Debating A ‘New’ Pan-European Anti-Austerity Movement

by: Posted on: February 09, 2016

Editor’s Note: In late 2015, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis announced he would launch a pan-European movement on February 9, 2016 to counter austerity policies and “re-politicize political decisions and to democratize the decision making process.” As today is February 9, we decided to published a series of public letters between Varoufakis and John Malamatinas of ROAR Magazine. The discussion begins with a letter from Malamatinas, addressed to “Yanis.”

If you can get through the jargon—and misspellings—a tactical conversation emerges that begs us to ask: how will social and political movements in the United States coalesce?

 

 

From: John Malamatinas

To: Yanis Varoufakis

January 16, 2016

Dear Yanis,

A couple of weeks ago, you issued an invitation for the founding of a Pan-European movement against austerity. This is to start in Berlin on February 9 with #DiEM25. You’ve already talked about this idea on several occasions, like at a panel discussion with other wise leftists at the Berliner Volksbuehne in October.

Since then, I’ve been thinking to respond to you about this in an open letter. I believe and hope that I’m not the only one in this. Your appearance in Berlin and your call have generated a great deal of discussion among us. Some have been asking themselves whether the revolution could really be that easy: 12 Euros – and you are in.

Where did you get the idea that Germans before the coming revolt, will meekly buy a train ticket before storming the railway station? Anyway, these are frivolous Twitter comments.

Seriously, people in our circles – the leftist movements, that is – are wondering whether you have seriously discussed this plan with someone from the movements against austerity in Greece, Germany or anywhere else in Europe, before issuing this call to action? Do you not think that the brilliant idea to launch a movement for another kind of Europe hasn’t yet occurred to others?

Before I go any further, some obligatory words of praise are in place. There are many people – including my friends and I – who have deep respect for what you have accomplished already. Your confrontations with Dr. Schauble will not be forgotten. Nobody else but you could bring him to the edge of madness, no one else would make a better alternative for Minister of Finance. You’ve become a symbol of the anti-austerity movement. More important than Alexis, Pablo and all the other stars.

The ideas expressed in your books do not sound unrealistic at all. You propose another kind of Europe with your small but “modest proposal for a solution of the Eurocrisis” without going against the European Treaties (for which you have been classified as “reformist” by some). Nevertheless, this is an alternative proposal which dares to question the idea of a German Europe.

You are not satisfied with a so-called social administration of the crisis as proposed by your ex-comrades and ex-colleagues. Above all, you are pushing for a fundamental critique of the ruling political economy ideas, as taught at universities across Europe. Especially for this you deserve a thumbs-up. Still, some people have implied that you always wanted to be in the foreground, but perhaps it’s simply that you have shown that someone just had to dare.

I would like, however, to give you some tips for your upcoming trip to Berlin. Apparently, you are entering unknown territory, very far from parliaments and economic institutes, and you want to address and activate a “Europe from below”.

In doing this, it’s important that you pay attention to the fact that social struggles and the confrontation of power have been around since we started discussing the crisis. For this you do not have to look too far. Take but a look at Greece: the student protests of 2006-2007 against neoliberal policies in universities; the uncompromising revolt of December 2008; the general strikes that brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets; the movement of the Indignados (“Aganaktismenoi”) and the occupation of Syntagma Square.

The exhaustion of the mass protest correctly observed by leftist academics led to new discussions among the Left: party or self-organization? Or both? Solidarity has been around in Greece not only as means of self-support or charity, but with the aim of transforming social relations toward a different administration of the Commons.

Similar debates have been and are taking place in Spain and elsewhere. The decisions of Tsipras and Syriza have led to further fundamental questions which you yourself are also asking: how to change the EU without leaving it? Why are we so damn helpless and is the apparent “defeat” all we are talking about since last summer?

But let’s go back to Berlin and Germany. Imagine, here too, we have seen attempts to counter the propaganda of the media and politicians about the “lazy Greeks”. Here, at the “Heart of the Beast”. Maybe our protests were too small to influence the existing discussion, but some still remember the solidarity “smoke signals” from Frankfurt to Athens during the Blockupy protests against the opening of the ECB in March 2015 or the #thisisacoup demonstrations after the referendum.

In addition, for years German and Greek activists have been traveling back and forth. We are people who want to prevent German from becoming the only language spoken in Europe: Blockupy, Greek Solidarity Committees, crisis migrants, progressive sections of leftist parties, culture and theater people and many others. Perhaps none of your German-speaking partners explained that there are people who have already had the idea that we need a transnational network, even a movement from the bottom. And then I’m not talking about Oskar Lafontaine’s “Plan B for Europe”.

All these initiatives from Germany have been networked beyond its national borders. There are many European-wide forums, in which it is worth participating: Blockupy International, Alternative summits, Beyond Europe, transnational Agora-meetings, antiracist networks, struggles for transnational social strikes, networked eco-social struggles from Nantes via Val de Susa to Chalkidiki. Talk with your comrades in Greece, they know about this because they also belong to these transnational networks. In Frankfurt we were all together on the streets.

We do not always have to start from the beginning. But, we all have to unite for a real movement.

This is why I have four direct requests for you:

1. Come to the Blockupy meeting which will take place on February 6 and 7, shortly before your visit to Berlin. Or at least contact them in one way or another.

2. Do not waste your time with irrelevant Plan B conferences. Movements are not made from the top.

3. Create a small map of social resistance and transnational networks in Europe. Blockupy can certainly help you in this. Believe me, it is worth it!

4. Talk directly with the people. A lot of them are complaining they could not talk in the Volksbuehne. You especially can influence and open to the public the conferences you are going to support and participate in.

