Varoufakis, Greece, and our Ability to Influence the Political Process

In a recent interview with Novara Media, former Greek Minster of Finance, and current Secretary-General of the left-wing political party MeRA25, Yanis Varoufakis was asked if he believes that Jeremy Corbyn will be the next British Prime Minister, as well as if Brexit will take place. Varoufakis, however, refused to make any predictions. This is not because he did not have an opinion on the subjects; on the contrary, Varoufakis strongly supports Corbyn’s bid for prime minister, and he has even personally campaigned against Brexit—a position that some may at first find surprising given Varoufakis’s open disdain for the European Union and its leadership.

Instead, Varoufakis’s refusal to make a prediction was, according to him, an “ideological” position. One of the reasons he gave for this was that to make predictions about politics, or to see certain political processes, such as Brexit, as “inevitable” is to wrongly portray democracy as a “spectator sport.” Varoufakis pointed out that democracy “is something we all participate in,” and that this is especially the case when we act as if we are not participating in it, since “apathy feeds into a variety of sins.” In other words, we need to stop viewing the political process as something which is “out of our hands,” and to start realizing that we can influence it through political action. In fact, democracy is something that can, and should, be controlled through the collective action of the people; and this means that we all have the ability to help enact change.

Yet, the claim that the average person can have any real impact on politics—which seem to be only in the control of wealthy, powerful, and corrupt forces—may seem rather “idealistic,” if not delusional. But Varoufakis is not a person who speaks from a place of naiveté or ignorance. In fact, his own involvement in politics, particular in that of Greek politics, provides one of the most powerful recent examples of what can be accomplished when the people begin to awaken and take action, even if the story has yet to end on a triumphant note.

In an interview last year on Under the Skin with Russell Brand, Varoufakis said that by 2010-2011 Greece had become a “Dickensian debt prison camp”; a situation where everybody was in debt, and nobody could pay. The nation had experienced a universal bankruptcy. However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the European Commission (EC)—the European troika—attempted to cover-up Greece’s bankruptcy by providing it with bailout loans. Naturally, these loans came with austerity measures that were meant to essentially enslave the Greek people to a corrupt system run by a small number of European elites. Further, as with any form of enslavement, the Greek people had no prospects of freedom; unless, of course, they were willing to take their destiny into their own hands. Thus in 2011 an outpouring of indignation and activism began to take place in Greece. At first it started with only 300 or so protesters gathering in Syntagma Square, which is opposite the Greek Parliament House in Athens. Magnificently enough, within a few days this small number of protesters grew to approximately one hundred thousand Greek souls occupying the square. The protest in Athens lasted for three months before it was brutally suppressed by the police.

Despite the authorities eventually retaking control of Syntagma Square, this protest had lit the torch of hope for Greece. The occupation had demonstrated the power of the people, who in the thousands had even blocked parliamentarians from entering Parliament in order to vote in favour of more austerity onto the suffering masses. Moreover, Varoufakis, who had been a part of the protest from the beginning, himself said that the movement did not end in Syntagma Square. In fact, it perhaps reached its climax, at least to date, in 2015. It was then that Syriza, a coalition of left-wing Greek political parties, who had received a mere 4 percent of the vote in the previous national election, won the new election with nearly 40 percent of the vote. Syriza’s victory put Alexis Tsipras at the helm of the Greek state, as prime minister, with Varoufakis being given the position of finance minister. It was clear that the Greeks wanted their freedom back.

Sadly, the situation ended in tragedy when Tsipras later betrayed the cause and his people by ignoring the democratic process and agreeing to more austerity measures—this in spite of the fact that the Greek people had voted against the EU’s demands, even in the face of their banks being shut down by foreign elites. Moreover, the prime minister’s decision caused Varoufakis to resign his position rather than assist the EU in its further crucifying of Greece. Tsipras’s treachery also paved the way for the neoliberal New Democracy to retake power in 2019, bringing Greece almost fully back to the political status quo. A status quo which will perhaps last until Varoufakis’s MeRA25 is one day given control of the government by the people.

Of course, you can look at the above example as either supporting Varoufakis’s view that political control is in the hands of the people, or you can see it as illustrating the complete opposite. One could argue that Greece’s example proves that resistance to the establishment is futile, since despite the protests in Athens and the voting in of a party which promised to truly stand for the people, nothing really changed, and in fact it can be said that things became even worse. However, I do not see this as being the correct interpretation.

I believe that the Greek example demonstrates that change is possible, and even within the reach of each of us. The Greeks showed the world that the people can take control of the streets, and that it is the people who can vote in, and vote out, the men and woman who claim to represent their interests. In the example of Greece we see that change is possible if the people are willing to fight for it. But the Greek case also demonstrates that fighting for freedom and justice is an ongoing process, since there are forces that are continually looking to undermine the people’s will and break their resolve. Further, this applies not only to Greece and its citizens, but to every place and peoples on earth. Change is possible if the proletariat is willing to take collective action. Or to put it in those prophetic words of Shelley:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!

No one is in control of our political destinies, but us.

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