Yanis Varoufakis is telling the audience about a confidential meeting he had with a senior IMF official a year ago, when he had just become Greece’s finance minister with the then left-wing party Syriza.
“I could not believe what he said to me: 'This [Greek austerity] program cannot work, we know this, but we have committed so much political capital to it that we have to stick to it.'”
Varoufakis recounted this story at Plan B, a weekend convergence of leftwing activists, politicians and thinkers that happened in late February in Madrid. His message: People should forget about the idea that EU bureaucrats and bankers running the Eurozone are competent.
Though they caused the 2008 crisis to spread and worsen across Europe, said Varoufakis, they still do not understand it.
“When the crash happened they panicked and shoved all these banking losses onto the books of the weakest states and the shoulders of the weakest people. This is what they naturally do,” he said.
He warned that Europe will collapse if it continues to put its decision-making authority in the hands of those who have steered a failed economy, and will descend further into authoritarianism and fascism. Instead, he said, Europe needs to chart a new progressive path forward.
Time for Plan B
There was an overall consensus on these broad points at the conference, which featured panels, presentations, workshops, discussions and assemblies that created a space for diverging strategies on how to address them.
Plan B’s first event, held in Paris earlier this year, was initiated by politicians who left the Syriza government in Greece after it failed to reject the Troika-imposed austerity regime. This included Varoufakis and Greece's former Speaker of Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, who were joined by allies from left-wing parties and progressive organizations across Europe.
The growing coalition includes Madrid activists. The anti-capitalist wing of the Podemos Party hosted the Madrid gathering, where 1,500 tickets were overbooked at least threefold, showing the public's appetite for political change in Spain. The country has been ravaged by austerity policies, second only to Greece.
Voters expressed their anger at the old, two-party system in December’s elections, when Podemos saw a massive jump in support. With MPs from different parties at a stalemate and negotiations in deadlock, Spain remains without a government. Spaniards will likely return to the polls this summer.
A Radical Conference Unfolds
The Plan B weekend was split into thematic threads. Workshops focused on debt, social and labor rights, the European currency and banking, refugees, trade, the climate crisis and feminism. Most of these forums were held in the grandiose Matadero complex, formerly Madrid’s animal slaughtering courtyards. In each session, translation was available on handsets, and even in the smaller breakout discussions.
The workshops fed into a concluding statement, which called for no less than a democratic revolution across Europe. This was framed within the worldwide social and political movement that has emerged since the 2008 financial crash, including the 15M movement that took over Spain's squares in the spring of 2011, and the Occupy movement later that year. The conference made plain the demand for real democracy, and for human rights to be at the center of Europe's social and political decision making process.
On an institutional level, Plan B inserted itself directly in conflict with the the European Central Bank and European Commission. In more concrete terms, Madrid’s Plan B called for a continent-wide day of action on May 28, and demanded measures including an end to austerity policies, increased transparency, and debt audits to determine the local and national debts that should and should not be repaid to the large European lenders.
The debt thread of the conference was organized by the Spanish Citizen Debt Audit Platform (PACD), a group that is working together with the Madrid council to make this the first European city to audit its debts. The sessions gave activists from the U.K., Spain, Belgium, Greece, Poland and other countries a space to share skills and tactics relating to debt auditing.
The former speaker of the Hellenic Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, is also a driving force within the Plan B forum. She initiated the debt audit that declared Greece’s debt illegal, unjust and unsustainable. At the end of the conference, Konstantopoulou asserted that "when we get the chance for power again, we must be bound by this Plan B.”
Beyond its economics focus, the conference also made a defiant call for Europe to tear down its borders and open its arms to refugees. It was also asserted that “Plan B must be feminist or it won’t be,” and that there will be no social justice without ecological justice.
Still in its early organizing stages, and with the broad ambitions it has set out for it, Plan B's creation of a space for debate is perhaps its greatest strength. Looking forward, it might draw other political elements into the discussion that help shift Europe's focus from purely economic solutions toward more ecological and social ones. Powerful grassroots groups that could play a larger role in Plan B include the continent's many citizen networks – for example, looking locally, the Spanish housing justice movement, the radical mayors coalition, and projects such as 15MpaRato. Greater inclusion of the anti-fracking and climate movements could further focus the political impacts of Plan B.
For now, Plan B could be said to ask as many questions as it answers. What it makes clear, however, is that Europe as an economic and political structure will die unless radical change here happens fast. On the current course, many see fascism rising and austerity deepening, with more authoritarian governance settling in for the long-term. One of the main debates at the gathering was whether progressives should transform Europe – or whether countries should regain full sovereignty and exit Europe to create a socially progressive future on their own terms.
Occupy.com will be addressing this subject in an upcoming article.