Feb 17, 2022
Yanis Varoufakis is the former Finance Minister of Greece, professor of economics at the University of Athens, co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement, and member of the Greek Parliament. The Guardian describes him as "a motorcycling, leather jacketed former academic and self-styled rebel who took pleasure in winding up the besuited political class." He calls himself an "erratic Marxist," and has written economics textbooks, a memoir, and popular explainers of economic ideas. But now he has produced a novel: Another Now: Dispatches From an Alternative Present.
Another Now is not a typical work of fiction. It is a novel of ideas, more like one of Plato's dialogues than an airport potboiler. Varoufakis draws on the tradition of leftist utopian fiction seen in 19th century works like William Morris' News From Nowhere and Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. Those books tried to show readers a plausible depiction of what a socialist society might look like. In Another Now, Varoufakis is doing something similar: he shows us what our existing 21st century world might look like if the economy operated very differently and capitalism was done away with. He imagines a different timeline in which Occupy Wall Street had won and Wall Street itself had been consigned to the dustbin of history.
But it's not quite right to describe this work as "utopian." Varoufakis is trying to do something extremely pragmatic: to show, using his academic training in finance and economics, that things that seem impossible are actually quite technically feasible. The attack on socialists generally is that their schemes are unworkable, and that without big banks and a class of wealthy capitalists, there could not be a dynamic, innovative economy. Varoufakis uses this story to show that this isn't true, and to explain in detail the concrete workings of a possible post-capitalist economy.
If you're not used to novels that contain long descriptions of alternative banking systems, Another Now may be a challenging read. But it's exciting because it tries to seriously answer the question: "What would a realistic alternative to the capitalist economy look like?" In Varoufakis' "other now," the fruits of society's labor are not owned by capitalists, but by the people who do the work. There is some inequality, but there is a "democratic economy" in which corporate tyranny has been eradicated. Banks are public, not private, and poverty is eliminated.
It is said that these days, the cramping of our imaginations has meant that it is "easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism." Varoufakis invites us to imagine the end of capitalism in our own time.
The medium of fiction has allowed Varoufakis to include characters who are highly skeptical about whether this economy is possible, and who have to be convinced over time to believe in it. Another Now wants to speak to critics of the socialist project, and to show that the seemingly most insurmountable obstacles to eliminating capitalism (maintaining innovation and incentives, financing new projects, etc.) are actually easily solved problems. The most substantial difficulty is the creation of a political movement with the power to bring the necessary changes about.
Another Now poses a serious challenge to capitalist dogma and offers an inspiring vision that should energize the left. In this conversation, Varoufakis and Current Affairs editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson discuss the novel and why a well-functioning socialist economy is more feasible than people assume. Warning: it gets a little bit heavy on the economics and it may be useful to read up on the history of the socialist calculation debate before diving in.
The phrase "Astonishingly, There Is An Alternative!" is taken from Another Now, where it is a counterpoint to Margaret Thatcher's infamous dictum "There Is No Alternative."
The interview Nathan did with the authors of People's Republic of Walmart is available here.