Paul Mason reviews ‘Adults in The Room’

Yanis Varoufakis on Question Time / BBC

The Guardian — Varoufakis has written one of the greatest political memoirs of all time, Paul Mason writes in his review of the latest book of Yanis Varoufakis . In Mason’s view, “Adults in The Room” stands alongside Alan Clark’s memoirs  for frankness,  and Denis Healey’s for attacks on former allies, and – as a manual for exploring the perils of statecraft – will probably gain the same stature as Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon B Johnson.

“The key to such power networks is exclusion and opacity,” Varoufakis writes. As sensitive information is bartered, “two-person alliances forge links with other such alliances … involving conspirators who conspire de facto without being conscious conspirators”. In the process of telling this story, Varoufakis not only spills the beans but beans of the kind the Greeks call gigantes – fat ones, full of juice.

The first revelation is that not only was Greece bankrupt in 2010 when the EU bailed it out, and that the bailout was designed to save the French and German banks, but that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy knew this; and they knew it would be a disaster.

This charge is not new – it was levelled at the financial elite at the time by leftwing activists and rightwing economists. But Varoufakis substantiates it with quotes – some gleaned from the tapes of conversations and phone calls he was, unbeknown to the participants, making at the time.

Even now, two years after the last Greek election, this is of more than academic interest. Greece remains burdened by billions of euros of debt it cannot pay. Because of the actions taken in 2010-11 – saving private banks by saddling north European states with massive debts – it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.

Getting sacked left Varoufakis with a clean skin – although the price has been self-imposed exile once again from active politics in Greece. If, as is possible, the situation spirals towards economic doom, his voice – together with those of veteran anti-euro communists who split from Syriza – may be all that remains to rally the left for a last-ditch fight against fascism and dictatorship.

Paul Mason: I continue to believe Tsipras was right to climb down in the face of the EU’s ultimatum, and that Varoufakis was at fault for the way he designed the “game” strategy. For Tsipras – and for the older generation of former detainees and torture victims who rebuilt the Greek left after 1974 – staying in power as a dented shield against austerity was preferable to handing power back to a bunch of political mafiosi backed by a mob of baying rich-kid fashionistas.

But according to Mason,  Varoufakis’s version of the Tsipras story needs to be challenged. Varoufakis alleges that Tsipras is prone to frivolity, melancholy and indecision, and that he is determined to prove he is “no shooting star”. But unlike Varoufakis, Tsipras built a party capable of crushing the elite politicians who have drained Greece of wealth and credibility for a generation, and of governing. Tsipras – together with his aide Pappas, whom Varoufakis describes correctly as a major influence on events – built something that he calculated could survive defeat.

Varoufakis built a reputation, but not a party. Indeed the world of parties – of activists huddled against the rainy windows of suburban cafes, of leaflet drops, of strikes and anti-fascist demos – is absent from this memoir.

If the global left, Mason concludes, is to regain momentum, it needs leaders like Tsipras to find thinkers and doers like Varoufakis, and to nurture them. But above all it needs to talk to the mass of people in language born out of the years of toil it takes to build a party and a movement.

Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment is published by Bodley Head. To order a copy for £15 (RRP £20) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.