Spiral downward and No exit!
by Claus Peter Ortlieb and Herbert Bottcher
The austerity dictates imposed on the Eurozone are only exacerbating the crisis they are supposed to be fighting. In all economies under the thumb of the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank & the European Commission, the austerity measures are leading to a collapse in domestic demand.
No way out of the debt crisis
by Claus Peter Ortlieb
[This 2012 article is translated from the German on the Internet, https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=5&posnr=511&backtext1=text1.php.]
It is becoming increasingly clear that the austerity dictates imposed on the Eurozone are only exacerbating the crisis they are supposed to be fighting. In all economies under the thumb of the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, the austerity measures are leading to a collapse in domestic demand. The resulting recession, which has been triggered or exacerbated, is causing unemployment to rise, resulting in higher social spending, while at the same time gross domestic product (GDP) and tax revenues are declining. As a result, the indicators of public debt, i.e. the debt level and new borrowing as a percentage of the decreased GDP, deteriorate. This, in turn, calls the “troika” into action, which, based on its criteria, has no choice but to tighten the thumbscrews and tighten the austerity requirements, which causes domestic demand to decline further, and so on.
This spiral of austerity, recession, even greater austerity and even sharper recession is familiar from the 1930s, in Germany under the heading of “Brüning’s emergency decrees,” but also in the U.S., where President Hoover’s administration pursued a similar course. The result of that time can now be observed again in the southern European crisis countries: An unemployment rate around 25 percent, while youth unemployment is at 50 percent. There is one difference: While in the 1930s governments ruined their own economies, in the Eurozone this job is done by the German government with the result that almost only the German economy (still) grows a little, while the Eurozone as a whole shrinks economically.
Keynesianism, as is well known, emerged in the 1930s as a reaction to the Great Depression and the crisis-exacerbating economic policies of that time. Accordingly, its proponents, above all Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, are stunned by the austerity policies propagated by German politicians (see the article by JustIn Monday in KONKRET 8/12). Krugman seems to be able to explain the increasing “ideological blindness” of German politicians only by their belief “that hard times must be the necessary punishment for past excesses,” overlooking, however, that the hard times and the excesses here do not necessarily concern the same people. Economic stimulus programs are promoted as an alternative to austerity policies: “Today, governments need to spend more money, not less, and to do so until the private sector is again able to sustain the recovery.” Outside Europe, such economic policies are indeed being pursued at present, for example by the U.S. government and Federal Reserve, but also in China.
However, the matter is not quite as simple as Krugman makes it out to be: Keynesian economic policy presupposes that the private sector will at some point be able to sustain the upswing, otherwise the famous bottomless pit will open up. But this prerequisite has not been met for a long time: For more than thirty years, the global economy has been kept going only by (government and private) debt creation. Keynesianism failed in this respect as early as the 1970s, when the economic stimulus programs that are now being called for again were no longer able to trigger self-sustaining capital accumulation, but only led to double-digit inflation rates in some cases.
As is well known, it was then replaced by neoliberalism, which, contrary to its own monetarist doctrine, pursued anything but a policy of stable money supply. Rather, government debt was pushed further (for example, through the excessive arms Keynesianism of U.S. President Reagan), and the deregulation of the financial sector expanded the possibilities for credit-based money creation. At the same time, the shift of large amounts of money from mass consumption and the real economy to the financial sector caused inflation to disappear, or, to be more precise, to shift from the consumer goods to the stock and real estate markets (asset inflation), a thoroughly desirable effect: The Dow Jones Index, for example, increased by a factor of seven between 1982 and 2000, adjusted for inflation, without thus representing correspondingly higher real values. Similar phenomena occurred in real estate markets, where the price increases of houses bought on credit were used to finance the consumption of their owners until the bubbles finally burst.
