Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Yanis Varoufakis on Europe and the Eurozone

An interesting interview here with Yanis Varoufakis.

Now although I do admire Varoufakis, especially for his excellent attack on Postmodernism described here, I see some very troubling points here about Marxism.

Varoufakis says that Marxism is libertarian in some sense, and it is true that Marxism’s ultimate aim was a stateless, utopian paradise. But (as far as I can see) that is not the sense in which Varoufakis calls himself a “libertarian.” For Varoufakis goes on to say that his “libertarian Marxism” is compatible with a belief in the state, which, he says, is “crucial.”

I find these views deeply confusing.

First, why even associate yourself with Marxism at all when all attempts to put Marxism into action lead to mass murder and authoritarian nightmare states? At some point, one has to face the truth that if this is all that real-world Marxists have been able to do, their system stands utterly discredited by the hard evidence of empirical reality. If you do not advocate the abolition of private property, the nationalisation of all industry and a command economy, then why even call yourself a “Marxist”?

Worse still, Varoufakis thinks that “social democracy” has been discredited by modern neoliberal parties like New Labour. I disagree profoundly. Unlike Marxism, post-WWII left-wing parties put their social democratic vision into practice in the West, and it was the most successful system we ever had. And social democracy essentially takes its economic platform from Keynes – not Marx. Radical Keynesian social democracy is the true democratic “socialism,” if one chooses to use that troublesome word.

New Labour and other neoliberal left-wing parties were a betrayal of a social democratic ideology, and there is no reason to regard such neoliberal parties as anything but recent interlopers, charlatans and impostors. And say what you like about them, their evil doesn’t even come close to the horrors of Stalinist Russia or Soviet communism.

The neoliberal left has not discredited social democracy but only demonstrated the need for remembering what its core economic principles should be: a strong heterodox Keynesian or Post Keynesian economic theory.

Also, as I have argued here, it is a profound mistake for people on the left to just smear Britain’s UKIP as “racist” instead of carefully analysing what their policies are and intelligently responding to them.


  1. While I do not cling to any Marxist ideas and while I am no follower of Marx' philosophy -

    I do not think Marxist ideas have to claim responsibility for the Soviet Union or Mao's China and all the unpleasant things that happened there.

    Unless Marx and his contemporaries openly advocated mass murder and authoritarian police states that arrest dissidents, why would Marxist philosophy be associated with those things?

    That said, it is also tough for me to argue with your statement: "First, why even associate yourself with Marxism at all when all attempts to put Marxism into action lead to mass murder and authoritarian nightmare states?", since I can not think of too many peaceful, non-authoritarian attempts to build a state by Marxists either.

    1. "
      Unless Marx and his contemporaries openly advocated mass murder and authoritarian police states that arrest dissidents, why would Marxist philosophy be associated with those things?"

      Oh my god, Prateek, please tell me this was a joke.

      Here is Friedrich Engels explaining what kind of state the Marxists envisaged:

      “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois? Should we not, on the contrary, reproach it for not having used it freely enough?
      Friedrich Engels, “On Authority,” 1874

    2. I stand corrected in the most embarassing manner possible. lol. Ouch.

    3. LK, have you answered your own rhetorical question? Why call yourself Marxist? The Engels quotation is the answer. Winston Smith provided the answer too. Much of the Left -- nearly 100% of those I have debated in person btw -- are intoxicated with the gun, the man on the horse, grinding a heel in the face. Calling yourself a Marxist is the socially acceptable way of confessing this attraction, and seeking like-minded souls.

  2. Additionally, there is the issue of Marxists claiming that Marxism is just a methodology of understanding the world and learning history, and not advocating for any kind of policy. Though I never took that at face value, since every Marxist does seem to advocate certain common political principles.

