The work critique of millenials and A new universalism of emancipation
by Norbert Trenkle
The 4-Hour League, an alliance founded in 2016 to campaign for the 4-hour day is concerned with pushing back wage labor in order to have more time for a good life, for a gender-just redistribution of care activities and putting an end to the overexploitation of nature. Thus, it aims at breaking with the capitalist logic of efficiency and performance.
Meeting the target with more balance. The work critique of millenials
by Norbert Trenkle
[This article published on 6/17/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.krisis.org/2022/mit-mehr-balance-das-soll-erfuellen-die-arbeitskritik-der-millenials/.]
first published in Jungle World 2022/24 from 16.6.2022
Young people don’t want to work anymore! When towards the end of the seventies the first generation that had grown up in the so-called economic miracle, the baby boomers, poured into the labor market, the worries of the older generation were great. These children of the fifties and sixties, it was said, no longer had the necessary work discipline, were no longer willing to fit into the company hierarchy, had no performance ethos and generally preferred to enjoy their lives rather than work hard. Psychology diagnosed a “new socialization type” (NST) that was narcissistic, hedonistic and consumerist; and sociology spoke of a fundamental “change in values” (Ronald Inglehart) that was accompanied by a “post-materialist” orientation toward self-realization, individual autonomy and quality of life.
However, neither the gloomy forecasts of conservatives at the time (such as those of communications scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann), who once again feared some kind of demise of the West, nor the left-liberal hopes for a “humanization of the world of work” with the generational change or even for the development toward a humane society came true. On the contrary, it turned out that the needs of the younger generation were quite compatible with the new demands that the then emerging post-Fordist labor regime placed on the sellers of the commodity labor power.
It was no longer the type of company soldier who willingly repeated the same, monotonous sequences of activities that was in demand, but the flexible person who is also capable of making his or her own decisions, dealing with unpredictable situations and controlling complex processes. The fact that these people do not take working hours too seriously, but are happy to stay longer at the plant if they are given the feeling that they are working “independently” and “creatively” was a welcome side effect of this restructuring of production.
In this way, the rebellion against Fordist labor norms soon turned into a revolution in labor productivity that allowed capital to keep accumulating despite drastic crises. Labor pressure did not decrease, but increased, as more and more responsibility was shifted to individuals and performance measurement was further individualized. And working hours, whose reduction was still considered an important contribution to improving the quality of life and combating unemployment in the 1980s, have since been de facto extended again even in most sectors covered by collective agreements – not to mention the growing sector of precarious work, where 60 and more hours per week have already become the miserable standard anyway.
The disastrous consequences of this development are impressively demonstrated by a joint study of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), which was presented last year. According to the study, around 750,000 people worldwide die each year from heart attacks or strokes as a result of working at least 55 hours per week. “We have found the deadliest risk factor in the workplace. It’s not the machines, it’s not the particulate matter, it’s too many hours of work,” Frank Pega, the study’s director, is quoted as saying in Der Spiegel.
Against this backdrop, it is more than understandable that the generation of so-called Millennials, i.e. today’s 27- to 41-year-olds, is apparently no longer prepared to sacrifice their entire lives to their careers and to cut back in all other areas of life. At least, that’s what emerges from various studies that have been presented recently, for example the report “Working Better Together” by the Danish company Workday, which, among other things, develops interactive “feedback technology” that is supposed to help “increase employee engagement and productivity” in order to improve “business performance.”
However, it is also clear that this skeptical attitude toward work is highly individualistic. It is not gainful employment as such that is questioned, as was the case at least to some extent in the 1980s in the context of the New Social Movements; rather, the aim is to achieve a “work-life balance” – in other words, people still want to have time and energy for leisure and family in addition to work. In addition, work should be “meaningful,” although what is meant by this remains very vague. However, if the “meaning” seems to be given, Millennials identify all the more with their job and are quite prepared to work excessively long hours, as a study by the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research (IfD) from 2020 found. There can therefore be no question of a fundamental rejection of the capitalist pressure to work and perform, even if this is criticized in part.
This attitude, which is as individualized as it is contradictory, is not really surprising. After all, we are talking about a generation that grew up in the era of neoliberalism and was taught from the very beginning that what they do with their lives depends only on their own performance. And in a society based on general commodity production, work is the central means of social participation and recognition. The post-Fordist upheaval in the world of work has not changed this. On the contrary, the general flexibilization and the intensification of competition and the pressure to perform have only thrown individuals back more strongly on themselves and their private interests.
Because the view of the social whole has thus been increasingly lost, discussions about the “work-life balance” tend to ignore the fact that the majority of people have hardly any serious choices within the work system anyway. They cannot choose a job that is perceived as meaningful, nor can they forego a so-called career in order to have more time for themselves; instead, they simply have to put up with lousy jobs at the supermarket checkout, in the cleaning crew or at the parcel delivery service, and accept excessively long working hours if they want to make ends meet at all.
At the moment, it does help them a little that in the capitalist centers the demand for labor is very high, so that they can more easily choose between various bad and somewhat less bad jobs. But first, this boom will end sooner rather than later. Second, labor shortages in the precarious sector can easily be mitigated by further immigration. And third, inflation is currently quickly eating away at relative wage increases.
However, there are also demographic reasons for the relative labor shortage and the declining motivation to work in the Western countries. As the baby boomers gradually retire, more jobs are currently becoming vacant, at least in the skilled segment, than can be filled by younger skilled workers. An entrepreneurially clever solution to this problem is currently being tried out in the UK. There, a large-scale pilot project to introduce the four-day week in 70 companies ranging from large banks to fish-and-chips restaurants began at the beginning of June. The idea came from finance and real estate entrepreneur Andrew Barnes, who founded the NGO “4 Day Week Global.” He is convinced that people can be just as productive in four days as in five, because they are more motivated and rested then. For this reason, pay should remain the same, but employees must also commit to doing the same things in the reduced time as before.
The British pilot project, which is being monitored scientifically, will now investigate whether this calculation actually works. If it does, it is clear where it will lead if the model becomes established: Gradually, the new productivity standard, based on further intensification and densification of work, could become generalized, while wages, despite promises to the contrary, are likely to fall successively, for example due to a lack of adjustment to inflation.
The concept of 4 Day Week Global therefore means the exact opposite of the emancipatory progress it promises. It does not represent a liberation from the dictates of work and performance, but rather intensifies them. The demand for a radical reduction in working hours, such as that made by the 4-Hour League, an alliance founded in 2016 to campaign for the 4-hour day, is something quite different. It is concerned with pushing back wage labor in order to have more time for a good life, for a gender-just redistribution of care activities and to put an end to the overexploitation of nature. Thus, it does not aim at a new productivity revolution, but at breaking with the capitalist logic of efficiency and performance. To the boomer generation, this critique of work may seem like the ghost of their own youth. In fact, however, it is more relevant than ever.
False front. A new universalism of emancipation is needed against Putinism
by Norbert Trenkle
Published in Jungle World 14/ 2022 from 7.4.2022
[This article published on 4/7/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.krisis.org/2022/falsche-frontstellung-gegen-den-putinismus-ist-eine-neuer-universalismus-der-emanzipation-gefragt/.]
The invasion of Ukraine is part of a large-scale offensive of an authoritarian regime that is driven by the threatening idea of having to change the world order in its favor. This offensive is directed not just against one country, but against everything that stands for the “depraved West” in Putin’s eyes and those of his followers. This includes, in particular, “sexual decadence,” i.e. homosexuality, and the so-called gender ideology, as well as the decomposition of “traditional cultural values. Behind this is an openly fascist ideology, as the Moscow sociologist Greg Yudin, for example, has traced.
For emancipative forces, it should be a matter of course to oppose the Putin regime. Of course, this puts them in the same league as those who equate the fight against authoritarianism with a defense of the so-called universal values of democracy, freedom and the market economy. This is problematic not only because this united front also includes forces that are not free of anti-democratic tendencies themselves, but also because it suppresses the fact that this much-vaunted universalism has long since been disgraced by reality, which is one of the main reasons for the global offensive of authoritarianism.
Liberal-democratic values are universal only in their abstract claim. However, their material basis, the commodity-producing society, is based on systematic exclusions and the social division into winners and losers. It therefore permanently denies this abstract claim. It is true that commodity-producing society is universal in the sense that it has imposed itself on the entire planet in a tremendous dynamic. But at the same time, it turned out to be a minority event: Only a relatively small portion of the world’s population can live a reasonably adequate and secure life and find rudimentary access to what the Charter of Human Rights promises. At the same time, this minoritarian way of life is based on the ruthless global plundering of natural resources.
The attempt made after the caesura of 1989 to establish a so-called New World Order under the sign of democracy and a market economy was therefore bound to lead to disaster. After the projects of catch-up state-capitalist modernization under the ideological auspices of socialism had already failed, the neoliberal offensive of the 1990s in turn left a trail of devastation in large parts of the world. In the ruins of these failed attempts at modernization, kleptocratic and authoritarian regimes as well as fundamentalist movements flourished, contributing their share to the disintegration of the respective societies. Attempts to control these tendencies militarily, where they became too dangerous for Western states, only made the situation worse. In particular, the 2003 Iraq war further devastated the already battered country, destabilizing the entire region and plunging it into a prolonged state of war.
Putin’s regime also emerged as a result of Russia’s disastrous market-radical transformation, but with the significant difference that he managed to stabilize the country again. Putin was able to rely on significant forces in the security and military apparatus and brought the so-called oligarchs under control, who had enriched themselves immeasurably during the wild privatization of the 1990s. Although they were allowed to continue doing business, they had to recognize the authority of the state and cede part of their profits for the purpose of producing legitimacy. After energy prices also rose, wages in the large state sector could once again be paid on time, as could pensions and certain social transfer payments. The infrastructure was modernized, at least in the centers.
This established Putin’s popularity, which continues to this day, and which he secured by suppressing opposition and authoritarian restructuring of state and society. But he also gained broad popular support by promising to make Russia a great power again, dominating a “Eurasian Union. Behind this is the urge for revenge for the deeply felt ignominy that the fall of the Soviet empire and the subsequent period of free-market transformation meant for many. This is the subjective underpinning of nationalist megalomania and deep-seated resentment against “the West.
Therefore, the attack on Ukraine should not be explained as a reaction to alleged provocations by NATO or the United States. It follows a very different, deeper-seated drive, which may have been reinforced by Western policy, but not generated by it. It is often precisely the losers in capitalist competition (or those who feel like losers) who mobilize the strongest regressive energies in order to restore their old status or at least to take revenge on the winners (or on proxy groups) – even if at the price of mutual destruction. This is also the reason why Putin is so popular precisely with the right and the extreme right around the world. Their resentment is fed by similar sources: It springs from an identitary grievance caused by the actual or perceived loss of a position of power in society.
The pronounced masculinism that Putin represents must also be seen in this context. For the loss of power touches the identitary core of the male subject status in bourgeois society, which is primarily defined by self-assertion in all-round competition and is secured by the construction of a subordinate femininity, which is supposed to represent the exact opposite of this form of subjectivation. Men around the world are reacting with the utmost aggression to the shaking of this binary and hierarchical gender order by feminist movements and economic structural change in recent decades. At stake here is the innermost core of their sense of self, which is bitterly defended, as can be seen abundantly clearly in the appalling increase in sexualized violence around the world. In this sense, too, Putin is the ideal identification figure. He represents a type of male loser who is fighting back against the dissolution of the bourgeois gender hierarchy and who is politically and militarily powerful enough to wage this struggle successfully.
This regressive worldview, in which authoritarianism, masculinism, and aggressive culturalism are combined, is not externally opposed to the much-invoked values of democracy and freedom, however, but forms, as it were, their irrationalist reverse side. This must be urgently recalled, especially in view of the current confrontation. If the Western public interprets the current confrontation as a clash of two value systems, the authoritarian threat appears as something alien that bursts into the world of liberal democracies from outside.
Such a view promotes several worrisome tendencies. First, the tendency toward a mirror-image culturalization of the conflict; the very talk of Western values is problematic because it suggests that these have a culturally specific character. Second, an even stronger isolation of the capitalist centers, i.e., an even more rigid guarding of borders in connection with a further increase in nationalism. And third, finally, the militarization of society (for example, through its own rearmament) as well as a concomitant remasculinization, as already expressed in the heroization of the Ukrainian resistance.
The confrontation with authoritarianism cannot be won in this way. Rather, the so-called Western societies thus become more and more similar to the seemingly external enemy, and the universalism of liberal-democratic values denies itself once again. The relative freedoms offered by life in the capitalist centers must be defended against the authoritarian threat. But this can only be done by taking them out of the logic of commodity society and thus pushing them beyond themselves. What is needed is a transnational solidarity of all forces that want to defend themselves against authoritarianism and at the same time put an end to the radical marketization of the world. What is called for is a new universalism of social emancipation.
Myths of the Crisis and Enemy Images in the Media
by Tomasz Konicz and Sabine Schiffer
Friday Jun 24th, 2022 7:48 AM
The Ukrainian ambassador was quoted in the FAZ as saying: “All Russians are now our enemies”. One may understand him personally, but this rhetoric is classic enemy image cultivation. After all, there are also Russians who reject Putin’s war of aggression or are brave enough to protest against it. This homogenization is pre-Enlightenment and always wrong.
The Myths of the Crisis
by Tomasz Konicz
[This article published on 6/9/2017 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://oxiblog.de/die-mythen-der-krise/.]
A car is produced by robots in a factory. The less labor that goes into a good, the lower its value. So this Range Rover might have a value problem.
When the going gets tough, the simple explanations sound tempting. The simpler the better, because then there is hope of getting back on one’s feet quickly. Financial crisis, rapacious bankers, ecological turnaround – Tomasz Konicz explains why it’s all bunk.
Myth I: These are the culprits
Since the financial market crisis of 2007/08, blame has been distributed by and among the public, and scapegoats have been sought. Greedy bankers, corrupt southerners, illegal migrants, rivets in pinstripes or lazy unemployed people: Someone’s misconduct, laziness, greed or corruption must have triggered the socioeconomic upheavals of recent years. Populist movements in the U.S. and Europe continue to fuel this personification of the causes of the crisis.
However, no one is to blame for the crisis. It exists because market subjects do exactly what the system demands of them more and more efficiently: rampant capital accumulation, i.e. its accumulation and reinvestment. The more effectively wage labor is exploited for this purpose, the greater the pressure, the tighter the noose around the neck of all market subjects.
This is only apparently absurd. The central contradiction of the capital relation consists in the fact that it strives to rationalize commodity production, i.e. to organize it more and more efficiently – thus it gets rid of its own substance, i.e. wage labor. All market subjects strive to gain competitive advantages with new production processes and techniques. On the level of society as a whole, this leads to job losses in established branches of industry. Thus, this inner contradiction of capital appears externally as a crisis of capitalist labor society. Unless it succeeds in creating jobs in new industries to compensate for the cutbacks in old industries. This industrial structural change failed in the 1980s with the digital revolution.
But even if no one is “to blame” for the systemic crisis, whose dynamics unfold quasi “behind the backs of the producers” (Marx), this does not mean that no one would become guilty under capitalism. Because the system functions – the market-mediated oppression, exploitation and ideology production – all the individuals who consciously execute the system constraints as “character masks” (Marx) in their respective capitalist roles are guilty. Even more: In interaction with the crisis dynamics, exploitation, oppression and lie production of the system are increased to absurdity.
Myth II: We are dealing with a financial crisis
The crisis process was first expressed in the financial sphere when the real estate bubbles in the U.S. and Western Europe began to burst in 2007. As a result, the erroneous view became entrenched among the public that this was a financial crisis, which was dragging the so-called real, i.e. goods-producing economy into the abyss with speculative excesses.
In reality, the opposite is true. The bloated financial sector keeps the crisis-ridden real economy alive in the first place. It does so with the most important commodity produced in the financial sphere: credit. The world system, characterized by rampant mountains of debt, runs on credit: The financial sector creates the credit-financed demand that enables an extremely productive real economy to sell its mountains of goods at all. The absurdity of the systemic crisis becomes fully apparent: Industry produces more and more goods with less and less labor in less and less time and can only sell them because the financial sector produces abnormally high debts.
That is why, in late capitalism, the debt of private individuals and states – despite all political promises of austerity – is rising much faster than economic output. At the end of 2014, the global government debt mountain was equivalent to around 286 percent of global economic output, compared with “only” 269 percent in 2007 and only 246 percent in 2000.
Myth III: The crisis broke out with the financial crash of 2007
The current systemic crisis is not a one-off, short-term event, but a long-term, historical process that is eating its way in batches from the periphery to the centers of the capitalist world system.
The breakthrough of financial market-driven neoliberalism in the 1980s was a reaction of the system to the crisis of commodity production; this was already clearly emerging in the 1970s, when the postwar boom, i.e., the economic miracle period, was coming to an end. It was only the economic crisis of the 1970s, accompanied by frequent recessions, runaway inflation and mass unemployment, that enabled the neoliberal ideology to take hold from the 1980s onward.
Put simply, the crisis exists because industrial structural change has failed. The postwar boom ran out of steam, but no new equivalent accumulation regime emerged to utilize the freed-up labor force to the same extent in commodity production. Therefore, starting in the late 1970s, mass unemployment returned to the core capitalist countries. The financial sector rose, creating the demand and investment opportunities that were increasingly lost to the real economy. A rise, however, accompanied by ever larger speculative bubbles (dotcom bubble, real estate bubble, current liquidity bubble).
In the process, the weakest links of the world system broke and continue to break first in the crisis. With the Third World debt crisis in the 1980s and the socio-economic collapses in the 1990s, the crisis has already unfolded to its barbaric end product in large parts of the periphery. The periphery, characterized by failed states, lunatic suicide cults and brutal dictatorships, thus already allows the centers a glimpse of the future: namely, the further unfolding of the crisis, which is likely to take place somewhere between “Mad Max” and “1984.”
Myth IV: Politics has long since mastered the crisis
Since the crisis surge of 2007/08, which also hit many centers of the world system in full force, a constant battle has raged in the public arena over the right crisis policy. Roughly speaking, there are two opposing camps: The neoliberal advocates of strict budget discipline want to overcome the crisis with draconian austerity programs in order to reduce global debt mountains. Their Keynesian counterparts, on the other hand, advocate a loose monetary policy and comprehensive economic stimulus programs. The Keynesians accuse the neoliberals of using monetarism and austerity dictates to drive many crisis countries into socioeconomic collapse, while the neoliberals warn that credit-financed stimulus policies only ignite an economic flash in the pan and increase the debt burden of the state.
The problem is that both sides are quite right in their diagnoses of the capitalist sickbed – but their therapies are both logically bound to fail. Economic stimulus programs fizzle out after a short time, while rabid austerity programs lead to devastating economic collapses. See Greece: German Finance Minister Schäuble’s austerity policies have literally driven the battered Mediterranean country to the brink of economic collapse, while its debt to dwindling gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is higher than before the acute onset of the crisis.
There is no escape from this trap in which capitalist politics finds itself, since the crisis cannot be overcome inherently in the system. It can only be solved beyond the present form of capital utilization. Inherent in the system, only a policy that maintains the debt dynamics (private as well as state) is possible in order to prevent economic and social collapses and to postpone the agony of late capitalism.
Myth V: Europe will be healed by German exports
In the eroding Eurozone, national state interests additionally override the dispute over crisis policy. With its policy of rigid austerity, wage cuts and deflation, Germany has succeeded in placing the burden of the crisis unilaterally on the crisis-ridden southern periphery. German crisis ideology sees the export economy as the key to overcoming the crisis. The eurozone is to be made internationally competitive in the German image in order to return to the path of prosperity and growth with a strong focus on exports.
This overlooks the fact that the trade surpluses of an export-fixated economy logically correspond to the deficits of the importing countries. Globally, it is a zero-sum game. If all global surpluses and deficits are offset against each other, the result is always zero euros. Trade surpluses therefore represent debt exports. Thus, Germany’s export-fixated economic model is also based on debt, only this is exported by means of trade surpluses (now nine percent of GDP); which makes the Germany-wide outrage about the debts of others completely absurd.
Myth VI: It’s all a question of distribution
The absurdly high inequality of income and wealth that began with the neoliberal turn gives the impression that the current crisis is purely a question of distribution. The rich would only have to be made to pay more, mass demand would have to be properly increased, in order to lead capitalism back into a period of prosperity similar to that of the postwar boom.
This crisis policy, often propagated by left-wing Keynesians, ignores the inner drive of the capitalist “national economy,” which is precisely not about the satisfaction of needs, but about the achievement of the highest possible profits, i.e., about the exploitation of value as an irrational end in itself, pursued by rational means.
