In an extended interview with Yanis Varoufakis, member of the Greek Parliament and former finance minister of Greece, we discuss his new novel, “Another Now,” and why he chose to write fiction after years of nonfiction. “All my life as a lefty, I had to find ways of escaping the poignant question: 'If you don't like capitalism, what is your alternative?’” Varoufakis explains. Now 60 years old, he describes how he explored the answer through the characters in his book, some of whom are based on real people.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
We’re joined now for Part 2 of our interview with Yanis Varoufakis, member of the Greek Parliament, former finance minister of Greece. We spoke with him about the outcome of the German elections in the first part of our interview. His latest piece for Jacobin, “Angela Merkel Was Bad for Europe and the World.” He’s also a professor of economics. But he’s written a novel. It’s his new book. It is called Another Now.
Yanis Varoufakis, thank you for staying with us. Start off with that title, Another Now.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: All my life as a lefty, I had to find ways of escaping the poignant question: “Mate, if you don’t like capitalism, what’s the alternative? How could the system work differently? Labor markets, companies, land use, housing, foreign trade — how would it all work if people like you could reshape the world?” And I have to admit that this is a question that most socialists, like myself, whenever we heard it, we run for cover, because it’s a very difficult question to answer. You can’t possibly even begin to imagine that the Soviet Union is a good model for what we need here now. It was a gulag. I would be the first one to end up in the gulag. I always knew that. So it was a question that, for a long time, I avoided by concentrating on criticizing capitalism.
And, you know, now I’m 60, Amy, and I decided that it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. But, you know, sitting down to write a treatise of how would markets work, how would this work and so on, was just too boring to do. So I decided I’m going to write a novel, because, you see, when you have a novel, you have characters. And when you have characters, you can put different ideas — your own ideas, different ideas, because I have conflicting ideas in my head, about how a democratic, socialist, liberal, market society should be like — so I put different ideas into different characters, and I let them fight it out.
And I created — I used the medium of science fiction in order to imagine what would have happened in 2008 if a transnational, international technorebellion took place. How could we transform capitalism, overcome capitalism, replace it with a thoroughly democratized economy? And, you know, how could it come to be? And what would it be like? So, there you are. I would have created another now by the end of writing this novel, I thought, and that’s what I hope I have done.
AMY GOODMAN: So, and you’ve done it brilliantly. Tell us the story of Costa, your main character, a brilliant but deeply disillusioned computer engineer.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well, by the way, can I break some news to you? Costa is based on a real person. He’s also called Costa, and he — I hope he’s not listening to me now. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a high-tech freak. He’s a great friend of mine, so I’m allowed to say that. He’s a Cretan, a Greek from Crete, who studied electrical engineering, computing science in Germany, who worked designing, initially, missile systems and then had a massive existential crisis and gave this up. And then he concentrated on designing bionic ears — not bionic eyes, as I have it in the book.
But he represents — from where I’m standing, he represents the early and defeated hope that digital technologies — the internet, all these fantastic digital contraptions and technology — would liberate us. It’s, we know, one variety of defeated modernity, right? Another one is the Marxist left, who thought that, you know, we would rise up and storm the winter castle, and then we would bring about the good society. We didn’t. We brought about the gulag. Costa is the techie who gets very excited by technology, until he realizes what Big Tech and capitalism does with them. So he becomes utterly disillusioned and finds a way of making a lot of money for himself in order to find ways of channeling his creativity to projects that will help liberate us from, you know, the illusions that consumerism and capitalism implant into our minds.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Yanis, tell us about his journey to England and the women he meets up there.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: So, there are three main characters. Costa, the tech-savvy tech evangelist who turns technophobe, because he sees what Big Tech does, what capitalism does with big technology. And then there is a neoliberal, mainstream economics professor who used to work for Wall Street, until 2008. She got burned in 2008. Then she became a professor in the United, and then in England. And she represents the other variant — sorry, I’ll say that again. And she represents the other variant of modernity, which is the neoliberal one, because the neoliberals also believe in progress. They believe that if you do away with the state, if you let the state wither and you enable markets to do their thing, to perform their miracle, everybody’s going to become better off, and everybody’s going to become free. This is another variety of modernity, the idea that reason and rationality will triumph. And that crashed and burned in 2008, as we know, when Wall Street came down, and then we had socialism for the bankers and harsh austerity for everyone else. So, that’s Eva. And then there’s Iris, the Marxist feminist, very radical Marxist feminist. She doesn’t like Marxism, she doesn’t like feminism, because she thinks that all these projects, in the end, generate different kinds of oppressions amongst comrades. So, she represents the left-wing variety, variant, of modernity.
And they all meet together. And an accident that takes place in one of the contraptions that Costa has concocted, has invented, allows them to glimpse at, through a wormhole, at an alternative trajectory of the time-space continuum. The idea here is that, in 2008, the crisis was so great — I like to imagine that — that the time-space continuum split in two: the one we live on, where capitalism survived and used central banks and Big Tech and so on in order to solidify the power of the very few, but there was another trajectory where, you know, the Occupy Wall Street kind of movement, using financial engineering, using mass digital strikes, mass trade union activity and so on, overthrew capitalism and created something much better. So, those three characters can see through this wormhole. They can get glimpses of what that alternative now is like. And they get to debate it and to really have huge arguments against one another —
AMY GOODMAN: The other now.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: — about its merits. The other now.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, as you reflect both on your fictional writing, creating the other now, and what your job was before, as finance minister, was it strange working with fictitious capital and then turning to fiction to express your worldview?
