The frequent negotiations between the politicians in Greece’s new government and those of the European Economic Community, have been the cause of numerous comments on the news channels here in Europe. These ‘discussions’ are usually depicted as taking place between sides who are opposed to each other on fundamental principles, yet this is far from the case. There is of course a considerable degree of difference between the two sides, but the difference is over how to save the capitalist mode of production, not whether it is outmoded and how to supersede it.
The main political elite within the EEC (headed by Germany’s Chancellor Merkel) are still firmly wedded to the neo-liberal economic principles which have dominated global capitalist economic thinking over several decades. The new political elite in Greece, headed by Alexis Tsipras and his head-hunted finance minister (Yanis Varoufakis) have correctly rejected much of the self-destructive logic of neo-liberal capitalist economic policies. But not all! In contrast, they prefer the post-2nd World War economic model based upon a short-lived liberal-welfare compromise between the conflicting needs of capital and labour.
In a recent article entitled ‘A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery’, printed in the internet blog entitled ‘Social Europe’, Yanis Varoufakis once again made clear his views on the economic and political future of Greece. As a member of Syriza, Yanis was recruited by Alexis Tsiparis to be finance advisor and encouraged to implement his plans, when the Party was elected to power. In this ‘blueprint’ article he presented his perspective for the economic, social and political future of Greek society. This article will consider this ‘blueprint’ perspective from the standpoint of a revolutionary-humanist and anti-capitalist position.
Before going further, it is important to recall an important fact. The economic context for the emergence of Syriza, as a significant political movement, is the most profound crisis of the capitalist mode of production, since the 1930’s. It is only the extraordinary depth and breadth of this renewed systemic crisis which – post 2008 – has jolted the social and political consciousness in Greece, out of its previous familiar routine. And not only Greece. It is only the extreme nature of this five-fold crisis of capitalism which has led to radical developments among citizens of Europe including this most beleaguered country of Greece.
The above-noted ‘blueprint’ article begins with the author stating that the during the months of negotiations between Greece and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) plus the European Union (EU) the non-Greek participants have primarily focussed upon the conditions attached to further liquidity injections. The author argues that a consequence of this fixation has been the failure to consider a vision ‘of how Greece can recover and develop sustainably’. Mr Varoufakis then outlines what he considers the requirements for such a vision of Greek economic recovery. Eg.
“Sustainable recovery requires synergistic reforms that unleash the country’s considerable potential by removing bottlenecks in several areas: productive investment, credit provision, innovation, competition, social security, public administration, the judiciary, the labor market, cultural production, and, last but not least, democratic governance.”
Already we can discern from the terms used, that this vision for Greek recovery is based entirely upon capitalist economic structures; ie ‘productive investment’, ‘credit’, ‘competition’, ‘administration’ by the state, and ‘reforms’ which remove ‘bottlenecks’ in the existing capitalist system. It will come as no surprise then to read the desire to “unclog the flow of bank credit to the healthy parts of the private sector” and “restore investment and credit to levels consistent with economic escape velocity” And as a consequence he considers;
“..Greece will require two new public institutions that work side by side with the private sector and with European institutions: A development bank that harnesses public assets and a “bad bank” that enables the banking system to get out from under their non-performing assets and restore the flow of credit to profitable, export-oriented firms.”
This additional proposed aim of ‘public/private investment initiatives’ for economic recovery would be to direct investment into neglected areas and help the proposed ‘bad bank’ turn a profit. According to Yanis, the resulting rising share performance of such ‘re-capitalised’ banking initiatives would extinguish the states losses caused by the rescue. And, optimistically looking forward he envisions that;
“In a world of ultra-low returns, Greece would be seen as a splendid opportunity, sustaining a steady stream of inward foreign direct investment.”
It is reasonably clear that the Greek recovery envisioned by Mr Varoufakis, and presumably endorsed by other senior members of Syriza, is promoting a sustainable recovery of the capitalist mode of production, with the support of the state and foreign investment. Since the capitalist mode of production is based upon the need for capital accumulation via the appropriation of surplus-value (profit), then ‘sustainable’ in this context means putting the needs of capital first and those of working people, ecology and environment second. And according to this Syriza view, capitalist induced economic growth in the past has been frustrated in Greece. For as he writes;
“The barriers to growth in the past were an unholy alliance among oligarchic interests and political parties, scandalous procurement, clientelism, the permanently broken media, overly accommodating banks, weak tax authorities, and a weighed-down, fearful judiciary.”
