The pandemic and countermeasures have effects shaped by the neoliberal form of capitalism that has dominated since the 1980s. Three aspects are worth mentioning: 1.the independence of the financial sphere,2.the fragmentation of the labor markets, and 3.the weakening of social systems. In the financialized economy, measures to cushion the crisis strengthen the haves.
Lockdown light? – Corona crisis and capitalism
[This text by Jörg Goldberg, André Leisewitz, Gerd Wiegel, Michael Zander posted on 2/23/2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://diefreiheitsliebe.de/politik/lockdown-light-corona-krise-und-kapitalismus/.]
The Corona pandemic, as we know, does not affect everyone equally. But because epidemics also penetrate “the breezier and healthier neighborhoods inhabited by gentlemen capitalists,” the “upper middle classes” also fear it.
After all, spacing rules, home offices, and homeschooling are easier to endure in large apartments with gardens than in cramped living conditions. The more unequal a society, the more unequal the impact of disease: “Health (is) a profoundly unequally distributed resource”; this is also true for the chances of survival from Corona infection. Data from the UK and the US suggest that severe courses and deaths following SARS-CoV-2 infection are socially unequally distributed. Three main factors are hypothesized: first, occupational activities that make home office retreats impossible and that are often compensated with relatively low wages; second, cramped housing conditions and living in communal accommodations; third, pre-existing somatic conditions that are themselves socially unequally distributed.  In Germany, at the beginning of the pandemic, more affluent and particularly mobile people were infected, likely travelers for work and pleasure, but by the mid-2020s, this trend reversed. A study by Barmer Ersatzkasse shows that temporary workers in industry and logistics are particularly likely to contract corona, second only to health sector workers.
In the widespread general discourse on inequality, however, it is often forgotten that the pandemic and countermeasures have effects shaped by the neoliberal form of capitalism that has dominated since the 1980s.
Three aspects are worth mentioning:
the independence of the financial sphere,
the fragmentation of the labor markets, and
the weakening of social systems.
(1) In the financialized economy, politics and the artifice of economic laws ensure that measures to cushion the crisis strengthen the haves. This is exemplified by Blackrock, the world’s largest wealth fund, which increased assets under management from $7.4 trillion to $8.7 trillion in 2020. Revenues and profits beat analysts’ expectations. This is not surprising, as large financial assets continued to increase in 2020 despite the crisis. In Germany, financial assets rose by 400 billion to 6.7 trillion euros. The top 20 percent of the population benefited from the increase, holding a good 75 percent of the assets. The richest 0.1 percent, with one-fifth of the assets, benefited most, earning high returns on their investments. The lower half of the population has hardly any reserves or is in debt; middle groups with small reserves are reporting losses on balance. Exploding stock and security prices or real estate prices with interest rates close to zero are responsible for the increase in wealth.
The driving force is the expansive monetary policy of the central banks, which is supposed to counteract the crisis but instead directs more and more money into the financial markets. The one-sided orientation of pandemic policy also plays a role: Interventions in the activities of companies, especially in the manufacturing sector, have been taboo since the start of the ‘second wave’ in September 2020; even compliance with hygiene rules is hardly checked there.  Routine or even focussed health inspections are not carried out because the supervisory authorities are already understaffed and because the inspectors are now also in their home offices. In many sectors (mechanical engineering, chemicals/pharmaceuticals, construction), production in the fourth quarter of 2020 was above the previous year’s level, and exports to China are booming. Not surprisingly, of 160 major stock market index companies, only 23 expect dividend cuts, with almost half holding out the prospect of dividend increases. A tragedy was the dispute over more home office, which still reached fewer employees in January 2021 than in April 2020. On January 21, at the suggestion of Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD), the German government issued a SARS-CoV-2 Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance, limited until March 15 (for the time being), which obliges companies, among other things, to offer employees home office “if there are no compelling operational reasons to the contrary.” While this was more than a rather non-binding recommendation, it was one with a backdoor. Under pressure from business owners, intended controls and sanction options were removed from the draft, and in effect what remained was a ‘tightened appeal’.
The pandemic fighters are focusing on the private and leisure sectors. Businesses operating there are complaining of severe slumps, hitting low-paid workers in particular. The companies – which include large restaurant and hotel chains – and their associations are demanding higher government compensation, and the caps were raised again in January. Only larger companies will benefit. Microbusinesses and solo self-employed workers face bureaucratic requirements that cost money (tax accountants) and are difficult to overcome. Neither the government nor interest groups have come up with the idea of making companies and asset owners who are hardly affected by Corona or who benefit from it pay a share of the burden through targeted levies.
(2) In contrast, wage earners are facing massive attacks, even in areas that are benefiting from the crisis. Pressure on working conditions and incomes is increasing, and collectively agreed standards are being called into question. An impression of the corona-induced losses is provided by the global ILO Monitor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates the decline in the volume of work in 2020 at 9 percent, corresponding to 255 million full-time jobs. Workers’ income losses (excluding government compensation) amount to $3.7 trillion, down 8.3 percent from 2019. Although losses are highest in emerging economies-where government compensation figures are scarce-high-income countries also experience losses of 7.8 percent. Women complain of larger declines (-5 percent) than men (-3.9 percent). In the developed countries, some of the income losses are cushioned by government compensation payments, in Germany by short-time working benefits. In April 2020, six million employees were affected by this, and in January 2021 around 2.6 million. The instrument has a highly unequal impact: as Mayer-Ahuja/Detje write, it is tailored to core workforces. In larger companies, it is often topped up. For those (above average) affected in the low-wage sector, wage cuts of up to 40 percent (depending on family status and duration of short-time work) threaten the existence of the workforce. ILO calculations that include state subsidies show that well-qualified workers in industrialized countries experience only minimal income losses; these only affect the less qualified. Excluded from receiving benefits in many cases are mini-jobbers, temporary workers and the solo self-employed.
The unequal distribution of losses in the labor market is shown by the 1.6 percent or 710,000 decline in German employment registered in the last quarter of 2020, while registered unemployment ‘only’ increased by about 500,000: people are being pushed out of the labor market who are not entitled to unemployment benefits. This affects employees who are not subject to social security contributions and solo self-employed workers. Low-wage sectors and ‘atypical’ employment lead to workers being pushed out of the labor market in crisis situations. As expected, low-income sectors are particularly affected: Trade, transport, hospitality and business service providers (=labor hire), quite predominantly women.
(3) A society’s ability to withstand crises depends on its social systems. In the context of Corona, we are talking about hospitals, nursing homes and health care offices. Alarm was sounded there even before the crisis. In this context, it is fortunate that the recommendation of the Bertelsmann study of 2019 to close almost 800 of 1,400 hospitals was not implemented. A significant proportion of those infected can be found in nursing homes and homes for the elderly. The required special protection can hardly be implemented, because already in 2018, according to the Federal Labor Office, 40,000 positions of elderly and nursing care were unfilled. The main role in pandemic control is played by the 400 municipal health offices, which have been systematically neglected in recent decades: As early as 2015, the professional association of German internists warned that they would no longer be able to fulfill their duties. Between 1995 and 2014, the number of doctors there had fallen by a third to around 2,500. Individual offices no longer had a physician. The “Kassel Appeal” of the Federal Association of Public Health Physicians of April 4, 2019, called on municipal employers’ associations to pay them according to the collective agreement for physicians, i.e., to put health offices and municipal hospitals on an equal footing. In 2019, a doctor in a health department earned 1,500 euros less than in a hospital.
The lockdown measures are justified with two main arguments: They say it is necessary to prevent hospitals from being overburdened and to allow health departments to track infections. Had hospital bed cuts of 25 percent (1991 to 2018) and rigid staff reductions been prevented, as well as the drying up of health departments, it would certainly have been easier to combat the pandemic more effectively. One often hears from supporters of the ‘black zero’ that the austerity policies of the past have expanded the state’s room for maneuver in the crisis. The opposite is the case: failure to invest and staff cuts in the public sector have weakened society’s resilience to the crisis.
Not everyone in the same boat
We have already referred to ecological aspects of the pandemic in Z 122. Even before the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, expert publications warned that massive global destruction of nature would make contacts between humans and wildlife, and thus the transmission of potentially dangerous viruses, more likely.
Christian Walzer, head of the Research Institute for Wildlife Science and Ecology at the University of Vienna, uses Ebola as an example to explain the accumulation of zoonoses, or the jumping of pathogens from animals to humans. “Since 1976, eleven Ebola outbreaks have been registered in the Congo region, four of them in the last three years.” At the same time, the natural foundations have been massively altered by human activity: “Since the middle of the 20th century (…) the global urban population has grown by 600 percent, while globally an area of about half the USA has been deforested and carbon emissions have quadrupled. By 2020, 75 percent of the Earth’s surface is considered heavily modified by human activities. Global mammalian biomass is now 60 percent livestock, 36 percent human, and only 4 percent wildlife.” This process is increasing the risk for further pandemics.
It is doubtful, however, “that we are all in the same boat.” The decisive driving forces behind this disruption of the “metabolism with nature” (Marx) are the capitalist mode of production and a world market that is far too little regulated in ecological terms. While the great mass of the population is struggling with the economic consequences of the crisis, the super-rich, among others, are profiting, as a study by the aid organization Oxfam shows: “The wealth of the ten richest men in the world (as of December 2020) has increased by almost half a trillion US dollars since February 2019 – despite the pandemic – to 1.12 trillion US dollars. This windfall would be more than enough to vaccinate the entire world population against Covid-19 and ensure that no one is plunged into poverty by the pandemic. In Germany, the ten richest Germans had a total wealth of around 242 billion US dollars at the end of 2020 – despite the pandemic, an increase of around 35 percent or 62.7 billion US dollars compared to February 2019.” In the Corona pandemic, the connection between class society, the capitalist mode of production and productive forces that have been transformed into “forces of destruction” is manifested.
A quarter of a year “lockdown light”
The first lockdown reduced Corona infections, which had increased exponentially from mid to late March 2020, by thirty percent in each of about three weeks. The 7-day incidence dropped back below 50, which should allow for follow-up and disruption of infection chains. A low point in new infections was reached in June; thereafter, case numbers rose again slightly until the end of September, only to skyrocket within a very short period of time in October to about four times the maximum reached in March. The “lockdown light” agreed upon by federal-state decision on October 28, 2020, went into effect on November 2, long after the number of new infections had exploded. The corresponding measures were limited until the end of November, but did not lead to a reduction in the number of infections. Extensions and tightening of the “lockdown light” followed at the end of November, in mid-December, and most recently on January 19, 2021, “initially limited until February 14.” RKI President Lothar Wieler stated bluntly that this was “not a real lockdown.” It was not until the second half of January that the measures gradually took effect.
The “lockdown light” that was initially announced for a few weeks has thus already extended over more than a quarter of a year. It differs from the lockdown in spring 2020 in many respects. The spread of the epidemic was favored by a number of factors in the fall/winter (drop in temperature; higher level of infestation; emergence of more aggressive mutants). More significantly, from the outset, “lockdown light” was subject to the nebulously worded proviso “that economic life must be kept in tact.”  This was used to describe the fact that – unlike in the spring of 2020 – the contact restrictions intended to reduce the risk of infection were limited to the private and leisure sectors (and thus the consumer, service and cultural sectors associated with passenger traffic) – this initially included keeping schools and daycare centers open – and an extension to restrictions that would have affected the economy as a whole was taboo (see Section 1). With the epidemic having a more favorable chance of spreading than in the spring, much weaker measures were taken to avoid getting in the way of the massive upturn in the economy (especially exports). In the spring, companies in the manufacturing sector welcomed short-time work in the face of collapsed supply chains in order to save on labor costs; in the fall, they strictly rejected all measures going beyond “lockdown light”; they were “relieved” when no stricter requirements were imposed in January either. Measured by indicators such as mobility, home office use or short-time work, the weaker measures had about half the effect, but they entailed a long-lasting restriction of individual basic rights, high social burdens on the lower social strata (lower groups of the working class, the precarious sector, the solo self-employed, etc., as described above) and a permanent social debate about the burdens of the crisis and the sense and nonsense of the respective measures, as well as constant demands from a wide variety of interest groups for an early relaxation. In addition, there were the alternating waves of promises of vaccination and announcements of delays in delivery by pharmaceutical companies, to which the federal and state governments found themselves helplessly at the mercy of. Public acceptance of the measures declined accordingly from 75 percent approval (spring/summer) to 65 percent (October) and below 50 percent in January 2021.
If the Covid 19 pandemic is believed to be a real threat to public health that must be contained by measures affecting all of society – there is no evidence to contradict this – then corresponding effective, democratically controlled measures must also be demanded on the part of the state in the interest of the population. This was underscored in the left-wing spectrum with calls for a “solidarity lockdown” and, most recently, the “ZeroCovid” appeal, which was discussed relatively widely in the social media and, in some cases, also in the national press. In contrast, the “lockdown light” that has dragged on for months with its one-sided permanent burdens also undermines societal crisis resilience from a socio-psychological perspective (see above, section 1).
The corresponding demands are about professionally secured measures to protect the health of all, which are at the same time socially just and democratically legitimized. Which therefore, to mention at least a few aspects,
protect those affected by them according to their social situation – here massive unequal treatment, dominance of property and capital exploitation interests, etc. are to be noted;
provide adequate protection for the age and social groups that are particularly vulnerable to health risks;
grant appropriate support and protection measures for the social and age groups whose social situation and life prospects are particularly affected by lockdown measures (e.g. schoolchildren and their teaching staff, health care workers, workers in institutions providing care for the elderly and children, etc.);
involve the economy as a whole, including large corporate enterprises, and not shift the burden solely to the leisure sector, opening up the private sector to health protection and appropriate controls to the extent necessary;
safeguard democratic rights and put a stop to authoritarian desires for emergency – i.e., the tendency to make the executive branch independent, the de facto sidelining of parliamentary institutions, the preference for “advice” to the executive branch by lobbying institutions of capital (business associations that put property interests first – with compensation demands and the demand not to harm “the economy” – that take health protection of the workforce out of the discussion, etc.); and
bring the crisis profiteers (e.g., mail-order companies, industries marginally affected by the lockdown consequences, pharmaceutical corporations funded with millions) and large wealth owners to bear the costs of the crisis (cf. the Left’s demand for a millionaire’s tax) and push vaccine production by releasing licenses;
Call for international solidarity in fighting the pandemic and dealing with its economic and social consequences. Just as vaccines must be treated as public goods and distributed globally according to urgency and need (rather than by order and payment), priorities must be set so that the most vulnerable countries and populations receive the greatest support.
These are at least some elementary criteria against which to measure political movements and protests.
Corona protests: No left-wing criticism
Leftist criticism of federal and state Corona policies must be measured against the standards developed above. Those who do not address the obvious class character of both the health policy measures and the policies to combat the economic consequences make themselves susceptible to individualistic-esoteric and reactionary positions. In the numerous street protests under the label “Querdenken” or other organizers against the measures to contain the pandemic, there are undeniably quite a number of participants who locate themselves politically on the left and/or also have a past in different scenes of the political left. What attracts and connects them is likely to be anti-authoritarianism, anti-statism, distrust of elites, rule and supranational organizations. However, if one looks at the demands and objectives of the protests, one is struck by the abstractness and narrow-mindedness (such as the rejection of the mask requirement) of their “critique of domination” and the almost complete absence of sociopolitical or even class-political issues, with a subjective-individualist perspective on individual liberties dominating to a large extent. In these movements, the protest against the Corona measures rather articulates a general and fundamental rejection of the restriction of rights perceived as paternalism and coercion, which in many cases no longer cares about concrete evidence, fact-checking and causalities, but instead incorporates what is happening into a grand conspiracy context with which “the rulers” want to consolidate their power over the ruled. The points of contact of such a critique, in many cases based on ‘alternative facts’, to the far right are obvious and are used accordingly by the political right. In this respect, it is not surprising that these protests are increasingly characterized by persons, groups and ideological slogans of the extreme right. This does not speak against the subjective left-wing positioning of many of those involved, but it does show how little well-founded explicitly left-wing criticism is anchored in this movement. The ostentatious confession of being neither left-wing nor right-wing is usually the starting point for a shift of emphasis to the right.
Thus, Oliver Nachtwey, Robert Schäfer, and Nadine Frei describe the Corona protest movement in an empirical approach as “a movement (…) that comes rather from the left, but moves more to the right.” Nachtwey, Schäfer, and Frei have presented a first non-representative empirical study on participants of the Corona protests, which at least gives some indications about this movement. With a relatively high average age of 48 and a female-male ratio of 60:40, the survey reveals an above-average level of education, with 34 percent college graduates and another 31 percent with high school diplomas. 35 percent of respondents say they work full-time, while three percent are unemployed. The proportion of self-employed is well above average (25 percent compared with around 10 percent in the population as a whole), 46 percent say they have personnel responsibility in their job, and 32 percent count themselves among the upper middle class.
Obviously, these figures suggest, the majority of protesters are not primarily those who are hardest hit socially or financially by the crisis. However, the high proportion of self-employed suggests that some of them are suffering from the lockdown measures. In a study by the Hans Böckler Foundation involving some 6,300 workers, those respondents who reported income losses tended to agree more with conspiracy myths.
The previous party political preferences indicated by respondents in the Nachtwey et al. survey illustrate the heterogeneous origins of protesters, some of whom tended to be on the left, while at the same time being distant from the parties carrying the government. The Greens, for example, were ahead of the Left with 23 percent and the AfD with 15 percent. The CDU/CSU, FDP and SPD followed behind with 10, 7 and 6 percent respectively. In the future, however, only the AfD will play a role for the respondents with 27 percent, while the Left will drop to 5 and the Greens together with the CDU/CSU and SPD (one, one and zero percent) will play virtually no role. However, 61 percent say they would vote “Other” in the future, documenting a general turning away from established politics, including the AfD.
Nachtwey, Schäfer, Frei assume that there is great heterogeneity within the movement, which is linked by “shared mentalities. In terms of content, this is reflected in an “ostentatious distinction, i.e. the striving for otherness. The criticism is not aimed at individual measures, but rather at a “general suspicion” that can be articulated through the Corona crisis: “Against the rich and powerful, against science, orthodox medicine, the judiciary and police, etc.”. The criticism therefore also often digresses, quickly one is at 9/11 and draws parallels to National Socialism.” (60) More important than the criticism is the self-portrayal as a critic. The demonstrations were part of a series of politically diverse protests that went beyond “traditional forms of representation. (63) They were characterized by a “deep alienation from the core institutions of liberal democracy” (62), which is an expression of the “loss of control” of the political system in the face of an unleashed capitalism, which was also discussed in line 117. What is needed, then, is a left-wing treatment of the current crisis that addresses this connection without giving space to mystifying narratives of the great restructuring, the conspiracy of the elites or other dark forces. The sell-out of public services, the class-based inequality of contagion risks or the question of who bears the costs of the crisis are better starting points for this than QAnon conspiracy, virus denial or vaccination hysteria.
This text by Jörg Goldberg, André Leisewitz, Gerd Wiegel, Michael Zander appeared in the March issue of Z. Marxist Renewal magazine.
We should strive quite fundamentally for a different Europe and a different Russia, namely each freed from capitalist, parasitic oligarchy. The Jaurès maxim, “Capitalism carries war like the cloud carries rain,” is more relevant than ever. Only in another – post-capitalist, social-ecological – Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, can peace and justice become a reality.
In 2014. hedge-fund manager John Page made $8 billion, equivalent to $4 million an hour. Like others, he used taxpayer money &didn’t pay any significant tax while operating with tax tricks! Chris Hedges is right; there’s no reason to call the US a functioning democracy any more!
The psychology of the warmongers
The “New Society for Psychology” comments on the war in Ukraine.
By Klaus-Jürgen Bruder
[This article posted on 11/18/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/die-psychologie-der-kriegstreiber.]
That the boycott measures against Russia are directed against the interests of the population can be seen by everyone in the rapidly rising cost of living, the threats of restrictions on electricity and energy supplies, restrictions on train traffic, and so on. Everybody sees that? Only those who want to see it! The visible restrictions, threats and, for quite a few, losses that have already become real and threaten their existence, affect “only” the “lower and middle income earners” – but these make up the majority of the population. Robert Habeck “does not have to go to war” as he cheekily admitted at Maischberger, he “does not have to die!” He also does not have to freeze and he does not have to go to the food bank! The majority of the population, on the other hand, faces a different situation.
They do not want war, especially not an extension of war. If only because of the restrictions imposed on it by the measures declared by the government as a “reaction” to the preceding action of the war ostensibly started by Russia.
This declaration, however, presupposes the denial of the preparation for war. This preparation begins at the very latest with the coup on the Maidan in Kiev, 2014, if one does not want to add the information war since the nineties. Ultimately, NATO’s goal from the beginning was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” – in the words of the first Secretary General, Lord Ismay.
Denial of reality, of real contexts, is the basic principle of war propaganda. Only by denying one’s own preparation for war can one maintain the claim: “We don’t want war. It is the other’s fault. He is the aggressor. We are merely defending ourselves against him, a vicious, devious, war-mongering enemy; we are defending freedom, democracy, against autocracy, in solidarity with the helpless.”
Which freedom is defended with it, if one is dependent for it even on the assistance of autocracies, like Qatar or Saudi Arabia, – in order to buy from there oil and gas (for a much higher price) that one had denied oneself by the boycott of Russia. This is also a denial: not wanting to see that one harms oneself more than the boycotted. But who knows, maybe one is not acting in one’s own interest, but on behalf of someone else.
More and more German companies are expanding their presence in the United States to the detriment of production sites in the Federal Republic – German Foreign-policy reports:
“Current high energy prices are calling into question the continued existence of energy-intensive factories in Germany; there is a threat of relocation abroad – especially to the United States, where energy prices are considerably lower. Re-industrialization of the United States would then be accompanied by de-industrialization of Germany.”
The contradiction between the intention and the result of the boycott measures dissolves if one sees the result of the boycott measures as part of the plan to “rebuild society” as outlined by Klaus Schwab in “The Great Reset.” Not to do so would be denial – of the American geostrategy advocated for decades.
Denial of reality takes many forms: from all forms of lying, false assertion, reversal into the opposite, defamation of the opposite position as unsolidaristic, inhumane, egoistic, obsessed with power, to silence.
The forms of denial are not only the principles of war propaganda, but of the discourse of power in general, of that media-mediated brainwashing to which the population is invited every day: the decisive means of domination. That domination which does not want to expose itself in the open exercise of violence, but presents itself as the will of the ruled. It does not work – or only in borderline cases – by threat, command or prescription, but rather by “persuasion”, by assertion, instruction, by “showing” – by the registers of talking – and of concealing, hiding, simply by entering the discourse and moving in this discourse according to its rules (see Michel Foucault).
When behavioral scientists talk about “nudging” today, this is exactly what they mean; they assert that it is not about “nudging people in a certain direction by strict rules, but supporting them in a behavior they actually want to do” (Lucia Reisch of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology).
For the dominated, denial provides the opportunity to deny their very being dominated. Therefore, one willingly enters the discourse of power, adopting the fiction of competence.
“I can do what I’m supposed to, so I want to! – put on the mask, keep the distance from the other, define him as dangerous, ‘solidarity’ – with the rulers and in this way be a recognized member of the community.”
We see here the phenomenon of “class psychology” (Peter Brückner): the importance of the difference from which social position denial is deployed, or follows its deployment. This is not so much a question of “conscious or unconscious,” of whether politicians “believe” their lies or only pretend to, but: The politician’s denial is the offer (nudge) to the belied to act as if he adopts the lie as his own justification for his actions (rationalization). On both sides the denial can conceal a “pretending”, show a behavior as if they “actually like to do it”. And behavior is what ultimately matters to the rulers.
With the war, the tone of the discourse of power has changed. In place of “supporting” the behavior of the population that “they would actually like to do” has come the threat.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in his presidential address of October 28, 2022, announced “rough” and “tough” years ahead. The sanctions are “without alternative”, the citizens should not complain, because “energy may become more expensive, but freedom is priceless”.
Thus he authorizes himself to push ahead with the militarization of society: “We need the will for self-assertion and also the strength for self-restraint,” “a spirit of resistance and resilience,” an appropriately equipped Bundeswehr (German army) and a “society that backs it up.”
At the same time – eight days earlier – the Bundestag had passed the tightening of Section 130 of the Criminal Code against “incitement of the people,” which allows prosecution of anyone who “approves, denies or grossly trivializes” “war crimes.” The repertoire of psychological warfare no longer seems sufficient.
Nevertheless, denial is still in play. All of the defining features of the offense are open to interpretation and thus dependent on the state of the discourse of power. During the Corona pandemic staging, “denial” as a criminal offense had been placed on a par with that of Holocaust denial. Thus, criticism of the staging was subject to criminal sanction. The same is now possible with criticism of the attitude of the community of values, including Germany, towards the war, and to an increased extent, by condemning this criticism as denial, trivialization or even approval of “war crimes” – and unilaterally on the Russian side.
And when, on the other hand, Ms. Baerbock, a member of the most important “transatlantic” networks such as the World Economic Forum and the German Marshall Fund, proclaims seemingly unprotected: Her grandfather defended Europe’s freedom against the advancing Red Army on the Eastern Front in 1945, she makes an unheard-of provocation for a German foreign minister, which should also fall under the criminal offense of trivializing the Nazi war, but at the same time she distracts from the mission on which she is acting.
Even if with the war the tone of the discourse of power has intensified, even if the “support” of the behavior of the population has been replaced by the threat, it still remains important to win over the population, if only to condone the policy, the political action of the rulers, the psychologists are still important in the governmental consultation – even the punishment has its “psychological” effects – after all, as Lucia Reisch already makes clear for the Corona pandemic staging, it is about “learning new habits”.
So we are challenged as psychologists to take a stand against this.
The board of the New Society for Psychology
Klaus-Jürgen Bruder, Conny Stahmer-Weinandy, Jürgen Günther
Editorial note: The statement of the New Society for Psychology on war first appeared on its homepage.
Klaus-Jürgen Bruder, Prof. Dr., studied psychology, sociology and politics in Würzburg and Heidelberg and taught at the Free University of Berlin. He is considered one of the most prominent representatives of an explicitly socio-critical psychology and is the first chairman of the New Society for Psychology (NGfP).
“The war cannot be won”
by Silvia Federici & Etienne Balibar, Michael Löwy & Marcello Musto
[This conversation posted on 8/24/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.linksnet.de/artikel/48418.]
The Russian war of aggression poses new challenges to the left. How does it position itself in the turmoil of imperial rearmament, legitimate self-defense and new bloc confrontation? Étienne Balibar, Silvia Federici, Michael Löwy and Marcello Musto talked about this.
Marcello Musto: The Russian invasion of Ukraine has once again brought the brutality of war to Europe. Now the world is faced with the dilemma: how to deal with this attack on Ukrainian sovereignty?
Michael Löwy: As long as Putin still pretended to protect the Russian-speaking minorities in the Donetsk region, his policy at least had the appearance of rationality. The same can be said about his rejection of NATO’s eastward expansion. But for his brutal invasion of Ukraine, with all the bombed cities, the thousands of civilian victims – including old people, children… – there is no justification at all.
Étienne Balibar: The war that is raging here before all our eyes is a “total” war. A war of destruction and terror, waged by the army of an all-powerful state whose government is waging an irreversible, imperialist campaign against its smaller neighbor. The most urgent and immediate imperative of the hour is for Ukrainians to maintain their resistance. To do so, they must be supported by action, not just expressions of sympathy. But what kind of deeds? This is where the tactical discussion begins, i.e. the weighing of the benefits and risks of defense versus attack. Waiting and seeing is not an option.
Marcello: The justified Ukrainian resistance aside, the equally crucial question is how Europe can avoid being seen as a party to the war. Instead, European governments must contribute as effectively as possible to a diplomatic initiative to end the hostilities. The demand of a significant part of the population that Europe should not participate in this war should be understood in this sense – regardless of the war rhetoric of the last three months. The most important point here is that further suffering of the population must be prevented. Because there is a danger that the country, having already been reduced to rubble by the Russian army, will be turned into a weapons depot and permanently supplied with supplies by NATO. And then a protracted war will be waged on behalf of Washington, where it is hoped that Russia will be permanently weakened and Europe will become more economically and militarily dependent on the United States. Should this occur, the conflict would go beyond the legitimate defense of Ukrainian sovereignty. Those who have warned from the beginning about the dangerous spiral of war that would drive the supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine are fully aware of the violence that takes place there every day. They certainly do not want to simply abandon the population to Russia’s military superiority. “Non-aligned” by no means means neutrality or equidistance, as has been claimed in many a distorted account. It is not a matter of principle of abstract pacifism, but rather one of concrete diplomatic alternative. This means carefully examining every action or statement: Does it bring us one step closer to the current supreme goal of initiating serious negotiations to achieve peace?
Silvia Federici: I don’t see any dilemma: Russia’s war against Ukraine is to be condemned. Nothing can justify the destroyed cities, the killing of innocent people or the terror under which thousands and thousands are forced to live right now. Much more than Ukraine’s sovereignty has been violated by this act of aggression. But I agree that we must also criticize the many actions of the U.S. and NATO that helped prepare the ground for this war in the first place. And also the decision of the U.S. and the EU to supply weapons to Ukraine, because that will prolong the war indefinitely. The arms deliveries should be rejected not least because the Russian invasion could have been prevented, namely if Russia had received a guarantee from the U.S. that NATO would not be extended to Russia’s borders.
Marcello: Since the beginning of the war, one of the main points of discussion has been what kind of assistance Ukraine should receive to defend itself against Russian aggression, without at the same time creating the conditions for even more massive destruction and the international expansion of the conflict. In recent months, this has included President Selensky’s call for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, the scope of economic sanctions against Russia, and, more importantly, the issue of arms deliveries to the Ukrainian government. What decisions do you think would be necessary to reduce the number of casualties in Ukraine as much as possible and prevent further escalation of the conflict?
Michael: There are many things to criticize about Ukraine today: the democratic deficits, the oppression of the Russian-speaking minority, the ‘Occidentalism’ and much more. And yet Ukrainians* have every right to defend themselves against the Russian invasion of their country – and the brutal, criminal disregard for their right to national self-determination.
Étienne: I would say that Ukraine’s struggle against the Russian invasion is, in the sense of legal history, a bellum justum, that is, a “just war.” I am well aware that this is a questionable category and that the history of this conceptualization in the West is far from unproblematic. And yet I can’t think of a more appropriate term. So I want to appropriate it, emphasizing that in my view a “just war” is one in which it is not enough merely to acknowledge that it is legitimate to defend against aggression – that is, the international law criterion. But that it is also necessary to show solidarity with the defenders and to take sides with them. And finally, it is a war in which one does not have the choice to remain passive – not even people like me, for whom every war in the current world order is unacceptable and catastrophic. The consequences of such passivity would be even worse. So even if I am not enthusiastic about this, I am consciously positioning myself against Putin.
Marcello: I can well understand this perspective, but I would emphasize more strongly how necessary it is to prevent a general conflagration, that is, how urgent a peace agreement is. The longer that fails to happen, the more the danger of a widening war grows. It is not a matter of looking the other way and ignoring what is happening in Ukraine. But we must realize that it is illusory to believe that the war against Putin – that is, against the nuclear power Russia, a country where, incidentally, there is currently no peace movement worth mentioning – can be won.
Étienne: I am very afraid of a military – even nuclear – escalation. That is a horror scenario that clearly cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, pacifism is not an option. It is the order of the day to support Ukraine in its resistance. So let’s not go back to the old canard of non-intervention. The EU is already involved in the war anyway. Even though it is not sending troops, it is supplying weapons – and I think it is right to do so. It is a form of intervention.
Marcello: On May 9, 2022, the Biden administration approved the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act: a package of more than $40 billion in military and financial aid to Ukraine. A gigantic sum, to which must be added aid from various EU countries. And it seems to be about financing a long lasting war. Biden himself reinforced this impression when he announced on June 15 that the U.S. would provide additional military aid worth $1 billion. The ever-increasing deliveries of military equipment by the U.S. and NATO encourage Selenskyj to keep postponing much-needed talks with the Russian government. Moreover, it is a legitimate question whether these deliveries are really being used exclusively to push Russian forces off Ukrainian territory, considering that weapons have also been delivered to war zones in the past and, in many cases, later used by third parties for entirely different purposes.
Silvia: I think the most sensible thing the U.S. and the EU could do now would be to guarantee Russia that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, this was also promised to Gorbachev, but never in writing. Unfortunately, there is little interest in reaching a solution. Many actors in the U.S. military and political power apparatus have been challenging and preparing for confrontation with Russia for years. Now the war serves as justification to drastically expand oil production without regard to global warming. Already, Biden has broken his campaign promise to end oil production on indigenous lands. So among the biggest winners in this war is the military-industrial complex, which is just being boosted by the detour of billions of dollars. Peace, however, will not be achieved by escalating the fighting.
Marcello: Now to the question of how there has been a reaction on the part of the left to the Russian invasion. Some organizations, albeit a small minority, made a fatal political mistake in refusing to unequivocally condemn Russia’s “special military operation” – a mistake that, quite apart from anything else, also makes future condemnation of aggression by NATO or any other actor much less credible. This reveals an ideologically one-dimensional view of politics, as if all geopolitical issues must be judged solely on the basis of whether they are aimed at weakening the United States. At the same time, all too many others on the left have succumbed to the temptation to become more or less openly enthusiastic supporters of this war. The positions of the Socialist International, the Greens in Germany, or the few progressive members of the Democratic Party in the U.S. have not surprised me much – although there is always something shrill and effervescent about the sudden defection to militarism of people who just the day before professed pacifism. But I am thinking especially of certain forces on the “radical” left that have currently lost any independent voice amid the pro-Selenskyj chorus. I think that if progressive forces don’t position themselves against war, then they lose a central element of their raison d’être and end up adopting the argument of their political opponent.
Michael: It is no coincidence that “radical” left parties around the world -even those considered particularly Soviet-nostalgic, such as the Communist Parties in Greece or Chile- have in their vast majority condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Unfortunately, in Latin America, important left-wing forces and even governments, as in Venezuela, have sided with Putin or else taken a supposedly “neutral” position. The left is thus faced with a choice: either the right of peoples to self-determination – which Lenin once also advocated – or the right of empires to invade and annex other countries. You can’t have both, they are incompatible positions.
Silvia: In the US, representatives of social and feminist organizations like Code Pink have condemned Russia’s aggression. Nevertheless, it has been denounced that the US and NATO are very selective in defending democracy. Just consider their roles in Afghanistan, Yemen, or Africom operations in the Sahel region. And the list could go on. The hypocrisy of the U.S. is evident, among other things, in the fact that in the case of Ukraine, the U.S. government speaks of defending democracy, but says not a word about Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine, or about the permanent destruction of Palestinian lives. Moreover, the U.S. opens its doors to Ukrainian refugees, while they remain closed to migrants from Latin America. Although the flight from their home countries was and is for many just as much a question of life and death. Looking at the left as a whole, it is indeed a shame that the institutional left – starting with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – has come out in favor of supplying arms to Ukraine. I would also like to see the critical media scrutinize more closely what we are being told at the institutional level in the first place. For example: Why is Africa “starving” because of the war in Ukraine? What international trade policies have made African countries dependent on Ukrainian grain supplies in the first place? Why is there no mention in this context of the massive land grabs by international corporations, the so-called “new race for Africa”? Hence my question: whose lives are really considered valuable and worth protecting? And why do only very specific forms of death trigger outrage?
Marcello: Despite the great support for NATO in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – witnessed in particular by the official membership applications of Finland and Sweden – it is necessary to argue even more vehemently against the general notion that the largest and most aggressive military machine in the world (NATO) can help solve global security problems. This is because NATO has repeatedly proven itself to be a dangerous organization that, through its drive for expansion and unipolar dominance, stirs up tensions around the world that ultimately lead to war.
However, we are also currently experiencing a paradox: barely four months after the start of the war, we are in fact realizing that Putin has not only relied on the wrong military strategy. He has also ultimately strengthened the very enemy – and in particular its ability to build international consensus – whose influence he actually wanted to push back: NATO.
Étienne: I am a proponent of the view that NATO should also have been dissolved with the end of the Cold War, in parallel with the winding down of the Warsaw Pact. But NATO had not only an external function, but also – possibly even mainly – the function of disciplining the Western camp internally, not to say bringing it into line. All of this undoubtedly involves a form of imperialism: NATO is one of the instruments used to prevent genuine European geopolitical independence from the U.S. empire. That is one of the reasons why NATO was preserved in the aftermath of the Cold War. And I would agree with the statement that the consequences of that have been devastating for the whole world. NATO has propped up dictatorships in its own sphere of influence. It has covered up or condoned wars in which crimes against humanity have been committed. What is happening right now because of Russia has not changed my opinion about NATO there.
Michael: NATO is an imperialist organization that, dominated by the United States, is responsible for countless wars of aggression. It is a fundamental task of democracy to smash this political-military monster that the Cold War once produced. NATO’s weakening in recent years prompted France’s President Macron to say as recently as 2019 that the alliance was “brain dead.” Unfortunately, Russia’s criminal invasion of Ukraine has now breathed new life into the same alliance. U.S. troops are stationed in Europe in large numbers, and Germany recently approved special spending on 100 billion euros worth of rearmament, despite refusing to increase its military spending just two years ago – and despite unrelenting pressure from Trump. Putin has thus saved NATO from its slow decline, perhaps even disintegration.
Silvia: It is already very worrying that Russia’s war against Ukraine has created a complete amnesia, namely regarding NATO’s expansionism and its support for the imperialist policies of the EU and the US. It would be time to refresh memories of NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, its role in Iraq, as well as in the violent breakup of Libya. The examples in which NATO has expressed its utter and fundamental disregard for democracy – that universal value it now claims to defend – are too numerous to even list. I do not believe that NATO was truly doomed before the Russian attack on Ukraine. Rather, its march through Eastern Europe and its current presence in Africa point to the exact opposite.
Marcello: This amnesia seems to have afflicted many leftist forces, especially those with government involvement. In a complete repudiation of their historical principles, the majority of the Finnish Left Alliance’s parliamentary group recently approved their country’s accession to NATO. In Spain, a large part of Unidas Podemos joined an interparliamentary chorus of deputies who voted in favor of supplying arms to the Ukrainian army and immediately gave their approval to the enormous increases in arms spending. A party that does not have the courage to raise its voice against such policies ultimately only contributes to the expansion of U.S. militarism in Europe. For such servile political behavior, left-wing parties have often been punished in the past whenever the opportunity arose, including at the ballot box.