The initiative to create a Pan-European movement to change existing conditions is correct, but existing structures should also be associated with this. Welcome to the Hell of social movements.

Comradely greetings,

John Malamatinas

Originally published on ROARMag.org.

 

 

From: Yanis Varoufakis

To: John Malamatinas

January 17, 2016

Dear John,

Your letter is a remarkable source of inspiration and hope for me. It also constitutes a wonderful opportunity to clarify, even within my own thinking, what our new movement, DiEM [Democracy in Europe Movement 2025], is about.

The Athens Spring, and the ruthlessness with which ‘official’ Europe crushed it, shook millions of Europeans out of their complacency. Suddenly, it was impossible for decent folks to carry on pretending that all is well in the best of all feasible Europes. Suddenly, good people who had been lulled into a false sense of TINA (“there is no alternative”) began to realise that the present power structures in Europe are not an option (as they are crumbling all around us) and that, if they continue to do nothing, they will be complicit in the emergence of a postmodern 1930s.

DiEM is being conceived as a movement that will connect these good, recently enraged, Europeans, with the movements that you so eloquently described in your open letter. Of course it would have been absurd to think that I was the first one to come up with the idea of starting a pan-European movement. Civilised Europe has been shaped by cross-border movements for centuries. No, the idea behind DiEM is to provide an opportunity for this new, hopeful coalescence between (A) the movements and (B) the recently energised/enraged/awakened silent majority. The aim is to use the Athens Spring as a springboard for a new coalition of democrats demanding that the demos, the people, is put back into democracy.

Undoubtedly, the questions that DiEM will pose, beginning on 9th February in Berlin, have been posed countless times before by people and movements all over Europe.

A European party or self organisation across Europe?
Can the euro be fixed and made compatible with shared prosperity?
Is the current mélange of EU institutions reformable (even in theory) or should we look beyond it?
What forms of political action are best suited to the task of democratisation?

As I used to tell my students, the big questions do not change – the interesting answers do.

What DiEM offers is an opportunity of unifying:

(A) all those who have been asking these questions for years, while fighting the good struggles in their cities, communities, workplaces; networking across regions and countries

with

(B) Europeans who had hitherto not left their… couch, or lifted a finger against the establishment, but who are now eager to be part of a movement that restores hope in a Europe that can become decent, sustainable and worth striving for.

In this context, you are precisely right: DiEM must […] prove itself as a movement keen to learn from the accumulated experience and dynamism of local movements like Blockupy. Whenever in the past few years I sought to counter the ultra-nationalist, quasi-fascist elements here in Greece, who tried to use the crisis to turn Greeks against Germans, I would refer to the resistance movements within Germany and to the solidarity of German activists (including the internationalist-networked manifestation of that solidarity across borders). Indeed, it was my hope that such movements would be excited by our choice of the Berliner Volksbuehne (as the site of DiEM’s launch) and thus join us more readily.

So, let’s get practical.

-I propose that, prior to the launch […] one of the pre-launch public meetings (earlier in the day) should be dedicated to the question: ‘DiEM and the movements?’ Many comrades who are at this early stage working towards the inauguration of DiEM25, defining its direction and helping me with the writing of our Manifesto, have been for years or even decades actively participating in various movements – from the World Social Forum to the European Social Forum, from various solidarity campaigns all around Europe to the Altersummit, from Uninomade to Euronomade, from occupations in the Balkans to the struggle of Blockupy, from the Subversive Festival to Transeuropa Festival, from the theatre-scene to many other honest and important initiatives all around Europe and beyond. Their contribution, your contribution, that of movements like Blockupy, together with contributions from other participants (e.g. from Barcelona, led by Ada Culao; Madrid, represented by Miguel Urban Crespo; the UK, Denmark, France etc.) should, in the context of a truly open agenda, help tackle the issues you mentioned in your open letter.

-In addition to the pre-launch event, allow me to extend an invitation for you, or for another of your comrades, to address the audience during the main event, in the Volksbuehne.

Finally, on a personal note, if I may:

You close your open letter by welcoming me to the “hell of the movements”. My answer to you is: “Glad to be here – even though, in truth, I was never anywhere else!”

While earlier this year I spent a few, brief months in the corridors of ‘power’, and many years in universities as a professor, I have always been an activist:

Beginning with the occupation movement of high school Greek students in 1975-8, the Black Students Alliance in my English university in 1978-80, the steel, printing and coal picket lines against Mrs Thatcher’s neoliberal policies in the early 1980s, CND and pro-ANC campaigns, working as a trades union advocate in Australia in the 1990s, involved in the student occupations of Athens University in the 2000s (when, as their professor, I gave ‘anti-lectures’ on political economics to the occupying students), all the way to the 2011 Syntagma Square occupation (where I participated daily and addressed the crowds, twice) – and finally to the… Eurogroup. Activism as a state of being…

Lastly, your are right in saying that we cannot afford to start from scratch, from the beginning, ignoring all that has been accomplished by current and past movements. This is so. But, at the same time, I think we need a new beginning. One that appeals to those that the movements have, so far, left untouched. A new beginning to which we all contribute expecting nothing in return, save perhaps for the warm inner glow, when we are terribly old and decrepit, that we were not idle in the face of Europe’s descent into authoritarianism, misanthropy and sadness. That’s the purpose of DiEM.

Looking forward to the 7th of February, where (following your advice) I shall be attending the Blockupy meeting in Berlin, two days before our joint (I hope and trust) launch of DiEM.

In solidarity

Yanis Varoufakis

Originally published on yanisvaroufakis.eu.

 

Photo: Flickr


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