    1. Prateek my understanding of Marxism is that it is a system of thought in which it's components are mutually supporting. As such I think that Communism is baked into the cake as it were. Communism is the standard from which all ideas and concepts in Marxism are perceived and judged. Communism as a concept is the keystone of Marxist thought. Take it away and nothing makes much sense. While it is possible I suppose not to advocate Communism while doing Marxist analysis the assumptions built into that analysis are going to push you towards communist concisions whether they realise it or not. I don't think that Marxists coming from within the system always have the clarity on this point that critics do. (or to put it another way they can't see the woods for the trees)

    2. Nicholas, I don't think you're actually right in this regard. You see, Marx doesn't say much about communism at all, neither he provides an elaborate theory of what it would be.

      Most of his works revolve around analyzing the capitalist society, contradictions of private property and all the trends derived from that (like monopolization and other stuff).

      In that way, even if we don't look at the whole concept of communism, Marx would steel provide a good insight (ofcourse reasanobly outdated) on the processes that occur within unregulated market economy based on private property.

    3. "You see, Marx doesn't say much about communism at all, neither he provides an elaborate theory of what it would be.

      That is utter bullshit. His vision is called The Communist Manifesto (1st edn. 1848):

      There is also Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (based on a letter he wrote in 1875 and was published in 1891).

    4. Communist Manifesto and other documents of that sort represent the measures that Marx believed should be enforced by communists when they siege the power, however it was his view that describing communism is a meaningless task, since the society will change so greatly when it'll step on the edge to become a truly communist one, that no accurate predictions could be made in advance.

      Indeed steps that Marx suggested are necessary (more precisely, were neccessary at his time) to speed up the transition towards communism but in no way they are the communism itself.

    5. "Marx doesn't say much about communism at all, neither he provides an elaborate theory of what it would be"

      Daniel yes I agree with that broadly. However that does not counter my point about communism being central to Marxist thought. You can tell what communism was meant to be like in Marx from his critique of capitalism. The critique of capitalism is implicitly from the perspective of post capitalism. To put it bluntly communism equals the good of capitalism, minus the unfortunate consequences of the fundamental workings of capitalism. For example the Marxist concept of 'Alienation' is not simply about people feeling bad in sweat shops. But rather is tied directly to the division of labour and specialisation. Everyone in the social division of labour is 'alienated' whatever class or profession. To talk about combating this alienation then is another way of talking about abolishing capitalism, and all forms of money and markets. If we take away communism as the positive manifestation of the absence or transcendence of capitalism then the concept of alienation as a standard of 'badness' becomes incoherent and ridiculous. As the bad in alienation is only relative to communism. I think virtually all Marxist critiques fall into this category. Marxists famously think that capitalism is inefficient. Well inefficient compared with what? Communism of course!

      “Most of his works revolve around analysing the capitalist society, contradictions of private property and all the trends derived from that (like monopolization and other stuff)”

      The contradiction of capitalism is THE trend not the cause of trends. What it is is the idea that private competition drives the concentration of capital into larger organisational units until there is no more competition. At which point the workers take control of the organisational apparatus and runs the whole economy as a single capitalist might run his factory. The contradiction of capitalism is that it necessarily gives birth to …......... wait for it...........Communism!

  3. It's quite strange why LK is sure that anyone who sees himself as Marxist should advocate abolition of state and private property as a core of an actual policy. Marxism indeed comes up with a conclusion that eventually both capitalism, private property, government and class society will fade away due to the logic of historical development.

    However, it doesn't mean that an actual Marxist can't support any mild measures like introducing a more progressive tax rate, increasing government spending and so on in case those are the only possible options at the moment.

    It's quite funny how good LK is at disproving neoliberal agenda yet how close he is to a typical conservative saying that Marxism is however disproved by the fact that some regimes in the 20th century described themselfs as Marx' sucessors.

    And calling USSR simply a nightmare state... that's something that belongs to Reagan's public speech.

    1. You are a fool. Read Conquest. Read Solzhenitsyn.
      Sorry LK to be bluntly rude to this poster, but there are two types of people I will not be polite to: nazi apologists and communist apologists.

    2. USSR had some scientific achievements but it did put many of its best people into gulags, mental asylums and graves. I would say "nightmarish".

