Yanis Varoufakis’ speech in Cuba on a new Non-Aligned Movement: Because we must!

The co-founder of DiEM25 gave a speech at the Havana Congress for a New International Economic Order in Cuba

Why build a New Non-Aligned Movement to struggle for a socialist, democratic and liberating New International Economic Order? Because we must!

This was the title of Yanis Varoufakis’ speech given in Havana, Cuba on Friday, January 27, at the Havana Congress for a New International Economic Order.

The co-founder of DiEM25 was in Cuba on an official visit upon invitation from the Havana government and a key topic of discussion on his trip was the creation of a New Non-Aligned Movement that will aim for a New International Economy.

Below is the speech in full:

  1. Introduction: A message from Athens

Friends, comrades, fellow delegates of the Progressive International,

This is, shockingly, my first time in Cuba. For decades, I resisted coming because I did not want to come as a tourist. Cuba is too important for that. I had to reach my sixties to experience the joy of coming to Cuba to work with comrades on what truly matters to Cuba, to the Americas, to Asia, to Africa, to Europe and yes to my long-suffering country, Greece. And what’s that? It is the establishment of a New Non-Aligned Movement (NNAM) with which to break down the existing, exploitative, catastrophically extractive imperialist international economic order so as to build a new one in its place – a New International Economic Order (NIEO) in which people and planet can breathe, live and prosper together.

Before getting down to business, I need to pay tribute to this land and its brave people. When our party, MeRA25, put out a press release that I was to come to Havana, something strange happened. A torrent of abuse came from the usual quarters: anti-communists, radical centrists and some leftists who have lost the revolutionary zeal of their youth; who accuse me, and MeRA25, of ‘endangering’ Greece by resisting the powerful oligarchy running our country. But, all these people – however hard they tried – could not hide one thing they had in common: respect for the Cuban people.

Walk around Athens today. It looks richer, more ‘developed’ than Havana. But most of our people are walking around dispossessed, humiliated, with their democracy a sham. Why? Because on 5th July 2015 they came ever so close to a revolution, with a brave 62% NO vote to the International Monetary Fund, to the predatory bankers, to the local oligarchy. Alas, that same night, our people were overthrown by their leadership and the revolution was crushed.

And yet, even those who have since been pressurised to believe that there was no alternative to surrender – even they look to the people of Cuba with immense respect – even a touch of jealousy. Why? Because the people of Cuba have not surrendered!

  1. The Athens Declaration: The beginning of a New Non-Aligned Movement to struggle for a New International Economic Order

Speaking of Athens, on 13th May 2022 our party, in association with the Progressive International represented by myself, Jeremy Corbyn and Ece Temelkuran, issued the Athens Declaration. The Athens Declaration was our response to the hideous war in Ukraine against the background of unprecedented warmongering. It was also the first call for a New Non-Aligned Movement. Allow me to read some extracts:

  • We stand with every people suffering invasion, displacement and aggression.
  • We demand an immediate ceasefire in every conflict, the withdrawal of occupying forces and a comprehensive Peace under the auspices of the United Nations.
  • We oppose the division of the world in competing blocs that invest in rampant militarism, hyper-modern weapons of mass destruction and a New Cold War
  • We believe that lasting peace can be achieved only by replacing all military blocs with an inclusive international security framework that de-escalates tensions, expands freedoms, fights poverty, limits exploitation, pursues social and environmental justice and terminates the domination of one country by another.
  • With these thoughts in mind, we call upon democrats across the world to join forces in a New Non-Aligned Movement… as a route to lasting peace and… globally shared prosperity.

And there you have it: Fifty years after the original Non-Aligned Movement’s campaign for the creation of a New International Economic Order, we are at it again. First in Athens, today in Havana. Thankfully, we don’t need to write new speeches. Just remind the world of what Fidel told the United Nations Assembly in October 1979:

That “the din of weapons, threatening language, and arrogance on the international scene must cease.”

That “bombs can kill the starving, the diseased and the ignorant but they cannot kill hunger, diseases or ignorance.”

That “the international monetary system predominating today is bankrupt. And it must be replaced!”

Now, let us not be depressed that we are back at square one. That we need to repeat the same speeches and wage the same campaigns. Remember: Every generation is condemned to fight the same fight! Again. And again. And again. With greater focus every time. And always by learning from the previous generation’s mistakes.