Moreover, the fantasy trillions floating around in the financial sector are for the most part fictitious capital, generated not by the exploitation of wage labor, but solely by the mere multiplication of securities in the financial sphere. This became abundantly clear when the real estate bubbles burst in 2007: With real mortgages, the financial industry had ignited a boom of new “innovative financial products” such as mortgage insurance, which were traded on the explosively expanding financial markets – and which now weigh down the balance sheets of central banks as financial market junk. Tapping into this “wealth” would simply amount to a devaluation surge – a wave of inflation.
Myth VII: Ecology and economy are incompatible in the crisis
As the crisis intensifies, a crude, backward-looking industrialism takes hold, preaching reindustrialization and either outright denying or downplaying the ecological crisis. Yet the rampant climate crisis and the obvious systemic distortions in the economy are only two sides of the same coin. Ecology and economy are intertwined by the crisis process. Since wage labor forms the substance of capital, economic rationalization leads to devastating ecological damage.
For in general, the higher the productivity of the global late capitalist exploitation machine, the greater its hunger for resources. In capitalism, goods are not primarily produced for the satisfaction of needs, but as a means to the end of boundless capital accumulation, which in turn is only possible by means of the utilization of wage labor. The further competition-mediated increases in productivity are driven, the lower is the quantity of labor reified in a commodity and the lower is its value. Thus, if productivity in car production increases by, say, ten percent, car output must be increased by ten percent in order to utilize the same mass of capital and avoid mass layoffs. The increasing tendencies toward planned obsolescence (deliberate reduction of the lifespan of products) in commodity production have their roots in this absurd crisis dynamic.
Myth VIII: An ecological turnaround can help overcome the crisis
In turn, the idea that a comprehensive ecological renewal of capitalism can lead out of the crisis has taken root in the environment of the ecological movement. Based on the correct diagnosis that capitalism lacks a new accumulation regime, a massive promotion of ecological industries and the corresponding infrastructure is supposed to spark a new, green economic miracle – similar to the automobile miracle in the 1950s.
Here, too, the absurd inner contradiction of the capital relation takes hold, since the late capitalist economic machine is simply too productive for a necessary radical ecological turnaround. Wind turbines and solar modules are not produced today in the same way as cars were once produced, when hundreds of workers assembled a vehicle in individual steps. That is why the mass of utilized wage labor – from whose tax revenue the ecological infrastructure would have to be financed by the state – is very low in the ecological sector, while the costs for the infrastructural ecological transformation are astronomical. And that is why everyone is talking about the costs of the ecological turnaround – and not about its opportunities.
Myth IX: The little guy knows best what he wants
No, he doesn’t. The basic assumption of all populist politics, according to which “the people” can recognize their situation and articulate their interests accordingly, shatters because of the dominance of the mass media and the late-capitalist culture industry, which has long since won the battle for minds. The population usually remains largely caught up in the capitalist forms of thought burned into it by the mass media, which at worst fuels an extremism of the center in times of crisis and at best leads to the formulation of left-wing social demands that can hardly be realized in terms of the system.
With this false immediacy of crisis politics, the left thus also ultimately remains in the capitalist prison of thought. In reaction to the capitalist systemic crisis, the institutions, levels of mediation and forms of socialization of capitalism are to be maintained by hook or by crook. Wage labor, the market and the state are in crisis, but they are not questioned by this ultimately conservative policy; on the contrary, they are increasingly affirmed.
Instead of clinging to outdated forms of socialization, it would be necessary for the left to bring a radical crisis consciousness to the population that is adequate to the crisis process. The first step is therefore to communicate the unvarnished truth to the people in a way that is as comprehensible as possible. To tell them what is going on, to explain that the crisis cannot be overcome, that it will get worse, that they will have to give up their accustomed lives, that capital in its agony threatens to destroy human civilization. In short: that nothing will remain as it is. Whether we want it or not.
In his texts, the author refers to value critique, as it was significantly elaborated by Robert Kurz, as well as Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory. Value critique takes over from Marx the critique of the commodity fetishism of commodity, value and money, but criticizes his class theory and philosophy of history. Value critique sees the working class as part of the capitalist system and therefore denies it the role of revolutionary subject. World systems theory, formulated by the historian and economic sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein beginning in 1974, focuses on transnational economic interaction and global economic systems.
The article appeared in the June 2017 issue of OXI.
Media educator Sabine Schiffer: Ukraine coverage is cultivating enemy images
War coverage: “The discourse is currently totally narrowed”
Media educator Sabine Schiffer is shocked when journalists’ associations show blue and yellow flags
[This interview published on 6/18/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/medienpaedagogin-sabine-fischer-ukraine-berichterstattung-ist-feindbildpflege.]
“The first question is: Are the pictures real?”
In the narratives disseminated about the fighting in Ukraine, partisanship and objectivity collide in Russia as in the West. Rarely before have the media allowed themselves to be instrumentalized to such an extent that differentiated and verified information is the absolute exception.
der Freitag: Ms. Schiffer, you have also been running the Institute for Media Responsibility (IMV) in Berlin since 2005. Why is there a need for such an institution?
Sabine Schiffer: There are still many myths and insinuations about the media today, because many people don’t know how they actually work. The idea was to create an interface between science and the public, i.e., to allow findings from communication, journalism or social research to flow into the media. At the production, content and user level. With media, through media and for media, we said at the time.
Why the term media accountability?
It was actually a fallback term because the original name – Institute for Media Education – sounded too much like a university institution for the review board. In retrospect, it was a stroke of luck, because it subsumes a lot of what constitutes media analysis: from the standardization tendencies by the agencies to subjective reporting through spins, wordings and framings to the user, who draws conclusions from small scraps of prepared information.
What does this mean at the moment for dealing with the war in Ukraine?
I have to backtrack a bit and go back to 2014, when we published the book Ukraine im Visier (Ukraine in Focus) at Selbrund-Verlag, a collection of essays by journalists who criticized the fact that the conflict over Crimea was not reported in a balanced way from the very beginning. Russian interests were presented, but those of the West were neglected. The ARD Program Advisory Board – later then – reflected the most important points of our criticism in its meeting minutes of June 2014: The content had in part “given the impression of bias” and had “tended to be directed against Russia and Russian positions,” it said. Among the key aspects neglected at the time, in the view of the Program Advisory Board, were “NATO’s political and strategic intentions” in eastward enlargement, nuanced reports on the EU association agreement with Ukraine, the legitimacy of the so-called Maidan Council, and the “role of radical nationalist forces, especially Svoboda,” as well as their activities in the failure of “the February 21 agreement to settle the crisis in Ukraine.”
But when you see the heinous bloodshed in Ukraine now, do you wonder if you took the wrong side then?
I have never taken sides. There should be no such thing in journalism.
Doesn’t that inevitably happen? “If you’re not for us, you’re for the terrorists,” George W. Bush once said.
That is the psycho-trick par excellence. Our media today also seem to operate in this dualism. I am shocked when journalists’ associations adorn themselves with yellow-blue flags. Not because solidarity with those suffering in Ukraine is not appropriate – I myself offered to take people in right after the war began. But journalists are not NGOs, they are people who have to illuminate everything without being biased. There is no such thing as a morally sound army, and ours is not either. Think about the Afghanistan papers. We also raped women, in war you have to expect that kind of thing. The discourse right now is totally narrow. If it’s like that in politics, I can still understand it as part of strategic communication – even if I don’t like being lied to – but our media must not be part of it.
To what extent are media involved in strategic communication?
As the fourth estate, the media are committed to enlightenment and neutrality. Even if they can never achieve these ideals, because everything is just a slice of reality. In my field, however, I also deal with the so-called fifth estate, which runs counter to this claim to neutrality. And that is the influence of interest groups on the media. This is also referred to as “gray PR.”
Can you give an example?
In the aftermath of the Euromaidan, we at IMV commissioned research to clarify whether such interest groups had also influenced reporting on the Ukraine conflict. This research revealed that, at least in the EU since 2015, there are structures that we believe have contributed significantly to the media situation today. One of the most important is the East StratCom Task Force of the European External Action Service (EEAS). Stratcom stands for strategic communications. This task force does things like briefings with journalists and educates them about Russian disinformation. And there, a fact that is out of the ordinary or not recognized as such is quickly a conspiracy theory. The question is, of course, what political interests such an organization represents.
To the person
Sabine Schiffer (55) has been a professor at the University of Media, Communication and Business in Frankfurt/M. since 2018. Her discipline is media and discourse analysis. She deals with the relationship between media and war such as media representations of minorities.
The declared mission of the East StratCom Task Force is to advance the political goals of the EU in the Eastern countries. The EEAS Strategic Communications Unit works closely with NATO to combat disinformation, including the EUvsDisinfo propaganda monitoring project. The Stratcom unit is also involved in the work of NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. So in the end, a military alliance briefs journalists on Russian disinformation – without disclosing methods for analyzing it.
Nevertheless, Russia has launched a war of aggression. Isn’t relativizing it in that case trivializing it?
Thomas Fischer, ex-president of the Federal Supreme Court, speaks in a Spiegel column about relativization as a thought crime. After the initial shock, I have to say that he gets to the point: It’s about classifying, not relativizing. Relativization is a fighting term.
What does “classifying” mean to them?
In my article Blueprints for Ukraine on Telepolis, I write that Russia’s “peace mission” has violated Western copyright on wars of aggression. I am involuntarily reminded of the Kosovo and Iraq wars. NATO’s 1999 doctrine established three justifications for wartime operations that have not yet justified war. Humanitarian intervention, as Putin now claims, resource security, and strong migration movements, Frontex being one example. Nevertheless, my article begins with a clear condemnation of Russia’s breach of international law. The standard remains the law, there is nothing to discuss, war is not justified by anything. And that Ukraine is the victim is perfectly clear. But that’s why I can’t stop asking questions. The most important one is: why now? Putin and Lavrov have dealt with the tense situation in a relatively sovereign way all these years, why did they decide to escalate now?
After all, Putin claims to want to “denazify” Ukraine. Pretty clumsy war propaganda?
Absolutely. In war, you have to do it this way so that people are willing to kill other people. The Russian population might have been hard to motivate for an attack on their so-called brother nation. So you unpack Nazi comparisons. This is crude propaganda – even if there are Nazi battalions in Ukraine.
Where do you get the right to be more critical in your analyses than the people on the ground?
Because we learned from Yugoslavia that reporting on the ground can also be influenced. Many journalists were “too close”, back then in Yugoslavia, to keep an overview: Balanced reporting is only possible in interaction “with those on the outside” who contextualize what is happening and help to get an overview of the overall situation. Otherwise, journalists risk being made a party to the war.
On the other hand, there are documents that speak a clear language like the pictures from Butscha.
Of course, only you have to be very careful with such documents and verify quite meticulously. The first question is: Are these pictures real? In the case of the so-called Ra?ak massacre in Kosovo, the media hastily disseminated images whose authenticity was later doubted. In the case of Butscha, however, we can answer the question of authenticity with a resounding yes. These are real pictures, real dead bodies. One can even narrow down the time of the crime. But this is only the first level, the surface. To get more information, pathologists would have to determine the cause and time of death, and criminalists would have to talk to the people who were questioned about the incident. Where did they come from? Where would it be necessary to ask? Is there evidence of groups? You have to check – and cross-check – the information for consistency rather than collecting anecdotal evidence.
Doesn’t everything suggest that it was the Russians?
There is a lot to be said for it. But if it was, there are still other scenarios that can’t be ruled out to begin with: Did the killing happen on orders or out of frustration and hatred? How were the people shot? Of course, one must also ask the uncomfortable question of whether it was other troops who wanted to stage these images, of course there are many intelligence agencies on the way. That Ukraine is the victim in this war is perfectly clear. But that should not be the premise above an independent investigation. And in the end, of course, there is also a PR machine running, on a grand scale.
What does “on a grand scale” mean?
On March 14, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry registered itself in the so-called FARA registry. FARA stands for Foreign Agents Registration Act. If PR is bought from abroad or PR is done in the USA, I have to register there. And that is now quite official. The resources available for such campaigns are considerable. And the campaigns as a result are much more professional than the propaganda of the Russians.
How does war reporting shape human interaction beyond the front lines?
Unfortunately, we are now seeing again how quickly it can be to submit to enemy images. The Ukrainian ambassador was quoted in the FAZ as saying: “All Russians are now our enemies”. One may understand him personally, but this rhetoric is classic enemy image cultivation. After all, there are also Russians who reject Putin’s war of aggression or are brave enough to protest against it. This homogenization is so pre-Enlightenment, so not at all European – and always wrong.
No fear of peace negotiations
War in Ukraine
Jeffrey Sachs, Romano Prodi et al: “The drumbeats of war must give way to words of peace”
By Jeffrey Sachs et al.
[This statement published on June 20, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Keine Angst vor Friedensverhandlungen | Karenina.]
Peace is possible, isn’t it?
An international working group led by U.S. economist and director of the UN Sustainable Development Solution Network Jeffrey Sachs met June 6-7 at Casina Pio IV, Vatican City, to develop solutions for a “just and lasting peace in Ukraine.”
KARENINA documents in German translation the “Declaration of the Participants of the Study Group on Science and Ethics of Happiness” that emerged there, signed, among others, by Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
Achieving a Just and Lasting Peace in Ukraine
Statement of the participants of the Study Group on Science and Ethics of Happiness; meeting at Casina Pio IV, Vatican City, June 6-7, 2022.
Jesus taught the world that peacemakers are blessed because they are children of God. As war rages in Ukraine, the world needs peacemakers to help the warring parties choose peace instead of continued conflict. The U.S., the European Union, Turkey, China and other countries should help the two sides feel secure with a negotiated peace agreement.
For Ukraine, security means that a peace agreement will not be followed by renewed Russian threats or incursions. For Russia, security means that their withdrawal from Ukraine will not be followed by NATO’s eastward expansion and heavy arming of Ukraine. In short, peace means a neutral Ukraine whose sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity are assured.
Pope Francis has made his plea for peace clear and powerful: “I renew my appeal to the rulers of nations: Do not lead humanity to ruin. Please. Do not lead humanity to ruin!”
His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has stated, “We call on all parties involved to continue on this path of dialogue and respect for international law in order to end the conflict and allow all Ukrainians to live in harmony. Weapons are not the solution.”
The goal of peacemaking in Ukraine is not just a negative peace – a peace without justice – but a positive peace resolutely based on the four pillars of moral relations between states recognized by St. John XXIII in his authoritative Pacem in Terris: Truth, Justice, Willing Cooperation, and Liberty (paragraph 80). Such moral relations are necessary not only between Russia and Ukraine, but also between Russia, the United States, and the European Union.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is undoubtedly a heinous violation of the UN Charter and international law. Russia’s differences with Ukraine should certainly have been resolved through UN Security Council-sponsored negotiations, taking into account the security interests of all countries.
Now, the grim realities of the ongoing battle, in which neither side is likely to win a decisive military victory, should bring both sides to the negotiating table as soon as possible to prevent the prolongation of the war and achieve peace with justice.
The war in Ukraine is likely to turn into a war of attrition and end up as a frozen conflict or a negotiated peace instead of an open victory of one side over the other. A negotiated peace would be a better outcome than the casualties of a war of attrition and a frozen conflict for both the peoples and the governments of Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the EU, and the rest of the world.
If the war ends as a frozen conflict, Russia would continue to occupy a significant portion of eastern and southern Ukraine while Western sanctions against Russia remained in effect. Trade and investment between Russia and the West remained blocked, resulting in an overall decline in world trade and development. Weapons and military personnel would continue to flow into Ukraine from external sources.
If the war instead ended in a negotiated peace, further heavy casualties among Ukraine’s civilian population and the militaries of both sides would be avoided, and the existence and independence of the Ukrainian state could be safeguarded against external attempts to overthrow it. Most of the Russian-occupied regions would return to Ukrainian state sovereignty, certain regions could be subject to special regulations, the Russian military would be withdrawn, and Western sanctions would be lifted, allowing for reconstruction and a higher level of security for all actors in Ukrainian society and neighboring countries.
The basis for a possible peace agreement was outlined in the second half of March, when both sides reported good progress in negotiations, and more recently in Italy’s proposal of a four-part peace plan in late May. In the negotiations in the second half of March, Ukraine proposed four points for a peace settlement: Neutrality; international security guarantees for Ukraine; an extended timeframe to finalize the status of Crimea; and negotiations on “the complex issues of the Donbass.”
Italy’s peace plan also has four points: Ceasefire; Ukraine’s neutrality; ongoing negotiations on Crimea and the Donbass; and multilateral negotiations within the OSCE and between Russia and NATO on regional security arrangements.
While drawing on the practical wisdom (phronesis) of the blessed peacemakers, based on the ascertainable roots of the conflict, the March negotiations, and the peace initiatives to date, we propose the following guiding principles for a ceasefire and a positive peace agreement:
Ukraine’s neutrality, that is, renunciation of the state’s ambition to join NATO, while recognizing Ukraine’s freedom to conclude agreements with the European Union and others;
Security guarantees for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity by the five permanent members of the United Nations (P-5: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), as well as the European Union and Turkey, which could include military transparency and restrictions on military deployments and large-scale exercises in border areas under international scrutiny in the context of lifting economic sanctions;
Russian de facto control of Crimea for a period of years, after which the parties would seek a permanent de jure solution through diplomatic channels, which could include facilitated access for local communities to both Ukraine and Russia, liberal border crossing policies for people and trade, deployment of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and financial compensation;
Autonomy of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions within Ukraine, which could include economic, political, and cultural aspects that will be further defined in the near term;
Guaranteed economic access for both Ukraine and Russia to the Black Sea ports of both countries;
The gradual lifting of Western sanctions against Russia linked to the withdrawal of the Russian military in accordance with the agreement;
A multilateral fund for reconstruction and development of Ukraine’s war-torn regions – which includes Russia – and immediate access for humanitarian aid;
A UN Security Council resolution to provide international monitoring mechanisms to support the peace agreement.
Toward a positive peace
President John F. Kennedy wisely observed, “Real peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many deeds. It must be dynamic, not static, changing with the challenges to meet each new generation. Because peace is a process – a way to solve problems.” To solve problems, we need cooperation, and to cooperate, we need trust. Lasting peace therefore depends not only on formal treaties, but also on cooperation in communities, across ethnicities, religions and nation-states. The media also have a responsibility to ensure that the drumbeats of war give way to words of peace.
Religious communities are at the forefront of positive peace. Religious communities bring people together in the spirit of human dignity and justice under God, and have the capacity and mission to bring people together even across faiths and ethnicities. The Catholic Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are the pillars of positive peace both between Russia and Ukraine and within the different communities in Ukraine and can play a crucial role in the necessary reconciliation process as a path to positive peace.
We recommend that religious leaders of all faiths support Russia and Ukraine in pursuing a positive peace, keeping in mind the words of Isaiah: “They will turn their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. For no nation shall lift up a sword against another, and they shall learn war no more.” Isaiah 2:3-4
Addendum: Further Reflections
Even if the fighting continues, neither Russia nor Ukraine is likely to achieve an outcome better than a negotiated peace. Nonetheless, the above conditions will certainly raise the following four objections, to which we offer our response.
Objection 1: Ukraine has the right to choose to join NATO.
While the OSCE Charter (paragraph 8) recognizes the right of OSCE member states to choose their security arrangements, including treaties of alliance, states are also obliged “not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other states.” Instead, they pledged to create a common OSCE security space “without dividing lines and zones of different levels of security” (para. 1), and “no State, group of States or organizations shall have more responsibility than others for the maintenance of peace and stability in the OSCE area, nor may any of them regard any part of the OSCE area as its sphere of influence.” (para. 8)
To this end, Nato member states and the Russian Federation committed themselves in the Nato-Russia Founding Act (1997) to maintain strategic restraint and stability – through arms control commitments and by improving mutual security cooperation and strengthening the OSCE as a joint security organization. Moreover, NATO is not obliged to accept applications from other states to join the alliance; rather, it must weigh the implications for regional and strategic stability and mutual security.
In Russia’s view, NATO enlargement to include Ukraine and Georgia would come at the expense of Russia’s security. With the proposed NATO expansion, the United States and its allies would have been able to take possession of the strategic base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, create new potential deployment areas for troops and missiles near Russia’s core countries, and thus undermine the strategic balance; NATO forces would be able to restrict Russia’s access to the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean for its economic and military purposes. These are age-old considerations that played a role in the Crimean War (1853 to 1856) and are playing out again today.
Moreover, while NATO describes itself as a purely defensive alliance, Russia sees it differently. Russian leaders and diplomats have repeatedly expressed grave concern about NATO’s bombing of Russia’s partner Serbia in 1999; the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” in the 2003 war against Iraq over the objections of the U.N. Security Council; and the violation of U.N. Security Council mandates in the 2011 bombing of Russia’s partner Libya by NATO allies, which led to regime change and continued chaos.