    3. Capitalism and private property will just fade away? So why do Communist parties feel the need to abolish them with force whenever they gain control of a state?

      It's quite funny how Marxists who visit this blog always feel obliged to defend the Soviet Union, even though the Soviet regime was not really Marxist in their eyes.

    4. Wow, I thought people here were educated enough to know that Solzhenitsyn didn't use any adequate historical data in his works and just made most of the stuff (especially considering the number of victims) up, seems I was wrong.

      USSR had its benefits and drawbacks for sure, but saying that it was a pure nightmare without actually analyzing all repressions, its scale and goals, avoiding critically looking at the transformation of the Soviet regime, means avoiding a proper social analysis as well.

      Capitalism and private property indeed are thought to fade away naturally, the issue is it'd still require and organized collective action to do so (just with feudalism), as the ruling class won't let all its wealth go to the public.

    5. Even if it were the case that Solzhenitsyn "just made most of the stuff up" in his works (an allegation for which you provide no evidence) the overwhelming evidence of the horrors, human rights abuses and mass murder in the Soviet Union from other reliable sources is sufficient to show any rational person how bad it was.

      That you come on my blog and (apparently) seriously defend the Soviet Union as not being a authoritarian horror show demonstrates how irrational, ignorant, and dishonest you are. You're one sick bastard.

    6. Daniel, nothing good can grow on top of widespread disinformation, lies, theft, political psychiatry and murder. You should simply admit that you and your predecessors have been fooled by propaganda and start thinking about how to avoid this in the future. Beside, keep in mind all this bullshit was created precisely to put into prison the people that wanted to make socialism or communism work. It's precisely those that were the main target of the "leaders".

    7. Ever, you are worse than a fool. Try Appelbaum, Carmichael, Montefiore, Ulam, Snyder.
      Fuck sakes.

      Notice LK that Ever implicitly is backing off his claim, by saying you have to "balance". So it was a good nightmare.

      Say what you like about MF, he would never excuse Yezhov or Beria!

  4. LK, the swedish social democrats described themselves as Marxists too after Ww2. I think Marxism (with the exception of a few independent thinkers such as Sraffa) has sunk so low in good part due to the bolshevics. With their disinformation and lies they have driven the whole camp into "moral decadence" and "truth relativism", Overall the summary of the story is that Marxism didn't prove capable of defending itself from "leaders" such as Lenin and Stalin. And this is a big problem.

    1. And that was a very bad mistake by any Western social democrats -- to associate themselves with communism or Marxism was absurdity.

    2. The error was mainly in associating with soviet russia, not with Marx. Marx is mostly nonsense but it is a vague and flexible nonsense.

  5. Interesting interview, thanks, LK. As you know, I'm always anxious for some diversion during chores

    I did a blog search on Varoufakis' book. The Global Minotaur and came up blank. I found it very interesting, if not totally convincing. I belive we discussed it breifly before, in comments.

    Anyway from the text of the book, I'm not sure what makes Varoufakis marxist, either. I've been hoping you would review the book. I could send you my physical copy if necessary.

  6. Hi LK,

    "The neo-liberal left has not discredited social democracy but only demonstrated the need for remembering what its core economic principles should be:a strong heterodox Keynesian or Post Keynesian economic theory."

    I agree. It is not of the essence of Post Keynesian economic theory to depend on Marx, nor on Neo-classical synthesis or on New Keynesianism (neo-liberal)

    . e.g. The early 1964 Post Keynesian macroeconomics text by Paul Davidson and Eugene Smolensky called "Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply Analysis" (which Davidson hoped would be a key teaching text for Post Keynesian lectures). and the subsequent works of Davidson..

    It relies on Keynes and its micro-foundations appear to be based more on Marshall ( and implicity rejects Walrasian general equilibrium theory which Neo classical synthesis Keynesians, like the early Hicks, utilised) in its construction of the short run Keynesian aggregate supply curve.

    John Arthur