So, as we are re-starting the process of building a New Non-Aligned Movement to forge a New International Economic Order, we must ask ourselves: Why did we lose last time round? Why were we so comprehensively defeated in the 1980s and 1990s? Why did the original Non-Aligned Movement fall prey to Neoimperialism’s highest form: Financialised Capitalist Globalisation?

  1. The essence of Globalisation and the cause of Neoimperialism’s victory

The short answer is: Because capitalists proved, in practice, better internationalists than we were. Because they understood better the global class war and, thus, won it.

What did they understand better than us? The new, audacious imperialism that was born when Bretton Woods died in 1971 and the US dollar was no longer convertible into US gold – prompting Nixon to inform foreign capitalists and governments alike that the dollar was, now, their problem.

Nixon was right. As the US trade deficit skyrocketed, the world was flooded with dollars which central banks outside the US had no alternative but to use (instead of gold) as reserves to back the value of their currency. The dollar thus began to resemble an… IOU. Before long, the global financial system was backed by IOUs issued by the US hegemon who could decide what the foreign IOU-holders could do with their IOUs – and what they were not allowed to do with them.

America was now a deficit country but unlike any other deficit country. Unlike Argentina, France, Greece or India, America did not need to borrow dollars to shore up its currency or to raise interest rates domestically to stop money outflows. Every capitalist on Earth soon ended up financing American rentiers and capitalists. Here is how:

Capitalists in surplus countries like Japan, Germany and later China saw America’s trade deficit as a saviour – as a huge vacuum cleaner that sucked their net exports into the United States. And what did the Japanese, German and later Chinese capitalists do with all their dollars? They sent them back to the United States to buy property yielding them rents: real estate, US government bonds, and the few companies that Washington allowed them to own.

As for the deficit countries in the Global South – in Asia, Africa and Latin America –, they constantly agonised over a shortage of dollars, which they had to borrow from Wall Street to import medicines, energy and the raw materials necessary to produce their own exports for earning the dollars they needed to repay Wall Street. Inevitably, every now and then, the Global South deficit nations ran out of dollars and could not repay their Wall Street bankers. Then, the West would send its bailiffs in – the International Monetary Fund that would lend the missing dollars on condition that the debtor government handed over the country’s land, water, ports, airports, electricity and telephone networks, even its schools and hospitals, to the local oligarchs who would, once in control of these companies and assets, have no alternative but to channel their earnings into… Wall Street.

Washington had, in other words, found the magic formula every previous empire had only dreamed of: How to persuade wealthy foreigners, from countries rich and poor, as well as every foreign central bank, voluntarily, without sending in the navy or the army, to finance the Empire’s government and its imports!

A Chinese official once described this to me as the Dark Deal behind globalisation. Why dark? Because it was founded on a dark, unspoken, implicit pact between America’s ruling class and foreign capitalists and rentiers. Let me put it differently: Suppose you could end US hegemony by pressing a button. Who would want to stop you from pressing it? Besides US authorities, the US military, Wall Street, American rentiers, capitalists, etc., a crowd of non-Americans would jump on you to prevent you from pressing the button: German industrialists, Saudi sheikhs, European bankers and, yes, Chinese capitalists.

In short, the dollar’s supremacy has been just as functional to the interests of US rentiers as it was to German, Argentinian, Nigerian, Korean and Chinese capitalists. Without the dollar’s and America’s global dominance, Chinese, Japanese, Korean or German capitalists would not have been able continually to extract colossal surplus value from their workers and then stash it away in America’s rentier economy. And Argentinian, Greek, Russian, Ukrainian and Indian oligarchs would not be able to loot their countries’ public assets and take the loot abroad to stash it away in some dollar asset in Delaware or the Cayman Islands.

The lesson for us is simple: We must not repeat the mistake of thinking that a New International Economic Order will be built because the elites of the Global South, or of countries in deficit, will band together to confront Washington or the European Union.

Our New Non-Aligned Movement will fail if we give it a narrow role of bringing together the G77 and the BRICS in opposition to the West. We need to beware not only the functionaries in Washington or London or Brussels, who work tirelessly so that nothing changes, but also government officials in the pocket of capitalists in the Global South, including China, who use the US trade deficit to exploit their people, their country, and then stash their dollarised surplus value within the circuits of Wall Street and the City of London.

Do we want to be true internationalists? Then let’s not forget who are one people with probably the most to gain from the abolition of American neocolonialism: Working class Americans who, decades ago, were condemned to ‘deaths of despair’ in sorry rustbelts. Yes, let us never forget that imperialism’s victims are both in the Colonies and in the Metropolis. That the current international economic order inflicts different types of misery on workers everywhere.

