February 18, 2015
Crisis: Varoufakis, Austerity, Spanish Leftist, Tom Engelhardt, David Hume
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


1. Yanis Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist
2. Austerity Is 'Complete Horsesh*t': Ivy League Prof
     Dismantles the Conservative Lie

3. The Spanish Invasion: Leftist Leader Says Populism
     Rises from Failures of the Elite

4. Machine Guns, MRAPs, Surveillance, Drones, Permanent
     War, and a Permanent Election Campaign

5. On David Hume's Treatise: I.I.

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

This is a crisis log. There are 5 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is a quite disappointing "long read" by Yanis Varoufakis; item 2 is about an interview with Mark Blyth, an economist who wrote a book explaining why austerity is "complete horsesh*t"; item 3 is about an interview with a Spanish leftist leader
who did not say much I found interesting (but I may be mistaken); item 4 is about a good piece by Tom Engelhardt you are recommended to read; and item
is definitely not a crisis item: it announces that Part I.I. of Hume's "Treatise"
has arrived on my site, with my notes.

1. Yanis Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist

The first item today is an article by Yanis Varoufakis (<- Wikipedia), the present Greek finance minister, on The Guardian, where it also is "a long read":
To start with, I should say this has today's date, whereas it says at the end:
This article is adapted from a lecture originally delivered at the 6th Subversive Festival in Zagreb in 2013
The original is then more than a year old. Again, there is a subtitle that says:
Before he entered politics, Yanis Varoufakis, the iconoclastic Greek finance minister at the centre of the latest eurozone standoff wrote this searing account of European capitalism and and how the left can learn from Marx’s mistakes
So I take it this is essentially from 2013, while it got published today. Finally, I should say that I was especially interested, because my parents were sincere and intelligent Marxists almost all their adult lives, and I suppose I was raised as one - but I gave up on Marxism in 1970, when I was 20, mostly because I had found real difficulties in Marx's economics (and I was quite right!); because the Dutch Communist Party was quite stupid; because Marxism was much too totalitarian; and also, though as an aside, because I could never believe dialectics.

Having read the long read, I am mostly disappointed: I read no real case why
Varoufakis is a Marxist, or indeed an erratic one; and I did not get much rational argument either, though I did read a fair amount of leftist terminology.

It starts as follows:

In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.

If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?

To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.

With this I - speaking broadly - agree: The crisis is a crisis of civilisation, but there is no rational point for what remains of "the left" - which was mostly killed or decimated by Clinton and Blair's "Third Way", that changed most of the political left to political careerists for their own personal interests - to try to create or manufacture a revolution. (Not before a major collapse, at least.)

And the reasons why revolution is not relevant are mostly that there is not much real left to carry it out, in terms of persons, and there is also not much left of revolutionary ideals that have some rational basis and some chance of being successfully practiced by the many, rather than by the very few remaining strong leftists.

Then there is this:
Given all this, you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist. But, in truth, Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day. This is not something that I often volunteer to talk about in “polite society” because the very mention of the M-word switches audiences off.
I am sorry, but I have read all of the article - a considerable part of which consists of explaining why Varoufakis hardly even mentioned Marx's name, during his career in economics - and I found no reason to believe Varoufakis ever was a real Marxist, like my parents were (who did read rather a lot of Marx, that my father also taught, in the Dutch Communist Party).

There is this:
Marx’s analysis offers a powerful antidote. Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic, mechanised input, without destroying itself. That is what neither the neoliberals nor the Keynesians will ever grasp.
This is mostly hot air, I am sorry to say, that amounts to saying "laborers are alive!" and drawing some very sketchy conclusions from that.

There is this:
In the 20th century, the two political movements that sought their roots in Marx’s thought were the communist and social democratic parties. Both of them, in addition to their other errors (and, indeed, crimes) failed, to their detriment, to follow Marx’s lead in a crucial regard: instead of embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for equality and justice, bequeathing the concept of freedom to the neoliberals.
As to the "crimes": Yes indeed, for the Soviet Union and its other states were dictatorships, in which very many were locked up in concentration camps for the crime of having different opinions than the government wanted, and indeed they were not a "dictatorship of the proletariat" but of the politbureaus of the CPs.

As to the rest: Vourfakis has a point, but it is much too vague.

Then there is this:
Having explained why I owe whatever understanding of our social world I may possess largely to Karl Marx, I now want to explain why I remain terribly angry with him. In other words, I shall outline why I am by choice an erratic, inconsistent Marxist. Marx committed two spectacular mistakes, one of them an error of omission, the other one of commission.
No, sorry: To this ex-marxist son of sincere and intelligent Marxists (for over forty years) you failed to explain what Marx meant to you, other than as some prominent leftist from the 19th Century.

Next, as to the errors:

Marx’s first error – the error of omission was that he failed to give sufficient thought to the impact of his own theorising on the world that he was theorising about.
Really now? And what would have been "sufficient thought"? And why was this an error in someone trying to break completely new theories of economics, politics and society?

And as to this:
Marx’s second error, the one I ascribe to commission, was worse. It was his assumption that truth about capitalism could be discovered in the mathematics of his models.
That is plain bullshit: Marx was a rationalist; he had a new theory of economics; and clearly that could be true and required testing. Besides, "the mathematics of his models" is quite slight, and there is nothing wrong with a mathematical theory as such.

Next, Vourfakis is owning up to a "sin":
(...) the sin of choosing not to propose radical political programs that seek to exploit the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow European capitalism, to dismantle the awful eurozone, and to undermine the European Union of the cartels and the bankrupt bankers.
First, this would be a "sin" only in the eyes of some leftist radicals. And second, the position of Greece is not one from which to dictate to others how it should be dealt with.

Then there is this:
Europe’s elites are behaving today as if they understand neither the nature of the crisis that they are presiding over, nor its implications for the future of European civilisation. Atavistically, they are choosing to plunder the diminishing stocks of the weak and the dispossessed in order to plug the gaping holes of the financial sector, refusing to come to terms with the unsustainability of the task.
This is again vague grandiosity. Also, while I do not pretend to be able to speak for "Europe’s elites", it seems to me that one of their main ends that I can see, namely to rake in as much money for the rich as they can, seems remarkably successful the last 30 years or so, and especially since 2008 and "austerity" (which is the false excuse for raking in as much money as they can for the rich from the poor, by telling the poor it is necessary for them to get poorer, and they are financially responsible for the mess the rich made).

Finally, there is this:
If we are to forge alliances with our political adversaries we must avoid becoming like the socialists who failed to change the world but succeeded in improving their private circumstances.
This also doesn't say much, except that it correctly describes most of the socialist academic, party leaders, politicians and foremen that I have seen since 1970: What they were really busy with and interested in was "improving their private circumstances" and indeed they "succeeded" quite well in this.

All in all, reading this article was something of a bummer:

Vourfakis sounds like many of the quasi-marxists I have met in the University of Amsterdam, who pretended to be radicals because from 1971-1995 the Dutch universities were in the hands of the leftist students (who made a major mess, though their leaders indeed made careers and money like most "socialist" foremen).

2. Austerity Is 'Complete Horsesh*t': Ivy League Prof Dismantles the Conservative Lie 

The next item is an article by Elias Esquith on Alternet:
This starts as follows:
As devoted readers of Paul Krugman know well, there’s plenty of evidence from the last six years indicating that austerity, the idea that the government can best boost the economy by engaging in significant tax cuts as well as spending cuts, simply doesn’t work — at least not in today’s economic conditions.
I would not describe myself as a devoted reader of Paul Krugman, but then again I do mostly read his daily bit in the New York Times. Also, I think "austerity" is pretended to "boost the economy", but is really a way to make the rich richer by forcing the poor to settle the enormous debts of the rich, and while doing so making them even poorer. (This it also clearly says: "significant tax cuts" do benefit the rich, self-evidently, and the rest is mainly propaganda, lies, deceptions and make-belief.)

The article is mostly an edited record of an interview with Mark Blyth, and the occasion is that he is an economist with a new book, entitled "
Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea".

I read the interview, and note that Elias Esquith thought the book funny. I have only one quotation, and the speaker is Mark Blyth:
Europe is about to basically fall apart by trying to teach a tiny little country the size of Alabama a lesson in moral hazards, which could lead to the implosion of its banking system once again, and this time [ECB President Mario] Draghi has no more tricks in his bag to solve the problem. They really are on a path to blowing up the eurozone and it’s looking very likely that they’ll do that.
I don't know whether that will be correct, but this seems close enough.

The Spanish Invasion: Leftist Leader Says Populism Rises from Failures of the Elite

The next item is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Marking his first visit to the United States as leader of the ascendent Podemos party in Spain, Pablo Iglesias is in New York City this week to discuss the rise of leftwing populism in his country and how what began in the Spanish streets as the Indignados movement just four years ago has now become a powerful political force across his country and beyond.

Ahead of other public speaking engagements scheduled for this week, Iglesias sat down for an interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté which aired Tuesday morning. Like their European neighbors in Greece who recently elected the Syriza party to power, supporters of Podemos have signaled their commitment to the party based on its critique of austerity economics imposed from without and a leftwing platform that puts the interests of ordinary and working Spaniards ahead of the nation's financial and political elite.

You can read the interview by clicking on the above link. Here is just one quotation from it:

"Austerity," he explained, "means the end of democracy. I think if we don't have democratic control of our economies, we don't have democracy. It's impossible to separate economy and democracy, in my opinion."

But this really is too vague. And why not call it theft? After all, the poor are forced to pay the debts the rich made, in the making of which they had no voice and never were consulted. (Also, while the poor are being told they must pay because that is social and their duty, the rich at the same time tell journalists that they are themselves proud to be egoists and proud to be greedy...)

4. Machine Guns, MRAPs, Surveillance, Drones, Permanent War, and a Permanent Election Campaign

The next item is an article by Tom Engelhardt on Common Dreams (originally on tomdispatch):
This is a thoughtful and good piece on the very widespread changes in the United States. I only quote one bit from its last paragraph:
In sum, we, the people, are ever less in control of anything.  The police are increasingly not “ours,” nor are the NSA and its colleague outfits “our” intelligence agencies, nor are the wars we are fighting “our” wars, nor the elections in which we vote “our” elections.
There is a lot more under the last dotted link, and you are recommended to read all of it.

5. On David Hume's Treatise: I.I.

The next and last item today is not about articles about the crisis, but is about David Hume's (<- Wikipedia) "A Treatise of Human Nature". (And yes: I know this item is for the very few only.)

I wrote on February 10 last:

(...) I will be putting an edition of Hume's "A Treatise Of Human Nature" on my site, and will write extensive comments to it.

In fact, I already have editions of Hume's

on my site (and my notes - including quotations - are in each case about as long as the works they annotate).

This will take considerable work on my part, not so much for putting the Treatise on line (I found a good edition, though this requires splitting up) but for writing my notes.

In fact, that was a bold announcement, for I am ill for the 37th successive year with a disease that leaves me little energy, while also my eyes collapsed, pretty spectacularly but quite unpleasantly, in the Spring of 2012.

Then again, now nearly three years later my eyes have considerably improved, and are still improving, though slowly, while I am now also nearly 65, which means that my time - with a clear mind and at least some energy - may be running out. (I don't know: I may get to be 85 as well and remain quite  clearheaded, but it seems less probable, e.g. given that I am ill 37 years
now, and have slept very badly for 10 of these 37 years.)

Anyway... I have now uploaded Part I.I. of Hume's "Treatise", that are the first 7 sections (out of 88 in all) plus the introduction, all complete with my notes.

For the few who want to take a look, here it is:

Treatise TOC

Treatise Intro                                                                   Notes

SECT. I. OF THE ORIGIN OF OUR IDEAS                                 Notes

SECT. II. DIVISION OF THE SUBJECT.                                    Notes  




SECT. VI. OF MODES AND SUBSTANCES                                Notes  

SECT. VII. OF ABSTRACT IDEAS.                                         Notes

Sofar, the original text on the left takes 125 Kb; the Notes on the right take
145 Kb, but these include the quotations I comment on.

Also, I did all of the above between February 10 and February 17, which may be considered fast: I do not think I will be able to keep this up.

In any case, I do intend to work on, and to upload it as a Part is ready. There are 9 more such parts, plus an appendix. And I still hope to be able to do it all
within a year's time, though not if my health gets worse (again).


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