The talk of “finance-driven capitalism,” which dominated discourse for a while as a “new regulatory model,” says, when seen in the light of day, only that the real economy was financed and kept going by debt. A construction not yet discussed here is that of the deficit cycle, which, in simplified terms, works like this: A extends credit to B, which B uses to buy the goods produced by A, returning the money to A, which it can then lend to B again. Such operations have driven the world economy for decades, for example with China in the role of A and the U.S. in the role of B (Pacific deficit cycle), or – after the introduction of the euro – with Germany in the role of A and the southern part of the eurozone in the role of B (European deficit cycle).
Finance-driven capitalism” must stutter or come to a complete halt as soon as creditors have a reasonable suspicion that their debtors will not be able to repay their debts. This has happened repeatedly at the local level for 30 years, and first took on global proportions with the crash of 2008 because of the length of the credit chains that had been built up in the meantime. In order to save the financial system from complete collapse, sovereigns, as seemingly infallible debtors, had to and continue to bear the costs. In addition, in the following year alone, 2009, government stimulus programs totaling approximately $3 trillion were launched worldwide. Although this prevented a depression like that of the 1930s (for exceptions, see above), it was no more able to initiate self-sustaining real accumulation than in the decades before.
The neoliberal revolution’s answer to the crisis of the 1970s was the “most gigantic credit-financed economic stimulus program ever seen,” as the conservative social scientist Meinhard Miegel notes. Those who, as true conservatives, now call for an end to the “excesses” overlook or conceal the fact, however, that it was precisely these “excesses” that kept the world economy going for more than thirty years. And those who, conversely, call for further government stimulus programs would rather not know that, while this will mitigate the effects of the crisis, it will not overcome the crisis itself, but only increase government debt until, at some point, nothing more will work.
The supposed alternative of austerity policy on the one hand or economic stimulus programs on the other is in reality a dilemma situation, a choice between plague and cholera, between saving to the bone and national bankruptcy. To be more precise, it is not even a choice, since one disease implies the other, because the state is dependent on the successful utilization of capital, for which, conversely, it has to create the conditions.
Global capitalism cannot leave behind the over-accumulation crisis that has been going on since the 1970s, because with the advent of microelectronics and its application in production, an ever smaller part of the world’s labor force is sufficient to produce for everyone. Now, the associated “end of the work society”, i.e. the disappearance of work from the production process, would not be a misfortune in itself; after all, most of us can imagine something better than a lifetime of hard labor. A problem arises from this development only because capitalism, as is well known, is based on the exploitation of labor, i.e. profits can be generated in a capitalistically serious way and in the long run only through the use of human labor. And profits are the meaning and purpose of all capitalist economic activity.
No economic policy of any kind can get to the core of the crisis. It would have to deprive itself of its own basis and abolish capitalism. Since this does not seem to be a realistic perspective, the only option left to the money subjects is to keep the negative consequences of the crisis as far away from themselves as possible and to pass them on to others. What this means in a situation in which fewer and fewer people are still usable for capital and the population of entire regions is becoming superfluous from this point of view has been demonstrated in exemplary fashion by German politics over the last ten years:
The success story with which the supposedly lost “international competitiveness” has been regained begins with the low-wage sector built up in the course of Agenda 2010 and the associated pressure on wages even in the higher echelons. In the EU, Germany is the only country where real wages fell between 2000 and 2008, i.e. where the high productivity growth was no longer passed on to wage-dependent employees, but instead wage dumping was practiced. In addition, the share of industrial production in Germany’s gross domestic product is significantly higher than in other countries and, precisely because of lower unit labor costs, this ratio is shifting more and more in favor of German industry, because the industries of many other countries, especially the southern European euro countries, which are no longer protected by their own currencies, cannot compete under these conditions. This built up the European deficit cycle already outlined above. This imbalance of trade balances in the common currency area is the problem of the euro zone, which goes beyond the general global economic crisis to the point of its still possible collapse.
