By Thomas Judge
YANIS Varoufakis has been an internationally recognised figurehead of the left for some time now.
He pursued a radical left-wing agenda as the Greek finance minister, successfully standing against austerity politics when it was at its height, only to be defeated and have the agenda forced upon his country by international finance and the Eurozone.
Since his stint in government, he has become a beacon on the left, igniting debating and encouraging thought around creating an alternative to Capitalism.
Redaction has previously covered how he is one of the first major progressive figures to embrace Blockchain technology. It’s fair to say that Varoufakis doesn’t back away from the big ideas.
He continues to add to left discourse with his latest novel, ‘Another Now: Dissipates from an Alternative Present’, a mix of science fiction and political manifesto.
Set in 2025, the book describes a world that diverged from our own around the 2008 financial crisis, with a different set of events leading to sweeping reforms to the finance system and the end of capitalism.
The book centres itself around three characters: Costa, a maverick technologist; Eva, libertarian ex-banker; and Iris, a Marxist-feminist. Costa, amongst experimenting with, perhaps slightly convoluted, technology, establishes a wormhole to an alternative universe. Through this, he can communicate with his alternate self, who describes a world very different to our own.
It is at this point that the novel hits its stride.
The narrative operates mainly as a dialectic, with the three characters discussing/explaining the other world with their alternate selves and amongst each other. It’s this device that allows Varoufakis to describe a myriad of ideas in an easy to understand way.
He first describes the series of movements in the alternate world after the 2008 financial crisis, which further destabilises capitalism, meaning governments cannot bail out the old system as it was in our world.
One aspect of this, the ‘Crowdshorters’ movement – which organised to put further pressure on banks by organising to collapse collateralised debt obligations with strategic withholding of payments by the general public – is similar to the ‘GameStop movement’, which took place after the release of this novel. In a similar way to the fictional events of the book, the GameStop movement saw people organising online aiming to do damage to investment firms.
By agreeing to buy shares in the company GameStop the groups artificially raised the share price of the stock, causing hedge funds that were shorting the stock (essentially betting the price would go down) to lose a lot of money. While this has no relation to the book, it does show how what Varoufakis is writing about in a ‘fictional’ setting is not that far from our reality.
The most exciting part of the novel is how the alternate world reorganises corporations and completely eradicates banks. Costa discusses with his alternate the system that gives every employee of a business an equal share. This democratisation of the workplace allows workers to vote on the companies future and decide with whom bonuses are shared.
Furthermore, private banking has essentially been eliminated, with every citizen banking with various government-owned state banks, which also implements a type of Universal Basic Income. We also learn about how this alternate world deals with international trade, ethical business practices, and global inequality through various conversations between the characters and their counterparts.
However, the world that Varoufakis depicts is not without flaws. The characters detail how there has been a significant financial crisis since the implication of the new system (although this simply feels like another way to say how good the system is as it recovers and strengthens quickly).
As well as this, the world that is described isn’t without its downsides. In the wake of left economics becoming dominant globally and capitalism being ‘absorbed’, a new kind of social conservatism has set in. Debates around political correctness and consent have been enshrined in law, leading to what Iris describes as the resilience of the sexual contract and the endurance of patriarchy.
The book also contains commentary on the global response to the coronavirus crisis. The characters discuss what elements of this new world would have been helpful during the pandemic, such as the broader sharing of public health information. The novel is evident in criticising the failures to make systemic changes after the financial crisis. Perhaps the inclusion of commentary on the pandemic is a call to arms not to waste another unique moment in history to make a systemic change or, at least, strive for one.
The phrase ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA in the novel) haunts, or possibly inspires, the Left into action. Yanis Varoufakis attempts once again to throw a punch at the notion, with, on the discovery of an alternate world, a character proclaims ‘TATIANA (That Astonishingly There Is An Alternative) lives’.
The book provides unique ideas for reshaping the world outside away from Capitalism – potentially to something more like Anarcho-syndicalism – when ideas on the left are flourishing and growing in popularity.
It is a unique form of conveying such concepts, and while the characters and plot aren’t that memorable, the world it builds is, and keeps you reading to delve deeper into a place beyond capitalism.
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