- Yanis Varoufakiseconomist and former Greek finance minister.
The far right is rising in Europe, most recently in Spain, where the anti-immigrant, anti-abortion Vox party won multiple seats in a regional parliamentary election in Andalusia on Sunday. It was the first successful election for the far right in Spain since the country returned to democracy in the 1970s after the death of fascist military dictator Francisco Franco. We speak with economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who is launching a movement with Senator Bernie Sanders and others to fight right-wing forces around the globe.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we end today’s show with the rise of the right in Europe. In Spain, the far-right Vox party won multiple seats in the regional parliamentary election in Andalusia on Sunday, the first successful election of the far right in Spain since the country returned to democracy in the ’70s after the death of the fascist military dictator Francisco Franco. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon threw his support behind Vox earlier this year and has apparently been advising the far-right party.
For more on the rise of the right in Europe, we turn to economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who is launching a movement with Senator Bernie Sanders and others to fight right-wing forces around the globe. They introduced the movement at a Sanders Institute gathering in Burlington, Vermont, last weekend. It’s called Progressive International.
NARRATOR: Where globalization promised prosperity, it’s delivered financial crisis and endless war instead. All the while, our climate moves closer to destruction. Out of this crisis, global authoritarianism is rising. These leaders promise to restore national pride by attacking minorities, a free press and democracy itself. But in the end, they only serve themselves—a chilling echo of the 1930s. Today’s authoritarian leaders do not stand alone. They are part of a global axis of right-wing parties that shares funders, strategy and contacts. And around the world, they are gaining power. The time has come to form our own common front in the fight for global peace and prosperity. This movement will bring people together across the global left to think about the world we want to live in and how we make it a reality.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now!’s Juan González and I spoke to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, on Tuesday. I began by asking him about the significance of the Spanish elections.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Last piece of the jigsaw puzzle that puts together this dystopic, postmodern 1930s picture. 2008 was our generation’s 1929. And just like after 1929, a monetary system that was not fit for purpose started fragmenting. The hapless establishment, both here in the United States under President Hoover and also in Europe, tried to shift most of the pain onto the shoulders of the weakest of citizens. Discontent followed. And after discontent, of course, and given the left’s incapacity to organize, political monsters were had. This is exactly what’s happening in Europe.
The reason why Spain is significant is because when we, as DiEM25, and other progressives were saying that the last decade was a prolonged early 1930s, prolonged by quantitative easing by central banks that was sort of stabilizing finance without doing anything to change the austerian conditions that were inflicting enormous pain on the middle classes and the working classes, the argument against that was “Look at Spain.” Spain does not have a far-right, neofascist movement, unlike Italy, unlike France, unlike Germany. Well, now, out of the blue, in Andalusia of all places, the stronghold of the Socialist Party, suddenly Vox, a rather nasty piece of work that emerged in 2014, suddenly came from nowhere to repeat the triumphs of the fascists in Italy, in Austria, in Germany, and so on and so forth, therefore completing that awful jigsaw puzzle.
So, what are we doing? Opposing simultaneously the two faces of authoritarianism. One of the two faces of authoritarianism is the hapless establishment that is trying to pretend—the so-called liberal establishment, which, by the way, is neither liberal nor particularly well established anymore, and they are trying to continue business as usual, like the Weimar Republic was doing in the 1920s. And the other face of the axis of authoritarianism, the fascists and the xenophobes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you about that, because it seems that a common current, whether in Europe or the United States, of this rise of these new neofascists is the racialization of immigration as the new threat from the outside to our country, our nation, our patria, and in terms of how a progressive movement deals with how immigration from Africa, the Middle East and Latin America is being used to divide working people and to foment support for fascism.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Let’s be clear on something. Yes, they make a lot of noise about immigration, but immigration was never the issue. Let me give you an example. The loudest noises against the migrant, the foreigner, the refugee, come from places that don’t have any, like Hungary. They haven’t seen a refugee. They don’t know what a refugee looks like. And yet, that is where refugees are demonized, more than in Sicily or Lesbos, islands in the Mediterranean, that are swarming with refugees, and the local population is actually extremely solidaristic to them. So, it’s got nothing to do with flows. Let’s get this clear.
What it has to do with is with the fact that deflationary forces, unleashed by a vicious capitalist crisis, whether it is the 1930s or today, these deflationary forces, especially when they start touching the pension funds, the nest eggs of the middle class, they give rise to wonderful opportunities for advancement for demagogues, for those who stand on a soapbox and say, “I will make you proud again. It is the Jew, the Syrian, the German, the Greek—it doesn’t matter—the other, the left-handed person, the different. That we are going—if we get him—and it’s usually ’him’—if we get him, you know, we are going to be free, and your nation will—our nation is going to be proud again.”