German politicians will probably not let it get that far, as domestic capital has earned too much from the euro for that, but of course the “German model of success” should not be abandoned either. Instead, the entire EU is now to follow this model. This is crazy even according to the criteria of insane system logic, because the model is based on an asymmetry, namely the trade balance deficits of the southern European crisis countries as the flip side of the German trade balance surplus. It all makes sense only if the goal is to make the euro zone “internationally competitive” in competition with India and China, which would mean bringing it up to the same level, especially in terms of living and working conditions. Greece is currently demonstrating what this means.
If everyone follows those who have been successful recently, the further course of the crisis is preordained: Since success in the competition between locations means being among the few who can export their products, costs must be squeezed locally, especially those for such luxuries as caring for the sick, the elderly and other boarders who make no contribution to economic success. The struggle for competitiveness can thus only lead to a further downward spiral, which, by the way, has long been underway.
There is little consolation in the fact that even the temporary winners of this competition will hardly be able to rejoice in their victory: After all, who is going to buy the products of the ever fewer and ever smaller islands of capitalist prosperity?
Disrupting the war drive! Instead of: Onward to disaster
by Herbert Bottcher
[This 2022 article is translated from the German on the Internet, https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=20&posnr=663&backtext1=text1.php.]
First published on: http://www.oekumenisches-netz.de
Russia’s war against Ukraine is drifting towards an ever more dangerous escalation, which could lead to a nuclear world war. Instead of mindless ‘Keep it up!’ reflective interruption would be the order of the day.
The ‘Keep it up!’ feeds on illusionary delusions. It is a self-deceived illusion to believe that by supplying more and more weapons – including heavy equipment – NATO is not making itself a war party and is doing everything to prevent a nuclear escalation. In fact, however, NATO is making itself a party to the war and Ukraine the battleground of a conflict between Russia and NATO that has been escalating for years. This conflict is now being fought in a brutal war on the backs of the people of Ukraine. It is claiming more and more lives, destroying towns and villages, destroying livelihoods. Already, its deadly effects are also evident in the massive deterioration of food situations, especially in parts of Africa.
More and more new deliveries of weapons aggravate and prolong the war, in which those atrocities are committed which are deplored and accused, but which at the same time are given space by prolonging the war and threatening to lead to a nuclear catastrophe. This course of events cries out for interruption and critical self-reflection! This is all the more true because NATO, in the course of the war, repeats or increases the mistakes that contributed to it: its unrestrained expansion to the east combined with the renunciation of arms control and limitation. This perplexing ‘Keep up the good work’ is now being continued in an unchecked supply of weapons to Ukraine and in a dangerous escalation of the war.
The resistance to critical self-reflection is reflected in the full-bodied, naive, simplistic and dangerous rhetoric with which arms deliveries and rearmament are justified in the governing coalition, above all by the FDP and the Greens, fueled in the opposition by the CDU/CSU, and carried out by the SPD with an occasionally guilty conscience and with delays. It feeds on the dangerous juxtaposition of a struggle of ‘good’ against ‘evil,’ of the rational against the delusional. When it comes to war and armament, their heart for humanity and human rights, their sensitivity for ‘humanitarian catastrophes’ is discovered by those who neither show sensitivity nor waste concern in the ‘normality’ of capitalist crisis relations, when refugees drown in the Mediterranean, are handed over to dictatorships, deported to death, when hunger is produced, livelihoods are destroyed and and and…, in short: Where Western freedom and democracy show that flip side of death, destruction and terror without which they cannot be ‘had’.