– Globalisation forced American workers into an immiseration brought on by underinvestment and de-industrialisation – it was as if parts of the underdeveloped Global South were migrating into America’s and Europe’s industrial heartlands.

– Globalisation forced Chinese workers in China’s fast-industrialising coastal cities, to suffer the frenzied exploitation associated with over-investment – it was as if parts of the Global North, fattened by over-investment, were migrating into Chinese urban centres where local workers struggled to survive on Global South wages and social benefits.

Different miseries, same global recycling of values extracted locally by the Capitalist International.

  1. The New Cold War

Today, this same globalisation – which turned on US deficits feeding Chinese capital which then financed American rentiers – is being replaced by a New Cold War between the US and China that poses an imminent threat upon life on Earth. What’s behind this New Cold War?

China’s frenzied industrialisation was not a problem for Washington as long as the Dark Deal was operational – as long as Chinese capitalists needed the dollar to turn the US trade deficit into an instrument for extracting surplus value from Chinese workers and then stashing it in American assets.

So, what changed? Two things. The first change was the emergence of a new type of capital – cloud capital I call it. Capital, as Karl Marx defined it, is a produced means of production; e.g., from steam engines and tractors to today’s industrial robots and 3D printers. What’s cloud capital? It is an Internet-based, or cloud-based, produced means of behaviour modification.

Behaviour modification is as old as rhetoric, preaching and advertising. But, until the rise of Big Tech only humans could modify people’s behaviour: priests, orators, advertisers. Today, it is machines – using AI – that are modifying behaviour. Who controls cloud capital increasingly grabs the world’s surplus value!

How does the rise of cloud capital explain the New Cold War? Well, it is the reason Donald Trump, first, and, now, Joe Biden, targeted China. Let’s see why.

America dominates the world by dominating finance, through Wall Street and the dollar; and now by dominating cloud capital, through Silicon Valley. But, China threatens America’s dominance in both fields: money and cloud capital. Only today, WeChat, the mobile messaging app belonging to China’s Tencent, will have transmitted 38 billion messages. Its users do not have to exit the WeChat app to make a payment. While streaming music or a TV series on their WeChat app, they use the same app to send money to anyone in China, but also to millions outside of China who had downloaded WeChat and had opened a yuan account with any number of China’s banks.

Now, consider the other development of great significance: the roll out of the first state digital currency issued by the People’s Bank of China. In brief, China’s conglomerates and central bank now have in place an integrated payments and data-exchange system. The only superhighway for money and data that can compete with that of Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and Silicon Valley.

Until recently, this Chinese superhighway was mostly unused. Everyone, including Putin’s favourite oligarchs, and China’s capitalists, preferred the tried and tested US superhighway for their dollars. But then Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and the US retaliated by confiscating at least $300 billion of Russian central bank’s money. Suddenly, there was panic amongst the non-American wealthy and a rush of monies – not just Russian – eager to use the Chinese cloud capital-based superhighway for payments, contracts, data etc.

This is why President Biden declared total economic war against China last October. His microchip embargo was a shock-and-awe strike aimed at Chinese Big Tech, with which Biden hopes to wound it critically before it can grow into a fully-fledged beast able to withstand, even to defeat, the combined forces of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. Nothing good for World Peace will result from this my friends.

We have never been closer to a nuclear holocaust than today – the Doomsday Clock nuclear scientists invented in the 1940s to warn us is, now, a mere 90 seconds away from disaster. And that’s without looking at that other Clock counting down to the moment humanity will have passed the point of no return from climate catastrophe. What is the global ruling class doing to avert these twin calamities? Their best to push humanity over both cliffs at once! That’s what they are doing. And that’s why we need a New Non-Aligned Movement to push for a New International Economic Order.

  1. What does Non-Alignment mean?

At this point, it helps to clarify what it means to be politically and ethically Non-Aligned.

It does not mean to be neutral. As we stated in the Athens Declaration, we are steadfastly on the side of the invaded, of the victim of aggression – whether in Palestine, Yemen, Western Sahara or, indeed, Ukraine. But, at the same time, we must be the first to criticise abuses of freedoms and democratic rights wherever these take place. Our New Non-Aligned Movement must reclaim freedom from the so-called liberals and libertarians – from Peru today, where are comrades are shot dead, to Iran, where brave women are leading brave men under the banner WOMAN-LIFE-FREEDOM.