In Russia’s view, NATO serves the geopolitical interests of the United States and its allies far beyond its stated rationale of collective defense of Western Europe in the context of the long-running Cold War. Be that as it may, while they take such Russian concerns seriously, they in no way justify military aggression against a sovereign neighboring state.
Objection 2: Ukraine will soon retake territory Russia has seized since the February invasion
Ukraine and its supporters claim that Ukraine will win a war of attrition, pointing to the damage to the Russian economy from Western sanctions and the poor performance of the Russian military. Nevertheless, Russia occupies a significant amount of land and continues to expand occupied territories in the Donbass. According to the IMF, Russia’s GDP of $1.8 trillion in 2021 was about 9 times larger than Ukraine’s GDP at $200 billion. Since the invasion, the Ukrainian economy has been in a desperate state, threatening complete collapse with a decline of perhaps 50 percent of GDP, while Russia’s economic decline is expected to be about 10 percent. According to some reports, Russia’s dollar export earnings have actually risen, not fallen, because sanctions have increased the world price of Russian export goods, while Ukraine’s export earnings have plummeted.
Ukraine’s prospects in a war of attrition therefore depend entirely on continued substantial financial and military support from the West. However, public support in the U.S. and EU for further large-scale allocations is already waning, especially under the heavy burden of declining living standards resulting from the economic dislocations caused by war and sanctions.
Objection 3: Russia should be punished, not rewarded, for the invasion.
Russia’s differences with Ukraine and with NATO certainly should have been resolved through peaceful negotiations. But when Russia tried to negotiate with the Biden administration and NATO on the issue of NATO expansion in 2021, the U.S. and NATO responded that Ukraine’s prerogative to join NATO was not negotiable. When Russia raised the issue of Ukraine’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, the European guarantor countries did not provide support.
These facts in no way justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but they help explain it, and more importantly, they help point to landmarks that will help end the war.
Russia must also refrain from creating narratives that deny Ukraine’s national identity and deliberately reclaim territories it claims are historically Russian, as this would lead to a prolonged war and destroy all chances for reconciliation and peace.
Objection 4: Russia and Ukraine are far from a negotiated settlement, so fighting will continue.
The following reasons support the reliance on negotiations: On the military front, the war has become an intense conflict in a limited region of Ukraine (Donbass and southern coastline, 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory). Gaining ground for both sides is very costly. The West’s fears that Russia will overrun Ukraine and then attack other countries are long forgotten.
On the other hand, the belief that NATO weapons will quickly push Russia off the battlefield has also been disproved. Moreover, the West’s sanctions, once seen as a means of crushing Russia’s economy, have proven to have limited effectiveness and a high cost to the rest of the world.
Both sides have reached a state of “painful stalemate,” long considered a fundamental indicator that conflicts are ripe for resolution. Negotiation would also dramatically reduce the risk of destabilization in societies of non-neighboring countries, Europe, and other continents for the social and economic consequences of continued conflict.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine will improve this baseline by continuing to fight. Russia may be able to seize more Ukrainian territory at great cost to its military and the Russian economy, but it would likely not be able to convert the occupation of that additional territory into a more beneficial peace agreement. Rather, occupying even more territory or unilaterally annexing the Donbass to Russia would almost certainly result in a frozen conflict in which the West’s sanctions regime would remain in place, hundreds of billions of dollars of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves would remain blocked, trade and investment between Russia and the West would be suspended indefinitely, and the financial burden of reconstruction in the occupied territories would fall entirely on Russia.
It is unlikely that Ukraine will also improve this starting position by continuing to fight. The United States and other NATO countries have made clear the limits of the kind of military and financial support they will offer. The Ukrainian economy is already devastated, and more serious losses would follow if fighting continues.
Ukraine has already conceded the reality of NATO’s non-expansion, but reaching an agreement with Russia on this point could secure Ukraine significant advantages in the countermeasures Russia has agreed to.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a negotiated outcome is the fear of negotiations themselves. Politicians fear that they will be attacked as appeasers and even defeatists if they call for compromise rather than military victory at the negotiating table.
That is why peacemakers are so important at this stage. The role of His Holiness Pope Francis and the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, and other esteemed peacemakers could be crucial to this end.
Advocates of peace must empower politicians who take the risk of seeking negotiations. Those like Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who recently put forward Italy’s proposals for peace, deserve our deepest commendation. We must mobilize civil society organizations and world public opinion for peace and call for an alliance for peace.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, president of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and university professor at Columbia University
Anthony Annett, Gabelli Fellow at Fordham University
Maria Paola Chiesi, Science and Ethics of Happiness Study Group
Richard Falk, Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Emeritus, Princeton University
Ana Marta Gonzalez, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Navarre
Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international affairs at the New School
Anatol Lieven, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Mario Marazziti, former Member of Parliament and President of the Human Rights Committee, Italian Parliament
Miguel Ángel Moratinos, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations and former Foreign Minister of Spain
Romano Prodi, former prime minister of Italy and tenth president of the European Commission
Wolfgang Richter, senior associate for international security at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German Institute for International and Security Affairs)
Richard E. Rubenstein, university professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University
Michael von der Schulenburg, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations in UN Peace Missions
Anna Sun, associate professor of religious studies at Duke University
William F. Vendley, vice president for world religions and spirituality at the Fetzer Institute and secretary general emeritus at Religions for Peace
When the poet says “autumn,” he can mean a season (outside), but at the same time he can also mean melancholy, farewell, decline, the dying of a happy love affair (inside). Schelling had already praised this capacity of poetry: “What we call nature is a poem that lies locked in secret, wonderful writing.”
The Poetization of the World
To counterbalance the prevailing economism and transhumanist delusion, our intellectual life must become more romantic again.
by Roland Rottenfußer
Romanticism is a state of mind, Rüdiger Safranski opined. “It found its perfect expression in the epoch of Romanticism, but it is not limited to it; the Romantic still exists today.” Between the new nature boom à la Peter Wohlleben, esoteric irrationalism and the sentimentality of mystery romances for teenagers, there is a deeper Romantic impulse whose roots go back to early Romanticism, around 1800. Its core is mysticism and anti-economism, and its means of expression is poetry. In a completely disembodied world, in which one does not respect life, but tries to control it in transhumanistic hubris and to imitate it more badly than well, the separative triumphs, a maelstrom of destruction and self-destruction takes hold of us. Separated from their source, human beings have inflicted a deep wound on creation. If our torn world is to be healed again in the future, it needs more spirituality, creative imagination, love or – to put it another way – romance.
Eight-year-old Bertha can no longer stand living with her hard-hearted father, a shepherd, and flees alone into the solitude of the forest. She is taken in there by an old woman. In an idyllic hut, the two live together with a dog and a bird. The latter has a special relationship: it lays an egg with a pearl in it every day. Bertha learns to spin and looks after the animals when the old woman is away. It could all have been so beautiful – an idyll, “round” in itself and clouded by nothing. However, as the years go by, Bertha’s longing for the big world “outside” swells. One day she steals a bowl full of precious stones, leaves the forest and the dog. She strangles the bird because its song troubles her conscience.
If the forest solitude was paradise, this is the fall of man. “Der blonde Eckbert” is an art fairy tale written by the early Romantic Ludwig Tieck, in 1797. The Brothers Grimm had by then long before published their collection of fairy tales. Ludwig Tieck, the first great storyteller of the Romantic generation, did not leave message and “moral” to chance. His fairy tale contains a clear warning. The pearls of the bird – they were treasures that remained harmless as long as they were only beautiful play, subject to no purpose, no intention of profit. When Bertha carries these treasures to market to sell them and “become something” in the world, she draws upon herself a curse that catches up with her in the end. The story ends with madness, murder and death.
Just nature kitsch?
Romance – what is that, anyway? Those who don’t know the historical background may have a superficial idea of it: Romance has something to do with a lot of feeling, with Rosamunde Pilcher films, for example, or romantic comedies with Julia Roberts. Romanticism certainly has to do with feelings, and a certain skepticism about the supposed omnipotence of reason is inherent in it. Novalis, a contemporary of Tieck, wrote in 1799:
“More charming and colorful stands poetry, like an adorned India, against the cold, dead Spitzbergen of that parlor mind.”
This is not only a beautiful declaration of love for poetry, but also highly poetic itself.
The other important association that “everyone” makes with romance is nature. A few years ago, “Die Welt” published a major article entitled “Can Romance Save Us?” It spoke of an escape from our modern age, which is overly dominated by technology and ratio. It also spoke of a change in consciousness that heralded the end of our optimism about civilization.
There, the author reports on a longing “back to nature,” based on a few symptoms of a nature hype that has flared up in recent times. The country magazines with their aesthetic garden photographers are brought into the field. And Peter Wohlleben, the non-fiction author of the hour, known for his insightful works about the inner life of oaks and squirrels.
The article is highly interesting, but has a blind spot when it comes to religion and spirituality. Like the pragmatic Peter Wohlleben, who attributes feelings and relative complexity to animals, but sees no creative, even divine power residing in them. This is quite legitimate, but not romantic in the original sense.
Poetry, religion, anti-economism
Rüdiger Safranski comes closer to the matter when he writes in his great literary treatise “Romanticism – a German Affair” that Romanticism is a “continuation of religion by aesthetic means”. This religious component must definitely be taken into account. It is complemented by a strong aversion to economism and purposefulness. This is the actual “Romanticism formula” and at the same time represents what makes this often ironized art movement particularly topical for us: anti-economistic spirituality or, in the words of Dorothee Soellle, “mysticism and resistance.” Poetry is the third component in this “game”, the means of transport, so to speak, of that resistant mysticism to be striven for.
The goal of the romantic movement, of every romantic movement, is the poetization of the world. One should say more precisely: its re-poetization.
First of all, let’s take a closer look at the relationship between Romanticism and religion: art can describe – as the Greek philosopher Plotinus beautifully put it – “how the soul flows into the dormant world from all sides, pours into it, penetrates it and shines into it”. This is also the function of art: to redeem the open-minded reader from the half-blindness of materialistic everyday perception. Spiritual art often seems romantic because romance has always been spiritual. Today the word is often misunderstood or associated with shallow love kitsch. But even romantic love stands only as an earthly image for an even higher, comprehensive form of union.
The soul as the inner side of creation
The primal ground of romantic art is the intuitive knowledge of unity. Connected with this is the longing of the seemingly isolated individual for reunification with the divine primal ground. Romantic philosophy, which experienced its heyday in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century, for example in Fichte, Schelling and others, regarded nature as the outside of the soul, the soul as the inside of creation, both actually not separate from each other, but one and the same, only seen from two different perspectives. Language, in its wonderful ambiguity, is the ideal medium to capture both sides of creation – the inside and the outside – in One.
When the poet says “autumn,” he can mean a season (outside), but at the same time he can also mean melancholy, farewell, decline, the dying of a happy love affair (inside). Schelling had already praised this capacity of poetry: “What we call nature is a poem that lies locked in secret, wonderful writing.”
If we define mysticism, not, say, personal love or contemplation of nature, as the core of Romanticism, we must also name the forces that oppose mystical longing:
We then realize that much of our experienced modern reality is actually anti-mysticism. It aims at isolation, fragmentation, dispersion, at the expulsion of silence and immersion.
This observation is not an invention of our epoch, which is characterized by pressure to perform, competition and availability, by art worlds of glass, steel and concrete, by smartphone addiction, intensified dependence on technology and progressive destruction of nature. The early Romanticists already sensed the imminent imbalance in the “world spirit. Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), the prototype of the Romantic artist and man who died at an early age, poet of the “Hymns to the Night,” spoke of it in his famous poem:
“When no longer numbers and figures
are keys of all creatures (…)
Then from a secret word
The whole inverted being flies away.”
The lost wholeness
At the same time, “numbers and figures,” formulas or geometric structures, had at that time by far not yet the all-pervading meaning they have today: in a time in which digitalization has actually reduced everything to the duality of 1 and 0 and computer technology overgrows every area of life; a time in which everything and everyone has to “calculate,” but real humanity does not count; a time in which natural science has degenerated into a fetish, nature, on the other hand, into a huge garbage disposal site.
All this has escalated in the last two centuries in a grotesque way. And yet already a Novalis felt the time of enlightenment, in which he grew up, as a dark age, in which everything had to be dissected, counted, measured and compared.
Romanticism that wants to unfold must therefore offer resistance, must become political – even if this often happened around 1800 “only” in general, poetically encapsulated form. Schiller, in this a mastermind of Romanticism, describes in wonderful words how modern man lost his wholeness and was reduced to a fragment of himself. He can almost be understood as a precursor of Marxism because of his remarks about alienated labor:
“Pleasure was divorced from labor, the means from the end, effort from reward. Eternally bound only to a single small fragment of the whole, man himself forms himself only as a fragment, eternally with only the monotonous sound of the wheel he turns in his ear, he never develops the harmony of his being, and instead of expressing humanity in his nature, he becomes merely an imprint of his business.”
Mysticism and Resistance
Man as an “imprint of his business” – could the epoch of neoliberal globalization be described more aptly than with these words of “old Schiller”? For the Romantics, thinking in terms of purpose was the original sin – as the fairy tale of Bertha and the bird also shows. The question “What can I use it for?” All secondary sins derive from this: the question of economic usability, the ideology of a world as a commodity, personal craving for recognition, competitive thinking, even the destruction of the “other” that one is no longer able to recognize as a part of one’s “own.”
Homo economicus, as the physicist Hans-Peter Dürr, who died a few years ago, described it, is no more than the “shrunken form” of Homo sapiens. However, this does not prevent the political and economic powers from breeding precisely this form of intellectual dwarfism and cutting off personality growth that goes beyond it. Just as the insensitive janitor of an ugly housing estate trims shrubs before they “threaten” to grow to their very individual beauty.
Novalis, in a central manifesto of early Romanticism entitled “Christendom or Europe,” lamented that man’s mind had focused entirely on “needs and the arts of satisfying them.” “The avaricious man has to spend so much time acquainting himself with them and acquiring skill in them that there is no time left for the quiet gathering of the mind, for the attentive contemplation of the inner world.” Mysticism and business activity do not get along – they form the greatest possible contrast. Novalis then speaks of a hatred of religion that was virulent in his time, and which was directed across the board against enthusiasm, imagination and feeling, morality and love of art.
The disenchanted cosmos
This hatred, the poet concludes his train of thought, “made the infinite creative music of the universe the monotonous clatter of a monstrous mill, driven by and floating on the current of chance, a mill in itself, without master builder or miller, and actually a true perpetual motion machine, a mill grinding itself.” We all know it, the venomous hatred and derision of anything that gives depth to the experiential world and sees a creative force at work – may this force be described in Christian, shamanic, Taoist or other terms. Our time has gone through the partly quite justified criticism of religion of a Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.
New technical achievements and scientific knowledge have nourished the illusion to be able to think the cosmos to the end, to strip it of all secrets.
In addition, in the wake of the terrible euphoria of the Nazi years, there was a general irrationality trauma. We post-war children sipped the milk of the pious (rational) way of thinking, scoffing and keeping our distance, and shunned the wine of emotionality, with its unpredictable frenzies and hangover moods. Thus also Rüdiger Safranski, ultimately a system-loyal child of his sobered-up epoch, scolded about “political romanticism” – by which he first meant National Socialism, but in a second step also cleared off the 68er movement. Every utopia, every transcending of the actual state – even if it is in fantasy – appears suspect to such anti-romanticism. Just like some of the contemporaries of the early Romantics.
Goethe, for instance, ungraciously announced: “I call the classical the healthy, and the romantic the sick.” Certainly there is bad and dangerous political romanticism, but this does not mean by implication that all political romanticism must be bad and dangerous.
Inhuman utopias like those of the new right tend to thrive where the forces of humanity do not dare to formulate their dreams for the future out of misunderstood realism.
Realpolitik and visionless “driving on sight” currently dominate our common ways, extolling themselves as having no alternative, which has unfortunately also rubbed off on left-wing discourse.
The “cold heart” must thaw
I myself tend to the following assumption: If one already operates with medical categories, then “the healthy” lies in the middle between the extremes. And if one pole – in our epoch it is the rational one – dominates unilaterally, balance can only be restored by consciously strengthening the other.
We need a strong romantic impulse in our time of hot brains and cold hearts – alluding to a beautiful fairy tale by Wilhelm Hauff. This impulse must not only have an effect in the products of culture, in novels, fine arts, garden art, music, film, video games and so on; it may and should also radiate into the political sphere. Romanticism without mysticism is content with natural kitsch; romanticism without political impact remains toothless and sterile.
Roland Rottenfußer, born in 1963, studied German and worked as a book editor and journalist for various publishing houses. From 2001 to 2005 he was editor at the spiritual magazine connection, later for the “Zeitpunkt”. He currently works as an editor, book copywriter and author scout for Goldmann Verlag. Since 2006 he has been editor-in-chief of Hinter den Schlagzeilen.
Behind the Curtain
If we want to be fully human again, we must leave behind the distorted image of a dead and meaningless universe. Exclusive reprint from “Cosmos”.
by Jochen Kirchhoff
[This article published on June 9, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/hinter-dem-vorhang.]
A false worldview is all the more dangerous the less it is questioned. Cosmology in particular, as part of natural science, is based on a plethora of unproven and unprovable premises, more akin to beliefs than to exact facts. In a society dominated by materialism, uninitiated people tend to consider everything to be true that bears the stamp of science. This would still be a tolerable mistake, interesting only for a manageable circle of experts, if certain elements of the prevailing world view were not at the same time a frontal attack on the dignity of man. The latter finds himself helplessly and meaninglessly exposed in a dead universe, which marginalizes him already by its mere size and passes over his needs with monstrous indifference. The mirror image of the materialistic paradigm is a society that degrades man to an arbitrarily manipulable appendage of highly developed technologies. The trimmed man projects his own meagerness on the universe, in order to recognize in this then in the reverse conclusion the proof for the senselessness of his existence. The creation of a more humane world must start with the image of man, and this needs as a basis a new conception of the universe as a continuously animated, meaningful organism. This text is the preface to Jochen Kirchhoff’s just published book of essays “Kosmos”, published by Oval Media.
The world crisis we are living through, which includes the Corona crisis, has many faces. It cannot be grasped with one-dimensional and monocausal grids. But one thing seems to be certain: Something has derailed globally, and we do not know whether and to what extent this derailment can still be reversed. Do we still have a chance or are we lost? What remains unlosable is important: “Recognize the situation!” (Gottfried Benn, already 1944) and “At what point do we stand?” (Giorgio Agamben, March 2020).
Without great perspicacity, it can be stated that we have crossed a red line with global mega-technology and all its ramifications, as well as the manic fixation on so-called biosecurity (biosecurity) since Corona. What follows from this? The ground on which we are henceforth forced to walk is comprehensively contaminated. Abstract natural science, financial system, digitalization, mathematization, dismantling of everything human in the old sense, increasing destruction of the living diversity on the planet, manipulation by the mass media, surveillance, crushing of the individual and his creative potentials (outside the technical world) and much more have long since overgrown and colonized everything.
In the background of these out-of-control conditions a monstrous picture of the universe is favored and hailed, which makes us aware of the earth as an oasis in a hopelessly dead space, which nevertheless ghostly surrounds us and everywhere brings monsters to light.
A “cosmic fascism”, so to speak, compared to which the fascism known to us on earth seems almost unspectacular: The star-eating monsters of the so-called black holes can neither be outdone nor defeated … A gigantic phantasmagoria, does the world really look like this? I have my doubts about it and have presented these also often, in the perhaps audacious opinion that there are quite alternatives to all this. Alternatives that are clearly nameable and that make the “cosmic idiot” (Peter Sloterdijk), as which the inhabitant of the earth appears in the ruling intellectual culture, again a being that regains its real, namely its spiritual dignity.
The present volume contains fourteen essayistic texts which seem to me to be suitable to contribute substantially to the understanding of this world crisis in which we find ourselves. In their entirety, they provide a thoroughly representative insight into the range of topics and the specifics of my thinking, and in this compilation they are intended not least to provide easy access to all those who have come across me not primarily through my writings, but perhaps via the Internet. To this end, each of the essays collected here can be read on its own. The thematic arrangement of the texts is not didactically motivated; one can jump in anywhere and begin the journey.
The essays presented span a period of 26 years (1993 to 2019) and are presented essentially as each was written at its time – apart from rather “cosmetic” changes, additions, and corrections. An update was not planned and is not necessary because the texts as such are of a fundamental nature and have no expiration date. They are current per se, so to speak. When I compiled the texts and read them again with a critical eye (some of them I had left unnoticed for many years), I was downright amazed and in a certain way also pleased that they could also be written today, in the beginning autumn of 2021.