Étienne: It would be best for Europe to be able to defend its own territory. It would also need an effective system of international security – that is, a democratic renewal of the UN and the abolition of the veto in the Security Council. But the more NATO gains in importance as a security structure, the more that of the UN declines. In Kosovo, in Libya, and especially in Iraq in 2013, it has always been the goal of the U.S. – and by extension NATO – to weaken the UN’s ability to mediate, regulate, and enforce international law.
Marcello: In conclusion: What course do you expect the war to take and what future scenarios do you think are possible?
Étienne: The upcoming developments can only make us deeply pessimistic. For me, at least, that’s the case, and I rate the chances as very low that a catastrophe can still be averted. I see at least three reasons for this. First, further escalation is likely, especially if resistance to the invasion can be sustained over the long term: And such an escalation would not end with conventional weapons – partly because their distinction from weapons of mass destruction has become very blurred anyway. Second, if the war ends with a “result,” it will be disastrous in any case. It would be fatal, of course, should Putin achieve his goal and defeat Ukraine. This would only encourage him to further similar ventures. The same would be true should he be forced to retreat and the world return to a policy of rigid bloc confrontation. Either scenario would bring a long-lasting resurgence of nationalism and hatred. Third, war and its aftermath block – indeed, accelerate – global mobilization against climate catastrophe. Too much time has already been wasted.
Michael: I share these concerns, especially with regard to the now protracted fight against climate change, which has been completely eclipsed by the arms race of all countries that have been alarmed by the war.
Silvia: I am also pessimistic. The U.S. and other NATO countries show no willingness to give Russia any guarantees that NATO will not expand to Russia’s borders. So the war will continue. And it will have devastating consequences for Ukraine, Russia and far beyond. Only the coming months will show to what extent other European countries will be affected. For the foreseeable future, I cannot imagine any other scenario than a continuing, permanent state of war, which is already a reality in so many parts of the world. This includes the extensive use of public resources for destructive purposes that would be so badly needed in the area of social reproduction. It pains me that there is currently no powerful feminist movement taking to the streets, on strike, and determined to fight for an end to all wars.
Marcello: I also have the impression that the war will not end soon. A peace that may not be perfect, but immediate, would certainly be preferable to prolonging the war. But there are too many forces pushing for a different solution. Every time a government declares that it will “support Ukraine until it emerges as the clear winner,” the prospect of negotiations recedes further into the distance. Therefore, I think it is more likely that we are looking at a permanent prolongation of the war. A war in which Russian troops face a Ukrainian army equipped and indirectly supported by NATO. The left should fight tirelessly here for a diplomatic solution and against higher military spending. After all, the cost of this will ultimately be borne by the working population, fueling yet more economic and social crises. If this happens, it will benefit parties of the far right, which are already shaping the European political debate in an increasingly aggressive and reactionary manner.
Étienne: In order to present a constructive perspective for a solution, we should advocate for the reordering of Europe – taking into account the respective interests of Russia, Ukraine and our own. And in a way in which questions of nation and nationality would be entirely rethought. Even more ambitious would be the project of creating a multilingual, multicultural, cosmopolitan Greater Europe, instead of declaring the militarization of Europe to be the most important task for the future – no matter how alternative it may seem in the short term. The goal would be nothing less than to prevent a clash of civilizations, of which Europe would otherwise become the epicenter.
Michael: In the sense of a more positive ambition, I suggest: We should strive quite fundamentally for a different Europe and a different Russia, namely each freed from capitalist, parasitic oligarchy. The Jaurès maxim, “Capitalism carries war like the cloud carries rain,” is more relevant than ever. Only in another – post-capitalist, social-ecological – Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, can peace and justice become a reality. Whether this is a realistic scenario? That is up to each and every one of us.
Silvia Federici is a feminist activist and professor emerita of political philosophy and women studies living in New York City.
Russia is to blame for our gas shortage, rising prices and high inflation. That’s what the newspapers say, that’s what you hear on the news and that’s what presenters claim. Of course, this is not true. But the constant repetition of false claims shapes the public consciousness. This is evident from the fact that most invited talk show guests take such claims for granted.
Misjudgements – We have to make ourselves honest
by Peter Vonnahme.
[This article posted on 11/4/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Fehleinschätzungen – Wir müssen uns ehrlich machen.]
Russia is to blame for our gas shortage, rising prices and high inflation. That’s what the newspapers say, that’s what you hear on the news and that’s what presenters like Markus Lanz, Maybrit Illner and Sandra Maischberger claim. Of course, this is not true. But the constant repetition of false claims shapes the public consciousness. This is evident from the fact that most invited talk show guests take such claims for granted. If a daredevil studio guest tries to differentiate or even contradict, he is rigorously interrupted, shouted over, or prevented from presenting his thoughts in an orderly fashion with a staccato of further questions. From Peter Vonnahme.
Walking the tightrope between simplifications and lies
A prime example of this perfidious method is the rhetorical rape of political scientist Prof. Ulrike Guérot in the Lanz talk show of 2. 6. 2022 (from about min. 16) on the subject of arms deliveries. Whatever Guérot said, it was chopped up into fragments by the Russophobic triumvirate Markus Lanz as an immoral host, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann as a Bellicist assault gun and Frederik Pleitgen as a US-trimmed war reporter. The only correct way of thinking was clear from the beginning: We, the West, are the good guys, Russia is evil, Putin even more so, weapons are necessary, negotiating is pointless.
In such a climate, deliberation, truth-seeking and de-escalation have no chance. All the more reason for distorted images and lies to flourish. The preconceived notion that Russia alone is to blame for all the misery of the present has an easy time of it after half a year of media distortions and hard-boiled indoctrination. The idea that energy gaps, price increases and payment problems could have other causes is practically absent from the mainstream of newspapers and TV stations. We have become accustomed to simplifications and lies. Peace has receded into the far distance.
Russia has broken international law by invading Ukraine. But that does not mean that this war created the problems that weigh heavily on Germany today: Gas shortages, unaffordable energy prices, cold rooms for the poor, company bankruptcies, inflation. These are not direct consequences of the war, but consequences of the sanctions imposed by Germany against Russia. Without them, the problems would not exist.
Let’s remember: It was not Russia that stopped gas supplies to Germany, but Germany that declared after the Russian invasion of Ukraine that it no longer wanted to buy gas from Russia so as not to fill Putin’s war chest. German Foreign Minister Baerbock narrowly celebrated the EU sanctions package with the most ill-considered line of the year: “This will ruin Russia.” Putin then reminded her that he could also cut off gas to Germany.
These were unusual tones from Moscow. After all, Russia had been appreciated for decades for supplying energy both cheaply and reliably. And everyone was satisfied, politicians, business, consumers.
The supply freeze
What is important is the chronological sequence. First, Germany sided with the warring party Ukraine by supplying heavy weapons and instructing Ukrainian military personnel; this can be considered de facto as participation in the war (according to the Scientific Service of the German Bundestag). In response, the Kremlin resorted to its arsenal of countermeasures, ranging from short-term delivery restrictions due to repair work to maintenance programs to real delivery stops. In retrospect, it is obvious that the German sanctions and military aid are the decisive causes of our current problems. Responsible policymakers would have been expected not to decide on sanctions before becoming familiar with the massive vulnerability of their own country. Such a consideration has been inadequately done, if at all.
Nord Stream 1 and 2
Large holes were blown in these pipelines in late September. The originator is not known. What is clear, however, is that the sabotage requires capacities that are only available to state agencies (submarines or naval divers). The damage to the three pipeline strings hit by the explosions is significant. How long it would take to repair them is uncertain.
Western leading media, as might be expected, blamed Russia for the attacks. An advisor to the Ukrainian president declared, without any evidence, that the “gas leak” was “a terrorist attack planned by Russia.” This is not convincing. Why should Russia destroy its own pipelines, which it built at a cost of billions? That would also be pointless because Putin – had he wanted to – could have sanctioned Germany much more quickly and easily by turning off the gas tap.
However, there is clearly a great interest on the part of the U.S. in destroying Nord Stream. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a few days after the blasts that the U.S. is now “the leading supplier of LNG gas to Europe” and that Europe’s dependence on Russian energy has ended once and for all. Actually, this goal had been set long ago. For U.S. President Joe Biden had announced in no uncertain terms on February 7 during the inaugural visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Washington would “put an end to Nord Stream 2” in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This seals Germany’s energy fate, at least for this winter. It is virtually impossible that gas will be transported to Europe via Nord Stream, even if the government were to change its mind under the pressure of economic hardship.
Against this backdrop, the outrage of the traffic light parties and the CDU/CSU over a remark made by Sahra Wagenknecht in her recent BT speech is hypocritical. Wagenknecht accused the government of “unleashing an unprecedented economic war against our most important energy supplier” and in the next half-sentence said “of course the war in Ukraine is a crime.” What’s wrong with that? Wagenknecht did not say that Germany had unleashed a war, she spoke of an economic war. That is something different. It is debatable whether this pointed formulation was chosen happily. But it contains more truth than the truncated formula that Russia is to blame for our looming economic misery. This has become part of our linguistic usage, but it is wrong.
Rescue package and “double whammy
The foreseeable personal hardships and economic upheavals of the coming months cannot be prevented by the hundreds of billions of euros in aid programs planned by the government. The traffic lights have loosened up a lot of money since the start of the Ukraine war, for example 100 billion for the Bundeswehr (“Zeitenwende”), 200 billion for a defense umbrella and ongoing payments to Ukraine. But no matter what the government calls its programs, whether “special assets,” “gas price brake,” “double whammy” or economic stabilization fund, they are and remain debts. They are just not called that. This is intended to undermine the constitutional debt brake (Article 109 of the Basic Law). But these programs will not be able to solve the problems they have created themselves.
The fact is, you can print as much money as you want, but not a single drop of oil. Nor any gas. And that is exactly what we need.
The way out
This means that policymakers must get to the real causes of the ills.
They must break the vicious circle of suspicions, accusations, sanctions, counter-sanctions, arms deliveries resulting in war victims and refugee misery. Our politicians should resist the temptation to blame “the Russians” for everything that goes wrong, as it were on suspicion. It would be helpful to stop avoiding inconvenient truths.
This includes the fact that the current war did not begin on February 24, 2022, with the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, but that this breach of international law has a long history in which the Western world of states has played an inglorious role. I have explained this several times (among others here and here ).
Special position of Ukraine?
We have to say openly, for example, that it is not self-evident that one country sacrifices itself for another, especially when the latter – like Ukraine – is not a member of a common alliance system. Conversely, this means that taking national interests into account, especially the welfare and well-being of one’s own population, is neither cowardly nor heartless; for members of the government, this even follows from the oath of office. The overwhelming majority in the Bundestag subordinated itself to American geopolitical interests. Germany has strongly supported Ukraine economically and militarily, partly under pressure and partly out of conviction. It is therefore time for Germany to make further aid to Ukraine dependent on recognizable peace efforts by the Ukrainian leadership. But so far it has not had the courage to do so.
To make matters worse, Ukraine is not the only country in need of our help. Many countries are at war (e.g., Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Cameroon, Congo). Other countries have been hit by major natural disasters (earthquakes, droughts, floods, etc.). The number of victims is sometimes dramatically higher than in Ukraine. This country has no special position, neither historically nor politically. The mere fact that Ukraine was attacked by Russia, the system opponent of the “Western community of values”, does not justify preferential treatment from a humanitarian point of view. The people of other countries suffer no less from cruel wars and devastation.
Nor should it be taboo to think about the continuation of sanctions. They are not natural phenomena, such as avalanches, floods or famines, but political constructs. As a result, they can be revoked at any time by political decisions. This is the case when it becomes clear that sanctions do not (or no longer) serve their purpose or – even worse – harm one’s own country more than the actual sanction addressee.
The original mistake of the German sanctions was the obsessive idea of strategists à la Baerbock, Hofreiter, Strack-Zimmermann and Kiesewetter that Russia could be ruined. Even if this succeeded – which is rather unlikely – what would be gained? Nothing! Because the geography cannot be changed. Russia would remain the largest country on earth, an area that extends over ten time zones. It is the country that has the most mineral resources in the world, besides coal, oil, gas, also iron ore, nickel, copper, aluminum, platinum, gold, diamonds and uranium. This huge country will always be our neighbor, with whom we will have to live together for better or worse. With and without Putin. If we actually succeeded in ruining Russia, we would have a destroyed country in our backyard with many millions of misery refugees moving towards Germany. Is that what we want? Therefore, with all appreciation for Ukraine and its impressive fortitude, we must not win the war against Russia, but peace. Then all the aforementioned problems will solve themselves.
Biden’s foreign policy is the demise of Democrats – and Ukraine
By Jeffrey D. Sachs
[This article posted on 11/3/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Bidens Außenpolitik ist der Untergang der Demokraten – und der Ukraine – MAKROSKOP.]
The proxy war between the U.S. and Russia is devastating Ukraine – ironically, in the name of saving Ukraine. But Biden is also running into a problem.
Through a deeply misguided foreign policy, U.S. President Joe Biden is undermining the Democrats’ chances of success in Congress. Believing that America’s reputation in the world is at stake because of the Ukraine war, he has so far consistently rejected a diplomatic alternative. At the same time, the Ukraine war – combined with the Biden administration’s severing of economic ties with China – is exacerbating stagflation. What is becoming a tangible problem for Biden is likely to give Republicans one or both houses of Congress. Even worse, this course further exposes Ukraine to destruction and threatens to lead to nuclear war.
Of course, Biden has inherited a thankless legacy. The U.S. economy is reeling from profound disruptions to global supply chains due to the pandemic and Trump’s erratic trade policies. But instead of trying to mend fences and fix the disruptions, he has further escalated conflicts with Russia and China.
Biden attacked House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for expressing doubts about another large financial package for Ukraine:
“They [House Republicans] have said that if they win the election, they probably won’t continue to fund Ukraine, the Ukrainian war against the Russians. These people didn’t get it. It’s about much more than Ukraine – it’s about Eastern Europe. It’s about NATO. It is about real, serious, serious consequences. They have no sense of American foreign policy.”
When a group of progressive Democrats in Congress pushed for negotiations to end the Ukraine war, they were pilloried by fellow party members who toed the White House line and forced to withdraw their call for diplomacy.
Biden believes that U.S. credibility depends on extending NATO to Ukraine and defeating Russia. Repeatedly, he refused to negotiate diplomatically with Russia on the issue of NATO’s eastward expansion. A grave mistake, not without a certain irony: in the name of saving Ukraine, he has fueled a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia in which Ukraine is being devastated.
Not to mention that the whole issue of NATO enlargement is based on a U.S. lie that goes back to the 1990s. The U.S. and Germany promised Gorbachev, as part of the negotiations for the Two Plus Four Treaty, that NATO would not move “an inch to the east” if Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Warsaw Pact military alliance and accepted German reunification. Significantly – and with typical cynicism – the U.S. did not abide by that agreement.
How the West betrayed Gorbachev and fueled the Ukraine conflict
Thomas Palley | September 06, 2022
As recently as 2021, Biden could have prevented the Ukraine war without sacrificing a single vital U.S. or Ukrainian interest. U.S. security depends absolutely not on NATO expansion to include Ukraine or Georgia. On the contrary, NATO expansion around the Black Sea region undermines U.S. security by putting the U.S. in direct confrontation with Russia (and in further violation of promises made three decades earlier). Nor does Ukraine’s security depend on NATO enlargement, as even Volodymyr Selenskyj had confirmed on numerous occasions.
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned the United States since 2008 to keep NATO out of Ukraine, a region of vital security interest to Russia. Biden has been equally firm in pushing for NATO expansion. In late 2021, Putin made a last-ditch diplomatic attempt to block NATO expansion. Biden gave him a clear rebuff. What was that but a dangerous foreign policy?
Ukraine conflict spins out of control
Jeffrey D. Sachs | October 04, 2022
Even if many American politicians don’t want to hear it: Putin’s warning about NATO expansion was as serious as it was understandable. Russia does not want a heavily armed NATO military on its border, just as the United States would not accept a Chinese-backed heavily armed Mexican military on the U.S.-Mexico border. The last thing the U.S. and Europe need is a long war with Russia. Yet that is where Biden’s insistence on NATO expansion around Ukraine has brought us.
The high price of escalation
The U.S. and Ukraine should accept three perfectly reasonable conditions to end the war: Ukraine’s military neutrality; the de facto allegiance to Russia of Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since 1783; and negotiated autonomy for the ethnic Russian regions, as called for in the Minsk agreements but not implemented by Ukraine.
Instead, the Biden Administration has repeatedly urged Ukraine to keep fighting. It torpedoed negotiations in March when Ukrainians were considering a negotiated end to the war. Now Ukraine is paying a heavy price: cities and infrastructure lie in ruins, and tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have died in the ensuing fighting. In other words, despite NATO’s much-vaunted weapons, Russia recently destroyed up to half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Meanwhile, U.S.-imposed trade and financial sanctions against Russia have boomeranged. The disruption of Russian energy supplies has left Europe in a deep economic crisis that is also affecting the U.S. economy. And the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline has further exacerbated the crisis in Europe.
Last but not least, misguided U.S. foreign policy has also brought about what generations of geopolitical strategists – from Henry Kissinger to Zbigniew Brzezinski – have always warned against: Driving Russia and China into a tight embrace. By dramatically escalating the cold war with China while simultaneously waging hot war with Russia, Biden has done just that.
From the beginning of his presidency, Biden has drastically curtailed diplomatic contacts with China, sparked new controversies over America’s longstanding one-China policy, repeatedly called for more arms sales to Taiwan, and pushed for a global ban on high-tech exports to China. Both Democrats and Republicans have joined in this anti-China policy, but the price will be the same as in Ukraine: further destabilization of the world and also of the U.S. economy.
As noted, Biden has inherited a difficult economic legacy – the pandemic, the Fed’s excess liquidity in 2020, the large budget deficit in 2020, and the global tensions that already exist. Yet it has exacerbated economic and geopolitical crises, not solved them. This makes a change in foreign policy all the more urgent. After the elections, there will be an important time for realignment. Instead of escalation, Americans and the world need economic recovery, diplomacy, and peace.
Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and president of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has been an advisor to three UN secretaries-general, currently António Guterres.
Even before the outbreak of the global Covid pandemic, it was widely recognized that U.S. hegemony was in irreversible decline. Since then, the pace of hegemony loss has accelerated. In August 2021, the Taliban captured Kabul as U.S. forces withdrew in a chaotic and hasty manner…. Only about six months later, war broke out between Russia and Ukraine.
In the NATO Trap.
The SPD betrays the foundations of its successful security policy, contributing to the EU’s surrender of sovereignty.
by Rudolf Brandner
[This article posted on 11/10/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/in-der-nato-falle.]
We dreamed of being protected from acts of war – waking up now we notice that NATO membership drastically increases the likelihood of being involved in wars and conflicts and exposes us as a member state to significant dangers. It is arguably an absurdity that can hardly be surpassed that NATO, once founded as a territorially based defensive alliance against war, has now become a cause of war itself. The European world of states is exposed to the risk of total economic collapse, which could lead to self-destruction. How did this come about and what forces are at play here? What developments are now emerging in October – after an initial, still hopeful perspective in March/April?
NATO at the End of the Cold War
With German reunification and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, NATO’s raison d’être also became questionable: For where the adversary against whom an alliance had been formed ceases to exist, the alliance itself also becomes obsolete – it becomes superfluous.
In the historical assessment of the situation, the ideological East-West antagonism seemed obsolete, the membership of a reunified Germany in NATO a meaningless formality, secured by the reverse promise that it would not extend an inch beyond the territory of the former GDR. Thus, as in the SPD’s basic program of December 20, 1989, the dissolution of NATO was envisaged. For a military defense alliance always derives all its meaning, its legitimacy, only from a definite enemy threat; where this fails, it loses its basis of legitimacy – it becomes meaningless.
NATO in the Service of US Geopolitics
But things turned out differently; and the historical paradox consists precisely in the fact that a NATO delegitimized in its entire existence did not disintegrate and dissolve, but on the contrary, expanded through the admission of further states and grew to a globally unique military fullness of power, which lacked only one thing – the enemy.
As it became clear in the 1990s, the U.S.-led NATO did not want to give up so easily the strategic power advantage that history had given it. And so, with the enlargement of the EU, NATO’s expansion toward the East also took its course, without even beginning to fill the vacuum of meaning with a changed security architecture. This should have been primarily the task of the European states (EU), which had awakened to a new sovereignty.
But too weak in its formation phase to assert itself against transatlantic interests, it submitted to the geopolitical strategy of U.S.-led NATO, as formulated decisively by Zbigniew Brzezi?ski: The only remaining superpower, the USA, had to concentrate its hegemonic aspirations in the name of democracy and human rights primarily on Eurasia and the “black hole” – the “Eurasian Balkans” (Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan) in order to save the world from an imminent disintegration into international anarchy (1). The new striving for sovereignty of the European world of states (EU) was thus subordinated to the geopolitical supervision of the power against which it was primarily directed (USA).
Thus, EU enlargement became NATO expansion by itself and cemented its geostrategic vassal status vis-à-vis the U.S. hegemonic power. As the latter sought to expand its sphere of influence from the Black Sea via the former southern Soviet republics to China in order to geostrategically limit both Russia, which is rich in raw materials, and China, which is rising to global economic prominence, the “black hole of the Eurasian Balkans” – Ukraine with Crimea as its naval base – was given a key geostrategic position.
Expansion and conceptual realignment of NATO
Based on these geostrategic objectives, the EU is now being urged by the U.S. – as it was previously in the matter of Turkey – to include Ukraine in its enlargement policy. For the European world of states itself can have no interest whatsoever in integrating Turkey or even Ukraine, which is hardly compatible with the EU simply because of its status in terms of corruption and deficient rule of law; which promises no positive repercussions apart from a considerable financial burden and culturally massive conflicts.
Already the EU accession of Romania and Bulgaria had more to do with NATO interests than with EU interests: The EU’s enlargement policy is not determined by the European world of states, but via NATO by U.S. geopolitics, which, without a definite enemy threat, merely seeks to secure its hegemonic status against possible competitors.
This no longer has anything to do with NATO’s original conception. Founded as an institution of the Cold War, it is transforming itself from a defense alliance necessitated by real history into a hegemonic political intervention force, as it corresponds to the self-image of U.S. military doctrine, but not to European security policy.
For protected from all foreign invasions by two oceans and without any neighboring threatening power from north or south, U.S. military policy does not (like European military policy) understand itself from the needs of territorial national defense, but – following the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 – as an international intervention power that always wages war only abroad, but never on its own territory.
As numerous as the wars waged by the United States are, it has never had to experience a modern war at home. Not territorial self-defense and its immeasurable suffering, but extraterritorial power politics, in which the American civilian population holds itself harmless, determines the concept and constitution of the U.S. armed forces.
This is precisely what is now being transferred to NATO’s new self-image and, in borderline cases, also includes European territory, but not the USA, as a theater of war (2). The suspension of compulsory military service and the professionalization of the armed forces into an international intervention force are the conceptual changes of NATO that are also noticeable for the Bundeswehr, which bases its new legitimacy on the supposed universal morality of democracy and human rights. In doing so, it is following in the footsteps of the missionary sense of mission of U.S. geopolitics. NATO doctrine now has at its disposal a widely dispersed field of enemy images that can be invoked wherever the interests of the hegemon seem threatened. Thus, NATO now stands for nothing more than the instrumentalization of the EU for U.S. geopolitical interests.
NATO’s legitimacy crisis and how to overcome it
But there is still no concrete threat from the enemy that could legitimize such a far-reaching military alliance. Quite rightly, therefore, former U.S. President Donald Trump was still able to state 30 years after the end of the Soviet Union that NATO was “obsolete”; and French President Emmanuel Macron attested to its “brain death” (mort cérébrale). It is this existential vacuum of meaning qua NATO’s legitimacy deficit that has now been ended with a thud by Russia’s foreseeable and long-provoked (Western) invasion of Ukraine: The Russian invasion becomes NATO’s life-sustaining sense-making enterprise, a “choc éléctrique” that wakes it up from its “mort cérébrale” – as Macron metaphorically consistently put it at the EU/NATO summit of March 25, 2022.
Whatever the outcome of the geopolitical confrontation, which has already escalated militarily with the Maidan coup (3): NATO regains its lost legitimacy on the long-promoted and finally rediscovered enemy image of “Russia.” Geopolitical strategists must have had this in mind – in addition to the NATO integration of Ukraine – especially since the Afghanistan debacle only exacerbated NATO’s legitimacy crisis. After all, it was already doubtful whether, in view of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an “alliance case” existed at all, the catastrophic and also shameful end of which could drive old doubters to delegitimize the entire alliance.
In this respect, NATO’s geopolitical strategy of virtually coercing Russia to invade, if it did not want to lose all its prestige after decades of insistently repeating its “no-no” to NATO expansion and look like a toothless tiger that no one takes seriously anymore, was an ingenious move that promised multiple gains: With the geostrategic integration of Ukraine at the same time the new self-legitimization of NATO, combined with all the economic profit prospects for the U.S. defense industry, its energy industry (Nord Stream 2) and the entire financial sector (4).
The geostrategic calculation that Russia would inevitably have to invade Ukraine if the Ukrainian military doctrine could still secure NATO’s assistance in restoring its full territorial integrity (Crimea) after the denunciation of the Budapest Agreement (renunciation of nuclear weapons) (in grossest violation of the Istanbul Agreement of 1999) was sharpened into a casus belli with the prospect of full NATO membership contractually promised by U.S. Secretary of State Blinken on November 10, 2021 (5).
The calculation, which was already sealed with the Western boycott of Minsk II, worked out. For, as it turned out and was also publicly stated, the Minsk agreement only served to gain time for the rearmament of Ukraine and the foreseeable war with Russia. It was not that Vladimir Putin “fell into a trap”; he was merely imposed the law of action that he and Russia had given themselves on the Ukraine issue.
It is the simple game-theoretical truth that by challenging one’s opponent’s credibility, one can force him to act in a way that must put him in the wrong – at least in general standing (6). The only alternative would be for him no longer to be taken seriously at all politically. What would be a Russia that cannot even protect its own compatriots in Ukraine (Donbass, Crimea) from military annihilation by a national ideological (neo-Nazi) Ukrainian army?
The EU in the NATO trap
Thus, today we are faced with the hardly surpassable absurdity that NATO, once founded as a territorially anchored defensive alliance against war, has now itself become the cause of war; and paradoxically, solely by inflating itself indefinitely against a media-generated phantasmagorical image of the enemy under the loss of its real-political basis of legitimacy. It is not Russia that is endangering peace in Europe, but NATO through its senseless expansion to secure the geopolitical hegemony of the United States.
It is not Putin who is trapped, but the European world of states under the leadership of the EU, which for decades failed to build up its own security architecture independent of the U.S. and NATO, which also corresponds to its completely different geopolitical interests. It is becoming a prisoner of its political immaturity, while the Ukrainian population, subversively driven into civil war by the Maidan coup, is being used as a pawn on the geopolitical chessboard and an entire region is being abandoned to devastation by another proxy war.
Only history will teach whether the brilliant move in NATO’s geostrategic calculations was really as “brilliant” as it appeared. Its mass psychological effect, however, was, as was to be expected, Western indignation over Russian injustice, which brought the phantasmagorical enemy image of “Russia” (personified in “Putin”) back to unimagined bloom and now unites the West in a regressive identity formation that seemed long outdated: the EU’s political aspirations for sovereignty are relegated to the vassal status of a nullity, and even more, definitively subordinated to the economic interests of U.S. geopolitics.
The specter of “Putin”, staged in rare media one-sidedness, puts the general consciousness into a panic shock paralysis, against which all political rationality threatens to break down into mindless leapfrogging. A frightening mania of persecution is being unleashed against everything Russian and, intoxicated by its moral absoluteness, is causing an overwhelming wave of enthusiasm for military-political self-empowerment to foam up. How will one ever get out of all this discord? – Won’t the European world of states be crushed between the U.S. and Russia? – Isn’t transatlantic dominance dealing a death blow to Europe’s striving for sovereignty? – The question is whether and how Europe can free itself from the NATO trap.
These are the leitmotifs of the Social Democratic foreign and security policy dating back to Willy Brandt, which have been consistently pursued since the 1990s and have now – with the Ukraine crisis – unjustly come under criticism.
The contradiction of EU and NATO
Egon Bahr recognized the security policy Achilles’ heel of the European unification process early on and analyzed it in detail (5). While the political construction of the European Community (EU) is not least a counterweight to U.S. dominance, it is, on the other hand, completely subordinate to the U.S.-led NATO in terms of foreign and security policy and, as a U.S. protectorate, remains without any autonomy and sovereignty. The finality of the EU, to form the continent into a politically independent power, contains in itself the contradiction of realizing itself under the conditions of the world power against which it must of necessity form itself (USA).
A Europe that is deluded about the power-political difference in interests between the USA and the EU and adheres to the mistaken belief in a “transatlantic community of values” cannot pursue a security policy that is decoupled from the USA and that develops the European area “from Vladivostok to Lisbon,” as Bahr never tires of emphasizing, into its own foreign-policy-secured area; on the contrary: The eastward expansion of the EU follows NATO’s geopolitical striving for power in order to tense both – EU and NATO – congruently into the geopolitics of the USA.
Thus NATO becomes “in the last consequence the opponent of the common EU foreign and security policy” (8). The final decision of foreign and security policy does not lie with the EU, but with the US-led NATO, which, by expanding towards Russia, creates an interstate vacuum as a danger zone, which in the meantime – with the Ukraine conflict – has also exploded. If the war is, as it is called, “the continuation of politics by other means,” then the EU is being held liable for a foreign policy in which it has no say whatsoever.
Europeans also renounce sovereignty with regard to the U.S.-stationed nuclear weapons in Germany: Here, too, the final decision on deployment lies solely with the United States. But anyone who stations nuclear weapons on his territory is also a potential target of attack by other nuclear powers: the sovereign state should therefore either decide autonomously on their deployment or order their withdrawal from its territory, since their presence exposes its entire population to the risk of total annihilation.
Under such conditions, an independent foreign and security policy committed to European interests is impossible; NATO: “conceptlessness without a concept” an intellectual imposition that undermines any formation of a cultural-historical community consciousness even more by admitting a non-European state (Turkey). This is how Helmut Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing already saw it. But this means:
The European world of states must finally emerge from the shadowy existence of its post-war history: its decades-long oblivion of power and conformity mentality, its vassal-like attitude as a U.S. protectorate, and the comfortable luxury of security policy irresponsibility (9).
European Security Architecture
Thus, according to Bahr, there is only one hard alternative: Either one is a transatlanticist or a pro-European – both together are not possible. How then can a purely European security architecture be conceived?
First, without the United States, i.e., either through the complete dissolution or strategic division of NATO into a transatlantic and a European part, each of which would exercise and strategically safeguard the full sovereignty and autonomy of its foreign policy interests.
Secondly, through the nation-state anchoring of the military in a general compulsory military service (with an alternative: social service), which, as a medium of socialization, creates an affirmative community consciousness, especially in societies disintegrating through migration, that is ready to defend itself against any external overpowering. In other words, not a supranational, pan-European army, but an alliance of nationally led military forces that stand together against any territorial violation of one of their members – as European history has already known and successfully practiced in the war against the Moors, the Ottomans and, most recently, the National Socialists.
Such a purely territorial defense alliance without any international intervention mandate does not need any enemy images to justify its sense and legitimacy: Wherever a threat may come from, whether north or south, west or east, above or below – it bases its defensibility purely on the right of self-determination of a nation-state-based community consciousness that abstains itself from all imperial over-empowerment of other states.
The path to such a security architecture may be a difficult and protracted one, especially for the self-divided world of European states, but it is still better than being torn apart by the great powers themselves and being used as a pawn in U.S. geopolitics. Thus, the foundation of a European security architecture – its protection against great powers – lies first and foremost in the renunciation of trying to constitute itself as a great power. But this requires a political reorientation that abandons the centralist project of a European federal state as a colonial field office of the United States. In this sense, Gerhard Schröder’s refusal to allow himself to be drawn into the Iraq war by the Bush administration was a significant “Bahr sign” of newly won German sovereignty (10).
It remains to be seen whether Olaf Scholz has the backbone to continue on the Social Democratic path in the face of the media’s war-mongering mood. He is likely to find decisive support from Macron in shaping the EU’s security policy sovereignty, albeit at the price of its temporary dominance by the French nuclear industry, not least in energy policy issues. The solution to the current Ukraine crisis cannot lie in strengthening, but only in dissolving (transatlantic) NATO, which after Brexit is increasingly committed to the dominance of purely Anglo-Saxon geopolitics.
In this sense, Elizabeth (Liz) Truss, as British Foreign Secretary, proclaims in her Easter speech of April 27, 2022, “The Return of Geopolitics” (11), the conceptual transformation of NATO into a “global player”: after NATO’s Eastern European expansion and its deployment in the Hindu Kush, the Indo-Pacific region all the way to the South China Sea is now in view in order to defend the “Free World” (an outdated combat term from the Cold War). The G-7 countries are assigned the honorable task of acting as NATO’s strong economic arm.
This has as little to do with European security policy as with all the lip service paid to security policy assurances in the OSCE process: It is the consistent instrumentalization of NATO for U.S. hegemonic policy, which at the same time deals a definitive death blow to all striving for sovereignty on the part of the European states (EU).
What remains of the EU – after Brexit and a newly emerging Anglo-Saxon power bloc (Great Britain, USA-Canada, Australia-New Zealand) – is a collection of continental bankrupt states whose most economically powerful centers (such as Germany) are being subjected to Washington’s benevolence in a transatlantic way, stripped of all competitiveness: a shadowy existence in world politics, which does not even have its own subsistence conditions and sacrifices its sovereign rights of freedom qua self-determination to a mindless politics of moral sensitivities under the glare of the “Free World”. Political rationality that keeps in mind the far-reaching historical consequences of the proxy war in Ukraine for the real-historical living conditions of its citizens looks different.
Postscript October 2022
The collective self-sacrifice of the EU in favor of U.S. geopolitical power interests could not have been more drastic. With the terrorist attack on the Nordstream pipelines, the EU would now also have its 9/11 and could declare an alliance emergency, were it not for the fact that NATO’s leading power is itself under urgent suspicion, which is being pushed aside and obscured as best it can both politically and in the media.
The political self-assertion of the EU confirms its unconditional vassal status in the suicidal project of a sanctions policy that largely erodes its economic autonomy and hands it over to the hegemonic leading power in order to let it drive it into a war of annihilation that, if fought on European territory, could only mean the downfall of its entire historical culture of life.
The mental condition of Europe’s political and media leadership is thus in question, which, rejecting all political rationality and intellectual honesty, is putting the very foundations of Europe’s existence at risk, even in the assessment of international questions of international law (12).
In an unstable construct like the EU, which has not yet developed a solidly united self-confidence and does not dare to claim political sovereignty or the right to self-determination, and even less to practice it, it is easy for an external great power to play off the inner-European antagonisms against each other and to present itself as a protective power before a phantasmagorically created spectre of “Russia”, which guarantees security and relieves it of all personal responsibility (divide et impera). A personal responsibility that has become a political no-man’s land anyway due to the centralist erosion of nation-state identity on the part of the EU, and which elevates the tendency toward collective subordination to a transatlantic credo. What prospects are emerging?
The now officially declared war aims of the “collective West,” i.e., the United States: “regime change” in Moscow and “decolonization” of Russia, i.e., secession of the resource-rich transural regions into independent small states under Western leadership, are undoubtedly illusory without a nuclear world war scenario, but even more so with one.
The firm integration and unconditional vassalage of the European states, however, is the basic condition for U.S. geopolitics to be able to weaken Russia decisively and drive it to political implosion. In this sense, the destruction of the Nordstream pipelines served as a hedge against uncertain or fickle candidates who, out of their own geopolitical interests – or simply yielding to the pressure of survival of the population – might succumb to the temptation to back out of the self-destructive sanctions policy.
At the same time, however, this demonstrates the enormous power of the EU, which would find it easy to oppose U.S. geopolitics with a decisive “no.” For without its active participation within the framework of NATO, the escalation of the regionally limited Ukraine conflict into a geopolitical proxy war between the United States and Russia would not be possible. Its renunciation of this power, at the cost of its own territorial security and its economic living conditions, exposes the European world of states to the danger of a fundamental revolution of all its institutions, which would not only sweep away the political and media elites, but could only end in the dissolution of transatlantic NATO and the collapse of the political EU construction, including the euro.
From the end, we are at the beginning of a revolution that will decide the historical existence of Europe; and it is obvious that a European peace order with Russia will only be possible if the trust broken by the West is restored on a new basis by a completely renewed political and media leadership.
And what remains of Ukraine? – If Ukraine’s state budget is already being saved from collapse and declared state bankruptcy by the West, and war financing through bonds on land (“land grabbing”), raw materials and key industries seals the sellout of Ukraine, the hostile takeover by Western companies – here re-declared as “solidarity” – then the only thing left for Ukraine in case of its existence against Russia is debt bondage to the West. What a wonder if it will do everything to keep the existing regime in Kiev in power in order not to lose its massive investments in Ukraine.
After all, in the event of a “regime change” in Kiev, all those investments would be lost, as the over-indebtedness would be declared a matter of a constitutionally illegitimate government and equally illegitimate interference by Western states in its internal affairs. All war-related debt would thus be nullified by an anti-Selensky government – debt bondage would be averted and Ukraine would be economically free and independent.
Even if it has not yet dawned on Ukraine’s ultra-nationalists – the overthrow of the Selenskyj regime is the only way out of the foreseeable Western debt bondage into a free and self-determined Ukraine, which as a neutral buffer zone between the EU and Russia can cultivate productive relations to both sides. Whatever the outcome of the war: The day will come when Ukrainians will curse the Selenskyj regime and wish it to hell; and with it the whole “West”.
Sources and Notes:
(1) Compare Zbigniew Brzezi?ski, The Only World Power. America’s strategy of domination. The original English title, “The grand chessboard,” explicitly acknowledges the geopolitical power game; continued in this spirit by George Friedman: The greatest danger for Anglo-Saxon hegemony is the combination of German technology and Russian raw material wealth, which is why any mutual rapprochement must be prevented by sanctions policy (against technology transfer/commodity supply, see Nordstream 2). The problem is not Germany’s policy toward Russia and its energy dependence, but the geopolitics of U.S.-led NATO, which relies on German-Russian dislocations to secure its own power.
