This was stressed by former Greek Finance Minister, Professor Yanis Varoufakis, who is the leader of the MeRA25 party and a Professor of Economics at the University of Athens, when he delivered the 2nd Annual Ben Turok Memorial Lecture this week.
Varoufakis is highly regarded for the principled stand he took in 2015, at the peak of Greece’s post-2008 financial woes, against a bailout offered by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission which imposed brutal austerity measures on his country.
The lecture was hosted by the Institute for African Alternatives in partnership with the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Social Development, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Progressive International, Surplus Radical Books and Common Propaganda. The annual event pays tribute to Professor Turok who passed away on 9 December 2019 after a lifetime of fighting apartheid oppression. It is aimed at keeping alive Turok’s legacy, based on economic justice, socio-economic rights, redistribution and political transformation.
Titled, Africa in the face of the New Cold War and the West’s New Colonial Escapade, Prof Varoufakis opened his talk with a reminder to the audience that, while the demise of apartheid at a legal level was a great triumph for humanity, economic apartheid has the capacity to linger “and can be found in Athens, London and Washington, where you will see unequal distributed property rights dividing societies with almost as great efficacy as the brutality of an apartheid regime can”.
Prof Varoufakis noted that there is a triangle of power – property rights, investment and industrial policy strategy and practice, and austerity – that is reproduced, implemented and exerted upon people. He said without investment in the capacity to produce things that society needs, even the most democratic political systems cannot deliver prosperity.
According to Prof Varoufakis, colonialism through IMF policies spread out of Africa to South Korea, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, and Italy, and is now making way to Sri Lanka and going back to the developing world. “I’m very concerned that I must honour the memory of Ben Turok and bring together the concepts of investments or property rights in an unequal property rights system. I’m trying to put it in a broader context which tells a story of how a post war era has brought a permanent global colonial class war which is being expedited and prosecuted in every country and continent.”
To address the situation, Prof Varoufakis believes that the first task is to direct 10% of the global GDP into green energy, public health, public education and poverty alleviation. “Imagine a repurposed World Bank backed by a digital currency, investing 10% of global income into green transition in a developing world. Well, this is a dream. Technically, it can be done in two months”.
He said that dream will never happen as long as the global empire of the capital remains intact. “To end that, instead of people serving an empire of machines and money, machines and money become the servants of our people. By ensuring that corporations belong to those who work in them on the basis of one employee, one share, one vote. If we can imagine that, banks and profits will wither and that economic driving force will no longer be in the pockets of the banks, while, simultaneously, there being no distinction between profits and wages. This will automatically redistribute wealth. This may sound far-fetched, but this is the only way we can credibly speak of genuine democracy.”
Prof Varoufakis called on progressive people to join the struggle.
“Let’s join forces and unite in a common struggle not just for humanity’s survival but for a chance of giving every child that is born tomorrow in Africa, Asia and across the world a chance of a successful life. For that, we need a new non-aligned movement and the audacity to imagine a new international economic system without capital ruling human beings.”