ infrastructure, with state support and clean ‘ethical’ capitalist investment and creative entrepreneurship. (A Blueprint for Europe’s Just Transition, Diem25)
The negative effects of capitalist development on the planet are currently being exploited to conceal the contradictions of capitalism and so as to address the overproduction and over-accumulation of capital that always looks for a profitable way out of the crisis. The aim of this green campaign of the bourgeoisie and the proposals on ‘green growth’ is (in addition to the search for new fields of profitable investment) to convince workers of a delusion: that a more humane and environmentally friendly capitalism can exist.
This is a crafty effort to disguise the interests of global banks and business groups that invest in the so-called clean forms of energy behind attractive words about the protection of the environment and the planet. Varoufakis opts for utopian ideologies that deny the inherent characteristics of monopoly capitalism, such as the concentration of production in big companies.
MeRA25 conceals the fact that a return to small-scale production is not a solution for the masses. On the contrary, expanding the social character of production is a progressive phenomenon compared to small production, but will yield its full benefits for the people only after the overthrow of bourgeois power.
Supporter of a federal European imperialism
Varoufakis represents a postmodern Euro-Atlantic brand of ‘leftism’, opposing the existence of national armies and posing as a pacifist when in fact he is in favour of establishing an EU-Nato professional transnational army the better to serve imperialism. Yet there are people who consider that the proposal for a complete transformation of the army into a corps of European Praetorians is a progressive thing!
In July 2021, Varoufakis appeared in an interview on Greek TV and was asked if he had been against the transatlantic pole in economic matters, during his participation in the SYriza government. He replied: “I was the first to say we would not do anything against the transatlantic pole.”
He also explained that he had given priority to the debt dispute with Berlin, that “there was a hostility towards Berlin, and Washington, for reasons of self-interest”, that “the debt colony had nothing to do with Nato, had nothing to do with the EU, with the troika” and that therefore his advice to Alexis Tsipras then was:
“Make an honest agreement with Washington. That is, we are not going to raise the issue of Nato and bases now, because we have the issue of debt bondage with Berlin.” Varoufakis stressed that “it would be wrong to start a process of leaving Nato”.
Despite his supposedly tough negotiations towards the EU institutions in the first half of 2015, the political programme of his party is strongly anchored in the argument for the existence and deeper integration of the EU. Posing as internationalism of ‘radical Europeanists’, the manifesto of MeRA25 emphasises: “The dismantling of the EU magnifies intolerance, reinforces deflation and rewards the most inhuman political forces on our continent.”
The central slogan on this issue is: “Within the EU. Against this EU,” ending “irresponsible obedience … which kills the hope of a common European prosperity”.
Varoufakis loves to portray the EU as a neutral arena where the forces of progress and conservatism clash, hiding the fact the EU has been a transnational imperialist alliance since its birth. The EU’s strategy for privatisation, for cheap labour, for the selling out of education and healthcare, apply to all member states and are not the product of neoliberal politicians, as Varoufakis pretends.
They are a consistent policy to support the competitiveness of European monopolies to be applied by all bourgeois governments, right-wing, social-democratic, or ‘Eurosceptic’. The ‘deepening’ of EU integration, with stronger structures of unified government and the bloc’s gradual transformation into a federation, can only be to the detriment of working people around the world.
The specific set of economic measures that form the basis of the ‘European Spring’ programme, the joint list at EU level in which MeRA25 participates, aims to keep the EU intact and to cultivate illusions that the interests of the people can be matched with those of capital.
One of the illusions propagated is the position that the profits of the European Central Bank can be used to finance a ‘Poverty Alleviation Fund’ of €100bn, and plan to put 10 percent of large company shares into a “European Wealth Fund … with the distribution of dividends to all European citizens”.
MeRA25 proposes a package of measures to ‘cure’ the economic ills of the Eurozone, a European New Deal that will supposedly turn the region into an “area of common prosperity”, preventing the exit of countries such as Greece from the EU. In fact, this supposed ‘radicalism’ is an adapted and limited version of the old fable of the ‘mixed economy’. It aims to appease workers, deradicalise their demands and make them comply with their inevitable exploitation.
