[Translation of a lecture by Peter Decker, summer 1990 in East Berlin]
There is a completely fundamental misunderstanding about what can be learned from Marx. It is a fundamental misunderstanding in which both the East and the West are in agreement. If I go to a Western sociology seminar, I’ll learn that Marx was a great sociologist, that he was the first to dare to set up basic and general laws of human society; unfortunately, they are not correct, but his work is still a theoretical construct of the greatest fascination. Yes, unfortunately, it's long been refuted, but nobody dares to make such impressive associations any more. Politics, law, foreign relations, thinking, even culture: everything explained by the same reason, marvelously; after Hegel, the last genuine system model. Unfortunately, this is way off. The Eastern Bloc, the guardians of the grail of Marxism-Leninism ever since Engels, and each successor worse than the previous one, said: the social desire and the will to abolish the suffering of humanity is no longer utopian, finally it is a science, and the science consists of Marx having discovered the necessary and inevitable laws of development of human society; and this gave the socialists the certainty that, in their discontent with exploitation, with wars, with universal stupidity, they are not on the wrong track. In their view of Marx, the East and the West united on one thing: he had laws for the development of human society. Already an object is no longer perceived; it is pure sociology. That’s what one gets in our sociology seminars: yes, true, he was mainly concerned with capitalism, but the most interesting thing about him is that he made a theory that is not only about capitalism, but about primitive society, slave society, the Roman Empire, feudalism, up to the present, which stands in a line of necessary development whose laws inevitably lead to communism. In the West as in the East – one thing is certain: the man invented a philosophy of history. He managed to squeeze the whole of history into a system of ideas. And that is his great achievement. But they are completely fundamentally mistaken. And in addition: it is an error that the old idiot Marx badly encouraged!
Today, whether you listen to the politicians or look at the intellectual journals or the editorial pages, you always find: communism is dead. A clear case, communism has passed. The thing is over. And this by no means limits itself to only saying: well, look at the GDR, they can no longer make it, they’ve cashed out. If you look at the Russians, they could not carry out the military conflict with NATO in the long run, they long for the same kind of state wealth that the free-market economy brings about, so they will try to copy it.
Communism is dead means more than: there are some states that once invoked the authority of Marx that are now fed up with the old program. Communism is dead means: this proves that it is no longer correct. This program, this project, communism, has proven itself to have been a mistake. Now I ask – simply against it – has anything in capitalism then changed? Did it reduce its unemployment, did it reduce the circumstance that the vast majority always get their living costs as a byproduct of economic growth, or do not get it, depending on how well economic growth goes? Has capitalism eliminated its wars? Not at all! If gossip proclaims, “communism is now dead,” one hears it now everywhere, then obviously nobody maintains that because communism is dead, capitalism has improved in such a way that the criticism of it has become obsolete. It doesn't mean that somebody thinks that criticism of capitalism is wrong because it doesn't do anything bad. It is completely different: the triumph of capitalism, which we of course now experience, means the criticism of capitalism is obsolete because it does not have a chance. That is very amusing, because if the criticism of capitalism does not have a chance because the other side is stronger, then perhaps it would be all the more necessary. The criticism of the object is not over just because the critic gives up. Or that nobody wants to represent the criticism any more.
In the talk of “communism is dead,” the whole fundamentally wrong mistake that characterizes ML is made against ML (ML means Marxism-Leninism and the state doctrine of real socialism). They confuse being correct and being successful. Failure thus means being wrong. It is the assertion: because communism has not maintained its ground, it was an error. Because capitalism maintained its ground, any criticism of it is absurd. How is one, how can one – and this is a thought that is always maintained in western sociology – how can one find a system that maintains itself in reality to be bad? Turned around: one can and must find those systems that do not survive the test of reality to be bad. This is an amusing wisdom of the caliber: one should reject that which fails. Something that breaks down, or gets broken down, deserves to break down. What maintains itself deserves to maintain itself because it maintains itself. That is a thought that absolutely adapts itself to power. The adaptation goes so far that a power, because it maintains ground, certifies its correctness. Communism is dead, so this criticism no longer belongs in the world. Why? Because it could not assert itself as an established power. There is no other argument. Turned around: capitalism no longer deserves the criticism that was once made of it because the critic gives up. Not because it is not criticizable, but because the critic gives up. Quod erat demonstrandum. One sees that the GDR breaks down just like their socialist participatory state.
It is this mistake – and this is my radical reproach to Engels as the great promoter of this stupidity – of criticizing a thing with a prognosis about its future. It is not the same whether I say this guy is bad, or whether I say this guy is bad because he doesn’t live much longer. Confusing criticism with a bad prognosis was the core idea of ML: capitalism exploits people, so it is a society that cannot maintain itself for long. Because Marx and Engels discovered the developmental laws of society: all societies were exploitation societies, history thus far has always been a history of class struggle. These are phrases one knows all too well. And what proves the truth of Marx's statement? Not that the thoughts are correct with which one finds the society bad and explains why it is bad, but because one sees the number of fighting proletarians increase from day to day.
If Engels’ statement is an argument, then the opposite is also correct: if the proletarians become ever fewer, then the thing is no good. Think how radically this is passed off: if socialism wins a war in turn, then the Second World War was the best proof for the vitality and the enormous invincibility of socialism. Stalin was the great leader of this proof. If socialism wins the war of all wars, who then wants to still be on the side of the capitalists? If socialism loses a war, whether it is the hot war, the cold war, or the economic war, then what? Then the thing lost fair and square! Exactly the thought that Engels arrived at: Marx proves the inevitability of communism as the goal and the result of a development that takes place before our eyes. This is exactly the same proof with which Engels even wanted to prove the value of Marx’s analysis: the fighting proletarians increase from day to day. (Today we were in the Marx-Engels academy in East Berlin where they have written on the wall: “And the coming century will bring victory.”) So certainty of victory as an argument for the thing with whose victory one sides is a good thing. If you share this thought, then you must also say: if the outlook for the thing is bad, then leave the sinking ship to the rats! Here you notice the ease with which I added a grandmother’s moral saying; this is, by the way, not a special trick of mine, but corresponds to the logic of this theory. If I now say: capitalism collapses anyway, then that is almost a sort of: leave the sinking ship to the rats and position yourselves on our side! People, you need nothing at all, merely opportunism towards the historical tendency. Then join us because we are the winners of tomorrow.
Someone who believes this, who assumes it, also then says the reverse, and this is what so appalls me at the moment in the GDR and in the whole Eastern Bloc: entire peoples were educated in the ideas of ML (entire peoples is perhaps an exaggeration, but entire generations of intellectuals bored with reading Das Kapital), then the state breaks down, and you do not find 1000 people who say: no, I always wanted something else, I still want it, and I also do not know what is bad about it; if that does not happen now, then I will be a critic of the new conditions. But they all say: now that the state of the GDR breaks down, real socialism does not work, therefore it seems what we always said about capitalism fits socialism: this society no longer works, therefore it deserved no followers. The new society proves its vitality and its orientation towards the future. Thus we – perhaps with a tear in the eye about the coming social hardships – see the necessity of adapting ourselves to the new.
It is amusing that this way of thinking, this statement that the science of Marxism would consist in uncovering a historically inevitable trend that one only needs to join, that exactly this thought – the thinking of opportunism, you join a process that takes place anyway – only exposes its absolutely opportunistic character today, when it is about opportunism in relation to a trend that one can really no longer believe in. This trend does not at all exist apart from the will and the intentions of the socialists. In the past, it was an opportunism in theory, not in practice. The old socialists – and now I don't mean the careerists in the party, but I mean those who 100 years ago and longer were the contemporaries of Engels – they were funny, they said: I believe in a historical trend, one which I join, and only by the fact that they joined it was there this belief in this trend that they joined. In this case, it was not opportunism! They fought against emperors and empires. It was not an opportunism in practice, but it was an opportunism in the imagination. They believed that they followed a trend that existed without them. And then they fought for their politics, and then their politics really existed. And if they became majorities or minorities that were big enough for a strike, then they were even a force. Not because of their opportunism, this is exactly what they did not have, because if they did then they would have been marching in the parade behind the emperor and the empire. They were a force because of their subjective faith in opportunism in relation to a tendency, which they only put into the world by their faith in the same. This was a complicated way of thinking.
Only today, when the program fails, this type of thinking exposes its boundless opportunism. Now it means: the socialists were always convinced that real socialism develops the productive forces better than capitalism, so the future belongs to them, so they are moving forward, and capitalism is like a tied up bag. Now they know that it is different: capitalism gives the productive forces more room to maneuvre, so now they are for it. Now they no longer cling to a tendency they believe in, but simply to the real power that has proved to be the stronger.
1. Utopia and science
Now three abstract thoughts, then I would like to get into a consideration of capitalism or the question of the dialectic of productive forces and means of production and the question of social existence determining consciousness. I would still like to analyze both statements, analyze their mistakes and clarify what one can at most learn from them, and thus the arguments that are stated for these laws.