The demand for interruption and critical self-reflection does not imply a justification of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, but its condemnation without ‘ifs and buts’. From this, however, no justification can be derived for the senseless actions of the NATO states. Interrupting self-reflection in the face of worsening catastrophes could reveal that in the war over Ukraine the actors confront each other in the context of the capitalist world system hitting its inner limit and disintegrating. This is where Russia’s imperial hallucinations fail, as well as those of the U.S. or NATO. The disintegrating world is also militarily no longer ‘controllable’. This is exactly what the failed military interventions of recent years signal. Instead of critical recognition of the limits and the failure, megalomania is spreading. It is an expression of the fetish relations, which are determined by the irrational end in itself, to increase money/capital for its own sake. The more this abstract end in itself runs into the void, the more intensively it releases its potential for destruction. It demands its ‘normal victims’, the ‘victim’ of more and more people in escalating crisis processes, and at the same time its ‘final victim’, insofar as the emptiness of the self-purpose can be compensated less and less and the megalomania becomes the mania of destruction. Not only ‘individuals’ run amok, but the insane system itself runs amok – executed by its senseless agents driven by the delusion of the system.
No determinism can be derived from the fetish certain delusion. It is true that within the framework of the failed capitalist relations no immanent way out of the worsening crises is possible. But this does not mean that the path to nuclear catastrophe is ‘programmed’. Interruption is possible and necessary at the same time. With the demand for interruption a word of Walter Benjamin is taken up. It stands against the course of history into catastrophe. Interruption instead of ‘Keep it up!’ could open a window of time for critical reflection and interrupt paths that could lead to a global catastrophe that once again goes far beyond what we experience in the ‘normal’ catastrophes in crisis capitalism.
No exit? – Economic collapse theories following Marx
An interview of the editorial staff of Narthex with Herbert Böttcher
[This 2022 interview is translated from the German on the Internet, https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=20&posnr=658&backtext1=text1.php.]
Published in: Narthex – Magazine for Radical Thought, pp. 20-25
While there is more talk than ever about an impending ecological or medical apocalypse, the topic of an economic apocalypse, i.e. an impending collapse of the economic system, has currently rather faded into the background. We spoke with Herbert Böttcher, economist and theologian and co-worker at EXIT!, about a possible collapse of capitalism following Marx’s crisis theory and what consequences it could have for the world. Will it also be followed by the collapse of civilization? Or, as Marx hoped, a new, better beginning?
Dear Mr. Böttcher, you are close to the magazine EXIT! which was founded by the theorist Robert Kurz, who has died in the meantime, and which tries to develop his thinking further. Kurz’s approaches – developed, among other things, in the Black Book on Capitalism1 published in 1999 – met with a great response in the 1990s, even outside radical left theory circles. He developed his own variety of a Marxist theory of collapse, which revolved around the “melting away” of the “value substance value” in the course of the “micro-industrial revolution”. Could you perhaps briefly outline the key points of this collapse theory? What distinguishes it from other Marxist theories of crisis and collapse?
The crisis theory developed by Robert Kurz understands the crises associated with capitalism as the process of a contradiction inherent in capitalism that leads to its decline. Since the 1970s, it has become apparent that with the advance of the microelectronic revolution, more labor is being replaced by technology than can be compensated for by cheapening and diversifying production and expanding markets. Thus, capitalism now also historically encounters the logical barrier that Marx had called “processual contradiction “2 . That is to say: mediated by competition, capitalist production is under the compulsion to replace labor by technology. As far as the material side is concerned, this entails an enormous increase in productivity, including a growing consumption of material and energy. But this is accompanied – as far as the value side is concerned – by a process in which labor as the substance of value dwindles. This logical contradiction is now also becoming historically more and more effective in crisis processes, which appear on different levels: in accumulation crises together with the associated state indebtedness and bubble formation on the financial markets, in global and regional location competition, politics as crisis administration without perspective, the disintegration of states, destruction of the natural foundations of life, migration and flight up to the crises of the subjects, who as ‘entrepreneurial selves’ are under a pressure to adapt to the crisis conditions, to which they are supposed to autonomously submit. Individuals banished into the subject form are forced to process the crisis in a form that increasingly loses its foundations as labor dwindles. All this fuels anti-Semitism, anti-gypsyism, racism, sexism, up to social anomie and barbarization in social relations….