These ‘barriers’ are not really barriers, but symptoms arising from fundamental contradictions at the heart of the capitalist mode of production. Many of those supplementary symptoms which Yanis lists as ‘barriers’ have been introduced as authentic ‘innovations’ by the capitalist mode of production in its evolution from supremacy by merchant capital, through the ascendancy of industrial-capital to the present phase of domination by finance-capital. As such they cannot be overcome or removed under the system which logically creates them. Even the few successful attempts to reform certain negative aspects of capitalism, sooner or later, merely produce new negative features.
This is evident from the recent post-2nd World War period, which saw a large number of reforms to the capitalist mode of production particularly in the advanced countries of the west. Thinking they were ushering a new era of egalitarian justice, a combination of working-class and enough middle-class politicians in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, thought they were drawing a line between the hungry and precarious 1930’s and a rosy future. They passed a series of Parliamentary, Congressional, or National Assembly reforms to the socio-economic system in a large number of countries, whilst leaving the basis of the capitalist mode of production intact.
However, leaving the basis of a hierarchical mode of production in place has certain inevitable consequences. It means that during its economic recovery or further developmental period, privileged individuals from certain classes once again come to dominate the inherited hierarchical structure. They, (as their predecessors), and their supporters, have a disproportional power to influence and/or direct the economic and political structure of societies and the direction it takes. They can remove the previous reforms (later seen as restrictions) and following the needs of capital accumulation allow the direction to be dictated by this logic.
Which is exactly what happened, during the periods of Thatcher and Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Blair and their intermediaries and counterparts around the world. And this revolving political door produced by capitals’ systemic ‘crisis and revival’ will continue to happen as long as the capitalist mode of production continues. It has been said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result – if not a sign of madness – is at least the result of not sufficiently thinking things through. Or thinking only within the parameters of bourgeois ideology. Yanis Varoufakis and Syriza, from the above and other statements, seem not to have realised this nor two other important factors which are different than the previous stage of welfare-capitalism.
First, the planets eco-systems have by now been almost terminally exhausted by the growth of production and consumption created and justified by capitalist interests. There are no techno-capitalist fixes for this existential problem. Further capitalist economic growth is the last thing the planet and its inhabitants need in the short or long term. Second, the production processes themselves via the competitive struggle between capitalists have been further revolutionised. This has been done to such an extent, that fewer and fewer workers are needed to produce (actually over-produce) commodities and services – along with increasing quantities of refuse and pollution.
As a consequence millions of human beings are surplus to the requirements for profitable investment by capital. There is no reformist solution to this fundamental contradiction between the 21st century needs of capital and capitalists for capital accumulation, and the 21st century needs of ordinary human beings for healthy environments and reasonable standards of living. The logic of Yanis and Syriza is to try to save the capitalist mode of production from the neo-liberal economic and financial dead-end it has driven itself into, but this is now improbable if not impossible.
Humanity needs the revolutionary transformation of its mode of production, not another few decades of tinkering with the ‘bottlenecks’ created by the system or by the creation of ‘bad-banks’ or even by encouraging ‘a steady stream of inward foreign investment’. Yet not even a hint of awareness of the need for a revolutionary transformation has emerged from this section of the political class!
Roy Ratcliffe (May 2015.)
PS. To confirm that the views expressed in the above article by Mr Yanis Varoufakis are consistently held by him consider the following extracts from a more recent article. They form part of his answer to an accusation contained in the Financial Times, that the new Greek Government was guilty of;
“squandering the trust and goodwill of its eurozone partners.”
“Our government is keen to implement an agenda that includes all of the economic reforms emphasized by European economic think tanks. Moreover, we are uniquely able to maintain the Greek public’s support for a sound economic program.”
“Consider what that means: an independent tax agency; reasonable primary fiscal surpluses forever; a sensible and ambitious privatization program, combined with a development agency that harnesses public assets to create investment flows; genuine pension reform that ensures the social-security system’s long-term sustainability; liberalization of markets for goods and services, etc.”
“So, if our government is willing to embrace the reforms that our partners expect, why have the negotiations not produced an agreement? Where is the sticking point?
The problem is simple: Greece’s creditors insist on even greater austerity for this year and beyond – an approach that would impede recovery, obstruct growth,..”
“The major sticking point, the only deal-breaker, is the creditors’ insistence on even more austerity, even at the expense of the reform agenda that our government is eager to pursue.”