The fundamental crisis of natural science, which is part of the world crisis mentioned above, has not been resolved since 1993, when the first essay brought here appeared in an anthology; it was virulent then and it is virulent now. Nothing has changed in what I call the “dictatorship of abstraction.”
What cannot be overlooked is the global dominance of the digital world, which is at its core a dominance of the digital corporations, in conjunction with the all-pervasive financial industry, mega-technology, the super-rich, and the state apparatuses that have proven themselves to be in thrall to the super-rich and “science.” Equally unmistakable is the almost complete lack of a truly grounded conception of humanity in the prevailing intellectual culture.
The way into transhumanism, the “Great Reset” and the successive extinction of the human substance in the cyborg delusion seems inescapably marked out. The epistemological basis of all this is, however, of shameful paucity.
Everywhere it has been cynically agreed that nobody can really know anything about the things of this world anyway, which exceeds the extremely limited, technical-rational level. Nihilism, intellectual flatland as far as the eye can see. The technical-mathematical natural science is the actual fundamentalism, against which all religious fundamentalism pales. Massive and threatening, hardly seriously questioned, a ghostly loss of reality prevails here, which Erwin Chargaff already lamented decades ago:
“They (the natural sciences, J. K.) are an important tool of alienation. The abundance of investigations, which become more and more indirect, the hunt for the smallest, for shadows on umbrellas, the fragmentation of a nature on which once rested the blessing of wholeness. All this has become a giant alibi for the purpose of creating an illusory reality … Science as a monstrous Procrustean of nature, it stretches and cuts; it has much to find fault with creation. (…) Wherever one looks, there is a toothless, sullen barbarism that fingers everything.” (1)
Clear words, which many consider to be exaggerated excessively, but with which I agree without restriction. And as for physical cosmology, which has long determined our being-in-the-world as being-in-universe, its foundational crisis is unmistakable. “We don’t know ourselves what we’re talking about,” admits American Nobel laureate David Gross, “it’s a period of extreme confusion” (2). And Leo Smolin of the University of Waterloo writes:
“Today, most of what theorists publish about the foundations of physics is unverifiable. This is what I would call a crisis.” (3)
From what used to be considered empirical natural science, most of so-called theoretical physics and cosmology has long since radically departed, even though most probably haven’t even noticed and act as if everything is the same. (By the way: Also this so-called old has always been interspersed with elements of delusion, although not yet to the extent and not as monstrous as it is the case today). Some of the essays presented here I see as substantial contributions to the disentanglement of the so hopelessly muddled situation, which want to throw a new view on the basic reflection of physics and cosmology and to stimulate a reflection about the nature and the cosmic situation of the anthropos, the “earthling”, on this so enigmatic and threatened heavenly body.
Unbrokenly topical, yes burning is the question about the human being or the image of the human being which we need in order to be able to live really in the deepest sense humanly worthy in the face of the starry sky arching over us, so that we are not content with an abstract or merely religious caretaker form of our self.
Our worldview, as a picture of the totality of the universe, is the signature of collective and also individual consciousness. “The cosmos is like a mirror,” goes a Persian proverb. Often a donkey looks into it … Cosmology, it could be said, is the basis of everything. The universe surges around us. We are, whether we want it or not, in the end cosmic existences, even if we have drawn the curtain in the majority. I try to pull the curtain open a tiny crack. What is hidden behind it? We ourselves? Or something completely different, the completely other? With these questions I want to conclude the small “prelude on the theater” and release the stage …
This text is an excerpt from the book “Kosmos” by Jochen Kirchhoff.
Sources and notes:
(1) Erwin Chargaff: Preliminary End, Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 1990, p. 31.
(2) cit: Die ZEIT, no. 14/March 2007, p. 29
Jochen Kirchhoff, born in 1944, has been on the trail of life’s mysteries since the age of 19. He studied philosophy, history and German language and literature, and for many years was a lecturer in philosophy at Humboldt University and Lessing University in Berlin. His main interest has always been the human-cosmos relationship in epistemological, natural philosophical and spiritual terms. He wrote quite a few books and has been running his own YouTube channel since 2014, where he presents his thoughts on science criticism, living cosmology and the exploration of consciousness in lectures and talks.
What we are witnessing is the end of the polity as we know it. The ultimate extinction of public spirit. Parallel societies will remain. We will probably have to live with division. And die.
The definitive end of the commons as we know it
by Roberto J. De Lapuente
[This article published on June 13, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Das endgültige Ende des Gemeinwesens, wie wir es kennen – neulandrebellen.]
There might have been a small chance of reconciliation if the war in Ukraine had not come upon us directly after the pandemic. Now the society has finally, probably irretrievably divided. The division remains.
We will have a lot to forgive, we said just a year ago. To forgive, yes, but not to forget. How thin the varnish of civilization really was could be well observed since mid-July. Suddenly, discrimination was no longer a dirty word. Helge Braun, then Minister of the Chancellor’s Office, dictated to a newspaper on a sunny Sunday that in his opinion there was really nothing to be said against this discrimination, if it did not affect vaccinated people. From that moment on, all inhibitions seemed to fall – but also the faint hope that one could forgive after all.
Of course, hope germinated every now and then. Perhaps one could still somehow return to a halfway acceptable normality. People hope – even if it is irrational. Especially then. When I wrote a few sentences ago how thin the varnish of civilization actually was, I deliberately chose the past tense. Because such a varnish no longer exists. There is paint damage everywhere. And no one has what it takes to mend them. Then the war came upon us, the last hopes for a new sense of community were wiped away. The country is slipping completely, the paint damage is turning into bullet holes. And if you think it through more carefully: explosion craters.
Division as an attitude
For many, the first weeks of the pandemic were marked by fear. Also by uncertainty. Of course, there was also irritation as to how an international community of states, which usually only pulls together in rare cases, could become so united in such a short time. Nevertheless, the feeling was not entirely bad. People wished each other good health, scoffed at those raiding the toilet paper shelves in the queue for the checkout with complete strangers. No one seemed to know anyone who stocked up on toilet paper. When I was still working in the hospital, a fruit or chocolate basket greeted us every day: as a thank you for not being able to stay at home.
But just as the tone of the hospital changed, with only the threat of labor law consequences being used to keep the staff on track, it quickly re-established the dissolution of the delicate social bonds. Anyone who had doubts, demanded more transparency, or wanted to allow other expert opinions was cast out and degraded to the status of a dangerous person who had to be fought with all means at their disposal. Week after week, the tone intensified. Then came the vaccination: from a social point of view, probably the worst possible accident. Democracy did not vaccinate itself back to health. It ignited on several hearths at the same time.
The split is not a daughter of the pandemic, of course. It is an instrument of domination. Divide et impera, divide and rule, was already said, I almost said, by the ancient Romans – but the slogan is probably not ancient, probably Machiavelli is behind it. By the way, divide here means to split up – and not to distribute in the sense of handing out. In short, those who divide up social groups rule more comfortably. In Scorsese’s epic “Gangs of New York,” the city’s rich are worried because things are rumbling in the poor neighborhoods. At a game of pool, however, one of the gentlemen present laconically observes, “You can always buy half the poor to kill the other half.” That, in itself and vividly, is the principle underlying purposeful division for the purpose of domination.
With the pandemic, however, division took on a new quality. For this virus lent itself much better to cleavage than the usual issues of poverty and wealth. It could be charged with the question of life and death. It is true that the pandemic was a classist selection from the outset, i.e., it was certainly a question of rich and poor, but this was overshadowed by the existential question and the images from Bergamo and various intensive care units. The rhetoric of division was thus able to radicalize relatively uninhibitedly. The government’s course was made into the only true attitude that every normal, decent, polite person should adopt.
Harmony only in the bubble
This attitude came upon us as a split. And since then, the normative discourse spaces are no longer simply narrow: they are oppressive. Almost everyone now defends only his or her own safe space, in which he or she locks himself or herself up and into which nothing, but really nothing at all, of all that one sees differently should penetrate, please. That others think, feel and act differently: That has become the real imposition that we are supposed to expose ourselves to on a daily basis. The echo chambers are growing in number, and in the filter bubbles there is still something like harmony and cohesion, almost a sense of community. But woe betide anyone who says anything that runs counter to this happy state of mind: Then it’s war!
You don’t even need to try to mix different echo chambers and bubbles. That fails more and more often because one has simply no interest at all in points of view which others maintain. Why do they see it that way? What has happened to make them think that way and not otherwise? These questions actually belong in the debate area; they are an expression of opinion-forming and later also political will-forming. If you exclude this, there is no longer any willingness to compromise; you understand the community more and more as an apparatus in which I have to assert my will, only my will – and that without compromise and without taking other interests into account.
Dissenters have had a hard time at all times. No question, to claim otherwise would be nostalgia. But whether the fronts were ever so hardened: One may well doubt it. Of course, politics and the media have always steered opinion. But what has emerged in recent years is probably unique. A guiding culture has been established that makes it clear how far one is allowed to stray from the path of mass opinion before setting the dogs on the renegade. And around this cartel of planned opinion control, a public debate culture has developed that no longer takes prisoners. A verbal mob operates with downright rabid egocentricity in the spaces where people debate today – in the networks. Observations and opinions that are judged to be wrong are not discussed or debated out: they are shouted down, and social cold calls are initiated.
Consequently, a number of bubbles manifest themselves in which halfway like-minded people meet. The public space splinters into several segments that exist in parallel but no longer have any contact with each other. The pandemic was immediately followed by the war in Ukraine: And the already divided society runs directly into the next battle of opinions. The mood seems to have radicalized once again. At times, one has the feeling that one’s chosen opinion is sacrosanct and that anything that deviates from it is about to be banned. One is shouted down, if one does not remain on opinion course, insulted and threatened. And at the same time, you get encouragement, because quite a few people also see the situation critically. Only those who, because of their different views, should perhaps talk to each other and understand the opposing position no longer find any connection to each other.
An exit strategy for the parallel society?
How to get out of this parallel society? There is nothing to suggest that such a step is even contemplated or considered necessary by the opinion leaders. Politics does not de-escalate; it regularly pours oil on the fire, takes up debates in which it sketches entire segments of the population as stupid, brazen and backward, and does not address their concerns or objections at all. The media establishment goes along with this, really stoking debates, rarely questioning other positions. Instead, such positions are pathologized, even criminalized.
Only on Sundays, when certain office holders say something that is supposed to sound like a statesmanlike lecture, do they quote the noble sayings that still seem to know something about cohesion, respect and togetherness; only in Sunday speeches do they take pity and place such noble positions prominently in the media. But these holidays are also damn edifying, if one can feast on such beautifully turned sentences …
Where is the exit strategy supposed to come from? At any rate, not from the behalves of this totally screwed-up, completely destructive world and economic order. As I type this, I do notice that here and there some journalists in the mainstream media are calling for more discussion culture. But they are only whispering, their calls are drowned out. We’ll probably only come to our senses again when we take a step back and spend more time in real life, with real people and not just with accounts that people sit behind. When we deliberately turn off the constant media feed and allow ourselves fixed times of information during the day – and are not constantly bombarded with scraps of manipulation and propaganda between door and door, until we are inclined to believe everything that we can’t escape anyway.
With the vicarious agents of the powerful, these incumbent functional elites in politics and media, such an end of the Verparallelgesellschaftung is simply not conceivable. For they have an existential interest in division. Only through division can the blatant processes of decomposition of the global order be concealed – at least for a while. We are so finished. After all, where is the spirit to suddenly shun the media and politics supposed to come from? The scapegoats presented to us by the divide-and-rule approach are easier to get hold of than the richest 0.1 percent, who are the ones we really suffer from. What we are witnessing is the end of the polity as we know it. The ultimate extinction of public spirit. Parallel societies will remain. We will probably have to live with division. And die.
Yes, I also feel like my hat goes off when I hear and read about pandemic in connection with “Corona”. The Ukraine war is a completely different matter.
In any case, my reading of Roberto’s text looks at what you complain so that both came in the sense about “us”, that people like us – so, you and I and with us all those who are also only “small sausages or carrots”, – not the slightest influence on the evaluation as a pandemic and the resulting handling and just as little influence in the official evaluation of the Ukraine war had or have.
If it were up to me, Nord Stream 2 would have gone ahead. There would also be no sanctions against Russia. Not even against North Korea. I would not have declared a pandemic because of this virus. Etc, etc, etc…
But most people let themselves be brought “in line”. With not few therefore the hat goes up to me really. Others I can understand well.
What do you do with (small) children for whom you are responsible? I honestly don’t know how I would have behaved if I still had (small) children. At the moment, I’m lucky enough to be responsible only for myself. The offspring is
I am particularly pissed off at the generation of my age (around 60) and even older. I can understand that young people have had themselves vaccinated. That was the only chance to avoid bans. I don’t know how I would have dealt with it when I was around 20?
That’s why I find it more than a little difficult to lump together all the people who took part in the bullshit.
As far as the war propaganda in Germany is concerned, I am not at all convinced that it is as well received by the population as Tagesschau and the like like to report. In any case, the allegedly high level of support does not match what I hear here in my microcosm.
Roberto J. De Lapuente
Strong state with weaknesses
by Roberto J. De Lapuente
[This article published on May 20, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.neulandrebellen.de/2022/05/starker-staat-mit-schwaechen/.]
The rich are stupid because they are greedy. If they were less so, many things on earth would be better: that’s how simple the world seems to be for Spiegel Online’s Sunday columnist. He calls on the rich to be reasonable. That’s pretty casual for someone who was still playing tough the other day.
Every Sunday, cognitive psychologist Christian Stöcker has his say at Spiegel. Germans love their Sunday addresses, they like the sublime and uplifting style that helps them get over the adversities of the workday. Those who address their congregations on Sunday don’t necessarily have to be cogent or serve up really good arguments: A pastoral tone is enough. Christian Stöcker has had some practice in this, for umpteen years he has been pious from his column pulpit on Sundays. This was also the case the other day, when he once again – and not for the first time – addressed the stupidity of the rich.
They are doom profiteers, he wrote. They should be smarter, though, his closing plea read like this: “The rich of the world would do well to rather work to save humanity – in their own interest.” Quite mild, how the man deals with a class that seems to have so much money that even the purchase of a villa, which stands in an area of the world that will soon be swallowed up by rising sea levels, does not need to be reconsidered – because what are a few milliards sunk? Well, his column is appropriately called “The Rationalist” – which doesn’t mean that the name is always present when he picks up his pen to serve up something edifying for his community.
Lean State: Only in the Pandemic Very Thickly
Six months ago, Stöcker was far less reserved and restrained: he called for “maximum coercion” – not against the rich, of course, but against people who did not want to be vaccinated. For all this obedience to the state during the pandemic, however, one thing was always clear, especially in the Spiegel editorial office: a strong state in economic matters was never (and still is not) wanted.
The columnist does here what is commonly done in the German press landscape: The systemic logics are personalized; it is not the apparatus that fails, but individual black sheep that crap out. Because we are dealing with individual cases, the system does not even need to be strictly regulated and controlled. Stöcker therefore does not even ask how it can be permissible for people to have so much money that they can do whatever they want with it – without having to consider sustainability and future prospects. It quietly resonates in his lines that there are two natural disasters: Climate change and the greed of the rich – and apparently not much can be done about at least one of them.
However, one could declare war on greed, on this unspeakable wealth that is allowed to run riot uninhibitedly. You just have to want to do it, you finally have to start fleecing those who own too much. Taxes are possible – yes, taxes are possible. You just have to muster the political will, socialize wealth. Reading the riot act to the rich and telling them that their greed is stupid: Can be done, it doesn’t cost anything. Some planned readers might even find words of praise. But the Sunday columnist can’t bring himself to ask the system question: Is it perhaps not the rich who are to blame? Are they perhaps only the perverted product of a perverted economic system, which we do not want to control and steer with state power for inexplicably perverse reasons, out of a perverse ideology?
It seems curious that it is always those who months ago were still calling for a strong, even an authoritarian state, who then always step back liberally when it comes to the reorganization of the welfare state and the burdening of obscenely large fortunes. Then they again declare their support for a state that is as weak as possible. And if they don’t, they do as Stöcker did and maneuver around, writing feel-good texts that don’t want to get to the bottom of the matter. After all, it’s good that there are rich people with such huge fortunes who now and then put something in the mirror’s coffee box.
Socialism is only okay if it saves corporations
The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben pointed out quite early in the pandemic that politics will not let up again so quickly, because with Covid-19 it has finally found a field of activity again where it is allowed to decide on its own. At least at the beginning of the pandemic, this was certainly the case. The strong state experienced a last, issue-specific renaissance. His French philosopher colleague Alain Finkielkraut also expressly welcomed the development that government leaders had finally wrested primacy from the economy.
Of course, this was only a snapshot, a brief snippet of the pandemic story. At best, it was a subject-specific development. The strong state did not experience a revival. It did not return to old influence in all areas. It is true that the logic of a state that disenfranchises its citizens, shifts them from A to B as if they were mere chattel, and imposes duties on them that can hardly be proven scientifically, if at all, still haunts some people’s minds: But this refers only to the subarea that they pompously call epidemic protection. Otherwise, the strong state continues to be nothing more than a bloated night watchman state.
Of course, socialism was back in these two years. Admittedly, it is not a socialism that is there for you and me – or for small businesses, artists and freelancers. But it was there for corporations. They financed their dividend distributions and bonus payments from these state alimentations. The strong state thus also experienced a resurgence in the economic sector, as it did back then when the business practices of the banks – or rather the systemically accepted lack of control of the banking sector – led to a deep crisis. Too-big-to-fail socialism took hold, saving well-paid jobs and watching small savers lose their homes. Back then, too, some optimists believed that the days of the lean state were irretrievably over. They were wrong, of course. They came back. The casino reopened after only a short vacation.
Of course, you can’t write all this in a Spiegel column on a holy Sunday, not even tentatively hint at it. On Sunday, Germans need edification and, every now and then, a scapegoat. In this case, the perverted rich, who are to blame for everything because they can’t control themselves. If these rich people were just a little better educated, Stöcker explains to his readership between the lines financed by the Gates Foundation, we would be much further along today. So the system is okay, the fault is in the people. Good try to get his ideologically driven laissez-faire across to the man, Stöcker – well, by your systemic standards, good …
Oscar Wilde wrote: “A map of the world in which Utopia is not marked is not worth looking at, for it undercuts the shore on which mankind will eternally land.” He goes on to say, “Disobedience, for anyone versed in history, is man’s true virtue. Through disobedience came progress, through disobedience and insubordination.” (Wilde 2014)
The window of opportunity is closing
The Russian regime and its war of aggression on Ukraine can only be understood against the background of the economic-ecological pincer crisis. This makes it all the more important to stand up for a sustainability revolution.
By Klaus Dörre
[This article published in April 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Das Zeitfenster schließt sich.]
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaves no doubt. About half of humanity is already suffering the consequences of anthropogenic climate change (IPCC 2022). UN Secretary General Guterres recognizes this as a criminal failure in climate protection. Although the window of opportunity for effective countermeasures is closing, it is already clear that the hurdles to a sustainability revolution will become even higher in the future. The main reason is war. On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched an attack on Ukraine in violation of international law. Cities under missile fire, millions of refugees, battles at nuclear power plants, destruction of infrastructure vital to survival, and thousands of dead and injured, including among civilians – that is the horror balance of the first weeks of the war.
Since the attack, security of supply has once again taken precedence over climate protection in the West. A rapid phase-out of coal-fired power generation has become questionable, and even extended operating times for nuclear power plants are once again an option. Armament now takes precedence over a peaceful, inclusive society (SDG 16) in Germany as well. According to the German government, NATO’s two-percent target for arms spending is to be exceeded and an additional special fund of 100 billion euros is to be made available to the military. Chancellor Scholz has decreed this decision from above. Nevertheless, rearmament as a response to the aggression of the Putin regime seems to be accepted by the majority and to be politically without alternative. Meanwhile, the line between war and peace is becoming blurred. In Germany, too, the principle of not supplying weapons to crisis areas has been suspended. It is basically the aggressor who decides when the threshold is crossed at which arms-supplying states become a party to the war and the case of alliance arises. The international community of states could almost sleepwalk into a third world war, or even into a nuclear conflict. In view of such threats, does it still make sense to talk about a “utopia of socialism”? “So now there is war again in Europe. But this only makes the search for social alternatives even more important,” Pascal Zwicky, coordinator of the Swiss think tank Denknetz, wrote to me on the occasion of a video about my book on socialism. Despite his agreement, I would like to suggest what needs to be rethought in the future and what needs to be more precisely defined analytically.