The decisive difference compared to other Marxist theories of crisis is above all that Robert Kurz bases his theory of crisis not on contradictions at the level of circulation, but on the self-contradiction of capital at the basal level of the substance of labor. Labor as a real abstraction and crisis are mutually dependent. This becomes clear in the comparison with the crisis theories of Rosa Luxemburg and Hendrik Großmann. According to Luxemburg, capitalism fails because it can no longer access extra-capitalist territories. It can produce surplus value, but fails to realize it by selling it at the level of circulation. Hendrik Großmann does start from the sphere of production and a crisis of surplus value extraction. Ultimately, he espouses the idea that the revenue of capitalists becomes smaller and smaller as a result of the fall in the rate of profit, since a large part of it must flow into accumulation. Immanuel Wallerstein, who in more recent times has been treated as a Marxist crash prophet, assumes a world system and transnational processes that have emerged over 500 years and are characterized by conflict between center and periphery. This system is falling apart today. Indicators of this are austerity, speculation, capital concentration, (national) debt, mass unemployment, etc. These ‘crisis theories’ do not start from the inner connection between processive contradiction and the obsolescence of labor. This is also true for Wallerstein, for whom this remains merely a moment of his otherwise system-theoretical view.
Another characteristic of the crisis theory represented in EXIT! is that it owes itself not only to a reception of Marx that understands Marx not merely as a modernization theorist, but as a theorist of fetishism and crisis. It is at the same time – despite all criticism, especially of the reduction to exchange and circulation – ‘inspired’ by Critical Theory, which reaches out to a social totality and goes hand in hand with an identity-critical thinking that gives space to differences that are not absorbed in the concept. Therefore, Kurz’s theory cannot be reduced to a critique of value, but is constitutively connected to what Roswitha Scholz has developed as a critique of value and separation: Production with masculine connotations and reproduction with feminine connotations constitute equally originally the basic social context of capitalist totality, without one being able to be derived from the other. Thus questions of normative and symbolic content, of the social and androcentric unconscious, are given space, as becomes clear in the inclusion of the question of the role of the social-psychic matrix of the bourgeois subject and the narcissistic social character acting itself out in the crisis. A fortiori, 30 years after the publication of Kurz’s The Collapse of Modernization, it must be pointed out that Kurz also included the etatist-socialist variant of modernization in his theory of crisis and understood the collapse of this variant of commodity production as a ‘precursor’ to the collapse of its liberal counterpart.
The crash of the New Economy, mass unemployment, and then, even more so, the global financial crisis gave Kurz’s theses a high level of evidence. After that, however, there was a significant recovery of the global economy, and the current economic crisis seems to be due at least primarily – and here, too, there are divergent assessments3 – to the Corona virus and the measures taken against it, and not to immanent contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. At best, the jumping of the pathogen to humans and its rapid spread could be characterized as a consequence of forced overexploitation of nature and globalization as well as cramped living conditions. And also in general, capitalism seems to be collapsing, if at all, because it is unable to solve the ecological question and not, as Kurz warned, for structural reasons. – How do they assess this? Would Kurz’s theories need to be revised in light of recent developments? Or is the ecological crisis only a surface phenomenon?
There can be no talk of a recovery of ‘the’ world economy, at best of shifts between crisis winners and de-industrialized regions, as we are experiencing in Europe between Germany and above all southern European countries and the accompanying conflicts. The fact that the preconditions for this have been created in the internal area of the winners with precarious employment and social cuts is lost in the perception. The debt dynamics in particular show how thin the ice is, even for the partially successful countries measured in terms of GDP. The ‘recovery’ after the crash of 2007 ff. consisted of a huge liquidity bubble, which was used to fuel the global economy and which could burst at any time. This bubble economy, fed by the growth of credit and speculative bubbles, has been losing economic momentum since 2008. The astronomical sums of debt, once again driven up by Corona, cannot be offset by future value creation.
