Varoufakis took it in his stride. Attacked by Stephen Sackur for being unable to reconcile his radicalism with reality, Greece’s maverick ex-finance minister grinned, and moved on. This was HARDtalk. Whether Sackur meant it or not, the BBC interview program was living up to its name. And so was its guest, Europe’s best-known leftist of the moment.
If only every radical knew not to answer criticisms like that. No matter how right they might be, they’re unanswerable. As the real never corresponds to the ideal, being reproached for having an imagination is the ultimate conversation stopper. There’s nowhere to go from there. Just ignore it, and move on. As the rest of the program’s entertaining back and forth showed, there’s always a lot more to talk about.
The one thing Sackur got right, however, was the apocalyptic language Yanis Varoufakis used during his time in government. As inspirational as it might be to leftists, it has a particularly polemical quality to persons outside the immediate fold. Should that disjuncture matter? It depends.
On the one hand, such language communicates the culture of leftists – their fears, in particular, as well as their anger. On the other hand, it also conveys something hackneyed, which as Sackur zeroed in on, is the wooden, and awfully imprecise us-versus-them rhetoric of the Cold War left.
Though Varoufakis rightly chose to ignore this aspect of his host’s criticisms, the following flyer translations help explain why that kind of language has returned tovogue. Democracy in Europe is besieged on numerous fronts, raising the spectre of fascism like it hasn’t been witnessed since Hitler and Stalin, and the Second World War.
Breaking Rank (L)
Rank and file. That’s what they want from us, from our first to our last breaths. Neat rows in the classroom to queues at the supermarket, everyone in their place at work, stuck in traffic, waiting in line at the town hall, then, finally, lined up in the cemetery. An entire existence, regulated like a prison and muscles that we only use to bend the knee.
Cities are becoming more and more like prisons, as they are restructured in order to make monitoring us easier and for checks and searches to be carried out. Citizens are like inmates, brought together by capitalist exploitation and shackled by social constraints, all the while under the watchful eye of a security camera. All the while living under the illusion that they can escape through the flickering of a television screen.
This prison society promises the good life, but only delivers suffering and death. It wrecks the dreams of people who try to cross the border into “affluent society” and the bombed bodies of those who tried to walk through its gates are all too visible. Those who try to exploit their freedom to live life by their own terms are confronted by an army of legislators, judges, policemen and journalists.
While in Brussels a new mega-prison will be built, a special jail for rebellious inmates will be constructed in Athens. At the same time, the foundation stone of the new Palace of Justice has been laid and monstrous judicial and police HQs have been planned for Zurich and Munich.
As the powers-that-be negotiate across borders for the application of counter-insurgency strategies, other institutions try and carve out peace for society. Everywhere, from Spain, to Italy, to Greece, those who feel the boot of repression commit the intolerable crime of trying to break their submissive chains and inspire others to do the same.
But these large scale projects of repression aren’t only met with applause, silence and discomfort.
Sometimes they are met with determined and bold hostility, as is currently the case with the Belgian prison issue. The construction site has not even been prepared yet and already direct action has been launched against those involved parties.
The desire for freedom can be contagious. Everywhere.
People are not born to stand in rows, heads bowed, waiting to live their lives by the grace of a permit. Life begins when we raise our heads, scream with desire and break out from the rank and file.
Who doesn’t know how anger feels? (R)
And who hasn’t felt that deep satisfaction of letting its destructive force run free? Who hasn’t felt the ire of a greedy boss and a filthy rich landlord? The burn of a thug’s gawking stare, the humility of a policeman’s use of excessive force. The rage at those four walls that surround you and your jailer who locks the only way out. The judge who thinks they know best and what’s good for one person is good for all the others too. It’s in game consoles, computers, on TV, it lures you in and dulls the senses. The anger at always following the same routine and the little indignities and obligations you have to put up with on a day-to-day basis.
Who doesn’t feel that anger?
But it is drummed into us that if we were to give into this anger and experience the cathartic satisfaction of it, we would only be censured and punished… but nothing stirs the blood more than inhibited anger: since rage is also looking for an outlet and often finds its escape by being vented on those less influential and powerful. For example, migrants and refugees.
As the border fences grow second by second, people make deadly trips to reach us, racists light fires in refugee housing and people chant in “defence of the fatherland”, it all boils down to anger and not wanting to share with people who have nothing.
Fires are lit because the newcomers are perceived as a threat to the familiar “normality” of the state and society’s “inner peace”..
But are border-crossing refugees a danger to us or to the State, as it continues its never-ending quest for total control? Do we need deportations, papers, and the categorisation of people as “political refugees” or “economic migrants”? Do we need the State and its policies and economy? Do borders protect people or the State itself?
Is it not about time we turned our anger on those same States, their borders, its minions and its death-spouting capitalism, instead of people who have fled their homelands because of wars, poverty and misery?
Translated from the German by Samuel Morgan. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.