Can Europe Make It?

Yanis Varoufakis, James Dean of the European left

According to the distinction made by Max Weber, Varoufakis answers to his convictions while Tsipras holds the future of Greece in his hands for Greece and Europe.

Philippe Marlière
8 July 2015
Yanis Varoufakis and Euclid Tsakalotos on motorcycle. Demotix/Panayiotis Tzamaros. All rights reserved.

Yanis Varoufakis and Euclid Tsakalotos on motorcycle. Demotix/Panayiotis Tzamaros. All rights reserved.Yanis Varoufakis will perhaps be remembered as the James Dean of the European left wing: a man who unwittingly became a politician and briefly lit up the dark skies of European politics. Accordingly, the full extent of this romantic character should be better understood; a pragmatist with many strings to his bow who did what no other professional politician (even one from the extreme left) will ever do: support ideas which benefit the common good rather than a personal career. This was the pivotal factor in his departure from the Greek government after the magnificent victory for the No camp at the referendum.

Contrary to the revanchist commentary from the dominant media, Varoufakis was not fired by Alexis Tsipras: he left voluntarily, conscious that a new phase of politics – one which he did not want to be associated with – was beginning. This economics teacher knows better than anyone that the Greek government will have to make important concessions in order to even attempt to secure the crucial restructuring of the debt, a condition sine qua non to pull Greece from debt and from austerity ad vitam aeternam.

Immediately after the referendum results were announced on Sunday evening, the members of the Eurogroup and their heads of state welcomed the Greek No vote with customary disdain. In essence they believe an agreement with Tsipras’ government will be impossible to reach as long as he refuses to plunge the country into a new austerity programme. This, we expected. The question we now face is in what measure will Tsipras accept the policies that were recommended in the most recent document, negotiated last week: privatisations, increased VAT, extension of the retirement age. What concessions is Tsipras willing to make and in exchange for what?

On Monday morning, the Greek prime minister urgently gathered the leaders of the largest political parties in Greece together, in the hope of presenting a unified front against their creditors. He received their support from all but KKE, the Greek communist party. This was a skilful move because it decisively removes the threat of force from the Eurogroup, which was trying to impose a “government of technocrats”. Here, Alexis Tsipras seems to be arguing that national support is more important than the popular mandate stemming from the polls. He also appears to be seeking a quantitative compromise around austerity measures in exchange for an injection of funds and for a restructuring of the debt. The rupture with the euro, sought so much by certain left wingers, is not always on the agenda.

Curiously, the enormous No vote appears to have pushed aside Grexit in the short-term at least, because a large majority of the 61% who voted No do not want to leave the euro zone or quit the EU. Tsipras knows he is restrained by this popular mandate: to save the country from total financial asphyxiation without employing new austerity measures which will further impoverish the working classes; all this without leaving the euro zone. 

Yanis Varoufakis is an economics teacher, and a politician “by accident”. Alexis Tsipras is a professional in politics. According to the distinction made by Max Weber, the first answers to a principle of conviction while the second holds the future of Greece in his hands for the Greek (and European) left. The latter is therefore more marked by a principle of responsibility; it is here where the paths of the two men diverge.  However, Varoufakis will never be in opposition to Tsipras. It is likely that he will continue to give serious advice to the government that he will assuredly support. Simply, Varoufakis appears to have refused to put into practise the policies of austerity that are being announced. 

There is evidently a paradox in the trajectory of this endearing and brilliant economist. Once advisor to George Papandreou, arriving in government with a “centrist” reputation in Syriza’s circles, Yanis Varoufakis turned out to be a most tenacious opponent to the heavy blows from the Troïka. He became the most hated of Syriza’s ministers in the other European capitals, and rightly so. Pragmatic, sure of himself but never arrogant, competent, funny, learned, an elegant speaker of English, Varoufakis is an atypical character in the desolate landscape of the European radical left. For all these reasons, his capitalist enemies of all creeds sniffed out the threat: Varoufakis had become the man to topple.

This “unpredictable Marxist” is an Anglo-Saxon radical left-winger, at once materialist, liberal, and libertarian: he ridiculed the mercantile authoritarianism of the European governments and confounded the corruption of the dominant medias.  Yanis Varoufakis is a ‘doer’; he dismissed the advice of the European radical left, trapped in a rhetorical monologue that was hated by the people. He demonstrated that the radicalism of the left wing is nothing to do with a shouting match, but is measured instead against the accomplishment of concrete actions for the common good.

Thanks go to Asher Korner for this translation from the French.

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