Talking of meta-capitalism to hide class relations and the workings of capitalism
Capitalism is presented by Varoufakis as a distorted, postcapitalist state of affairs. According to the narrative presented in his books and interviews, Greek capitalists turned, out of the blue, into intertwined corrupt profiteers, through the squandering of community funds, while the private lending from the “stupid Franco-German banks” led to the enlargement of these layers (contractors, domestic banks).
The crisis in the Greek economy, he says, brought the intervention of the powerful capitalist countries to secure their banks and to provide large loans, which led to the collapse and to the sudden transformation of Greece into a ‘debt colony’.
Absent from Varoufakis’s analysis is the basis of the unequal dependencies in the relations of the weaker capitalist economies with the stronger ones. Inequalities are abstracted from the socioeconomic context of monopoly capitalism, thus obscuring the real development of capitalist relations of production in countries such as Greece.
The crisis was not imported but built into the development of any capitalist economy. Varoufakis hides this to facilitate an easy conclusion that the supposedly distorted developments of capitalism have a remedy in a new management policy that will reconcile the interests of the people and ‘creative entrepreneurship’ – a pan-European one, of course!
This is a narrative that pushes the working class into the arms of the supposedly good and healthy sections of the bourgeoisie, enticing it to fight under foreign flags. The aim of such theories is always to obscure the essence of class and make any class analysis impossible. Such is Yanis Varoufakis’s art of meta-Marxism.
This is the introduction to his ‘Centre for Postcapitalist Civilisation’ –mέta, which was established in 2020 as a not-for-profit research organisation in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas in a radical direction and to support the pan-European movement Diem25, the Greek political party MeRA25, and the ‘Progressive International’ (comprised by personalities such Slavoj Žižek, Antonio Negri, James Galbraith et al):
“We are already in the early stages of an era that can only be described by that which it succeeds: we live in postcapitalist times. They may turn out dystopic, utopic or anything in between. Through art and research, argument and poetry, mέta, the Centre for Postcapitalist Civilisation, works to break with a dystopic present to imagine the world anew – to grasp our present historical moment so as to help radical progressive movements find a path from the emergent dismal postcapitalism to one worth fighting, and living, for.”
Varoufakis and his Progressive International mates will tell us everything that Marx “could not envisage”, as he, according to Žižek, could not foresee how it turned to “techno-feudalism”, which apparently can only be fought through artistic-academic events and not through a class struggle for the overthrow of capitalism.
Economist Guy Standing, another friend of Varoufakis and president of the Basic Income Earth Network (Bien), analyses how: “We are living in an era of rentier capitalism, which has morphed from neoliberalism. And we are confronted by an existentialist crisis in the Global Transformation, which could either lurch into a neo-fascist authoritarianism, with a panopticon and banopticon state, or to a new forward march based on a revival of the Enlightenment values of Liberty, Equality and Solidarity. To avoid the first and to achieve the second, we must forge a new vision of a Good Society – an agathotopia.”
Again, we are offered a feast of metaphysical contortionism from Varoufakis’s circle of ‘progressives’. Even the best of them, like the staunch Keynesian James Galbraith, opine that: “With imagination and will, we now know, new and better ways to provide work, income, education, culture, old-age and health security and free time can be devised. Resources can be mobilised for better living, sustainable within the global carbon budget as proposed by the authors of the Green New Deal.”
Even esteemed bourgeois economists like Galbraith have nothing other to propose than an imaginative stabilisation of capitalism, but that is not enough to convince us that capitalism’s problems can be over and done with. None of the contradictions between the principal imperialist countries, over which they had fought the first world war, has been resolved. Capitalist overproduction and the paucity of opportunities for profitable investment remain a recurrent problem, leading to trade disputes and a furious struggle for markets, resources, avenues of investment and the export of capital.