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: It’s weird and wonderful, because, let’s face it, capitalism is based on fictitious capital. You heard the other day that the International Monetary Fund created $650 billion worth of something called SDRs. What’s that? It’s fictional, fictitious capital. It’s the money tree. When the Fed creates money, that’s fictional money, fictitious money. But, of course, it’s very powerful, because those who get it, those who receive it — and it’s usually the Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs — then they give it to their mates in Apple, Google, Exxon and so on, and that gives them enormous power over the rest of us. So, it’s fictional or fictitious capital, which has a real impact in the distribution of power, of who gets to order other people around. That’s what politics boils down to, and that’s what economics boils down to: the power to make other people do that which is in your own interest. That’s how capitalism works.
So, I tried to imagine: Is there a way that we could, as a species, as humanity, harness the power of humanity to create fictitious capital, for the many, not for the view, to put it in — to put it in the service of organizations like FreeSpeech.org, cooperatives, social enterprises, where everyone has one vote, because everybody has one share, because this is what you do? You have corporations, you have companies, you have media companies, and you have factories, operating along the lines of a college, where, you know, when you enroll in college, you get a library card. You can’t sell it. You can’t rent it. You can’t lease it. You can’t speculate on it. But it gives you power. It gives you the power to borrow books. It gives you the power to enter the computer system of the college.
Imagine if shares were like that. Suddenly, yes, we would have corporations. We’d have freedom. We have would have competition. But we wouldn’t have labor markets, because everybody would share the profits, not necessarily equally, but even the inequality, the bonuses that are given, could be decided democratically on the basis of one person, one share, one vote. Then you do away with Wall Street, because there would be no share market, because, you know, shares will not be tradable.
So, if you allow your realistic fantasy, your realistic imagination, to take it further, there is a possibility. And that’s what I’m trying to do with Another Now, to dissolve the toxic dogma of TINA, that “there is no alternative,” because, astonishingly, there is always an alternative.
AMY GOODMAN: Yanis, I wanted to ask you about the organization you formed with Senator Bernie Sanders, who has become extremely powerful in the Senate. For many years, people would have thought that would be another now. But it happened. He is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. And I’m wondering if you can talk about the vision the two of you have, not just for the United States — and what it’s like for you to see him operate in the United States — but throughout Europe and around the world.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: The vision was really very, very simple. After 2008, the bankers of the world united, forming a bankers’ international. And they got the G7 to bankroll them and, effectively, to cover for all their huge losses after 2008 by getting the central banks of the world to print enough money to give them. That’s how they bailed them out. So there is a bankers’ international. The result, we can see everywhere, from Seattle all the way to Missouri, and, you know, from New York all the way to India and to, you know, to sub-Saharan Africa and to the European Union: austerity for the many and socialism for the very few.
Soon after that, the discontent that the bankers’ international created fed into right-wing, xenophobic populism. And they internationalized. You know, Donald Trump, Prime Minister Modi of India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, all the neofascists in Europe, they loved each other — the Brexiteers, the right-wing Brexiteers in Britain. And they collaborated magnificently. So there was a nationalist or ultranationalist international — which is a contradiction, but it’s not really, because they cooperate. The only people who never manage to get together and collaborate are the progressives.
So, this is what, you know, Bernie and I said in Vermont in November 2018, that it’s about time. And we called upon people of the Earth to collaborate in the context of a Progressive International. Now, then Bernie had, of course, to run for president. And he did very well, and we all supported him. And I’m very pleased that he has taken up the opportunity that Biden has given him to try to push the American Senate in a progressive direction. At some point he’s going to be eaten alive by this regime, but it’s good that he’s trying. The rest of us are putting together and they are realizing that vision of the Progressive International.
And let me give you an example. During Black Friday, last December, we organized a unique industrial action. We called it #MakeAmazonPay, in support of workers that are exploited, both in terms of low pay but also in terms of the automation of their bodies through the machinery that Amazon uses in its warehouses — [inaudible] humans, without humanizing the robots. So, we had this rolling strike in Amazon warehouses that was called and organized by the Progressive International. It started in Bangladesh. On the same day, it rolled into India. Then it went to Germany. Then it went to New Jersey. Then it went to Seattle. This is the kind of thing we’re doing.
We now have an organization comprising different trade unions and climate activists around the world, and so on, and antiwar movements. We have about 200 million people that are, through their organizations, participating in the Progressive International. You know, we’re trying to make this work in the way that the bankers and the fascists have completely made it clear we need to move, to internationalize, because it’s the only way of fighting them.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Yanis Varoufakis, I want to thank you so much for being with us, member of the Greek Parliament, former finance minister of Greece. His new book is a novel. It’s titled Another Now. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.