Cause to be grateful to “an erratic Marxist”

Submitted by AWL on 24 February, 2016 - 8:58 Author: Matt Hanley

The queue on 9 February went all the way around the block for a ticket-only political rally that had nevertheless been sold out for months. It was standing room only in another part of the Volksbühne theatre at Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in Berlin, where the event was shown simultaneously on a video screen — the launching of the “Democracy in Europe Movement”, DiEM, by “erratic Marxist”, game theorist and ex-finance minister in the Greek Syriza government, Professor Yanis Varoufakis.

“What’s his game?” is surely the question to ask. A recent Solidarity editorial thought the event would be more of a “personal vehicle” for Varoufakis than a movement. Yet DiEM has only just been launched. Varoufakis may well have been centre stage, as the biggest name involved, but he didn’t completely dominate the event, which was intended as the starting shot of a broad-based, explicitly not left-wing, pan-European movement to democratise the EU. Others speaking in Berlin, who were involved in the discussions which led to the launch of DiEM, included British Green MP Caroline Lucas, Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, Irish Labour MEP Nessa Childers, Slavoj Žižek, some Podemos MEPs, and members of Germany’s Blockupy. And Brian Eno, as only one of a large number of artists and people from the world of music and theatre who have put their name to DiEMs launch documents.

People from “the world of work” are noticeable by their absence — even big names, let alone the rank-and-file. For all of the reasonable criticism made by Varoufakis and others that the EU is controlled by unelected bureaucrats who claim to be apolitical — technocrats — yet are anything but, it is hard not to criticise his apolitical protestations that the major problem with the European Union is one of a lack of democracy and transparency, when he does not offer any alternative programme (yet). Would the EU be fine if it had the same policies as now, but they were legitimated by the “people” of Europe? Of course not, and surely Varoufakis does not really believe this. For all his claims that DiEM is not to be a leftist movement, but instead an “alliance of democrats”, the speakers were clearly of the left and far-left, even if not especially to the taste of this writer and probably many readers of this paper.

This was not the only point of political “erraticism”: “Some of my greatest political friends, associates and collaborators are people who would be described in Britain as Thatcherites and neoliberals, those who are incensed at the lack of democracy in Europe”, claimed the Professor at the press conference before the rally. Are these the people he seriously wants to work with? Hardly. And would these “great friends” want to join him in quoting Rosa Luxemburg on bureaucracy in the young Soviet Union? Probably not, though I wouldn’t put it past Michael Gove. When asked if he should, like the KKE, the Greek CP, not want countries to withdraw from the EU and argue for its break up — like his Thatcherite associates — he answered “to my friends in the Communist Party and radical parts of the left who are articulating the position that disintegration, going back to our national currencies, to our nation states and so on, is our solution, I remind them that... in the 1930s, it was not humanism, it was not the left that benefited. It was the fascists, it was the Nazis. And Europe fell into a terrible trap with immense human costs. Do we want the same? I certainly don’t.”

Refusing to retreat into nation-stateism and instead democratising the European Union — and its nation states — is a fine aim and a demand which needs to be made, and carried through. DiEM aims to spend the next two years organising events across Europe, online and analogue, in which policies can be developed to strengthen Europe’s integration “from below” by bringing people together who want European integration on a democratic basis. Time will tell if anything comes out of this, but it is refreshing that someone seen as being of the left, yet is not a nationalist demagogue — and is well-known across the continent — is willing to launch such an initiative, without putting himself forward as a “saviour”, despite a clear ego and a good television manner.

This approach is diametrically opposed to that of French social democrat “saviour” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, or German ex-finance minister and former leader of Die Linke, Oskar Lafontaine, whose “Plan B” for Europe amounts to little more than a retreat back to national currencies and the nation state. (And Lafontaine has somewhat unsavoury positions on the refugee crisis.) DiEM offers the posiblilty to get the message that “another Europe is possible”,without wishing for the total destruction of the European Union, to far more people than would otherwise be thinkable. For this alone, we may have cause to be grateful to Europe’s probably most well-known Marxist politican, “erratic” or not.

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