So, let’s be clear: This is a symptom, it is not a cause. The cause is a capitalist crisis that was always going to hit us, given the inanity of the so-called growth model of globalization, of financialized globalization, before 2008, and the incredible cynicism with which that crisis was dealt with—or not dealt with—by the establishment.
AMY GOODMAN: For background, you were the Greek finance minister. People in Greece had enormous hope for the Syriza party to change the situation. People were camping out in the streets, massive protest. You were the main negotiator to bail Greece out. Angela Merkel has just announced she is not going to be running again. You were dealing with her. Talk about that experience and, ultimately, what led you to resign and what you came to understand. I mean, you were at the height of Greek power.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Oh, not power. Maybe I was in the center of the frame, but I was the finance minister of a bankrupt country. That doesn’t make you particularly powerful, Amy. But it makes you—it makes you a target, especially a target of the establishment.
But you mentioned Angela Merkel being on the way out. I remember that one of the first things I said to my interlocutors in Germany was, “Look, I recognize and appreciate the fact that you don’t like seeing me in the position of the minister of finance because I’m a radical left-winger, and you would much rather have yet another pushover conservative Greek finance minister. I understand that. I appreciate it. You have my sympathy for this. But let me tell you this,” I was saying to them. “If you squash us, if you do a coup d’état”—at this time, they didn’t use the tanks as they did in 1967 in Greece; they used the banks; they closed down the banks to asphyxiate the government—”what you are going to deal with, once you destroy a democratically elected Europeanist, progressive left-wing government, you’re going to have to deal with right-wing fascists.” And lo and behold, Mrs. Merkel is now being booted out, effectively, because of the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland, because that awful xenophobic, fascist party has stolen around 15 percent of her Christian Democratic power base, and her own Christian Democratic party is now going to try to appease the fascists by getting rid of Merkel. So, that is the first part of the answer.
The second one will be much shorter. Well, in this country, you remember how the election of Barack Obama created waves of optimism and hope amongst progressives in this country. And what does he do? He capitulates on day one of his presidency by effectively surrendering to Wall Street, to put it bluntly. The same thing happened with our government. Of course, our government was under enormous pressure, that Obama claims he was, but he wasn’t really—no comparison with what we were going through. But, unfortunately, my comrades, and especially the prime minister, surrendered to the troika. He had a period, an interregnum of a few weeks, when he was saying himself that it was a coup d’état against him. But after that, he forgot about it. And now he’s competing with other members of the establishment for the prize of being the best servant of the establishment. And this is what happens when the left betrays its grassroots. We should always beware of that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, what are your hopes in terms of this Progressive International, how it might be able to beat back not only the tide of the rising fascism, but also the increasing insistence on international capital that the only way to move forward is through greater austerity, from all countries, from all working-class populations?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Our number one priority is to come up with a New Deal for the world, which is inclusive and which is green, unlike the original New Deal. But the original idea of the New Deal, the original idea of FDR, to energize idle cash and to put it into good use for public purpose, that must be the main priority of the Progressive International, because we live in a world which is awash with cash. We have this amazing power. That’s capitalism for you, isn’t it? We have the highest level of debt but also the highest level of savings. The problem is that these savings are not being invested in what humanity needs—good-quality jobs, green transition, green energy, green transport. So, that’s what we need to do at the global level.
And the way to do this is to answer some basic questions. What kind of monetary system do we want? Because the one we have is broken. What kind of financial system do we want? How do we fund anti-poverty drives across the world, in our countries here in the West, but also a transfer of wealth from the Global North to the Global South, and the green transition? These are questions that the left and the progressives have not answered at the global level. The globalists, who gather in Davos, as you have—they know what they want. They want to shift all the pain onto the shoulders of the weakest of citizens around the world. We know what the fascists want.
We need to have—and, you see, it’s not impossible, because it has happened before, if you think of what happened in the Bretton Woods Conference, which was, of course, not a very progressive event, but nevertheless they gathered. They banned entry to all the bankers. No banker was allowed into the Bretton Woods Conference.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Bretton Woods in New Hampshire—
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: 1944.