Although Galbraith previously told us a fascinating story accurately charting the crash of 1929, he was unable to provide any scientific explanation for the crash, instead resorting to psychological theories such as madness and irrationality, and proposing imaginative leaps. The crisis of overproduction is always hidden from sight by Keynesians. When it comes to explaining the real cause of the crisis of capitalism, Professor Galbraith is able to point to all kinds of peripheral causes, but not to the one that really matters.
The tendency towards limitless expansion of production, characteristic of capitalism, comes up against the barrier of a market limited by the impoverishment of the masses. Varoufakis and his like might be willing to alleviate this impoverishment with a universal basic income (UBI), but this will change nothing.
“The real barrier of capitalist production,” said Marx, “is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and closing point, the motive and purpose of production; that production is only production of capital, and not vice versa, the means of production are not means of production for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers …
“The means – unconditional development of the productive forces of society – comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital.” (Capital Vol 3, Chapter 15)
Whatever Varoufakis and other economic and political representatives of the ruling class may say, there is only one form of capitalism in existence and that is monopoly capitalism, which Marxism-Leninism analyses scientifically and which is in deep trouble. The capitalist-imperialist world is heading for an unprecedented slump, to get out of which the leading imperialist powers are bound to resort to unprecedented trade wars, wars on the oppressed peoples and against each other.
In his attempt to entice people with radical tendencies, Varoufakis promotes himself as an “erratic Marxist”.
As we have seen, Varoufakis distorts basic Marxist positions, puts forward utopian proposals for a ‘pro-people’ system that ignores the laws of operation of the capitalist economy, and keeps at bay class struggle and the questioning of the role of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism.
He argues that we have to stop the collapse of social democracy as this would pave the way for far-right, nationalist and fascist forces. He goes beyond political ridiculousness when he claims that Marx, the theorist of social liberation, “ended up playing with simplistic algebraic models in which the units (workers) were fully quantified”.
Of course, the attempt to denude the Marxist worldview of its revolutionary content, the degradation of the scientific significance of the discovery of the law of value and surplus value are to be expected from Yanis. It is easier to build a career by talking of ‘choice’ and of ‘human freedom’, detached from the prevailing relations of production.
He is not the only reformist to regurgitate historically bankrupt management proposals for the ‘salvation’ of capitalism – a system long past its sell-by date.
As can be seen, Yanis Varoufakis, his party in Greece and the broader movement of Diem25 act as a reserve of the bourgeoisie and as a way of integrating social discontent into the strategy of imperialism. Despite its marketing efforts to appear as anti-systemic, Varoufakis reproduces all the basic requirements of capitalism, such as: the proposition to manage poverty following EU guidelines and the introduction of a universal basic income (which will be the excuse for dismantling what is left of Europe’s healthcare, welfare, benefits and pensions systems), large capital speculation promoted as a ‘green investment plan’, the promotion of anti-Sovietism and anticommunism (posing as the guarantor of moderation and the defender of democracy against extremes and the social unrest that will supposedly raise racist anti-Europeanism and benefit the rise of fascism).
Varoufakis’s positions and ideology are at odds with workers’ struggles against the system of capitalist exploitation. His special relations with economic and political centres in the USA (Soros, Sanders etc) reflect international interests concerning the issues of a Green New Deal, dreams of European federalisation, and the creation of a European army, as well as the upgrading of US-Nato positions in relation to Germany and the eastern Mediterranean sea.
For the proletariat of Greece, as for all the people oppressed by imperialism, the only way out of the crisis is to equip themselves organisationally, ideologically and politically with the science of Marxism-Leninism. This is the only antidote to the snake oil of capitalist reform that Varoufakis and his ilk are in the business of selling.
Our prerogative is to counter imperialism’s war plans with a war on imperialism itself, one that will rid humanity of the beast called capitalism that has for so long drenched the earth with the sacrificial blood of tens of millions of workers.