(2) This was already the case in the arms race at the beginning of the 1980s (SS 20/Pershing), when the U.S. strategy planned for the territories of the GDR and the FRG in the event of a nuclear exchange, i.e. the total destruction of Germany. It should look no different if NATO now intervenes in the Ukraine war.
(3) On the Maidan coup, see Ivan Katchanovski, The Maidan massacre in Ukraine. A survey of analysis, evidence and findings. 2016; on the use of NGOs as subversive “regime change” agents and the subversive network “Otpor” (Belgrade) Thomas Fasbender, Vladimir V. Putin. A political biography. Landt Verlag 2022, page 361 and following, based on Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy. A guide to liberation. Munich 2008.
(4) On the political genesis of the Ukraine conflict Willy Wimmer, Deutschland im Umbruch, Vom Diskurs zum Konkurs – ein Land wird abgewickelt. zeitgeist 2018;, Gabriele Krone-Schmalz, Eiszeit, Wie Russland dämonisiert wird und warum das so gefährlich ist. Munich 2017; Daniele Ganser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sMfNmx0wKo; John Mearsheimer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrMiSQAGOS4 as well as.
As Mearsheimer points out, Ukraine is already a de facto, if not de iure, NATO member through training, armament, and participation in joint NATO maneuvers. In addition, the cancellation of the disarmament treaties (ABM and INF) by the U.S. has created a strategic imbalance that can only be seen by Russia as an additional threat to its security situation.
(5) Whether this was coordinated with other NATO members and the EU or was a U.S. solo effort, perhaps to cover up the burgeoning scandal over Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, is as yet unknown. Russia’s subsequent final attempt to conclude a security agreement with NATO was callously rejected by the latter.
(6) For an assessment of the Ukraine conflict under international law, see Der Ukrainekonflikt im Lichte des Völkerrechts. Multipolar, November 5, 2022,.
(7) The following according to: Egon Bahr, German Interests. Streitschrift zu Macht, Sicherheit und Außenpolitik. Munich 1998.
(8) Ibid, page 36.
(9) Continued in Egon Bahr: Der deutsche Weg. Naturally and Normally. Munich 2003. eastward and nothing forgotten. Freiburg 2015; compare by the author: Real- statt Moralpolitik. In honor of Egon Bahr. TUMULT, December 16, 2018,.
(10) In the line of Egon Bahr have now also Klaus von Dohnanyi: Nationale Interessen. Orientation for German and European Politics in Times of Global Upheaval. Munich 2022; on this see Neue Zürcher Zeitung of March 11, 2022, as well as Gerhard Schröder in the speech in Kocaeli/Turkey on March 24, 2022. Good factual analysis of the problem situation also in economic terms by Michael Lüders.
(11) Elizabeth (Liz) Truss, Speech by the Foreign Secretary at the Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet, Mansion House on April 27, 2022 “The return of geopolitics”.
(12) The right of Russian-speaking territories to secede from Ukraine is now – after eight years of civil war and the failure of Minsk II – also being asserted under international law; compare, for example, David C. Hendrickson, “Souvereignty’s other half: How International Law bears on Ukraine” . On this, from the author, The Ukraine Conflict in Light of International Law, Multipolar, November 5, 2022,.
Complementary to this essay, an article by the author on “International Law/Ukraine” appeared on Multipolar: https://multipolar-magazin.de/artikel/ukraine-konflikt-volkerrecht
Rudolf Brandner, born in 1955, studied philosophy, psychology and indology in Freiburg, Heidelberg and at the Sorbonne in Paris. After extensive teaching activities in German-speaking countries and numerous guest professorships in France, Italy and India, he withdrew from all academic teaching activities into basic philosophical research in 2000. His most recent publication is “The Ideology of Human Rights and the Ethos of Being Human”. Further information at rudolf-brandner.de.
Nord Stream and the turning point
The collapse of US hegemony
An analysis of the geopolitical challenges by Minqi Li
By Minqi Li
[This article posted in October 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Der Zusammenbruch der US-Hegemonie.]
Even before the outbreak of the global covid pandemic, it was widely recognized that U.S. hegemony was in irreversible decline. Since then, the pace of hegemony loss has accelerated. In August 2021, the Taliban captured Kabul as U.S. forces withdrew in a chaotic and hasty manner. Twenty years of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and the Middle East ended in humiliating defeat. Only about six months later, war broke out between Russia and Ukraine, the economic and geopolitical consequences of which threaten to destabilize all of Europe.
We are witnessing the sheer failure of the incumbent hegemonic power to prevent a major military conflict triggered by another major power in a geopolitically important area. This is definitive proof that the decline of U.S. hegemony has entered its final phase: that of collapse.
In the past, the collapse of hegemonic powers has led to great power conflicts, global economic crises, uprisings and revolutions, and misery and devastation for hundreds of millions of people. What consequences can we expect if American hegemony collapses? Can the system return to some sort of “equilibrium,” or will it collapse as well?
Interstate competition and hegemonic power.
A hegemonic power is much more than merely the “strongest” power in the world capitalist system. According to world system theory, the capitalist world system is based on interstate competition. However, to prevent excessive competition among nation-states, the capitalist world system has historically required successive hegemonic powers to preside over the system to manage and advance its common interests.
These common interests cannot be effectively served by simply allowing each nation-state to pursue its individual “national interests.” Common interests include maintaining system-wide “peace” (preventing great power conflict), ensuring global macroeconomic stability, crafting a global social contract, and, in the context of the 21st century, managing global environmental sustainability.
A system without an effective governance structure would be one subject to the “tyranny of small decisions” or unable to manage “system-level problems” through appropriate “system-level solutions” (Arrighi and Silver 1999: 26-31). A system that regularly fails to find “system-level solutions” will in all likelihood disintegrate, that is, cease to function as a coherent system.
How can capitalism have a system-wide governance structure without abandoning the world system based on interstate competition? Historically, the world capitalist system has managed to deal with this dilemma by having one of the strongest states periodically act as a hegemonic power.
At the height of its power, a hegemonic power has tremendous advantages over other states in the areas of industry, trade, finance, and military. These enable the established hegemonic power to impose its will on other great powers. The established hegemonic power enjoys advantages in the aforementioned areas because it has sufficient power and wealth compared to other nation-states. To the extent that the industrial and financial resources available to the hegemonic power constitute a relatively large share of the total resources of the system, it is reasonable to expect that the national interests of the hegemonic power will largely coincide with the common interests of the system. Therefore, in its prime, the hegemonic power is both strongly motivated and endowed with the resources necessary to manage and promote the system’s common interests (Li 2008: 113-115). However, when a hegemonic power is in decline, it becomes less and less able to manage the common interests of the system. Collapse occurs when such a hegemonic power seems to have lost control over the course of events and therefore loses the ability to manage the common interests of the system. As a result, the system becomes the victim of erratic interactions of various spontaneous forces.
The decline of the U.S. hegemonic power
When the U.S. emerged from World War II as the undisputed new hegemonic power, it led the restructuring of the world capitalist system.
The U.S.-led restructuring contributed to an unprecedented boom in global capitalism in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1960s, however, the world capitalist system faced a new wave of economic and political instability. The combination of a long economic boom and welfare state institutions emboldened the Western working classes into militant struggles. From the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, the U.S. and the other core capitalist countries (Western Europe and Japan) suffered from a prolonged decline in the rate of profit.
The U.S. defeat in Vietnam revealed the limits of U.S. military supremacy. Revolutionary movements threatened to destabilize both capitalist and socialist governments from Eastern to Western Europe, from China to Latin America, and from Portugal to the African colonies.
The oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 offered the first indication that resource and environmental depletion might impose insurmountable limits on future economic growth. As the U.S. international balance of payments became increasingly unfavorable, the United States was forced to abandon the nominal peg of the U.S. dollar to gold that had existed under the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. Throughout the 1970s, the world economy struggled with “stagflation,” a combination of growing unemployment and rising inflation that could not be managed by traditional Keynesian policies.
In response to what Giovanni Arrighi has called the “signal crisis” of U.S. hegemony (Arrighi 1994: 214-217), U.S. elites shifted the focus of capital accumulation from material to financial expansion. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates dramatically to contain rising inflation. The policy of monetary austerity led to deep recessions at home and debt crises from Latin America to Eastern Europe. These recessions and subsequent economic stagnation helped weaken the bargaining power of the working class in the core countries of the world capitalist system. At the same time, the “structural adjustments” and “shock therapies” imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank impoverished the populations of Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. They also forced financial capital to flow back to the United States (Chossudovsky 1998).
By the mid-1990s, profit rates in the United States and Western Europe had returned to or even exceeded the levels of the 1960s. The capitalist world economy experienced a period of relative recovery from 1995 to 2007. At the turn of the century, the United States accounted for about two-fifths, and the United States and its allies together accounted for about three-quarters, of the world’s total military spending (Council on Foreign Relations 2014). At the time, U.S. hegemony seemed unassailable.
But unlike the early postwar years, when U.S.-led restructuring promoted not only the national interests of American capitalism but also the common interests of the system, the transition from material expansion to financial expansion after the 1970s helped restore the rate of profit by exacerbating interstate and social conflicts that would eventually lead to the collapse of hegemony (Arrighi 2005).
The global neoliberal restructuring that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s (which included policies of privatization, deregulation, trade liberalization, and financialization) lowered global effective demand and created the conditions for frequent financial crises (Crotty 2000). As a result, the United States had to stabilize the world economy by acting as a global “borrower of last resort”: it developed significant trade deficits, and U.S. domestic demand had to rely on debt-financed consumption. When U.S. internal and external financial imbalances became unsustainable, the U.S. and the global economy were hit by the “Great Recession” of 2008-09. The decline of U.S. hegemony accelerated (Li 2008: 72-87).
The risks of nuclear proliferation.
In terms of the market value of the dollar, the U.S. share of the global economy fell from 30 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2020. During the same period, China’s share of the world economy increased from 4 percent to 17 percent (World Bank 2022). China is widely expected to replace the United States as the world’s largest economy in the next few years.
In previous hegemonic changes, the new hegemonic power was able to replace the old, declining hegemonic power only after one or two major wars involving all the major powers at the time.
However, it is unlikely that we will see a “Third World War” in the form of an all-out war between the declining hegemonic power (the U.S.) and a major challenger (China or Russia) in the next few decades. This is partly because the cost of an all-out war between great powers has increased dramatically in the age of the atomic bomb: Such a war would result not only in the deaths of millions, but most likely in the mutual annihilation of the main adversaries. Despite the decline of U.S. hegemony, the United States is likely to remain the world’s most significant military power in the coming decades (Beckley 2018). This is likely to deter potential hegemony aspirants from engaging in direct military confrontation with the United States.
However, even if the outbreak of a “Third World War” is not imminent, the decline of the hegemonic power will have serious consequences. In a sense, these have already occurred. As explained above, in a world system based on interstate competition, hegemonic power is indispensable to counter “system-level problems” with appropriate “system-level solutions.” In the past, maintaining system-wide “peace” was mainly about preventing great power military conflicts. But in the age of the atomic bomb, maintaining long-term, sustainable, system-wide “peace” also requires effective containment of nuclear proliferation.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the face of the irreversible decline of U.S. hegemony, the great powers can no longer ensure that only the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have access to nuclear weapons. In addition to the five equally “legal” nuclear powers, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have become “illegal” but openly declared nuclear powers. Israel has never declared that it has nuclear weapons, but is considered a de facto nuclear power. In addition, a number of other countries have developed some nuclear capability (Wallerstein 2014a). As the spread of nuclear weapons has creeped but steadily out of control, the likelihood of “accidental” regional or even global nuclear war has increased. It has also become more likely that nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of non-state armed groups.
Heading for geopolitical collapse
In the 20th century, oil was the lifeblood of the global capitalist economy. Despite the development of renewable energy, oil remains an indispensable energy resource for transportation and various industrial sectors (Heinberg 2016: 81-114).
For much of the second half of the 20th century, stabilizing the Middle East-the world’s most important oil and natural gas producing region-was a major U.S. diplomatic and strategic concern. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. ruling elites (mediated through the Bush and Cheney administrations) decided to embark on a strategic gamble. They wanted to directly control much of the Middle East through their military might in order to establish a lasting global hegemony before any other major power had a chance to take on the U.S. in economic and military resources. This gamble failed spectacularly. Instead of securing a lasting hegemony, U.S. defeat in the Middle East transformed a slow and gradual hegemonic decline into a rapid one (Wallerstein 2003: 13-30).
Under Obama, U.S. efforts to reverse the loss of power in the Middle East through interventions in Libya and Syria again proved futile (Wallerstein 2014b). After its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States has abandoned any claim to be the dominant foreign power in the Middle East.
Currently, the Middle East is in a highly unstable and fragile situation. Several regional powers, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey, are entangled in complex ways, whether through hostilities or through constantly and rapidly shifting tactical alliances. Deadly conflicts in Yemen, Palestine, and Syria continue. As Iran moves ever closer to its goal of becoming a genuine nuclear power, the danger grows that Israel will carry out its threat of direct military action.
If the U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East has made a future geopolitical collapse of the region (with devastating consequences for global energy supplies and the world economy) very likely, the current war between Russia and Ukraine has brought geopolitical catastrophe to Europe’s doorstep.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. ruling elites have pursued a strategy of NATO expansion eastward to include not only Eastern European countries but also some of the former Soviet republics. Although U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly claimed that eastward expansion is not directed against Russia, from the perspective of the Russian ruling class, there is little doubt that the ultimate intention of the West’s ruling elites is to isolate and weaken Russia in order to pave the way for U.S. domination of Eurasia (Mearsheimer 2014).
Regardless of how one morally views the current war between Russia and Ukraine: What is certain is that Putin would not have made the decision to go to war if he had not recognized the dramatic weakening of the United States as a result of the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. It can be assumed that Putin was convinced that the time was right for a counteroffensive before the current war began.
It is too early to assess the long-term consequences of the war between Russia and Ukraine. The war and the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia have further impacted global supply chains at a time when those supply chains have not yet recovered from the dislocation caused by the global covid pandemic.
Even before the Russia-Ukraine war, European capitalism was going downhill in a tendecent fashion. The European Union’s share of the global economy, as measured by the euro’s exchange rate, fell from 25 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2020 (World Bank 2022). The prosperity of European capitalism depends largely on its ability to maintain advantages in certain high-tech productive sectors. These sectors, in turn, depend on the supply of cheap energy and a relatively stable and peaceful geopolitical environment. The Russia-Ukraine war has put an end to both.
If the European economy collapses, it is unlikely that European capitalist countries will remain politically and socially stable. The very architecture of the European Union could be called into question. Europe is the geographic origin of the modern world system. The disintegration of European capitalism could very well represent the final collapse of the existing world system.
Challenges of the 21st Century
In the first half of the 20th century, in addition to two world wars, the capitalist world economy suffered increasingly devastating economic crises, culminating in the Great Depression of the 1930s. It remains to be seen whether the current collapse of hegemony will lead to a comparable world economic crisis.
In the current world-historical situation, the greatest threat to civilization comes not from the economy but from environmental collapse. The average global surface temperature is currently about 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than in the pre-industrial era and is rising by another 0.2 degrees every ten years. If the average global temperature rises above two degrees Celsius, it will be too late to prevent some major climate disasters (e.g., a rise in sea level that threatens to inundate most of the world’s coastal cities). If feedbacks are triggered between oceanic and terrestrial ecosystems, climate change could slip out of human control. If so, much of the Earth’s surface would ultimately become unsuitable for human habitation (Spratt and Sutton 2008).
It is well known that the current climate crisis is caused by massive fossil fuel consumption, as has been the case since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Despite technological advances in recent years that have improved energy efficiency and promoted the use of renewable energy, it remains highly unlikely that the world can reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough unless the major emitters (such as China and the core capitalist countries) commit to zero or negative economic growth (Li 2020). However, in a world system based on interstate competition, it is virtually impossible for any nation-state to voluntarily impose zero or negative growth.
Will humanity have enough time to save itself from the threat of ecological collapse before capitalism destroys the material basis of civilization?
In the past, capitalism has survived hegemonic collapses by producing a new hegemonic power capable of meeting “systems-level problems” with “systems-level solutions.” However, in order to offer “system-level solutions,” the new hegemonic power must be sufficiently powerful to impose its will on other great powers if necessary. This requires that the new hegemonic power have formidable advantages over other great powers, including the previous hegemon. In each of the previous hegemonic transitions, the new hegemonic power was many times larger or more powerful than the previous one in terms of territorial scale, industrial resources, and military might (Arrighi 2005).
As a continental power, the United States is many times larger than any European nation-state. Russia’s territory is about one and a half times that of the United States. Since the Russian population is about half the size of the U.S. population and the Russian economy remains relatively weak, Russia has no realistic chance of challenging the U.S. position as the dominant world power, although Russia could emerge as a major power in the northern and western parts of the Eurasian continent, pushing back U.S. influence in that area.
China’s population is about four times that of the United States. However, this also means that China’s per capita natural resource endowment and per capita economic output are only a fraction of the corresponding U.S. per capita endowment and economic output. Although China’s overall economic performance will overtake that of the U.S. in a few years, both the total Chinese population and the Chinese labor force are projected to decline in the coming decades. As a result, China is unlikely to ever achieve overwhelming economic superiority over the U.S., and declining investment efficiency means that China’s per capita economic output is likely to peak at about half the U.S. level (Rajah and Leng 2022).
Because per capita economic output is highly correlated with the level of technological development, China’s relatively low per capita output implies that its military power will likely continue to lag behind that of the U.S. in the coming decades (Beckley 2018: 62-97).
As the U.S. hegemonic power collapses, but there will be no new hegemonic power to take its place and provide “system-level solutions,” the existing world system will lose its ability to solve “system-level problems.” To the extent that a world system is unable to function as a coherent system because it cannot permanently and effectively solve its “system-level problems,” we have reached the historical turning point of transition from the existing system to something else.
What will “something else” consist of? Will capitalism be replaced by a new system or new systems? Will the new system or systems be more egalitarian and democratic than the current one? Or will it or will they prove to be more oppressive and exploitative? Will humanity have enough time to complete the coming world-historical transition before the material foundations of civilization suffer irreparable and irreversible damage?
The answers to all these questions will depend on the global class struggles of the coming decades.
There is no distinction between structural violence, which is the basis of the capitalist social order, and counter-violence.
“First of all, I would like to state that there is a violence from which all other violence derives: violence number one – the violence of injustices that exist everywhere, the violence of oppression.” (Dom Helder Camara), the original violence.
“Charity means toppling the powerful from their thrones”.
What to do against the violence of circumstances?
By Benedikt Kern and Julia Lis
[This discussion posted in December 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, »Nächstenliebe heißt, die Mächtigen vom Thron zu stürzen«].
You work from a liberation theological perspective on possibilities for social change. Forms of civil disobedience also play a role in your practice. How do you perceive the debate around civil disobedience and state repression?
JULIA: The protest form of civil disobedience has become more self-evident. Many people, not only leftists, now find it legitimate to use sit-in blockades as a means of protest – be it at Nazi marches or at the mass actions of “Ende Gelände.” New forms have also emerged with “Fridays for Future” – such as the school strike for the climate. In the feminist movement, too, the women’s* strike has developed as an international practice.
At the same time, we see a certain stagnation: sit-in blockades are carried out more and more ‘professionally’, but there is sometimes a lack of creativity and courage to try out new forms as well. The question is how people empower themselves in these practices in such a way that self-organization processes can emerge from them, how experiences are made there that encourage them to take a step further. That would be radicalization in a positive sense: That we go to the roots with our critique, uncover the structural causes of the problems and begin to fundamentally change them.
BENEDIKT: Yes, there is often a strong focus on what has a positive resonance in the bourgeois press and public. But that’s only one aspect of civil disobedience: it’s also about disrupting the status quo and developing the consciousness as a movement that you are collectively capable of doing that. That has something to do with self-empowerment. So whether something has been achieved cannot simply be measured by whether there were great pictures in the press or whether we were able to push through a minimum demand.
Dealing with state repression is also often determined primarily in legal terms: How is it possible to keep repression to a minimum? That is understandable, but at the same time it also requires a political approach. Repression points to the contradictions inherent in this state: a monopoly on violence that allows police officers to legally do things that are considered crimes by others; laws that aim to defend the existing economic order and the right to property; that while it is allowed to say what the causes of the problems are, it is forbidden to change anything about them.
As a socialist left, we are dealing with the problem of trying to overcome a structural relationship of violence. In the protests in the U.S. after the murder of George Floyd, many banners read “We’re not starting a race war – we’re trying to end one”. How do you think the relationship between violence and counter-violence is?
JULIA: In fact, most of the time there is no distinction between structural violence, which is the basis of the capitalist social order, and counter-violence. Liberation theology has been dealing with this distinction since the 1970s. In the words of the Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara:
“First of all, I would like to state that there is a violence from which all other violence derives: violence number one – the violence of injustices that exist everywhere, the violence of oppression. In fact, most people, when they speak of violence, already mean violence number two – the reaction of the oppressed, the revolt of the youth against the original violence. “1
1 Interview with the Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Dom Hélder Câmara: “When they tear out my nails,” 9/21/1970, in: Der Spiegel 39/1970, http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-44904924.html
This distinction has lost none of its relevance today, as can be seen, for example, in the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.
In the meantime, the right has even succeeded in branding the leftist “terror of virtue,” political correctness and, most recently, a so-called cancel culture as leftist violence. How do we get out of this continuous loop of justification?
BENEDIKT: The fact that we constantly feel on the defensive is also due to the fact that we cannot deal with our own social marginality. As left-wing Christians, we have to deal with this differently. We are a minority even in our own ranks. This does not mean to justify our own position all the time, but to find reasonable arguments why what we do is legitimate and even necessary in view of the circumstances. This also requires theoretical work, as we do at the Institute; a theory that takes seriously that a resistant practice is always subject to justification. We have to develop our own idea of what a society beyond capitalism could look like and articulate it clearly. The resistance in Hambach Forest, for example, was also so successful because many people found it fascinating that people there decided to occupy a forest for years and to step out of the logic of exploitation. That attracted many who then also came to the forest to oppose the eviction. It was less the love of the forest than the question of what a life beyond the capitalist logic of the destruction of nature and social relations could actually look like.
You yourselves had concrete experiences with state violence. In what context was that?
BENEDIKT: On February 1, 2020, before the protests of the alliance “Ende Gelände” at the new power plant Datteln IV, we were taken into custody as theological observers and only released the next day. However, we were not accused of any crime; only the fact that we had driven past the power plant site on a country road and had provisions, sleeping bags and a change of clothes in the trunk was cited as a reason for detention. Our vehicle was confiscated and towed away, a cell phone was confiscated, we had to undergo undignified searches of all orifices and spend the night half-naked in solitary cells without the possibility to contact a lawyer. The next morning we were banned from entering an area of several square kilometers for three months.
JULIA: This police action was not only disproportionate, there were also violations of service regulations. The only reason given for these measures was danger prevention, so it was preventive detention. What we personally experienced here in terms of violence is an expression of rampant state structural violence. In our perception, the police are increasingly acting without a legal basis and in the knowledge that their measures will later be declared illegal by the courts. But for the activists and for all those who, because of their social position, often become victims of police violence (e.g. through racial profiling), it is then too late.
Christian-motivated leftists are often accused of representing an attitude of “turning the other cheek”. How do the commandment of love of neighbor and resistant forms of politics in the struggle against the violence of capitalism fit together for you?
JULIA: Understanding the commandment to “turn the other cheek” as a call to non-interference and indifferent passivity is a common misunderstanding. On the contrary, it is a provocative act that does not react to violence by fleeing from the confrontational situation, but by facing it. Charity has nothing to do with rapturous feelings for others, but means working to “overthrow the mighty from their thrones” (Luke 1:52) in order to make a good life possible for all.
Civil disobedience is considered by some to be a particularly radical form of politics, and one that does involve risk. Ultimately, however, it remains within the given rules of our capitalist democracy. The causes of exploitation, injustice, racism or climate catastrophe are not touched at all. What to do?
JULIA: This is another question that liberation theology has been dealing with since its beginnings. It is always about a fundamental change in social conditions. The Colombian liberation theologian Camilo Torres put it this way in the 1960s: “Revolution means establishing a government that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and teaches the ignorant, in short, practices love, but does not do so only occasionally or temporarily, and does not satisfy only a few, but cares for the great mass of our brothers and sisters. For this reason, revolution is not only permitted to the Christian, but it is his duty, if it is the only effective and sufficient way to enforce love for all.” Not everything we would formulate in the same way today. But we are convinced that in the existing, within the capitalist economic order, we will not achieve a “life in fullness,” as it says in the Bible.
BENEDICT: So we have to arrive at a society that organizes production and reproduction according to people’s needs, not according to the principle of maximizing profits. There is certainly no master plan for how we can do that. The first step is for people to organize. It must become clear that real alternatives to the existing are not only necessary but also possible, that we cannot think only within the framework of the given possibilities. We have to work on this today; the next steps and forms of such changes must then be developed collectively.
The cry of the poor
Churches have long made themselves available to power as appeasers-but there is a strong tradition of politically liberating theology.
By Roland Rottenfußer
[This article posted on 9/9/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/der-schrei-der-armen.]
“To believe in God is to be in solidarity with the oppressed,” said liberation theologian Jan Sobrino of El Salvador. In Christianity, critiques of capitalism and socialist-like concepts have a long tradition, dating back to the Gospels themselves. Throughout history, churches have often sided with the rich and powerful. Nevertheless, the spark of solidarity with the socially vulnerable never quite died out and flared up again in the Latin American “liberation theology” of the 20th century. Beyond theological sophistry, this millennia-old debate asks us a question that is still relevant today: are religions there to provide the narratives of the respective authorities with a divine nimbus? Are they an aid to escaping the world and a spiritual sedative to dress up misery on this side with comfort on the other side? Or does their very task lie precisely in radically taking the side of the exploited and oppressed – with the authority of those who, through their faith, have freed themselves to some extent from worldly fears and considerations?
“Christ walks in a poncho” was one of the slogans of the grassroots churches in northern Peru. The campesinos, small farmers of Indian origin, had been farming in the inhospitable mountain landscape for generations. A hard bread. Any disturbance of the usual routine can threaten their existence. In the years after the turn of the millennium, the campesinos in Cajamarca, Peru, suddenly had problems with the nearby Yanacocha mine, the largest gold mine in South America. The metal-laden steam from the mines settled on the fields as a rusty-brown smear. As a result, the cows died.
The campesinos began to fight back. For a long time, they were supported by a church that had championed the rights of the poor since the Second Vatican Council. The legendary Bishop José Dammert Bellido had built up a self-confident Indian church in Cajamarca until his retirement in 1992. He had trained 3,000 campesinos as church workers, some of whom performed priestly functions such as Bible readings and baptisms. The courageous priest Marco Arana continued the work of the bishop and founded the environmental and civil rights movement “Grufides”. With numerous non-violent actions, he supported the peasants in their struggle against the mine operators.
But Marco Arana had to deal with death threats soon after he began his activities. Six campesinos had been murdered, presumably by mine security forces. The violence had increased when local bishop Lázaro stabbed Arano, the priest under his authority, in the back. The bishop had announced his intention to clean out the “pigsty” when he took office in 2004. Insiders reported that he had the gold mine operators give him a car every year. In 2006, Bishop Lázaro wrote a pastoral letter in which he called on several committed priests to immediately stop their “agitation” and to “confine themselves to their actual priestly duties.”
Throne and altar – the unholy alliance
What are the “proper priestly duties”? Undoubtedly, two views of the church clashed in Peru that could not be more different. Two traditions of biblical interpretation that have been fighting each other since the origins of Christianity. The connection between throne and altar, as it had been in the offing since the Roman emperor Constantine, between ecclesiastical pomp and the display of worldly power, was opposed by a current of socially committed Christianity that invoked the commandment of poverty in certain passages of the Gospel.
The evangelist Luke is considered the unwitting founder and reference point of any kind of “left-wing theology.” In his Gospel, written between about 80 and 90 AD, there are – compared to Matthew, Mark and John – a conspicuously large number of passages in which the social difference between rich and poor is a theme. The famous Christmas story with its romanticism of a stable and a manger has been handed down exclusively in the Gospel of Luke. It relocates the birth of Jesus – which is not historically proven and is often doubted – in a “lower class milieu”, in the midst of the animals of the field and the simple shepherds. The Son of God bedded on straw – here the myth of God’s descent into the “lowliness” of humanity finds a striking and extremely popular expression.
Even before Jesus’ birth, however, social revolution is proclaimed in Luke: “He exercises violence with his arm and scatters those who are proud in their hearts,” it says about God the Father. “He pushes the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. He fills the hungry with goods and leaves the rich empty” (Luke 1:51). The leftist revolutionary who proclaims this is none other than Mary, the mother of the founder of religion. However, in the rich tradition of Marian devotion, especially in Catholicism, this “aggressive” aspect of Mary plays only a minor role compared to her gentle qualities – grace and mildness. Mary’s “hymn of praise” is a typical role-reversal fantasy, which will shape the rhetoric of Luke’s Gospel in the following. The poor are to be placed in the position of the rich in the “kingdom of God” and vice versa.
The blessed poor
Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount says, “Blessed are you poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who hunger here, for you shall be filled. (…) Woe to you who are rich! For you have lost your comfort. Woe to you who are full here! For you will hunger” (Luke, 6, 20-24). Further behind in the Gospel the warning against greed: “Watch and beware of covetousness, for no one lives by having many possessions” (Luke 12:15). In the parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus, the rich man finds himself in an agonizing realm of the dead after his death and has to watch the poor man, who has also died, enjoying himself in “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke, 16, 19). Of course, there is also the story of the rich man to whom Jesus advises to give everything he has to the poor. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke, 18, 25).
Such an accumulation of socially engaged passages has earned Luke a reputation as an evangelist of the poor and a socialist-minded writer. In fact, however, the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel is not concerned with an idealization of involuntary poverty, but with the ideal of voluntary renunciation of possessions as a prerequisite for discipleship-the surrender of ego, to choose a neutral term.
The de facto communism and propertylessness of Jesus’ community of disciples became the model for propertyless monastic communities and poverty movements in later Christianity.
Spiritual therapy for the rich
The rich, meanwhile, are exhorted to see attachment to material gain as an obstacle on the path to salvation. They are to forgive debts, return wrongfully appropriated property, and generally donate a large portion of their possessions to the poor. These instructions are first of all “spiritual therapy” for the rich, but they are also the outline of a fundamental social order which – in contrast to the modern economic order – is capable of closing the gap between rich and poor.
These two aspects become particularly clear in the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus, whom Jesus instructed to give half of his goods to the poor and to give back four times as much to people he had defrauded (Luke 19:8). Zacchaeus is the prototype of the exploiter, the enemy image of all socialists. Tax tenants in Judea at that time were collectors for the Roman state. But they often added many times the amount demanded by Rome in order to shamelessly enrich themselves from the population of their own country. Zacchaeus is a fine example of a sinner’s repentance and forgiveness.
But it would certainly be a misunderstanding if the churches, with reference to Zacchaeus, were to ally themselves with exploitative structures and thereby let the necessity of the repentance of the “sinner” fall under the table. One can certainly say that “leftist” interpretations of the Gospel have a basis. Jesus denies the rich the moral right to keep their possessions merely because they can lay formal legal claim to them.
Poverty as a bride
It is impossible to give here an overall survey of the socially engaged currents of church history that follow Luke’s Gospel. Famous, for example, is the “Address to the Rich” (370 A.D.) by Basil, Archbishop of Caesarea:
“The rich are just the same: they consider the goods that belong to everyone as their private property, because they were the first to appropriate them. To the hungry belongs the bread you keep for yourself; to the naked the cloak you hide in the chest; to the poor the money you bury.”
When we think of “buried” riches today, we may well think of money hoarded in bank accounts and withdrawn from circulation. Basil’s contemporary, the Greek bishop Grogor of Nyssa, even explicitly addressed the problem of interest: “What difference is it to come into possession of other people’s property by burglary (…) or to take possession of what does not belong to you by coercion, which lies in interest?”
A great innovator of the commandment of poverty, as it can be read especially from the Gospel of Luke, was Francis of Assisi (1181 to 1226). In his native town, a gray, torn, repeatedly patched habit can still be seen today, an extreme expression of his unpretentious attitude of mind, averted from all worldly things. Francis of Assisi was the son of a rich merchant. When his friends, also from the “upper class”, once found him alone and pensive in an alley, they asked if he was thinking of “taking a wife”. Franz is said to have answered: “I am thinking of taking a bride, but this one is much nobler, richer and more beautiful than you are able to think and imagine.” This bride was poverty.
Francis sold everything he owned in his father’s house for the reconstruction of a neglected chapel near Assisi. When his father publicly confronted him for this and threatened to disinherit him, Francis stripped himself completely and vowed to belong only to God from then on. Since then, St. Francis – and in his succession the orders of the Franciscans and the Poor Clares – have initiated countless social projects and, as a rule, have remained faithful to their vow of personal frugality. The strong charisma of Francis of Assisi is certainly also due to his traditional cheerful mood – convincing proof that a consistently immaterial attitude to life is very well capable of establishing a fulfilled life.
The poor Franciscans were thus also a constant provocation for an increasingly ostentatious church, which tended to interpret away the social message of the Gospel. We find a literary trace of this dichotomy in Umberto Eco’s novel “The Name of the Rose.” In this famous medieval novel, a debate is described between representatives of the Franciscan Order and a legation of Pope John XXII, which revolves around the necessity or non-necessity of the Church’s poverty. But let us return to modern times.
An antisocial religion is at an end
The politically engaged Church received a major boost after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 with the emergence of so-called liberation theology in Latin America. It was initially a movement of the poor themselves, landless peasants and slum dwellers, who read out of the Bible a message of liberation from hardship and oppression. They interpreted the biblical stories, such as the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, as something that had immediate consequences for their daily lives. The church hierarchy was ambivalent about grassroots efforts from the beginning. Part of the Catholic clergy traditionally sided closely with the powerful and the propertied.
In other countries around the world, too, the link between Christianity and politics was discovered to be a powerful instrument of social change. Recourse to the widely recognized authority of biblical statements served to lend weight to the justified claims of the poor and oppressed, to spur their courage, but also to prevent violence. Thus, the leader of the black civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, “expressed his conviction that every religion which is supposedly concerned about the souls of men, but does not care about social and economic conditions, is already spiritually marked by death and is only waiting for the day of burial. (…) A religion that ends with the individual is at an end.”
Since the 1970s, theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, who coined the term “Teología de la liberación,” Ernesto Cardenal and Leonardo Boff demonstratively threw their weight behind grassroots Christian movements in Latin America. They created a theoretical foundation with writings such as Boff’s “Cry of the Poor,” but did not see themselves as founders of the movement, but rather as its mouthpiece.
The liberation theologians did not understand the Bible’s message of redemption exclusively in a transcendental sense, but found in it a secular-economic, even social-revolutionary message.
Thus they could not avoid criticizing the church hierarchy, which they accused of serving the exploitative interests of the propertied classes by dumbing down the poor. In Germany, the activities of sympathizers of the Latin American liberation movement culminated in the statement of theologian Helmut Gollwitzer: “Christians must be socialists.” Gollwitzer was also a friend and supporter of Rudi Dutschke, the leader of the 1968 student movement in Berlin.
God’s solidarity with the oppressed
Jon Sobrino, one of the most popular liberation theologians who had his center of life in El Salvador since 1957, expressed the view of liberation theology particularly succinctly: “To believe in God is to show solidarity with the oppressed.” Sobrino was also an advisor to Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was murdered by a death squad in 1980. Military advisers from the United States were probably behind the murder. In his last sermon before his assassination, Romero had said: “No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is against the law of God. (…) I beg you, I implore you, I command you in the name of God – stop the oppression!”
In 1985, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff was sentenced to a year of silence by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and later deprived of all ecclesiastical functions. Ratzinger accused Boff, among other things, that in his view Jesus Christ had not commanded a particular church form, so that others than the Catholic church model were conceivable from the Gospel. Further, that revelation and dogma played only a subordinate role for Boff and that he had described the historical abuse of power of the church institution in an unnecessarily polemical and disrespectful way. In his justification to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Boff said, “The church of the rich for the poor denies the power of the people to liberate themselves.”
In the 1990s, Leonardo Boff launched sharp attacks against the spreading ideology of neoliberalism, in keeping with the tenets of liberation theology:
“Liberation theology emerged in the sixties from the cry of the poor. This cry resounds until today. And it has become a loud cry because it no longer concerns only the Third World, but two-thirds of humanity. Not only the poor are crying out, but also creation, our earth, which is being plundered. In the 1990s, the issue is not liberation but social exclusion as a result of the new modes of production, the world market and neoliberalism.”
And Boff notes with bitter irony, “If this development continues, the poor lose their privilege of being exploited. They will simply be excluded, declared nothing, and, like Brazilian street children, for example, shot by death squads like troublesome dogs.” In another interview, the feisty theologian said, “I believe that change is possible because I cannot accept a God who is indifferent to this world, but only one who turns to the poor, to those who suffer. His grace gives strength to resist, strength to liberate.” Theology, he said, “must be open to such challenges, to the cry of the poor. Otherwise there will remain a gap between the world of faith and concrete political reality.”
But what about socially committed Christianity in our latitudes, in the “rich” countries of the West increasingly threatened by a new poverty? Here the forces critical of capitalism received encouragement from unexpected quarters. In his 2003 book “What Would Jesus Say Today?” Heiner Geißler, the former secretary general of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who was once considered a conservative hardliner, asked the unconventional question: “Are capitalists allowed to call themselves Christians?” Geißler’s answer: “Those who absolutize the stock market value and the share price of a company and allow only the interests of capital to count economically belong to the group of people who, as Jesus says, have a lot of money and for whom it will be difficult to enter the kingdom of God.”
About the “Pharisees” in his own party, Geißler, a former Jesuit student, said: “To go solemnly to church every Sunday (…) as a political showman, so to speak (…. ), but at the same time to demand deep cuts in the social net, the reduction of social welfare, to abolish the protection against dismissal, to allow wage dumping as an element of competition, instead of a citizen insurance to privatize the risk of illness and need of care and to ship it to the capital market, is not only economically wrong, but leads, as in the USA, to a division of society and is not compatible with the message of the Gospel. ”
Wealth that makes poor
An eloquent example of the spirit of liberation theology in Germany is an essay by evangelical theologian Ulrich Duchrow, published in Carl Amery’s readable anthology, “Letters to Wealth.” Duchrow frames his contribution as a fictional correspondence between two fictional characters: the Argentine bishop Teófilo Lucano and the German bishop Justus Zumkehr. The Argentinean states on record:
“It is not about poverty as such. Rather, it is about wealth that makes poor. It is about mechanisms of enrichment that are declared to be necessary to nature and are thus idolized. Poverty is the consequence. Therefore, the church cannot avoid coming into conflict with this wealth. Only in this way can it help to tackle the causes of the present misery. As we know, it is not enough to take care of those who have fallen among the robbers. It is necessary to take care of the robbers and even the causes that and why there are robbers.”
