When you’re dead, part of the problem is that anybody, including people you would never have anything to do with when you were alive, can claim to be your “student,” your “follower,” your acolyte, and your interpreter. Anyone of these can claim to have understood you better than all those others with whom you would or would not ever have had any contact. Anyone can claim to have understood you better than you understood yourself.
When you’re dead, no matter how secure the coffin, how thick the crypt, worms and beetles move in, take over, set up light housekeeping.
Speaking of worms and beetles and pretenders setting up housekeeping, Yanis Varoufakis has taken time out from his busy schedule of raising money for his Democracy in Europe 2025 (DiEM25) “movement” so he can keep to his busy schedule of raising money for his DiEM25 movement, in order to write an introduction to The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, although on second thought, writing the introduction is probably part of his schedule for raising money. Well, he was a minister of finance, even if for only 6 months.
Anyway, The Guardian has printed a version of this introduction on its website. In true Shakespearean form Varoufakis didn’t really come to praise Marx, but to bury him. Praise is the body bag designed to be zipped shut around the words that still describe, indict, and threaten capitalism with the abolition of its own making 170 years after publication.
For those of you who don’t recall Varafoukis was the minister of finance for the first six or seven months of the Syriza government. Before the election and his selection, Yani had been the economist-in-residence for a videogame company; the occupant of the Super Mario Brothers chair in economics (endowed by Nintendo) at the Cartoon Network; famous for demanding a second “Marshall Plan” for Europe and a new New Deal for Europe (forgetting, apparently, that Europe had never had an old New Deal); and promising that Greece would abolish the MOUs that bound Greece to debt servitude. After the election and his selection, our minister of finance was famous for promising to “squeeze blood from stones” if necessary to meet Greece’s debt obligations to the IMF.
After the Syriza ministers had in fact capitulated to yet another MOU, imposing yet more austerity on Greece, the ministers had to submit the “plan” to the parliament for a vote. Guess who, at this critical juncture for the future of democracy in Europe, wasn’t there? Our Minister of Grand-Theft Auto was a no-show– he couldn’t be bothered to vote one way or another. Instead he was seen leaving Athens for a short trip across the Aegean for a vacation on a lovely Greek island. Nice work if you can get it.
Anyway, Yanis wants to tell us how great The Communist Manifesto is as literature, as poetry, as a prescient view, from the past, of the future, our present where value takes its terrible toll. And speaking of terrible tolls, Varoufakis is a true democrat, sparing no little breath and sympathy describing the terrible toll taken on the bourgeoisie by their infernal creation: “At the same time, the ultra-rich become guilt-ridden and stressed as they watch everyone else’s lives sink into precariousness of insecure wage-slavery… they find themselves consumed by anxiety and incapable of enjoying their riches…. ” and “If capitalism appears unjust it is because it enslaves everyone, rich and poor…” Oh, bullshit. The bourgeoisie positively revel in the misery of others. Their ideology has from the getgo justified the misery of others as a virtue for themselves. The bourgeoisie worry all right, but the worry isn’t guilt and it doesn’t make them nauseous at their own displays of wealth; nor of the poverty that their wealth reproduces.
But Yanis came to bury Marx and Engels and build a home in the bones, not to praise them, so he tells us that Karl and Fred “failed to foresee…that powerful prescriptive texts…procure disciples, believers –a priesthood, even– and that this faithful might use the power bestowed upon them by the manifesto to their own advantage. With it, they might abuse other comrades, build their own power base, gain positions of influence, bed impressionable students, take control of the politburo and imprison anyone who resists them.” See, it’s the fact that a manifesto was written outlining the contending forces for control of the reproduction of social wealth that gave rise to those who…rise to positions in politburos, or ministries of finance, or academia, or I suppose, democratic movements in Europe. So the contending forces, the conflict between means and relations of production; the accumulation of capital; the inability of that accumulation to exist other than in conditions of uneven and combined development where it absorbs and adapts to its own incompleteness, that’s so….pre-modern. Our modernist knows that the analysis of the conditions of accumulation, is the very force that prevents the successful overthrow of capitalism.
In reality, this is nothing but another iteration of the nonsense that Marx and Engels are somehow responsible for the development of Stalinism. Wow, that’s unique, isn’t it?
The Communist Manifesto did not cause the defeat in 1927 of the working class in China, or the defeat of the Spanish working class in the Spanish Civil War. The ideology of the popular front, the national “democratic” revolution was not a response to Marx and Engels of 1848, but to the prospects of proletarian revolution in the 20th century.
Varoufakis is no stranger to manifestos; there’s one available through (in short, 4 page, form; or full, 9 page, form) his website for his DiEM25 “movement.” If Yanis thinks that Marx and Engels in their manifesto are responsible for inspiring followers to take abrupt, and even abusive, actions, then have no worry, for his manifesto couldn’t inspire anyone to do anything. While, in The Guardian article, Yanis states “we don’t need…vigils for our vanishing democratic sovereignty” his manifesto for DiEM25 is little more than a vigil for “vanishing democratic sovereignty.” There are more than 30 references to democracy and “democratise” in the “long version” of the manifesto. The European Union “was an exceptional achievement,” but it is disintegrating because of a lack of democracy, not because of the need to claw out more value from workers; not from the need to drive down the cost of labor power, but simply from the lack of democracy. Eurozone economies are “being marched off the cliff” because of… a lack of democracy. The solution to all and everything is a “surge in democracy.”
There is only a single mention of capitalism in the DiEM25 manifesto. The necessity of its continued existence is never challenged. On the contrary, its preservation is assumed with “democracy” serving to “limit capitalism’s worst, self-destructive drives and opening up a window onto…social harmony and sustained development.” We’ve heard that before, of course, in Greece, 2015, when Varoufakis announced that Syriza was committed to saving capitalism from itself. Meanwhile, the not-absolute-worst drives? Those can operate in their ordinary unlimited manner.
Class? The DiEM25 manifesto heard of it but not as described in the manifesto of Marx and Engels; where classes struggle for social dominance; where in capitalism that struggle is based in the organization of labor as wage labor and the means of production as private property; not where the proletariat, the working class, because of its relation to the reproduction of capital becomes the agent for the abolition of capital and the capitalist class; not as Marx and Engels described the working class as the class that in order to emancipate itself must emancipate all others oppressed by the conflicts and limits of capital. Nope, none of that. The DiEM25 manifesto only proposes an “egalitarian Europe that ends discrimination based on gender, skin colour, social class…” as if any of that is possible without the abolition of the system of classes in its entirety.
In the article in The Guardian, Varoufakis claims that the relevance to today of the manifesto of 1848 is the need “to speed up capital’s development” while “resisting its tendency to steamroller the human spirit.” He makes that claim 170 years after the publication, 100 years after the Russian Revolution, 80 years after the start of World War 2, 27 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He makes that claim after more than $1 trillion in foreign direct investment in China, after the billions in investment by China itself in Africa, Asia, and Europe. He makes that claim after the supply chains of capitalism traverse every continent, cross every ocean. Still, we’re supposed to speed-up capital’s development. Exactly how do you do that without endorsing the private property that defines capitalism? Exactly how do you do that without supporting the super-exploitation of women workers? Exactly how can the development of capitalism be sped-up anymore than it has been sped-up when those same forces lead to its slowing down?
These are, of course, issues, questions, problems, that don’t lend themselves to liberal, democratic solutions; to appeals to an insecure, anxious bourgeoisie. These are the problems that Marx and Engels confronted directly in the confrontation with capitalism. Their answer, in their manifesto, is the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, for its abolition. It’s not so much, or so bad, that Varoufakis doesn’t have answer. It’s that he tries to obscure the very question. That’s what “democracy” is under capitalism.
April 22, 2018