It may seem evident at first glance that capitalism is failing because of ecological barriers to its inherent growth. But these are not independent of the logical and historical limit to the accumulation of capital. The compulsion to displace labor as a source of value and surplus value from the production process is further accompanied by attempts to compensate for crises of accumulation by expanding production and cheapening products. This requires an ever higher material and energetic input, which remains even if, in accordance with the basic social tendency, labor is substituted by technology. Ecological regulations counteract the need to fuel the crisis-ridden accumulation process. A ‘Green New Deal’ is likely to produce short-term successes at best, but these will not be economically sustainable in terms of system preservation.
The Corona virus has to do with the capitalist relations of production and distribution – as far as its origin is concerned and even more so as far as its spread is concerned. However, it has not produced a new crisis, but has superimposed itself on the existing crisis in an aggravating way. State interventions ranging from credit-financed economic aid to health protection measures make some dream of the return of the primacy of politics, while others conjure up a new state of emergency. Both of these scenarios miss the reality of the crisis. The confusion between lockdowns and ‘relaxations’ reflects the limits of state action to reconcile the proclaimed protection of health and the systemic necessities of capitalist normality. An indication that, as the crisis progresses, policymakers are less and less able to enforce a ‘state of emergency’ can be seen in the fact that populist authoritarian governments, of all things, are ignoring the pandemic. Aside from whatever mafia connections may have played a role in failing states and populisms: they can ill afford to disrupt ways of ensuring survival, not least through informal employment – with the result that the ‘redundant’ population is just as much at the mercy of the virus without protective measures as it would have been with protective measures. Similar to the refugee crisis, the way Corona deals with the ‘non-survivable’ in regions of collapse shows what threatens the ‘superfluous’ in the centers if the crisis continues to ‘run its course’ here as well. In the process, the currently still suppressed question of who is to pay for the exorbitant anticipation of future crisis-mediated value creation will also come onto the agenda, and what this means for the ‘stability’ of capitalism will become visible.
The idea of a “collapse theory” is, after all, a hot potato in Marx research. It is indisputable that Marx and Engels at some points assume a necessary collapse of capitalism, leading to an inevitable transition to a post-capitalist economy without private ownership of means of production and land. But is this not precisely a problematic aspect of their theories? A legacy of Hegel’s philosophy of history and a piece of secularized theology? Was Marx an apocalyptic prophet disguised as a scientist?
Indeed, it is problematic to assume “an inevitable transition to a post-capitalist economy without private ownership of the means of production and land.” Such an assumption is under the spell of a Hegelian-oriented understanding of history finalized toward the realization of reason and freedom. With regard to the question of property, it overlooks the fact that the legal form is part of the capitalist formal context to be guaranteed by the state. With legal changes in the disposition of means of production, there is neither a break with commodity production nor a break with the areas of reproduction that are split off from it and inferiorized, and thus also not a break with the gender relation associated with capitalism.
Not Marx as the theorist of the bourgeois history of progress, but the Marx of the critique of fetishism would have to be taken up. From there, the insight is to be gained that capitalism has constituted itself as the abstract rule of the irrational self-purpose of the multiplication of capital for its own sake. With the disappearance of labor as a source of value and surplus-value, this fetishistic self-purpose runs into the void and with it value, money, state/politics… Nevertheless, this “metaphysical void” (Kurz) does not escape the compulsion of representation, but must ’empty itself’ into material things. This amounts to human life and nature being ‘sacrificed’ to the fetish even, or even more so, when it runs into the ‘void’. The most drastic expression of this compulsion to destroy is where it becomes self-destruction. Such insanity is related to the insanity of capitalist normality, in which individuals are expected to permanently and inconclusively optimize themselves as ‘entrepreneurial selves’ in the competition for the utilization of labor power for the irrational end of self. Subjugation becomes self-subjugation to a self-purpose running into emptiness and thus self-surrender. To see history as history of progress with an ontological finalization on freedom and reason or even on a classless society may be a variant of “secularized theology” insofar as it reflects the theological (pseudo-)certainties of an ontologically or by God secured universal sense and a good end of history. However, a different theological relation to Marx comes to the fore, where theology is formulated, as in J.B. Metz, as a ‘post-idealist theology’, which ties in with Benjamin’s critique of the understanding of history as a history of progress and victory, as well as with Adorno’s identity-critical ‘negative dialectic’. The focus of such theological reflection is on what human beings and creation had and have to suffer under respective relations of domination, and what can neither be compensated by universal certainties of meaning nor by a guaranteed universal final goal of history. Following biblical traditions, which distinguish between emancipatory speech of God and idols legitimizing domination, such theology articulates itself critically of fetishism. This is not possible without critical social theory and a break with capitalist fetish relations.