Teófilo Lucano, respectively Ulrich Duchrow, then specifies his economic analysis. The mechanisms of exploitation would have “to do with the introduction of private property – not in the sense of utility property, but of property with the help of which one can pursue wealth accumulation according to market laws. The connection of absolutized disposal property – interest – money – loss of mortgaged land/debt slavery on the one hand and growing large-scale land ownership with cultivation by slave labor on the other hand – is thus structurally a mechanism that reverses the blessing cycle and thus necessarily comes into opposition to Yahweh.” He then quotes the Bible, “No slave can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Luke, 16:13). The liberation of the rich from mammonism is, psychologically speaking, “addiction therapy.”
The text gets extremely specific in economic theory, criticizing churches for their practice of profiting from interest on monetary investments:
“If, on the other hand, the rate of interest exceeds the rate of growth, the owner of monetary assets robs the other participants in the economic process, that is, above all, the working people, of their fair share of what they have earned together. (…) The argument that the churches need the interest income at market conditions (…) is equivalent to the plausible statement that robbers also need something for their livelihood.”
Author Duchrow adds:
“Neutrality in an asymmetrical system means taking sides with power and wealth. If the church wants to be church, it must side with God. And God takes the powerful down from the throne and lifts the lowly from the dust.”
“This economy kills”
Is the accusation of siding with power justified? Ex-Pope Benedict XVI issued a strong doctrinal condemnation against liberation theologian Jon Sobrino as recently as 2007. The Latin American spreads in some of his books “considerable deviations from faith and church” and could thus “do great harm” to the faithful. He emphasizes too much solidarity with the poor and oppressed and too little faith and salvation through Jesus Christ. Moreover, Sobrino emphasizes too much the human character of Jesus and neglects his divinity.
So, will Jesus continue to be clothed in gold and purple? Or does he walk along, as the Peruvian campesinos think, “in a poncho,” in the costume of the common people? Will he be found in bishop’s regalia or rather in the torn habit of Francis of Assisi? Does the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus absolve the churches of their duty to care for the poor, which may also mean taking a stand against unjust enrichment mechanisms?
Should a distant, transcendent God continue to be worshipped at the expense of and past the people? Or does “incarnation of God” not mean precisely that the high ethical principle of love of neighbor has descended to earth, as it were, in order to become a concrete reality here in our environment?
The current Pope Francis gave many cause for hope, and not only through the interesting choice of his name. “This economy kills,” he said in his teaching letter “Evangelii Gaudium” (2013).
“Man in himself is considered like a consumer good that can be used and then thrown away. (…) Until the problems of the poor are solved from the root, renouncing the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and addressing the structural causes of income inequality, the world’s problems will not be solved.”
In his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” Francis wrote in a similar vein:
“The market alone does not solve all problems, even if at times we are made to believe this dogma of the neoliberal credo. It is a simple idea, repeated like a prayer mill, that always pulls out the same recipes before every burgeoning challenge.”
The Pope accuses capitalism of a tendency toward uniformity within world culture:
“Local conflicts and disinterest for the common good are instrumentalized by the global economy to impose a single cultural model. Such a culture unites the world but divides people and nations.”
Whether the Catholic Church, in its current state, comes anywhere close to living up to the encyclical’s claim is another question.
Vaccinated and tested redeemers.
Since 2020, the churches have also largely caved in to the Corona narrative, stripped themselves of their universal claim, and in many places become patronage cults for holders of 3G certificates.
While Jesus embraced lepers, most of his “followers” supported that segregationist zeitgeist that had declared parts of the population lepers in the first place without need. Not a few priests turned into vaccinated- and at best tested-redeemers.
These sad developments may not be the essence of the Christian impulse, nor, as we can hope, may they have been the last word. However, merely muddling on after the Corona cultural rupture will not be enough. As long as only falling incidence figures, not real insight, lead to a normalization of the situation in the churches, open wounds will remain in many previously excluded people, which will be very difficult to heal without a credible plea for forgiveness.
After all, the subject of Corona by no means exists completely independently of the discourse on capitalism, which is the focus of my article. Corona and the subsequent staged crises around war, inflation and gas shortages have made the “cry of the poor” described by Leonardo Boff resound louder again. The numbers of the poor are increasing rapidly. Pope Francis, who among other things declared vaccinations a “moral obligation,” at times proved to be part of the problem rather than pointing to solutions. His appeal helped swell the coffers of some pharmaceutical giants, while de facto occupational lockdowns, investment in armaments, and inflation caused wantonly by disastrous energy policies are sinking more and more people into poverty.
Unfortunately, there is little doubt that growing poverty will be the big issue of the coming years – especially in countries like Germany that have been relatively rich for a long time. How will the churches position themselves in the upcoming conflicts? Will they hope, with Leonardo Boff, that God’s grace will give them “strength to resist, strength to liberate”? Or will they confine themselves, as Bishop Lázaro recommended, to their “proper priestly tasks,” which would then probably amount to politically ineffective or even system-stabilizing soul care?
Beyond the duty of obedience
Behind this conflict there is another one, which concerns the relationship of the faithful to “his” authorities. On the one hand, there is Paul’s sentence (Romans 13): “Let every man be subject to the authority that has power over him. For there is no authority except from God; but where there is authority, it is ordained by God.” This sentence seems to clumsily want to transplant power narratives into people’s souls.
When one observes how priests went against the spirit of the Gospels in many ways-from blessing arms to 2G churches-one can even say that Paul’s sentence about authority may have been the only one that could be relied upon to be faithfully “cared for” by the churches at all times.
On the other hand, there is the sentence from the Acts of the Apostles, “One must obey God more than men.” This suggests that there can also be an opposition between God and the secular authorities, and that the Christian must clearly take God’s side in case of conflict. As, incidentally, also in the area of tension between “God” and “Mammon”. Theologically, both Bible quotations are difficult to reconcile with each other, although, of course, this has also been attempted in a subtle way. From a socio-political point of view, however, it seems clear that only the second sentence, the one from the Acts of the Apostles, is liberating. It releases religious people from an automated obedience to worldly power, gives them support and dignity, which are derived from a supra-worldly realm. It presents a perspective from which the oppression and plunder narratives of governments can be relativized and overcome.
In authoritarian, controlled societies, only two kinds of worldviews are ever tolerated: first, an atheistic-materialistic one that leads to obedience to the authorities, because no source of value-setting beyond them is recognized; second, an embedded-religious attitude that, in an adventurous mental construction, brings God and governance into congruence and directs the “freedom of a Christian man” (Martin Luther) back to the lack of freedom of a churchgoer who belongs to the state. But one can also argue quite differently: If I am an atheist, I do not have to obey, because I know that government action does not spring from any sublime mystical mystery, but only from realpolitik considerations of always only very relative validity. If, on the other hand, I believe in God, I don’t have to obey anyway, because the “moral law within me” (Immanuel Kant) is always the more reliable guide compared to the more random results of worldly power haggling.
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 worked as an editor, book copywriter and author scout for Goldmann Verlag. Since 2006 he has been editor-in-chief of Hinter den Schlagzeilen and since 2020 editor-in-chief of Rubikon.
People feel an urgency to connect rather than disconnect. The fact that concepts of intersectionality, ecosocialism, and a feminism of social reproduction are experiencing such resurgence is a testament to this yearning for connection. I see an incredible amount of creativity among those who are trying to develop new theories and models that make these connections.
Against the cannibalism of capital
How does the left win the future?
Conversation with Nancy Fraser
[This interview posted in October 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Gegen den Kannibalismus des Kapitals.]
How would you describe the times we live in? Are we in a crisis, multiple crises, or even a catastrophe?
I would say we are in an epochal crisis for two reasons. First, the crisis is not limited to individual sectors, but affects the entire social order. It is not ‘only’ an economic or ecological crisis, not ‘only’ a crisis of politics or of the care sector, but all these phenomena converge and exacerbate each other. Comprehensive crises like this are historically a rarity. In the last 500 years of capitalism, there have been perhaps four such crises, in which more and more people have found the social form as a whole unsurvivable. The second reason is the systemic nature of this crisis. All the irrational and dysfunctional things we are currently experiencing do not arise by chance, but are deeply rooted in the structures of our capitalist form of society – even if we are dealing with a historically specific form of it.
You describe contemporary capitalism as “cannibalistic.” What do you mean by that?
The capitalist economic form is constantly gnawing away at its own conditions; it devours everything that makes its existence possible in the first place. That is, capitalist crises are not only economic crises, but also social, political, and ecological crises. Moreover, they do not only occur within a certain sphere, as Marx, for example, described it with the tendential fall of the rate of profit for the sphere of economics. Crises also arise from contradictions between different social spheres, as Karl Polanyi already described in the middle of the 20th century. For him, crisis tendencies arise from the ongoing conflict between the economic logic of exploitation of this system and the logic of natural and social reproduction. These contradictions go beyond the economic and thus drive crisis phenomena beyond the economic. So we need to enrich Marx and Polanyi with and against each other in this respect. Only then can we understand that capitalism not only exploits free wage workers, but also drains all the “non-economic” resources that make this exploitation possible in the first place: the families in which labor power is (re)produced; the state that secures property rights and provides public goods; and, of course, the ecosystems that make life possible in the first place.
“Neoliberal capitalism frees the cannibalistic tendencies of the system from all limitations.”
This dynamic is found in every form of capitalism and does not stop at nature or care work, nor does it stop at the wealth or health of workers* – this is especially true, though not exclusively, for racialized populations. And it also undermines the political sphere, the very public power potentials that we desperately need to solve our problems. So it is the cannibalistic nature of capitalism that produces the multiple crises and injustices, along gender, race, and imperialism as well as in terms of class antagonism in the classical sense.
Why has capitalism not yet fallen victim to its own self-destructive dynamics?
In the history of capitalism, we repeatedly see a succession of profound phases of crisis in which the system falters, as well as phases of reform designed to cushion these internal contradictions. One example is so-called social democratic or New Deal capitalism. It was a direct response to the crisis of liberal or colonial industrial capitalism that resulted in the economic crises and world wars of the first half of the 20th century. This crisis was rooted in the insatiability of capital, which once again threatened to devour the capacities of social reproduction. The social democratic ‘solution’ was to contain capital in its own interest – through regulations, social protection, demand-led economic policy. This balance worked for a while, but was neither really fair nor sustainable. Consequently, it is no surprise that it began to unravel in the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, the way was cleared for yet another new form of capitalism: the neoliberal or globalized capitalism of the 1990s, in which we still live today.
What are the special characteristics of this current capitalism?
This latest form is particularly brutal and exploitative. Neoliberal capitalism frees the cannibalistic tendencies of the system from all limitations and regulations. And so it relentlessly devours what it actually bases its existence on. The Corona pandemic acted like an X-ray of this social system. It revealed how irrational our system is and how all crisis tendencies are driven to the absolute boiling point. There is no other way to put it: we are in one sheer inextricable chaos.
How does this extreme situation affect the people who live through it?
Under the terrible pressure of these crises, many people are becoming renegades to the common sense that still held everything together to some extent. They no longer believe in the narrative that cutting red tape and free markets will lead to a happy ending. This is also evident in the growing disaffection with elites and established parties, reflecting what Antonio Gramsci called the “crisis of hegemony.” People are looking for new solutions. This can offer an opportunity for emancipatory, left-wing projects. But there is also a dark side: many are attracted to authoritarian leaders, to strongmen who engage in vicious exclusion of minorities. We can see this in different variations around the world, from the alt-right supremacy movement in the U.S. to the AfD in Germany.
And to what extent is this opportunity you’re talking about being used to find progressive responses?
I definitely see an upswing in protest movements and party formations, an enormous emancipatory potential. Nevertheless, there is still an unresolved problem. So far, activism has remained mostly isolated and fragmented; it has not been possible to build a counter-hegemony or even to create joint projects. This is due to the fact that the conditions of life in capitalism, especially in its current form, are extremely complex. Crises are experienced very differently in it. When there is so much to protest against, political movements tend to focus on one aspect that they feel is particularly urgent. For some that is extreme police violence, for others precarious work and poverty, and for still others the escalating climate crisis. All of these problems are real. Wanting to solve them together, through collective democratic action, can lead to broader solidarity and more inclusive, radical projects. For that to happen, however, people need to make the connections and understand that their respective suffering is caused by one and the same social system – this particularly cannibalistic manifestation of capitalism.
How can the unifying nature of the struggles be made visible? Through which demands, which narratives could people come together?
The first thing is to show how the phenomena are intertwined – and here I’m speaking now as a critical theorist and as an activist. This gives movements a kind of map that makes the interconnections visible and on which they can locate themselves and find potential allies. I don’t mean this in the Leninist sense that concerns must be subordinated to a supposedly more important demand. But on the contrary, to (re)formulate demands in such a way that cooperation becomes possible and broader projects can emerge. If that happens, we could attract some, perhaps even many, people to our side who are currently leaning toward right-wing populism. Of course, not those who are deeply racist and authoritarian, who are not worth fighting for. But the populists rely on many people who simply have no contact with adequate alternatives from the left and who vote right because no one with a clear class perspective appeals to them. We could offer them something better.
So is it our task as socialists to show this bigger picture that makes alliances possible?
Exactly! Whether we’re talking about Trump supporters in the U.S. or the AfD in Germany, these people have a narrative. And this narrative does not claim to include everyone, but is, on the contrary, decidedly exclusive. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what many people find compelling. We need a strong counter-narrative to this that can convince people. Progressive neoliberalism with its offers is not the answer – we see its failure every day. This is exactly what opens up the chance to develop new forms of feminism, anti-racism, environmental and labor politics. Forms that aim for profound, structural change.
What would it look like, this alternative from the left?
It would be an alliance of feminist, anti-racist, pro-democracy, environmental and labor movements. Such a coalition is effective if the participants agree on two things: that their different problems stem from the same perverse social system. And that they all share the goal of trying to address these problems. So they do not have to subordinate their differences to an abstract universalism. On the contrary, they can each retain their own political identity while sharing the diagnosis of the status quo. The concept of intersectionality attempts to capture this practice analytically by tracing different, intersecting problems back to a common cause. But when it comes to change and emancipation, intersectionality may not be enough. Instead, we need a stronger sense of solidarity – a sense of what we can share.
Does this also require a new understanding of the revolutionary subject today – the working* class?
Yes, we urgently need to move away from this traditional understanding that refers solely to the industrialized labor of free proletarians. This dimension of the working class is important, no doubt, but it is only one aspect of many. Capitalism also relies on unfree or dependent workers, whom it racializes and constructs as vulnerable. Their labor is not simply exploited, but expropriated. Thus, they too are part of the working class, as are the underpaid or even unpaid workers of gendered care work. These two dimensions of labor are absolutely essential for the accumulation of capital. Without them there could be no exploited labor, nor raw materials, commodity production, surplus value, capital.
“When it comes to change and emancipation, intersectionality may not be enough.”
Capitalism, then, is based on not just one, but three dimensions of labor that are functionally interconnected in a social order. And these same dimensions are in flux today. Most traditional manufacturing work has now been outsourced to semi-peripheral countries where labor law is weak and unions do not exist. Much of the work of social reproduction takes place in low-paid service jobs, mostly for the benefit of profit-making companies, but performed in public institutions and by migrants who can be deported at any time. In both cases, then, labor is ‘semi-free’ because workers lack empowering rights and political protection. Our conception of the working class must include all these dimensions of labor under capitalism and their intersections. On this basis, we can build alliances that have the necessary weight and visionary breadth for an emancipatory, anti-hegemonic bloc.
How exactly can movements use this concept to their advantage? And why is it crucial to their success today?
Every movement, no matter what its concern, should be more sensitive to such an expanded understanding of class. We need a “feminism of the 99 percent” rather than a neoliberal feminism that merely aims to break “glass ceilings” for individual women’s careers. Environmental politics should also be linked to other emancipatory struggles, because those who think of the eco-question in monothematic terms are under the misapprehension that it is primarily a concern of the wealthy. Anti-racist movements should also go beyond the mantra of black faces in high places and take a class-political approach. Workplace labor struggles must also act on the basis of this expanded understanding of class and include demands of the #MeToo movement, for example. If we manage to link labor struggles with issues of social reproduction, ecology and democracy, we can appeal to large sections of the population. A left based on such a strong and differentiated concept of class is a real challenge to its political opponents – both right-wing populists and market-oriented liberals.
“Another world is possible” – this slogan has mobilized movements for decades. What remains of it, in a time of looming climate apocalypse?
Of course, the ecological crisis demands big changes in a very short time. Some are discouraged by that or become passive. But at the same time, I see a real sense of urgency and tremendous energy to meet this challenge. Seeing the commitment and awakening of a new generation of activists encourages me immensely. In some ways, it reminds me of the late sixties, when I became a radical left activist myself. And today, as a professor, I’m encountering tremendous student interest in ecomarxism and socialism – topics that have not been popular in recent decades.
So do you see cause for optimism?
I definitely see that there is a huge desire to network with others. We’re past the point when young left-wingers wanted to develop primarily their own separate voices. People feel an urgency to connect rather than disconnect. The fact that concepts of intersectionality, ecosocialism, and a feminism of social reproduction are experiencing such resurgence is a testament to this yearning for connection. I see an incredible amount of creativity among those who are trying to develop new theories and models that make these connections. It’s really a good time to be an intellectual.
The interview was conducted by Nathalie Steinert.
Nancy Fraser is a political scientist and one of the best-known US feminists. She is currently a professor of political and social science at the New School for Social Research in New York. Together with Andrew Arato, she is the editor of Constellations, an international journal of critical theory and democratic theory. From the perspective of Polanyi’s historical analysis of the “Great Transformation,” she looks at the current crisis and how to overcome it.
The signs are pointing to a storm
Dealing with the climate crisis brings social conflicts to a head. What might an ecosocialist intervention look like?
By Hans Rackwitz
[This article posted in October 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Die Zeichen stehen auf Sturm.]
Die Zeichen stehen auf Sturm
Die Bearbeitung der Klimakrise spitzt soziale Konflikte zu. Wie kann eine ökosozialistische Intervention aussehen?
The world continues to race at high speed toward a wall. For three decades now, attempts have been made to decouple capitalism and growth from environmental degradation. Successes, if any, remain sectoral and relative, while the ecological crisis accelerates. This uncomfortable truth also imposes itself on the Fridays for Future movement, which made “System change not climate change!” its core slogan. However, this often remains diffuse in terms of content and above all a verbal radicalism. The worldwide mass demonstrations have put the issue in the news, but have not substantially advanced climate protection. What is missing are strategies that specifically build up those power resources and connect actors that are essential for system change. To do this, it is necessary to open up the social dislocations and everyday conflicts that accompany the prevailing attempts to deal with the climate crisis as fields of practical political intervention. For with the climate crisis, social conflicts also threaten to escalate. How they will end and whether the social question will continue to be played off against the ecological question depends largely on whether an ecosocialist pole can be established.
Social-ecological transformation conflicts
Even though capitalism, ecology and class conflict have been factually interwoven from the beginning of capitalism, this interwovenness is increasingly articulated today. In sociology, one speaks of “socio-ecological transformation conflicts” (Dörre et al. 2020). This is meant to characterize the following: While the contradiction of capital and labor in Fordism could be contained in terms of domination precisely at the price of intensified environmental destruction (Röttger/Wissen 2017, among others), this constellation seems to be reversed today. The ecological crisis is now being dealt with in a domineering way at the price of exacerbating class contradictions. At the same time, these attempts are mostly ecologically completely inadequate. However, not only are the ecological consequences of class contradiction not being remedied, but even more so: since they are less and less externalizable, they are increasingly making themselves felt in our wallets and in the world of work and enterprise, and are themselves increasingly becoming economic and potential political crisis drivers. When the CO2 tax in France ignites one of the most militant social protests of recent decades, or when thousands of employees are threatened with dismissal because of the switch to e-mobility, we are witnessing the transformation of the structurally defining industrial class conflict into a social-ecological transformation conflict (Dörre et al. 2020, 24f). The worsening environmental crisis leads to an ecological pressure for reform and transformation, which translates into social conflict raw materials in its domineering treatment.
Social-ecological transformation conflicts thus ignite in the political and corporate responses to an ecological transformation pressure. They are not identical with class conflicts, but they permeate all levels of class relations. The ecological question is increasingly coming to the fore in the conflicts between capital, labor and the state, without, however, simply displacing them. Rather, the term refers to the respective context-specific entanglements of social and ecological factors in contemporary conflicts, which can be interpreted neither as pure class conflicts nor as pure environmental conflicts. In addition to the political-economic causes in the production of ecological hazards, further class-specific entanglements of social and ecological issues can be captured. For example, there are conflicts in the world of work and business, around distributional effects of environmental, tax and social policy measures or macroeconomic ecological-economic crisis shocks. All these dimensions are interwoven with ideological strategies of legitimation and domination and thus also with cultural lines of conflict of distinction as well as valorization and devaluation. I would like to use the example of the mobility issue to illustrate these dimensions.
In the ruling system, the satisfaction of social needs must be compatible with capital valorization – and thus remain ecologically ignorant. The development of a mass market for cars was accompanied by a systematic displacement of the rail mobility infrastructure, which the car companies were able to enforce against competing companies and mobility concepts (Wolf 1992). Today, it is clear that emissions in the transport sector must fall drastically. Today, however, the mobility turnaround must also be compatible with capital valorization and is intended to generate profits and new market shares for the car corporations. Instead of an expansion of public transport, we are primarily talking about battery-electric drives, which do not solve the environmental problem but merely shift it to the raw materials side. E-mobility, in turn, goes hand in hand with a lower (and different) labor requirement and a lower vertical range of manufacture. The question is who bears the costs and burdens of capital devaluation and green investment and modernization pushes. Companies are trying to pass the pressure on to workers and taxpayers. Employees are threatened with layoffs and devaluation of their qualifications. At the same time, work intensification and relocation of traditional fossil fuel production lines are now being sold as climate protection measures. This is what happened at Bosch in Munich, for example. Here, the plant closure was justified by the conversion to e-mobility, even though only the combustion engine business was to be relocated to less expensive foreign countries (Heinisch 2021).
1 For an overview of the interactions of class and nature relations on the levels of political economy, socio-ecological inequalities, socio-ecological transformation conflicts, and an ecosocialist class politics, see Rackwitz 2022.
2 On the ecological contradictions of capitalism and the connection between labor and metabolism, see Mahnkopf in this issue.
“The question is who bears the costs and burdens of capital devaluations and green investment and modernization pushes.”
Today’s socio-ecological upheaval processes are closely linked in the public debate with questions of an ecological morality. Aren’t German consumers and (industrial) employees globally privileged anyway and should accept higher prices and new uncertainties for climate protection? If automotive workers want to defend their jobs, they are quickly accused of being reform blockers. At the same time, policymakers are discussing CO2 consumption taxes that would place a financial burden on non-sustainable lifestyles – in other words, on pretty much everyone at the moment. While more climate-friendly consumption decisions are no problem for high-income groups, many wonder how they are supposed to turn over the last euro twice. Comparatively little is said about industrial waste, absurdly structured transport routes and value chains, company car privileges and private jets, diesel and kerosene subsidies, luxury villas, the military and armaments. Another example is the nine-euro ticket for local public transport, which demonstrates the great need for affordable mobility and could mark an entry into the transport turnaround. But under the conditions of an infrastructure that had been cut back for decades, the high demand resulted in delayed and overcrowded trains, overworked staff and frustrated travelers. Thus, in places, the ticket worked as a good advertisement for individual automobility.
But socio-ecological transformation conflicts can also induce larger crisis processes. If entire industries come under pressure, entire national development models can get into trouble. Imagine if, for ecologically sound climate protection reasons, not only fossil but also battery-electric car production and, beyond that, the oversized global transport of goods and the export-driven growth model were to come under criticism. Such problems of ecological-economic crisis dangers are potentiated by the still massively inflated yield claims in the financial sector, which should actually be devalued in the case of substantial environmental policy.
What applies to the transport sector can also be observed in other areas. Wherever we look, under the social and ecological constraints of capitalist conditions, ecological transformation pressures seem to exacerbate class conflicts everywhere. The climate crisis therefore holds enormous social explosives and poses daunting tasks for the social left.
An ecosocialist pole and class politics
Currently, the crisis is being dealt with primarily through ecological modernization projects. Precisely because these are neither socially acceptable nor ecologically adequate to begin with, this is where fields of intervention for an ecosocialist left lie. For how the transformation conflicts will end-whether the antagonisms between social and ecological questions will solidify or whether approaches to an ecosocialist class politics will emerge-is open and depends on the concrete constellations of actors and conflicts. However, the political framing is also decisive for their course. This offers an interpretation of what is actually being argued about. Are the “eco-spinners” destroying industry and jobs? Or can profit-oriented companies organize neither sustainability nor job security in the long term?
The current political discourse tends to map the split among the ruling elites themselves: On the one hand, there is liberal ecomodernism, which tries to organize socially dubious and ecologically inadequate growth compromises. In doing so, it not infrequently takes on forms of ecological class warfare from above with austerity, wage suppression and layoffs in the name of climate protection. On the other hand, there is a conservative to right-wing authoritarian spectrum that tends to be anti-ecological, recognizing class interests in a social-demagogical way and combining them with anti-ecological agitation and programming. An ecosocialist left must position itself in sharp demarcation from both positions. Its centerpiece and strategic vanishing point must be the fastest possible socially acceptable and ecologically viable restructuring and dismantling of the industrial apparatus and the expansion of social infrastructures. In order for the left not to be ground down in these conflicts between the green-liberal and the right-wing-authoritarian, anti-ecological bloc, it needs an independent ecosocialist pole. This pole must (1) be conceived and built from the standpoint of social labor; (2) be conceived holistically and refer sociopolitically to an ecosocialist transformation perspective; and (3) serve an ecosocialist populist framing that, in sharp distinction from the two false alternatives, can turn the social-ecological polarization into an ecosocialist polarization.
The position of labor
The position of people in their social role as workers* has a key role in the construction of an ecosocialist pole. For the position in the hierarchy of the capital valorization process and the overall social and company division of labor is at the same time a position in the regulation of the labor-mediated metabolism. With each position come different resources of power to intervene in capitalist production and thus in the capitalist overformed metabolism. From this perspective, employees of those particularly climate-damaging industries also come into view, which are often not ascribed a progressive role in climate policy strategies. But instead of denouncing the purchase of SUVs, it would be better if they were not produced in the first place (Dörre et al. 2020, 55). And it is precisely in the questions of what, how and for what is actually produced (ibid., 45) that (car) workers hold the strategically central power resources for a sustainable economic transformation. They can intervene directly and in an organized way in the process of work, production, and thus metabolism, and have, at least potentially, the power to shape production differently, i.e., more democratically and ecologically. The aforementioned dispute about the Bosch plant in Munich is not only paradigmatic for the crisis of the car industry and the coming socio-ecological transformation conflicts, but also for a progressive class struggle alliance between workforces and climate activists (Heinisch 2021). Confronted with the plant closure, the workers, with the support of the climate activists, demanded a conversion to ecological production and developed concrete alternative proposals for this.
From such an ecosocialist perspective, workers in such sectors are transformed from culprits who produce environmentally harmful things to transformational actors who not only have the know-how but potentially also the economic (strike) power to implement an ecological economic transformation on the level of the concrete labor process against the interests of capital.
A holistic strategy
The struggles against layoffs in the auto industry or for better working conditions in local and long-distance transportation today quickly point beyond the plant level and can only be successful at all through their social politicization. This offers enormous opportunities for new, powerful social-ecological alliances to push through more far-reaching (social-)ecological demands. If struggles in the structurally crisis-ridden car industry, for example, do not succeed in leading them as struggles for a fundamental sustainable industrial restructuring, otherwise there is a threat of death in installments, because job cuts can only be postponed but not prevented (Röttger/Wissen 2017). Struggles for better local and long-distance public transport, on the other hand, quickly hit the wall of politically scarce public finances unless the austerity dogma is broken. There is enough money, but the financing of public tasks and a truly sustainable mobility revolution is a question of political priorities and the balance of power.
Ecosocialist progress can only be achieved with a holistic, unifying approach, because the factual links between company and social policy, between struggles in the car industry and those in bus and train companies, and between these issues and the climate crisis and the need for a genuine sustainability turnaround do not arise on their own. Connecting struggles, however, does not mean to simply add them up somehow, but to work on a problem field (here mobility transition) holistically from its different sides along a strategic horizon. Left parties and climate activists would have to support the organization of employees in the automotive industry, the expansion of public mobility and climate protection in a unifying way and initiate corresponding alliances between trade unions, consumer organizations and climate activists. For the auto industry, this means working towards conversion rather than e-mobility and cushioning the conversion in sociopolitical terms, for example in the form of a right to socially and thus also ecologically meaningful work. Company and collective bargaining disputes in transport companies, on the other hand, should be supported from a climate and user perspective. Better working conditions result in more attractive services and ecologically desirable higher utilization. And only a joint alliance of employees and climate activists can fight for the necessary infrastructure expansion and its financing. It is important to bring into the struggles the supra-company/socio-political questions, such as the connections to the car industry (and vice versa), to demands for an expansion of infrastructure and personnel in local and long-distance transport, to the overall economic ecological restructuring (and the overall huge demand for labor and know-how) and to the capitalistically set limits of these aspects on the support of job preservation and better working conditions. The struggles for industrial restructuring, for a right to work and for its socially acceptable intersectoral redistribution and the democratization of work and production that is necessary for this, set limits to profit pressure and market logic in perspective and make ecosocialist transformative politics possible. Recognizing and supporting legitimate employment, company and wage interests in solidarity is a prerequisite for being able to seriously raise questions about the necessity of ecological restructuring, global climate justice or system change.
An ecosocialist populism
An ecosocialist populist framing that relates the systemic causes of the crises and conflicts to the everyday distortions must draw the lines of connection to these supra-company and socio-political questions as well as the references of the various conflicts to one another. What is meant is an activist socialist populism instead of a social democratic proxy populism or even a right-wing populism. A left populism (Goes/Bock 2017) combines a popular social-ecological programmatic approach with a populist condensed political address. It is about tapping into the social-populist interpretations in mass consciousness, which also exist in relation to the climate crisis, and pushing them forward in a progressive way. An inkling of the systemic nature of the climate crisis, a critique of the ecologically contradictory and socially unjust bogus solutions of ecomodernism, and the exclusion of the biggest climate sinners from the environmental debate are views that are widespread in mass consciousness today. All too often, however, these views do not find any political consolidation and representation that could offer a progressive programmatic alternative to this unease. An anti-ecological and reactionary critique of the elite then quickly pushes into this gap. In this context, an ecosocialist populism should also point to the class-specific inequalities of environmental consumption and vulnerability to environmental risks and press for a more equitable distribution of the burdens. This is also the starting point for a critique of lifestyles that takes up the widespread unease about the unsustainability of one’s own lifestyle. However, an individual critique of consumption must become a collective critique of consumption, which thus inevitably includes a critique of production and the system. The fact that we are forced to secure our everyday social reproduction at the expense of the environment due to a lack of alternatives must be politicized. For a broader acceptance of the necessary changes in living and consumption habits, not only the question of supply and social supply infrastructures must be put on the political agenda, the enormously environmentally damaging excessive luxury consumption of the super-rich should also be problematized. If ecological renunciation is propagated to normal and low-income earners, while the lifestyles of the richest are not worth debating, recognition deficits are pre-programmed and the rejection of environmental policy is not far away.
Despite the diversity of the concrete conflicts to be linked, it is essential to point to the common core of the problems and thus to counter the isolation with a coordinated socio-ecological awakening. The demands for conversion and the expansion of public utility infrastructures as well as the defense against CO2 consumption taxes must point to common ground: Namely, the social and ecological impasse of liberal and right-wing proposals and the perspective of a democratization and ecologization of the economy that can break through it. Only then can the struggles cross-fertilize each other and practical, solidarity-based connections emerge across sectors, employee groups and cultural milieus. The socio-ecological problematic in the current transformation conflicts ultimately points to the core of the socialist idea: to the democratization and socialization of production and labor, which can only be enforced in conflict against capital interests. Such a framing must thus distinguish itself from both the eco-modernist-liberal and fossil-right authoritarian concepts and brand both as ecologically inadequate and socially unjust projects of capitalist elites. These poles fuel each other and draw their strength from the deficits of the other. The left must not get involved in this fatal polarization, but must develop an independent ecosocialist pole that can combine social justice and ecological sustainability in a socialist transformative way.
Hans Rackwitz is a sociologist working on a doctorate in the sociology of labor, industry and economics at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, on a sociology of class and natural relations. He is also ecosocialist active in the climate movement.
Multiple crisis and catastrophe
One crisis follows the next. This is the normal state of affairs in capitalism. But the climate crisis has a new quality: Is disaster capitalism coming now?
By Alex Demirovi?
[This article posted in October 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://zeitschrift-luxemburg.de/artikel/vielfachkrise-und-katastrophe/.]
Vielfachkrise und Katastrophe
Eine Krise jagt die nächste. Im Kapitalismus ist das der Normalzustand.
The capitalist mode of production does not produce a well-functioning market economy, but is a crisis context. It reproduces itself through exploitation, through the destruction of wealth, through crises, social contradictions and struggles. This sounds drastic, but it is implied when talking about market, because market means competition, destruction of consumer goods, bankruptcy of companies, loss of jobs and housing, destruction of nature and ruination of health. It is part of the ideology of bourgeois society to claim that still every disadvantage, every damage, every step backwards serves the progress of the whole. In the end, people should be better off. But along the way, many fall by the wayside. The relationship between the general and the individual is not reconciled. This is accepted, downplayed and glossed over. If possible, despite all the rhetoric that no one should be left behind, conditions are organized in such a way that the damage hits those who are weaker, exploited and oppressed anyway. The official self-image of bourgeois society remains peculiarly untouched by crises. They are understood as improbable and short-lived interruptions of actually successful processes. Despite reality, steady growth, continuous profit increases and the “black zero” are conjured up – even if only through “green” investments. Disruptions and crises are denied, are seen as technical and, through a multitude of individual measures, if not solvable, then at least postponable into the future.
Bourgeois society as a structured whole
The left is accused by the bourgeoisie of stirring up discontent in such crisis situations, dividing society or endangering its cohesion. But the capitalistically determined society itself generates multiple divisions, because it is based on the pursuit of particular, self-interested interests. Obviously, these can only be enforced by means of robust organization. Liberals and conservatives, who organize powerfully but want to fight unions and contain antagonisms as plural diversity within the framework of limited political institutions, also know this. This is blind to reality, because capitalist processes are constantly in crisis. For the most part, the economic, political or cultural disturbances – i.e., bankruptcies, job losses, divorces, craft shortages, racist events – remain small, insignificant in the face of the average volume of events. But such moments of crisis build up into larger crises (wars, murders, genocides) according to their own temporal rhythm. This is the case because in the crises the inner connection of the many individual actions of the social actors comes to the fore, which they themselves do not understand in their actions. The moments of crisis could only be overcome if the causes of their emergence were eliminated. But the rulers try to postpone them in time and to break down interrelationships into autonomous processes. In the crises, the inner tensions of bourgeois society openly emerge and become recognizable as regularities.
The capitalist mode of production represents a circuit of cycles of nature, economy, politics and culture; it is a whole divided into many autonomous areas, each with its own social contradictions, its own social rhythms and struggles. Specific crises can arise at each of these points, as we have seen recently. Insecticides contribute to the death of bees, which fail to pollinate, causing agricultural yields to fail. Due to drought, rivers are not navigable and food or raw materials cannot be transported in sufficient quantities. Suitable workers may be lacking because they fall ill or die due to disease and sloppy protective measures, because they are in poor physical condition due to inadequate nutrition, because they are denied adequate wages, employment or suitable skills, or because they migrate in the face of government repression. The supply of primary products may falter and slow down the production process. Solvent demand may prove too low; business loans may be too high. Profits may be too low, so that entrepreneurs or investors do not invest in a product in the long term (e.g. vaccines, protective clothing).
Depending on the cause, we can speak of an underconsumption crisis, an underproduction or overproduction crisis, or an overaccumulation crisis. These are only the economic crises. But they also exist in many other autonomous fields of politics, law, gender relations or education.
Crises are never only economic
Economic crises follow from the movement of capital. The efforts of individual capitals to achieve higher productivity and larger shares of the surplus value produced in competition against each other necessarily give rise to imbalances and misallocations of capital. The state intervenes in these under the leadership of individual fractions of capital and by means of compromises, but for its part it can generate or exacerbate new contradictions. The way in which capital can be accumulated by the owners of capital is always the result of concrete developments in the apparatus of production (i.e. the structure of enterprises, such as products, technology, size, labor force, organization of labor, and the division of labor, which extends far beyond the nation-state), state policies (legal security, taxes, infrastructures, labor market, and qualifications), and concrete class struggles and compromises reached. Crises are therefore never just economic crises. They take different historical forms and can shift from one area to another (the financial market crisis becomes a sovereign debt crisis, the climate crisis becomes an economic and energy supply crisis).
Political-economic lessons were drawn from the great economic crisis of the late 1920s that became determinative for the postwar period until the late 1970s. That crisis resulted from overproduction: the productivity of enterprises was increasing, but there was no solvent demand for the products. This led to a deep slump in economic processes, mass unemployment, a crisis of the state, and a widespread mobilization of the subaltern population by anti-democratic forces. Part of the solution was demand created by the state: arms spending, expansion of public services and infrastructure, rising wages, and state-sponsored household demand. As a result, the state was transformed from a liberal constitutional state into an interventionist and planned state. This policy was relatively successful after World War II.
Against all reason
The capitalist centers that had colonially plundered the global South for centuries had to reorganize these relations of domination because of the anti-colonial movements. Early on, it was perceived that this kind of capitalist reproduction was consequential (also for the countries of the global South): a consumerist way of life in the capitalist centers required enormous amounts of cheap raw materials and energy and generated a great deal of waste. Prominent theorists such as Herbert Marcuse or Ivan Illich found it absurd that people in capitalist centers only work for consumption, which they hardly need and which harms them physically and intellectually. The consequences for the climate were also clear early on: as early as the mid-1960s, a report to Lyndon B. Johnson warned of a heating up of the earth, and in 1972 the Club of Rome pointed out the limits to growth. In the 1970s, protest movements in many countries drew attention to the dangers of coal, oil and nuclear power as the energetic basis of the compulsive capitalist growth model and the internal combustion engine as the basis of mass mobility. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded in view of the threat to the earth’s climate. In the scientific discussion of the Anthropocene, this period of the Fordist accumulation regime is considered the time of the “great acceleration.” From 1950 onward, exponential growth can be observed in population, gross national product, water use, fertilizer consumption, and the number of motor vehicles. Correspondingly, the amount of carbon and nitrogen oxides, methane, the number of floods, surface temperature, forest loss and biodiversity increased.
So the knowledge that the livelihood of humans and many other species on the planet is threatened has existed for a long time. Although it has been repeatedly sabotaged or denigrated as ideological, it has persisted and evolved over the decades. The scientists have been proven right, and the processes continue at an accelerated pace. But as bourgeois society is like that, in neoliberally formed capitalism it could be enforced with political power to further surrender to the blind laws of the market. The insights gained into the ecological, economic, political and cultural crisis contexts do not lead to an upgrading of reason and knowledge. The effort not to exceed a temperature of 1.5 degrees in global warming has already failed. In Switzerland, the temperature has long since reached 2 degrees, while Germany is at 1.6 degrees. Glacier melt in the Alps has progressed so far that ice layers hundreds of thousands of years old are disappearing. This also threatens the major rivers in Central Europe (Danube, Rhine, Po, Rhône), the water supply for people and agriculture, hydroelectric power generation, and river navigation. The news in the summer of 2022 was once again disturbing. According to the U.S. National Climatic and Oceanographic Administration, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have reached their highest levels in a million years and now average about 420 ppm annually. The consequences are ocean acidification, species decline, lower oxygen production due to plankton die-off, loss of biodiversity and colonization areas, salinization of groundwater, heavy rain, flooding and drought. Tipping points have long been reached or already passed.
The climate crisis deepens previous dynamics
However, the accelerated processes of wealth generation not only lead to crises in ecological cycles, they also have a negative impact on individuals. They are placed under greater pressure to work and consume, and everyday working life has become more boundless and permeates private life as well. Performance optimization, exhaustion, burnout and depression are the consequences. Democracy, law and science are also coming under pressure and are threatened by deep crises. Powerful politically effective forces are trying to fight the knowledge of the crisis dynamics and to prevent corresponding practices. They deny and clearly develop the tendency to authoritarian-populist solutions. We are not experiencing just two, three or four crises. We are in a multiple crisis. The number of these crises and their respective dynamics are increasing even further, causing crises in other areas, linking and reinforcing each other, and blocking solutions. By combining with crises in the long rhythms of ecological cycles, they take on a new depth dimension that humanity has not yet had to deal with in world history. The crises reach tipping points from which a return to the previous stage is no longer possible: the glaciers are gone, oceans over-acidified for millennia, agricultural land eroded, virgin forests cut down and groundwater depleted. The multiple crisis is accelerating, it is chaoticizing social conditions. Until now, the many crises seemed to stand additively side by side, because political crisis management was always able to prevent their consolidation and the open outbreak of their interrelation. In the current conjuncture, they are merging into the new unity of a catastrophic crisis.
Historically, people often thought in terms of chaos, catastrophe or apocalypse. At the same time, such threatening and pressing scenarios do not necessarily lead people to take action and take their fate into their own hands. Many want to hold on to the habits of their everyday lives. It seems as if we are prisoners of conditions into which the prevailing capitalist mode of production and life has dragged us in the long term. A quick liberation is not possible, because adaptations to the climate consequences and radical solutions have to reckon with time horizons of decades and centuries. Soberness and long-term perspectives are therefore in order, because even if apocalyptic dynamics are involved, many people must act together. Knowledge, education, insights, convictions are necessary. In the face of concrete disaster situations, far-reaching cooperative relationships must emerge. Ecosocial reforms, infrastructures and solidarity services are urgently needed to fight elementary poverty and to enable individuals or families to act. But this will not be enough. Everything points to a new understanding of socialist, commonist practices, because people must take charge of organizing a resilient way of life. The capitalist economy and the state are not getting it done. The failure of state crisis management after the local flood disaster in the Ahr valley, for example, shows that the state governments of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were overwhelmed by the situation (cf. Imsande in LuXemburg 2/2022). The handling of the crisis of social natural relations reveals that the capitalist economy, which is oriented toward value production and monetary wealth of a small part of the population, is not only incapable of reacting to the concrete needs of all and of making long-term provisions, but that it also organizes and promotes wrong development processes. A reconstruction of the production apparatus, of the energetic bases, of consumption patterns, and of settlement and mobility practices is required, that is, a new understanding of wealth and productive forces – namely, as productivity that people release from their self-determined cooperation, their acting together, their shared knowledge. New political institutions are also needed. The current ones have time horizons of only a few years and decades. Politicians must necessarily represent particular interests, they compete against each other and have to make their mark in the media, which limits the democratic formation of will and contributes to their own and our stultification. They are disconnected from people and social processes, they cannot take scientific knowledge seriously, the means of control they have at their disposal, i.e. money, law, coercion, consumerism, manipulation, are unsuitable for organizing coexistence democratically. It is therefore obvious that the institutions we have at our disposal today are hardly suitable to cope with the consequences of the multiple crisis and its catastrophic dynamics. What is needed instead are institutions that allow the formation of common noncompetitive forms of life and a long-term orientation of decision-making. They would have to operate on the basis of natural cycles in planetary time measures and structurally enable peaceful coexistence, the free, democratic, reasonable organization of social work and production by the people, with the people and for the people. In this I see one of the central tasks of the left as a conscious and rational force today: to initiate, support and promote such a future process against the authoritarian regression that destroys people and nature.
Alex Demirovi? is a philosopher and social scientist and one of the most interventionist left intellectuals in this country. He has taught at universities in Frankfurt am Main and Berlin, among others, is a member of the board of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, a fellow at the Foundation’s Institute for Social Analysis, and a founding member of this journal.
One million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction – the largest species extinction in 66 million years.
The property question and A new age of censorship is dawning
by T Kirmse, U Gasche & H Scheben
There is another good news, if not two good news, which are directly connected. A majority of people reject capitalism and want a different system. It is not difficult to link the global crises that threaten our very existence to our prevailing economic and social order, which is just more aptly described as capitalism than as a market economy. The unease is as great as the desire for change.
The property question
Housing is a human right and incompatible with private profit interests and market logic.
By Thiemo Kirmse
[This article posted on 10/25/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/die-eigentumsfrage.]
Social movements and left political currents usually wage defensive struggles. The aim is to end war and fight for peace, to defend democratic rights of freedom and to protest against economic decline. The ecological crisis – although existential – almost gets pushed into the background. Finally, it is necessary to stand in the way of a strengthening right that can make political profit from all these crises caused by the ruling policy in the face of a left that lacks profile and courage. Those who only ever react remain captive to what they refer to. He is unable to set his own themes or advance his visions. It is time to go on the offensive. The socialization of housing is the right approach for this.
Current political developments are a cause for grave concern. It therefore remains our most urgent task for the time being to fight the defensive battles mentioned above – first and foremost, to consistently stand up for peace and demand a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine conflict. But there are also positive developments that stand in the way of all this, and deserve more of our attention and support. There is great potential in one of them, because at last the property issue is being seriously discussed.
For example, from October 7 to 9, a coalition of twelve organizations from the civil society sector invited participants to the so-called Vergesellschaftungskonferenz (1) in Berlin. The event, originally conceived for a few hundred participants, received unexpected popularity, so that registration had to be stopped at just under 1,500 people. On the campus of the Technical University of Berlin, people from current social struggles, from political parties, from trade unions, from academia and the media, and from other contexts came together to discuss political strategies for socialization and beyond.
In four large panel discussions and in 36 other discussion events and workshops, there was lively debate along seven thematic blocks, experiences were exchanged, ideas were discussed, and joint reflections were made on future strategies. The consideration of historical struggles, an insight into the activist practice of current struggles around property, and last but not least, again and again, the very big question of an alternative to capitalism formed a rich spectrum in theory and practice.
Berlin population votes for expropriation
The discussion about socialization has a concrete cause and starting point with the effort of the Berlin initiative “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.” (DWE) (2) and the successful referendum of September 26, 2021, on the expropriation of private housing corporations, which turned out very clearly with 59.1 percent of the votes. The success of this initiative lay in the combination of a demand that was radical in the best sense of the word and its realistic achievability. This point deserves attention: more than a million people in Berlin rallied behind the demand for expropriation. The basis is Article 15 of the Basic Law, which permits the socialization of land, natural resources and means of production.
Unsurprisingly, the result of the Berlin referendum is opposed by a majority to the will of the political parties in the Berlin Senate. This is also the case with other political issues. When it comes to the distribution of wealth and income, the privatization of public institutions in the area of services of general interest, the negotiation of so-called free trade agreements, a speed limit on German highways (3) or – long before the war in Ukraine and the secondary accompanying and all senses numbing media drumfire – arms exports (4), the majority of people in the country think differently than it corresponds to the actions of the political class.
The establishment of an expert commission following the Berlin referendum to examine the constitutionality of socialization, which is also to clarify questions of compensation, is seen within DWE as a filibuster. The political battle in Berlin over the issue of socialization of housing is far from over – especially since Article 15 of the Basic Law has not yet been applied. The likely rerun of the election for the Berlin House of Representatives will reignite the dispute.
Is housing a human right or a luxury?
The concern of the people in Berlin is more than justified, because housing is a basic need.
The desire for adequate and affordable housing is a matter of course, but under market conditions it becomes an impossibility. In Berlin, rents have doubled in the past ten years, without wage growth even coming close to keeping pace.
Rents in almost all other major German cities have also risen sharply in recent years, significantly outpacing inflation and wage increases. The often demanded new construction has not been able to solve the problem. It is not only highly critical from an ecological point of view, but also counterproductive in terms of rent development, as high rents for new buildings continue to pull up rents.
The situation is particularly difficult for those with the lowest incomes. On average, one in eight tenants in Germany has to spend more than 40 percent of their disposable income on housing, including energy (5). In the most burdened large cities, this figure is often much higher. When half the money of an already small budget is already gone at the beginning of the month, there is often no money left at the end of the month.
Socialization in the area of services of general interest
Therefore it does not surprise that the demand for the socialization of dwelling meets broad Zuspruch. And this demand, based on the Berlin model, is rubbing off. In Hamburg, a similar initiative (6) has been formed, seeking a referendum and calling for the socialization of all profit-oriented housing companies that have more than 500 apartments in the city. What is possible in the two large German city-states can also be attempted in the Flächenländer. It doesn’t take that much imagination.
The question of socializing property does not end with the discussion of housing, however. Other sectors that fall within the scope of public services were also discussed at the conference. Basically, it is clear that the market is hardly suited to provide good solutions in all these areas.
Private profit interests are at odds with good care. However, the exchange of arguments is of little help at this point. It’s about the question of enforcement power. The Berliners have shown how this can be done and who has to do it. Only when people unite and get involved will politicians move. But this movement will not happen on its own. It has to be organized.
Together against the corporations
It is above all the people at the bottom of society, the poorest, the marginalized and stigmatized, who must be included in the struggle. They are the ones who suffer the most from current policies.
Rightly, these people feel abandoned by politics. Their inner withdrawal and self-sacrifice also include a sense of inferiority, which leads to an acceptance of their role. They see no political options for action, and so they remain trapped in apathy.
However, the movement can only be strong if it includes and connects all people and becomes a social movement. In Berlin, this has succeeded for the moment. The referendum from last year is a great success, but at the same time no more than a stage victory. Continued resistance from the corporations is to be expected in any case. Unity, steadfastness and staying power are called for.
The Left Party makes no offers
It is actually the original task of a left-wing political party to address precisely these people, to make them an offer and to mobilize them. The Left Party does not manage to do this. Instead of positioning itself clearly and – once again in the best sense of the word – radically and courageously, it remains profileless and inactive, even though it would gain a lot of support precisely through radical and courageous positions. After all, it is on the right side in Berlin and in the struggle of DWE, although the closing of ranks from the street to parliament could be much closer.
In Corona policy, however, and in Ukraine policy as well, it is not making any offers that can be accepted and is thus leaving the field to the right. The only hope for the left is that it recognizes the signs of the times, joins the social movements from below, and perhaps is pushed onto a progressive course by its own party youth. The Socialist Democratic Students’ Association (SDS) is organizing its own conference at the end of October, which, as a “System Change Congress” (7), points in the right direction according to its name.
Socialization in the areas of energy, health and transport
But the decisive changes will not be set in motion by the political parties anyway. In the first place, it is the people themselves who must move and get involved. On the issue of socialization, further movement has already emerged. “Expropriate RWE and Co” (8) also calls for socialization and, with the energy sector, concretely opens the field in another important area that is currently particularly in focus.
Housing, energy, health care and transportation are part of the public services of general interest that are relevant to the questions of socialization. It is clear that not every one of the areas mentioned can be treated equally, because if hospitals, for example, remain underfunded even in public hands, then little is gained by socialization.
Socialization does not mean nationalization
But what does socialization actually mean? First of all, socialization means expropriation, although when we think of housing, energy supply, the health sector and the transport sector, we are initially only talking about areas that were once under state control anyway. But this is precisely where the difference lies, because socialization, according to the activists, should not mean nationalization, but the appropriation of goods by the people for the people.
It is about securing and preserving property in the aforementioned areas for the people in the long term, so that it is not sacrificed again at some later point to private profit interests. It is about a permanent withdrawal from market logic, so that housing, energy and health care remain affordable for all people.
What this might look like in concrete terms needs to be considered individually for each case. DWE has already made a number of further considerations in this regard with the so-called “institution under public law” and with its successive experiences in the practice of self-organization. A recent book from the campaign describes “how socialization succeeds” (9).
Unwelcome privatizations and scandalous buybacks
Who is appropriating whose property here could also be discussed. DWE is not wrong in taking the view that the socialization of apartments in corporate ownership only takes back what belongs to the people anyway – in any case, what once belonged to them. After all, it was not long ago that publicly owned apartments were squandered for little money in the privatization mania that began in the 1990s.
In Berlin, a turnaround has recently been initiated and a partial buyback of the apartments has begun, which has rightly been described as scandalous (10). More than a billion euros in losses have been incurred. Added to this are the interest on the loans for the financing and a backlog of refurbishments.
The winners are the corporations that have not only been able to collect the rental income but, adjusted for inflation, have received about four times the amount they originally spent to buy the apartments – and that in a period of just 20 years. It is of little help if the politicians responsible at the time are remorseful and recognize that the privatizations were a mistake. Buying back at market prices is out of the question and cannot be a general solution.
The majority does not want capitalism
There is another good news, if not two good news, which are directly connected. A majority of people reject capitalism and want a different system. It is not difficult to link the global crises that threaten our very existence to our prevailing economic and social order, which is just more aptly described as capitalism than as a market economy.
The unease is as great as the desire for change. The only thing missing is the idea that things could be different and how they could be. Politics and the market economy appear as the natural order and without alternative. Yet it is clear that capitalism will not be able to solve any of the problems that it has played a major role in causing.
Discussion about alternatives takes place
This is precisely where the discussion about an alternative to capitalism, which was also held at the conference, comes in. It is not about vague images, slogans or set pieces of a diffuse and undefined future, but about concrete considerations of how a world beyond market and competition could look like. The discussion about alternatives to capitalism, which are formulated – not in detail, but tangibly enough – and which at the same time describe the way how to get there, are overdue (11).
Capitalism will surely end. A targeted exit is necessary, because the risks inherent in an uncontrolled end are now all too apparent before all our eyes. It is therefore not enough to stop at questions about socialization. They are only the beginning of the exit and, of course, they must be answered internationally in the world society in which we live.
So it’s not just about ownership, but ultimately about the whole thing. The socialization of housing is an important first step and a more than legitimate concern.
Better to have a say than to defame
There is a strong headwind not only from the corporations, but also from the bourgeoisie. The objection that whoever says expropriation must also say gulag is clumsy propaganda and shows ignorance. On the other hand, it is justified, because the causal connection between the dreams of another world and the dead of Stalinism is obvious. It is, as the political writer Bini Adamczak says, inadmissible to be silent about this when dealing with alternatives to capitalism. The fears behind it are real and they are well-founded.
Anyone who follows the ongoing discussion about social alternatives will be reassured by this concern. Looking at the question of the socialization of living space alone, the objection is unworthy, because it only demands what should actually be self-evident. That is not much and the way to another society is still far from there. In any case, the discussion about social alternatives will ultimately only be fruitful if it expands and is conducted by many people. It can then become socially relevant. And one thing is certainly true for bourgeois-minded people as well: The state of the world cares for them, too.
Sources and notes:
(10) Carl Waßmuth: “Scandalous housing buybacks in Berlin,” in Lunapark21-Extra “Rent explosion vs. public welfare,” Winter 2019, pages 18 to 21.
The entire special issue on the topic is worth reading and provides a good foundation for the discussion on the socialization of housing. It can be viewed online here: https://www.lunapark21.net/inhalt-des-sonderheftes-mietexplosion-vs-daseinsvorsorge/
Thiemo Kirmse, born in 1976, first completed a commercial apprenticeship before studying mathematics and computer science in Bielefeld and Münster. Since then he has been working as a software developer. During the financial crisis, he became politically involved with Attac and Occupy. His criticism of capitalism has led him to the question of what a system alternative might look like. More information at utopia22.de.
The monoculture mafia
A molecular biologist became the victim of a worldwide defamation campaign after demonstrating the disastrous effects of the Monsanto pesticide “Roundup.”
20.10.2022 by Christfried Preußler
The gas lie
Ukraine: dispute over risk of nuclear escalation
by Urs P. Gasche
The further Russia is driven out of all of Ukraine, the greater the risk of nuclear escalation.
[This article posted on 10/24/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ukraine: Streit über das Risiko einer nuklearen Eskalation – infosperber.]
Ukraine: Streit über das Risiko einer nuklearen Eskalation – infosperber
Je weiter Russland aus der ganzen Ukraine vertrieben wird, desto grösser wird das Risiko eines Atombomben-Einsat…
The NATO countries do not want to be blackmailed and are betting on victory. But nobody knows how Putin will react to a defeat. A two-line NZZ headline, intended to reassure, could not be missed: “Putin will hardly go all out”. Reasoning: After a nuclear exchange, Russia would be a radioactive wasteland. The Russian state and Russian society would be destroyed for all time. This is what Professor Reinhard Wolf wrote in the prominently featured NZZ article on October 13.
Wolf carefully formulated that Putin would “hardly” go all out. He thus leaves open a residual risk of nuclear escalation.
In order to exclude such a risk as far as possible, NATO and NZZ editor-in-chief Eric Gujer see only one possibility in their public statements: under no circumstances give in, but rather supply Ukraine with weapons to the maximum and help it to a victory. Gujer is adamant: “Those who reject arms deliveries and justify this with the growing risk of a nuclear war are mistaken. The opposite is the case.”
Georg Häsler, “editor for security policy issues” at the NZZ, also sticks almost entirely to the NATO line. True, Putin could “detonate the bomb simply as an act of state terror.” But Häsler quotes David Petraeus , according to whom “Putin would have to realize in a careful cost-benefit analysis that he could only lose with the nuclear option.” Petraeus was CIA director, U.S. four-star general, and commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in Iraq.
On October 10, Ulrich Speck wrote as a guest author in the NZZ: “If the West were to back down in the face of Russia’s nuclear threat […] the ‘right’ of the strongest would apply, i.e., the nuclear-armed powers, which could appropriate whatever they wanted.” Speck is a foreign policy analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. He formerly worked at Radio Free Europe in Prague, as well as for Carnegie Europe in Brussels and for the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D.C.
The Tamedia newspapers Tages-Anzeiger/Bund are also dominated by the call for an uncompromising stance. An editorial on October 6 carried the subtitle: “Even more dangerous than nuclear blackmail is capitulation to it.” On October 9, editor Daniel Brössler demanded that Ukraine not be denied any weapons request: “For the despot, it would only be proof that he can accomplish more with his threats than his highly decorated generals with tanks and howitzers.”
When 28 German celebrities opposed the delivery of heavy weapons in May, the Tamedia newspapers headlined the news with “Call for surrender.” Whoever demanded any concessions from Ukraine was an “appeaser” (alluding to the policy against Hitler), who could be assigned to the Putin-understanding camp (Tages-Anzeiger, July 13, 2022).
On October 17, NZZ editor Guido Häsler repeated that one must bet on a Ukrainian victory. Only “Western European worrywarts on talk shows” would suggest another, “face-saving solution for Putin,” Häsler opined. His article was titled “The Demonization of Nuclear Weapons.”
Although in their view there is little risk of nuclear escalation even if Ukraine gains the upper hand in the war, Häsler and Gujer also analyze in the NZZ all the possibilities of how the U.S. could and would react if Russia did detonate a nuclear bomb. Häsler considers most likely a massive intervention by NATO states with conventional weapons to destroy Russian formations in Ukraine and the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Headline in the NZZ of October 17, 2022 © nzz
“Worriers,” that is, doomsayers or cowards who seek a face-saving solution for Russia in order to minimize the risk of nuclear escalation, are not only participants in talk shows, however.
Among them, for example, is Theodor Winkler. The former senior advisor in the Swiss military and foreign affairs departments called for a cease-fire as early as mid-May in order to limit losses: “But that would mean that Putin would have to show success. The conquest and annexation of the Donbass would be a way to exit the war in a face-saving manner.” Ukraine’s renunciation of joining NATO and also of having weapons of mass destruction on its territory would be easy to stomach, he said, as long as Ukraine could join the EU.
Oliver Thränert is one of the “doubters”: the head of the think tank at the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich stated on October 5, 2022 in the Tamedia newspapers: “State leaders like Putin are not necessarily irrational. But when they feel pushed to the wall and have very limited information, it can become dangerous. That could be the case with the Russian president.”
Among the “worriers” or doomsayers is Ross Douthat, a columnist for The New York Times: “A Russian nuclear escalation becomes more likely if Russia is pushed back from the territories it has occupied in Ukraine since 2014.” The risk is only discussed academically today, he said, but could soon become the most important issue in the world.
Among the “worriers” or doomsayers is Michael Kretschmer. The CDU politician and prime minister of Saxony warned in the NZZ of September 8, 2022: “The weapons must be silent, otherwise the whole world will plunge into chaos.” He added that this war would not be decided on the battlefield.
Among the “doubters” is Tanner Greer. The strategy specialist writes regularly on security and international relations in the New York Times, “It’s a real problem: We have to balance our desire to punish Putin for his devastating war of aggression in Ukraine with the many other casualties, Europe’s long-term security interests, and the real risk of military escalation. Putin will call for at least a partial face-saving end to the war. This could be served by recognizing Crimea as part of the Russian Federation and lifting sanctions.” The alternative would be many more deaths in Ukraine, decades of sanctions, a new Iron Curtain across Europe.
Greer writes: “Capturing a bear makes it more desperate, not less dangerous. Moscow, cornered by sanctions and facing higher NATO military budgets, may resort to extraordinarily drastic measures to stave off its demise […] Russia has nuclear weapons to play with.”
Among the “worriers” is George Beebe. The director of strategy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney opined on Oct. 14, 2022: “You don’t escape a catastrophe by backing the other side into a corner […] There can’t be a choice between humiliation and nuclear war.”
Beebe continued, “Escalations will continue […] Responding to a limited nuclear strike with a massive conventional counterattack would guarantee escalation […] The Russians do not have conventional weapons as sophisticated as the West and will not wait for such attacks to decimate their defenses […] Putin seems convinced that the U.S. wants to eliminate Russia as a great power rival altogether […] Accordingly, Russia will act. We are in a very very dangerous situation.”
Among the “worriers” is multi-billionaire Elon Musk. He helped attacked Ukraine maintain access to the Internet thanks to Starlink terminals. On October 3, 2022, he proposed a peace offer: Russian-staged referendums should be repeated under UN supervision and Crimea should be recognized as part of Russia. Ukraine should no longer cut off the water supply to Crimea. Finally, Ukraine is not to become a member of NATO, but is to receive guaranteed neutrality.
Among the “doubters” is Romano Prodi. The former prime minister of Italy and president of the European Commission said on RTL on Oct. 16: “To end the war as soon as possible, we need negotiations between the world powers, the U.S. and China.”
Finally, among the “worriers” is Heidi Tagliavini. The Swiss crisis diplomat, who sat at the table with conflicting parties in the former Soviet Union for decades, told Tamedia newspapers Oct. 12: “The suffering of the population in war and violence is so serious that any effort to resolve conflicts peacefully is worthwhile […] You also have to negotiate with war criminals.”
Cuba crisis precedent
U.S. President Joe Biden declared on October 6, 2022 “For the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the use of nuclear weapons is imminent.”
Sixty years ago, the world was on the brink of nuclear war. The Soviet Union, at the request of Fidel Castro, had legally deployed nuclear-tipped missiles under international law. The United States had tried several times to overthrow Castro by force.
For the advisors of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the matter was clear: There could not and must not be any understanding with the Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev and his comrade Castro in Havana. The Communists understood only the language of weapons.
What followed was summarized by Heribert Prantl in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Kennedy imposed a naval blockade on the island of Cuba, put the U.S. nuclear missiles and long-range bombers on high alert below the threshold of nuclear war. He warned and threatened and warned – and had his brother Robert negotiate with the Soviets in the utmost confidence. The danger was […] settled with intense secret diplomacy: The U.S. renounced an invasion of the island and withdrew [as a concession and to save Khrushchev’s face] its nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey and Italy. But the public was not informed of this […] Kennedy is quoted as saying, representing his lesson from the Cuban Missile Crisis: Leaders of nuclear powers should not put themselves in a position ‘where the only choice is between humiliation and nuclear war'”
The total defeat of Putin is the declared goal of the NATO states. With the help of the U.S., Russia is to be driven out militarily from all occupied territories in Ukraine. Maximum economic and financial sanctions are to isolate Russia and drive it into an economic corner until Putin is overthrown. Russia is to be weakened to the point where it will not be able to militarily threaten a neighboring country for a long time.
At the same time, the Pentagon has been running computer simulations for months, according to the New York Times: Nuclear weapons research laboratories as well as intelligence agencies would study variants of how the U.S. should respond if Putin detonates a “tactical” nuclear bomb.
Anyone who wants to consult information and propaganda from the other side often comes across the message “unavailable” on Youtube. © YouTube
A new age of censorship is dawning: Resist the beginnings!
by Helmut Scheben
Free speech is the foundation of res publica. But even democratic governments are in the process of disposing of this principle.
[This article posted on 10/20/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ein neues Zeitalter der Zensur bricht an: Wehret den Anfängen – infosperber.]
Anyone searching for something on Google usually only looks at the top hits. No one knows the exact algorithms Google uses to prioritize the order of its search results. In the U.S., psychologist Robert Epstein and his team found that the search engine can “manipulate the thoughts and behavior of its users worldwide in this way.” By placing certain content in pole position and suppressing others, he said, the voting behavior of billions of Google users could be influenced, for example.
Google or Twitter are no longer simply private companies that can do whatever they want within the legal framework. Rather, these corporations have international market power in the politically and democratically sensitive information market.
In the past, the state and the church had a monopoly on orthodox opinion
Censorship of written texts has existed since writing was invented. Umberto Ecco in his historical novel “The Name of the Rose” described how the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages tried to make manuscripts disappear that conveyed the philosophical knowledge of pre-Christian antiquity.
The invention of letterpress printing with movable type was a media revolution that changed society as sweepingly as today’s Internet revolution. From around 1450, printed matter could be produced faster, cheaper and in large quantities, and a wave of literacy began. But the state and the church thus lost their monopoly on the dissemination of orthodox opinion, and the Santa Inquisición, the authority for the suppression of heresy, got a lot to do.
The Holy Inquisition of our days
With the digital revolution, the free production of texts has increased a millionfold, and access to information has become limitless. The political explosive power of this development meant that the backlash was not long in coming. The Holy Inquisition of our day is called, for example, the Digital Services Act, a “digital basic law” that the EU is in the process of introducing. In Germany, it is to replace the “Network Enforcement Act” that has been in force since 2017. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised that the new law would, among other things, “guarantee freedom of expression.”
If that’s the case, one has to wonder why social media control is being pushed across the board and Internet surveillance is being perfected with artificial intelligence to an extent that would have been considered unimaginable just a few years ago.
Youtube deletes 40 to 50 million entries per year
No one opposes the idea of censorship where it can be justified under criminal law. But we have entered a situation where individual network giants in California decide in complete opacity what civil society is allowed to see, hear and read. Large online platforms such as Google subsidiary YouTube delete 40 to 50 million entries per year. They have trained tens of thousands of moderators for censorship. The goal is, among other things, to ward off hate speech and lies, it is argued.
The problem with this “algorithmic surveillance” can be summed up in a single question:
Who determines what is truth and lies, who determines what is disinformation and what is information?
What is wrong today may turn out to be right tomorrow. Historians are not the only ones to say this; each of us knows it from our own life experience.
Before the triumph of social media, censorship still had almost tolerable, one could almost say folkloristic traits. There were books in which entire pages were blacked out. We were used to this kind of censorship of documents, but in the case of books, the purely aesthetic perception was unfamiliar. The fact that a book is printed in which black bars show what the authorities have decreed may not be read is somewhat reminiscent of the times of Wilhelm Busch and the pedagogy of schoolmaster Lämpel. Or of the Vatican’s “index” of sinful books, which still applied in my youth.
“A process of complete non-transparency”.
John Nixon, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Middle East expert, was the first to question Saddam Hussein for a few weeks after his capture in December 2003. In 2011, Nixon retired from the service and sent the CIA the manuscript for a book project titled “Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein.”
The book was published in 2017 with numerous black covers. The wrangling between the author and his former employers had lasted six years before it was finally clear what could and could not be written. Nixon said of his problems with this censorship that it had been a process of complete opacity: “I don’t think it ever occurred to the CIA that people who once worked there would write books. It’s always seen as some kind of betrayal.”
Where the political problem lies becomes clear when one reads what else of Nixon’s book is allowed to be read. While he considers Saddam Hussein the head of a brutal, authoritarian regime, he also perceives a certain credibility and charismatic traits in the man. In 2003, Saddam was no longer the powerful political player that the West had been portraying, but was primarily concerned with the publication of his novels. Saddam denied to Nixon that he had given the order for the fatal poison gas operation in the Kurdish city of Halabja in March 1988.
In his book, Nixon thus somewhat dismantles the image of the great devil that was drawn in the West by the Iraqi president and was useful to justify the war of aggression. But if one were to ask the U.S. authorities, one would undoubtedly get a completely different justification for the censorship, namely the standard text that it was unavoidable where the security of the U.S. and its people was at risk. The same justification that sounds with the reliability of a telephone answering machine when the Freedom of Information Act is undermined in the USA with blacked-out texts.
Also in Switzerland is blithely blacked out
The methods of the U.S. secret services have been used for a long time. The Swiss Federal Council wanted to keep its vaccine contracts with the pharmaceutical industry under wraps. When it felt compelled to make them public, it had large parts blacked out. In small Switzerland, this sounds like a story from Seldwyla, but hardly anyone finds it funny.
The principle of publicity and the guarantee of diversity of opinion are praised in every speech as the political gold standard of Western democracies. Political censorship or deception of the public? For God’s sake! That only exists in Russia. Or in China. Or in other authoritarian systems.
Unless our so-called “national security” was in danger. Or the interests of powerful corporations. Or the interests of the USA. Then it is argued that the government is no longer obliged to provide information about its actions. Then it happens that the Federal Council lets nearly two tons of documents about nuclear weapons deals disappear, as in the Tinner affair. The rhetorical gem that the government’s actions are unfortunately “without alternative” is always extremely practical.
The right of free speech and freedom of opinion is an achievement that had to be fought for over centuries in painful experiences. Powerful Internet communication corporations are in the process of eliminating this fundamental right of democratic politics. Political censorship has become the norm. With resounding success. This can be seen in the fact that the frightening new normality is regarded as “quite normal” by the general public.
Example Syria war: Only one warring party censored
In the Syrian war, the warring parties tried to influence public opinion with numerous news platforms. The view of the insurgents, who wanted to overthrow the Assad government with financial and political help from the West and the Gulf Emirates, was disseminated by a media portal called Syrian Free Press, among others, which, according to previous findings, has not been subject to censorship to date.
The Syrianfreepress.Wordpress website, which disseminated the Syrian government’s position, was different. Anyone who opens the page to watch a video from 2015 is told, “This video is no longer available.” Thousands of Youtube clips from the aforementioned portal have been deleted. Those who investigate Google are instructed what the reasons for blocking an account or channel can be:
“The community guidelines specify what content is not allowed on YouTube. For example, we do not allow pornography, incitement to violence, harassment or hate speech.”
In the deleted YouTube link, there were no violations of these guidelines, but political arguments to end the war in Syria. The decision to delete most of the videos on this network site was political censorship. “Hate speech” is obviously also another word for “opinion we can’t stand”. And “misinformation” is obviously also another word for “opinion we don’t share.”
The idea that a felt of political power groups and Internet corporations systematically eliminates what is politically undesirable is a nightmare. And this nightmare has long since become reality. For example, the current entanglements of the powerful IT companies in Silicon Valley with the Democratic Party and its cords in the administration and the security apparatus are too obvious.
Mark Zuckerberg recently admitted that the FBI had discreetly intervened with Facebook to prevent nasty things from becoming public in the 2020 presidential election about the Biden family’s dealings in Ukraine, China and numerous other countries. The FBI people argued – as did U.S. intelligence officials shortly thereafter – that these were not facts but “Russian disinformation.” After Biden won the election, it turned out that the facts about the Biden deals were not Russian fake, but facts. The major U.S. media from the New York Times to CNN had waited until after the elections to realize this.
Lesson: You can silence big media with warnings of hostile attacks on national “cybersecurity.” And another lesson: Nothing is as effective in politics as disciplined silence at the tactically right moment. Biden might have lost the election.
Whistleblower: Google intervenes with political goals in mind
In 2019, software engineer Zachary Vorhiess, who had worked at Google for eight years, sent 950 pages of internal Google documents to the U.S. Justice Department. Vorhiess said the documents proved that Google was no longer an independent, objective platform but was pursuing a political agenda: that Google was “a highly partisan political machine” which, for example, had decided since 2016 not to allow someone like Trump to come to power again. The whistleblower: “They’re trying to curtail the information landscape so they can spread their own version of objective truth.”
Free speech advocates too often don’t fight back against censorship by private IT giants, or even by governments when the censorship involves unpopular or hostile sources like Donald Tump, Bashar al-Assad, or Russian and Chinese state media. One suddenly finds it understandable that citizens are not trusted to distinguish between propaganda and facts themselves.
Even when Twitter removed the accounts of Trump and some of his friends from circulation and Amazon and Google took the conservative platform Parler off their websites, many liberal circles were extremely satisfied. They resemble lemmings who cannot see the abyss toward which they are running. Because if a political elite manages to agree with the Internet corporations on what we are allowed to learn and know and what we are not allowed to know, then democracy becomes a simulation of democracy.
At the end of this development, we turn into an ideologically homogeneous society, roughly speaking: into a herd of remote-controlled zombies who have surrendered their freedom and self-responsibility to a “Ministry of Truth,” as George Orwell describes it.
It is of little use to argue that everything is even worse elsewhere, that in Russia Nawalny is behind bars, that anyone who criticizes Putin’s war is put in jail, and that in China the Uyghurs are persecuted. This is certainly true, but it does not help us to get over the schizophrenia that our Western media report daily about censorship in Russia, China or Iran, but find nothing special in the fact that millions of Internet entries are deleted every day in the West, because our own view of world politics is to be prevented from being questioned and discussed.
In August 2019, Twitter announced that it had deleted 200,000 accounts related to the demonstrations in Hong Kong. The reason given was suspicion of Chinese disinformation. Prominent examples of the censored entries included video scenes in which hooded violent demonstrators appeared. Now, however, TV channels around the world at the time showed that among the student demonstrators in Hong Kong there were not only peaceful but also violent ones. Twitter obviously felt compelled to delete anything that did not fit into its woodcut-like framing of the Chinese dictatorship.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unceremoniously deleted thirty thousand emails from the server she was running in the basement of her private apartment. The US Department of Justice ruled that this was legal. Government officials are allowed to decide for themselves what is of public concern in government documents and what is not.
If that is so, Donald Trump could also make use of this right. He had taken documents to his estate in Florida. The FBI then had the former president’s residence searched. When the FBI was forced by a judge to publish the justification for the search warrant, the public was presented with 38 pages that were largely black. This gives the impression: quod licet Jovi Hillary non licet bovi Donald.
We are the good guys and know the truth
Censorship and secrecy are practiced with a matter of course and routine that should shock. But it doesn’t. Russian TV channels are banned by the European Union and also by the Swiss Federal Council. Twitter and Youtube have been blocked by Russian state media. Even Chinese TV news can no longer be received via satellite.
The reason given is that they are dependent on the Kremlin or the Chinese CP and spread propaganda.
The population is believed to be able to see through and classify lies and misleading advertising for products and services. The population is also believed to be able to deal with untruths and misleading statements from both sides in referendums. But when it comes to foreign television stations, people supposedly have to be protected from any lies and misleading statements.
Also in our editorial offices sit journalistic alphatians, many of whom are members of transatlantic foundations and think tanks (see here and here) or are involved in secret government programs that fight “Russia’s influence.” With a Stefan Kornelius in the Süddeutsche and the Zürcher Tagesanzeiger, for example, NATO media spokesmen are redundant.
Our Western media world functions according to the motto: We are the good guys and know the truth. Everything else are hybrid weapons of the enemy. These must be suppressed, deleted, eliminated.
Meanwhile, the censorship mentality is spreading. In the U.S., according to surveys, four out of five doctoral students would bar conservative academics from their professions and campuses if they could (NZZ Nov. 18, 2021).
In the 1970s, the founder of the Allensbach Institute, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, showed in her standard work “The Spiral of Silence” how people no longer dare to stand by their opinions for fear of social isolation and conflict. According to a new survey by the Institute, almost every second person in Germany feels that they can no longer freely express their political opinion.
What a laugh was had in the West about the “lists of forbidden words” that applied to the state media in the defunct GDR! At that time, no one could have imagined that three decades later a new age of censorship would dawn.
Ukraine: “Criticism of US/Nato policy is extremely censored”
Freedom of expression
Where does it stop? How far should it go? Privacy? Religious feelings? Trademark protection? Secrecy?
Does anyone really believe that more and more state-of-the-art weapons, no matter how tough sanctions and huge financial injections could produce peace? …The survival of humanity depends in part on this business of death no longer having a future, and it begins at any moment. Prospects are rising as the forces for survival come together.
Negotiated solution – No alternative!
by Wolfgang Herzberg
[This article posted on 10/20/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.ossietzky.net/artikel/verhandlungsloesung-alternativlos/.]
As a descendant of Jewish-German survivors and a political author of many years’ standing, whose family members lost their lives in the genocide of the Nazi regime or were dispersed all over the world, but whose parents also – after the Second World War, out of a deep sense of political responsibility – lived in Germany. World War II, out of deeply felt political responsibility, returned to Berlin to help build an anti-fascist and peaceful Germany, I ask myself, against the background of these existential family experiences, the following fundamental questions about the war over Ukraine, which I would also like to address to the public and all those politically responsible:
Can the enormous military, economic and financial resources that have so far been brought to bear by NATO to end the Russian campaign in Ukraine actually bring about a “values-based foreign policy” (Baerbock) and thus an end to this most dangerous war on European soil since 1945? Or will it achieve exactly the opposite? Does it really defend “our European peace order,” “international law,” the “free democratic order of values,” or are these noble goals not rather destroyed and reduced to absurdity by a wrong choice of means?
For what we hear every hour in the form of extraordinarily disturbing news from the media and from leading politicians on all sides speaks a steadily increasing, dangerous language of war and leads to the ever further escalation of this terrible conflict. Could it be, not only I ask myself, that this logic of war is also based on the continuation of a wrong, because precisely not “value-based policy” of the West, but means the failure of this policy all along the line? Does anyone really believe that more and more state-of-the-art weapons, no matter how tough sanctions and huge financial injections could produce peace? Current developments, most recently the Russian partial mobilization, the accession of eastern Ukraine to Russia, the attack on the pipelines, show abundantly clearly that this is precisely not the case. I firmly believe that only a policy of diplomatic negotiated solutions can lead to peace. This is the intuitive view of many people I have spoken to in recent months. But so far, these warning voices have hardly penetrated a broad political public. Such discourse, at eye level, is not wanted and is pushed to the sidelines. This is a dangerous ostrich policy.
On the other hand, we are drifting into an ever faster spiral of war. A negotiated solution capable of compromise, which in my view is the only alternative, seems to be unwanted, especially by NATO and the Ukrainian rulers. They rather count on a capitulation of Russia, on an illusory victory peace against Russia, which has been allied with China for a long time, a Russia which once could not be brought to its knees and defeated neither by the Swedes or the Huns, by Napoleon, by World War I, nor by the wars of intervention, let alone by World War II. Russia and China together represent the largest, industrially and militarily highly developed and most populous territorial countries on earth. For the time being, I am merely stating these geopolitical connections on a factual basis, irrespective of who really caused the escalation of this global conflict. For the answer is by no means as simple as the “West” would have us believe.
Could it be that the warring party of the West is again betting on the completely wrong military card, after the recent failure in the Afghanistan war? Are these the right lessons to learn from this grandiose disaster, where supposedly the enforcement of human rights was also at stake? Where even hundreds of modernly equipped army contingents from all over the world fought for two decades with heavy losses, only to be defeated in the end by the much weaker Taliban free fighters?
I therefore urgently ask: What kind of “values-based policy” is this that accepts thousands upon thousands of deaths on all sides? On what “values” is a policy based, in the execution of which more and more war destruction is being wrought – in areas that are supposed to be liberated from it? What kind of “value-based policy” is this, which creates more and more misery for refugees and streams of refugees on all sides, and thus also drives many votes to nationalists and racists worldwide? What kind of “value-based policy” is this, through which a global energy crisis and world hunger crisis is in reality getting worse and worse, the catastrophic consequences of which are also to be “cushioned” in the West with a hectically reacting, social symbolic policy after the fact by billions of new debts? On what “values” is a policy based, as a result of which global supply chains collapse and inflation rates for all living costs explode?
Does anyone seriously believe that more and more people in the West are not asking such probing questions as well, when this supposedly “values-based” policy is making them worse and worse off every day and eroding their hard-earned living conditions?
No, this supposedly “value-based policy” is not a goal-oriented peace strategy at all. It is the opposite of it. It is therefore doomed to fail again in Ukraine and worldwide, indeed, it even carries the danger of a 3rd world war, of unprecedented nuclear proportions.
I therefore ask: What is the basis for the misjudgements of this global conflict, especially also by the Western world, with the rulers in the USA at the top? Or does anyone seriously believe that only the rulers in Russia and China have to ask themselves these questions?
Hadn’t the policy of détente of Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr, the “New Ostpolitik”, which finally focused on “change through rapprochement”, once helpfully begun to dismantle the walls of the “Cold War” step by step through tough negotiations, through the CSCE process, through disarmament agreements, finally through the treaties between the two German states? This was a “value-based”, a successful policy of détente and peace, which finally also led to the end of the German division and seemed to end the bloc confrontation after World War II. Was not the life’s work of the late Michael Gorbachev recently praised hypocritically, according to whose foreign policy vision a “Common House of Europe” was to be created with fewer and fewer weapons?
Could it be that the Nato eastward expansions, which took place contrary to the promises of the West to Gorbachev, as well as the gradual Nato armament of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, symbolized the actual “turn of the times”, which was reintroduced in 1990 against the successful peace and détente policy by the USA, as a continuation of the methods of the “Cold War”? Could it be that the alleged “values- and human rights-based foreign policy” of the West, led by the USA, after 1990, starting with the Yugoslav war and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, actually represented a continuation of the peace-endangering armament and confrontation policy after 1945 – the attempt to impose an interest-led, Western foreign policy and a regime-change policy in order to finally install an alleged “democratic capitalism” worldwide? Was this the right response to Gorbachev’s accommodating foreign policy? It was apparently intended thereafter to finally create a Western world order in which capitalist globalization, “economic liberalism” and NATO’s global military strategy were given absolute priority over welfare-state influence through independent national politics. Is this not a neo-colonial understanding of values and society, in which economic growth and profit maximization primarily for wealthy minorities, is ascribed hegemonic priority and the repression of social, national and ethnic polarization and exploitation has become secondary?
Do the political leaders really believe that such an anachronistic, neo-colonial and imperial understanding of politics, which has been based on countless genocides, ethnic cleansing and enslavement for many centuries, is also compatible with a Christian worldview and could, for instance, be the model for a diverse and multipolar world of tomorrow? In view of the fact that more than 80 percent of humanity does not live in the Western industrialized countries? It would be a world increasingly determined by social dislocation, ecological crises, exploitation and lack of democracy.
Is it not clear to the political leaders of the West that if they continue this violent foreign and domestic policy, they are in the process of destroying the value-based UN Charter created after 1945 as well as the entire post-war order of the United Nations, which had finally drawn the right conclusions in international law from the murderous basic experiences of World War I and World War II, with the express aim of securing world peace and international cooperation?
Is it not clear to them that from the letter and spirit of the peace and values order of the UN Charter and UN resolutions no claim to leadership of the USA and the Western world or of any nation, not even Russia or China, can be derived when it says in the preamble:
“We, the peoples of the United Nations – determined to save future generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold suffering to mankind.”
And further, Art.2 (1) therefore expressly states against any claim to leadership whatsoever:
“The Organization is founded on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.”
And in Art.13 (b), a values-based peace, security and cooperation policy is defined as follows:
“…to promote international cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, educational and health fields and to contribute to the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.” I ask again: could Western wars after 1990 really enforce these UN values worldwide, or did they not thereby finally sink into apocalyptic chaos?
The political leaders of the Western world and the entire world public can now no longer avoid the burning question of the present and the future: Does not the unilateral NATO partisanship and war support for the Ukrainian rulers in reality violate the existential vital interests of the people both in the West and in Russia and Ukraine, and thus the “principle of sovereign equality of all its members”? Humanity, as before World War 1 and World War 2, is again at a crossroads in its history, and once again Walter Benjamin’s sentence acquires an oppressive topicality: “That it goes on like this is the catastrophe!”
I ask, moreover, whether it is compatible with the substantive treaty terms of NATO, as a “defense alliance,” that it has been a decisive war party for non-NATO member Ukraine both in bringing the present Ukrainian government to power and in its present conduct of the war. Where is the call for an international court of justice that could independently judge this NATO strategy in legal terms? After all, the Ukrainian regime obviously rejected a federal solution with Russia, which had a centuries-long, albeit contradictory, economic, interethnic, intercultural and interreligious history intimately connected with Ukraine.
At the same time, I wonder whether this violent foreign policy is compatible with the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, if not even unconstitutional, because Chancellor Scholz swore to the German voters and to no other people when he took office that he wanted to “avert harm from the German people.” Wouldn’t a legal clarification of this breach of oath before the Federal Constitutional Court be imperative here?
And lastly, I wonder whether a German government, whose predecessors killed millions and millions of people in the 1st and 2nd world wars, should be allowed to continue its work. World War millions and millions of dead Russians and Ukrainians as well as death and destruction with many other peoples with to answer for had, not least the genocide at the European Jews, to which also parts of my family belonged, that this today’s traffic light government has not just therefore the damned duty and guilt, to stand up for a negotiated and compromise solution without any alternative, instead of continuing to pour oil on the fire of this most dangerous global conflict since 1945, just in order to distinguish itself as a loyal vassal of the United States and the Western alliance in a misconceived show of solidarity.
Especially in Germany, the politically responsible people should decisively contribute to the fact that the peace-political and anti-fascist basic values of the United Nations, probably the most valuable diplomatic heritage of mankind, since the end of the 1st and 2nd World War, which is in accordance with the oath of Buchenwald: “Never again fascism – never again war!”, will not be destroyed again by the wrong means of a mutual war policy.
I say all this at the same time in the full awareness that our Earth is known to be a unique planet. That in the infinite vastness of the universe we have found so far nothing comparable in wonderful nature, in creative, highly developed life in the universe. And I ask myself again and again, how responsibly do I myself, do we deal with our present world? What kind of irrational, anti-democratic, authoritarian master-man ideology would it be, if allegedly only the western world held the basic recipe for a humane future of the whole earth in its hands, in order to enforce it then also with warlike means? How can it be that in such an infinitely diverse world there should only be a warlike way out of the endangerment of our entire creation and not a peaceful and federal coexistence of many opinions and different social systems, which could fertilize, transform and approach each other in the future, just as the UN Charter prescribes?
Therefore my unmistakable message is once again: Only by an alternative-less negotiated solution, in the here and now, there can be a peace way to common security and cooperation in this crisis-ridden world in the future, a global war around Ukraine and also elsewhere can still be averted!
The author has just published: Jewish & Left. Memories 1921-2021. on the cultural heritage of the GDR, Berlin 2022, 500 p., 24 €.
The character of this war
by Ulrich Sander
[This article posted on 10/20/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ossietzky – Vom Charakter dieses Krieges.]
Among the many criticisms of Sahra Wagenknecht’s recent speech in the Bundestag, the one by the two leaders of the DIELINKE party stands out as completely out of place. In dictatorships, leaders appoint members of parliament. In democracies, they are elected by the people. I voted for Sahra Wagenknecht, she was on my ballot. She is currently making speeches that I very much approve of. What I don’t approve of is the way the two chairmen are handling it. They want to ban Sahra Wagenknecht from speaking, to villainize the parliamentary group. Members of parliament, however, are not beholden to the leadership, but to the voters – and to their conscience. Regarding the content of Sahra Wagenknecht’s speeches about the war against Russia, which Germany, among others, is waging, it has to be said:
It exists, this war, even if Russia has attacked Ukraine. It should be pointed out that there are several types of war, in this case Sahra Wagenknecht meant the German economic war, which according to Foreign Minister Baerbock is supposed to “ruin” Russia. Currently, it is ruining the German economy more than the Russian state. The shooting war, increased to a Russian war of aggression, began on February 24, 2022, and it increased Ukraine’s de facto war against its own people in the Ukrainian eastern territories. Moreover, it was preceded by a kind of Ems dispatch. This was that document, forged by Bismarck, which in 1870 tempted the French side, that is, the French president, to attack Germany. The result is well known. The many Ems dispatches from the West, from NATO, which led President Putin to his unspeakable “special military operation”, were set in motion by the dozen by US President Joe Biden. For months already there is the transformed war in Ukraine. The West waged its war against Russia on the territory of Ukraine – with weapons, troop deployments on the borders and training of soldiers. And we all suffered from it, especially Ukrainians. I hope, I appealed to the leaders of the LEFT, the party will finally join the movement against the war, against the shooting war and against the economic war. Against the sufferings also of our people, who shall freeze in the winter of war and will not have enough to eat. Please go against the government of the war and not against those people who fight the war.
Karl Marx wrote about the Franco-Prussian War, which was triggered by the Ems Dispatch: “A mass workers’ meeting in Brunswick on 16. July 1870 declared itself in complete agreement with the Paris Manifesto, rejected any thought of national opposition to France, and passed resolutions stating: ‘We are opponents of all wars, but especially of dynastic wars (…) It is with deep sorrow and pain that we see ourselves forced into a defensive war as an inevitable evil; but at the same time we call upon the entire thinking working class to make the repetition of such a tremendous social calamity impossible by demanding for the peoples themselves the power to decide on war and peace and thus to make them masters of their own destinies. ‘” (Marx: First Address of the General Council on the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 in: MEAWIII, pp. 485-487 – The Paris Manifesto against France’s war against Germany was written by the Paris members of the International Workingmen’s Association).
For today, we are told that Ukraine’s defense against Russia is legitimate, but NATO’s war against Russia is not. Ukraine and Russia should agree on a ceasefire, but the U.S. forbids Ukraine to do so. However, it is necessary that “the peoples themselves (have) the power to decide on war and peace, making them masters of their own destinies.” Left-wing deputies have the duty, in accordance with the will of the majority of the population, to reject the participation in the war and the arms deliveries, as well as the sanctions, which above all harm ourselves.
The scientific service of the Bundestag has determined that the delivery of heavy weapons and the training of foreign soldiers participating in the war on our territory means: Germany is a party to the war. This is also underlined by the fact that in Ramstein – in Germany! – a NATO general staff under U.S. leadership has recently been coordinating the participation in the war against Russia.
He probably thinks of such command centers as in Ramstein, the chancellor Scholz, who rejects “going it alone” according to the media. And if then the order from Ramstein comes, he beats the heels together!? On 12 September 2022 war-mongers in the media (e.g. Tagesspiegel) saw the time come to give Putin the rest, because he is weakening immensely. That would have to happen in such a way: Germany disarms the Bundeswehr in large parts temporarily, creates all weapons to Ukraine, in order to secure the final victory against Russia and its dynasty. This is not negligent, he said, because Putin is so weakened that he cannot wage a major land war against NATO for a long time. Germany, he said, also remains secure.
They are great strategists, these media people! And if Putin is as they always say? If he lashes out wildly, e.g. nuclear? He warned, after all, that his threat of nuclear weapons was “not a bluff.” Or he will be deposed as incompetent, and what kind of adventurous type will come next in the Kremlin? Or do people now believe that Ukraine, e.g. with Bundeswehr weapons, could march through to Vladivostok?
Another scientific service of a parliament must be still quoted here. Expert reports from the USA refer to a report of the scientific service of the U.S. Congress from March 2022 and conclude: Great is the determination of the U.S. government to use war to wear down Russia (Source: Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense – Issues for Congress. Updated March 10, 2022). The main U.S. objective, he said, is to place “a new or renewed emphasis” on defeating China and Russia. The two countries are threatened with a host of U.S. measures, including producing more nuclear weapons, increasing U.S. global military occupancy, and using the Ukraine war “to strengthen the United States and NATO to counter Russian aggression in Europe.” The attack on Ukraine is to be used as an alibi for the new occupation of Europe by U.S. troops. In response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine in late February 2022, “the U.S. has deployed additional Army and Navy units to NATO allies in Europe.” The point is that the U.S. is vigorously seeking confrontation with China and Russia while it still believes it has the advantage, which is dwindling year by year. They are deliberately heading for wars, and to do so they want to strengthen their “capabilities for high end conventional warfare,” for “waging war on a broad front, with high intensity, technologically advanced weapons against adversaries with similarly sophisticated weaponry.” Ukraine is the ideal drill ground for this ”training.”
I mean, the current Ukrainian war started as a Putin-Russia imperialist act and today is being waged primarily as a war of attrition by Western imperialists against Russia and to consolidate U.S. supremacy in Europe. And now Putin is again turning the spiral of escalation by making a partial mobilization and threatening “all means at our disposal” to “protect Russia. This, he said, is “not a bluff.” But the statement from the U.S. Congress is not one either.
Task of the Left: Do not give up!
by Bernhard Trautvetter
[This article posted on 10/20/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ossietzky – Aufgabe der Linken: Nicht aufgeben!.]
Marginalizing the Left Party through parliamentary ingratiation with the transatlantic SPD and Green parties or by splitting it would make it more difficult or even deprive many alternative forces of opportunities for alliance work, starting with a decline in the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s ability to support projects.
The current campaign against Sahra Wagenknecht is not led solely by members of the right-wing spectrum in the Left Party, according to the “Initiative solidarische Linke,” but by a broad spectrum of media, from the taz, which accuses her of AfD rhetoric, to the conservative-bourgeois camp. The ARD politics magazine Monitor also joins in this canon.
The campaign is reminiscent of “strategic communication,” which, according to a 2010 NATO document, is a “decisive factor in the fight against competing representations (…).” NATO also counts the strategy of de-legitimizing critics (“concentrate on degrading the credibility of opponents”) among the tools of its “psychological operations,” with which it seeks to undermine the credibility of its opponents, including those at home, with intelligence management. The widely unknown influence of transatlanticists was the subject of the satirical program Die Anstalt in early 2015.
Strategic communication is enjoying great success, as can be seen from how far the Greens have moved away from the original NATO criticism of their founding years and how strongly NATO propaganda for arms deliveries and against diplomacy is accompanied by defamation of the peace movement, for example under the term “lumpen-pacifism.”
The effects of a softening of peace policy positions in the LEFT are becoming apparent. For example, rather right-wing leaders of the Left Party introduced a motion in which they attempted to soften the consistent adherence to international law: In averting human rights violations, they argued, international law stands in the way. This argumentation accommodates the position of NATO, which repeatedly presents and defends interventions as humanitarian. NATO also used this cloak to justify the war of aggression against Yugoslavia, which violated international law.
A close look at the morally sold Nato wars confirms Egon Bahr’s statement, which he gave to a Heidelberg school class in 2013: “International politics is never about democracy or human rights. It is about the interests of states. Remember that, no matter what you are told (…).”
The current campaign against the peace movement and against left-wing forces on its side paints the self-righteous picture according to which NATO defends democracy and human rights, while left-wing peace activists, with their rejection of arms exports to war zones as Putin-understanders, morally degenerate, abandon human rights and hand people over to injustice.
This sentiment is happening even though the peace movement condemns war regardless of which actors opened it; it also assumes that any war, no matter how morally justified, leads to a breach of self-declared humanitarian claims, that the associated propaganda war manipulates and abuses the population on all sides. Pacifists warn that measures of defense turn into their opposite, insofar as they escalate wars instead of ending them, when defending turns into counterattacking. The peace movement condemns not only Russia’s war against Ukraine, but also the arms race of EU partner Azerbaijan against Armenia and that of Western trading partner and arms buyer Saudi Arabia in neighboring Yemen.
Top politicians of the LEFT also participate in the double standards and half-truths when they spread that it is only Putin who is waging an economic war against Germany. And on the basis of this account, they criticize Sahra Wagenknecht for her criticism that Western states are waging economic war against Russia. How right Sahra Wagenknecht is in her criticism is shown by a close look at the years since a pro-Nato government illegally came to power in Ukraine in 2014, which led to the Crimean crisis and subsequently to over 20 sanctions measures against Russia at the EU level alone. Not to take this into account expresses a denial of reality that ties in with the fact that top personnel of the Left Party sharply criticized those members of the Bundestag who opposed the German government’s request for a military evacuation mandate in the final phase of the war in Afghanistan. This dispute was a central element in the backstory for the LINKE’s failure to win even five percent of the electoral votes in the federal elections. Coalition naiveté on the part of critics of the government’s opponents of this proposal led them to overlook the fact that the text was incapable of approval, since it implied in point 7 that the government in power in Afghanistan had agreed to the mandate. However, the previous government, with which there had been corresponding agreements, had long since fled. The loss of reality on the part of the coalition dreamers at the top of the LEFT made it easy for the later traffic light parties to deny the Left Party’s ability to govern, since it apparently refused to be rescued.
It almost reads like a response to the attempts by some top Left Party officials to ingratiate themselves with two of the three traffic light parties, what Karl Marx once wrote: “To fool others while fooling oneself, that is parliamentary wisdom at its core.” And, as if adding to this epistolary text, he criticized years later that the left-wing parliamentarians, “instead of facing the whole assembly directly,” do not give up hope of “still coming to something in the chamber and through the chamber and gaining a majority for the left.”
In an age of global ecological, social and military catastrophes, humanity has neither time nor reserves of strength for illusions and for pandering to forces that ultimately play voluntarily or unconsciously into the hands of the interests of the arms industry and its lobby. The peace movement, like the ecology movement, has potent opponents with high influence on politics and the public: “Rheinmetall is (…) the best performer in the M-Dax since the end of February with a plus of 67 percent. In June, the share had reached a new all-time high of almost 225 euros. Before that, the share price was around 80 euros until the beginning of March. (…) Thyssenkrupp is a German steel producer whose Marine Systems business unit generates around 5 percent of its total sales from defense equipment such as submarines and mine warfare vessels. At the beginning of March, they too were up about 15 percent, after originally discussing selling Marine Systems in early February due to the poor image of the defense division. (…) The stock price of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, has risen about 25 percent since February.”
The survival of humanity depends in part on this business of death no longer having a future, and it begins at any moment. Prospects are rising as the forces for survival come together.
The subjectless rule of capital
By Tomasz Konicz
[This article posted on Oct. 2, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.konicz.info/2022/10/02/die-subjektlose-herrschaft-des-kapitals-2/.]
Who is to blame for the increasing contradictions and dislocations of late capitalist societies – and what can be done about it?
Who rules in capitalism? The first glance seems to confirm what is mostly the basic component of leftist theoretical efforts or ideology: It is the class of capitalists, the owners of the means of production, who seem to hold the strings of power in their hands – and thus are responsible for the current state of the capitalist world system.
This conclusion also seems justified at first in view of the absurd social division between rich and poor, between the mass of wage earners and the “Happy Few” of the billionaire caste, which has been forced further and further by the neoliberal economic and financial policies of the past decades.
The data on the ever-widening gap between rich and poor only seem bizarre: by now, the 26 richest billionaires own assets with a nominal value equivalent to the belongings of the poorer half of the world’s population – that’s about 3.8 billion people. In the USA, it is the wealthiest 20 super-rich whose assets are equivalent to the belongings of the impoverished half of the population.
In the Federal Republic, on the other hand, the ratio between billionaires and the destitute is 45 to 41 million. 45 Mega-rich capitalists own just as much as the lower half of the population, and the income divide in the Federal Republic is now even more pronounced than in the United States.
This division of late capitalist societies, together with the emergence of a largely segregated caste of billionaires, has been accompanied by an intensified, increasingly open assertion of the interests of the capitalist class. This successful lobbying was reflected not least in the financial and tax policies of recent decades, which almost exclusively favored the super-rich and large corporations.
U.S. billionaires such as the notorious Koch brothers finance a veritable political machine that puts their reactionary interests into law in Washington. In the meantime, it is debated whether the USA has not degenerated into an oligarchy dominated by a few billionaires.
In Germany, on the other hand, the BMW billionaires from the notorious Quandt clan make direct donations to the CDU before the federal government once again undermines CO2 limits in favor of the German auto industry. Added to this – with the rise of the New Right – is the direct funding of right-wing extremists and right-wing populists by billionaires, as in the case of US President Trump and the German AfD.
The same applies to policy inaction in the face of the escalating climate crisis. The relevant lobby groups of the fossil capitalist economy have successfully torpedoed any serious action to combat the greenhouse effect for decades with millions of dollars – both in the U.S. and in Germany.
Capitalists, Class Struggle and Crisis
Given this informal power structure of the capitalist class, which can effortlessly cast its economic interests into legal form through its lobbying machines, the causes of the current crisis seem clear, especially to the left: It is the increasing socioeconomic division of society caused precisely by the apparently behind-the-scenes ruling class of billionaires, the capitalists. The boundless greed or insatiable hunger for power of the capitalist class led capitalism into crisis.
It seems to be similar with the ecological crisis: The greed of the corporate bosses of the oil and car industries, their influence on politics, seems to be responsible for the fact that climate change, despite all the Sunday speeches, continues to be fueled by constantly rising CO2 emissions.
The economic stagnation, the decades-long social decline of large parts of the population in the centers of the capitalist world system, they appear to be a consequence of the politics of the class of the super-rich, who are waging a real class war against the working population, as for example the billionaire speculator Warren Buffet put it:
“There’s class warfare, all right, … but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Usually, the beginning of this “class warfare” is located in the neoliberal turn of the 1980s, which – after the bloody prelude in 1973 in Chile – was first enforced in the USA and in Great Britain by Ronald Reagan and Margret (“There is no such thing as society”) Thatcher.
Meanwhile, the bouts of destitution following the bursting of the housing bubbles in 2008, which devastated the U.S. middle class, for example, also contributed to the formation of a strong, class-struggle left. The agitation against minorities, which the New Right pushed after the crisis surge in 2008, is countered by the left in the U.S. and Great Britain with the option of class struggle, in which the class war waged by the super-rich would now be answered consciously – by means of political mobilization – by those at the “bottom,” by wage earners. The climate crisis, in turn, is to be overcome by a massive Keynesian investment program, by the Green New Deal.
A wrong approach and a wrong premise
Politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thus argue for a redistribution from top to bottom, for a strict taxation of large fortunes, and for a curtailment of the informal political power of the super-rich in order to lead capitalism out of its ecological and economic crisis by means of large investment programs. In view of this renaissance of a left class struggle, which has now also taken hold of the German left, a progressive counterweight to the reactionary wave of the New Right thus seems to be forming.
And yet this approach to explaining the crisis, which remains in the dichotomy of proletariat and bourgeoisie, is a distorted consciousness that is ultimately not radical enough to adequately grasp the crisis process. The crisis is more than the sum of the class struggle escalating as a result of the crisis. The premise inherent in old left class struggle thinking, according to which there is a group of people who consciously control social reproduction, is false.
The reality of capitalist crisis unfolding is far more frightening than any specter of an all-powerful reign of super-rich general villains operating behind the scenes of the political establishment – however repulsive and reprehensible the individual egomaniacal actors in these exclusive circles may act.
Fetishism: The Self-Movement of Capital
Despite all the actual conspiracies: There is no one behind the curtain who is pulling the strings in the last instance, who is somehow “controlling” the course of events of the capitalist system. Humanity under capital is the object of an independent, contradictory dynamic, which it produces unconsciously, mediated by the market. This process of capital’s self-movement, known as fetishism, is constituted “behind the backs of the producers,” as Karl Marx famously noted.
Generally speaking, capitalism as a fetishistic social formation is thus characterized by the fact that here “the process of production masters men, man does not yet master the process of production,” according to Karl Marx in his main work “Das Kapital.” The fetishistic forms of exploitation of capital, which are independent of the subjects, “are regarded by their bourgeois consciousness” as a “self-evident natural necessity”.
This fetishism pervades all aggregate states that capital passes through in its self-movement, its cycle of exploitation, in which more money is created from money by means of commodity production and the exploitation of wage labor (G-W-G): Commodity, Money, Labor.
In the labor process, for example, the wage-dependent market participant (“proletarian”) becomes “variable capital,” the only commodity to be acquired by capital on the labor market, which can create more value through its ability to work than it is itself worth. Labor is “external” to the worker, who therefore “feels himself only outside of labor with himself and in labor outside of himself,” as Marx put it in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts.
This being at the mercy of an external labor process, over whose goal and course the worker has no control, in which his alienation is a moment of the fetishistic exploitation movement of capital, leads to the formation of the well-known, omnipresent feeling of alienation in capitalism. This “forced” labor under capital no longer serves the direct “satisfaction of a need, but is only a means of satisfying needs apart from it,” Marx continues. Its strangeness emerges “purely in the fact that, as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is fled as a pestilence. External labor, the labor in which man divests himself, is a labor of self-sacrifice, of mortification.”
Similarly powerless seem the market subjects, isolated from each other by the compulsion of competition, who enter only market-mediated into the exchange of commodities, to face commodity fetishism. The social character of their own labor is reflected to the commodity producers as a representational character of their labor products, Marx explained in the famous fetish chapter of his main work “Das Kapital”.
The social commodity property of having value (the quantum of necessary social labor time expended in its production process), produced in the context of the movement of valorization, appears as a natural property of these things. The individual commodity seems to be endowed with its property of having value in the same way as its other physical properties. Since this socially constituted “object of value” of the commodity appears only in the exchange of commodities on the market, it seems to the isolated producers as if it were a matter of a “social relation of objects existing apart from them.”
The things thus “become independent” in the market-mediated way vis-à-vis the market subjects, who literally work them out themselves and offer them for sale in commodity form on the very markets – animated by the overall social compulsion of capital to exploit. This independence of capital is particularly evident in the financial markets, where fetishism manifests itself in the abstract form of money – and forms the most important driving force for reactionary crisis ideologies, including the anti-Semitic delusion.
Especially in times of crisis, when once again a “market quake” or burst financial bubbles threaten the stability of the entire economic system – as most recently in 2008 – it becomes evident that even the capitalist class is by no means “in control” of this fetishistic and destructive dynamic of capital, that the crisis-like course of events in capitalism is by no means controlled by a conspiracy.
Thus, the fetishistic reality in capitalism is actually scarier than the worst conspiracy ideology. The whole real world, man as well as nature, are only transit stages of a blindly litigating accumulation process of abstract wealth, ultimately abstract quanta of spent, “dead” human labor. The whole late capitalist horror consists precisely in the fact that there is no one at the wheel of the exploitation train that is constantly speeding towards the abyss.
Society, however, is a necessary appendage of the real-abstract valorization movement of capital running amok, since capital can only be valorized through wage labor and the firing of resources in commodity production. In the end, social existence has only that which is necessary and financeable within the framework of this blind cycle of capital multiplication: that is, only that which directly or indirectly amounts to the proliferation of capital.
This applies not only to the category of “jobs” in the economy, but also to the state apparatus in its function as “ideal total capitalist” (Marx) or even to cultural production, which has to contribute to the optimization of location within the framework of neoliberal marketing strategies – social existence under capital is always subject to its “financing”. On the overall social, global level, capital thus acts as an “automatic subject” of boundless, tautological self-multiplication.
The concrete world is thus only “material” of this independent, real-abstract self-movement of capital, which in the boundless growth mania deprives mankind of its social and ecological basis of existence. The global surplus value machine of capital thus burns up the world in order to maintain the irrational end in itself of boundless capital growth as long as possible. A growing, economically “superfluous” humanity in the periphery, an escalating ecological crisis are the consequences of this self-movement of capital.
In a reversal of the old romanticism of progress, the image of a constantly accelerating train speeding towards an abyss, of a machine out of control, driven by the self-movement of capital, which is produced by the market participants unconsciously, mediated by competition and the market. The transformative act necessary for survival is to find and apply the emergency brake, as Walter Benjamin already noted.
Social structures unconsciously produced by human beings that objectify themselves vis-à-vis individuals; social dynamics that become independent vis-à-vis the subjects that produce them – this absurd form of social reproduction that characterizes the “prehistory of humanity” is brought to the concept of fetishism.
Thus, the people of “enlightened” bourgeois society are nothing but sinister fetish servants. Rule in capitalism is thus in the last instance subjectless, as the crisis theorist Robert Kurz elaborated in his text “Subjectless Rule”; the capital relation rules as a fetishistic real abstraction.
According to Kurz, the inner essence of the capital relation is not absorbed in the disdainful rapacity of all the capitalist philanderers who were able to increase their (largely fictitious) wealth to obscene levels during the neoliberal decades:
“Their “individual purposes” are not what they seem to be; they are not, according to their form, individual, self-imposed purposes, and that is why the content is also perverted and results in self-destruction. The essence is not that the individuals use each other reciprocally for their individual purposes, but that, in appearing to do so, they execute upon themselves an entirely different, supra-individual, subjectless purpose: the self-movement (utilization) of money.”
Accordingly, the subjective, “managerial” exploitation interests of the capitalists form the external appearance that conceals the fetishistic essence of the irrational, subjectless domination of the capital relation on a “macroeconomic” level. Generally speaking, capital can only be understood as a social totality; attempts to project the relations of reproduction of individual capitals (enterprises, corporations) onto the system as a whole ultimately end up in ideology.
The question of guilt and responsibility in capitalism
As soon as people act as subjects in capital’s circle of exploitation, they become character masks (Marx) of their respective position in the process of accumulation – whether as assembly line workers, managers, salespeople or service providers is irrelevant in this respect. They are no longer “with themselves”, but they act as the personification of their respective economic function (this, after all, forms the basis of the aforementioned feelings of alienation).
Marx, for example, refers to the capitalist in his function as a character mask as “personified capital endowed with will and consciousness,” which functions as the “point of departure and point of return” of the self-purpose of the immoderate circulation of capital. The “objective content of that circulation – the utilization of value – is its subjective purpose,” according to Marx in his major work, Das Kapital.
What emerges here is the absurd position of the market subject within the automatism of capital valorization. On the one hand, capital as an automatic subject turns people into objects of its valorization movement, into things, into commodities traded on the labor market – and who have to adapt to this mediated form of subjectless domination like a man-made law of nature with an underlying feeling of powerlessness.
At the same time, the only chance to still live out a stale imitation of subjectivity consists in the fact that one, as said economic character mask, cooperates in perfecting this automatism of boundless capital utilization “subjectively” – and in doing so, in turn, degrades “the others” to objects and “makes them equal to things”.Within the only too real fetishism that the automatic subject perpetuates, the inmates of the capitalist treadmill are always both at the same time: subject of accumulation and its powerless object.
All character masks as personifications of their respective economic function consequently function as subject-objects of the self-dependent exploitation movement, which they themselves perpetuate, whereby the concrete relationship between these two poles depends on the concrete hierarchical position in the reproduction process of capital. And it is precisely this hierarchical position of the subjects within the automatism of capital valorization that must also be taken into account in the question of the category of guilt, of personal responsibility. For, of course, the fetishism of capital does not absolve the actors who execute it.
The other extreme to manic scapegoating, after all, is represented by impotent systems thinking, in which the current actors in business and politics are exculpated. In this view, it seems as if those responsible can no longer be identified due to system constraints and objective structural laws. The concrete perpetrators disappear behind the destructive rule of the automatic subject of capital’s collapsing dynamic of exploitation.
That the fetishism of capitalist society, where the market-mediated actions of market subjects confront them as an alien, quasi-objective force, by no means leads to an exculpation of the acts of the perpetrators, was already pointed out by crisis theorist Robert Kurz at the beginning of the 21st century:
“If now the common form connection of abstract labor, commodity form, citizenship, etc., moves into the field of vision of critique, where is the accountability? Can one make a blind structural connection, can one make the automatic subject responsible for anything, even if it is the greatest crime? And conversely, if capitalist barbarism is ultimately inherent in the mute constraints of competition, etc., are not the barbaric acts of the ugly managers, the dirty politicians, the bureaucratic crisis administrators, the bloody butchers of the state of emergency somehow excused because always conditioned and actually caused by the subjectless structural laws of “second nature”?
Such an argument forgets that the notion of the automatic subject is a paradoxical metaphor for a paradoxical social relation. The automatic subject is not a distinctive entity squatting out there somewhere for itself, but it is the social spell under which people subject their own actions to the automatism of capitalized money.
But those who act are always the individuals themselves. Competition, artificially generated struggle for survival, crises etc. drive out the potency of barbarism, but practically this barbarism must be executed by the acting people, thus also through their consciousness. And therefore the individuals are also subjectively responsible for their actions, the ugly manager and the dirty politician as well as on the other hand the racist unemployed and the anti-Semitic single mother.
The immense fear and threat potential of this society has to be dealt with on a daily basis, and every moment individuals make decisions in the process that are never completely without alternatives – neither on a daily small scale nor on a socio-historical large scale. Nobody is just a will-less puppet, but all have to act out the hair-raising contradictions, the fears and sufferings of this spell themselves.
Therefore, it is no absurdity to direct the necessary social critique to the level of socially overarching structures, to abstract labor and the automatic subject, but nevertheless to hold the acting individuals responsible for their actions, even if their social character mask suggests to them a state of insanity.”
Robert Kurz: Reading Marx
A Donald Trump or Jeff Bezos, as subjects who execute the contradictory automatism of capital accumulation at the political and economic level, are responsible for their actions. This is also true for a Wolfgang Schäuble, who is fully responsible for everything he did to Greece and Southern Europe during the Euro crisis; but this is also true for the little mean forum troll, who is responsible for all the agitation he spouts on the net – even if by means of these actions only the systemic crisis dynamics are executed on a political or ideological level.
Whereby, of course, the historical guilt that an egomaniac like Trump or an austerity sadist like Schäuble has brought upon himself weighs far more heavily than the pitiful excretions of a single political borderliner of the New Right in newspaper forums or social networks.
The big question of guilt with regard to the subjectless rule of capital can now also be specified with regard to the crisis dynamics and crisis ideology: The crisis as a historical process is a consequence of the increasing internal contradictions of capital, which confront the subjects as increasing “factual constraints.”
Specifically, it is the tendency of capital to get rid of its own substance, value-creating wage labor, through automation in the production process. This applies not only to the economic but also to the ecological crisis of capital, which, through increases in production, must burn up the natural foundations of human life ever faster in its fetishistic compulsion to grow.
Therefore, it must simply be stated that absolutely no one is to blame for the crisis of capital. And certainly the crisis has not been “staged” by any conspirators. The crisis broke out precisely because the market subjects do exactly what the system demands of them more and more efficiently: exploit wage labor for the purpose of boundless capital accumulation. The more effectively wage labor is exploited, the greater the pressure, the tighter the market-mediated noose around the necks of all market subjects.
The first false question, leading to ideological delusion, which imposes itself on the reified consciousness as a matter of course at the outbreak of crisis, is the question of crisis guilt. The shoe is on the other foot: personal guilt must be sought in the “everyday life” of capital exploitation, in the “normal execution” of the capitalist treadmill: in the concrete economic exploitation, the political oppression and the production of ideology that keeps the automatism of the system running.
Thus, while no one is “to blame” for the outbreak of the systemic crisis, whose dynamics unfold quasi “behind the backs of the producers” (Marx), it is precisely the everyday functioning of the system – the market-mediated oppression, exploitation and ideology production – in the course of which all the individuals who consciously execute the systemic constraints as “character masks” of their capitalist functions are to blame. Even more: in interaction with the dynamics of the crisis, it is precisely the exploitation, the oppression, the production of lies of the system that is increased to absurdity.
If the exploitation of the wage-dependent continues to increase, as it did in the neoliberal decades, this indicates a systemic crisis process that is perpetuated on the backs of the wage-dependent. And this is all the more true when a “normal employment relationship” becomes the exception and, seen globally, more and more people can actually no longer be exploited by capital because they are superfluous and therefore nothing more than “useless eaters”.
Class struggle as distribution struggle
The above described increase of exploitation, pauperization and precarization also in the centers of the capitalist world system, it must therefore be understood as a system reaction to a profound, historical crisis process. This occurred in the 1980s in response to the expiration of the postwar boom in the 1970s and the crisis period of stagflation. Consequently, neoliberalism prevailed only because Keynesianism had reached the end of its rope. In this respect, neoliberalism was not a kind of “coup d’état” against a supposedly ideal world of the welfare state, as quite a few leftists like to imply.
It is precisely the seemingly absurd split between rich and poor, between the masses of precarious and pauperized wage earners, as well as the fictitious millions in largely fictitious capital that a few billionaires seem to hold, that points to the systemic crisis, which also brings with it a lack of profitable investment opportunities in the real commodity economy, a corresponding shift to speculative activities in the financial sphere (“financialization of capitalism”).
It is precisely these consequences of the crisis that confront all actors as increasing, objectified contradictions or “factual constraints.” The subjects react to them system-inherently with an intensification of competition: politicians and states that enforce social cuts in the context of location competition, corporations that find ever more brutal forms of exploitation, wage writers in the mass media whose opportunism seems to know no bounds in the production of ideology, wage earners who increasingly resort to mobbing.
The market-mediated silent coercion of the ever “tougher” conditions compels the character masks of their respective social function to execute it under penalty of their own downfall. The capitalist who is not able to increase the exploitation of his human material in the increasing competition on the “tighter” markets will perish in the crisis competition. The same applies to the capitalist economies as national “locations”, which are also in a crisis-induced race to the bottom.
The Hartz reforms with their intended precarization strategy and their export fixation have thus been “successful” – in that they have so far been able to pass on the consequences of the crisis to other countries by exporting debt. The same applies to published opinion: The tendency toward opportunism in politics and the media is increasing, and oppositional thinking is being marginalized, especially on the “left.
Against the background of what has been said so far, a clear assessment of the class struggle now seems possible. This is thus a distributive struggle within the process of reduction of capital, the intensity of which is determined by its concrete, historical unfolding of contradictions. In periods of strong economic expansion, as during the postwar boom up to the 1970s, forms of “social partnership” can emerge between the functional elites of capital and the trade unions as representatives of the wage-earners (of “variable capital,” as Marx puts it).
As long as markets expand strongly, high profits can be agreed upon with wages that turn wage-dependents into consumers. This changes relatively quickly in periods of crisis, when the main concern of every capitalist is to perpetuate the irrational end in itself of capital accumulation, if necessary at the expense of his own wage-dependents.
Thus, the class struggle as a struggle for distribution has no inherent objective transformational potency. It is a struggle for shares in a real production of value that is melting away as a result of the crisis – but without questioning this irrational form of social reproduction. The class struggle (ultimately also the historical class struggle of past times) thus moves within the forms of capitalist socialization (value, labor, capital, state) and seeks emancipation and recognition in these categories rather than against them.
The intensifying class struggle is thus a distributive struggle. The militancy with which this crisis-induced escalating “class war” (Warren Buffet) is propagated conceals its lack of radicality, since the causes of the crisis and the fetishistic form of social reproduction under capitalism, as outlined above, are not reflected here.
The present social conditions also seem to resemble the pauperism of earlier times because the historical “ascendant phase” of the working class in the 18th and 19th centuries has social parallels with the present descendant phase of capital and the working class. The current rampant misery within the eroding class of wage-earners in the centers of the world system, it thus mirrors the misery of its historical formation.
To put it vividly: The foundation on which the class actors operate, the expenditure of wage labor in commodity production, is increasingly disintegrating. The one-sided rhetoric of class struggle conceals above all the fact that the classes themselves are disintegrating as a result of the crisis. The proletariat is disintegrating into precisely that economically “superfluous” layer of people who are desperately fleeing to the core regions of the capitalist world system.
What to do.
To be radical means to grasp a problem at its root in order to find a solution adequate to the problem. This is precisely what Marxist class struggle thinking does not do. It is not the distribution of commodity wealth that is at the core of the crisis, but the contradictory form in which wealth is produced for the sake of the irrational self-purpose of boundless capital accumulation – the commodity form itself. The blatant, ever worsening social division of late capitalist societies is precisely, as explained, the consequence of the escalating internal and external contradictions of capital’s growth compulsion.
Consequently, the crisis cannot be solved by social-democratic redistribution. Not the achievement of “control” over the capitalist accumulation machinery can be a radical goal (possibly still under the leadership of a dictatorial state and cadre party), but its fundamental transformation, in order to finally free the production of consumer goods from their commodity form, from the fetishistic end in itself of value exploitation.
Even the “democratization” of capitalist enterprises, as currently discussed as direct workers’ control in left-liberal circles in the U.S., would continue to expose these cooperatives to the constraints of crisis-tightening markets-and thus change little. Consequently, the crisis of capital coming up against its internal and external barriers can only be overcome upon overcoming the fetishistic momentum of the accumulation process as outlined – for it is this very dynamic of exploitation, unconsciously generated by market subjects, that is devastating impotent human societies and the global ecosystem.
Ultimately, it is about simplifying social reproduction by organizing it directly, through an all-society process of understanding, rather than – as is currently the case – degrading society to a mere transitory stage of a blind world-burning process run amok. Post-capitalism thus means, at its core, the conscious organization of the process of social reproduction by the members of society – this, as explained, in contrast to the current state in which people are subjected to a quasi-objective, fetishistic dynamic.
Karl Marx’s seemingly cryptic remark, according to which the overcoming of capitalism would conclude “the prehistory of human society,” thus receives its clarity. All previous human history took place unconsciously, within the framework of fetishistic social systems: from religious fetishism of early times and the Middle Ages to the secularized religion of capital.
And here is the thing: the crisis is also an irreversible, fetishistic process. It will run its course and there is no way to stabilize the system in the long run, because the eternal debt-making will eventually reach its limits even in the centers. This is not a vision of the future, but – especially in the periphery – already reality.
The system, choking on its contradictions, is already producing an economically superfluous humanity and collapsing regions known as “failed states,” as the refugee crisis made evident. The same applies to the climate crisis caused by the capitalist growth mania and its monstrous consequences.
It is thus not a question of the subjective “will” of the members of society whether the collapsing system will be overcome. It is a bare question of survival of human civilization, ultimately of human existence, in which way the coming transformation process will proceed: as a chaotic disintegration, in the form of the establishment of a brutal, murderous crisis dictatorship, or nevertheless in a progressive direction, which would open up new emancipatory perspectives for mankind in spite of all coming climate-related distortions.
Even more: this transformation process is already taking place – and the increasing political, ideological and also military conflicts are precisely the expression of this upheaval unconsciously taking place over humanity, as the sociologist and world-systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein already explained at the beginning of the 21st century:
“We are living in a phase of transition from our existing world system, the capitalist economy, to another system or systems. We do not know whether this will be for the better or for the worse. We will not know until we get there, which may take another 50 years. We do know, however, that the period of transition will be very difficult for all who live in it. … It will be a time of conflict or significant disruption … . It will also be, what is not paradoxical, a time when the factor of free will will be increased to the maximum, which means that every individual and collective action will have a greater effect in rebuilding the future than in normal times, that is, during the continuation of a historical system.”
Immanuel Wallerstein, Utopianism
Civilization or barbarism – these are the extreme poles in this historical “phase of transition,” whereby it is the New Right that cuts a wide swath to barbarism with its extremism of the center, which intends an adherence to the forms of socialization in decay (nation, “creating” capital, state).
It is precisely the extreme cablings and associations in the New Right that sometimes consciously prepare for the crisis – which they imagine to be the result of a conspiracy against Germany – with death lists and coup plans. A dictatorship envisaged at the next crisis surge is to serve to finally “clean up” with the Left by mass murder. Thus, neo-fascism is a kind of fire accelerator of barbarism in crisis.
There is a maxim of political practice that leftist movements, groups or even parties would have to follow in the 21st century if they still wanted to function as progressive social forces according to their concept in the current epoch of upheaval and crisis. Capitalism must be transformed into history as quickly as possible, the capital relation as a social totality must be consciously abolished – all practical actions, all tactics, all reform proposals, all broader strategies would have to be oriented to this categorical imperative.
This is not an expression of left radicalism, but the formulation of the reasonable, middle, moderate civilizational minimum, without the realization of which the civilizational process in the 21st century would be transformed into barbarism, ultimately driven into collapse. Precisely because capital is collapsing, it must be overcome. Progress can only be realized beyond capital, in the transformation struggle to shape a post-capitalist social formation.
A progressive movement, borne by the insight into the necessity of system transformation, would thus struggle to establish conditions that would steer this transformation dynamic in an emancipatory direction. The maxim of such a post-politics would consist, on the one hand, in the effort to maintain and further develop the process of civilization and, on the other hand, in the struggle to overcome the fetishism outlined. This transformation would have to be conducted openly by offensively conveying to the people the necessity of emancipatory system transformation in practical struggles.
The goal of a progressive transformation movement would thus be to consciously shape the fetishistic process of civilization via the powerless people within the framework of a process of understanding throughout society. The forms in which a transformation movement that is conscious of itself organizes itself within the framework of the crisis-induced increase in social conflicts would thus possibly become germinal forms of a post-capitalist society.
Bourgeois politics, the actions of political subjects are thus “important” again, they have weight. Not because they can solve the crisis, but because they determine the course of the crisis. An example may illustrate this: Whether a Schäuble puts Europe on a neoliberal starvation diet (austerity) after the outbreak of the euro crisis, or whether the crisis process unfolds within the framework of pan-European economic and social policies, is of great importance for the further unfolding of the crisis, as illustrated by the rise of nationalist and far-right movements in austerity-ridden “German” Europe.
The increasing social struggles against the dismantling of the welfare state, against the dismantling of democracy and police-state tendencies, around a genuine climate policy would thus have to be understood as fields in which the social subjects literally fight for the course of the objectively taking place transformation process.
And it is here that the class struggle – insofar as it is aware of its role as a means in a transformation struggle – also has an important role to play. The class struggle is part of the struggle for the concrete course of the transformation process.
Which society for the transformation?
For this, the class struggle must point beyond itself and no longer primarily strive for recognition or social gratification in the languishing capitalism, as the historical workers’ movement did. The historical expansion of capitalism and the wage labor regime was the prerequisite for this, which is no longer given today in view of the crisis.
To make it concrete: To understand the crisis as a maxim of emancipatory practice means here to ask oneself which late capitalist society will enter into the inevitable transformation process. Should it be an authoritarian, police-state administered oligarchy with absurd social abysses, or a more egalitarian, bourgeois-democratic polity in which there continues to be scope for radical critique and praxis?
On the surface, an emancipatory left, if it wants to be progressive in late capitalism according to its concept, thus resembles an existentialist figure, comparable to Albert Camus’s Sisyphus, who consciously dedicates himself to a seemingly absurd practice. The struggle for social improvements against the dismantling of democracy, for the equality of minorities, for the Green New Deal is waged in full awareness of the internal capitalist futility of this struggle – in the face of the escalating economic and ecological systemic crisis.
But here the analogy already ends. The consciousness and rhetoric with which this “battle for the tea water” is waged is crucial. It is necessary to tell people clearly what is going on, that the old capitalist world is dying, that the new has not yet been born – and that this is a struggle against social cuts, for redistribution, against racism, climate destruction and warmongering, a struggle for optimal starting conditions for the inevitable system transformation.
Through this openness, which actually only makes explicit what has long been unconsciously sedimented in society as a dull crisis agenda – coupled with the search for post-capitalist forms of organization within this movement – it would also be possible to overcome the false immediacy that has often caused progressive movements to become bogged down in the false whole of late capitalism.
False immediacy is understood here as the tendency of social movements to unconsciously persist in forms of thinking that correspond to the social conditions and contradictions against which they are actually directed.
A prime example of this are, for example, trade union struggles against job cuts, which simply have to be waged by the actors concerned for the sake of their social survival – but which, without a corresponding awareness of the crisis, reproduce the existing forms of thought – in this case, thinking in terms of “jobs” as the only option for individual reproduction – even in times of crisis among the actors.
It is similar with the protests against inflation, which are often reduced to the greed of capitalists – and without radical crisis consciousness must end in impotence. It would be decisive to offensively pose the system question in the upcoming crisis confrontations, precisely because capital is perishing from its own contradictions. The concrete protest must be conducted with open sights as part of a struggle for the transformation of the system, as a transformation struggle.
Such necessary social struggles would thus have to be coupled with a radical emancipatory critique of the capitalist forms of existence and thought that are passing into decay, as Robert Kurz already pointed out:
“The task, then, is to formulate the emancipatory critique of the objectified, socially overarching forms of existence or thought and to assert it from within the social struggle in order to consciously break through this categorical prison. […] What matters is to develop a will against the dominant form of the will and to make conscious its fetish character.”
The text is an updated version of an article that was published in the magazine “Telepolis” in 2019, before it was hijacked by a cross-front racket of the Left Party and converted into a cross-front organ. The text can be taken over unabridged under indication of the author by all interested ones.
The music monument
John Lennon’s song “Working class hero” is a musical declaration of war against an economic system that deforms people – is that why he had to die?
By Tom-Oliver Regenauer
[This article posted on 10/15/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/das-musik-monument.]
The Beatles’ history and continued work to this day is like the crosswalk of Abbey Road – an alternation of light and darkness. The Beatles created a musical echo that resonates to this day. The four British “Lads” with mushroom hairdos became world stars in the 1960s, doing pioneering work in the history of pop music. The band’s history, overflowing with success before and after its existence, was and is not free of dark sides. After 1967, it seemed that Paul McCartney was no longer the same, as if he had been replaced. Moreover, mysterious deaths and attempted murders occurred within as well as in the Beatles’ haze. John Lennon is one of the band members who died prematurely due to a violent death, but in the process left behind immortality. Lennon exuded a spirit of the true, the good and the beautiful. His lyrics and words in interviews gave a broad mass an idea that the world could also be completely different, more beautiful and more human. And it was precisely this that taught the Anglo-American elite system to fear. The voice of the former Beatles singer severely broke the chains of the system. That his death was in the sense of the system seems plausible consequently. Accordingly, countless unanswered questions, strange coincidences, and mysterious circumstances surround his murder in 1980, but as quickly as the death shots faded, Lennon’s tones echo endlessly. One of his most monumental works is undoubtedly “Working class hero”. The song, which is musically and lyrically very easy to adapt, consequently found a gigantic spread – after all, pretty much every person from the systemic hamster wheel can recognize themselves in it. A lyric to the #PeaceNotes campaign.
“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote: happy. They told me that I didn’t understand the task. And I told them they didn’t understand life” (John Winston Lennon).
John Winston Lennon was ahead of his time. And of his band. At least in terms of his political as well as philosophical insights and views. The Liverpool-born musician was the founder and official bandleader of the most successful rock group in music history, The Beatles, even though in the late phase of the congenial formation his childhood friend Paul McCartney was often in the foreground, both musically and in the media.
The Beatles’ first single, “Love Me Do,” was released in 1962, and after the band had set a multitude of all-time records that are still valid today – and, as in 2018, continue to set them with the longest period of time between two identical number one placements – the four artists parted ways again as early as 1970. Eight years were enough to change the world. The four “Lads” are said to have sold around one billion records to date. The band’s love of experimentation and innovation ensured that their work continues to resonate to the present day. And the songs still sound amazingly “fresh” even after 60 years.
In terms of technology, too, the exceptional musicians – supported by the sound engineers at London’s Abbey Road Studios (formerly EMI Studios) – broke new ground with each release. In addition, they redefined the relationship between artists and record labels and producers, delivered the first genuine concept album in pop history, and invented the DI box (direct injection) in the studio, with which electric guitars could now be connected directly to mixing consoles. A revolution. They were the first band to print song lyrics on their albums, organized the first stadium concerts, recorded the first hard rock song in history (“Helter Skelter”), were the headliners of the first worldwide live television broadcast via satellite with grandees such as Pablo Picasso or Maria Callas, and laid the foundation for the “music video” format as we know it today with their music films. The Rolling Stones’ first chart hit was also penned by Lennon and McCartney. In 2004, the music magazine Rolling Stone rightly ranked the Beatles first among the 100 greatest musicians of all time.
After the last joint album, “Abbey Road”, which is listed in the discography before “Let It Be”, but was recorded after – because “Let It Be” is the only album of the Beatles, which was not produced by George Martin in London, but Phil Spector in the U.S. – and therefore came later on the market, the band split due to various differences. Artistically, organizationally, privately – they had grown apart, energies had been used up. Fame and money took an additional toll.
So much for the official story. For the astronomical success of the four bards from Liverpool also seemed to attract and release dark forces. Thus, to this day oodles of fans and nerds like Mike Williams deal with the numerous mysteries that have always given the band a mysterious aura. From the supposed replacement of Paul McCartney with a doppelganger because the real Beatle is said to have died in a car accident in 1967, to the image of Aleister Crowley, the controversial occultist, and other oddities on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” There are many myths surrounding the history of the mushroom heads.
For example, the rumors circulating since the 1960s that the Tavistock Institute, a British social engineering institution, misused the band to push the flower power movement, thus laying the foundation for the fragmented and self-centered society of the media age. Possibly. Because, as we have to admit today, the revolutionary efforts of the flower children from the “Swinging Sixties” mostly petered out in the living rooms of a well-off middle class. With the end of their adolescence, they delegated the responsibility for saving the planet to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), left-wing parties and a few exposed activists. However, one still waits in vain for world peace.
Doubts also persist about the official account of the early death of Brian Epstein, the homosexual manager of the Beatles. He is said to have died of a drug cocktail on August 27, 1967. Other voices claim that he was eliminated or committed suicide because he was unhappily in love with John Lennon and was rejected by him. Or because one was endeavored in higher place to cover up sexual escapades of the both. There are also questions about the improbable musical complexity of some of the Beatles’ compositions. In the opinion of not a few experts, the “Fab Four”, who were unversed in music theory, could hardly have managed this on their own. Sir George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, on the other hand, had enjoyed a classical musical education. It is well known that he was responsible for the string arrangements on songs like “Yesterday” or “Eleanor Rigby” and that he repeatedly gave the young musicians tips and suggestions. It is unclear whether there were any other persons who had a significant influence on the compositions.
A multitude of dubious deaths in the environment of the band are also unexplained up to the present. First of all that of Mal Evans, the long-time road manager and “girl for everything” of the Beatles, next to Neil Aspinall probably the person who was closest to the band over all the years. Friend. He was shot with six bullets by American police in Los Angeles in 1976. Allegedly because he opened his motel door and held a gun in his hand. However, as it turned out, it was only a toy gun lying on the table in the room. Moreover, Mal Evans was considered a level-headed, reliable and loving person – Paul McCartney called him a “good-natured teddy bear.” Nevertheless, not a single Beatle attended Mal’s funeral.
Piquant: Evans had a manuscript with him. And a suitcase full of documents with intimate information about his time with the Beatles. He wanted to discuss both the next day with his publisher Grosset & Dunlap, which was also supposed to help him publish an insider book. Both the manuscript and the suitcase containing the documents have been missing since the lethal visit by the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department). The former Beatles roadie was cremated on site in LA and then shipped by urn back to England – where it was initially lost in the mail.
Dubious, too, were the circumstances surrounding the near-fatal attack on George Harrison in December 1999. At 3:30 a.m., the perpetrator, Michael Abraham, forced his way into Friar Park, the Harrisons’ estate. George, who was awake, confronted the intruder. However, an attempt to take Abraham by surprise to wrest the knife from him failed. The latter then stabbed the ex-Beatle several times. Subsequently, he also went after Harrison’s wife. However, she was able to break away and hide. After 15 minutes, the police arrived at the scene and arrested the attacker. He gave as motive for the crime, analogous to Mark David Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon, that he had heard voices in his head, which motivated him to the attack. Harrison survived it. Badly injured.
“I think we’re being driven by madmen, to a mad end. And I think I’m going to be locked up as a madman for saying that. That’s the insane part of it” (John Winston Lennon).
Like Mark David Chapman, Michael Abraham was an unstable personality, suffered from mental health problems in the run-up to the crime, took drugs, and had repeated contact with law enforcement. After just 19 months of inpatient treatment in a psychiatric hospital, Abraham has been at large again since 2002. It is worth noting that the knife attack on Harrison took place only 24 hours after a conversation between George and Ringo Starr, the Beatles’ drummer, in the course of which Harrison apparently announced that he wanted to end the secrecy surrounding the Beatles, especially the rumors about Paul, and go public with the truth. George Harrison never commented on the subject afterwards.
This is of course water on the mills of those Beatles fans who think Paul McCartney is a double. For “lazy.” And as abstruse as such a theory may seem – there are indeed indications that move the scenario at least into the realm of possibility. For example, the fact that McCartney spent nine days in the local drug jail during a visit to Japan in 1980. And not because he had a bag of marijuana in his luggage when he entered the country, but because the Japanese authorities were unable to verify the music legend’s fingerprints. They were different from those McCartney had given in the 1960s, when he toured Japan with the Beatles and also had contact with the police. Only the intervention of the British government ensured that McCartney could leave Japan again on January 25, 1980. Without legal consequences, despite the not inconsiderable amount of weed in his luggage, for which normal mortals in Japan spend a good seven years behind bars. Until a few years ago, there was still an informative article about this incident in a Tokyo daily newspaper on the Internet. However, this has since been deleted.
In this context, the results of Italian forensic experts, which were published in Wired Magazine in 2009, also make one wonder. Biometric data and the scientific evaluation of photos from various periods led the two researchers to the conclusion that there were at least two people who appeared as Paul McCartney over the course of time. Similar conclusions were reached by a study conducted by the University of Naples (Italy) in 2019, which stated a clear difference in the ductus of Paul McCartney during the creative periods before and after the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” – the period in which the double is said to have directed.
The story surrounding a paternity suit that was pending against “Macca” in Germany appears similarly confusing. SPIEGEL International reported on this on May 21, 2007. So did the FAZ and the English newspaper The Telegraph. The accusation was that Paul McCartney was denying paternity to a child conceived out of wedlock in Hamburg in the early 1960s. In addition, he had given false DNA samples in the first trial in this regard, which took place in the 1980s and was decided in favor of McCartney. The signature on the corresponding documents came, according to recent test results, from a right-handed person – while Paul is known to write and play guitar with his left hand.
The plaintiff, who was 46 years old at the time, also told the BILD newspaper that Paul had given her mother a one-time payment of 30,000 German marks in 1966 as compensation and hush money – and that he had also subsequently given her 200 German marks per month as a child support payment for many years. The public prosecutor’s office began an investigation. But the case was dropped in 2007. Even if the crime had taken place, according to justice spokesman Michael Grundwald, the statute of limitations had expired in the meantime.
The question arises as to why the mother filed a paternity suit in the first place, if she has to assume that a DNA test will be performed as part of the taking of evidence, after which it would be possible to determine beyond doubt whether she is telling the truth – if this is not the case? The same applies to the daughter’s new complaint. Under this premise, one must actually assume that the ladies seriously assumed that they would finally be able to decide the lawsuits in their favor, because the “real” Paul would have to have his genetic material tested. Consequently, the DNA sample of McCartney from the 1980s, which did not match the DNA of the offspring in dispute, was actually “fake”, i.e. did at least not come from the Paul with whom the Hamburg woman had been intimate between 1959 and 1962, or it is not the same person. Or the plaintiff was not in full possession of her faculties when she went to the public prosecutor’s office.
It would also be interesting to know what Paul McCartney’s ex-wife Heather Mills was talking about live on U.S. television when she told of “truths beyond imagining” regarding her former husband. Truths that were so “shocking that the world would not bear them.” Further, Mills reported that she had filed appropriate documents and evidence with third parties to protect herself and her family from Paul and those around him. Moreover, she emphatically clarifies that these truths are not affairs or similar common rock star scandals. This, of course, arouses curiosity.
Accordingly, there are plenty of stories, if you follow the more than 60-year history of the most successful band of all time. And new books and documentaries on the subject are still being published. Most recently, for example, “Faul – The Musical” or the ominous book series “The Memoirs of Billy Shears”, written by the equally ominous author Thomas E. Uharriet, who otherwise seems to deal primarily with the subject of haiku. How he came to put himself in the role of Paul’s double years ago – or, should he exist, how he managed to get hold of his secret information – is not known. Wikipedia even has a dedicated discussion forum on the subject of “Paul is dead”. But even this could not create certainty so far.
So the doubting Beatles fan must probably continue to live with the nagging uncertainty of whether it is the real Paul McCartney who continues to tour tirelessly around the world – or whether it is perhaps Vivian Stanshell, William Campbell, Phil Ackrill of “Danny Laine and The Diplomats” or Bill Shepherd, frontman of the band “Billy Pepper & The Pepperpots” alias Billy Shears, who have been miming the Beatle since 1967. How the mentioned candidates manage or managed to continue their own lives parallel to the portrayal of the busy Beatle, the corresponding theories unfortunately leave open.
Some things, however, one might not even want to fathom in more detail – but, as in the present case, for once simply be satisfied with the shimmering illusion, the end result, the art. For the timeless quality of the music suffers to this day in no way from the potentially dark stains in the band’s history or supposed manipulations from the deep-state background.
“Life is what happens while you are planning” (John Winston Lennon).
In any case, after the breakup of the Beatles, it was Paul McCartney who was the first former band member to release his eponymous solo album. He had already worked on it during the recordings of “Abbey Road”, which caused additional upsets in the band structure at the time. John had also worked with his wife Yoko Ono in 1968 and 1969 on new music and thus began, as it were, to distance himself from his band, but brought only after the last Beatles album and McCartney the first solo disc on the market. Title of the record: “John Lennon/Plastik Ono Band”, hailed by many critics as the most honest rock record of all time.
After years of tour stress, Beatlemania and various bad experiences with the dark side of the music industry, Lennon was no longer interested in staged publicity, image design, dates and marketing. He was searching for himself, the meaning of life and the truth.
For the introverted and melancholic free spirit had soon after reaching world star status recognized the true character of the feudal system based on greed, which sought to instrumentalize him commercially and ideologically as a product, as a rock star, youth idol and peace activist – and later to eliminate him.
Thus, John’s solo debut already features the grandiose title “Working Class Hero” – probably the best political song – or song lyric – of all time. At least from the author’s point of view. There are several reasons for this resolute statement: For one thing, the piece is musically very simple and therefore quick to learn even for guitar novices. The chord progression consists primarily of A minor as well as G major and only changes to D major for one line of the chorus. This gives the song a better chance to spread quickly. In addition, the vocals are also not very complex and invite you to sing along. After a few runs, one is able to repeat the lines by heart. Even without musical accompaniment. On the other hand – and much more important – the text is universally interpretable. For every person in this world.
In other words: everyone who lives in a society shaped by capitalism will find himself in “Working Class Hero” in his own individual way. And this not only in a single line, in the one outstanding metaphor or a catchphrase that stands for itself – but in the entire text, which traces the life of a working class person in the neo-feudalistic-corrupt system of our time in an exemplary way that is open to interpretation. From birth to career peak. Each line immediately creates an image in the mind, evoking childhood memories. This is what makes the verses written by John Lennon in late 1970 so powerful, the emotions triggered by the piece so overwhelming.
“You don’t need anybody to tell you who or what you are. You are what you are!” (John Winston Lennon)
Automatically the receiver projects his own life path, subjective experiences, personal memories and forgotten feelings into the lyrics recited by the ex-Beatle in a calm voice. John Lennon takes the listener on a journey through his own past. Meaning that of the teenager from Liverpool, who grew up with his aunt – and that of the listener equally. He exposes the school system as indoctrination. Then the world of work as modern serfdom. And distills this information into a handful of syllables. That is high art. Writing complex, heady texts is comparatively simple. Behind the simplicity, memorability and universal adaptability of a song, beyond one’s own life reality, one’s own cultural sphere and one’s own era, lies the path to the masterpiece.
The amazing to depressing thing about “Working Class Hero”: The text has not lost one iota of its topicality to this day. More than half a century after the title was taken up, Homo consumens is still a slave to his fears.
And on top of that, more than ever, he is the plaything of system-inherent incapacitation and dehumanization, of processes of expropriation, ideological power struggles and imposed military-industrial hegemonic interests. These fascistoid tendencies – following almost linearly George Orwell’s dystopia “1984” – were obviously already clearly foreseeable for Lennon in the 1970s, as various interviews with the musician and peace activist from that time attest. Even then, the politicized Beatle criticized the perfidious geopolitical castles of the dominant power blocs USA, Russia and China. Furthermore, it was absolutely clear to the Liverpool native that the monopoly of violence of the mafia-like system of the state could not be overcome by force. That resistance and revolution only have a chance if the protest breaks through peacefully.
“If it comes to using violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you (…) to make you fight. Because once they make you violent, then they know how to deal with you. The only thing they can’t handle is nonviolence and humor” (John Winston Lennon).
Thus, for his campaigns, he relied on slogans like “Give Peace a Chance” or “War Is Over If You Want It,” on crowd-pleasing “Bed-ins for Peace” with Yoko, on artistic freedom and humor – especially in dealing with the dark forces of the Deep State, which, for their part, did everything in their power to expel Lennon as quickly as possible from the United States, which he chose as his adopted home after the breakup of his first band. “Working Class Hero” caused headaches in the U.S. establishment right at the beginning of Lennon’s stay in America in 1971, even though the song had been released a year earlier. Senators and officials complained about the song’s fecal language and subversive, anti-state tone. Radio stations played it anyway, with a few exceptions that went along with the state’s call for a boycott.
Just four months after “Working Class Hero,” in March 1971, John’s single “Power to the People” was released. Closely followed by his best-known peace anthem – “Imagine” – in October 1971, the direction of the march was clear. And the ex-Beatle was out of favor with the U.S. establishment. The American authorities left no stone unturned to torpedo the British musician’s application for naturalization. Meanwhile, “Imagine” became the most successful song of his solo career. More than 200 artists have reinterpreted it to date. The title is among the 100 most played songs of all time and was ranked 30th in the list of songs of the century by the “Recording Industry Association of America” (RIAA). John Lennon’s message was unstoppable.
“Ideas don’t need weapons if they can convince the great masses” (Fidel Castro).
After the release of his big hit single, John Lennon had only nine years to live. The first half of it he drank a lot, took drugs and didn’t really know what to do with himself. From 1975 to 1980, he primarily took care of his son Sean, the only child with Yoko. Asked what he had been doing since the mid-1970s, he replied in an interview, “Baking bread and looking after the baby.” And just when he had begun working on new songs, inspired by a stormy sailing trip to Bermuda, his story was to come to its abrupt as well as dramatic end. Presumably, his mass-mobilizing pacifism and vocal criticism of the Vietnam War ultimately doomed him. On December 8, 1980, at about eleven o’clock at night, the then 40-year-old Lennon was shot dead in front of the entrance to New York’s Dakota Building. By Mark David Chapman, a confused lone perpetrator, according to the official account.
After Lennon’s cremation, Yoko Ono scattered his ashes in nearby Central Park. Nowadays, the Imagine Memorial, which is always littered with flowers, letters and devotional objects, is located at the site in question. His murderer, on the other hand, is alive. And periodically applies for release from prison. In 2020, his eleventh parole application was denied. The next hearing will take place in August 2022. Presumably with a similar outcome. Because Yoko Ono appeals the request every two years.
The prevailing opinion on Chapman’s motive for the crime was and is that he shot to become famous – as a celebrity killer. However, this argument does not really hold water in light of Chapman’s confession. After all, if he had sought publicity, he would have followed his lawyer’s advice and gone to what would probably be a worldwide sensational criminal trial. Prime-time TV coverage included. However, due to his immediate guilty plea, no show trial took place. Chapman went directly to prison. He also generally held back on interviews and other options to get attention.
During a TV interview with Larry King in 1992, twelve years after the murder, Chapman tried to describe his motives, to narrow down the trigger for the crime. Logically, his explanations did not appear. The reasons for his actions remained vague. It appeared that he himself was still searching for answers. Or not telling the whole story – perhaps not being able to tell it. And he doesn’t even have to lie about it, as research by U.S. author Phil Strongman on the Mark David Chapman case reveals.
In his book “John Lennon: Life, Times and Assassination,” published in 2010, he examines the obvious inconsistencies regarding the course of events, the nebulous past of the suspected lone perpetrator, his motives and, above all, the striking negligence of the U.S. authorities during the investigation of the assassination. Strongman brings into focus precisely those questions that the FBI should have asked had the U.S. actually been interested in solving the violent crime, but studiously avoided raising.
For example: Who is Chapman, the “nobody,” as he calls himself, from a Georgia hick town? Why is he commonly portrayed as a Lennon and Beatles fanatic? Not a single phonograph record, book, newspaper clipping or other Beatles-related material was found in his apartment. What motivated Chapman to fly from his Hawaii home to New York on the days leading up to the murder – and what was he doing during the misappropriated unnecessary layover at the Chicago airport? Why was Chapman living in Hawaii in the first place, near a CIA training camp? What exactly was he doing at his employer, World Vision International, an organization founded in 1950 and rumored to be one of countless CIA shadow companies? Why was Chapman in Beirut, a CIA stronghold during the Cold War?
Why were all the bullet holes on the left side of John Lennon’s body if Mark David Chapman was standing behind him on the right when he fired? How was he able to aim so accurately that the medical examiners had trouble removing the bullets, which were almost on top of each other, during the autopsy? According to the court’s opinion, this was a ballistic masterpiece – and highly improbable for non-professionals, especially since it was fired from the wrong angle. Why were experts excluded from the investigation who assumed that there were several shooters? Why did no one take a closer look at the Dakota Building security guard on duty at the time of the crime – José Sanjenís Perdomo – even though he had demonstrably worked for American intelligence as a professional killer and hired on as a mercenary for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba? Why was Perdomo able to calmly walk up to Chapman after the shooting of Lennon and take the loaded gun out of his hand – completely unopposed by the shooter? Wouldn’t the natural reaction in such a moment of shock be to take cover himself in the guardhouse at the entrance to the Dakota Building or to return fire on Chapman? For what reason was Perdomo not afraid that Chapman would point the gun at him and pull the trigger? Was it because Perdomo and Chapman had been loitering alone outside the Dakota’s entrance all evening, talking about the Bay of Pigs or the assassination of John F. Kennedy, until Lennon showed up at just before 11:00 p.m.?
“Jose Perdomo told police Chapman was Lennon’s killer. One of the arresting officers, Peter Cullen, did not believe Chapman had shot Lennon. Cullen believed the shooter was a handyman in the Dakota, but Perdomo convinced Cullen it was Chapman” (Latin News Agency, December 8, 2018).
Beyond that, the imperative of criminal detective 101 always applies: follow the money! So how did Chapman, who never had a steady job, a good income, or anything like a career, finance himself? Where did the man with odd jobs get the money for his above-average lifestyle? Who paid for the six-week round-the-world trip Chapman took in 1978 – and what did he do in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, New Delhi, Geneva, London, Paris and Dublin?
Perhaps the most important question: why did Chapman stand around paralyzed at the scene after Lennon was shot? As if he had just awakened from a dream? Passers-by and patrol police describe his behavior as that of a will-less zombie. Disoriented and confused – by himself and his surroundings. Where was his flight reflex? Why wasn’t he running away? And why wasn’t Chapman drug tested?
Why ignore the fact that Chapman speaks of voices in his head vehemently telling him to “do it” before the shooting?
That he himself describes remembering the moment of the crime as if it were “two different movies” – one in the minutes before firing the gun that made him nervous, agitated, emotionally corrupted, and one after pulling the trigger that he describes as calm, empty, senseless, and paralyzing? Chapman went on record to say that in the minutes after the act, he felt as if he had been jolted out of a deep sleep, out of a dream.
All of these questions were not resolved during the official investigation. Corresponding FBI files remain under lock and key to this day. Top Secret. National security and all that. We know this from the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In view of the above facts, however, it does not take much imagination to picture what actually happened in New York on December 8, 1980. Especially if one has dealt with the disturbing MKULTRA, MKNAOMI, MKOFTEN, MKCHICKWIT, CHATTER or ARTICHOKE programs of the US secret services.
The goal of these despicable human experiments: manipulation of consciousness. The creation of subconsciously acting killers, who can be activated from the normal state by trigger signal and be moved to the act. The methods: LSD, electric shocks, psycho-torture, sleep deprivation, verbal and physical violence. Anyone who assumes that such ideas are merely suitable as material for a nice spy flick is mistaken. A declassified CIA report from 1975, for example, states:
“If hypnosis was successful, assassins could be created to assassinate a prominent (…) politician or, if necessary, an American official.”
Stephen Kinzer, who has long studied the CIA’s secret projects, wrote in his book “Poisoner in Chief,” published in September 2019:
“In the early 1950s, the CIA established secret detention centers in areas under American control in Europe and East Asia. Mainly in Japan, Germany, and the Philippines. (…) The CIA captured individuals suspected of being enemy agents. And other persons it deemed expendable to carry out various kinds of torture and human experimentation on them. The prisoners were interrogated while being administered psychoactive drugs, given electric shocks, subjected to extreme temperatures. They were subjected to sensory isolation and the like in order to develop a better understanding of how to destroy and control the human mind.”
David McGowan, in his work “Programmed to Kill” (2004), also uses numerous original sources to describe how U.S. intelligence agencies breed sleepers. So anyone who still believes in the fairy tale that the state is one’s friend might want to reconsider that position now. For the list of unethical human experiments is long. Many of them have been astonishingly successful, if you want to call it that. But at the top of the food chain, there are no scruples. There you learn to smile when you kill.
This is exactly what John Lennon describes with his last line in “Working Class Hero”: “First you must learn how to smile as you kill”. So Mark David Chapman may have been a Manchurian Candidate or just the useful idiot. Or both.
In any case, the circumstantial evidence gives every reason to believe that it is the US government that has the Beatles founder on its conscience. Because it could not get him out of the country by legal means and became visibly afraid of his ability to turn the masses against the ruling system. Peacefully, but firmly. With love, humor and creativity.
Fortunately, his death did not silence him. The opposite is the case. Because John Winston Lennon became more immortal through the assassination than he already was as a member of the most successful band of all times. Not a martyr – but a working class hero whose ideas and ideals will endure the ages. Imagine Peace.
Working Class Hero (John Lennon, 1971)
As soon as you’re born they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of it all,
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all.
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school,
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool,
Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules.
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can’t really function, you’re so full of fear.
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free,
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
There’s room at the top they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill.
A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.
If you want to be a hero well just follow me,
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
German translation (Tom Regenauer)
As soon as you are born, they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of all the time in the world,
Until the pain is so great that you feel nothing at all.
A working class hero is something worth being.
A working class hero is something worth being.
They hurt you at home and beat you at school,
They hate you if you’re smart, and despise a fool,
Until you’re so fucking crazy you can’t even follow their rules.
A working class hero is something worth being.
A working class hero is something worth being.
When they have tortured and frightened you for close to twenty years,
Then they expect you to choose a career path,
Even though you can’t function at all, you’re so full of fear.
A working class hero is something worth being.
A working class hero is something worth being.
They keep you numb with religion and sex and TV,
and you think you’re fucking smart and classless and free,
When in fact you’re still fucking serfs, as far as I can see.
A working class hero is something worth being.
A working class hero is something worth being.
There’s room at the top, they still tell you that,
But first you have to learn to smile while you kill,
If you want to be like the people on Capitol Hill.
A working class hero is something worth being.
A working class hero is something worth being.
If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me.
If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me.
John Lennon, “Working class hero”
Tom-Oliver Regenauer was born in 1978. After completing a business education, he worked in various industries and roles, including as an operations manager, corporate and management consultant, and international project manager with assignments in more than 20 countries. Since the mid-1990s, he has also been active as a music producer and lyricist and runs an independent record label. The German-born author has lived in Switzerland since 2009. His most recent publication was “The Elephant in the Room: The Second Year ‘New Normal’ Independently Commented.” For more information, visit regenauer.press.
Now is the time for reappraisal!
The new totalitarianism was established by numerous people in charge who must be held accountable – that’s what Marcus Klöckner and Jens Wernicke do in the new Rubikon book “May the entire republic point the finger”.
08.10.2022 by Tom-Oliver Regenauer
Colonial knowledge was imposed by force. The West has set our planet on fire. To extinguish it, we need all archives of knowledge with their different references to the world. We cannot do it any other way. Therefore, it is urgent to initiate a paradigmatic change in education, not only in Germany, to correct this deplorable state of affairs.
“We need an Enlightenment 2.0”
Interview with educator Louis Henri Seukwa on colonial knowledge, the wilderness of European humanism, and postcolonial approaches to pedagogy
by Louis Henri Seukwa and Stephan Kosch
[This 2022 interview is translated from the German on the Internet, „Wir brauchen eine Aufklärung 2.0“ | Gespräch mit dem Erziehungswissenschaftler Louis Henri Seukwa über koloniales Wissen, die Wildnis des europäischen Humanismus und postkoloniale Ansätze in der Pädagogik.]
Lawsuits delay its renaming: the street named after colonial merchant Adolf Lüderitz (1834-1886) in the Berlin district of Wedding
Zeitzeichen: Professor Seukwa, you research postcolonial approaches in educational science. What “colonial” structures need to be overcome in pedagogy?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: I like the fact that you talk about postcolonial approaches, that is, in the plural. Because postcolonial thinking combines several approaches in a fragmentary way and does not represent a unified, self-contained body of theory. It therefore incorporates the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles as well as the heritage of non-Western, but also Western philosophies. Despite this fragmentation, it is possible to identify certain modes of argumentation that are specific to this school of thought and whose contribution to an alternative reading of our modernity is significant.
Can you be more specific about this?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: I will start with a critique of the – I would say colonial – conception of reason, humanism, and universalism that has produced an unprecedented blindness and cruelty. How, for example, can we reconcile with ease this positively invested belief in the human as a universal category with sacrificing the lives and labor of the colonized, as well as their world of meaning? Postcolonial critique consequently exposes the distorted representations of reality without which colonialism would have failed as a historical power and hegemonic configuration. This helps explain how what was declared as European humanism appeared in the colonies in the form of the duplicity and disguise of reality as procedures of ‘racialization’ of the colonized. For postcolonial thought, race is in fact the wilderness of European humanism, its beast. Postcolonial thought seeks to dismantle the skeleton of this beast and to trace its dwelling places, privileged at the expense of others.
So what does this mean for pedagogy?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: This can be illustrated by a simple example. In an international research project completed in November 2021, which focused on the empirical study of cultural heritage and identities in the Europe of the future, we also analyzed classroom content. What you called “colonial” structures still have an impact. For example, in the subject of history, the history of German minorities is kept silent. Non-whites and people of non-Christian religion have contributed just as much to the development of Germany; however, they do not appear in history lessons! This is also true for the German colonial history, which is either completely concealed or only told from the perspective of the colonizers. This German history of violence is glossed over by a limited perspective and the continuity of the colonial belief in superiority to the murderous dehumanization as also during National Socialism is hidden. Thus, the ideology of superiority is continuously and subtly transmitted in school lessons. This is also the case in the subject of geography, where Western societies are portrayed as developed, superior and helpful, while so-called “emerging countries” are portrayed as backward and in need of help. Thus, a pejorative image of people from these countries is reproduced through educational content and knowledge based on a colonial self-image, which is necessarily racist, is solidified.
How can postcolonial approaches change that?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: A postcolonial view of pedagogy-especially (high) school pedagogy-understood as a practice of producing and transmitting knowledge makes it possible to perceive a globalization of Western knowledge and techniques of knowledge production. This is what I call, following the historian and political scientist Achilles Mbembe, “colonial knowledge.” By this he understands the totality of techniques and sciences, myths and knowledge, which since the 15th century have made it possible to destroy the conditions for the renewal of life on earth.
A serious accusation. What do you base it on?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: The essential feature of this construction of knowledge is the degradation of the Other, the non-white European, as the antithesis of oneself. This constructed hierarchy makes it impossible to share and increase knowledge, to unite people. Even with regard to the treatment of nature, it would have been important to share very different sources of knowledge. Instead, colonial knowledge was imposed by force. The West has set our planet on fire. To extinguish it, we need all archives of knowledge with their different references to the world. We cannot do it any other way. Therefore, it is urgent to initiate a paradigmatic change in education, not only in Germany, to correct this deplorable state of affairs.
How do you characterize “colonial knowledge”?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: Colonial knowledge is a narcissistic development narrative. On a constructed ladder of human development, it places the West at the top and assumes that everyone else must pass through the same stages of development. It is self-referential: although the scientists, “explorers,” artists, and missionaries from the West have scoured the world, the knowledge produced in the process is always only their own, because they have constantly compared others to themselves in order to consider their own development. That is the problem.
But isn’t it normal to compare oneself with others, especially when the other is foreign? What is the problem?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: In the colonial context, comparison always led and still leads to hierarchization and the self-construction of the West as superior. If you ask yourself why racism is so constitutive of Western societies, you can find the answer in this structure of knowledge production and its transmission. In German education, racism is structurally reproduced, because the others become a marginal part of Western knowledge, an epiphenomenon. They are involved as objects, as consumers of this knowledge, but not as producers. Their knowledge is not present, it is de-thematized. You can see this in textbooks and curricula. Indeed, you do not find this knowledge there. So the view of history is falsified by the Western superiority narrative and historical facts are suppressed.
Do you have an example?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: A person educated in Europe seriously believes in what was called ‘Greek miracle’ in the age of so-called Enlightenment. That is, that the new quality of ancient thought is a sign that God has given reason to the people of Europe and therefore they also have the right and the mission of mission. But with this one falsifies 5000 years of scientific history in the Mediterranean area. The theorems of Pythagoras and Thales, for example, had been around for a long time. The scholars in ancient Greece themselves never made a secret of the fact that they spent educational stays in ancient Egypt, which, by the way – as we now know after considerable struggles for the restoration of historical truth – was populated by black people through and through. For this, one has only to read some of the writings of ancient Greece. But because Hegel constructed a Greek miracle, we believe in a kind of divine moment and the superiority of white Europeans over the rest of the world.
To what extent does this colonial knowledge determine the identity formation of people of color in Germany?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: Identities are relational, they develop in relationships. I need the other to recognize me. If this happens in an environment where racialized people are seen as successors to less developed “quasi-humans,” whose history is distorted or not told at all, this also leads to a distorted self-perception. The postcolonial perspective now allows people of color to become aware of and correct this distortion. After all, our identities are hybrid and complex. We are, after all, much more than our skin color or gender.
A very concrete field of work for pedagogy is the school. You have long called for textbooks and curricula to be revised so that “colonialism, neocolonialism, and postcolonialism are adequately represented as structuring moments in the current world order.” You are still waiting for a corresponding decision by the ministers of education, aren’t you?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: Yes, there are many a declaration of intent and here and there a commissioner for the topic, but the problem has not yet been tackled at the root. Schools and their curricula are, after all, a reflection of society. Current research shows that textbooks and curricula still contain far too little discussion of racialized others – and not just in the subjects of history or social science. No mathematics textbook points out that the statement about semicircles and triangles formulated in Thales’ theorem was already known and used in Egypt and Babylonia. Something like this produces again and again the image of the superior European and the inferior African who must be helped to develop.
And you contradict this image.
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: How could I not! In 1974, at a conference organized by UNESCO in Cairo, the scholar and most famous African Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop scientifically proved linguistically, archaeologically, historically, and with the help of C 14 dating techniques et cetera, that the ancient Egyptians were black Africans who had created a civilization that also influenced ancient Greece. The Egyptologists present had to concede that all the civilizing elements that made up their own culture had been lived in Africa thousands of years ago. What is and was very difficult to accept for Europe, respectively the construct called the West, is the fact that they owe all the civilizing foundations of their modernity to this Africa, which they so exploited, humiliated, dehumanized and constructed as a radical antithesis to themselves. This fact is one of the most important foundations of the epistemicides, the destruction of knowledge, that the Eurocentric racist worldview has made possible.
But isn’t the accusation of deliberate falsification of history too far-fetched? Is it not also a problem of source material? Here the written evidence, there oral traditions?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: That Africa had no written culture is also such a narrative that falsifies history. Ethnographic as well as linguistic research confirms this in different parts of Africa that were considered authentically African. Thus, symbolic systems, including graphic systems have been found in different regions. Contemporary West African spellings, for example, are found in several geographic zones. The period of oral culture was the period of brutal oppression through enslavement and colonization. For writing can be dangerous when living under colonial occupation. Orality in such a context is an instrument of transgressive resistance. It is part of the system of domination that knowledge that is not allowed to be is not given discursive space. A decolonization of knowledge makes it necessary for the West to decenter, to remake itself, and to enable the formation of new knowledge, which is literally fed by the world archives.
Which brings us to the concept of education, which you question. You’ve done research on the competencies of young refugees. What were the results? And to what extent is this a postcolonial issue?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: I’ll start with the second question. It was about the competencies of refugee*migrants from Africa in Hamburg. To associate people from Africa with competencies at all is already a challenge for representatives of colonial thinking. In addition, I try to assume a countermovement when it comes to the causes of flight. Causes of flight are usually shifted to the countries of origin. This perspective ignores the fact that the causes of wars, economic poverty and political crises are global and that the West is often implicated in them. Therefore, migration policy is not about a humanitarian or charitable gesture by the West, but about the West assuming its political responsibility.
And the competencies?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: What competencies are for an education system depends on the recognition and acknowledgement, i.e. the utilization in the educational institutions here, of the competencies of refugee* migrants often acquired in the informal or non-formal sector of their countries of origin. So far, so banal. But the exciting question is: How do the refugees manage to cope so well under the difficult conditions in Germany with all the structures that deprive them of freedom and with the experiences they have had on the run? Their competence is the ability to defy the adversities of life, to pull themselves out of the mud by their own bootstraps and to play with the rules of the system they cannot escape. I have called this “the habitus of the art of survival.”
But what specifically follows from this different perspective on refugees?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: Apart from the question of how we can use these competencies in our education system, a recommendation for action: We should transform these structures characterized by foreign determination into enabling structures, so that people do not have to be resilient, but find structures that enable them to live well even without “the habitus of the art of survival.”
You became known in church circles because you were very critical of colonial remembrance culture in Hamburg’s Michel. Did your intervention have an effect?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: I first spoke out critically in 2002 in a speech to the church council about, among other things, the memorial plaque commemorating the German soldiers who were killed in the extermination of the Herero and Nama. At that time, the topic was not so present. Activists picked up on that. In 2013, there was a big discussion in the church and different proposals on how to deal with this culture of remembrance. The debate is still going on, and I am still being interviewed. So the intervention had an effect.
How would you like to deal with such historical evidence of the colonial era?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: They are and remain a challenge in the literal sense. While they pose a problem, they hold the potential to positively shape a postcolonial reading out of a negatively charged past. The prerequisite, however, is that historical testimonies can play a political and pedagogical role. This means that through public debate, the history that is linked to it is differentiated and viewed from different perspectives. It is not about assigning blame, but about using such places and confronting the population with the question of what colonialism actually is and what it still means for the place today. So my plea is to use these places for public education.
A good year ago, the “Network for Academic Freedom” was formed in Germany, in which more than 600 scientists are now organized. You see freedom of speech and research endangered by gender studies and postcolonial research. How do you assess that?
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: The opposite is true: networks like this endanger our freedom of research and our freedom in general. These are reactionary movements that we can also observe in France and the United States. They are waging a kind of war against a set of real or imagined enemies, i.e. liberals, leftists, Marxists, minority, immigration and queer activists, decolonial feminists, Islam et cetera. One of their privileged narratives is that the descendants of the colonized, whom we have kindly integrated into our scientific system, are trying to destroy us instead of being grateful. I evaluate such movements as retreats of nostalgic:ins of a Eurocentric, culturally, religiously, and identitarian monolithic society. Postcolonial thinking, on the other hand, is a thinking of entanglement and concatenation. It emphatically points out that identity emerges in diversity, in relations and dispersion; that reference to oneself is only possible in co-constitution, that is, with others. Therefore, postcolonial perspectives bet on a future that will realize the emergence of a universal and fraternal community. However, this has as a prerequisite the abolition of the colonial figures of inhumanity and racial difference. The values that the West proclaims as universal are in fact universalized in postcolonial approaches as a principle for all people. Whether the members of this strange network want the same, however, I dare to doubt.
The worry is that it is not about complementing but destroying the principles of the Enlightenment….
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: Thank you for this question, postcolonial thinking differs from Eurocentrist racist thinking precisely in that the Other is precisely not destroyed, but in principle a co-constitution with others is sought. Therefore, it is first of all about the critique of a very specific conception of reason, humanism and universalism. The critique exposes the violence inherent in this form of reason. And the postcolonial reading addresses the gap that separates European ethical thought from its practical political choices under colonial conditions. So the gap between the order of discourses and the order of practices.
Now they have to explain that again.
LOUIS HENRI SEUKWA: Take the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. From a postcolonial perspective, the timing is problematic. It was the barbarities of the Second World War, which Europeans suffered, that made them declare that human dignity is inviolable. But genocides by Europeans against other non-European peoples existed before that war, and colonialism was still in full swing at that time. The victorious powers received African countries as spoils of war. From this you can see that when colonial knowledge talks about man, it talks only about itself. And postcolonial theory now demands: take your ideals and ethical principles seriously and apply them to all people. So it is not about the destruction of these principles, but about their universality. We need an Enlightenment 2.0, if we want to use the term at all.
The conversation was conducted by Stephan Kosch on May 19 via zoom.
Dr. Louis Henri Seukwa is Professor of Education at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamurg.
Stephan Kosch is editor of “zeitzeichen” and closely follows all topics of sustainable business.
Diversity as a gain for all
Interview with Wuppertal New Testament scholar Claudia Janssen on feminist theology, what has been achieved, and the future of gender-just theology
by Claudia Janssen, Kathrin Jütte and Reinhard Mawick
[This interview published in June 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Vielfalt als Gewinn für alle | Gespräch mit der Wuppertaler Neutestamentlerin Claudia Janssen über feministische Theologie, das Erreichte und die Zukunft einer geschlechtergerechten Theologie.]
Vielfalt als Gewinn für alle | Gespräch mit der Wuppertaler Neutestament…
zeitzeichen: Frau Professorin Janssen, feministische Theologie
Deconstructing the Divine. Roland Peter Litzenburger: King of the Jews (1973) from the cycle Christ the Fool.
Photo: Viktoria Litzenburger-Schreijäck
Deconstruction of the Divine. Roland Peter Litzenburger: King of the Jews (1973) from the cycle Christ the Fool.
TIME SIGN: Professor Janssen, doing feminist theology is a very personal and political activity, which is how many theologians formulate their definition of feminist theology. What is yours?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: For me, feminist theology is not a special theology, but the central approach to theology. That’s where my heart beats. And for theology to become capable of speaking again in social questions, for people who learn to do this theology to become capable of speaking theologically in the processes of social transformation. So that they can actively participate in these questions and look at them from a theological perspective, asking themselves self-critically what social developments mean for theology. Socially, politically, theologically, that belongs together for me and constitutes the core of feminist theology.
Asked personally, how did you come to feminist theology?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: In my home country we had a political community work with Easter marches and peace work. And our pastor gave me a book by Dorothee Sölle and Fulbert Steffensky when I was a teenager. I devoured their books. At my first church congress in Hanover in 1983, when I was 16 years old, the focus was on the social issues of disarmament and the NATO double decision. The Bible studies by Luise Schottroff and Dorothee Sölle provided the impetus to go into theology. To be socially articulate and politically engaged, to have a great piety, that characterized Dorothee Sölle and also Luise Schottroff. This connection appealed to me from the beginning, and it still carries me through theology.
Those church congress appearances in the 1980s were very moving. How and when did feminist theology emerge in the first place?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: About fifty years ago. Important impulses came from the USA, the theologian Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel translated these texts. And they are rooted in the social women’s movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. It was never about founding a special theology for women, but about a paradigm shift, that is, to change theology in order to be able to help shape and transform social processes, always with the question of gender justice. I have understood feminist theology from the beginning as a justice movement. Justice not only for women, but in the relationship between women and men, also with a broad view of issues of racism and ecology. Important debates from the 1980s-1990s have advanced feminist theology, such as the question of Christian anti-Judaism. The fact that these questions are so widely discussed in theology today is also a merit of feminist theology.
How do the drafts of feminist theology of the past decades differ from those of today? Or would you say that it is rather a further development?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: I see it as a further development in continuity. Whether we are dealing with a clash between feminist theories and gender studies is being discussed in the disciplines. In sociology or in the social sciences, I see much greater conflicts. When I look at the feminist discussion in the present, I see a great continuity with the feminist theology of the 1980s and 1990s, with a natural acceptance of gender studies. There is a critically constructive dialogue. If I formulate what feminist theology is today, it would mean an approach to this multidisciplinary field of gender studies. Looking at social positions with a political commitment to feminism.
Is there even a need for a specifically feminist theology today? When one actually has the betterment and liberation of all people in mind?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: In a good world, there would be no need for it. But the MeToo debate, for example, shows that these questions are not outdated. Verbally, we may be much further along, but the power structures have changed little, especially globally. What makes feminist theology work is that it never just has this small fixed view of our Western well-off world, but a global one.
What do you think feminist theology has achieved so far?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: It has initiated important debates. In terms of science theory, it is a contextual theology. Embedding this diversity of approaches in social issues has changed theology. The Protestant churches have recognized that in the training of their pastors, gender competence is fundamental for the pastorate. This is anchored in the examination regulations, my chair here in Wuppertal is called “New Testament and Theological Gender Studies,” and at the beginning of the year we opened an institute for feminist theology, theological gender studies and social diversity. Compulsory courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels are part of the curriculum. At the Kirchliche Hochschule Augustana in Neuendettelsau, the professorship for feminist theology and gender studies has just been reoccupied.
In your opinion, what makes more sense for the institutionalization of the subject? To link it to a classical theological discipline, as in Wuppertal, or to have a separate chair, as in Neuendettelsau?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: The discussions are already old. The vision is to implement gender issues as a cross-cutting dimension of thinking, acting and theological research, especially in language. This should also be anchored institutionally. But in the meantime, in fact, only the two ecclesiastical universities with their chairs are left. In the cutbacks, this subject is the first to fall away. I offer an introduction to theological gender studies and teach basic concepts in feminist theology, critical masculinity studies and queer theory. We “translate” theories from the social sciences into theology. The goal of the summer term is to introduce a gender certificate. This requires participation in a lecture course, two or three other courses, and a practicum project. It’s important for Theological Gender Studies to set itself up as its own subject because the theoretical framework has become so large, because gender issues have become a paradigm guiding research academically. But to really be able to study it, students need a similar knowledge to exegetical methods, for example. They need to learn new vocabulary like essentialism, deconstructionism, or intersectionality. And they also need to reflect theoretically on these terms before they can integrate them into their theological thinking. From that point of view, it would be good to have a dedicated chair. The combination with the New Testament, however, makes it possible to show in an exemplary way what profit, what diversity opens up when gender issues are centrally understood as a cross-sectional dimension of a subject.
You have described feminist theology as action-oriented and also activist. Practically an active shaping of socio-political reality. Is that the reason for the often voiced reproach that it is not scientifically-theologically connectable?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: If it were exhausted on this level, yes. But that is the starting point and the basic principle of contextual theologies. To work on social processes theologically as well, to become capable of conversation in order to be able to influence social debates again, this process is an important one, and of course it shakes up self-evident things, professorial ponderousness. If you look at the tone from the time when Dorothee Sölle was to be given an unpaid teaching position in Mainz – it is unbelievable with what blatant misogyny it was acted. Mean-spiritedness and administrative tricks were used, and feminist theology was accused of being emotional and polemical. In the 1990s, the battles were still being fought openly; now they are more subtle. For example, over third-party funding applications and over publications. The battles are still there, and arriving at scientific discourse also means penetrating the citation cartels, getting publications published, providing reviewers.
So there are still reservations about feminist theology?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: What is outstanding is indeed that gender issues are understood as a cross-cutting issue or dimension for any theological or social action. That’s why my professorship in particular is so important; it integrates these issues. I am a New Testament scholar, and the gender question is a central theme in the biblical texts and precisely not just brought in as a new hermeneutical approach from today. But there is a lot of resistance to it; although the approach is no longer declared heretical or devalued, it is not an integral part of theological research either. At least not in the German-speaking world. In Scandinavian countries or in parts of US theology it is more self-evident.
Where are the similarities and differences, in terms of Germany, with your Catholic colleagues?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: I look primarily from the perspective of exegesis; there is hardly any difference among the researchers. The denomination becomes relevant in view of the understanding of ministry. When I look back a hundred years on the development in Protestant theology, I see that the ordination of women fundamentally changes the church and theology. Also in terms of anthropology. There is a great solidarity with the Catholic militants:inside, like Mary 2.0. It drags like chewing gum to have to repeat the biblical arguments over and over again. That women were disciples and in leadership positions, that there were women apostles. And that’s why theology as a whole is affected by the importance of exegesis.
If one has the improvement of all people in mind, must not contemporary feminist theology also be deconstructionist? Based on Galatians 3:28: ” … here is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: Yes. And when I see the more recent discourses, who is publishing in gender studies and, of course, presupposing deconstructionist theories, they are often the same author:s who have written on feminist issues. This continuity is very strong. Consider the work doing gender, doing religion, edited by Ute Eisen, Angela Standhartinger, and Christine Gerber. Perhaps this is a distinctive feature of feminist theology, that this absorption of current theories also has a very strong impact on the further development of feminist research. The British journalist Laurie Penny puts it this way: I see myself as queer, but politically I argue feminist. So as long as there is this inequality of women, it’s important to be able to put up statistics to show how many women are in the ministry and how many men. That’s where I have to be able to argue politically, that’s the only way Equal Pay Day works.
This is new to many people. Reactionary critics claim that gender justice and gender theories endanger the divine order. How do you deal with this unchanging front?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: The anti-gender argumentation quite often goes hand in hand with backward-looking ideas of family, society, especially masculinity. This criticism is not very rational, but emotional and points to a crisis of masculinity today. This means that young men must be encouraged to embrace change and to perceive the diversity of role models as enrichment. Often there is no argumentation, but a backward utopia is created from the gut. Everything should become the way it has never been. These people have no visions of a changing society or positive images of the future, but are directed against everything that is not white, not male, not heteronormative. Unfortunately, an exchange based on factual arguments very rarely works.
In recent months, the question of whether transwomen are considered women or not has come to a head, also in debates in the Bundestag. What is your opinion on this?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: I have several trans* people among the students, and I try to strengthen them theologically as well by working on bodies, gender, and deconstruction. For me, this is theologically relevant because creation is diverse and because it is divine creation. That diversity is inherent there. I always wonder why we want to know better than God what creation means. I think that is hubris. In the first creation narrative, it says “And God created them male and female.” There are ideas even in ancient times that assume that the first being is androgynous. In the second creation narrative, “Adam,” the original human being, is then divided into two parts. There is no mention of a “rib” in Hebrew; the word used here is “side.” After the separation, one side is still called Adam and the other Eve, this has led to many misunderstandings in the history of impact. There are Jewish interpretations that read it as the original being male and female.
This thinking has a distant relationship to Platonic thoughts …
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: Yes, we have had binary thinking only since the Enlightenment. The American historian of culture and science, Thomas Laqueur, who has done research on the cultural approach to sexuality, says that people in ancient medicine tended to assume a single-genderedness. According to this model, female and male sexual organs were not thought to be fundamentally different; rather, they were assumed to be analogous to each other – for example, the vagina was a penis turned inward. The gender order, what we call gender today, thus had to be culturally fixed. Masculinity was defended in this way because gender was considered changeable and vulnerable to attack. Binary thinking is a recent thinking, as is the notion of an autonomous individual. This too is a construct of the Enlightenment. With modern gender theories, we are in some ways close to ancient discourses.
In the coalition agreement of the German government, it is planned that in the future self-disclosure will be enough to give oneself a new gender identity. What do you think of this initiative?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: That is a complex question. I experience how humiliating these procedures are that people go through. In the current situation, I see that no one changes gender voluntarily or arbitrarily. Trans* people are forced to deal intensely with their own bodies, with the question of what masculinity or femininity means. I can hardly imagine what it is like to live in this tension between the outer body gender and the inner knowledge of the actual other gender. I admire those people who openly engage in the process of transition. And there are many who do not want to commit themselves at all. This possibility must also remain. The necessary process of further development is now being triggered by politics. That’s why I think it’s right to define it legally and at the same time accompany it socially with discussion processes. Until it becomes a matter of course that gender is not defined in binary terms, which has long been known in the human sciences. I think it is important that it is precisely such courageous people who step out into the open who initiate thought processes and processes of change, and it is important to support them legally and accompany them theologically.
If you were to formulate a vision for the future of gender-conscious theology, what would it be?
CLAUDIA JANSSEN: That it changes theology as a whole, with an acceptance for diversity and difference. And that it awakens an awareness that it is a gain to live in diversity and openness to one another, and yes, that it ensures that theology as a whole once again becomes socially relevant and credible, an interlocutor with other social variables.
The conversation was conducted by Kathrin Jütte and Reinhard Mawick via video conference on February 22, 2022.
Dr. Claudia Janssen has been professor of New Testament and Theological Gender Studies at the Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel since 2016. Previously, the 55-year-old worked, among other things, as a study director at the Study Center of the EKD for Gender Issues in Church and Theology and as a theological advisor to the Evangelical Women’s Work in Germany. Since 2011, she has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Marburg.
Kathrin Jütte is editor of “zeitzeichen.” Her special focus is on social-diaconal issues and literature.
Reinhard Mawick is editor-in-chief and managing director of zeitzeichen gGmbh.
“Bringing the finite back to life”
Sociologist Harald Welzer on an economic and cultural model that systematically ignores finitude, even abolishes it. And why renunciation doesn’t have to be a bad thing
by Harald Welzer, Philipp Gessler and Kathrin Jütte
[This discussion posted in January 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://zeitzeichen.net/node/9457.]
“The place is falling apart right before our eyes.” Spoil excavator in the Garzweiler 2 opencast lignite mine.
TIME SIGN: Professor Welzer, we want to talk about stopping and turning around. Your topic in your new book is stopping. When you hear the word repentance, can you do anything with it? Or do you find that repentance is a somewhat outdated term?
HARALD WELZER: No, why? But honestly, I’ve never thought about the word repentance, whether that’s old or new or whatever.
In your book, you talk about stopping and starting over. The word conversion implies both movements.
HARALD WELZER: Yes, but maybe I don’t use the word repentance because it has a certain pathos, like: Stop, turn back! That kind of thing. Besides, that would also imply that you were already at a point before that you absolutely had to go back to. Neither is my concept.
You write in your book, which is almost a wise book …
HARALD WELZER: … oh, that’s a sign of getting old, when you start writing wise books already now …
… well, anyway, you write, we have to get used to finiteness, to stopping again, also to the finiteness of the earth’s resources. Does it help to know about finiteness in order to be able to stop?
HARALD WELZER: Yes, one motive for writing this book lies in my personal experience of finiteness: I almost died after a heart attack. But I had long had the idea of writing about quitting. Because we have problems of finitude, they are problems that characterize this century.
What do you mean by that?
HARALD WELZER: We have an economic and cultural model that systematically ignores finitude, in other words, is virtually unaware of it, and has even abolished it. This leads to attempts to solve problems of finiteness with the wrong concepts. This is what I wanted to write about. And it was only through my own case of almost dying that I realized that this cultural concept of infinity has a correlate in our mentality and in our psyche. That’s why in my book I think on the three levels socially, culturally as well as individually. This is very helpful and also opens up new perspectives on bringing the category of finitude back into life.
Now you have described that it is so difficult for us to think finitude and also to stop. Why is that so difficult for us? Because we have unlearned to think in these categories? Is it really a kind of untraining over the past centuries or decades that the finite is basically repugnant to us?
HARALD WELZER: Because you take the notion of training: It’s just that. We are subject to the idea that we live in a state of limitlessness. And we also live in a training program of individual infinity. Another aspect of the notion of infinity, of course, is that you can increase everything infinitely. Every limit is to be exceeded. Everything is to be improved, optimized, increased.
This thinking extends into everyday life.
HARALD WELZER: Yes, you can see that when people strap Apple Watches around their wrists. These are training tools for not being satisfied with yourself. “You still have to walk a thousand steps, your pulse rate is bad today, you didn’t sleep really well either – but sleep better next night!”
Individuals should continually optimize themselves.
HARALD WELZER: Yes, and you find that pore-less in every segment of society, from school to self-concepts at work to the consumer goods you buy. There’s always this in there: “This has to be increased now!” This is fatal, of course, because first of all it looks past the empirically regrettable fact that life is finite, that is, after a certain moment I am no longer capable of increasing. And conversely, the same applies to the famous limits to growth.
In the past, this was also called reversal. Did people used to be more aware of the concept of finiteness?
HARALD WELZER: Yes, of course, for many reasons. Finitude as a social fact was much more present. But reversal? I have no difficulty with stopping, for example, when I’m hiking. Just turning around, whereas many people I hike with would never do that, because you have to finish the path you once started. I also don’t really have a problem with quitting in jobs and many things, even relationships.
HARALD WELZER: Quitting opens up a different space. On the other hand, when I turn back, I turn back into something that has been there before. For me, stopping is more obvious analytically and also as an opening of experiential space.
How much does stopping have to do with renunciation? This is slightly reminiscent of the polemic that the Greens only ever want to preach renunciation. And renunciation is no fun, they are fun and games killers. Do we have to give up things when we stop?
HARALD WELZER: Yes, why not? I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Incidentally, with the coalition agreement of the traffic light coalition, the Greens’ farewell to renunciation has become law. The word prosperity comes up incredibly often.
The FDP probably pushed that through.
HARALD WELZER: Yes, those are the yellow pages. I would turn the term renunciation differently: The question is, what are we renouncing under the given conditions? The moment I say renunciation, the status quo takes on something completely unquestioned. It stands there like a monument and is great. And everything I change about it is associated with renunciation.
What would be better?
HARALD WELZER: I would simply turn it around: We’re doing without an awful lot right now. When we live in the city, we forego peace and quiet, space to move around, good air, all kinds of things, because it’s structured that way by certain means of transportation. We forgo a self-designed healthy lifestyle under the conditions of increase, we forgo contemplation, encounters. I can draw up a huge list of renunciations under the conditions of the present and then say, I don’t really want to do this renunciation anymore, let’s think about how we can renounce less.
So renunciation must also be fun, if we understand you correctly?
HARALD WELZER: Then we are in a semantic contradiction, because if something is fun, we don’t need the concept of renunciation. We can also do things differently! I find that much more interesting. Or like this one elderly gentleman I quote at the end of my book with the famous sentence: “I teach refugees to repair bicycles. Why? Because I can.” And being able to do things is a great thing. In that sense, being able to change things is also a benefit. It’s not to be associated with renunciation.
It comes down to a new perspective?
HARALD WELZER: Yes, what I do is constantly try to formulate a different assertion of reality by saying: let’s talk about something else. Or let’s flip the optics.
Now, you could argue that what you’re describing is a first-world view, because we live in abundance and have experienced abundance. Now if someone from the poor south of the world says, I want to experience that abundance too – and only then am I happy to do without certain things. Wouldn’t that be understandable?
HARALD WELZER: Yes, absolutely. Whereas I think that can be a protective claim to maintain our lifestyle. I’m happy to take that from a member of an indigenous people or something, but not from somebody from the FDP. Because, of course, the intent is clear when I build the backdrop that everybody wants to live the way we do. So then, of course, I have a great legitimacy to keep doing what I’m doing.
It’s an excuse for non-change.
HARALD WELZER: I always suspect there are two groups of people who always get called out when you don’t want to change anything. One is the members of the coming societies, and the other is the Hartz IV recipients. When someone from the FDP comes around the corner with the Hartz IV recipients, I no longer believe a word he says, because at not a single point does anyone underprivileged play a role in their political agenda. They are not even taken note of. They don’t even exist, and if they do, it’s only as a cardboard cutout to say we don’t want to change anything.
Now, thinking in terms of the needs or necessities of the next generation is something that is inherent in people. Saying that I want my children and grandchildren to be well off is something very human. Has that somehow been lost to us in spite of this or in large parts of society?
HARALD WELZER: We have been talked out of it. First of all, because for decades the economy has been based on this completely insane image of homo oeconomicus. And not only has it preached this, but it has also set the world up as if we were all just utility maximizers. Consequently, in school, for example, children have also been conditioned to become individual utility maximizers, as well as later in the workplace. It is a simple story that certain ideas about the world do not remain imaginary, but also shape the world properly.
It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
HARALD WELZER: Yes, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But certain ideas about people being like this lead to the state being organized according to this idea of people. In the end, I have a collection of individuals who all believe about themselves that they are terribly individual. But from an anthropological point of view, this is not the case, because people do not exist in the singular. Plain and simple. In this respect, there is no such thing as the individual utility maximizer. But nevertheless, these self-images are very common. In a sense, it is my work to destroy these self-images.
But can such a reversal or cessation that you call for succeed at all in a global capitalist world? After all, capitalism thrives on the ever-more. That is, isn’t a demand for cessation automatically a statement against a capitalist world?
HARALD WELZER: Of course. The place is falling apart right before our eyes. We have an incredible number of symptoms of the fact that what has worked well for a while, from which a great many people, including myself, have profited for a while, is no longer sustainable. We have a poster hanging in our FuturZwei office that says, “It wasn’t all bad under capitalism.” Unfortunately, that’s true. Capitalism has many merits, but it’s also brutally destructive. The difficulty is simply to turn this successful model into something else.
For many, that may be a provocation.
HARALD WELZER: Of course it’s a provocation, but I also give talks to bankers, to savings bank directors or people who run a company and have their annual meeting with their customers. It’s interesting that there’s an openness to discuss such things there, too. We’re no longer in a concrete era, in which people always formulate such beliefs as: “Without growth, everything is nothing. We need the market after all.” But there are few competing offers. That’s a problem.
What are the material consequences for you personally of the change in mentality that you have made?
HARALD WELZER: It’s a process. For me, it’s a misconception that many convinced people have, that from time x, when the insight comes, they suddenly have to do everything differently. And then if they sin, they have a problem. I would always say it’s gymnastics or training in both directions to get used to living differently. Letting things be is not something that you can do overnight without further ado, but that requires training. In that sense, I am in a training program.
Can religions contribute to this cessation or cessation training?
HARALD WELZER: I think so. I would say it’s very helpful if you can have the conviction that the world, is not the only world there is, so if there is a transcending moment. I think that’s basically helpful and necessary. For me personally, however, religion doesn’t offer that; perhaps I’m too rationalistic for that.
The interview was conducted by Philipp Gessler and Kathrin Jütte via zoom on November 25, 2021.
Harald Welzer, born in 1958 in Bissendorf near Hanover, habilitated in social psychology in 1993 and in sociology in 2001. Among other things, he was professor of social psychology from 2001 to 2012 at the private University of Witten/Herdecke, and he is also co-founder and director of the non-profit foundation “Futurzwei. Stiftung Zukunftsfähigkeit.” Welzer has written many books, most recently the bestseller: “Obituary for Myself.”
Philipp Gessler is editor of “zeitzeichen.” One focus of his work is ecumenism.
Kathrin Jütte is editor of “zeitzeichen”. Her special focus is on social-diaconal issues and literature.