But, you may object, is Iran’s regime not resisting US imperialism? Absolutely. However, just because a regime is at loggerheads with US imperialism should not give it a free pass to violate the basic freedoms of our comrades in that country.

My point is that a truly Non-Aligned Movement must be dialectical – we must be able to defend the State of Iran from US military threats and economic embargoes but, at once, to support the progressives in Iran that are simultaneously resisting the regime’s corrupt theocracy and the local agents of the CIA and the State Department.

“What about China?”, you may well ask. How should the New Non-Aligned Movement approach the China question. In two ways, I would suggest:

  • Respectfully, in view of the economic miracle performed by the Chinese people, whose achievements we must defend against the encroachments of US imperialism and the New Cold War. And,
  • Critically, not only in relation to basic freedoms but also in class struggle terms: President Xi has been promising to clash with China’s rentiers and capitalists to boost workers incomes even at the expense of the country’s net exports. This would be good for the majority of the Chinese people and a step toward a New International Economic Order, one very different to the Dark Deal under which China’s economy has been growing so far. As would a Chinese commitment to forgive high-interest debt incurred by developing countries. We need to encourage Beijing to move in that direction and to issue criticisms when they stray.
  1. What New International Economic Order do we seek?

Turning to the New International Economic Order, how exactly do we envisage it? Any transition to a sustainable economic order will require a large Green Investment Fund. Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, in a recent G77+China meeting, put the necessary figure to between $3.3 and $4.5 trillion annually. I say that nothing short of $10 trillion will do.

Can this be done? Technically, of course it can. Imagine a re-purposed World Bank, backed by a digital currency issued by a re-purposed International Monetary Fund in which all capital and trade flows are denominated, investing 10% of global income into the Green Transition, especially in the developing world. A global Green Keynesianism.

However, Green Keynesianism cannot work for the reasons Michal Kalecki gave decades ago: Because, even if the bourgeoisie panics and adopts Keynesian policies to save its skin, the moment these policies begin to bear fruit, and well before they do their job, the ruling classes will abandon them in favour of their usual extractive policies. It is in the capitalist class’s nature to block the very road that leads to its own salvation.

Which means only one thing: To implement the necessary Green Keynesian policies we must first do something Keynes would hate: Dismantle the Global Empire of Capital which prefers to see the end of the world than the implementation of the Green Keynesian policies which may avert collective disaster.

How do we do that? Our revolution must use the technology that Big Tech is developing now and which can provide us with the means to communicate, to cooperate and to strike blows at the Empire of Capital far and wide – to give an early example, I mention the Progressive International’s annual MakeAmazonPay campaign. Isn’t it deliciously ironic that Big Tech has robbed capital of the ability to divide us forever? All we need do is use it to come together and turn the impossible dream into an obvious plan.

But what does it mean in practice to topple the Empire of Capital? How can humanity reclaim its plundered commons, on land, in the oceans, in the air and soon in outer space?

In two ways: By legislating so that corporations belong to those who work in them on the basis of one-employee-one-share-one-vote. And by denying banks the monopoly over people’s transactions.

Banks and profit will then wither as our economies’ driving forces because the banks will be defanged and the distinction between profit and wages will no longer make sense: everyone would be an equal shareholder in the companies they work.

The simultaneous death of the market for shares and of the labour market, along with the defanging of banks, will automatically re-distribute wealth, make it possible to offer a basic income to everyone, and, as a magnificent byproduct, remove the incentives to wage war.

The end of capital’s power over society will allow communities collectively to decide health provision, education and investment in saving the environment from our virus-like growth.

Genuine democracy will at last be possible, to be practised in the citizens’ and the workers’ assemblies; not behind closed doors were secretive oligarchs gather.

This twin democratisation, of capital and of money, sounds like an impossible dream – but not more impossible than the ideas of one-person-one-vote or of ending the divine rights of Kings once sounded.

This twin democratisation is nothing short of the precondition for our species’ survival – it is that simple.

Those are the tasks of the New Non-Aligned Movement we must now build. Its ultimate purpose? To end the legalised robbery of people and Earth fuelling climate catastrophe. Nothing less than the total vanquishing of capital’s authority over human societies can end depravity and save the planet.

Friends, comrades,

This is not a drill. And, no, this is not a pipe dream. We can pull it off! Together.

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