AMY GOODMAN: After World War II.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Before the end of—during World War II, preparing for the postwar era and for the 20 years, the golden era of capitalism, which was a golden era of capitalism, because, effectively, they put the financial genie into the bottle. You know, bankers hated that period, because they could not do crazy things with your money. So, we need to revive the ambition of 1944 and come up with a New Deal for the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Steve Bannon has popped up in Europe in different places, even with the Vox party wins, the fascist party in Spain. He got involved with them as an early supporter and has established something called The Movement, which aims to expand the far right throughout Europe. Can you talk about whether this is significant or not, and also what your group, DiEM 2025, is?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, “M” stands for movement. So, we were there first. But the difference is that Steve Bannon’s movement has a purpose of reaping a harvest of anger, using that anger in order to weaponize a far-right, hatred-based agenda in order to maximize the power of strongmen, like Salvini, like Kurz, like Zeilhofer, like the Vox people that you mentioned, and, just like Mussolini and their ilk in the 1930s, to turn it against the people whose anger they have harnessed. Whereas our narrative is one of unity, one of solidarity between different people, solidarity with the migrants, with the refugees.
To answer an earlier question which I did not answer fully, our reaction to the arguments that we are being swarmed by foreigners and so on is: Let them in. Borders are a scar on the surface of the planet, on the face of the Earth. They make no sense. The only thing that they do is they increase the profits of the traffickers. And at the same time, we are failing to understand that Europe is aging. We need migrants. We need refugees.
So, in other words, you cannot compete with the fascists with fascism-lite, like Hillary Clinton the other day stupidly—and I use that word with a great deal of thought—suggested that the way to defeat populism in Europe is to erect borders around Europe and to stop migrants from coming in. Hillary Clinton said that, proving that she was unfit to be president of the United States yet again. You cannot compete with them playing their own misanthropic game. The only way you can compete with them is by appealing to the humanity of humans and also to their rationality. And using migrants as a football, in the end, backfires. So, we are going to fight them on the beaches—and when I say “them,” I mean the fascists, I mean those that Steve Bannon is organizing. They’re going to face up to the fact that we’re going to be there, and we’re going to be undermining their movement with arguments that appeal to rationality and to humanity.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On the issue of trade, obviously, the Brexit issue is a big issue in Europe. Here in the United States, Trump keeps railing against all the unfair trade deals, that China is unfairly exploiting trade for its benefit with the United States. How would the Progressive International deal with this whole continuing conflict over trade policies in the advanced industrial countries?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: We oppose both globalism and nationalism, using internationalism. What does that mean, beyond the slogan aspect of it? Well, it means that the idea that you simply eradicate borders for goods and capital, but not for human beings, and everything is going to go well, well, it hasn’t worked. It has transported part of the—parts of the Third World into the West with whole communities that have been devastated through deindustrialization in Europe as well as in the United States. And at the same time, it has created massive depredation and exploitation in the Third World, in developing countries, except China, which is using a particular industrial model that somebody like Trump does not like. The solution is not tariffs. The solution is not to stop trade. The solution is to impose minimum living wages in the countries that want to trade with you.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re headed to Poland to cover the U.N. climate summit. It’s the third time Poland will have—will host this, which is very interesting, considering it really is coal land. And we’re going to the heart of coal land right now. We’ll be going to Katowice. Can you talk about the government of Poland—President Duda, he just recently met with Trump—and where Poland is going right now?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Poland is very much like Hungary. It is a place that has experienced humiliation and devastation in the ’90s during the transition from communism to capitalism. An experience of decades under the Soviet regime makes it easier for a new regime to come that is as authoritarian as the previous regime.
Now, this regime, that you’re going to be visiting now, or that is ruling the country that you’re going to be visiting in the next few weeks or days, it is a very interesting regime because, on the one hand, they have done something that has not happened in the West of Europe. They have shunned austerity, in the sense of increasing pensions and increasing minimum benefits for the poor. But at the same time, they’ve done this in a paternalistic, neofascistic, xenophobic way, which is not new at all, because if you think about Benito Mussolini in the 1920s and 1930s, he introduced the first public pension fund system in the world, universal. And he did look after the working class, on the basis of a social contract: We will increase your living standards, we will protect you, but you will have to forfeit all your democratic rights, all your trade unions’ rights, you will belong to me, the Duce, and you will belong to your employer, who is my main funder, the Fiat factories and so on. That was the deal. Now, if you look at the attitude of this Polish government, it is patriarchal, misogynist, xenophobic, looks after workers and families by lifting minimum wages and minimum pensions, and at the same time demands complete allegiance and loss of democratic rights from the population. We do have a postmodern 1930s.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Greek finance minister, economist Yanis Varoufakis, speaking this week after attending the Sanders Institute gathering in Burlington, Vermont, where he, Senator Sanders and others launched the Progressive International.
To see video, audio podcasts, transcripts of the show, you can go to democracynow.org. Democracy Now! will be broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Katowice, Poland, all next week. Tune in.
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