who can give up essential
liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety, deserve neither liberty
-- Benjamin Franklin
"All governments lie and nothing
say should be believed."
"Power tends to corrupt, and
absolute power corrupts
absolutely. Great men
almost always bad men."
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
4. Machine Guns, MRAPs,
Surveillance, Drones, Permanent
War, and a Permanent Election
David Hume's Treatise: I.I.
This is a Nederlog of
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
5 is definitely not a crisis item: it announces that Part
I.I. of Hume's "Treatise"
has arrived on my site, with my notes.
Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist
The first item
article by Yanis
Varoufakis (<- Wikipedia), the present Greek finance minister,
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:
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
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
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
It starts as follows:
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
own personal interests - to try to create or manufacture a
revolution. (Not before a major collapse, at least.)
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
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
also taught, in the Dutch Communist Party).
There is this:
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
of having different opinions than the government wanted, and indeed
they were not a "dictatorship
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
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
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
Really now? And what would
have been "sufficient thought"? And why was this an error in
trying to break completely new theories of economics, politics
And as to this:
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,
position of Greece is not one from which to dictate to others
should be dealt with.
Then there is this:
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
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).
Is 'Complete Horsesh*t': Ivy League Prof Dismantles the Conservative Lie
item is an article by Elias Esquith on Alternet:
This starts as
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
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.
also clearly says: "significant
tax cuts" do
benefit the rich, self-evidently, and the rest is mainly propaganda, lies, deceptions
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.
Spanish Invasion: Leftist Leader Says Populism Rises from Failures of
item is an article by Jon Queally on Common Dreams:
This starts as
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
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...)
Guns, MRAPs, Surveillance,
Drones, Permanent War, and a Permanent Election Campaign
item is an article by Tom Engelhardt on Common Dreams (originally on
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.
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, 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
In fact, I already
have editions of Hume's
site (and my notes - including quotations - are in each case about
as long as the works they annotate).
This will take
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.
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
be 85 as well and remain quite clearheaded, but it seems less
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:
I. OF THE ORIGIN OF OUR IDEAS
II. DIVISION OF THE SUBJECT.
III. OF THE IDEAS OF THE MEMORY AND
IV. OF THE CONNEXION OR ASSOCIATION
OF IDEAS. Notes
SECT. V. OF
MODES AND SUBSTANCES
SECT. VII. OF
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