Adults in the Room
MY BATTLE WITH EUROPE’S
Publisher: The Bodley head
Varoufakis was the professor of economics and expert at ‘game theory’ who in January 2015 became the Greek finance minister in the left-wing, anti-austerity Syriza government led by his friend Alexis Tsipras.
The opening pages of the book give away the entire outlook that dominates Varoufakis as he recounts a meeting with Larry Summers, a former US secretary of the treasury who tells him point blank that in the world of international capitalism and its banking system there are insiders and outsiders.
The insiders, Summers tells him, make all the important decisions while the outsiders are condemned to speaking the truth and being ignored. Varoufakis clearly enjoys the prospect of being an outsider, the leather clad motor bike riding Greek finance minister who will ‘game’ the Troika (the European Central Bank, the EU and the IMF) by pretending to be an insider while all the time working to defeat their austerity plans for Greece and deliver the country from the stranglehold of the banks.
It turned out badly for Varoufakis – while he was playing a game of bluff with the Troika they were determined to face down this upstart and drive the Greek working class into the ground. They were out for one thing only – to save the German and French banks from bankruptcy by making the working class of Greece pay through austerity cuts that would destroy wages and pensions while the entire country was looted by mass privatisation.
They intended to do it in such a way as the left-reformists of Syriza actually voted for every one of these cuts and so teach these upstart ‘lefts’ a lesson. Varoufakis had his first rude awakening early on in his new job when he met with the President of the Eurogroup, the Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
Varoufakis, who secretly taped many of his meetings with the Troika, recounts how he put forward the quite reasonable position that Syriza had just won a sweeping election victory on the back of a pledge to the Greek people that they would renegotiate the vicious austerity cuts being demanded by the Troika to pay off the two earlier bail-outs of the country.
Therefore, he proposed no further bail-outs and a new agreement based on debt restructuring only to be bluntly told: ‘This will not work!’ Dijsselbloem then explained: ‘The current programme must be completed or there is nothing else!’
Varoufakis was shocked by this contemptuous dismissal – after all he knew, and the Troika also knew full well that Greece could not repay the 240 billion euro bail-outs imposed on them in 2010 and 2012.
The sole purpose of these bail-out loans was not to help the Greek economy recover from financial disaster but to pay back the money owed to the French and German banks and save them from collapse. Greece was to be sacrificed, its working class forced to pay in blood to prevent the European banking system from going under.
In an apparent deliberate policy to wear him down they quite literally rang rings round Varoufakis.
This is clear when he recounts the bizarre visit in early March 2015 of an emissary from German Chancellor Merkel to break the deadlock in negotiations. The emissary was Thomas Wieser, the president of the Eurogroup Working Group.
After this useless private meeting, where Wieser did nothing else than repeat endlessly that the Syriza government had no option but to obey the diktats of the Troika, he left. All Varafoukis’s plans to re-negotiate with the Troika and achieve a debt-restructuring that would provide some relief for Greek workers hit a brick wall and was continually reinforced by the Troika.
They were determined that Varoufakis and Tsipras would have no way out and made sure that any attempt for them to get funding from other sources was blocked and that no money from other sources would reach Greek banks and so prevent the Troika from closing them down – the threat that they held over Syriza’s head if it continued to refuse to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which committed them to a whole swathe of austerity cuts.
In the quest for funding outside the Troika Varoufakis did a deal with the Chinese to invest in Greece’s port and railway and purchase 1.4 billion euros of Greek gilts, a deal that would have given the country some respite from the financial stranglehold of the Troika.
He received a call from Tsipras who told him the deal was off: ‘Someone had apparently called Beijing from Berlin with a blunt message: stay out of any deals with the Greeks until we are finished with them.’
The crunch for Varoufakis came with the referendum called by Syriza on July 5, 2015 on whether the Greek people would accept the bail-out conditions insisted upon by the Troika. The result was a resounding rejection by Greek workers and youth but it immediately hit Varoufakis that this was not the result Tsipras and the majority of Syriza wanted.
This expresses Varoufakis’s fatal weakness: Despite all that had gone on in the six months of his negotiations he still believed that the Troika could be forced to see reason and negotiate a deal. With the Greek people showing that they had every determination to fight, Tsipras just caved in to the Troika and stabbed every worker in Greece in the back.
Varoufakis left his job, turning his back effectively on the Greek workers and youth, leaving them to fight on against the betrayals of Tsipras and the savage austerity measures Syriza signed up to. He may have walked away but the Greek working class are fighting every inch of the way against the Troika.
This book is valuable for the first hand account it gives of the brutal methods of the capitalist class in imposing their banking crisis on the backs of the working class. This book holds a valuable lesson for workers not just in Greece but throughout the world – the only way to defeat the bankers is to smash their capitalist system through socialist revolution and this requires the building of sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International to lead the struggle for power to victory.