Russia in the economic-ecological pincer crisis
My first consideration concerns the economic-ecological pincer crisis and imperial rivalries that led to the Ukraine war. Efforts to get inside Putin’s head mostly overlook a central cause of the escalation. The Russian Federation is an entity of states with only semiperipheral status. The “fortress socialism” ( Derlugian 2014) of the Soviet Union was followed, after a transitional stage with openness to different paths of development, by an oligarchic fortress capitalism whose economic performance is based mainly on the export of fossil fuels. Russia owes up to 43 percent of its revenues to oil and natural gas. This dependence on its natural resources implies that without radical economic structural change, the Russian Federation would inevitably be among the losers of a sustainability turnaround in the consumer states. The faster the shift away from fossil energy succeeds there, the more worthless Russian oil and gas deposits will become. This is probably one of the main reasons why the future scenarios of the circle of power with which the autocrat Putin surrounds himself are extremely gloomy. The particular aggressiveness of this regime has one of its main causes here, because the window of opportunity to overcome Russia’s semi-peripheral status is also closing. The military and the willingness to wage a brutal war of aggression are the remaining resources of power, but they can only be used halfway successfully as long as the opponent is dependent on Russian gas and oil.
The “stranglehold” effect
With its aggression against Ukraine, the Putin regime is therefore secondly forcing a development that I called the “chokehold effect” in the book following James Galbraith. In uncertain times, high fixed costs for gas and oil make the particular vulnerability of an economy based on increasing resource consumption. Like the choke collar on a dog, economic and political instability does not necessarily prevent all economic growth, but prices rise rapidly and profitability falls, business investment drops precipitously, and distributional struggles gain intensity. Putinism is pursuing an aggressive high-risk strategy to take advantage of this effect, ultimately harming itself. After all, the EU is Russia’s most important trading partner. Forced by sanctions, war and rising prices will rebound with destructive force on the economy of the Russian Federation as well. This could gradually drain mass loyalty from Putin’s expansionism, but the West will also suffer. China’s nominal communists, with their own power ambitions, want to be the laughing third party, acting as brokers between their own people and foreign capital interests.
Putin’s exterminist authoritarianism
Third, this raises the question of how to classify the Putin regime analytically. To put it more pointedly: The reasons for the war of aggression practiced can neither be reduced to economic causes nor found solely in NATO’s undoubtedly highly problematic eastward expansion. The expansive character of Putinism is based on a will to accumulate political power, to which neither a democratic civil society nor the political system currently sets limits. This distinguishes Putinism from Trumpism, which has been defeated – at least for the time being – in a democratic election. Putinism unfolds free of such possibilities for political self-correction. As shown in the book with reference to Hannah Arendt, the imperial striving for expansion of one’s own sphere of domination can take on a life of its own vis-à-vis economic interests or even precede these interests. However, the Putin regime is by no means a classic imperialism and certainly not a renaissance of Soviet communism. Putin personifies an exterminist authoritarianism that is reacting to the decline of the former superpower Soviet Union under the conditions of the pincer crisis. Exterminism, a neologism of the Marxist historian E. P. Thompson, refers to those mechanisms of economies, political orders, and ideologies that “act as a thrust in a direction whose result must be the extermination of large masses of people” (Albrecht 1997). Putin’s exterminism mixes set pieces of tsarist great power aspirations with pan-Slavic nationalism, Soviet nostalgia, and a worldview that corresponds to the friend-foe schema of a Carl Schmitt. This concocted ideology is supposed to legitimize expansionist intentions, but it has nothing attractive about it and no social blueprint that could radiate positively. Its mass appeal is based on repression combined with leader worship, allegiance qua ignorance and widespread suffering among the population. What remains as the naked core of Putinism is his striving for expansion of spheres of influence, coupled with the desire for totalization of political power. It is this striving that Madeleine Albright, as quoted in the book, calls the main characteristic of a new fascism. A fascism that, it should be added, always includes the readiness for its own demise as an option in its power-political calculations.
For a sustainability compass
Faced with the destructive forces of exterminist authoritarianism, the debate about a sustainability compass becomes all the more urgent. I am therefore pleased that my book has contributed to what only seems to be an untimely debate on socialism. As might be expected, this discussion is extremely controversial.1 Since it is impossible here to appreciate the numerous comments, criticisms, and further suggestions, I will leave it at a concluding remark. No matter how war and confrontation develop, they will hasten the end of market radicalism. Not even rearmament and war economy can be pursued without planning. British war capitalism, which outlasted World War II, provides a historical foil for what is likely to come in terms of state interventionism within the EU as well. It is at this state interventionism that democratic counterforces can, indeed must, begin. One example: Despite Russian aggression, there is no reason for gigantic rearmament programs. The arms budgets of the NATO states already exceed the corresponding budget of the Russian Federation many times over.2 Weapons systems that have yet to be developed will hardly be of any use to Ukraine in its fight for survival. Armed forces with strictly defensive tasks, but strong enough to stand up to exterminist regimes, could be well financed even with reduced defense budgets. But why are there no special funds for sustainable climate protection? Posing the question in this way leads to starting points for sustainable infrastructure socialism (cf. Dörre 2021), which can become immediately practical with investments in the economy of everyday life and services of general interest. Of course, there is no guarantee that appropriate course-setting will actually succeed. History is open, it knows no goal; there is no determinism that leads to socialism. Nevertheless, a conditioned voluntarism is allowed. Apparently, the profit-centered basic rule of capitalist systems is so undercomplex that it is less and less able to meet the stability requirements of differentiated societies. The Ukraine war also shows that the high energy prices traded on international stock exchanges as a result of the conflict are simply unaffordable for private consumption. If the inflationary trend continues for longer, it will dramatically reduce residual incomes – money that remains after deducting taxes, social security contributions and fixed costs for rent, heating, etc. -. Once again, it will become clear that capitalist ownership as an expansive dynamic principle forces the evolution of ever more elaborate protective mechanisms. Sustainability ultimately means overriding this principle of ownership – through collective forms of ownership that strengthen self-responsibility, with democracy extended to the economy, as well as through solidarity-based redistribution of jointly generated wealth, participatory planning, and a transition to sustainable modes of production and living. Such alternatives are now being seriously discussed in the climate movements, trade unions, environmental associations, political parties and the scientific community. This signals the utility value of concrete utopias, about which Oscar Wilde wrote: “A map of the world in which Utopia is not marked is not worth looking at, for it undercuts the shore on which mankind will eternally land.” It goes on to say, “Disobedience, for anyone versed in history, is man’s true virtue. Through disobedience came progress, through disobedience and insubordination.” (Wilde 2014)
Klaus Dörre, Jena, March 8, 2022
We publish here the epilogue to the second edition of “The Utopia of Socialism”, soon to be published by Matthes&Seitz.
1 For an overview of reviews, podcasts, radio broadcasts, and new texts on “The Utopia of Socialism,” see Klaus Dörre’s homepage: https://www.klausdoerre.de/.
2 Cf. the Sipri database: https://www.sipri.org/databases/milex. With $778 billion, the U.S. in 2020
by far the largest defense budget, accounting for about 39 percent of global military spending. China followed in second place with 252 billion and 13 percent of global military spending. Russia increased its military spending to $61.7 billion, but spent 6.6 percent less than planned in the defense budget. Germany followed in seventh place with $52.8 billion, showing the strongest growth (5.2 percent increase over the previous year) among the top ten countries. According to Sipri, Germany’s military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) was 1.4 percent in 2020.
International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2022: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.
Derlugian, Georgi, 2014: What was Communism?, in Wallerstein, Immanuel/Collins, Randall/Mann, Michael/Derlugian, Georgi/ Calhoun, Craig (eds.): Is Capitalism Dying? Five scenarios for the 21st century. Frankfurt a. M., pp. 123-161, here: S. 131.
Albrecht, Ulrich 1997: Exterminismus, in Historisch-Kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, vol. 3, pp. 1188-1192, here: S. 1190.
Dörre, Klaus, 2021: Land in Sight! Sustainable Infrastructure Socialism as a Way Out of the Pincer Crisis, in: Kurswechsel 4/2021, ed. by Oliver Prausmüller, pp. 83-94.
Wilde, Oscar, 2004: Die Seele des Menschen unter dem Sozialismus, in: ders, Essays. Volume 3 of the Neue Zürcher Ausgabe. Frankfurt a. M. I owe the reference to Konstantin Wecker’s album “Utopia” and the song “Willy 2021” contained therein.
Klaus Dörre is a sociologist and has been a professor of sociology of labor, industry and economics at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena since 2005.
The biggest losses from tax evasion and avoidance are caused by multinational corporations, followed by wealthy individuals. Sums in the triple-digit billions of up to one trillion. Euros are evaded annually in the EU. Of the global private wealth of around 160 trillion. US dollars, between 21-32 trillion US dollars are undeclared via tax havens
Everything was in a mist…
The past was erased,
the erasure was forgotten and
the lie became the truth.
George Orwell, 1984
The crises of self & capitalism are repressed. Neoliberalism has failed & broken down most strikingly in housing & taxation.
Tax evasion and avoidance and the contribution of the rich to society
by Silke Ötsch
[This article published on September 29, 2015 is translated from the German on the Internet, Steuerflucht und Steuervermeidung und der Beitrag von Reichen zur Gesellschaft – Arbeit&Wirtschaft Blog.]
Parties that polemicize against refugees with the cost argument, on the other hand, promote tax evasion by the rich, for example by advocating banking secrecy. Criticizing the rich is less opportune, even though they continue to benefit disproportionately from tax evasion and avoidance. This is above all a democratic problem. A coalition of long-term elites influences legislation, so counter-strategies should be pursued beyond day-to-day issues.
Rich benefit more than average from tax evasion and avoidance
The biggest losses from tax evasion and avoidance are caused by multinational corporations, followed by wealthy individuals. Sums in the triple-digit billions of up to one trillion. Euros are evaded annually in the EU. Of the global private wealth of around 160 trillion. US dollars, between 21-32 trillion US dollars are undeclared via tax havens. US dollars are invested undeclared in tax havens. Calculations have shown that Germany alone has a tax gap of 90 billion euros, equivalent to 3.7 percent of its gross domestic product. The rich hold an above-average number of shares in companies: In Austria, it is the three percent of households with an average net worth of more than 330,000 euros. In the USA, the top one percent of the US population owns 52 percent of corporate property. Thus, the rich benefit indirectly from corporate tax evasion and avoidance. Tax havens also have an indirect effect on tax systems. They provide impetus for lowering tax rates on corporate profits and moving toward a flat tax on capital income of 25 percent.
Tax privileges via wealth and geographic location
Trickery and tax havens can be used by those who can buy expertise and services from professionals, banks, law firms or accounting firms. Until after the turn of the millennium, black money could be hidden using simple techniques, such as a bank secrecy account. With the expansion of the exchange of information, tax avoiders currently have to expend more expertise. Banks or law firms charge fees and/or minimum investment amounts for this effort. The fees should start at 500,000 euros; depending on the tax evasion model, the effort is worthwhile for investments of 5 to 10 million euros. Experts assume that tax evasion among owners of high wealth has further increased.
Tax havens and companies in the tax evasion industry are mainly located in the global North. According to a 139-country study by the Tax Justice Network, these countries are creditors when foreign debt is offset against foreign reserves and outflows of undeclared funds. Poor countries have few resources to build functioning tax administrations. Multinational corporations and wealthy elites exploit this to minimize taxes. Progress in regulating tax evasion (US FATCA, EU exchange of information) primarily benefits Northern states. International tax matters are not with the UN, but with the OECD, the “club of the rich.”
Taxes, Democracy and the Power to Donate
Tax evasion and avoidance is above all a problem for democracy. Public services such as education, health, infrastructure, culture or social services seem to be naturally available to many citizens. With tax revenues, policymakers relinquish room for maneuver. This allows politicians to implement long-term projects and drive innovation. Without government investment programs, there would be no Internet, GPS or touch screens. Money can have macroeconomic effects, for example as stimulus measures or to control the allocation of resources among different population groups. This has an impact on the allocation of resources in the economic cycle, between the real economy and financial assets. Taxes also reduce inequalities in the primary distribution of resources in Austria. They can have a steering effect, e.g. as environmental taxes.
If taxes were lowered, the rich and corporations would donate on a voluntary basis – or so the theory of critics of taxation goes. However, the data show the opposite: donations are far below the tax money saved, even in countries with high levels of donations such as the USA. Assuming that in Austria – according to a low EU average – two percent of GDP is lost through tax avoidance and evasion, this corresponds to a sum of around 5 billion euros. However, in 2014, the Austrian Fundraising Association’s donations report recorded donations of only 550 million euros, much of which came from low-income donors.
Even higher repayment in the form of donations must be evaluated ambivalently because donors exert socio-political influence. A cautionary example is the influence of U.S. billionaires Charles and David Koch. They influence politics through think tanks, spending billions on election campaigns, supporting the Tea Party and climate change denial organizations.
Manipulation of legislation by the offshore coalition.
It’s not just because of the complexity of tax systems or location competition when tax laws are not followed. A coalition of beneficiaries influences legislation over the long term and is supported to varying degrees by other social forces. This offshore coalition includes:
Tax evaders and avoiders, motivated by financial benefits and money laundering opportunities.
Service providers (banks, law firms, accounting firms) with an interest in income and (labor) markets.
Politicians expecting potential support from financial and economic elites, avoiding conflicts, acting ideologically or being insufficiently informed.
Lobbies and think tanks that act in return for payment and driven by ideology.
Bureaucracies and government agencies that are hampered in doing their jobs, cooperate with the regulated, and expect financial incentives (job changes, corruption).
Journalists and scientists who expect justification through persuasion, financial incentives (advertisements, honoraria, third-party funding) or career advantages.
Voters who tolerate the practices out of opportunism, ignorance or other relevance.
Changing practices requires staying power because organized and well-funded organizations and groups of people have strong interests in preserving offshore services. In addition to combating tax avoidance and evasion, the primary distribution of income and wealth should be leveled more so that inequalities do not arise in the first place. Simplification and harmonization of tax systems should be worked toward, as should minimum standards. Policymakers should aggressively advocate public funds. These are needed for a socio-ecological transformation at the national level, as well as the North-South perspective.
Dr. Silke Ötsch is a university assistant at the Department of Sociology at the University of Innsbruck.
They call it fringe benefits – but they’re welfare state contributions
by Sybille Pirklbauer and David Mum
[This article published on June 2, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://awblog.at/sie-nennen-es-lohnnebenkosten/.]
At regular intervals, Austria discusses a reduction of “non-wage labor costs”. Employer representatives and lobby agencies use every situation to place this demand. In doing so, an increase in employment, economic growth and incomes as well as an improvement in the competitiveness of the domestic economy are brought into play. What are the so-called “non-wage costs” and why should their reduction increase general prosperity? The opposite is the case: such a measure does not benefit employees at all, but endangers their social security.
No Uniform Definition – Social State Contributions Relevant in Any Case
Even the term “non-wage labor costs” itself must be questioned. What is described here as a minor matter are in fact important welfare state contributions that finance core services of our social welfare system. These are not relevant for international competitiveness, but rather (total) labor costs in relation to productivity and thus unit labor costs – and these are better in Austria than in many other highly competitive countries.
What is understood by nonwage labor costs in the debate varies widely (more on this below). Internationally, a distinction is made between direct and indirect labor costs (= non-wage labor costs). The latter are those costs that are incurred in addition to the gross wage. Essentially, these are the employers’ social contributions. These include accident, health, unemployment and pension insurance. They also include the employer’s contribution to the Family Burden Equalization Fund (FLAF), which finances the most important family benefits (family allowance, childcare allowance, free school transportation, school books, etc.), the contribution to the Insolvency Compensation Fund (IESG), which ensures continued payment of wages for employees in the event of corporate insolvency, the housing subsidy and the municipal tax, which is the most important source of funding for municipalities (kindergartens, local public transport, etc.).
These employer contributions are therefore central to the financing of the social system, which benefits employees. They are used to finance pensions, flow into the health care system or benefit families through family allowances. It is therefore by no means the case that non-wage labor costs reduce income. Rather, they finance incomes such as pensions, family allowances, etc.
This figure provides an overview of the aforementioned welfare state contributions and their functions:
In addition, wage-related taxes and expenditures for education and training are often included in the definition.
Marked cuts already in recent years
Marked cuts in welfare state contributions have already been made in recent years: the FLAF contribution was reduced by 0.4 percentage points from 2016 and by a further 0.2 percentage points from 2018 as part of a labor market package. Also in 2016, the IESG contribution was reduced by 0.1 percentage points and then halved to 0.1% in 2022. In 2007, this was still at 0.7%. As of Jan. 1, 2019, the accident insurance (UV) contribution was reduced from 1.3% to 1.2%, having already been reduced from 1.4% to 1.3% in 2014. This entailed considerable costs:
– IESG reduction (by 0.2%): in total, around 230 million euros annually
– Reduction in the FLAF contribution rate: around 800 million euros per year
– UV contribution rate reduction by 0.1% around 130 million euros
This meant tangible and lasting effects for the financing of the welfare state: for example, in 2017 and 2018 the FLAF did not write the originally expected surpluses, but deficits in the 3-digit millions. This hole had to be covered from general tax revenues.
The reduction of the UV contribution prevents the containment of work-related stresses as a preventive task of the General Accident Insurance Institution (AUVA). In addition, the statutory cost reimbursement that AUVA transfers to the Austrian Health Insurance Fund (ÖGK) for the care of occupational accidents will expire in 2023, and there is no successor regulation yet. This is completely at odds with the expansion of ÖGK’s tasks (hospice and palliative care, higher statutory payments to private hospitals). But the accident insurance itself, in particular, cannot accept any further reduction in contributions. Occupational diseases for which accident insurance is responsible are completely under-reported, and the list of recognized occupational diseases has not been adapted for decades. As a result, they no longer reflect today’s working world.
Cutting welfare state contributions: missing the point when it comes to inflation – also hardly brings employment
Bringing the reduction of welfare state contributions into play as a measure against inflation is a miss of the point. After all, the reduction of these contributions only directly relieves the burden on companies. For employees, for whom it is becoming increasingly difficult to pay rent, food, electricity and fuel, this does not bring any relief, but endangers their social security. Moreover, the empirical findings show no employment effects or often only short-term effects that are not adequately proportionate to the costs. This is shown by a report published in 2017 by Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. A WIFO study published in 2020 confirms this finding.
In both studies, however, the targeted reduction of employer costs for certain groups of workers:inside who have particular difficulties finding employment is found to be useful. This has been implemented in Austria for older workers: For employees aged 60 and older, the contribution to accident insurance is eliminated, as is the employer’s contribution to the FLAF (a total of minus 5.1 percentage points). The obligation to pay unemployment insurance ends at the age of 63, and the IESG supplement is only payable up to this age (a total of minus 8.2 percentage points).
Supposed gain costs employees a lot
Presenting the reduction of welfare state contributions as a win-win measure is classic neoliberal communication: measures that only benefit a certain group – in this case, companies – are presented as if they were in the general interest. Neoliberals and their PR agencies are masters at presenting measures in which the majority of the population would lose as if they would win. For example, they suggest that a reduction in welfare state contributions would increase the net incomes of workers. The opposite is true: a reduction in employers’ contributions to social security or continued payment of wages harms employees.
Rarely have those who want to reduce “non-wage costs” said which of the financed benefits they want to eliminate or cut. Indeed, if they did, it would become apparent that cutting welfare state contributions has its costs. Employers would save themselves something, while benefits for employees:inside would be underfunded or reduced.
High productivity in relation to costs – this determines competitiveness
Contrary to the rhetoric of the employers’ side, the competitiveness of a company or a location is not decided by the welfare state contributions and also not by the total labor costs, but by how much productivity a company gets at these costs. The costs per hour worked must be set against the value created in that hour. This is reflected in the unit labor costs – and here Austria ranks very well in an EU comparison, especially in the manufacturing sector. This finding was already established in 2017 in a study commissioned by the Advisory Board for Economic and Social Affairs at WIFO and confirmed with more up-to-date data in the more recent WIFO study cited above.
In manufacturing, which is exposed to strong competition due to its export orientation, unit labor costs are even more favorable than the EU average. Higher labor costs are financed by higher value added.
Moreover, companies in the Austrian economy compete internationally on the basis of the high quality of their products and services through skilled labor and high-quality production processes – and not through low labor costs or poor social and environmental standards.
Productivity does not only arise directly at the workplace
Employers like to use a very broad definition in which everything that cannot be attributed to direct presence at the workplace (“attendance wages”) is defined as ancillary costs. In this context, paid vacation, paid sick leave, and in extreme cases also holidays as well as absences and costs for training and further education are assigned to ancillary costs.
This view is highly questionable. While the inclusion of training and education is common practice internationally, these measures obviously serve to maintain and increase productivity and thus have the character of investments.
Paid vacations and holidays, in turn, serve reproduction and are just as indispensable for people to be productive and creative in their work in the long term. It is relatively absurd to qualify the 13th and 14th month’s pay as ancillary costs. This important wage component is anchored in collective agreements and is part of the remuneration due for work performance.
Do not give away scope for inflation compensation and higher social benefits
We are currently seeing sharp price increases for energy and food, and there have already been massive increases in rents in recent years. Especially in the areas of housing, energy and gastronomy, companies are at the same time recording excess profits and there is a threat of a profit-price spiral. The reduction in welfare state contributions goes directly to the companies, but it is the employees whose social entitlements are endangered that have to pay.
The order of the day is to relieve those people who suffer most from the price increases, instead of giving companies tax gifts with a watering can and thereby restricting the scope for important measures. The ÖGB and AK have already made a number of proposals to this end.
The problem of inflation is urgent and must be dealt with immediately. A discussion on a tax structure reform with a higher contribution from wealth makes sense. In this context, broader welfare state financing that goes beyond the wage bill can also be implemented.
Sybille Pirklbauer is Head of the Social Policy Department of AK Vienna.
David Mum is an economist and head of the department of fundamentals as well as a member of the federal management of the GPA-djp.
Labor leasing – wrestling with terms and perspectives
by Matthias Specht-Prebanda
[This article published on May 30, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://awblog.at/arbeitskraefteueberlassung-ringen-um-begriffe-und-perspektiven/.]
Arbeitskräfteüberlassung, Leiharbeit, Zeitarbeit: three terms that mean the same form of gainful employment and at the same time express a social conflict about it. It lasts only half as long as a “normal” employment relationship and produces systemically broken employment careers. Overwhelmingly, however, it is a leg-hungry business model in a fiercely competitive market.
A characteristic feature is the triangular form that constructs the affected persons as employees of the temporary employment agency, while the actual work activity is performed at the client company – referred to in technical jargon as the employer – and they are also subject to the hierarchy there. Thus, temporary employment per se contradicts the so-called normal employment relationship, which is understood as a long-term employment relationship with a company. For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned that there are non-profit variants of temporary employment, which bring this form of employment close to the “second” labor market.
From exploitation to the flexible labor market
The change in value attitudes toward this form of employment can be seen in a major historical leap in the positioning of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Originally, shortly after World War II, the ILO called for a total ban on temporary work, arguing that it was a form of overexploitation that took the commodity nature of labor to the extreme. In the currently valid 1997 convention, on the other hand, this form of employment is seen as a necessary part of a labor market that has now become flexible, with the advantages of the flexibility of temporary work benefiting both sides – entrepreneurs and workers. The latter, however, can be understood more as a phrase that obscures the real power relations but is nevertheless effective. This is because, as a rule, workers in temporary employment are oriented toward longer-term stable integration in a company and thus behave in a certain sense paradoxically toward this construct.
The reality of the flexible labor market
In a sense, the changed positioning of the ILO as an expression of a neoliberal understanding of social and labor market policy has not become a reality only since yesterday. The space for labor leasing was only created by the withdrawal or chronically scarce funding of the public labor market administration. Today, temporary employment is an integral part of the labor market and especially of the job market in Austria. A relevant share of the vacancies registered with the AMS (about a quarter nationwide, about a third in Upper Austria, the stronghold of temporary employment) can only be filled through the intermediary of a temporary employment agency. In a pointed way, one could say that the AMS has outsourced part of its tasks to temporary employment agencies. It is obvious that this is not associated with stable labor market integration.
Temporary employment as a suspension bridge
The average duration of employment in temporary staffing, currently 190 days (period June 2020 to July 2021), is about half the average duration of all dependent employment relationships overall. And more than half (55 percent) of labor assignments lasted less than one month. The much-strained bridging function of temporary employment must be viewed with skepticism; it is a shaky and steep suspension bridge at best. A 2018 study by Riesenfelder, Danzer, and Wetzel commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs found that a temporary work episode was most often followed by another temporary work episode, second most often by unemployment, and only third most often by a “normal,” direct employment relationship. Temporary work produces systemically broken employment careers.
Fine line between enabling and exploiting
“Leasing allows you to get in quickly, but it also gets you out quickly,” is how one affected person from an ongoing, work-biography-oriented research project on temporary work puts it. An initial finding from the research interviews with those affected, however, is that for certain people, temporary work has a relieving function in the search for work. The laborious and socially and communicatively demanding process of finding and applying for a job is, to a certain extent, taken over by the temporary employment agency. It should also be added that there are hardly any barriers to entry in the temporary employment market. In contrast, however, there are processes of social closure on the part of the client companies, which fill certain job profiles exclusively in this way. Institutional signposts to temporary employment should not be underestimated, for example, when companies that are attractive on the regional labor market refer applicants to the temporary employment agencies with which they work, or when the AMS, as mentioned above, frequently assigns jobs in temporary employment to unemployed persons. There is also a fine line between enabling participation in the labor market and exploiting certain plights of people from underprivileged classes. This applies not only to migrants, but also to school dropouts, people from the so-called educationally deprived milieus, or those who suffered health-related strokes of fate early in their lives.
Temporary work or temporary employment?
The different attitudes toward this form of work are also expressed in the terms used. In the German-speaking world and in part of the academic literature, the term “temporary work” is more commonly used, which points to the reifying dimension of this phenomenon. However, the literal meaning of the term “lending” also includes careful handling and undamaged return. The situation is different with the colloquial term “leasing”, which is widely used in Upper Austria for temporary work and which combines use with a certain loss of value. The employer side, on the other hand, prefers the term temporary employment, combined with the reference to overcome the old – also for the employees – stigmatizing term temporary work. The trade unions have taken this up to some extent, for example when works councils speak of “our temporary workers” in order to show their appreciation. However, the concept of temporary work is also not very convincing, because the fact that work is limited and defined in time in one way or another is always true. And the specific triangular character of this form of employment mentioned at the beginning is lost in the process. In a certain sense, the English term “temporary agency work” and the employees as “temps” is more appropriate. Does this leave the formal legal concept of temporary agency work as a (conceptual) compromise? But here, too, caution is called for: In Austria (and not only here), one is not considered a mere worker, but an employee who is not viewed and treated exclusively in functional terms. Can the staffing industry and its clients guarantee this?
Successful enforcement of workers’ rights
The history of temporary employment in Austria can also be read as a history of successful enforcement of workers’ rights and successful social partnership regulation. In particular, the AKÜ collective agreement, which covers blue-collar workers and is negotiated by the production union PRO-GE with the labor leasing companies in the Chamber of Commerce, can be seen as a milestone. In practice, however, there are always problems. In particular, the question of how to deal with the problematic practice of terminations by mutual agreement, which circumvents the notice periods stipulated in collective agreements, remains unresolved. This is because it is prohibited to synchronize the end of the work assignment at the customer and the end of the employment relationship at the labor supplier; notice of termination may be given no earlier than the fifth day after the end of the employment relationship. In combination with the minimum two-week notice period (three weeks from 2023), there is therefore a certain safety net which, at least in theory, prevents “hire and fire”. More recently, there have been clear differences of opinion between employers and PRO-GE following the former’s intention to declare labor leasing a seasonal industry in order to enforce shorter notice periods.
Self-aware articulation of interests
Raising awareness among those affected is enormously important. For many years, PRO-GE has operated the website http://www.leiharbeiter.at , which points out basic rights in several languages. The fact that entry into temporary work typically takes place against the backdrop of a specific emergency or crisis situation is not conducive to a self-confident articulation of interests from the outset. Rather, this is the result of a hard learning process and also requires trade union intervention. There are also temporary workers who do not come from traditional working-class backgrounds and therefore have little experience of workers’ rights in their families and education.
Rich votes, poor misses – Democracy at a tipping point
by Boris Ginner
[This article published on May 25, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://awblog.at/reich-waehlt-arm-fehlt/.]
Our parliamentary democracy has a problem: People with less income are less likely to go to the polls. And more and more people have no right to vote at all. The principle of democratic equality is being undermined, and the political system has ever greater problems of legitimacy.
Elections are something “for the others”
“I don’t have the impression that elections have anything to do with me and my life. For me, life always remains the same bad.”
Statements like these, made by Viennese non-voters, get to the heart of why an increasing number of socioeconomically disadvantaged people are turning their backs on democracy and the political system altogether.
Participation in democratic processes suffers from an increasingly massive social imbalance: In the 2019 National Council elections, people with higher socioeconomic resources participated much more than members of poorer classes. While a full 83 percent of eligible voters in the most socioeconomically privileged third went to the polls, the figure for the lowest third was only 59 percent. At the Viennese level, too, it is striking that voter turnout is significantly lower in neighborhoods with a precarious social situation. In particular, unemployment, low educational attainment, low income and low occupational prestige have a strong negative impact on voter turnout.
Injustice -> apathy
Thus, a sense of injustice apparently does not mobilize people to participate and act democratically, but leads to apathy and turning away from democracy itself. However, this was not always the case – on the contrary: for decades, voter turnout in classic working:class districts was higher than in affluent, middle-class districts. A brief look at the following figures from Viennese districts will suffice:
In working-class districts such as Simmering, Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, Brigittenau or Floridsdorf, voter turnout in the 1970 National Council elections was above the 80 percent mark, while in bourgeois districts such as Josefstadt, Döbling, Währing or the affluent Inner City, voter turnout was in some cases significantly lower. A look at the 2019 National Council elections shows that this ratio has been completely reversed: While turnout in all of the aforementioned working-class districts fell sharply, in some cases by up to 20 percentage points, it actually rose in the Inner City and Josefstadt as well as in Währing – in Josefstadt even to over 80 percent, and in the 1st and 18th districts by over 5 percent each.
Unemployment leads to more non-voters
According to the SORA survey on the effects of social inequality on democracy from 2020, low educational attainment, low occupational prestige and unemployment are the main factors contributing to lower voter turnout, while higher rates of university graduates or a high annual net income have a positive effect on voter turnout. For example, the unemployment rate in the decile with the highest turnout is only 6 percent, while in the decile with the lowest turnout it is 22 percent. There are also clear differences between the first and tenth tenths in terms of educational attainment and the share of low occupational prestige.
A look at the districts shows how strong the socioeconomic differences are: In Brigittenau, for example, the annual net income in 2018 was around 18,700 euros, there were as many as 144 unemployed per 1,000 inhabitants, and the share of academics was just over 20 percent. In Währing, the annual net income (26,800 euros) and the share of academics (almost 50 percent) are significantly higher, and there were only 75 unemployed per 1,000 inhabitants.
Rising social inequality
In addition, economic inequality is on the rise in Austria. The richest family alone, the Porsche-Piechs, with an estimated fortune of 51 billion euros, has more money than the bottom half of Austrians, who have less than 3 percent of total private assets (about 35 billion euros). Overall, the richest one percent already holds around 40 percent of the wealth. The development of incomes also shows that lower incomes are losing ground, while only high incomes are gaining. The lowest-earning income quarter had 2.4 percent less annual income in real and net terms in 2018 than the comparison group in 2008, while the income quarter with the highest wage or salary income earned 2 percent more in net terms than ten years earlier.
Education system exacerbates inequality
Inequality in Austria is further cemented by the education system, which does not compensate for social disadvantages through early selection at the age of nine or ten, but rather exacerbates them. An intergenerational comparison of education shows that 57 percent of children whose parents are academics also attain a university degree in Austria. If the parents have at most a compulsory education, only about 7 percent of their offspring succeed in completing their education with an academic degree. This figure has hardly changed over the past 20 years: Even 20 years ago, the chance of graduating from university was also around 57 percent if the parents had a university degree, and only around 6 percent if the parents had a compulsory school degree at most. This makes it clear that educational qualifications are socially inherited, and advancement through education is hardly possible in real terms.
“Politicians treat people like me as second-class citizens.” This statement is agreed to by 74 percent of those who feel they belong to the lower or working:class. The statement is also true for 55 percent of those who perceive themselves to be in the lower middle class. More than 60 percent of both groups believe they have no influence on what politics does in Austria. Moreover, Viennese with low socioeconomic resources more often experience low social recognition and even devaluation, humiliation and embarrassment, as a statement by one respondent puts it succinctly: “I can’t do much with politics. As a child, I experienced how my family was humiliated by the employment office, youth welfare office, social welfare office – we had to disclose everything, answer the most intimate questions, adults were treated like little children. To this day, I’m afraid of the authorities.”
Who is allowed to vote anymore?
Socioeconomic realities thus determine one’s experience with the political system, because they determine whether one is heard and perceived as part of the system or not. Non-privileged segments of society are thus less and less represented, and their voting behavior is less and less reflected in ballots due to the higher number of non-voters. To make matters worse, larger and larger segments of the population – and especially workers – are excluded from the right to vote because they do not have Austrian citizenship. In Vienna, it is mainly blue-collar workers (60 percent), freelancers (35 percent) and white-collar workers (26 percent) who are not entitled to vote. Among 27- to 40-year-olds, about 40 percent are excluded from the right to vote.
A particularly dramatic picture emerges if we take the 15th Viennese district of Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus as an example: While the resident population there has remained almost unchanged since 1970 at just under 80,000, the number of eligible voters has fallen from 67,000 to 39,000 (!) during this period. And of these 39,000, only 26,000 took part in the last National Council elections. The electorate, i.e. the sum of all voters, is less and less a reflection of the population.
Non-eligibility to vote and non-voting are infectious
Democracy researcher Tamara Ehs agrees: “If you live in an area where you are surrounded by many people who are not eligible to vote (neighbors, acquaintances, relatives, etc.), the other eligible voters are less inclined to participate. “This in turn has an effect on Wiener:innen whose families have held Austrian citizenship for generations: Because they are surrounded by many non-eligible voters and non-voting naturalized citizens, they also vote less often, and when they do vote, their vote as Brigittenauer:in or Favoritner:in the municipal council and state parliament is underrepresented in relation to the population size of their district.”
Those who have sufficient capital and property are also in a position to assert their own interests – for example, by influencing parties, the media or state institutions. The much larger group in the current economic system, however, includes those people who are forced to keep their heads above water through gainful employment. This group has only one advantage: it is numerically superior. In a democratic system, therefore, it should be able to protect its interests against a powerful, but numerically further inferior minority.
With democracy to social progress
The workers’ movement fought for universal suffrage with the aim of achieving better working conditions and living conditions for all through a strong vote of the working class at the ballot box. For decades, it was thus possible to achieve high voter turnouts in traditional workers’ districts. This mobilization has collapsed in recent decades. It is further undermined by restrictive provisions in citizenship law, which primarily affect system holders who earn too little to meet the income limits. It would be urgently time to offer socioeconomically non-privileged people an attractive option again to ensure their participation in democracy. Rising social inequality leads to higher political inequality, which in turn enables politics on the backs of the majority and in favor of a few rich people. If we want to break this spiral of inequality, the exclusion of an ever-growing group from democracy must be remedied at the same time. Democracy must be fought for again and again!
Boris Ginner is an education policy officer at AK Vienna; main areas of work: political education, school democracy, compulsory internships, student representation.
Refugees from Ukraine in Vienna’s housing market
May 27, 2022
The refugee coordinator for Austria expects 200,000 war refugees to arrive from Ukraine. His forecast refers to people who will stay in Austria for a longer period of time. In other words, people who will need housing here, most of them in Vienna. For the already tight housing market, this means an urgent need for action on the part of policymakers.
Refugees need housing
Secure and affordable housing is the essential basis for all areas of social inclusion. The quality and legal security of a housing situation not only affects the subjective quality of life, it is also a prerequisite for personal stability and the processing of flight experiences. Furthermore, it is evident how crucial the housing situation is for the labor market integration and social integration of refugees. It is therefore essential to consider long-term housing needs and consequences for the housing market in the course of integration policy efforts for newly arriving Ukrainians and other refugees.
Based on the refugee coordinator’s forecast and the average household size in Ukraine of 2.6 persons, this results in approximately 77,000 new households that will require housing in Austria in the longer term. Experience from previous refugee movements has shown that the majority of refugees remain in Vienna. Assuming that about 50 percent of the refugees remain in the capital, this results in an estimate of about 38,000 additional households for Vienna due to the Ukraine war.
The question of what kind of housing is needed by the refugees can only be answered approximately. Of the approximately 40,000 Ukrainians:inside already registered in Austria in the first quarter of 2022, 37 percent are children and young people under 20, some of whom are of school age. About 80 percent of the adults are women. Since about 75 percent of families in Ukraine have only one child, a high proportion of women with one child can be assumed among the refugees. Accordingly, there is likely to be a particular demand for two- to three-bedroom apartments. However, there is also a need for apartments for refugee women with two children or even larger households with several children and, for example, grandparents and other relatives.
Contrary to the populistically charged everyday observation of expensive cars with Ukrainian license plates in downtown Vienna, the economic situation in Ukraine is many times worse than in Austria. In Austria, basic welfare and later social assistance provide those who cannot immediately earn an income from a job – for example, because of problems with the recognition of qualifications – with only limited financial means for finding housing.
Housing boom and price explosion
The good news at first glance is that there is a lot of construction going on right now. Currently, up to 50,000 new homes are expected to be built across Austria in 2022, including 20,000 new homes in Vienna. However, a closer look at the new construction that has been built is sobering: new apartments in Vienna now cost around 6,400 euros per square meter when purchased and 12 euros/m² when rented. The reasons for the annually rising prices and the difficulties in building subsidized apartments are, on the one hand, the high cost of land throughout the city and, in addition, the currently rapidly rising construction costs. On the other hand, forms of investment in concrete gold and the steadily advancing financialization of housing are also contributing to speculative price increases. Rents in existing apartments have also been rising constantly for years. Especially in the area of privately rented apartments, which account for about 33 percent of the stock in Vienna, rent increases of 53 percent between 2008 and 2016 can be seen. The situation is better in the subsidized areas of the housing market, where mainly public housing and older non-profit apartments offer affordable housing. However, people with a refugee background in particular often do not find access to these fundamentally affordable parts of the housing market.
Barriers to access on the Viennese housing market
Refugees from third countries have very difficult access to subsidized housing in Vienna, as they are usually unable to obtain the Vienna Housing Ticket as an access key. A basic requirement for the Vienna Housing Ticket is a continuous main residence at a Viennese place of residence for more than two years. People who have recently moved to Vienna as well as people in very precarious living situations with frequent changes of residence cannot fulfill the criteria and are excluded from the system. Persons eligible for subsidiary protection are generally excluded from access. Additional assistance, such as the social housing track at Wiener Wohnen or the housing allowance, requires a five-year minimum stay in Vienna. As a result, refugees are almost exclusively dependent on the private rental housing market, where rents and prices are high and discrimination by landlords makes finding housing difficult. Racist discrimination on the basis of language, religion, appearance and origin, as well as prejudice against a perceived inability to pay and a perceived insecure residence status are frequent reasons why an apartment cannot be rented.
The result is often highly precarious and difficult housing situations in which refugees find themselves in Vienna. This ranges from legally insecure subletting and dependency relationships to poor quality apartments and severe overcrowding.
Refugee Ukrainians in private accommodation
In the current flight movement from Ukraine, the housing needs of the first arriving Ukrainians in March and April were largely absorbed by private housing donations. In addition to a federal agency, various NGOs in particular are active in mediating between people who provide housing and those seeking housing. While on the one hand this shows a great willingness to help on the part of many Viennese, private housing also poses some dangers for people on the run. In this vulnerable situation, people can easily be exploited for unpaid work, forced into other dependency relationships and fall into the danger of human trafficking. Cases from the AK’s housing law consultation also show that donors seek easily terminable precarious contracts for understandable reasons, which, however, remain associated with great insecurity and planning uncertainty for the residents. Accommodation in privately donated housing is not a permanent solution for refugees. Affordable and accessible housing is needed to provide permanent housing.
How housing supply can succeed in the longer term.
The current housing boom needs to be better managed. Commercial developers in particular must be made more socially responsible. Skimming off reallocation profits or an obligation to create socially responsible housing in new buildings or loft conversions through urban development contracts are important starting points here. Price increases must also be counteracted in existing housing. A central issue here is the extensive abolition of fixed-term contracts as a price driver for rents. Furthermore, an effective vacancy tax would be an important step toward mobilizing unused or underused housing for urgent needs. This would require a corresponding allocation of competencies by the federal government and consistent implementation by the City of Vienna. In the subsidized sector, a new housing offensive of the Vienna Housing Fund would secure urgently needed affordable and long-term socially committed housing. However, it is also important to facilitate access to subsidized housing. Above all, the requirement of two years’ continuous registration at a Viennese address would have to be dropped. In order to be able to react quickly and effectively to people’s highly precarious housing and living situations, the possibilities of a central social housing pool should also be explored. Inexpensive apartments from the subsidized but also private sector could be allocated here quickly and precisely to people in challenging life situations. These measures not only make an important contribution to the long-term inclusion of refugees from Ukraine and other countries, but also contribute to the general affordability and accessibility of housing.
Malena Haas is a geographer and consultant in the Department of Municipal Policy and Housing of the Vienna Chamber of Labor.
Sina Moussa-Lipp is a social scientist and consultant for the area of Social City in the Department of Municipal Policy of the Vienna Chamber of Labor.
Mara Verli? is a consultant in the Department of Municipal Policy at the Vienna Chamber of Labur.
We need a real debate on the Ukraine war and Double standards
by Katrina vanden Heuvel and Peter Vonnahme, 5/26
The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the greater the risk of a nuclear accident or incident. The U.S. & NATO are in a proxy war with Russia.
U.S. military with Ukrainian soldiers during a training exercise near Yavoriv in western Ukraine in late 2019. photo: U.S. Army
It’s time to challenge the established view of the war in Ukraine. A commentary
As Russia’s illegal and brutal assault continues into its fourth month, Europe, the Global South, and the rest of the world are witnessing its far-reaching consequences.
At the same time, we are witnessing the emergence of a new politico-military world order. Climate change is getting sidelined, while dependence on fossil fuels is increasing; food shortages and demand for certain resources are driving up prices, leading to a growing problem of hunger in the world.
And the global migration crisis – with more international refugees and internally displaced people than at any time since the end of World War II – is becoming an increasing challenge.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor-in-chief of the U.S. weekly newspaper The Nation.
The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the greater the risk of a nuclear accident or incident. And given the strategy of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to “weaken” Russia through large-scale arms shipments – including anti-ship missiles – and revelations of U.S. intelligence support for Ukraine, it is clear that the United States and NATO are in a proxy war with Russia.
Shouldn’t the implications, dangers, and multiple costs of this proxy war be a central theme of media coverage – as well as informed analysis, discussion, and debate?
Yet what we are witnessing in the media and the political establishment is largely a one-sided, even non-existent, public discussion and debate. It is as if we are living in what journalist Matt Taibbi has called an “intellectual no-fly zone.”
Those who dissent from the established line on Ukraine are routinely excluded or marginalized by the major media corporations – in any case, they are rarely noticed.
The result is that alternative and opposing views and voices do not seem to exist. Wouldn’t it be good if there was more diversity in views, history, and context, rather than a compulsion to further validate established attitudes in a biased way?
Those who talk about history and explain the West’s role in the Ukrainian tragedy are not excusing Russia’s criminal attack.
Ukraine war: consequences of the “intellectual no-fly zone”.
It is a measure of such thinking and the rhetorical or intellectual no-fly zone that prominent figures such as Noam Chomsky, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, and former U.S. Ambassador Chas Freeman have been demonized or vilified for making cogent arguments and providing much needed context and history to explain the background of this war.
In our fragile democracy, the price for dissent is comparatively small. Why, then, aren’t more people in think tanks, academia, the media, or politics challenging the orthodox narrative of U.S. policy and media?
Isn’t it worth asking whether sending more and more weapons to the Ukrainians is the wisest course? Is it too much to ask more questions and discuss the best way to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict?
Conflict with Russia: US Army in Ukraine
Ukrainian soldiers conduct airstrike training. Image: U.S. Army Europe, 2016.
Why are dissenters vilified when they mention the role of nationalist, far-right, and, yes, neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine, even when based on serious facts and history?
The revival of fascism or neo-Nazism poisons many countries today – from European nations to the United States. Why is Ukraine’s history too often ignored or even denied?
As one former Marine Corps general noted, “War is a business.” And indeed, U.S. defense contractors are lining up to draw from the full pots.
By the time the war ends, many Ukrainians and Russians will die while Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman make fortunes.
At the same time, network and cable news is teeming with “experts” – or rather, military men who have mutated into consultants – while their jobs, board positions and clients remain unknown to viewers.
Here in the U.S., alternative views rarely come up on television or Internet screens or in Congress; voices of restraint that resist the urge to treat compromise in negotiations as appeasement, that seek persistent and tough diplomacy to achieve an effective cease-fire and a negotiated settlement to ensure that Ukraine emerges from this war a sovereign, independent, rebuilt, and prosperous country.
“Tell me how this ends,” General David Petraeus had asked Washington Post writer Rick Atkinson a few months after the nearly decade-long Iraq war began. Ending this war will require new thinking and challenge the entrenched opinions of the time.
As the venerable U.S. journalist Walter Lippmann once noted, “When everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks right anymore.”
This commentary first appeared in the U.S. daily Washington Post, where it is published by Katrina vanden Heuvel as part of a regular column.
With double standards into the next world war
by Peter Vonnahme
[This article published on May 27, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Mit Doppelstandards in den nächsten Weltkrieg.]
Debate on Ukraine war is subject to significant constraints and is morally constrained. The real issues do not come up. A commentary
Who is to blame for the war in Ukraine?
The answer is not as simple as we are often led to believe. The question of who caused a dispute is with us from the sandbox to the retirement home. Experienced dispute mediators know that the real aggressor is not necessarily the one who first resorted to violence. The person whose behavior provoked the other person to commit an act of violence can also be (partly) to blame. Unfortunately, this knowledge does not help to clearly clarify the question of guilt in the current dispute.
What is helpful is a set of rules that both parties to the conflict recognize as a guideline, for example because they agreed on them before the dispute began. Such a binding set of rules exists between states. It was drawn up and adopted by the community of nations in 1945 in the face of the civilizing catastrophes of two world wars:
Charter of the United Nations (UN Charter).
This treaty formulates fundamental rules that apply between the peoples of the world. As long as there is nothing better, we would do well to abide by it.
The fundamental principle of international law is found in Article 2(4) of the Charter:
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the […] threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” This prohibition of the use of force is the fundamental norm of law between states (“international law”) agreed upon by all member states of the UN.
Another fundamental principle is enshrined in Article 2(7) of the Charter:
According to this, there is no right “to intervene in matters which by their nature belong to the internal competence of a State.” This means that no state is entitled to intervene in internal conflicts of another state by means of force.
There are two exceptions to the prohibition of force:
According to Art. 42 of the Charter, the Security Council may authorize “robust measures” in the event of a threat to or breach of the peace or an act of aggression.
Under Article 51 of the Charter, a state under attack has “the natural right of individual or collective self-defense until the Security Council has taken such measures as are necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.”
What does this mean for the Ukraine war?
Measures under Article 42 are out of the question, if only because the Security Council has not authorized Russia to use force.
Russia’s right of self-defense under Art. 51 does not apply because Ukraine has not attacked Russia and there is no evidence that Ukraine has planned an armed attack on Russian territory.
Ukrainian military attacks on the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk (Donbass) cannot trigger Russia’s right of self-defense either, because these territories are not part of Russian territory.
Interim conclusion: since the Russian invasion is not justified by either of the two exceptions, the war is illegal under international law. Anyone claiming credibility should not question this finding. Objections to this are of no use to Russia or to international law. It does not matter legally that the Russian government avoids the word “war” but speaks of a “special military action.” International law is not guided by words, but by facts.
Violation of Russian interests
Russia’s breach of international law, however, does not preclude Ukraine from violating Russia’s legitimate interests in the run-up to the war. In particular, Russia makes the following allegations:
Intensified efforts by the Ukrainian leadership to gain admission to NATO without regard to Russian security interests.
Staging the 2014 Maidan coup with political and military support from the West
Toleration of extreme nationalism in Ukraine
Discrimination against the Russian-speaking population in Donbass
Use of “Nazi battalions”
Civil war in the Donbass with 14,000 dead so far; refused implementation of the Minsk II- Agreement; planned offensive against the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
It would go beyond the scope of this article to investigate whether and to what extent the accusations against Ukraine, the U.S. and the EU are well-founded. Nor is clarification necessary. For even if the accusations were true, no right of Russia to attack Ukraine militarily could be derived from this.
Political provocations do not justify a war of aggression. This result may be unsatisfactory from Russia’s point of view, but that does not change the assessment under international law.
We do not live in an ideal – just – world. Recent decades have repeatedly shown that even massive breaches of international law (for example, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine) have gone unpunished. The reason for this is obvious: law is one thing, power is another.
The strength of the law does not always triumph; sometimes, unfortunately, the power of the strongest triumphs. Nevertheless, the world must not tire of calling for justice time and again. All states of the world are called upon to react to state misconduct with political, economic, social and cultural measures and to bring the perpetrators to justice under (international) criminal law.
Leading media and dumbing down of the people
German leading media – with few exceptions – are limited to a one-sided view of the world determined by U.S., NATO and EU interests, as is the case here. The Russian perspective is either completely ignored or dismissed from the outset as untrustworthy.
This kind of journalism sees itself as a sound amplifier of government policy; servility is its trademark. Karl Kraus called this type of press work “journaille. In the case of the war in Ukraine, they prefer to rely on Ukrainian government statements, Western intelligence information, hand-picked foreign correspondents and obscure research portals.
Even when it is obvious that reports are guided by the interests of a warring party and its supporters, many leading media neglect the most noble duty of journalists, namely to check their information for truthfulness.
They report without sufficient research, without serious legal classification, but with the expression of deep indignation about “Russia’s crimes”. On the evening talk shows, the indoctrination continues at an accelerated pace. Even in the introductory remarks, the hosts leave no doubt as to which side they are on.
In the next hour, the Ukrainian ambassador Andrij Melnyk, known for his verbal outbursts, and Bellizisten of the ilk of Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Anton Hofreiter, Roderich Kiesewetter and Robin Alexander do the talking.
They outdo each other in demonizing Putin and demanding more and heavier weapons for Ukraine. Occasionally, an anti-weapons discussant is invited to the discussion round as a journalistic fig leaf.
When this lone warrior urges caution and points out the threatening expansion of the war, he is constantly interrupted in his contribution to the discussion by a handful of “orthodox believers” – with the connivance of the moderator – and, if necessary, shouted down with the combined forces of the Ukraine alliance. Such broadcasts do not want discussion, nor information, they want a ruckus and – even worse – they accept a creeping dulling of the people.
However little knowledge is gained from the Ukraine discussion rounds, they shape public opinion through the constant repetition of stereotypes. Russian commentators are withheld from German television viewers anyway, as they might pour water into the wine of Atlantic self-righteousness.
The same applies to Chinese, Indian, Arab, Latin American and African voices. People from these countries may starve, thirst and die for Ukraine, but they are not allowed to present their views. Result: With journalistic blinkers, the erroneous impression is created that the whole world shares the Western view. But this is a distorted image.
The method of deliberately smoothing out the world view has a tradition in the German media. The discussions about Skripal, and Nawalny are in bad memory. Some noble feathers of German journalism should actually blush with shame. Instead, these people prefer to hide under the cloak of a fighter for freedom and democracy.
Anyone who wants a better world must stop applying double standards. Because double standards not only lead to a loss of credibility, they are also ideal breeding grounds for new violence. If you look beyond your own nose, it is easy to see that large parts of the world accuse “the West” of using double standards.
Those criticized indignantly reject the accusation. For according to their self-image, they are the good guys who pursue only one goal, namely to lead the world to democracy and prosperity.
Even the simple remark that the accusation of a breach of international law applies not only to Putin’s war, but also to the wars of the USA and its war vassals (e.g. the wars in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya) is immediately wiped off the table. This is shabby whataboutism and only serves to trivialize the Russian war of aggression.
This accusation is dishonest. Also in this article it is stated several times that the Russian war in Ukraine is illegal. Why, then, should it be illegal to remind someone who deplores the murderous acts of Butscha of the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Dubrovnik, and the U.S. drone killings?
Even if these capital crimes were committed in the past, they remain in the historical memory and serve as a proper classification of the current war events. International law is universal. It applied then and it applies today.
Why should we not be allowed to mention that the US-led wars resulted in far more deaths, maimings and refugees than Russia’s war in Ukraine? Numbers do not lie.
And why should only Putin have to answer to the International Criminal Court and not his colleagues Clinton, Bush and Obama? They, too, have broken international law. It is an imperative of justice that either all of them be indicted or none. Probably none of them will stand before the court.
Putin would probably judge himself rather than appear before a court perceived as adversarial. The others mentioned are beacons of the Western community of values, thus they are the “good guys.” This impregnates them against judicial investigations.
It is also incomprehensible why – unlike in the case of Russia – sanctions against the USA and its vassals have never been demanded, let alone imposed. Large parts of the world would certainly not have objected.
This double standard has cost the West a lot of credibility in the rest of the world. That is why the reactions of many countries to the Western demand to support sanctions against Russia have been so muted.
It seems that Germany has lost its political compass. Punishing Russia is now more important than climate, environment and peace combined. The declared goal of German foreign policy is to “ruin” Russia (according to the olive-green foreign minister Annalena Baerbock). This is a statement between irresponsibility and sheer madness. What sense is there in destroying a country that will outlast Putin and remain our neighbor forever?
The bellicist Baerbock also demands an import stop for Russian energy “to zero – and forever”. To compensate for the loss of “evil” Russian gas, Baerbock’s congenial party colleague Habeck is bending over backwards in front of Arab sheiks to close the expected energy gap with “good” gas from notorious democracy despisers. Simply ingenious!
In addition, our environmental experts are working on long-term supply contracts for more climate-damaging LNG gas from the USA. The terminals required for this are being rammed into the Wadden Sea National Park in a rush job without any environmental assessment.
Disturbing, but true: The “survival issue of climate protection” is being sacrificed to the goal of ruining Russia – under Green responsibility.
The hysteria accompanying the war has meanwhile taken on absurd features. Current examples:
The German president recently apologized for his Russia-friendly policies as foreign minister. Since when is diplomacy and friendliness an offense for which one must ask forgiveness?
Ex-Chancellor Schröder is to be kicked out of the SPD because he worked for the Russian company Gazprom. It has been forgotten how happy everyone (!) was at the time that Chancellor Schröder succeeded in securing cheap and crisis-proof gas from Russia thanks to his good relations with Putin. Now even his ex-chancellor’s office is to be cancelled for it. How hypocritical!
Mirroring Russophobia, Ukraine hysteria has developed. At the recent European Song Contest of 40 countries, the Ukrainian musical entry landed on the winner’s podium. The media had predicted the result. Experts agree that the victory was not due to the quality of the entry, but solely to the Ukraine hype. If this sets a precedent, the next soccer world champion will already be determined.
Such antics are rather amusing. But they have a serious background. They feed the suspicion that Selensky’s arms delivery barrage has damaged the thinking of large parts of European civil society.
Danger of a world war
The dramatic nature of today’s situation is illustrated by two extremely impressive spoken contributions by World War II witnesses Klaus von Dohnanyi and Oskar Lafontaine. The thoughts of these two humanists should be a compulsory program for all those who assume responsibility in our country today.
For it is obvious that in Germany politicians who felt the horrors of war and the hardship of the post-war period first hand have made room for a generation that only knows war from television.
To Ukrainians like Marie Agnes Strack-Zimmerman (FDP), Anton Hofreiter (Green Party) and Michael Roth (SPD), the word war has degenerated into a formula describing an event far removed from Germany. The feeling that the inferno of a world war can engulf our country in a flash is obviously alien to them.
Under the fatal leadership of the USA, the countries of the Western alliance system are outbidding each other with money and weapons deliveries to Ukraine. Experience teaches that more weapons do not end bloodshed, but prolong it, on both sides.
But there is one good thing about this remarkable spending spree: it provides an unmistakable answer to the question of whose interests the war in Ukraine is really serving. The U.S. wants to get one step closer to its declared goal of world domination (Presidential Advisor Brzezinski, “The Only World Power”).
It is not about Ukraine at the moment, but what we see is a proxy war being fought on Ukrainian soil. President Biden has asked Congress for $33 billion for this, and has been granted as much as $40 billion – for peace, of course. Germany marches along with the alliance. Overnight, 100 billion was made available for rearmament – in addition to the “two percent target” enforced by the USA.
Of course, Ukraine, which is under attack, is entitled to defend itself vehemently and to demand “heavy weapons” from other states for this purpose. However, this does not mean that these states are legally and politically obliged to comply with the demands, especially if there is a danger of nuclear war. The latter cannot be disputed here. Obviously, the consensus that world peace is above all has been lost.
Highly controversial under international law is the question of when support for a belligerent exceeds the threshold at which a supporter itself becomes a belligerent. There is no convincing legal answer to this question. And even if there were, it would not help much. After all, the Ukraine war has also shown that aggressors are not guided by legal norms, but exclusively by feelings of threat.
Surprisingly, these issues have played only a minor role in public discourse. This negligence is life-threatening. It is especially surprising among politicians who never tire of emphasizing Putin’s irritability and high aggressiveness. It certainly does not help to reassure him that Finland and Sweden are now pushing with all their might to join NATO.
Last question: Are we Europeans slipping like “sleepwalkers” into a world war again? (Prof. Christopher Clark, 2010, “The Sleepwalkers – How Europe Moved into the First World War”). Never since 1945 has the danger of a third – and probably last – world war been as great as it is today. Measured against this, political leaders in Europe and in America show an astonishing composure.
We should wake up.
And take our fate into our own hands!
Peter Vonnahme was a judge at the Bavarian Administrative Court in Munich until his retirement. He is a member of the German section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). From 1995 to 2001, he was a member of the Federal Executive Board of the New Judges Association (NRV).
Stress for the soul: what helps against the fear of the climate crisis?
Psychology Climate change triggers stress and despair in many people. Why is this so? And what would a therapy look like?
by Matthias Becker
[This article published on 5/19/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/psychologie-die-klimakrise-bewirkt-bei-vielen-menschen-angst-und-trauer.]
Looking away is not healthy, nor is looking: Climate change triggers hopelessness and sadness
This much is clear: more and more patients are coming to psycho-therapeutic practices because they are suffering from the ecological crisis and are afraid of climate change. Typical diagnoses are “depression” and “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” and the impairments range from sleep disorders to substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. Anxiety plays a key role, but despair, hopelessness and sadness are also involved. Younger people and women seem to be more affected; in any case, they seek professional help more often.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have long dismissed the problem or interpreted it as a mere symptom, “cover stories” of an underlying neurosis. More recent publications distance themselves from this. “We want to distance ourselves from the pathologization of the phenomenon,” write Bernd Rieken and Paolo Raile, for example, two psychotherapists and lecturers at Sigmund Freud Private University in Vienna. “We consider Eco Anxiety as fear of the real existential threat of global warming and its consequences.” Rieken and Raile distinguish between negative feelings and behaviors that are appropriate to the climate crisis, they say, and pathological emotions and behavioral strategies that require treatment.
Drawing this line, however, is more difficult than it might seem at first glance. An emotional reaction to the climate crisis is natural and inevitable. But which way of dealing with it is “the right one” – or even “a healthy one” – is difficult to answer.
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines Eco Anxiety as “chronic fear of the destruction of the natural environment.” The influential Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht speaks of a “generalized perception that the ecological foundations of our existence are collapsing.” Representative surveys show that this fear is spreading. In the fall of 2021, 1,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 were surveyed in each of ten countries. Of them, a total of 27 percent described themselves as “extremely concerned” about climate change, and 32 percent as “very concerned.” This group was particularly large in the Philippines (84 percent), India (68 percent) and Brazil (67 percent).
Desperation takes very different forms. For example, there’s a California high school student, 16. When fierce wildfires hit the state in late summer 2021, her school is closed for several days. The student becomes involved in a conservation organization and changes her diet to minimize greenhouse gases. “My behavior became obsessive, ultimately I developed an eating disorder.”
There’s a French mother, 29 years old. She is very worried about her son’s future: “Will he have enough to eat?” She wants another child, but because of the climate crisis, she thinks it’s irresponsible.
There’s David Buckel, a lawyer in New York, passionate about the environment. He burned himself to death in the spring of 2018, at age 60. “Our planet is being destroyed by pollution,” he wrote in a suicide note. “Laying down a life will hopefully raise some awareness that more countermeasures are needed.” And finally, there’s a Swedish girl with sleep and eating problems. Doctors diagnose Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The girl stands in front of Stockholm’s parliament. She carries a sign that reads, “School Strike for Climate.”
Displacement, like politics
The link between ecological and psychological crisis, however, is rarely so concrete and obvious. For most people, fear manifests itself primarily as defensiveness. “I’d rather not deal with that, it’s too much for me,” is often said.
In psychoanalytic literature, denial is distinguished from this “situational dosage”. Its manifestations range from crude denial to relativization. In the latter case, the fact of the ecological crisis is formally accepted, “acknowledged as truth.” However, this knowledge is not related to one’s own person, above all it is not experienced emotionally: “It will probably come, but elsewhere and for others …” This split becomes visible, for example, when the future of one’s own children is imagined in a world heated by two or three degrees, without consequences of global warming appearing at all.