There is, after all, the well-known saying of the U.S. Marxist Fredric Jameson: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” – Marx and Engels may still have had reasons to assume that something better might follow an end to capitalism. Do we still have those reasons today? Or is there only the threat of an even worse barbarism? Wouldn’t one almost have to try to prevent the collapse of capitalism as a communist in today’s world situation?
In the quoted dictum, it becomes clear above all how much people are fused with capitalism in their perception, feeling and thinking, and precisely these necessary analytical insights, above all those of the crisis, are blocked. This blockage becomes clear precisely in the concept of the subject. In the context of the Enlightenment, it is understood as a mature, autonomous subject that is aware of itself, i.e. free and capable of acting. What remains outside of this self-understanding is that the subject as autonomous can only act within the framework of the unreflectively presupposed capitalist relations. Just as the state’s ability to act depends on the increase of capital through labor, the subject’s action remains bound to labor. Robert Kurz has described it as “the agent of abstract labor and its derivative functions.” This shapes its “form of perception, form of thought, form of relationship, form of activity. “4 The subject is thus no more ‘autonomous’ than the state and politics as a form of action, but is subject to relations that have constituted themselves – mediated through human action – as “abstract domination,” without the individuals simply being puppets of the system.
“An end to capitalism” might well be “followed by something better.” But this presupposes a categorical break with capitalist relations, that is, with ‘ontological’ positings such as labor, money, state, subject, enlightenment, with those categories, in other words, with which people are so fused that they can imagine the end of the world rather than that of capitalism and its real-abstract categories. If it does not come to that, indeed “an even worse barbarism” threatens – even if “communists” do everything to “prevent the collapse of capitalism”. Even they cannot leap over the logical and historical barrier with ever more willing adaptations.
In reactionary circles, too, there have been increasing warnings in recent years of an economic collapse of capitalism. Here, apocalypticism seems to be much more widespread than among left-wing forces, most of whom assume that capitalism can be saved by a ‘green turn’. One only has to think of the movement of right-wing radical “preppers”, who, fearing a coming catastrophe, stockpile weapons and food and erect nuclear shelters in their front yards. And Ken Jebsen & Co. eagerly discuss that the financial system is one huge bubble that will burst sooner or later. In left-wing circles, on the other hand, you’re often considered an anti-Semite if you even try to discuss the financial market critically. – What do you think of this development? Should the left return more strongly to Marx’s theory of crisis?
In times of crisis, apocalypticism becomes a free-floating metaphor in which fears of doom are expressed. The talk of dystopia, which enjoys great popularity today, also belongs in this context. In right-wing ideological circles, the metaphor of apocalypticism makes it possible to hold on to the conditions by offering forms of crisis processing in which above all the male subject seems to find a foothold, with violent defense against Jews, non-working people, foreigners. Criticism of the financial markets is combined with structural anti-Semitism where the connection between the bubble economy and the crisis of the real economy is not seen and creative capital is played off against rapacious capital and associated with the power of money, which is connoted as ‘Jewish’. Some promise themselves a certain power in powerlessness if they think they have knowledge of apocalyptic end-time scenarios and believe they can even arm themselves individually or in groups with delusions up to preparations for a civil war. ‘Apocalyptics’ in lateral thinking circles (including Markus Krall, Christian Kreiß, Matthias Weik, Marc Friedrich, Dirk Müller), who are not infrequently close to conspiracy theories, do not want capitalism to be overcome, but the ‘right’ one in their sense. Here, a gap is filled that has been left by a left that does not care about a Marxian theory of crisis, at the center of which is the connection between processive contradiction and labor and thus the decline of capitalism.