First, ever since Engels, the old socialists – and this is in all the textbooks that are now thrown away and until yesterday belonged to the official knowledge of the nation – were proud of having overcome utopianism in order to pursue socialism as a science. The antithesis is utopia = mere wishful thinking; now we are equipped with a much better weapon, now we have science. One was very proud of this. This antithesis between utopianism and science can be reasonable. Real socialism, however, connected the content of this antithesis quite incorrectly, quite unreasonably. One must explain both sides of what Engels really thought: the utopian programs of the early socialists (Blanqui, Fourier, Saint Simon, and Proudhon) were of course utopian, and they were utopian because they only devised blueprints of a better order and did not at all prove the necessity, the inevitability, of the movement to socialism. Here I would like to say: this antithesis is completely wrong. If the old socialists were utopian and not scientific, then it is not because they did not devise a criticism. It always depends on what the content of this criticism is. And there has been the reproach of the early socialists, since Engels, that their criticism would only be devised because they were not the expression of a real movement. The early socialists practiced a criticism that was utopian, not even real, because they were not at all the vanguard of the fighting workers, but only intellectuals who only let themselves criticize society as they found it. Here I say: no, this cannot be done! One has accused the early socialists of utopianism because they are not the expression of a real movement, but only have ideas. This is a bad reproach because one does not judge the quality of the ideas, but raises the reproach: you have ideas instead of being the expression of a real movement. Then one does not need to deal any longer with the quality of the ideas.
Now I'll say the reverse: a goal is utopian if it is merely wishing and wanting that ignores the necessities for the ruling purpose. This is an important distinction. Mere wishing and wanting, this is something Engels and his kind were also capable of. However, mere wishing is not therefore mere wishing because it is wished, but because it is wishing that does not go. What then doesn't go and what does go? What goes is that which history intends in its process anyway. What does not go is that which history does not plan in its process anyway. This does not notice the real opposition between necessity and mere wishing at all. I’ll tell you what a mere wish is: to want to have no unemployment in capitalism; that is a mere wish. To want to have marriage without domestic violence, that is mere wishing. If one does not want to eliminate the social institution of marriage, then one also does not need to be surprised that there is murder out of jealousy. What is the great achievement of science? The negative characteristics – and it is not denied that there are homeless people in the free world, that there are illiterates, nobody denies this – but everyone denies the necessity for these phenomena on the basis of the ruling society. Everyone says: unemployment is terrible, but it would not have to actually exist if the economy would function. Homelessness also would not have to exist if the chancellor had not neglected the housing development program. Illiteracy would not have to exist at all if a billion more would be spent on public education and so on. A technique in which all the bad sides of capitalism – and I would like to say again that the bad sides of capitalism are not secret, these evils are not the exclusive knowledge of communists – everyone knows them! Any minister can tell you about how poor the poor are! Only, he has a different task, and he takes from it a different task, which says: then I must take care of it. Then a Mark is donated, and then everything is blessed again.
Utopia, mere wishing, consists of the fact that one separates the negative phenomena of the society from it, that one states that it would not need to exist on the basis of this society, and then one becomes reformist, charitable or compensates in some other way. This is utopia in the strict sense of the word. Something is wished for that cannot be. For example, if one looks outside the national borders: there is no world market that is concerned with value in which negroes do not starve by the dozens. Thus millions or billions of people living in the third world whose existence does not bring in money causes people to say: there should be world trade, yes, world economy, yes, and value, but this does not have to exist with negroes starving, this nevertheless contradicts our humanity, our society, our image of what we are as a society! This is utopian.
Communists can learn something from Marx: the proof that these admittedly undesirable phenomena have a cause, and that they can only be eliminated with their cause. This is the only thing that differentiates utopia and science. Utopia, wishing for something that is not to be had, and science are severed. One finds the reason for what one has found to be bad, and then knows how it is to be eliminated. Then it also can be eliminated.
Now Engels, Lenin, and all their successors, they saw the matter completely differently; they made the reproach against utopia that it is mere criticism, and as a result of having the benefit of Marx’s writings, they were not mere critics, but the expression of a historical process that proceeds anyway. Now, they did not make the reproach against those they criticized as utopians that they criticized wrongly, but that, theoretically speaking, they criticized why what exists should not be. And their own criticism is scientific and objective, not because it is scientific, but because they possess a science which backs them up with the certainty of the historical trend. The scientific nature of their criticism consists in the certainty of historical victory. One has read the entirety of Marx’s books as: this author describes or proves the justice of our certainty of victory.
Put another way, Marx proves something: he proves that because of the ruling purpose of the profit economy, there must be unemployment, poverty, stupidity, and violence both within the society and directed outside it. How good or how bad these proofs are in detail is what communists have to make sure of. He does not prove, however, the necessity for the profit economy. That is not necessary at all; it exists only because everyone participates in it and does not end it. There is no higher reason for it. And now two statements that are quite crucial. Necessities for a society exist solely within the scope of the purposes that are in force and whose effects and consequences everyone deplores. A necessity beyond the ruling purpose, thus such a thing as: if we abolish profit now, then it would still be a necessity, something like that is nonsense. No, then the question is open as to what the criteria will be in getting things done.
They all read Marx as someone who did not always talk about: what are the necessary effects of money accumulation, but as if he talked about the necessity for money accumulation and the transitory necessity for money accumulation; as if he situated the necessity where it does not at all apply, where the necessary effects are not at all based – the effects are necessary for the existing purpose of production – but, all of a sudden, the ruling purpose of production is necessary in relation to history and unnecessary in relation to the future. As if the argument means, or would have to mean: capitalism was necessary, but will not survive much longer. However, then it is not unnecessary, but its continued existence is not possible.
How does one come to such statements, such insights, and what is the error here? The error is in the reinterpretation of Marx – and I remind you, in certain places, Marx is himself responsible for this reinterpretation – in any case, how does one arrive at this wrong view, this reinterpretation of Marx’s criticism of capitalism into a philosophy of historical development. How can this be done? One takes statements that Marx meant as criticism, omits the criticism in them, and says: it was always and everywhere like this. This has two elements: the generalization to all societies and all history. And the second is: with the generalization, the criticism is suddenly lost. Marx says, for example, “social existence determines consciousness.” The sentence is an expression of the fact that people do not have their relations under control; because it is otherwise, social reality determines what they want and what they plan. The statement “existence determines consciousness” is a statement that expresses the adaptation of people's thinking to realities that obviously rule independently of them. Marx, who criticized ideology his entire life, correctly intended this statement as criticism. Now a real socialist and ideologist of real socialism says: existence determines consciousness, I'll forget the criticism in it and say: it is nevertheless probably clear that it has always been like this! Now I just made a giant leap. Now I am already far away from: in capitalism humans align themselves to the practical necessities that are given to them in such a way. They are opportunists of the conditions in which they are situated. Now I omit the criticism and say first of all: thinking is always opportunism; and secondly: this is also good. Always and everywhere humans adapted their intellects according to the conditions in which they were situated. Now look at it closely: now thinking is defined as universal opportunism by a quite simple trick: I act as if in the analysis of the current capitalist ideologies, and I find that people have these ideologies, say of a bad human nature, or in the ideology that one needs a meaning of life, or something like that – in the current ideologies in which people have tinkered their adaptation, that these are something that make sense with good reason. That these are not theoretically correct, the theoretician must find out, therefore he must criticize them, he must just find the errors, and then they are rejected. However, if he stops saying I am a critic of these ideologies, but says: Marx discovered that thinking depends on the realities to which one must adapt, and one no longer understands this as a criticism of capitalism, but as a law, then the criticism is gone, and then I say: this is how thinking is, it just always orients towards reality.
Second: Marx proves that capitalism is not the absolute mode of production, he proves that it is not true that capitalism is the best suitable organization of production for consumption, leisure and reduction of work time. That would be for all people who have an interest in consumption and in the reduction of work time a good reason to be against it. But the real socialists make a universal law of history from what Marx has demonstrated, and this then means: the high level of development of the means of production will once again be restrained by the relations of production, and then they will be overthrown because one cannot oppose the urge of the productive forces to develop in the long run. Now we no longer have criticism of capitalism, but the law of history. Again, we abandon the object about which the discovery was made, of what he perceived about capitalism. We abandon the object of the criticism and say: in general! This follows the pattern of all philosophers, they also always say “in general.” They are indifferent to the specific and the particular about what is spoken of. They say: here one deceives oneself, humans are generally very often mistaken when thinking, we’ll make a new law from it: thinking is always unreliable. That is their route. The philosophers, by the way, strive to replace knowledge with a world key. And world keys always have the beauty that you do not need to have a concept about anything, but you can always go off about everything. Philosophical knowledge takes basic principles, and if one closes one’s eyes decidedly enough, then one can absolutely assure oneself of one thing: there will be no more surprises in real life. You get to integrate everything into your three basic principles.
And the real socialists made themselves guilty of the crime of philosophy: They took Marx’s criticisms of this mode of production, its economics, its politics, its morality and its theories, and they rolled these few good criticisms into laws that are supposed to apply always and everywhere. And thus they took the criticism out of it. They looked at the whole world as if they had a worldview with which they can interpret everything. Everything that Marx proves is supposed to be trans-historical and thus always objective. Marx said that the society is shit. Now the criticism should not be something that addresses itself to people who have a reason to join them, but the criticism should already again be an objective process. The society is criticized for not having much of a future. I can express the thought in yet another way: this confuses practical necessity and objective constraint. If I prove to the proletarian in capitalism: if you are to be something other than a useful idiot who always takes what he gets and in exactly this fact you must notice that you work for a purpose that has nothing to do with your own consumption. If – and this is now important – you are to be something different, then you must overthrow this shit here. Then I have expressed a necessity, but a practical one. This means: if you have this goal, then I can tell you what means you have to seize. The necessity is of this type: if this purpose exists, then it needs this means to do it.
It is something quite different to understand the same necessity not as a necessity of purpose and means, but as a necessity in the sense of a clockwork. Hence, in the sense of a mechanism: capitalism necessarily creates its gravediggers and they dig it to death, and then it is gone. The historical clock runs out! The longer capitalism develops and the further it progresses, the less time still remains for it. Yes, that is a completely different law. And this confusion characterizes real socialism exactly the same as sociology. Both set on the clockwork idea, confusing it with a practical necessity, thus for a necessity in the sense of: if you have the purpose, then you must see what the means are for it, that are appropriate for it. Then please do not mistake the means: if you mean that you are too poor, then do not believe that overtime is the correct solution. If you lack money, then do not believe the answer is overtime. Then you will have no more time after work to spend the money. Then the best idea would be that you can become truly rich if you only work all the time. The joke, this is also a nice law of wages, is a criticism... But that is something completely different than maintaining that the necessity would exist outside of and independently of the purpose that this person has.
Real socialism, in this regard, erased the basic idea behind the word law, of a social law. It is already a criticism to begin with. If an analyst comes along and says: in this society laws prevail that are independent of human will and consciousness, then this is a criticism of this society. Why: because thereby it is already expressed that people do not have their conditions under their own control. Then that should be understood and the laws abolished. Real socialism always imagined this in reverse: it said – quite in my words – Marx criticizes the nature-given uncomprehended interrelationships that work like laws of nature, there are such phrases in Capital and other writings, and now the real socialists come and say: one must see the laws so that one can consciously adhere to them. They did not say: one must understand the laws that rule here, and that are always directed against people, because otherwise their plans and desires would be in agreement.
If people are subjected to uncomprehended interrelations, thus to a law of value in which everyone tries to throw something on the market and afterwards finds out whether their stuff made money and the others didn’t, although both made the same effort, then they are subjected to laws of the market which set the conditions of their lives for them, obviously without the knowledge and consciousness of those involved. Then this is a proof of the dependence of people on purposes that they do not know. No one can say: I want to fly and then I’ll fly because of my will. No, I must know how aerodynamics works and build devices which have these characteristics. These devices cannot cancel a physical law, but they just use these physical laws. This is also a completely reasonable procedure with nature, because these are in point of fact preconditions completely independent of the will and consciousness of humans, and people must deal with these laws. Therefore people do something good for themselves, if they know them, then they can use them.
The error consists now of the fact that one takes exactly the same relationship to the society: that there are also laws in the society that are independent of people’s will and consciousness is not at all something bad. It is merely bad that one does not know what they are, and that is capitalism. So we’ll make socialism, we’ll announce the laws, and then we’ll adhere to them. We analyzed the law of value for what? Not so that we know what shit it is and what its consequences are, but so that we can handle it consciously. Thus it is not that we want to eliminate the law but to handle it consciously, and not only that, everything else too. In capitalism, accumulation is always something that takes place at the expense of livelihoods, to which real socialism says: we must investigate the law of accumulation and then we can consciously handle it and consciously arrange the supply of livelihoods lower than the accumulation rate. And so on. They read the entirety of Capital backwards, as a guide to production, in which they accuse the capitalist in each case: everything that happens with you chaotically, anarchistically, unconsciously, happens in real socialism under control, consciously and intentionally.
They no longer pick up that a society is spoken of where laws rule that people do not have under their control; it is like in nature where one does not have them under control, they play their own game, one must know them, then one can bend to them. Also here they say in relation to society, to the lives of people: that there are laws that are independent of the will, this is not terrible, but if one does not know them, that is terrible. So now I have explained the basic principle in which bourgeois thinking and real socialism are united: thinking is adaptation to reality. For which we need science, so that we can adapt well.
2. The two main laws
We often have the strange experience that when we talk about the EU monetary union and Germany as the new superpower in Europe, after two, three steps into the discussion, we hear about these laws. The discussion always runs the same way: maybe so far history has not yet been for socialism. The issue by itself is of course only an ideological issue with a clear goal: away with it! We’ll disprove it once and everyone will put it away and never think these thoughts again. With this stuff one does not explain an object, but one proclaims an ideology. In which one tackles its error and – this is the intention – thereby robs it of its attractiveness. Nothing more is carried out, the reality of today is not talked about, only about the reality of such ideologies, that there really are of course. In so far as it is correct, one could really talk about more important things, but every discussion leads to us hearing these laws as answers to our criticisms. This was the idea and the intention: then we must really talk about the quality of these answers ourselves.
There is the discovery, in revisionist textbooks for example, about existence and consciousness. They always say: people’s thinking is an expression of their social position. And then we say: then how was it with Marx and Engels? Although they were bourgeois, they nevertheless criticized capitalism, although its development was apparently not yet that far advanced?
Now there are two answers. One is: the development was already that far advanced: in their day the proletariat awoke; and now it is not really said: the object existed, capitalism was already developed in England, therefore intelligent people thought about how it functions and what it is about. Here you have also given a wrong answer: it is not just that Marx concerned himself with it, but: Marx is already in a conditional way an expression of his time. That is one half: Marx also is certified as practically passive; he is also only a mouthpiece for a development that is already there. The second half is: he is nevertheless quite an advanced mouthpiece; he nevertheless announced the future of the development. So, according to their position, they now have again the oddity that they simply disclaim their own law.
It is very bad if I say: here I have a law, but for every rule there is an exception. Thus: either/or! Either there’s a law, or for every rule there is an exception. Or in other words: they do not at all say why they do not want to apply their law in this case or are unable to apply it. Instead, they become philosophical. For example, the stupid saying that every rule has an exception explains neither the rule nor the exception. Then one says: one must not view this so narrowly. This statement itself already means: I distance myself from my strict intention of proof. Do they ever say about the law of gravity: an exception to every law! One immediately notices that where a law really exists, banter about the exception is inappropriate. These are the two directions: first, one has not given up explaining Marx and Engels as expressions, mouthpieces of history who just were ahead. Secondly, one also has the other side: they transcended the horizon, according to the position: yes, but an exception!
And third still – most important of all – rather than saying: were they not right? Marx and Engels or, for all I care, the book Capital? Would it not be nevertheless a much better defense of this book to have said: maybe it is not? No, here one says: the book is historically correct, it is the most advanced expression of the workers' movement, such phrases. It is not correct according to its quality, but what a good thing it is an expression of.
I will speak in several places about what has now occurred to them. It pertains really to the philosophizing of insights, that in the next step they then soften it. And softening is the stupidest thing that one can do in relation to insights. It is neither disproving nor proving. It is of the kind: if we hold the statement a little less strictly, then it can be held. “Existence determines consciousness,” here everyone hears: thinking is spoken of as a passive instrument. Someone who holds that necessary makes a counterfoil: determination and freedom? Someone just said that there is no more freedom, that humans are all puppets of whatever social conditions exist. Someone who just said that must say then in the next sentence: there is also still freedom, of course. In the bourgeois sciences there are big ideologies in which thinkers let the conditions for thinking, which are provided to them by the light of reason, determine what they do anyway.
There is the argument (they had their thinking determined by social being), this is basic, I don’t take back a word. The determination is not: one could think otherwise; but it is totally one of what one will think. By a determination I prove something that I can never take back. But already Engels with this statement, “being determines consciousness” – at the beginning he represented it boldly, then someone comes and says: perhaps you want to argue that we can say nothing more at all! There he says, no: reciprocal effects! Now he does a vanishing trick with the statement, in a way that any reactionary sociologist would agree with: yes, the position and the values of people both affect thinking. Both what they must do as well as what they imagine to be sacred. However, now one has a law that is no longer a statement: what people think is somehow connected with their position, and somehow also not with it. A mixture of freedom and determination. My God, they did not really have to say the statement! It takes enough distance that it cannot be falsified. It is a sentence that no longer contains an assertion. By the way, always immediately a few anticipations for the GDR citizens, as far as they are here: if you come to study sociology and you must translate your Marxist mistakes into sociology, then this is very easy: you only need to say the same nonsense without the strict assertion. The science of sociology consists generally of a system of sentences that no longer have the quality of statements, like my example: people’s thinking is certainly determined, and it is also partly undetermined. One can learn such ideas, such “conclusions,” in sociology.
On this dialectic of the productive forces and the relations of production, in this thought the whole historical metaphysic of real socialism is expressed. And it wants to say the following: the productive forces are ever further developed in progressive historical periods. At some point, the emerging productive power runs up against the production relations as a fetter, then they are overcome in a revolutionary manner and new production conditions, new economic formations, create new space for the forces to again develop until they push again at their limits, and then there is again a revolution, all the way up to communism, which is the society that absolutely deserves the development of the productive forces and therefore no longer pushes at their limits. This is a theory that declares, of all things, the means of production is the subject of history, the productive power. This is a theory that says: if the machine develops, then the machine requires another society. The productive forces rebel. Think the sentence over again, how awkwardly it is said: there is a time when the machines, the factories, the powers of production overthrow the old order. If I count people as a productive power, people also fall under it. People as a productive power that becomes ever more productive, creates more and more, and they run up against what barrier? Is it the workers’ deep and irrepressible urge to create ever more that bumps into the limits of capitalism? Or is it the will of the workers to develop their productive power more and more that bumps into the limits of capitalism? The absurdity in this is that, of all things, the means of production is supposed to determine their purpose. This cannot add up. Everyone by the way nevertheless knows what the real content of this could be: people work for a purpose that brings them nothing. Thus people as means of production work for a purpose that does not do anything for them, and they revolt because they want to be the purpose of production and not the means. Then they revolt however not in their role as productive forces, but in their role as people who want to have something from them. Then the whole argument is: if the productive forces increase more and more until they no longer fit the relations, then this depends on how they suit the opinion of the people concerned and not the development of the productive forces. I want to always find how is the law of the revolting productive forces explained? Where then does this actually stand, how is it supposed to happen, that the productive forces do not get along any more with the relations of production? And here is the oddity: this stands nowhere! They have taken over the sentence of Marx – he also said this nonsense – and constantly defend it, but that is something other than explaining it. They do something completely extra: they say they find many examples of it. And this is also a bad habit in arguing, our sort says, how then is this to be abolished? The answer is: there was already a revolution once before. Yes, there was a revolution once. But the question is whether this revolution has been what is claimed by it. The proof of a thought is not made by the fact that I interpret the thought with an example. It is very much the question whether the interpretation is good.
And now I have collected the arguments with which one says that this law of the dialectic of the productive forces and the production relations applies. And they go this way: first the concretizing of this law: well, the productive forces and the production relations, which revolt historically again and again, this is the general law, and the specific law in capitalism is: there is social production but private appropriation. The contradiction of productive forces and production relations means in capitalism: social production but private appropriation. Here one asks oneself: what does the poet want to say by this? Above all, what does he want to say to us with “but”? What is the content of the “but”? In the “but” is supposed to be the contradiction. You ask yourself where does the contradiction lie? The whole society produces and the private owners take the money. Where is the contradiction? Again and again, its the same: either the contradiction is practical, then it is one of opposing interests, or this is a contradiction in the subject, then it is a contradiction between interest and thing. But it is not the former, here the real socialists are keen on saying: it is not simply a contradiction between the interests of the workers and the entrepreneurs, but it is a contradiction in the mode of production itself. The contradiction is not subjective, one between the workers, for whom it stinks, and the entrepreneurs (by the way, they also disappear if there is nobody who makes it stink), but the contradiction is objective. Here I can only say: actually, the statement social production and private appropriation says nothing other than a new formulation of: exploitation prevails! The society produces, no longer in isolation like in former times when the farmer worked on his isolated farm, but in combination in modern factories, and the whole thing is organized by private capitalists because they have all the money, all the means, thus the livelihood of the workers, and the whole thing happens in the favor of the capitalists. Nothing more is said by this sentence than that exploitation prevails. Now the sentence acts as if this could not actually be done. As if there is a “no go” included in this relation. This is included in the “but.” The contradiction should be objective, not a contradiction between my interest and his interest, but it should be a contradiction in the thing, one which applies regardless of my and his interest. The society comes into conflict with its productive forces. Yes, there is exploitation, this is in the sentence; but exploitation is supposed to not work out, or supposed to not work out in the long term. Why not? This completely depends on what the exploited make of this.
3. Crisis and breakdown theory
You now come to the contradiction that goes under the heading: crisis and breakdown theory. Here one can clutch to breakdown theory as something like the trend and read the trend back into Marx’s arguments about crisis. One notices in crises and in the fall of the profit rate that the productive forces revolt against the production relations.
Now I must simply make a small explanation: what happens with the fall of the profit rate? This happens in such a way that the capitalists lower the costs of production – and this decides their position in the competition – by using ever more dead labor and replacing living labor. A complicated word for rationalization, well known to everyone, that a machine can replace a wage laborer. Then one produces more cheaply than the competition and the product can be sold at a better price. Now, however, this has an effect: the appropriation of labor that ultimately makes up surplus value thereby becomes ever smaller per capital. 100 Marks of capital employ ever less labor and ever more machines. The fact that the entrepreneurs need the worker who does the work and is exploited so that a profit arises is noticed by the entrepreneurs in the fact that, if the higher stage of productivity is reached, then they lose their advantage, then everyone just produces as cheaply and the value of the commodities sinks. The advantage, with which they started, is gone; the disadvantage, that one produces altogether less work, thus can lay claim to less from the workers than before, remains. With it sinks the so-called profit rate. How this works out, i.e. the profit rate sinks, is that ever more capital is needed in order to put a worker to work. This by the way is also no secret; anyone in the west can tell you, it is only expressed with us in such an absurdly distorted way: jobs become ever more expensive. I’ll tell you why this is absurdly distorted: because it is not so, that jobs are bought for people, so that then the entrepreneur must say: I bought you a job, but it is just so expensive. He has just turned it around: he creates jobs because it is profitable for him. They are thus not a benefit for the worker; to that extent, the whole mode of expression is ideological. In it, however, a fact is expressed: in former times, one could procure the means with which a worker achieves his working day in an engine factory for 100.000 DM. And today one needs one million for exactly the same thing. That is, ever more capital employs relatively ever less labor. That is the law.
The law is on the one hand a law of unemployment, there is that. And it depends on the growth of capital whether it grows faster than it releases people. And here I'll immediately say the resolution of this point: capitalist society is free to grow sometimes with higher progression, sometimes with lower and sometimes in parallel. If the rate of growth of capital is generally lower than the rate with which they throw people on the street, then the numbers of unemployed increase. And vice versa. The old socialists, particularly Rosa Luxemburg, interpreted this: thus it approaches an endpoint. The endpoint means: ever more gigantic capitals employ ever more people and face larger and larger armies of unemployed people. And I must make two objections against it. The objection is: here she forgot that capital also still grows. Here she has forgotten, secondly, that a capitalist is no fan of the rate of surplus value, some one who says: if I only make out with 3%, then that is of no further use. The capitalist is a follower of the mass of surplus value; if the rate sinks, the capitalist says: then I must just spend even still more. And by the way, this process, the so-called fall of the rate of profit, leads constantly and always to the growth of the profit mass. The entrepreneur becomes richer, thus for him the process does not become pointless. For whom is it to become pointless then? For the workers perhaps, because of how it looks from their side?
Do it with simple chains of thought: for the workers, it looks like the progress of the productive forces means ever more unemployment. What does this lead to? It leads automatically to the fact that the workers become cheaper, so much so that even the progressive introduction of new machinery is braked because the remuneration of the investments is reduced and cheaper labor sets some ancient machine again into operation. We see this now in the GDR. There is all this chatter about how you in the East only have scrap iron; this is completely dishonest. One must only buy this scrap cheaply enough, then it is immediately good. In the West, it is said of a 30 year-old machine: what? A 30 year-old machine? That probably says it all! If it can be bought cheaply enough, and the wages are also cheap enough, then a 30 year-old machine is just as nice a means of profit as a modern dust free computer center. It is not true that there would be such a thing as an absolute urge for modernity.
So it is not a problem for the capitalist: he just has to make sure that the profit mass rises if the profit rate sinks. Could it be a problem for the other side, for the workers? The unemployed persons increase. And here I say: this completely depends on what conclusions they draw from it. If they draw the conclusion from it: the unemployed increase, oh God, I need work! Then the laws of capital continue uninterrupted. This means: everyone must offer themselves more cheaply. Then it is worthwhile again for the entrepreneurs, and then the number of unemployed is as high as whatever it turns out to be. Of course, if the people say at this point: what is wrong here, we have a productivity where one could actually only work three hours a day and live it up, and this serves in our society for the fact that 10% are unemployed and the others work 40 hours (and sometimes by the way 50, even with 35-hour work weeks). We think this is absurd! Yes, then they must turn off the process, if they consider it absurd.
But to believe that the process would lead to its endpoint, this interpretation of the fall of the profit rate, its laws and its countertendencies, there can simply be no talk. One must interpret this stuff simply, what's in it: the fall of the profit rate leads to crises. But crises are the direct opposite of what Rosa Luxemburg in her time imagined: the sign that capitalism no longer continues. Crises are the opposite, crises are: the accumulation of means of production, of capital, was reckless against its own principle. Means of production were produced that one does not need, goods were produced that cannot be bought according to the method of calculation of capital. There are people available who cannot be used according to the method of calculation of capital. And what does the crisis lead to? It leads to the fact that production is cancelled because it is not worthwhile for profit. Here crisis is not the gravedigger of profit, but crisis is the sign of how unconditionally profit rules. In the crisis, everything becomes invalid if it is not good for profit. Everything is shit on, the people who have to work and could work for themselves but are just not needed, they should just be left to sink or swim; the material wealth, a finished factory, makes no wonderful products if they cannot be sold for profit; the concrete wealth, the factory, is worth nothing. And the crisis leads to the fact that production ceases, or to say it still differently: because in the crisis production ceases, the capitalist carries on an unconditional extortion of the society that has to serve him, he says that the necessary reproduction ceases, the production of food, consumer goods, means of transport, and so on, everything ceases if it is not profitable for me. And how does the society answer him? Shit, they say. Then the crisis spreads: one capitalist goes really broke because he cannot really sell any more, the other can buy it up because the bankrupt competitor can be bought cheaply. The workers are jobless and lie in the street, and the time during which this condition spreads functions as a successful blackmail of the society: all the economic data rearranges itself in such a way and until it is again worthwhile to produce. Crisis is thus the opposite of the statement: it no longer goes well for capitalism any longer. The crisis is in the interest of capital, in the interest of the fact that it must get on with profit, so everything is rearranged. Everything in this way falls apart, everything that is not compatible with value and its increase is ascribed a value. Thus the value of everything is written off so that the utilization works out. By the way, the real socialist also understands this as: there are cyclical crises, and in addition to those, so it is maintained, there is the crisis of capitalism. He treats the cyclical crises as I have just discussed. Here everyone will say: yes, I learned that, there are those. But one does not want to be content with that, one wants to say: there are the cyclical crises, but those are not decisive; the decisive thing is the crisis of capitalism. And now if you ask again what does this mean? As a last resort they come back again to the cyclical crises: nevertheless, you see that the crisis of capitalism becomes ever larger, ever more inevitable, ever harder! In what? In the cyclical crises, its rhythm, its depth, its consequences, and so on …
[inaudible comment from the audience]
That was, I believe, two arguments in one: ever less people are employed in the production process, but without exploited labor no surplus value can emerge because the machines must always be bought at their price, and then no more surplus value can be pumped out. And the second argument is: it concerns world market conditions of productivity. On the second point, I only want to repeat what I said a moment ago: the capitalist is not concerned with pure productivity, he is no devotee of labor saving production, but for him it is about capital productivity. That is, the profit should be as high as comparatively possible. This effect is reached by methods of increasing relative surplus value and new machinery, but exactly the same thing is reached by low wages and cheaply purchased factories. These are three methods of competition from the point of view of the entrepreneur, who does not at all say he would like a dust free factory: he would like one that makes money. The addition of world market conditions changes nothing at all in this. For the same reason, in the third world there are the most terrible sweatshops where people work for starvation wages on terribly old machines and produce something maybe on behalf of Toyota. Toyota does not say: that’s too old for us, we need higher productivity under world market conditions. They look at capital productivity, how profitably the advance money pays off, and it can pay off just as well with ancient machines.
[inaudible comment from the audience]
Then I do not understand your thought completely. But, nevertheless, it needs a certain activity because otherwise the use value with which one wants to compete in the world market is not to be had at all. Insofar as one needs a certain level of productivity so that dashboards, seats, upholstery, and so on are made, as things are made for Toyota in sweatshops, then what counts most: the high productivity of labor is not what the capitalist looks at, but the high capital profitability. And this now leads, for example in Japan, to an unusual structure, as one now says: there is a narrow area of core production in Toyota’s own companies and many, many parts they procure very cheaply from sweatshops that do not produce at the most modern level, but which compensates for the lower productivity with cheap wages and cheap factories – cheaper than what Toyota would pay – from the subcontractors who may exploit in a different way. And from the point of view of money, one is as good as the other. One must know, or one must pay attention to, capital productivity, the degree to which the advance money pays off, and it does not concern high labor productivity, providing the use value with maybe less labor time.
If we go over the second point, deserted factories: the sentence is correct in the last instance: if capital no longer exploits anybody, it can no longer produce surplus value. In the last instance, this is correct. Therefore – now my answer – capitalism does not arrive at such a condition. And this is now the counter argument to yours: “therefore capital comes to the historical limit of its survivability.” It is clear that if capital no longer employs, and already when it employs less, the pressure on wages rises accordingly. Others want to work in the factory too; they want to make a living from it, so they offer themselves more cheaply. Capital can live with 2 million unemployed, soon with 3 million, and united with the GDR also 4 million, easily, this is not at all a problem. To strain the argument: if one day there are only 100,000 persons employed out of 60 million, then eventually it looks bad for capital, if one traces your thoughts, there I have to say: this sort of hope proves a historical patience that I don’t muster. One does not need to fear deserted factories, or look forward to it, they are just calculated differently. Therefore, it also does not come to this, not in this form.
4. The historic mission of the working class
Real socialism wanted to prove the law of the productive forces revolting against the relations of production. Now we have thought through two thoughts, that of the crisis and that of social production and private appropriation. I would like to again take these in a block. Indeed one: social production and private appropriation, and the pertinent argument: the contradiction of productive forces and production relations manifest themselves in the fight of the proletariat against the capitalist class. The idea here is: whether one sees the contradiction in it, this is, as I already said, the question we had at the beginning. If one sees the contradiction in the fact that the workers make a production that is not to their liking. But that the means of production and the workers in their role as means of production push up against the relations of production because they do not permit their advancement as means of production – this should not be interpreted from it.
However, I want to go on to something else: the real socialists did not say: the criticism should be that these are just shitty conditions for the workers. It should be more than just that the workers have good reasons to be against it. It should always be a necessity for the society, a necessity that the workers should follow, it should not simply be – so they think – only the interest of the workers that is active there. There is a formulation for it: it was called the historical mission of the working class. Here a historical mission is established independent of the workers and what they want, and then it puts the question: either the workers turn out to be worthy of their mission or forget about them. The idea always means that the historical mission of the working class should be more than what they want. It should be something to which they should orient their will. It should be somehow more objective than only the material interests of the workers themselves. If they want to explain this, they fall back on more than the workers’ struggle against the capitalists, they do not find this to be an argument at all. It is not at all proven that the process proceeds nature-historically, it is only said: this exists. And by the way, the same authors would have to point out: and mostly this does not exist: the class conflict in bourgeois society has become quite extinct. It is not at all true that the working class fights against the capitalist class, and if it does, then in such modest, concessionary, and desperate forms that one cannot really speak any more about a class that fights the other class.
If one thinks here of Krupp Rheinhausen [translator’s note: a major steel factory in Germany where in the late 1980s mass redundancies were met by large worker protests]: the jobs argument, we want to be employed, and then the arguments that follow: we are so useful, Poles are not as useful, Mr. Krupp, you do not see this, this is a great dishonor. These were the types of arguments in the Rheinhausen struggle. So, there are struggles, but what do they want? The logic goes like this: we are not subjectivists, we address ourselves to objective things, the real laws of society, we socialists who have insight into these laws. And the real law of this society is that capitalism is transitory because it provides only limited possibilities for the development of the productive forces. Proof: there are hardships against which one should fight. And secondly, there is a contradiction. The proof is not at all suitable for what it aims to prove. If we take that as evidence, it is noticeable again: yes, if people push back, if it does not fit people, then there is conflict, otherwise not. There is nothing more objective in this whole contradiction than the desire of those who fight out this conflict. That is somewhat amusing: now they say that it is objective, otherwise it is utopian socialism, and then secondly they demonstrate how it is objective, and they fully come back to it. Because they realize that this is what they say, and they want to say something like: the moral judgment on this society is objective. But it is not objective in a scientific sense: the society is worth being abolished. But the moral judgment on this society is objective in the sense of: the society is already being abolished because it is worth abolishing. Here one notices that the representatives of real socialism, on the subject of utopian socialism, are at the same time those who cannot suffer a subjective rejection, a condemnation, of this society. But on the other hand, where they find someone who condemns it, they do not say: let it be, we cannot endure this condemnation, but they treat this as the expression of a necessity and draw from opposition and class warfare their justification to state more than that there is class warfare where there are those who make class warfare.
5. The means of production / relations of production
The fourth argument in my sequence is: “the formation of monopoly proves the obsolescence of the capitalists.” This is demonstrated by: production becomes ever more social, the large monopolies even employ exploited salaried managers and the capitalist no longer plays any role in the production process. I say to this: how easy he has made life! Now he is no longer needed, and in spite of that, everyone serves him! The real socialists say: this proves his historical obsolescence. Who needs this proof? Someone who grants the capitalist a historical mission, but wants to ascertain something like a historical endpoint to this order.
This is the crucial flipside to the dialectic of productive forces and production relations. If I say, every society offers developmental possibilities to the productive forces, which are the driving force of history, and every society also produces limits to the developmental possibilities of the productive forces, if I talk in this way, I condemn capitalism as a society that now sets barriers against development. That means, if this is the criterion, conversely: yesterday capitalism permitted the productive forces their development, and permitted them better than feudalism: so, hello capitalist! Exploitation no longer means: who has to work for whom? And who gets something from it? But it is regarded as: there is an historical phase where exploitation is absolutely in order because it is progressive.
This rotten category progressive is only the carrying out of historical metaphysics: history leads forwards and every mess that people are put in is in order if it leads forwards, if it develops the productive forces. The fact that the productive forces have always been developed only for exploitation never disturbs this sort of socialist. He says: the capitalist was for 200 years the most important figure in human development that has ever been. But now that there is monopoly, this proves that he is no longer needed. This is quite amusing, the proof ends with: we don’t need you any more. The exploited say to the capitalists: thanks, dismissed, we don’t need you any more! This is a mistake. It is true that the development of the productive forces has been organized in so-called modern times by the capitalists, pursued for their benefit and pursued only to such an extent and in such a way as it is useful for their purpose; this is correct. But to say that humanity used the capitalists so that the machine would be invented, thus, thanks capitalists, but please resign, your work is now done! This reinterpretation is not correct by a long shot. It is not at all true that humans cannot develop machines if there is no capitalist who whips them, who can use the machines so that he saves wages. That’s the resulting benefit. For centuries the development of the productive forces had to proceed in capitalist form. Why? Because it just went that way! Here again a necessity is certified as a pure fact. Because capitalism ruled over the last few centuries, it had to rule.
Exactly like: because Lenin led a revolution, it had to win. What would have happened if the whites had got 100,000 more soldiers (the whites, that is the counter-revolutionaries), what would have happened then? They would have polished off Lenin’s revolution just like they now polish off Nicaragua today. Where then is the necessity? Lenin just won! Why? He was determined; the others were just not as determined. The others were just not so numerous, the foreigners, the English and the American support for the counterrevolution was not determined enough and not provided with enough means; there is nothing more to it! To always act as if there was a higher power in history than the will of those who want something and so implement their will and secure the means for it is pure metaphysics.
Therefore, also in reverse: after feudalism must come capitalism? Bullshit! When? Where? First of all, why must it end at all, feudalism? There are nevertheless areas of the world where it simply continued. Secondly: there once was in Germany the Peasants’ War – the GDR boasts that it holds its tradition in honor – there it was a matter of a few thousand determined peasants, and then history would have gone differently. Nevertheless, one must not act as if merely because they did not have the means, also here again people just did not have the means, therefore they had to perish! Why? Here again comes the GDR science of history: because conditions were not yet at all so far developed, therefore Thomas Muenzer was a utopian. Does this make sense?
I can formulate this in another way: the science of history in the west and in the east is based on only one trick: what happened had to happen because it happened! Always! There is no other argument in the science of history. One can express this elaborately: Bismarck could build a state because of conditions that were created before him, and he also could not, on the other hand, exceed these conditions. Complete bullshit, you can say it however you want, there is only one thought in the science of history: what happened had to happen. Proof: it did not happen differently. An awkward technique to certify the fact of inevitability without any intermediate argument.
Science always in principle attaches a cause to a fact whose necessity will and also must be caused. One can do this correctly, one can do this wrongly, but the science of history makes an argument of time. The historians say: what happened afterwards, therefore happened; in Latin: Post office hoc ergo more propter hoc. Thus it is argued that there are laws. There are no other ideas in the science of history. And real socialism had this thought, expressed most naively. In the west, you always know that they must produce an appearance that something else must go in addition to “because this occurred after that, it was caused by that,” because this is too stupid. And real socialism, they said they know a law: namely, the development of the productive forces and the sequence of social formations, and with this law in the background I can recklessly show “because this happened after that, it happened on account of this.”
Within the capitalist mode of society, every social mode is wiped out which cannot make capital a productive power. That's true; the statement is correct. But it is simply not a law of the end of capitalism. This is not a law of the type that capitalism eventually bumps into limits; that it eventually breaks down. It means: capitalism dissolves all modes of production that cannot develop the powers that it develops. Indeed, it does this – in this one is not mistaken – but not by competition in relation to productivity, but by war: all societies which inhibit the capitalist mode of production are dragged into a military conflict, also here it is not, as it were, the historical justice of the productive powers, but weapons. In the end, that society which does not have the weapons necessary to win loses. I tell you this now, because to a certain extent this could be heard as an apology; there is nevertheless also a rational core to this law: capitalism dissolves all those societies that hinder the unconditional production of value, and that means the productive power of value. But: it dissolves them first of all not by the competition of the productive forces, but by the competition of weapons. Competition of the productive forces only in this respect, when productivity is necessary for getting the proper weapons. Secondly: this is not at all an argument that capitalism pushes the limits of the productive forces. This is not an immanent contradiction, but the contradiction between capitalism and pre-capitalist societies; here a process of dissolution of pre-capitalist societies takes place. But there must have been capitalism in the first place.
A few more examples should show how artificial the whole thing is. With this world key – “the productive forces strain against the chains of the production relations, therefore it is the progress of the development of the productive forces which requires that production relations change” – how is one to explain the fall of Roman society with this construct? Roman society simply fell because the Teutons ran them over. And then the productive forces went downhill for 1000 years. As if the Teutons had the superior productive forces, and then the Romans with their substandard social system had to resign! It was nothing like that; just the opposite was the case. Much more highly developed productive forces – they already had cooperation and so on – gave way to a tribe which had just made the transition to agriculture.
And another example that is always given by real socialism, and one that Marx himself also cited as the proof: the French revolution was nevertheless something like that! There the old regime had to give way. Why? Did the productive forces oppose the fetters of the relations of production? Indeed, here too the picture does not even begin to fit: who rebelled against whom? First: the whole people against the king. It was seen that he was no longer needed. Secondly: is it always then the same, who this was specifically? Yes, it was not the productive forces. If so, then it was the bourgeois production relations that took exception to the political relations of the absolutist state.
Two things came into conflict, i.e. it was not the productive forces, which somehow have their own dynamic, and the binding production relations, but two interests came into conflict. And of the two interests that came into conflict, there was not one interest in means of production and another one in a relationship, but the bourgeois mode of production, which had been growing under sponsorship in feudalism for a long time, was expanded by the king who had his financial resource in it, pushed against the feudal political relations. Then the bourgeoisie said: if we are already now the basis of the community, if now everything depends on our money, why should we for pay for the king, the aristocracy and their luxuries. The criticism that occurred there was not of the kind: here forces of production and there production relations, but: another purpose of production developed in the midst of feudalism and became enormous. And because it was enormous, it turned against the political forms, and there the word fits that they were fetters. But the political relations of feudalism were not fetters for the productive forces, but for the capitalist branch of production, thus for the interests of the capitalists, and not for the productive forces which always strive forward. So even the French revolution, which is given as the example for: somebody perhaps felt the existing rule as a fetter. But it was not the productive means, but the already well-established capitalist production purpose! It pertains to this. Only purposes can struggle against each other. The means cannot fight with the purpose.
Now another striking example: “capitalism is incapable of making social use of the gigantic productive forces which are connected with the development of the scientific-technological revolution.” Listen to the sentence again: in the list of contradictions between productive forces and production relations, there is a new contradiction, which now means: capitalism is unable to make social use of the gigantic possibilities of the new productive forces. What is the error of this sentence? The error of this sentence is “unable.” I can maintain an inability only of someone who is willing. For example, if I do not want to play cards, then someone can’t say that I am unable to play cards. This statement is easy because I am unwilling. However, “unable” assumes the intention and then denies the possibility of doing it. If, however, I do not assume the intention, then the expression “unable” is simply nonsense. Now they say: capitalism is unable to use the new productive forces socially. Here one first attests that capitalism might be willing and secondly one says: however, it cannot. Why? It is incorrectly organized. Now one has identified a contradiction, this is really right, the inability contradiction, but it is a contradiction only if I state a) the purpose and b) the impossibility of pursuing it. Otherwise it is not a contradiction. The truth is: capitalism has no interest at all in using the gigantic possibilities of the new productive forces socially. And if nothing else is announced, then this interest does not exist at all. Then the contradiction is also gone. Then there is no contradiction between productive forces and production relations. Here one sees what they think: they declare that capitalist society has a good will in order to then compare the reality with the good will. In order to then say: how badly it lives up to this good will! And then they say: see, they can’t do it, they do not manage it! And then they have the contradiction that of course always says: the contradiction is objective. It is more objective than only some people who no longer resign themselves to the nonsense and then rise up against it. The whole way of argumentation just has the intention of a proof, and the proof intention is: communism is a good project, you can join it. And the question to people is not: do you want this? The information means almost something like: you do not need to want it yourselves, it’ll come anyway, therefore you best join. This is bullshit because this takes people in their worst role, the role of conformists. And exactly in the role of conformist one should be a revolutionary! That was their idea. And therefore the thing is also gone if the assumption of winning is gone. If the historical optimism gets hit in the face by realities a little. Then the argument and its cogency are gone.
So once again: our assertion today is not: there is to be no revolution today, and not tomorrow! But our assertion is: there are enough reasons to break with this society. But apart from the people who appropriate these reasons, who explain to themselves their bad experiences in this way and then draw the practical conclusions, there is no historical urge in this direction. The idea of the real socialists is to say, first: this exists externally, people themselves are only part of this process, and that totally mixes these two statements in a meat grinder. It is first, on the one hand, not the will; secondly, on the other hand, it is also nothing without the will; and third, therefore the will is easy to goad because the whole thing is objective. The objective of course needs the will, because otherwise it does not happen. A pure swindle: it should be more than only the pure will of the people, but one also does not want to state that it proceeds from that.
6. Social existence determines consciousness
One can discuss very much in parallel the ideological side: “existence determines consciousness.” First of all, from where do the real socialists get the idea that existence determines consciousness? They know about it because they come across ideologies that justify participation. Secondly, they do not at all take up the ideologies as ideologies, by proving how their thinking is incorrect. Thus they also do not prove that existence determines consciousness, but they understand ideologies as signs of class positions. Yes, various middle class layers, they think in such a way; the proletarians, they think in such a way; and the capitalists of course in such a way. If I have decided to understand everything that someone says as an expression of what lies behind him, I make a big mess: I am no longer concerned about whether he is right. Its in order, a capitalist must think in such a way! You are a proletarian, and so on, the same logic. However, if I do not carry out the proof that it is not at all correct, then also the proof that people adapt their thinking to their situation does not succeed at all. Because maybe he is right, then his position corresponds to his thinking, and not his thinking to his situation. Maybe he is also right that he finds conditions reasonable, and they are reasonable. Then it is also right if he does mental summersaults. The idea that all the thoughts which one finds in the bourgeois world – thus the dominant thoughts – are expressions of classes, this needs to be proven. If, however, I prove it, then a criticism is connected with it. The proof means: I must first prove that it is not correct. If I say this is an expression of a position, and not: the world as he sees it is so reasonable, then he is also not an asshole who gropes for anything, but then everything fits. If I leave out the proof of the untruthfulness of a view, then the proof of its limitation by an interest is a mess. Because maybe it is correct, then it is not caused by an interest; so ideology criticism must go quite decisively to the truth of opinions. And only if I have convinced myself of the untruth of an opinion can I think the second thought, and ask: how does he deduce it then if he is not correct, why does he talk this way?
Or in other words: why do people always fight for the defensibility of their untenable views? What interest lies behind them, if they hold to such untenable views so stubbornly? It is vulgar materialism to understand people basically as signifiers of their conditions. And applied to politics, it means a sympathy for obedience. Because the criticism is completely segregated from it, it no longer means that you thereby make a mistake! Only then comes the second half, all thinking is an expression of a position.
Notice how reactionary the idea is: if the workers in West Germany have no desire to criticize capital, no longer strike, no desire for class struggle, what then? Then their position seems to fit them! The logic of the position is quite brutal: if people do not want to fight, then the situation is probably like that: there is no important reason to fight! This is a technique to justify joining in because one does not want to award joining in a blessing. Notice how complicated this is: one justifies joining in because one does not want to bless joining in, in that one had originally stood apart, by saying: if you engage in class struggle now, more is behind it than just things are not to your liking, namely there is a historical trend behind you, of which you are the expression, on which you can also ride, but which you should also carry! To attribute a historical mission to the workers is the same as to hold their interest as insignificant. Their interest is an expression of the historical mission, as far as it is in order, but the revolution should not be made because of bread and butter! It should be made so that history progresses.
What I wanted to demonstrate was: criticism of ideology is right, and is necessary, and is absolutely necessary. Because people are conscious, they participate even in the largest shit with consciousness. And that is the opposite of the statement: they grope without knowledge and consciousness as well. They do the stupidest things intentionally and consciously. They are only usually mistaken about what actually causes it. Here communists have a task: we show you what really causes it. And that is not the same as what you think!
The starting point is that they believe, think, and do everything with consciousness. This knowledge and consciousness is the crucial prop of capitalist society. Everyone in our country believes that he goes along with something that is in principle reasonable and good. All opponents fail because they do not penetrate this. People, on the other hand, are basically not content – in the sense of: it works out well for me – but absolutely believe that things are reasonable the way they are, essentially, including all the crap that makes life so difficult. Ideology criticism is thus the core of communist efforts. And the real socialists made their program almost the opposite of this. They said that ideologies are objective. Therefore their criticism is out of place. Now, I do not want to exaggerate this assertion, but whoever claims that ideology is just an expression, who then says that there must be different conditions, then there will be another ideology, and then it is again an expression; whoever says, the workers of West Germany do not fight, and then does not continue and say, they do not do themselves a favor by not fighting, but who then continues to say: and this seems to be an expression of their situation, with monopoly capital in a eminently successful situation that exploits the third world. Do you know where this lands? It lands with the information: the workers are too well off! The starting point was: they should make a revolution. The discovery was not: they do not do it. The starting point was: the historical development forces the working class to make revolution; maneuvers the workers into a situation where they cannot do anything else. And now they do something completely different. Thus the conclusion: then the situation is not so pressing! Now from the circumstance that people reject the arguments of the communists and are not interested in them, this information becomes: the arguments are probably out of place. The people are right, if they run along, because it is not so bad for them.
Of course, leftists do not stop believing in their historical trend. They say: the vantage point is one that will only come in the next crisis! Then more will remain for you! This still continues the idea that a person in his activity is the expression of his situation, the action-reaction-creature of conditions. Now that says in reverse: if they do not make a revolution, then they also seem to have no reason to do so. But we communists are pessimistic concerning the chances of capitalism; we believe that the crisis is coming. And then, when it comes, what is to be done? Then the followers of this thought, that thinking is an expression of conditions, discover only two different things: either they say: well, at least there are now unemployed persons, now no one can cop out! And if pressed, its always the same logic: then its still just too good for them! Yes, just wait until the historical situation is ripe! This is, in each case, only the crude expression of: they are still much too well off, until nothing else remains for them except to make the revolution.
[Inaudible remark from the audience].
Exactly, there was no organized vanguard of the proletariat, there they are standing around and nobody was there to tell them what to do. The logic is brutal because it does not want to criticize the workers in this situation for not taking matters into their own hands, but they criticize rather themselves and their competing organizations for not having taken over the leadership. Well, of course, if only the leaders had been there!
Now still something else occurs to me: it is an untruth that misery makes someone inventive. It is utterly wrong that it might make one inventive, that one would learn something from misery. Still everybody knows this, and in this stupidity our left in West Germany and in East Germany are in absolute agreement, as long as no revolution takes place, they hope for a crisis. If the crisis is there, it makes frightful sense to them that the workers become fascists. Until the crisis comes, they believe, the crisis will finally be the successful condition, and if it is there, they say: an unemployed person naturally joins the brown shirts! One must think through this thought: first one believes that it is the condition for the revolution, and then one has to fear that it occurs. Then it suddenly occurs to them: this is the condition for something completely different as well!
Then, nevertheless, at least the insight would remain that it seems to depend on whether people explain their bad situation correctly; whether they mean one must send all parasites and lazy people to concentration camps so that things finally work out or whether they mean that production for value, the accumulation of capital, is the reason for the fact that nothing ever works out for them. It depends on the opinion one forms about one’s misery, and not on the misery. Spontaneously, by the way, the forming of an opinion over misery always goes rather to Hitler than to the left. Why? Because this is only the necessary continuation of the ways of thinking that they have already followed until now.
How do people come to such an imbecilic thought as there is too little order in the country? The information always means: then they must also require more of me. I should not demand so much, then I would be better off. Thoughts to the point of: if one works only 37 hours, it is no surprise that one is poor. Where does this come from? This is the toughest of the ideological techniques which follows solely from the will to adapt and at the same time the free will, it goes in such a way: I believe in the fact that this mode of production is my livelihood. Where do I get this belief? Quite simply, I must find an employer, then I’ll have work, then I’ll have wages. There’s a small mistake in this: the job and the wage is not there because of those who need the wage, but because of the employer. But the worker needs the job now, so he holds not to the truth of the thing, but to his need: his job is his source of livelihood – indeed, this is not correct, but it is correct for him in practice. Or the thought follows the necessity in which the person is placed, so he no longer really asks why there are jobs, but thinks: why should there be jobs? Well, because of me there should be jobs! Because if there aren’t any, I am shit. So now he has made a reinterpretation; he has explained exploitation as his livelihood. Here he does not yet become a fascist, here he is a completely normal character: I go to work, the capitalist gets my work, I get my wage, these are the lawful conditions.
Someone becomes a fascist then if they discover that this is not correct. One who believes that capital and the nation are his livelihood and they are not. He looks at his own problems and must say: what is now wrong? And then he must decide, he asks himself, why is it that he doesn’t have anything, or he searches for guilty parties to explain why he does not have anything, although nevertheless everything is in order. One becomes a fascist if one says: although the nation is my sustenance, it is not just. One holds to the idealism of the first mistake, then ascertains that it is not at all like that: who brings everything here into disorder? The labor unions, the students who protest! And outside the country? No wonder that nothing functions in Germany when our enemies do not leave us alone! On Bonn: it is no wonder the politicians are corrupt, they only seek their private benefit, they don’t think at all of the state, the politicians in Bonn flip flop! One measures everyone with the belief that they are there to perform duties, and ascertains that they neglect their duties. So one calls for concentration camps and the enforcement of order because one directly ascertains that what he believed the order is there for has not happened. That was now an excursion on the topic how ideology actually functions.
We stand before factory gates in West Germany, at each large factory. And people say, “we don’t need this,” and mean: sincerely sorry, I am a father and have an installment loan for my car. Your arguments do not help me any in getting by. Here he is right, really. Every special sales coupon is more useful for getting by than our criticism. Our criticism aims for something completely different: consider whether you do well to tighten your belt to live within your means, which they have set for you. We want to ask people whether they do not for once want to make a break in their willingness to get by. Are they ready for one moment to think about it, about what it is they actually get by with? And then they say to us: sorry, I don’t have time; I just have to get by.
[inaudible comment from the audience]
You have now retracted something about the crisis to say something like: it has a catalyzing role. Not that the crisis drives people to the left, but: the crisis forces people to make decisions. So I understood your thought. The catch to it is the following: on the one hand, people are also given reasons to decide when the system is functioning normally. It is not like that, that there are no unemployed persons, but there is a hierarchy of life situations, one sees that here someone lives quite well, and there are those who one would not like to live like them. There are poor, there are rich, there are open political maneuvers. We, the Marxist Group, e.g. in the material we put out every week, or every 14 days, point to something: people, do you not want to have this explained, what goes on here, why this is done, what is forced on you? There is a state contract, but did you agree to it? And so on. That is material for criticism and also: you participate here in something that does not benefit you at all! One cannot now truly maintain that this does not happen in normal times. That was the first part.
Unusual times, when there are crises, have an advantage, you think, and that means: oh, normality does not continue. And they have a disadvantage: people wish for the return of normality. This is quite clear when the non-functioning of the system becomes the criticism. And that is the stupidity: someone who is only concerned to explain crisis – and not only as just another occasion, and then just another one – because the crisis is politicizing, this person becomes a rescuer of the functioning of the community. This is such a strict law that I know an example where the left argued in such a way: the communists before the Third Reich, the KPD in the Weimar Republic, also understood itself as a national savior: the Versailles dishonor! They did not say: what does this shit about Versailles have to do with the workers? But they said: the Versailles treaty can only be done away with by the proletarian revolution! Just think: the communists discussed, along with everyone else, Germany as a victim of the foreign powers! They said, there are good states and there are bad states, and we are now a victim! And then they suggested another solution for how to get Germany out of the role of victim. Hitler had said one must strike the enemies on the head, and the communists said: one must revolutionize the international system, then Germany will again play an equal role. The crisis not only as an occasion for reflection, one to think about, the crisis as the problem that needs a solution – this always sees normality as an ideal.
Now to express it again differently: if people are in the situation that they work 8 to 14 hours a day for a 1 bedroom apartment and their two crying children and a Volkswagen that they need to drive to work, thus approximately their whole life, if they do not find that strange, not even if they see people who live quite differently right next to them whose lives go somewhat differently, if they do not even come on the question: does it really have to be like this? But come more easily to the question: why don't they work, the others? If people are in such a shape that they think this way, then they can become in no way smarter from the crisis, except to ask: what is really wrong? Not: why don't things work? Someone who says: why doesn't it work? takes the view of functioning. So, the crisis for communists is not luck and not bad luck, but an object of explanation. No reason for them to wait, no reason for them to say: hopefully it doesn’t happen. Both reasons are not reasons in this sense. In one sense, it is a catalyst, you are right. But a catalyst for the wrong problem: does it function? Does it work, the existence of the nation? Therefore – as said – it is quite dangerous to hope for a crisis. In West Germany, the entire left waited for the crisis, and then it was there, and it lasted five years, and then nothing happened, and then this all repeats itself again. And people like Altvater [German Marxist crisis theorist] said wait until 1975 for the crisis! Altvater predicted the world economic crisis, predicted the debt crisis, predicted the crisis of the EEC, and said: only wait, then we will see it! Now that it is over, he continues with predictions.
People in capitalism must find normality weird, not the offence against normality.
[inaudible remarks from the audience]
These are techniques, intellectual procedures, with which one processes disappointments. You must pay attention to something: it is not true that we are faced with content people and we are the only ones for whom something is not right. It is much more complicated. All people have massive disappointments, and they adhere to techniques for processing them. You visit your relatives who have dinner at the table, and everyone grumbles about the prices on vacation, the superiors who lord over everyone, the co-worker at work who does nothing, the children who do not behave themselves like parents expect, the teachers who block the opportunities for the children. Then I sit down at the table and say: is nothing at all ok with you? You talk like communists! And then they say: oh, nevertheless, one must be content. Then it goes simply in the other direction. This is to point out the following: it is not true that people are all content, and then someone comes along for whom things do not fit. But: if you say, take your discontent seriously, go to the reason for it, and see what consequences it has, what results there, then comes a counter-plea, which is: that does not help me any with all that I must deal with. That is my previous argument; it doesn’t help me in getting along! Now this is something peculiar: here interest stands against thought. That is our peculiar weakness: we have a thought, and he senses that we are against an interest. The interest is: I am a worker, I want to earn money, I must earn money, then I just run to work. Can you offer me an alternative? Here you must really say to them: you mean whether I am a capitalist and pay you more? That is what someone means by this. Indeed: whether he doesn’t have to change anything in his life circumstances and finds someone who will make it better for him. That is the question, and by this criteria every critic of the world disgraces himself. Because a critic would like to change something. There is the position of the powerful who dictate conditions, and can or wants to dictate them differently.
So some peculiarities stand against each other: thought does not at all stand against thought, and interest does not stand against interest, but interest stands against thought. You say: isn’t it stupid to do everything you do there? And then there is the counter-answer, which always means: but I can’t do any different. Do you offer me something? That always means: one only appeals to one’s practical necessities, which forbid one from thinking such thoughts. That is the logic. Where is our chance now actually in the whole thing? Our chance exists only in one thing: in the moment when someone says: is it true, what it is actually about? Do I actually need to exist here in this way, as I exist here, must this be? Then he is already half on our side. The difference exists in the following – well, this is now a methodological debate, but agitation exists in the following – the agitation can attack generally only the ideology of an interest. But the interest itself is there. The interest is: to run after work and earn money. Now there is the ideology: I am a good worker, I am a bread winner. From my work. Then we come and say: well, its not so! We tell him how his wage is calculated, why there is a wage hierarchy, how he is grouped in it, and so on.
We need those who have so much materialism, so much pride, to say: if it is really something stupid, then I also criticize the interest that I have. Then I also criticize the dependence in which I want to work satisfactorily. Somebody must be willing to examine whether a necessity is actually in order. You have one lever: nobody would like to say of himself: I participate just because I am a butthole and anyone can do anything to me. This does not exist in a free society. Thus everyone needs ideology to represent his own participation in the race as his ingenious way of asserting himself in the world. Thus everyone lives with the belief and the necessary thoughts about the rationality of the process in which he takes part. Ideology is a necessity.
Otherwise we would have slaves and not free wage laborers. Only, the ideology has a weakness: it is not correct! The interest that he considers so reasonable persists, however. So, you are in a debate, you argue with someone. Your lever exists only in the information: you consider the whole reasonable, but I say to you: there you are mistaken, and I can show it to you! Everyone says: in what! This isn’t reasonable, what I make do with? You do not prove this to me! Someone who does this wins. At the moment when you prove that this is not correct, everyone says: yes, but what should I do otherwise? He does not remember at all the field of his ideology, but gives you half the proof that it is not right, and remembers why he maintains the ideology because of the practical necessities, that he does not make ends meet, if he has discarded his ideology, insofar as he is reasonable. Everyone who remembers it is hopeless. He refuses to debate about the reason for his ideology.
The worker who says: I cannot make the effort to examine whether capitalism is shit because I have to work also says: I must orient my thinking in the way that my necessities require. He straight out says that he needs another ideology than I offer. Because he can never be happy as a worker with what I offer. Think how low people descend: they say, I must orient my mind in such a way that it fits conditions, otherwise it does not fit them!
Now a summary of “existence determines consciousness”: Marx said that in capitalism there is a necessary false consciousness. And I have the impression, except in our explanation there is no one who can maintain the categories “necessary” and “false” at the same time. The real socialists misunderstood the words “necessary false” so that “necessary” is so emphasized that “false” is deleted: yes, if consciousness is unavoidably an expression of class position, where then is the error? Then it only expresses exactly what his role is! Then if I say “false,” then I no longer have to explain to him why it is “false.” But I say: oh well, he just has a position that he just expresses. And there is the reverse also: I say, that is false, and thereby delete “necessary.” It denies that there is a reason for false consciousness; it is only your fearfulness, timidity, narrow-mindedness, thus a groundless reason for your false view. Secondly: in relations where you are compelled to align yourself according to their theories, a consciousness of your freedom is to be had only as a false consciousness. It is a consciousness that these economic mechanisms – wage labor, capital, money – are a means for you, democracy is a means for the citizen to have an effect on the state, and so too thoughts of my freedom, that the world revolves around me. This consciousness, the mental point of view of constructive participation, is only to be had by constructing false ideas. In this sense, false consciousness is necessary in capitalism. It is not – as the representatives of real socialism understood it – necessary in an epistemological sense: one cannot think differently! Of course, one can be concerned with things and ask why they are. The contrast is clear: false consciousness is necessary not for theoretical but for practical reasons. Those are, of course, not theoretically necessary reasons. There is no reason why one should not think correctly. Except: then it surely no longer agrees with their own practice. Then it breaks with: “I am a worker, and earn my money, and bring up my children,” then this no longer goes. That is the only necessity for necessary false consciousness. But one may not think this so radically that one explains “necessary” to mean epistemologically unavoidable and then make the word “false” as if it comes from nature.
One can express the conflict that I wanted to make clear today with these words: one must be able to underline both adjectives in necessary false consciousness equally, although they constitute a contradiction. Necessary and false is a contradiction. I cannot say at the same time: necessary and mistaken. Mistaken means that you made an error, a mistake, an avoidable mistake. Here Marx says: in capitalism necessary false consciousness prevails. I tried to explain how it is that the wrong understanding of “necessary false” deletes “false.” Because if it is really necessary, then it is also no longer false. It is like a storm: if it is really necessary and inevitable, then one should no longer criticize it. Anything that is necessary and inevitable one cannot criticize. One can criticize only what does not have to be. But that is how people are: they do not criticize what does not have to be, but they constantly criticize the weather.