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Our era will be remembered for the triumphant march of a globally unifying rightwing – a Nationalist International – that sprang out of the cesspool of financialised capitalism. Whether it will also be remembered for a successful humanist challenge to this menace depends on the willingness of progressives in the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom as well as countries like Mexico, India and South Africa, to forge a coherent Progressive International.
Our task is not unprecedented. Fascists did not come to power in the mid-war period by promising violence, war or concentration camps. They came to power by addressing good people who, following a severe capitalist crisis, had been treated for too long like livestock that had lost its market value. Instead of treating them like “deplorables”, fascists looked at them in the eye and promised to restore their pride, offered their friendship, gave them a sense that they belonged to a larger ideal, allowed them to think of themselves as something more than sovereign consumers.
That injection of self-esteem was accompanied by warnings against the lurking “alien” who threatened their revived hope. The politics of “us versus them” took over, bleached of social class characteristics and defined solely in terms of identities. The fear of losing status turned into tolerance of human rights abuses first against the suspect “others” and then against any and all dissent. Soon, as the establishment’s control over politics waned under the weight of the economic crisis it had caused, the progressives ended up marginalised or in prison. By then it was all over.
Our generation’s 1929, which occurred in 2008, shattered this illusion. The establishment continued as if it were possible to mend things via a combination of austerity for the many, socialism for the very few and authoritarianism all around. All the while, the Nationalist International has been riding to victory, fueled by growing discontent. To counter this power, progressives must specify very precisely the causes and nature of the people’s unrest and unhappiness: namely, the global oligarchy’s intense class war against the burgeoning precariat, against what is left of the western proletariat and, generally, against weaker citizens.
Next, we need to demonstrate that the only way the many can regain control of our lives, our communities, our cities and our countries is by coordinating our struggles along the axis of an Internationalist New Deal. While globalised financial capital can no longer be allowed to tear our societies into shreds, we must explain that no country is an island. Just like climate change demands of us both local and international action, so too does the fight against poverty, private debt and rogue bankers. To illustrate that tariffs are not the best way of protecting our workers, since they mostly enrich local oligarchies, we must campaign for trade agreements that commit governments of poorer countries to legislating minimum living wages for their workers and guaranteed jobs locally. That way communities can be revived in richer and poorer countries at once.
Even more ambitiously, our Progressive International must propose an International Monetary Clearing Union, of the type John Maynard Keynes suggested during the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, including well-designed restrictions on capital movements. By rebalancing wages, trade and finance at a global scale, both involuntary migration and involuntary unemployment will recede, thus ending the moral panic over the human right to move freely about the world.
And who is going to piece together this desperately needed Progressive International? Happily, there is no shortage of potential initiators: Bernie Sanders’s “political revolution” in the US, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, our Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25), Mexico’s president-elect, the progressive elements of the African National Congress, the various movements fighting against bigotry and austerity in India.
Let us begin today. More will follow us the moment when hatred and anger yield to rational hope.
Yanis Varoufakis is the former Greek finance minister and co-founder of DiEM25 whose New Deal for Europe will be put to European voters in the May 2019 European Parliament elections
We asked Bernie Sanders to comment on Yanis Varoufakis’ piece. Here is his response:
Yanis Varoufakis is exactly right. At a time of massive global wealth and income inequality, oligarchy, rising authoritarianism and militarism, we need a Progressive International movement to counter these threats. It is not acceptable that the top 1% of the world’s population owns more wealth than the bottom 99%, that multinational corporations and the wealthy stash over $21tn in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, and that the fossil fuel industry continues to destroy the planet because countries are unable to cooperate effectively to combat climate change.
While the very rich get much richer, people all over the globe are working longer hours for stagnating wages, and fear for their children’s future. Authoritarians exploit these economic anxieties, creating scapegoats which pit one group against another.
The solution, as Varoufakis points out, is an international progressive agenda that brings working people together around a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people. The fate of the world is at stake. Let us go forward together now!