This so to speak soft, more yielding form of denial corresponds to the state-political processing, which, after all, also combines formal acknowledgement with practical ignorance. It is by far the most frequent reaction. For obvious reasons, however, research does not focus on this majority. Anyone who states in a survey or before a psychological test that they themselves have no problems with climate change is apparently not affected by Eco Anxiety.
Psychology understands fear as an arousal that primarily causes displeasure. Fear is never rational, but sometimes it is appropriate and serves as an alarm. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, according to the common definition, are directed at non-existent dangers or are unreasonably strong. They are considered to be in need of treatment if they prevent the affected person from coping with everyday family and professional life.
Psychologist Albert Bandura and sociologist Aaron Antonovsky showed as early as the 1970s that our psychological and mental health is essentially based on the assumption that we can survive dangers and upcoming stresses: “Bad things will happen, but I can handle them!” Bandura speaks of “self-efficacy expectancy” in this context. If this is lacking, persistent fear inevitably makes people ill. In relation to climate change, we are thus faced with an almost impossible task. A general reliance on one’s own strength is of little help in a crisis that affects all of humanity and that will take on unforeseeable forms. The scale of this danger makes us feel powerless.
Not only that, almost every everyday action results in the release of greenhouse gases that drive global warming. The infrastructure on which our way of life is based is maintained with fossil fuel energy. Even the road we take for a spin on our bikes and the Internet we use to check the latest scare stories about heat waves in the Arctic. No one can claim not to contribute to global warming.
“Eco-anxiety” is therefore often associated with “eco-guilt.” In the international survey mentioned earlier, 51 percent of young people said they felt guilt and shame – even though they, of all people, have contributed almost nothing to climate change!
In marketing and political rhetoric, climate change and ecological destruction are often explained as a matter of individual responsibility that consumers and voters should take for the planet. The flip side of responsibility is blame. This fosters neurotic attitudes on both sides of the climate debate. For guilt is also felt by those who deflect and trivialize the problem. “Increasing exploitation of our resources while denying the consequences reinforces the unconscious sense of guilt as well as the fear of retribution, which must be denied all the more rigidly, so that the unconscious fear becomes ever greater,” writes psychoanalyst Delaram Habibi-Kohlen.
Denial is not an individual failing, but an adapted, desired behavior. The strained silence among family and friends about climate change is based on the fact that other behaviors are tabooed and stigmatized. People with excessive climate anxiety therefore suffer in particular from their isolation. While others pretend that nothing is going on, they take on more responsibility than they can bear.
Hope would help
Psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and psychiatrists agree on one point: In order to cope with fear and despair, “realistic options for action” are needed. But how can we experience ourselves as effective – change shopping behavior, forgo air travel? Vote for less polluting parties? Participate in protest rallies?
From a therapeutic perspective, there’s little to be said against it. Such behavioral changes can be helpful if they relieve feelings of guilt. Isolation can be overcome through conversations and actions with like-minded people. But as long as there is no collective recognition of the situation and corresponding countermeasures, these are “simulations of self-efficacy” (as the activists Gregor Hagedorn and Felix Peter put it). They will not stop global warming. Eco Anxiety arises from the barely bridgeable gap between one’s own experience and society’s response.
Psychological treatments cannot resolve this dilemma, at most they can make us aware of it. They must leave room for despair and parting. Often, therapists and the treated will only be able to share their pain. “Hope is an essential factor in successfully confronting fears of climate change,” emphasize the two psychotherapists Rieken and Raile. But hope cannot be forced or trained.
Matthias Becker works as a freelance print and radio journalist in Berlin
The great reboot/ reset/ new start
Let’s not leave the change to the elites, who made it necessary in the first place by their irresponsible actions.
By Gustav Viktor ?migielski
[This article published on May 14, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/der-grosse-neustart-3.]
Every person with half a conscious mind has heard something about the “Great Reset,” the ruling class’s plan to create an even more efficient and, for the planet, more pleasant form of human existence – or so the PR department of the World Economic Forum (WEF) would put it. There is nothing wrong with such a noble goal, and the author believes that the elite is indeed concerned about the state of the planet. However, he doubts that the latter will ever admit to itself that, to a large extent, its own actions have produced this condition. Although it had the power to steer humanity’s destiny in the right direction, it did not, and it would be naive to think it will this time. Change must come from within society.
“You will own nothing and you will be happy.”
In the WEF’s promotional video with eight predictions/predictions for 2030, this “prophecy” is at the top of the list.
I consider ownership an illusion and have no problem with this statement, but in this video, right in the second sentence, a claim is made that reveals, at least in part, the type of society that is envisioned: Everything I want I will have to rent. Rent? From whom? Who will own this something I am to rent?
If we look at the history of mankind, we will very rarely read or hear of cases where powerful and materially wealthy people voluntarily donated their possessions to the common good. And so the suspicion suggests itself that this form of advertising is very unlikely to be seen in Monaco, and it is very unlikely to be directed at the owners of hundred-and-more-meter yachts there.
It is rather addressed to the part of the population that still owns something, is caught in the capitalist hamster wheel and constantly lives with the fear of still losing the little it owns.
To shed some light on the darkness, we only have to take a closer look at the propagated structures. Is there supposed to be a hierarchy? How many levels does this hierarchy have? How is it organized? Strictly hierarchically organized societies will always produce exactly the same results as before. In both capitalist and socialist societies, hierarchies of power have always emerged, which also harbored the seeds of their own demise.
The WEF continues to propagate a highly hierarchized society in which the most powerful actors decide how society should develop – far removed from democratic processes. The intention is to cement what is already taking place anyway.
The class of owners wants to expand its influence through the corporations it owns and make it quasi-legal. To this end, they are inventing new confusing terms such as “multistakeholder governance,” which sound nice, but are intended to disguise their influence. The consensus that is supposed to emerge through democratic processes is thus undermined. Instead of “the powerful” having a voice in the election, like any other person within a population, they elevate themselves directly to the eye level of entire states and exert direct influence on the development processes of a society.
They have long had politics in their pockets, but the political circus and the manipulation of public opinion are highly costly. One would like to get rid of a large part of it. The indoctrination as well as conditioning of people prevailing at the moment is so far advanced that it must be maintained only with small means.
A large part of the population is constantly exposed to the arbitrariness of other people and finds no way to defend itself against it. He is driven to work in order to subsequently pay an excessive cost of living and to maintain a social system that is not well-disposed towards him. It seems that man can only improve his situation by participating. The pyramidal system behind it is simply explained: the higher you climb, the fewer people are above you, who rule you and exercise arbitrariness.
Money Rain / Kings of the Modern Era
It doesn’t take a great deal of economic or sociological knowledge to understand that co-ownership of productive goods would be more beneficial to the majority rather than simply receiving a salary. If they were co-owners, it would hardly occur to them to distribute profits in the form of dividends to people outside the company and not participating in the production process. The following example will illustrate this:
Since 2011, i.e., directly after the conclusion of Agenda 2010, the annual dividends of BMW shares have been at a stable high level, with a peak in 2018. Almost 50 percent of the shares belong to the Quandt family, which has brought them large sums of money in recent years; in 2017, it was about one billion euros. But what does that mean? Money is a potential, a claim, and one that someone makes on the producing company. One billion euros would be an entitlement to 113,122,171 hours of work equal to the 2017 minimum wage, or an entitlement of still 50 million hours of work at the average wage from the same year. With this average wage, a person would have to work approximately 25,000 years for this sum. That is grotesque.
Instead of generating a billion euros in profit, the company could create around 20,000 jobs with an annual salary of 50,000 euros – by rule of thumb. On such a salary, a family of four in Germany could participate extensively in social life – that would be around 80,000 people. Eighty thousand people, for example, who would no longer be dependent on state transfer payments. The work to be done in the company could be distributed among more people, a 20-hour week would be within reach at BMW, and a form of work would be possible from which one would no longer need a vacation.
However, our society decides to transfer such high values to individual persons and in order to justify this madness somehow, they unabashedly claim that they are reinvesting the money and thus preserving jobs and creating new ones. Translated, this means: “For the money you have earned, you should go to work”.
Each one of us is a small investor, each one of us has the potential to create jobs with a good idea or at least to give himself a meaningful and socially enriching occupation. Everyone spends money and creates demand from which new jobs can be created. We don’t need to fool ourselves and we don’t need to romanticize the world of work. There is work that has to be done, even though it is unpleasant and consists of repetitive activities. But it is precisely this that we could make much more pleasant if we stopped imposing the profit constraint on ourselves, as well as trying to give all values a price expressed in monetary units.
How else could we live?
In a society that chooses to distribute created value more broadly, we would likely see production shift from large and luxurious goods to more smaller and less luxurious ones. To stay in the car industry: Mercedes Benz would produce and sell fewer S-Classes and more C-Classes instead. A wise society, on the other hand, would realize that it is not worth the effort to produce so many cars to fill up the cities and let them slowly rot there. At least in larger cities, this is obviously the reality.
Such a company would have organized urban transportation in such a way that the private car would become superfluous. This would save it work, because the effort is less to organize a mass-suitable as well as pleasant local traffic, instead of building millions of cars, which clog the cities and are qualitatively so badly manufactured that they are subject to endless maintenance intervals within their useful life. In doing so, we are describing only one area of human need, that of mobility. But the concept runs through all areas of society. We see the same problem in a different guise in the energy, food, real estate as well as healthcare industries.
In each of these industries, the greed for more, expressed through the profit as well as growth compulsion, shapes the production as well as distribution processes of our society considerably more than logic, integrity and symbiosis.
The age of robotics has begun, which allows us to become even more productive and thus reduce working hours or produce even more – at least in theory. In practice, we face a problem that has existed not only since the beginning of industrialization and has been described by many other economists besides Karl Marx. It says, in simple terms, that man somehow “must” pay for the goods that the machines build and take from him the labor for which he was previously paid. If these productive goods were common property, the only effort would be to build and maintain them, and people could thus enjoy the fruits of their labor much more directly.
But they do not belong to them and most of the time they do not even belong to those who built them with their own hands and ideas, but they belong to a small minority who can call them their property with the help of the ruling laws, and only make them available for consideration. And the majority sees no other way than to submit to it.
Understanding the Great Reset as an opportunity
The Great Reset is new wine in old bottles, and it is not inevitable. But we must ask ourselves what we want to stand for, what we want to “fight” for. Resist in order to preserve this system that is on the verge of disintegration? Surely no one can be serious about that. The changes are already taking place and it would not be wise to fight against them, but instead, as in certain martial arts, to use the momentum of the “opponent” to steer him in another direction. In this, our technological progress could prove to be an advantage.
The rapid pace of networking over the past two decades harbors an unpredictable and, above all, uncontrollable potential. All it takes is a small spark, a new idea, and our social order will topple. A first model – a precursor – of such an idea, is already there, namely the “Democracy-App”! There, people vote on the same resolutions as the members of the Bundestag, and already now one sees considerable discrepancies in voting behavior. As soon as several million citizens participate in voting, the question will have to be asked as to which voting results are truly representative. 736 votes from parliament or several million votes from the people? The answer is obvious.
Furthermore, sooner or later the question will arise as to what we are voting on in the first place. With the app, at the moment we only vote on questions that have been formulated and set beforehand – which is very constricting. It gets interesting when we start to rethink and reshape the framework within which we operate. That is, when we begin to formulate for ourselves the questions that will be voted on, and which will set the direction for the future development of society. The gateway for new narratives and new world views will be opened.
I hope we humans will soon realize that much of our problem lies in the very hierarchies we are constantly creating. Hierarchies are the one constant that we have not really rethought throughout all forms of society, and I locate the solution to our problem there as well. Both self-exaltation and self-abasement are both sides of the same coin, with the coin itself representing the idea of unlikeness. The great advantage of capitalist organized societies over socialist/communist ones was self-organization. If we think this thought further, we could come to the assumption that we should further develop the principle of self-organization to see if it does not make us even more effective and create an even better society.
In doing so, we cannot ask the ruling class to allow us to do this, because they will not allow us to undermine the pillars of their power. The easiest way to remove power from the powerful is to stop recognizing them. To accomplish this, however, an alternative idea for our organization must emerge from within society that will create the critical mass, bind them together, unite them, and allow the new idea to manifest.
Gustav Viktor ?migielski is a philosopher and author. He studied finance and accounting in Wroclaw and is on a quest to find answers to life’s existential questions – with success!
Investing in Death
One of the largest nuclear weapons investors in the world is asset manager BlackRock.
By Heinrich Frei
[This article published on May 13, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/investition-in-den-tod.]
“Investment in the future” looks different. The unimaginable amount of money invested in nuclear armament exceeds any nuclear mushroom cloud. An endless list could be made of how these billions and billions of money could be used more sensibly for the world. A small crumb of this nuclear investment would be enough to end entire famines elsewhere. But instead of investing in life, major investors like the asset manager BlackRock prefer to invest in the potential to wipe out humanity several times over. In the event of a nuclear winter, profit would no longer be profit. If the world looks like a moonscape with black rocks after a nuclear war, the billions in earnings can no longer buy anything. However, this does not seem to be important for the calculations of the nuclear investors. Instead, this investment is also being cultivated. In Switzerland, the BlackRock functionary Philipp Hildebrand, of all people, is to become the new president of the Zurich Art Society.
At the end of May 2022, it will be decided whether Philipp Hildebrand will become the new president of the Zurich Art Society. So far, he is the only candidate for the office. The election of the new presidency is due to the death of Anne Keller Dubach. She led the sponsoring association of the Zürcher Kunsthaus for only two months and died last September.
The Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft is the sponsoring association of the Kunsthaus Zürich. It has been running the museum since 1787 and owns the art collection.
Philipp Hildebrand had been a member of the Governing Board of the Swiss National Bank since 2003 and was its chairman between January 1, 2010 and January 9, 2012. Perhaps it is hoped that Philipp Hildebrand will succeed in settling the dispute over the inclusion of the “Emil Bührle Collection” in the new wing of the new Kunsthaus. This collection of the arms manufacturer Bührle includes works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet and others (1).
Zurich art society in the hands of the financial center
As Res Strehle writes in “Das Magazin”, the election of Philipp Hildebrand is intended to continue the tradition of the financial center presidency according to the will of the art society: “For over a hundred years, the financial elite has led the epicenter of the established art in Zurich”. Leading people of Zürcher Rentenanstalt, Schweizerische Kreditanstalt, today Credit Suisse, Union Bank of Switzerland, Bank Leu, Banca del Gottardo, Swiss Re mostly provided the president of the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft during almost five decades. (2)
Today Philipp Hildebrand, the candidate for the presidency of the Zurich Art Society, is Vice Chairman of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. He is a member of the company’s Global Executive Committee there. He also oversees the BlackRock Investment Institute (BII) and BlackRock Sustainable Investing (BSI).
BlackRock investments in nuclear weapons: unsustainable
BlackRock’s investments in nuclear weapons production companies are not sustainable. According to ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, BlackRock is the fourth largest investor in companies that produce nuclear weapons of mass destruction. BlackRock invested $44,792 million in the nuclear weapons industry in 2020 and $40,711 million in 2021, according to ICAN (3).
Poster of the Swiss peace movement from 1954 by Hans Erni, Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Poster Collection, Zurich University of the Arts.
Nuclear weapons cannot actually be used
Nuclear weapons can actually never be used after the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, if one does not want to risk that the whole of humanity is wiped out in a nuclear war. Even the use of 100 atomic bombs would lead to a nuclear winter, a drop in the earth’s temperature, followed by crop failures and famine.
The top ten investors in nuclear weapons:
A comparison of the top 10 investors with financial ties to nuclear weapons manufacturers: total investments are split, with slightly more invested in stocks and bonds than in loans and underwriting. The top ten investors are all from the United States and together account for $339 billion, or just under half of all investments, according to the 2021 ICAN report. The figures in the table are in millions of US dollars.
$100,000 a minute for the new nuclear arms race.
The nuclear arms race is a huge business with a lot of money to be made. Between January 2019 and July 2021, $685 billion was made available to the 25 companies that produce nuclear weapons. This is $44 billion more than the previous year.
The nine nuclear-armed countries are spending more than $100,000 per minute on the new nuclear arms race.
In addition, the World Food Program lacks funds to fight hunger, including in Somalia.
1.4 million children in Somalia at risk of acute malnutrition
By the end of this year, 1.4 million children in Somalia are at risk of acute malnutrition. “If nothing is done, it is feared, 350,000 of the 1.4 million severely malnourished children in the country will perish by this summer,” warns Adam Abdelmoula, the UN secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Somalia.
Source: World Food Programme website (4).
But right now, there is a funding gap of $192 million for the UN World Food Program’s assistance in Somalia through September 2022, meaning less than a third of the funding is available to save lives in Somalia. A very small fraction of the money wasted on nuclear armaments worldwide could close the World Food Fund funding gap in Somalia.
Easter march 2022 in Bremen, image: labor photography.
Germany’s nuclear sharing: practicing dropping nuclear bombs.
A modern fighter jet also costs about $192 million, which the World Food Organization is short in Somalia. Germany plans to procure 45 such new bombers at a cost of 8 billion euros. In connection with the nuclear sharing of the Federal Republic, German pilots will again practice dropping nuclear bombs with the new aircraft, as they do today with the Tornado fighter jets (5).
Switzerland did not sign the treaty banning nuclear weapons
A clear majority of parties in Switzerland demand that the Federal Council finally ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. However, there are tangible economic interests that “hinder” the signing of this treaty.
Today, major Swiss banks, insurance companies and pension funds, including my pension fund of SBB AG, also invest profit-consciously in companies involved in the production of nuclear bombs. A total of 4,883 million US dollars (USD). Credit Suisse placed 2,059 million USD in 2021, UBS placed 2,562 million USD and even the Swiss National Bank also placed 64 million USD in the nuclear monkey industry.
The new soccer stadium in Zurich, the “Credit Suisse Arena”, will probably then also be financed from the proceeds of the nuclear armament business. The arms manufacturer Emil Bührle financed the new building of the Kunsthaus in Zurich at that time, Credit Suisse, which invests its money in the nuclear bomb industry, will subsidize a soccer stadium … – Nice …
Swiss institutions investing in companies producing nuclear weapons:
Source: recent ICAN study “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” from 2021.
Legal ban on financing of banned weapons in Switzerland.
“The fact that Swiss banks invest money in the further development of weapons of mass destruction is all the more astonishing,” writes ICAN, “as this is prohibited in Switzerland. Since the revision of the War Material Act (KMG) on January 1, 2013, there has been a legal ban on the financing of prohibited weapons. This includes nuclear weapons, which are listed in Article 7(1)(a) of the KMG.”
Despite these legal provisions not to invest financial resources in companies developing nuclear weapons (systems), it is apparently possible and allowed to continue to invest in nuclear weapons production with impunity, because the financing ban is said to have “significant legal loopholes,” according to Bern.
The ex-National Councillor and current Bernese Government Councillor Evi Allemann recognized this problem and called for a ban on indirect financing of war materials in a motion back in 2013 (Motion 14.3253. But that was a long time ago and nothing has happened. Susan Boos wrote on July 6, 2013 in the weekly newspaper on this topic the article: “War material law and banks, hands off business with nuclear weapons” (6).
In conclusion, it should be recalled: Nuclear weapons can actually never be used at all after the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, if one does not want to risk wiping out all of humanity in a nuclear war. Even the use of 100 atomic bombs would lead to a nuclear winter, a drop in the earth’s temperature, followed by crop failures and famine.
Sources and notes:
(1) Heinrich Frei: Emil Bührle Collection in Zurich. Works of art financed with the proceeds of cannons and shells for wars. Neue Rheinische Zeitung, online flyer, May 5, 2022, , www.nrhz.de/flyer/beitrag.php?id=27154
(2) Res Strehle: Emil and the Elite. Das Magazin Number 17, April 30, 2022. “Weapons manufacturer Emil Georg Bührle supplied the Nazis and profited from the persecution of wealthy Jews. The Swiss upper class courted and rehabilitated him.”, https://www.zsz.ch/wie-der-nazi-profiteur-mit-dem-kunsthaus-die-herzen-der-schweizer-elite-eroberte-770142496571
(3) ICAN – International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons: www.icanw.org
(5) Nuclear sharing – Wikipedia: http://www.parlament.ch/d/suche/seiten/geschaefte.aspx?gesch_id=20143253
(6) Susan Boos: Hands off the business with nuclear weapons. WOZ Die Wochenzeitung, June 6, 2013, https://www.woz.ch/-40a9?msclkid=154944e7c88811ec964028413f2d214f
Heinrich Frei, born in 1941, is an architect and is involved in various peace policy initiatives in Switzerland. He also collaborates with Swisso Kalmo.