In all this, of all things, what constitutes the core of apocalyptic plays no role, at least when it is understood from its biblical contexts. It is not about an anticipatory reportage of terrible events at the end of time, but about the confrontation with Greek rule in the 2nd century B.C.E. as well as with Roman rule in the 1st century C.E. The apocalyptic traditions give a voice to those who suffer under this rule and fall victim to it. In the literal sense of apocalyptic, they are concerned with uncovering something hidden. The victims of domination and its deadly character are revealed. Apocalyptic understood in this way stands against mythical veilings in the ‘always the same’ as well as against metaphysical-ontological appeasement by giving meaning, in which the suffering of the victims is made invisible. In doing so, it certainly falls back on mythical images. In images of predators, for example, she expresses the bestial character of respective domination. It is not placed in the cycle of the ‘same old’, but confronted with its temporality in history and thus with its end. This thinking of history and time is rooted in the Jewish understanding of God, who in the break with domination paves ways of liberation. The biblical apocalyptic ascribes to him the ‘last word’ that judges ‘dominions and powers’. From this, the apocalyptists gain strength to resist the demanded subjugation.
In this sense, apocalyptic demythologizes as final and comprehensive (‘totalitarian’) appearing and cultically staging rule in its fetish character. Salvation can only come with a break, i.e. with the ‘radical’ end of rule. Immanent turns, e.g. a better ruler, a ‘little’ more justice and peace are excluded. Against this background, Marx would not be an ‘apocalyptic prophet disguised as a scientist’, but could be called an ‘apocalypticist’ precisely as a scientist insofar as, in continuation of his critique of religion, he pursued critique of domination as analysis and critique of capitalist fetish relations.
In its critique of certain historical domination, apocalyptic contradicts at the same time the domination of time in the form of its perpetuation. Against the postmodern farewell to history and its flight into seemingly comforting myths that make domination invisible, apocalyptic thinking objects to identitarian closed immanence, currently to the finality of capitalism, but also to the finality of the death of the victims in history – quite close to Benjamin’s blasting of the continuum of history as the continuation of a homogeneous and empty time5 as well as to Adorno’s ‘Negative Dialectics’6.
To make it concrete again at the end: What do you think is in store for us in the coming decades? And how should we behave towards these processes?
No predictions can be derived from critical social theory regarding the course of the crisis, but tendencies can be identified. Since there are no forces in sight that are pushing for a break with the conditions, and even where there is talk of transforming capitalism, it is still supposed to continue with work, the state, money or its derivatives, or alternatives are sought in the split-off spheres of reproduction, there is much to suggest that – all the more so in view of Corona – the crisis process will intensify. This is also true with regard to ecological crises, the solution of which would require, among other things, a rational use of resources, which would include a transformation of the production apparatus. Thus, forms of barbarization are ‘pre-programmed’, which are fueled by the denial of the crises.
Social movements are more eager to take a place at the cat’s table of crisis management than to forfeit their supposed attention through radical critique. Instead, it would be important to make relations as a ‘concrete totality’ the object of critique, in order to make clear the necessity of a categorical break as a precondition for alternatives to capitalism.
This does not take the question of praxis off the table. Only when analytical insight is combined with practical interventions can processes of change occur. One perspective on this path would be protests against ever new social impositions as well as interventions against forms of barbarization in sexism, racism…, as well as demands aiming at the satisfaction of basic needs and at not making the shaping of interpersonal relationships and relations dependent on the submission to fetish relations, but to consciously bring them under control and to shape them within the framework of an “association of free people” (Marx).
Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview.