All that can be done with Marx! Ruthless Criticism

The leftist controversy over the most radical view of humanity

All that can be done with Marx!

[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 4-1996]

A letter to the editors

“Dear comrades,
I just want to draw your attention to two books whose contents implicitly and explicitly call into question some of the usual patterns of thought, basic assumptions and objectives of the former Marxist Group and your circulars. Since I don’t have the time needed to explain in more detail which points I consider debatable – apart from the fact that I don’t consider myself among the most theoretically well-versed – only briefly the following points:

1) To take “interests” and/or “materialism” as the standard of analysis and critique was once an error of the “revis” of bygone times. However, there are no “interests” other than those that are immanent to capitalism, thus native to it and productive for it. The interest in a wage, e.g., includes the interest in making one’s own labor power capitalistically useful, and an antagonistic class opposition by no means follows from the contradiction in the contractual relation – because the terms for the realization of the wage interest are set by capital. It is therefore highly dubious to put the “failure” of the interest in the wage at the center of criticism. It is not rational to look at oneself as a wage worker – as one who is involved in fulfilling abstract, capitalist value-producing WORK – but as a human who sees the strangeness in this entire mode of production, i.e. in the production and exchange relations that the useful idiots are all so interested in participating in.

It’s a strange line of thinking to say that “materialism” is conceded – even by the state, which produces nothing at all – but that unfortunately it only bumps into the barriers of private property (see Psychology of the Private Individual, § 1). It only makes sense if one doubly defines interests – like, e.g., in the wage – as good, true, beautiful and restricted by capitalism and accepts its appearance as the liberating essence: use values, goods, products of all kinds – if only not for the shortage of money! Such a conception of materialism – meant as a criticism of capitalism – immediately loses its credibility when the money’s right. (The attempt to prove poverty can only point to paupers and – to draw it out – those who don’t think that in their hopeless services they are adequately compensated by the cash value of their unquestioningly carried out efforts of all kinds).

2) What keeps people loyal and mentally in line for the capitalist mode of production is not so much state force and the cultivation of moral righteousness. People who are interested in the exchange value of everything and everyone, because this is just how “materialism” happens in commodity-producing society, are also logically interested in the smooth functioning of bourgeois exchange relations. Money holds true for them a universal means of acquisition and disposal of private persons with bourgeois legal status because that is what they obviously want. Consequently, it is not a good “proof” that others always have money (don’t the capitalistically powerful owners need “small circulation” as well for their interest in expanding the total capital?).

Addressing alienated relations on the basis of COMMODITY-MONEY relations does not involve any philosophical mystification of the capitalistically-defined customs and practices. Quite the contrary!

But read, as I said, the two books yourselves, and say something new for once – and don’t refer to earlier articles that have significant weaknesses. An open approach in your so militantly titled magazine would of course be welcome.

– Ebermann/Trampert, Die Offenbarung der Propheten, konkret Literaturverlag, Hamburg 1995
– Wolfram Auerbach, Diesseits von Gut und Böse, Verlag für die Gesellschaft, Hannover 1996.

P.S. I do not consider the remarks in these writings consistently insightful and successful. In relation to your work, however, I notice that the “quality” also has flaws.”

Answer of the Editors

We are using the occasion of your letter for a more fundamental discussion of this tendency in leftist literature. You’ll find your suggestions discussed in the longer text and also recognize yourself in much of what we quote from your reading recommendations. A few prefatory remarks on the serious errors in your comments:

1. You equate the dependence of the workers on capital with an automatic partisanship for the capital relation.

Everyone is born into these relations, must worry about money, and therefore work. Whoever pursues the interest that is forced on him and scrapes by in this way obeys the necessity and does not commit an error which he could also avoid. This is not a partisanship for capitalism. By no means does an “interest in the wage include the interest in making one’s own labor power capitalistically useful.” Rather, it is encountered as its condition. The wage worker gets to notice that this condition and the interest in his wage are not the same: in order to comply with the condition, he must back off the interest. And not even by sacrificing can the workers ensure the condition of their wage: the profit of the capitalists, without which “employment” does not even happen. Workers are the dependent variable of the business. They also do not control their destiny by making sacrifices. The wage interest depends on capital, is thereby restricted and often nullified. That is the “antagonistic class opposition.”

Every worker must deal with this contradiction. How he does and what he thinks about it is worth closer examination. The discovery of an antagonism is distinguishable from the question as to whether the workers draw class struggle from it. They indeed draw all sorts of things from it: modesty, calls for justice, trade union resistance, nationalism, etc. This just depends on how they explain their situation and how reasonable they consider their constraints. You write that workers’ interests are immanent to the system and thus invert the “revi” position that revolution is an automatic effect of class position, only in an equally mistaken reversal: now the omission of class struggle should be an automatic effect of the situation. Workers’ interests are neither immanent to the system nor transcendent of it, but poorly served.

2. You conclude from the false consciousness of the wage workers that their interests are not harmed.

We also know that the workers with their restricted interests due to their dependence on profit make a transition to concern about the success of the company, the state of the economy, indeed of the nation, and let themselves be held responsible for it. But we also know that people who advocate for the condition of their employment only make their problem worse. Whoever accepts the “necessity” of declining wages and thinks he is acting like a partner in the business in which he competes for wages does not thereby become a partner.

It is also true that wage workers develop ideologies of sucking it up, justice illusions and a psychology with which they struggle for their self-esteem in the face of the disappointments they suffer in their pursuit of success in the “meritocracy.” With mistaken thoughts they maintain and renew their will to try to get ahead through decent work. They thereby make their peace with the world by wallowing in doubts about themselves. You do not gather from the results of your reading of the Psychology of the Private Individual what people have to put up with, but that they end up in agreement with the circumstances regardless. From the agreement you conclude that they must have good reason for it: one must search for poverty, according to you, with a magnifying glass. You see skimpy wages only as a grievance cover for justice fanatics who never get enough. Don’t you then notice that there would not be the ineradicable need for justice if everything was ok materially?

You come to us instead with the idea that criticism is implausible if “the money’s right”! Where do you actually live? Or do you again infer from the absence of class struggle that interests are satisfied? By the way, if it were true that generally the money is right; if fulfilling abstract labor no longer meant carrying out work that does not pay off for the workers, then there would be no criticism of political economy. And it also wouldn’t need any! Then indeed materialism would not be disgraced, but satisfied. Money would be a fine device for satisfying needs and capital an invention for increasing useful things. Then, of course, there would also not be the stupid participation that you prefer to criticize instead of exploitation and no one would deserve the insult “useful idiot” – because effort and benefit would obviously fit together.

We will have nothing to do with your recommendation that one should not complain about the poverty and exploitation of capitalist society, but find it strange beyond “materialism” as a whole and oppose it to a home where “humans look at themselves rationally.” The new class antagonism between humans and participants is for us both too modest and too elitist.

The left between pandering to and rejecting the “revolutionary subject”

What the writer of the letter to the editor expresses as a suspicion, the sources of his inspiration were sure of long ago: Robert Kurz and the “Krisis” editors, the magazine “Bahamas” and now Auerbach recognize the Marxist Group, that “craftiest” of “class struggle projects” known to them, as a case for the “revisionist criticism” that the MG had introduced into the left 20 years ago and had aimed against the DKP (German Communist Party) and the various communist groups which the above authors were all members of. Our charges against the workers’ friends are returned to us today – sometimes connected with praise for past merits and criticism for having relapsed behind the insights reached. People who today are called the Marxist camp demand we confess that efforts to persuade workers to make a revolution amount to a futile ass-kissing of their capitalistic interests and leaves a true criticism of the system unmade. The authors see themselves as unsurpassably radical: their rejection applies to capitalism along with all its inhabitants. By contrast, they arraign the “value-form of socialization,” the “work fetish” and inner-capitalistic distributive justice, taking on the victims of the system in order to dismantle their will to participate in it.

Differently than the author of the letter to the editor wants to remember, it was not a mistake of the “revis” to take the materialism of the workers, i.e. their damaged interests, as the starting point of criticism. On the contrary. What should be amiss about people being angry because their interests do not come into play and asking the reasons for it? The “revisionist reproach” of the MG had almost the opposite content: parties who inscribed socialism on banners had revised in their politics the necessity for damage to the workers’ interests in this system, which was, after all, where their party name came from. These parties, who wanted to “connect” with the workers, connected even the most affirmative proletarian complaints to the will to resistance. Calls for justice were not criticized as a mistake but minted into a political “fight for rights” and seen as the first step of the revolution. They sought to ingratiate themselves with polemics against the “anti-social” or “neoliberal” policies of the rulers, demanded “schools not bombs” and lower rents, made cheap potatoes available with “price reduction actions” by proletarian housewives, and offered themselves to their addressees as helpers in their efforts to cope with the existing conditions. They even courted the DGB union, whose top priority was the compatibility of its demands with the success of model Germany, as an ally and mass organization in anticipation of revolutionary activities. Never did they chalk it up to the task of the workers’ interests which lies in a union’s “reason.” They stood behind even the silliest collective bargaining circus to later attach a “system transcendent” quality to it. It was not restricted to obligatory messages of solidarity to the worshiped workers; they radicalized every wage demand by one percentage point more than the union had envisaged and made propaganda for the utmost determination in the struggle for “fair demands,” which the DGB politicians had arranged as bargaining chips for their wage compromise calculations. As a rule, the workers were not inspired by this lust for struggle. They knew how the DGB demands were meant and saw it that way themselves. However, no criticism of this “realism” was provided. On the contrary, the DKP waged its fiercest struggles when real workers had to be protected from criticism. Those who criticize the workers, they said, call them stupid; whoever disparages the good as gold methods of German wage-setting discourages struggling brothers and sisters and does the work of the factory owners by sparing them from the – albeit slight – counter-power of the unions.

The accusation raised against GegenStandpunkt of referring “affirmatively” to the “wage interest” does not bother to substantiate our false fawning over of the workers; it is enough for the accusers that we still talk about exploitation and consider it worth the effort to explain to the workers their bad experiences in this sense. If the old real socialists along with its milieu reproached us for denying that the workers, who are soon to rise up, have the ability to find their way out of the exploitation of bourgeois society, the modern ones insist that there is no such way out for wage workers with their unavoidably capitalistic, thus “value-formed” private interests anyway.

The old and new accusations – they follow opposite political intentions – combine a theoretical mistake: they have not understood the relation between the laws of capitalism described by Marx – value and surplus value – and the “surface of society.” [1] Marx made methodological statements like this to express the difference between the laws of capitalism and how they are carried out in the competition of private owners. In this competition, exchange value appears only as the price of commodities, surplus value only as the buying price of labor and its application in the factory, the falling rate of profit only as a back-and-forth between various growth digits.

The old real socialists and some of today’s have never heard of a difference between the inner laws and how they assert themselves in competition, and act as if the explanation of capital is obvious in the events of bourgeois society. As if people know out of pure intuition everything they need to know about surplus value, as if the rate of surplus value could be read in corporate balance sheets and stock prices, as if the diagnosis “exploitation” was common knowledge. If the social relations were as simple and clear as those between master and servant, then a science of political economy would of course be superfluous. Then it would, however, be puzzling why the wage working majority does not believe that it is exploited, but rather explains their abundant dissatisfaction by saying that nice guys always finish last and the working man is still unfairly denied equal participation in the national profit-community.

The others want to know nothing of this difference in a reverse way. They have people walking around in the world as unconscious and at the same time self-conscious embodiments of the economic categories of Capital. They act as if someone who pays his rent idolizes value and someone who works for a wage intends the “end-in-itself of capital accumulation.” In their own way, they also insist that there is nothing to explain and clarify. Their critique of the irrationality of the “value form of socialization” has no addressees who are mistaken about anything. The representatives of the “value form approach” show that they do not know that the high-caliber categories of system critique which they are so vociferous about really lie in such banalities as poverty, supermarkets and the flexibilization of labor. They hack wildly at the “senseless end-in-itself machine” and think that, by contrast, it is ignorant to say that the unlimited accumulation of capital only deserves criticism because it imposes a purpose on the production of food that is hostile to consumption.

I. Kurz, Auerbach, etc.: Criticism of “fetishistic socialization”

1. Two worlds

Wolfram Auerbach devoted a whole book to criticizing the Marxist Group and the magazine GegenStandpunkt and took a lot of pains to superfluously prove that we falsify Marx. Superfluous, first, because he only lets Marx quotes apply where they suit him and becomes a Marx critic when he can’t quote Marx’s statements as evidence for his own views. He could have plunged right into his thoughts about our thoughts flat out without positive and negative references to the great authority. But especially superfluous because, second, the plea that consistently concludes his remarks amounts to the rejection of the overthrow of economic and political relations and ends up screaming for the liberation of everyone’s “subjectivity”:

“It’s about our lives ... anyone who pushes away everything (money, state, poverty and wealth, advertising, subjectivity, law, etc.) – starts with HIMSELF NOW! The revolutionary left has only interpreted the world in various ways in order to change it. But the point is to reject it. The point is to reject it. The point is to do it differently. FOR A LIFE WITHOUT WORK, MONEY, STATE AND MORALITY! We reject it. DEPARTURE. EVOLATION.” (p.193 and 195)

Compared to this programmatic declaration, the highly Capital-educated proof that we falsify Marx’s theories is pretty luxurious. Someone who wants to make a departure into psychological self-realization does not need to demonstrate that the old economist and revolutionary gave him the idea. But the author apparently must write of his long-standing devotion to the basically false standpoint of the psyche – with verve, ridicule, and some venom. All this does not concern us. However, his arguments are representative of the above-mentioned direction and his plea to leave the field of politics and economics is consistent.

Auerbach wins the contrast between what we say and Marx’s teachings in countless places via the following method:

“In Gegenstandpunkt’s opinion, the private owner does not buy labor power for a certain period of time, but labor. Consequently, Gegenstandpunkt (here always GSP) makes the price of labor into the topic. With bombs and grenades – they flunk.” (p.141)

In a Marx exam! That in the real world labor contracts for time and money are concluded, that labor thus has a price, not even true Marxists may believe. Even if they learned from Marx that, on the one hand, surplus value accumulates and, on the other, the workers are only left with the value of the commodity labor power – and usually not even that. The payment of labor is the means of the capitalist to appropriate unpaid work. It is just one of the beauties of capitalism that a free exchange between private owners includes a relation of exploitation. By contrast, Auerbach demands an either-or. He constructs an opposition between the substance of the transaction – purchase of labor power – and its appearance – exchange of labor for money – and denies the mode of appearance. The contradiction between the two, which he notices, he wants to erase because this could be a source of illusion, but also the springboard for clearing it up. He sees it as if Marxists seriously live in a different world than those entangled in capitalist relations. Marxists, he says, should kindly remain in their world of explained objects, where labor power is bought – and the others in theirs, where labor is paid.

Vice versa, we also get offered the same disconnection between two worlds and/or accused of violating this disconnection: that the property system excludes the wage working population from social wealth and that this exclusion is always reproduced and extended by the exchange of wages for labor, Auerbach refutes in this way:

“If the majority of people were really excluded from all the products – they could not live! They must already have long ago been carried off. ... No way are people excluded, particularly systematically, from social wealth! There’s no capitalism without wage workers! Wage workers want to be constantly reproduced in order to be able work. Their labor power has its value and also a price. In the form of wages and/or what they can buy with them, the wage workers participate in social wealth.” “The working majority is NOT excluded from social wealth.” (p. 67, 70, 129)

Here Auerbach takes the standpoint of the banality that everyone sees: by referring to the form of the transaction between worker and capitalist, the exchange of money and work, he denies their content. Because they can buy something at all and do not starve, the workers are appointed joint partners in capitalist wealth. The idea that the manner of participation organizes the exclusion of workers from their product is undialectical to our critics. His deliberate misunderstanding arises from the alternative classification of the workers into two false drawers: Are they part of capitalist society or are they outside it? They would be “excluded” if they they got nothing at all. As long as they live in this society – he concludes – they live off it, thus are part of it.

This is the quintessence of his knowledge about the production and distribution of wealth in capitalism: the wage workers do not get nothing, they are in fact part of capitalist society. To ask what part are they? is uninteresting in the light of this alternative. There is no poverty which is troubling, which could therefore be gotten to the bottom of – or it is not important, which is the same thing. Because there is no automatic conversion of bad experiences into a revolutionary will, which the DKP and communist groups never let bother them, the reverse “revis” invent the determinism that the workers are necessarily for capitalism.

2. Do political and economic subjects bargain or does the system bargain? Misunderstanding “fetish” and “character mask”

Auerbach counters a presentation of the activity of the capitalist state which he finds in GegenStandpunkt and scathingly critiques: The state – anyway, the political force that imposes the rules of economic activity on the society – only executes functions of the system which are presupposed by the state. If one takes his counter-criticism as only a theoretical error, then it reflects a misunderstanding of the relation between politically-conscious rule and the “rule of the law of value.” Auerbach complains of a wrong either-or.

“Anything and everything is assigned to private persons by the state! The state is the agent, the assigned things are the object, and the private persons who are assigned are the minions ... whereby property comes into the world. ... In truth, the capitalistic production relation itself already implies the distribution of people into the various positions which exist in it, by which the shares of individuals in the wealth of bourgeois society is decided. And vice versa, this wealth a priori can exist in no other form than that of private property. This form does not first have to be carried into the society from outside and assigned its production relations, but is part of its being. ... Completely without the assistance of the state, owners and ownees are already ‘assigned’ to each other. The state gives the relations it finds in society the status of legality and thereby secures them. ... Without the state, the thing does not work, but it does not create them!” (p.15-17)

The author does not know that value and property are the same: exclusionary disposal over elements of material wealth. Private property is the legal relation that makes products into commodities and things of value. Value is the nature of commodities arising from the exclusive disposal which makes the products of others’ labor accessible in certain proportions. Without forcible allocation of exclusive disposal and/or exclusion, no product would be a commodity and have value – and without the permanent control of the subjects through the protection and maintenance of the legal system, they would not remain that for long. The idea that “the production relation itself already” and “completely without the assistance of the state” carries out the distribution of wealth and people into the positions of class society, that the state would kick in only retroactively and externally and “give the relations it finds in society the status of legality” wipes out the force character of value. Who does the system need to be “secured” from if the system dominates without a subject and its human elements indeed already function?

The developed class society which seems to function with a low level of force, the famous “mute obligation of circumstances” that Auerbach alludes to, is a result of an enforced and recognized force and its property order which calls to life and maintains the extremely productive interdependence of the two social characters on each other. After all, our Marx expert has probably heard of “primitive accumulation,” which the state, which is older than capitalism, carried out with lots of force – the expulsion of peasants from the land they tilled, the political allocation of land and other riches to owners, the introduction of constraints with taxes, handling the life of money –, before the imperative of making money took the form of a predetermined and impersonal order in which only legal persons meet. In the former real socialist East this process can be seen today: where the state introduces capitalism, destroys any traditional forms of working and living only in order to enforce the new principle that there is no alternative to it – this gives the finished capitalist states the appearance of being peaceful societies. Force is needed not only to establish the relations – a one-time-only thing, so to speak – but to set the system’s running-by-itself in motion. Force is the permanent basis for the wonderful “objective constraints” which only function when the inviolability of property and thereby the primacy of capital’s interest stands firmly above any other claims. And it does not even stick to securing this “framework of relations,” the protection of law and property. The government does not wait for “market forces” to make the price of labor attractive for capital, but in the interest of growth politically decides over a huge part of the wage component, that which constitutes the “historical and moral element of the wage,” i.e. the living standard and social benefits which the nation grants the workers. Today these standards are considered too high for Germany’s location competition policy and are politically reduced. So the compulsion is not even “mute” in completely established capitalist nations!

Vice versa. With its guarantee of property, the state establishes the monopoly of the capitalists over the use of social labor power. With that, it entrusts national reproduction to business and the business cycles of the capitals. Which is then of course regulated in its course not by the wishes and ideas of the politicians, but runs – protected by law – as a free competition of capitalists who decide in private. And the law of value, which regulates this competition in the last instance, has certainly never devised a state force by itself. The state relates pragmatically but also very purposively to the anarchy of competition that it has institutionally separated from itself: it derives its catalog of tasks from the general needs of its capitalistic society.

So much for the correction of the relationship between state force and the law of value. However, the quote is not merely or even primarily a theoretical error. If one asks what is the object that the author speaks about and to whom he wants to explain, the answer is: GegenStandpunkt. He does not want to impart anything new about bourgeois rule, its tasks and mode of functioning – everything he knows about it comes from this magazine; he does not want to add anything to it and doesn’t invalidate anything in it. His message is the product of a purely methodological negation; the counter-image of what he wants to show as our error. Wherever he finds an activity criticized – of the states, the capitalists, workers, trade unions – he discovers “subjectivization,” a dissolution of economic constraints into the will of man. He contrasts this sin with his image of the total system constraint that criticizes nobody, against which nobody can resist, because all purposes and interests are already a foregone product of the presupposed system. Our explanations of what politicians, workers and capitalists do depends on the what and why of this doing. Auerbach refers these specific reasons to his opposition between systemic constraint or wantonness in order to always, whenever he does not hear the monotonous message he demands, unload his accusation about the dissolution of the superordinate system into free will.

“Since the GSP claims that there is no other means for the material needs of the working majority because of dependence on free enterprise, it assumes that this is a means. ... Why should of all things dependence, in respect to which one can not satisfy his needs, be a means of their saturation? ... The GSP also represents money as a means which the private owners use to increase their wealth. Private property takes on the mask of money. Marx, by contrast, explains that the capital existing in different aggregate states is a value quantity which expresses itself in money as the universal value. The expansion of value and thus the increase of money are an end-in-itself!” (p.126 and 142)

It’s hard to recognize our articles in such quotations. Auerbach distorts the points to make clear the sin he wants to flog: that the dependence of the workers on the employer is their means is something he has hardly found in GegenStandpunkt: work for money is the livelihood of the workers; the dependence on the opposing interest, however, is the problem of this source of income; that people need this purchase, because they have no other, he will find us saying; that this is a means of saturation, thus of complete satisfaction, he must invent so that the contradiction of wage labor can be no such thing as a contradiction he wants to get rid of. He has probably never heard of means that are no good. Nor that one can criticize and abolish them because they are no good. All the calculations and activities by which people make themselves “dependent variables of accumulation” has Aeurbach ringing the alarm bell: here they talk about subjects while value rules. Ditto with the subject of money: the author evades the opposition of money as a means of the money owners and/or of capital as an end-in-itself. It does not interest him that money is only once the stuff of private property, that owners use it to buy and invest. He has Marx voice his interesting “by contrast.” Everything that people do and by which they make the augmentation of value into an end-in-itself is rejected as a sin against this result. However, “end-in-itself” as an essential predicate of the economic mode then also loses all its explanatory and critical content: one would certainly like to know which activities are done by people, which purposes are pursued in a way that does not achieve their goals, i.e. they don’t get anything from their work but submit to an economic objective which is no one’s purpose. Auerbach paints a picture of humans who subordinate themselves to the “system” without illusion and without calculation because they can not do any differently.

This stencil held in front of capitalist reality also creates a picture: bourgeois rule does not exist, not even a ruling class; it no longer stands in relation to damaged subjects; all people in the system exercise inescapable functions of the system. Under this strange fate, all are at the same time objects of a domination that no one exercises and agents of this domination over themselves: as character masks of the capital relation who play predefined roles, capitalists and workers are the same. Poverty is no reason to criticize, the rich are surely also not free! The classes no longer stand in conflict, but together form a collective of inauthentic subjects:

“The goals that people pursue as workers or as capitalists seem to them to be their very own. But in reality they execute purposes which are external to them. ... Both (the capitalists and the workers) can and must derive their existence and desire from a presupposed totality – the capitalist relations of production and the expansion process of capital. ... No ‘naked’ humans face the class of capital owners, but individuals who on the basis of the existing economic relations eke out a life as wage laborers. These people have a consciousness and a psychological make up that fits the living conditions like a key in a lock!” (p. 41-43. Almost identical to Robert Kurz, Domination without a subject, in: Krisis 13, p. 30)

If people consider purposes theirs, then they are also their own. Because nothing more is required for a thing to become a human purpose than for them to want it. Is this perhaps about purposes they should not make their own? If the result of pursuing a purpose is no good, don’t they have reason to drop it? None of this is the question. Their purposes should be alien to people because they are derived from a presupposed totality. The system determines them, but they do not notice it because they are mentally and consciously fully adapted to the system that totally determines them. The mystery of this paradoxical view lies less in the question of how people can erroneously confuse alien purposes with their own than in where the author wants to get the certitude that purposes which so completely fit those who enact them – lock and key! – should be alien to those who are subordinated to them. The whole cruelty of capitalism reduces to the system already being ahead of people. The image of the totally integrated system element is no longer interested in whether people do well in this system; it is not even a false representation of their subordination, but no determination at all of what is going on in the minds of a capitalistic people. The transcendental unfreedom which no one can fight – but also does not need to fight because he does not notice it – is only suitable for expressing the greatness of the individual who is able to suffer from such a lack of freedom and his truly insatiable desire for freedom.

These functional elements of the system have nothing to do with the “character masks of capital” that Marx occasionally talks about. In Marx, people are not character masks through an evil spell of the system or through conditioning, they make themselves into bearers of the various functions of capital, namely by calculatingly relating to the available economic sources of income in order to make use of them. Someone who possesses money assets makes himself the personification of capital when he hires workers and has them produce salable goods at a profit. Then he applies the purpose and laws of capital to his workers as his own thing, giving them a corporeal form. The capitalist notices that he embodies an objective economic category whose determinations don’t derive from his views and intentions when he is confronted by the fact that the laws of capital also act against him – and indeed his competitors. What he does with his assets, many do, and they make the market contentious for each other. In order to contend with his own offer, the capitalist must reduce the price of his commodities. In order to survive as prices fall, he must “rationalize,” i.e. increase productive power, purchase better equipment and machinery and always reinvest the realized profits again. In this way, accumulation becomes a compulsion which he must obey on penalty of ruin. By pursuing their general enrichment against each other, i.e. through their competition, the capitalists turn their intention into a law against themselves and force determinations of capital on each other that do not arise from their intentions. The drive to accumulate regardless of any need, no matter how luxurious, is not a subjective motive. Even a capitalist is not a Scrooge McDuck whose pleasure consists in feelings of abstract wealth for its own sake and tallying its growth.

The theory of capitalism in Auerbach and also Kurz consists of about five metaphors that can be found in Marx. Their whole message is that the “end-in-itself” of the “automatic subjects” “operates behind the backs of the participants” who are therefore “character masks.” The “fetish,” or even better: the “fetish-constitution of society,” is their subject. They take the critical attributes that Marx gives to value, money and capital for the thing itself, forget the economics and make the fetish, the automatic subject, into the creator of a world of marionettes. To make the difference clear, a word on the fetish in Marx. The old author here makes a polemical comparison: in capitalism, people let money notes or pieces of a natural material – gold – exercise power over them. They behave towards money like savages towards their fetish, a self-carved idol which gives its owner power over others. This comparison is a criticism, but not the concept of money! In order for modern people to get on their knees before money – to point this out once again – state force is required. Without this to create the necessary respect for the “thing,” it exerts no power over people. But Marx’s comparison with the savages doesn’t go further than that.

3. If character masks think – all the worse! How one word is crossed out from the others in “necessary false consciousness”

The “social relations between things,” the power that money gives them, that it has, is a fact and not a case of ideology or false consciousness. It is worth stating this explicitly because the mentioned authors make every effort to confuse the two. Back and forth, they identify the compulsion of circumstances with the false consciousness of those who harm themselves by coming to terms with them – in the interest of their finding that people fit the wrong relations like a key in a lock. On the one hand, they count consciousness as a passive transparency on which the system engraves its imperatives and leaves a “psychological make up” whose only determination is adaptation. Thinking and will get the properties of an apparatus that produces a mode of behavior. The finding of total conformism leaves no room for correct or incorrect thoughts. On this side, the fetish critics complete the old error of the “dialectical materialist” dogma that being determines consciousness – as if the object of knowledge would be able to determine thoughts about it. They themselves are the counterexample. What should be impossible for others because of capitalistic socialization has somehow been managed by the critics: to see through their fate. On the other hand, the fetishistic interests and attitudes of the character masks are then declared – beautifully circular – the reason for social objectivity. Because money “holds true for them as a universal means of appropriation and disposal,” says the author of the letter to the editor, it would do so. But money does not hold true for people as a means of access to consumer goods, it is this means. Under the negative system thinking – “total integration is the horror” (Adorno) – the opposite false determinations are identical: the determination of consciousness by being and the emergence of objectivity from false believing and doing.

“Necessary false consciousness” in capitalism is something fundamentally different from a determination of thinking. In the first place, it is not quite what the discussed authors confuse it with. First, people in capitalism have no alternative to the economic institutions that exist. They must – no matter what they think – use money to obtain the things they need. They must – no matter what they think of exploitation – see that they turn their willingness to work into money. Second, they must therefore make earning money into an interest, look after a skill, a job, a way to increase their income. It’s bad enough that this is also first necessary. Unfortunately, third, thinking adapts to the practical necessities – and then it is wrong: the calculating way of dealing with work, money, capital which is forced on one is taken for the determination of these matters. Then people consider the economic institutions in which they must get involved as a means to be exactly the means whose determination is the benefit they need. This step is necessary only in practical, not theoretical terms: people are free at any time to explain what causes their failure if using the given means doesn’t get them very far. But someone who wants to get along despite bad experiences with them directs his thinking because he is forced to behave in such a way, and develops a dogmatism of utility: he no longer just states that he must look for work, but considers the labor market to be an opportunity and profit to be a positive condition not only for investment, but also for his job and wage. This is wrong: profit is not made in order to make a wage and jobs possible; these are not even side-effects of profit that one could rely on. The consciousness that is necessary for constructive participation fosters illusions about the modes of functioning and purposes of capitalist institutions – and it is often enough impinged by the falseness of its own point of view. Disappointment in what one had calculated on and seen as entitled to are daily experiences, and coping with disappointment becomes the main task of the mind. Additional efforts are needed in order to maintain the will to participate and the appearance of reason. If false consciousness perceives that it is illusory, it sticks to its good faith against the experience in the form of an “actually”: actually, the factory nevertheless belongs to everyone who built it and who needs a source of income; actually, pay and performance must fit together and not, as so often, scandalously deviate from each other. The practical compulsion to have to worry about a job, etc., and the false appearance of reason support each other: the false theory bears out the compelled action, and the will to carry on gives the guideline to the thought and drowns out any doubts. “Necessary false consciousness” is thus not a passive “reflection” of an end-in-itself existing somewhere else – and not an immediately given psychological make up, but a quite dogged activity.

False consciousness and its criticism are not Kurz’s and Auerbach’s subject because they completely meld together the people who are entangled in the conditions and their roles. They are just as little aware of coercion as they are of the relation between subjective purpose and the unsuitability of the economic means in which people toil away. In this way, the “necessity” of false consciousness is so absolute that nothing false is left any more: the bearer of “the roles constituted by value” has no correct or false consciousness, but a functionally adequate psychological make up, if any. Auerbach even goes a step further and takes his delusion about de-subjectification so seriously that he truly populates the world of value with acting masks who really have no consciousness at all:

“Can workers fail? No, because to be a worker is a determination external to the person! Economic masks can not set any purposes and consequently also can’t fail at them. But to the extent that individuals knowingly step into the ring with workers’ interests, they follow a priori false purposes! ... Instead of destroying the false consciousness of the workers, one must undertake the destruction of their consciousness. If workers have any consciousness, it’s too late! Then the economic mode of existence can not have control over such a thing, but only someone who wants to be the worker.” (Auerbach, p 134 and 182f.)

If only he would leave people at that, as being the masks which this Marx expert ascribes to them. But that they, as Auerbach also notes, have a consciousness, that only makes things worse! They want to be the masks which they are! They commit to the concept of labor power. As if they knew that! And as if they would approve their role if they thought about it like Marxists! He thinks the falsehood with which he maligns people already begins with the effort to subsist in the money economy. What is false here is not an opinion about wage labor and capital, here the will is false – and a delusion about its means is no longer an issue when the purpose is already reprehensible. In the false purpose of earning money, the passive product of the relations is fully identical with them, indeed their protagonist: one must destroy the consciousness of people if one wants to dissuade them from their partisanship for their exploitation!

The value critics of the “Krisis” editorial staff express this thought less bloodthirstily. They make a whole philosophy of modern humans as beings that fail themselves, i.e. their higher determination: they call that “fetish constitution and subjectivity.” Their starting point is also to see wage workers’ decision to calculate advantages owing to and with their dependence, not as mistaken calculations, but as cases of certifiable insanity:

“Regarding people who still only demand ‘jobs’, and not the satisfaction of needs, one must attribute to them a kind of moral blindness which unmasks their so-called egoism as the mere ratification of a secularized religious principle... Only this reversal allows one to recognize the general scandal of the total lack of consciousness on the plane of the social determination of the [fetish] form, which is the prerequisite for its supersession. … He was born as a subject faced by first nature, but he necessarily does not know who he is; he only knows and is conscious of that into which he has been transformed, that is, into a being or organism of the second order.” (Kurz, Domination without a subject. Translation here):

Whoever attests that people lack consciousness is far beyond the question of where their mistakes lie. A social critic thus no longer aims at those people whose unconsciousness he holds forth about. Like a psychiatrist among colleagues, he defines for his audience the unconsciousness of a third party – and what a thing it is! Today’s human does not know who he is! And who does he not know he is? A social being! People are supposed to not know this cheap sociological talk which any pickpocket can present in court as a defense. Not knowing this constitutes the sole error, the fetishism of their consciousness: they are deprived of the honorary title of real subjects. Mass humans who are form-blind go about their affairs and do not know that their “subjectivity” is socially produced. If only they were mistaken about nothing else ...

“The subject of modernity, which in itself surpasses all previously-existing subject-forms, possesses just as little consciousness of its own form as did all prior configurations; it represents, so to speak, the highest form of the unconsciousness of the form. Upon this basis, the universal definition is formulated: a subject is a conscious actor who has no consciousness of his own form. It is, however, precisely this unconsciousness of the form which imposes upon conscious actions in relation to first nature and other subjects an objective and opaque character ... A subject is an actor structurally determined by the masculine sex ... In this relation, nature and the other subjects (and especially woman as pseudo-nature) are reduced to objects, although not on the basis of the willful subjectivity of the apparent consciousness of the ego, but of the unconsciousness of its own form....The unconscious as a universal form of consciousness, as a universal form of the subject (with the reservation of sexuality described above) and as universal form of society’s reproduction is objectivized in the figure of social categories (commodity, money), without excepting any member of society, but for this same reason is an unconscious particularity of the subject itself ...The revolution against the constitution of the fetish is identical with the supersession of the subject.” (Kurz, ibid)

We thought that surely after Adorno the critical interpretation of capitalism was no longer possible; but obviously the need to rant about the “subject of modernity” is simply indestructible. Only a little more woodenly and even more incomprehensibly than in its originator, the idea comes along that in a totally false “system of delusion” there is no true I – not surprising in view of the effort guiding the idea of adding to the simple and so cheaply satisfied moral tribulation of feeling at one and at home with its world its notorious failure as a “universal definition.” So the “subject” emerges from the philosophical workshop rather strangely: when it acts and does what it wants, it is inauthentic to itself; it is “unconscious” namely because it does not at all see itself in the things it acts with, but they are rather its “objects,” thus external to it – and the scandal is finished and “conscious actions” are one big coercion in relation to its “objects.” Objective, it shall be understood, because such subjects who unconsciously act consciously simply can’t be morally reasoned with. So they are first renamed “actor,” then the appropriate moral offenses are cast in the bad light into which the whole philosophical critique bundles itself: “Nature” is the first high value which it helps itself to, the fellow man, the “other subjects,” the next one, and finally the “actor” is also “male,” by which the critic pays his tribute to the value of “woman.” “Commodity, money” – in parentheses – then makes clear that in all seriousness capitalism should mean this moral disaster, and also points out how to philosophically abolish it: fight against putting hands on objects! Down with desire!

The sermon against any purpose and any means, reduced once again to the level of common sense, does not reject the wayward and therein toxic bourgeois materialism, but materialism as such – and in the name of the morality of capitalism. It does not want to distinguish what solely matters in questions about the treatment of humans, namely whether it is good or bad for them – a human is certainly quite happy to be an object of a smart system of supply, not to mention of affection or desire, less so to be an object of force and exploitation. This rational distinction is replaced by, of all things, the stupid reservation about any use of humans, which capitalism in fact respects: to be recognized as a person is an inalienable right that the human still has in the midst of his worst treatment. One could certainly let Kurz in on the – not at all unknown – secret that the loud and joyful reception of humans as subjects of inalienable human rights is always only a prelude to their material well-being not being taken so precisely – and also good for nothing else. In any case, it does not require a Marx exegete to announce the not at all new imperative: “never use other people merely as a means, but always as an end in themselves!” This appeal comes from old Kant and carries on a bad old tradition. Since Jesus Christ all moral apostles have wanted to create the new human who gives himself a guilty conscience about his egoistic interests. Kurz’s difference from various preachers of repentance is only in that one is guaranteed not to understand him. But that’s not even necessary. The immorality he castigates is a necessary product of the fetish-constitution and not an avoidable misstep of the “desiring subjectivity” – the total condemnation of the capitalist human is not meant as a reproach to be taken to heart. Fetish products that they are, they could not do anything about it anyway. They have no reason to find their “desiring subjectivity” suspicious – they are simply that way! The human components of this “fetish-constitution” are so fundamentally alienated from their better humanness that they are totally at home in the alienated relations.

Viewed from this standpoint, the majority appear in a different light: People want to earn money, so they are money vultures like the capitalists, only worse.

“The bone of contention is ‘money’! One side would like to make more money, the other side wants only to make more money. One should keep away from such tiffs. Because: Pecunia olet! Only when the majority turns up their noses and considers the ducats issued by employers like donkey apples is the abolition of existing relations conceivable.” (Auerbach, p 132)

“It is simply incomprehensible to the stubborn old left radicalism that the class struggle must remain in the bourgeois shell-form according to its concept. Because even the commodity labor power is a commodity whose concept includes ‘private’. This effectively means that the ‘working class’ also ‘privately appropriates’ in the form of money wages. ... Everyone who ‘earns his money’ must always participate in practical everyday form, and this participation ends exactly where earning money stops.” (Kurz, Die letzten Gefechte, Krisis 18, p.44, 48)

They are chained to the system not by a mistake about their unsuitable economic means, but their materialism. The only reason they would be approachable is if they would condemn their material interests. The system itself remains nothing worth criticizing – except that it is this total integration of its elements: the irrationality of the social relations consists in this integration, indeed constitution of its human material, it travels so far into its human elements that it leads to those in whose bad character, in their greed and their “desiring,” the critique of society is solely concerned with – for a “relentless fundamental criticism,” in any case.

Unlike Auerbach, Kurz does not promise human liberation from the destruction of their uncorrectable consciousness, but from the self-destruction of the end-in-itself system to which they are so completely adapted. Kurz does not turn to this, he doesn’t want to talk them out of adapting to the vigorously condemned irrationality – to the alienated subjects, insanity is indeed a homeland. He bets that their adaptation with all its strains will come to naught when the thing that people adapt to collapses: the final crisis of capitalism is given the role of the Enlightenment – more correctly: assigned the destroyer of adaptedness. Kurz dedicates the other half of his publication to the task of announcing the actualization of this final crisis from year to year. [2]

“It now seems that the historical limits of the capitalist mode of production have been reached. The unions have apparently decided out of fear of dying that they would prefer to commit suicide along with capitalism rather than developing a new and different alternative system and engaging in social resistance. The politics of ‘radical adaptation’ is naive because it can only adapt to the downfall of the system of wage labor itself. This downfall will also be ratified, even if the social institutions do not want to admit it.” (Kurz, Die letzten Gefechte, p. 42)

Kurz protests against the fact that his rejection of class struggle is regarded as an apolitical meaning-giver for ex-leftists. In all seriousness, this circus of subject, object and form-unconsciousness wants to be understood as a theory of revolution. Kurz sees rationality appearing in the collapse of adaptation through the downfall of that to which one adapts oneself. The colossal deed – “The second man, unlike the first, cannot ‘arise’, but must create himself in a conscious manner” – “the task appears to be gigantic and the problem almost insoluble” (Domination without a subject). Because “what until then had followed a blind normative mechanism must be transposed to the ‘conscious consciousness’ of men – self-consciousness.” However, the barely thinkable can simply be put into action – by rejecting the earning of money: a little neighborly networking, reducing working hours without pay cuts, entry into community and social activities outside money-earning create islands of reason in the sea of falsehood. Kurz considers all this a very good start. Looked at this way, self-liberation is not so difficult. The great churches offer start-up help. If philosophers stick with being practical ...

II. Trampert and Ebermann: Arguments for the transparency of capitalism and the naughtiness of its ruling class

Already in the title, “The Revelation of the Prophet,” Trampert and Ebermann present their book as an “Anti-Kurz.” Their rejection of breakdown hopes and their insistence that if the victims of capitalism consider it no longer necessary, they either abolish it or they don’t, is agreeable; as is their dismissal of the mania for repeating that capitalism is in ever newer stages. For the two, capitalism has always remained essentially the same. Here they are right.

Not so pleasing is the way they reject Kurz’s views. They have resorted to the abstract negation of everything that he stands for. The two do not criticize his thinking, they do not straighten out the interpretation that is given for the crisis phenomena under consideration, but maintain exactly the opposite of what Kurz says. As if their opposition to his philosophy would be the truth of the matter. They and their opponent perfectly complement each other in an opposite one-sidedness.

1. Citations from reality to refute the philosopher Kurz

Kurz says that capitalism is in its final crisis and tends to become incapable of exploitation. The Hamburgers certify that the system is in the best of health, at least on a global scale. Kurz notes that nothing has come of the economic growth that the Federal Republic of Germany had promised from the annexation of East Germany and sees in this another sign of the approaching end of the West. The Hamburgers maintain the complete opposite: never have the conditions for German capital been so favorable since the defeat of the eastern bloc. Kurz speaks of an accumulation of financial titles that is no longer functional for productive capital, that hangs around in the financial sector for lack of productive investment and increases according to its rules without the material wealth to which they are claims growing proportionately or even at all. Ebermann and Trampert refer against this to the Statistical Yearbook of the Federal Government which says that most money is still earned in production. They do not care that the GNP figures do not show their economic origin, that incomes are counted there regardless of whether they result from an augmentation of capitalist wealth or from the liquidation of unproductive functions. On the subject of “fictitious capital,” the two let themselves be led astray by Kurz’s cloudy metaphoric mischief to consider this form of capital possibly purely imaginary in order to then deny this silly assumption:

“A huge, incalculable share of the voluminous money capital is basically in any case not fictional, but an outflow of real capital accumulation.” (p.70)

That’s not just an incorrect determination of what fictitious capital is, but none at all. Explanation is just not their thing. Their message is exhausted in the denial of the crisis phenomena by which Kurz puts together his picture of catastrophe – as if the collapse of the “fetish system” that he infers would really follow if one accepted the phenomena. Over-accumulation, the phase of depression, no growth, the precarious situation of money and debt management to which material wealth is sacrificed – Maastricht deflation in Europe, balanced budgets in the USA, “Crash in the East,” location competition: should all that not or almost not exist if what Kurz makes of it does not follow? His mistake consists in re-characterizing crisis as a “threshold of the system’s abolition”; that is wrong, not because the crisis would be a little thing long overcome, but because nothing abolishes itself by itself.

As much as Kurz, viewed theoretically, loves crisis – he names his magazine after it! – just as little do the Hamburgers fit the phase of accumulation into the picture. Kurz takes it to prove his “automatic subject”: Never is it so manifest that even the capitalists with their profit-making apply laws that not only do not work out for the purposes of the actors but thwart them than when profits sink and growth disappears. All the efforts to increase profit and to secure it against the market lead to the opposite. Kurz makes the crisis into the proof that human thought and will play no role in this fetish-system; at the same time, the crisis offers him the comforting prospect that the fetish will crash on its inner contradictions. Ebermann and Trampert hear the message and do not like it. They consider it a trivialization of these subjects to admit that business does not go on and the capitalists don’t get their money’s worth despite all the exploitation. What they have to say about crisis follows from what they think they must say to repudiate Kurz’s powerlessness theory of domination. Like Auerbach before, they have also, at least in the economic part of their book, not made reality the object of their statements, but the position they are against. They cite capitalist reality as evidence against their opponents where and how it is suitable for their opinion. Following this concept, they admit first that crises really exist, second determine these, because the intention of the proof, that these are merely crises, is fundamentally wrong and third draw attention to the crisis management which has long been underway and successful:

“The compulsion for the permanent accumulation of value expands the capital stock in relation to living labor until the swollen mass of capital allows the marginal profitability to sink. The fixed capital yields the targeted profit rate with ever more difficulty, it can no longer pay satisfactory interest on itself. But as long as the surplus value extracted from the labor force through rationalization and technical refinements can be kept high enough that it compensates for the interest paid on the total capital, production is secured. Only past this border do investments cease or primarily serve further rationalization. ... The latest crisis phenomena announced itself for about twenty years. This was expressed in flattened growth rates, in the stagnation of accumulation and in a growing money investment. Since phases of prosperity at the same time stimulate consumption, higher private and state consumption adds a burden to the declining profitability of business. The restoration of the rate of profit, however, did not happen until the mid-90s with the help of a ‘risk sharing community’ apology, but accompanied this process from the beginning.” (p.23)

What is the object and subject of this presentation? Marx’s explanation of the reason for crisis – reduction of the employed labor relative to the size of the total capital – is mentioned in the tone of a self-evident fact. At the same time, no understanding of the quickly cited connection is demanded of the reader at all; at home in economic errors, as the authors assume he is, he is offered a plausible type of proposition: permanent accumulation – swollen capital – sinking marginal profitability. But should it only be the “ever more” that can’t be good? The marginal profitability of capital sinks like the marginal utility of the sixth beer? In the second sentence, it is required that the fixed capital yield a profit rate, something that in fact is not “ever more difficult,” but that it does not create at all. The authors get this wisdom neither from Marx nor from economic theory; in Marx, the fixed capital is neither a source nor reference point for profit, and economics does not have the category of fixed capital at all. The rate of profit is even a “target.” Here the authors speak of the wishes of capitalists. But again it has nothing to do with the rate of profit that Marx deals with. In the third sentence, the increased surplus value through rationalization is instanced as a counter-measure against the crisis and as a tool for saving production. Is that what it’s about? We always thought that capitalist production is the means of profit and not profit the means “to secure production.” But above all, the rationalizations that increase surplus value are not a counter-measure to the falling rate of profit, but precisely the same methods that brings it about. But that’s Marx again. When the Hamburgers again cite rationalization in the next sentence, they are already in the competition strategies used by the capitalists to defend their market share in the crisis. Ultimately, they do not even want to do without the arch-bourgeois idea that growing consumption would have burdened profits because to them this view seems to express the opposition of capitalists to human life so nicely. In Marx, the crisis has its reason in the reverse, in the fact that capital expands its commodity product without limit and at the same time restricts the consumer power of society which must convert it into cash. Finally, they talk about a restoration of the rate of profit which for quite a while is being pushed ahead with an apology. It is superfluous to recall that the rate of profit can’t be restored by anybody anyway: it “restores” itself by the devaluation of capital, and this restoration is a disaster for the capitalist who is hit by it. All the changes that capitalists carry out and can carry out to “restore” their individual profits are precisely the methods that bring about the falling rate of profit.

We prefer not to argue with the two about what crisis is. Because their mixing up of Marx quotes and bourgeois business cycle theorists leaves nothing of either. Nothing of Marx, because a desire to locate the cause of the crisis is not to be gathered from their statements; nothing of business cycle analysts, because their economic-political strategies and blame games are neither judged nor criticized, but are merely quoted – as evidence that the crises which Marx talks about really exist. And when all is said and done, this proof serves their left orthodoxy in which everything is thrown together pell-mell only in preparation for the disclosure that crises are not unusual, that the current one might last a while, and the capitalists, those pigs, restore capitalism at the expense of the wage earners.

2. “Disputing ideologies about objective constraints and naming the culprit!”

Ebermann and Trampert have made it clear that they can’t stand the ideological “crisis” argument; they have rejected it through a tendency to deny the phenomenon. They repeat the same procedure with the other news reported from the world of capital that is supposed to prove the impossibility or obsolescence of class struggle – the thesis of “globalization.” They are aware of the ideological function of the location debate, according to which nation-states are less and less able to define themselves because they must make their domestic fixtures – wages, social systems, taxes, etc. – comply with the claims of international investors. The two deal with the competition of nations over capital investment exclusively under the directive of invalidating “globalization nonsense”; especially, of course, Kurz’s radicalization of it, which sees the “dissolution” of the state. Their judgment about today’s imperialism takes place only because of and against Kurz and his kind and follows the task of producing counterclaims against the “location argument.” They do not know that one can not refute an argument with an interpretation of facts, and counter the false theories of their enemies with their own false dispatches from reality. They pick out “arguments” according to what they promise to do for this purpose. Whether they jibe with each other is secondary.

So to prove that the “globalization theorists” are not correct, the Hamburgers at one point simply deny the generality of the current location competition. “Capitalist states have no fundamental interest in withdrawing capital from the ‘flash flood’ (the capitals populating the world market) for their country” because then they must also permit the transfer of profits to foreign countries. But nations have this interest! They have no other choice than to compete for their national share in world business by making their location attractive for international capital. Then they just have to first make sure to concentrate a lot of production domestically and second achieve a positive balance between the profits transferred and incoming from abroad to the domestic multinationals. In the next moment, the first serves them as a contradicting argument, which assumes the location comparisons of the multinationals in the issue, but allows the danger to seem half as bad. If it no longer concerns the explanation of global economic relations, but only has to do with a counter-position to the “location ideology,” then the second argument “works” the same as the first.

“It is undeniable that capital and commodity exchange are a constraint on nation-states. ... Many industrial and service providing core areas are, however, as locally-based as the Great Wall of China .... The extent to which production plants are geographically bound to their surroundings exposes the location argument of the business associations as propaganda which is only surpassed by leftist globalization theorists.” (p.72f)

If considered completely materially, capital should not be as mobile as the fear mongers suggest. As if capitalists were not always dealing with both; with proving their mettle in the factories that they already have and which are in fact not mobile, and with additional investment of new capital, which in money form is however very easy to move across borders. But what use are such distinctions to people who deliberately argue tendentiously? With a few claims to the contrary of the contrary, they turn the concern with imperialism into a moral battle:

“The claim that the powerful states and the poor countries plundered by them would be equally disintegrated and/or adapted to each other under the world domination of money amounts to an historic acquittal of imperialism. ... To make the perpetrators victims of one global development that affects all is but an expression of the zeitgeist, which also causes left theorists to worry only about whether the credit system of the empires is secure enough or perhaps the domestic banking system is headed for a breakdown. While under the invocation of globalization everything becomes the same, the new theory buries the imperialist reality which is based on nation-states. ... Everything in the country follows – this time said from the left – from a strange constraint. Instead of making German governments, institutions and social groups answerable for the evil they are responsible for, the gag ‘financial market’ or anything else foreign that appears threatening enough in its globality is invoked.” (p. 86)

A historic acquittal does not apply! The Hamburgers hear from the outset only the ideological function they read into Kurz’s findings. They reject an apology from the imperialists and a partisan concern for the survival of the banking system where Kurz rejoicingly prophesies the downfall of both. Kurz’s nonsense, in which “de-subjectification” includes even states and the “fetishistic world relations” function ever more purely according to their own laws and perish in them, is on a completely different level than where the Hamburgers want to catch him in an apology. Their moral need to hold offenders responsible makes them look at all theory as position statements on their subject.

Their criticism consists in tearing the mask of decent citizens from the face of the persons responsible. They unmask objective laws of capital accumulation as apologetic ideologies and break them down to ill will. They prove exploitation by presenting witnesses and evidence of the will to exploit. They bring forward capitalists who make the desired confession: Tyll Necker has said that one must use the crisis because, with four million unemployed, people are ripe for wage cuts and the dismantling of the welfare state. To the extent that Necker confesses that he wants to impoverish the working class, the authors believe their witness’s every word. It is, by the way, not a skill to find testimonials of this type, which are in any newspaper. Vice versa, it would be strange if the lowering of wages, pensions, etc., were unknown to those who organize it. However, as soon as the credible witness justifies his reforms with the regrettable but unavoidable need to keep production in Germany and to attract new investments into the country, the two no longer believe a word from him. The objective constraint is for them alleged, an empty threat which dissolves into nothingness if the threatened workers don’t let themselves be frightened by it: You do not need to let yourselves be blackmailed or clear out so easily! And if so? Must employees then let themselves be blackmailed? Someone who never gets the idea of criticizing objective constraints, but assures the workers of freedom of action by denying the constraints, stands in this dilemma. Denying objective constraints is only the other side of respecting them. The unions, e.g., are constantly trying to determine the boundary between employers’ propaganda which they do not have to believe and real objective constraints which they obey all the more strictly. Tyll Necker gives such nice information about what an objective constraint is – and why the workforce who are confronted with it do not burst into laughter: Who then is it that can threaten to leave Germany or not come to it in the first place? Exactly, the capitalists, whose spokesman is Mr. Necker. He refers to his interest and his right to invest capital where it yields the most, and he promises on behalf of all his domestic and international class brothers that they will exercise this right in their interest. The universality and validity of this interest, which takes all other interests in the society for granted, is the constraint that he exerts. Necker is hypocritical when he separates the interest of the capitalists from the objective constraint and claims that, unfortunately, they must obey a constraint which, after all, only springs from the competing activity of their interest. Through their competition, however, the way to succeed in their interest becomes a necessity, not only in relation to the rest of society but also for the capitalist.

The mistake of the workers in allowing themselves to make sense of objective constraints does not consist in the fact that these constraints do not exist. The mistake of their respect consists in the fact that they recognize the constraints of competition as laws which generally follow from the nature of production and distribution, and do not recognize them as constraints which belong to their proletarian source of income; constraints in which it becomes apparent that the objective purpose of wage labor – surplus value – is incompatible with the subjective purpose – a livelihood – which workers go to work for. There are plenty of necessities in this system – but profit-making, as a purpose of production in general, is not at all a necessity. Recognizing the necessity of profit production as a consequences of a hostile interest that is valid in capitalism, that demands the subordination of the workers’ interests but doesn’t deserve it, is the first step in liberation from the wage system. Only then would Mr. Worker understand under which constraint he is really positioned – it’s not the greed or the incompetence of a supervisor; it’s not the objective laws of “economics,” but the power of property for whose increase the society is so perfectly functionalized that the craziness of its economy looks like a rationally purposed, impersonal system. [3] Workers who insist on their interest must violate these necessities of capitalism – in consciousness of the consequences.

“A dramatic decline in the consciousness of the masses”

Ebermann and Trampert do not want to take part in the transformation of Marxism into philosophy. The mystification of the capitalist world into an imperceptible but total disaster in which all bourgeois people are mired in the same way is irrational baloney in their eyes. Their criticism consists in the assertion of the contrary. They counter the subjectless world of unconsciousness with their picture of the transparency of capitalism: perpetrators and victims are obvious. Illusion is excluded with the one as well as the other. The exploiters confess to exploitation; one needs only not believe the ideologies with which they disguise their interests. Not even in bourgeois society’s argument about universal subordination, the objective constraint, do they discover a need for clarification and an error by those who acknowledge it and bow to it. Where everything is exposed to the light of day and false consciousness has no place, criticism and its practical consequence, revolution, becomes a question of upright standards and their consistent application. To show both and to rouse with it is their understanding of agitation.

They point out the bad so that it is exposed. However, because knowledge of the facts is not at all missing, they help the exposure a little bit and add a re-interpretation to the interpretation. So they react to the fact that this world is just not convinced and scathingly incriminated by the standards of customary morality. An escalation is called for: Maybe one has to emphasize the evil more clearly, perhaps reminding people even more vividly of the viewpoints of humanity and solidarity? So that the existing morality comes to the conclusions that they demand, exaggeration is the best argument:

– The economic trade between the first and the third world is for them basically not exchange, but robbery – it is a form of appropriation which is prohibited by the bourgeois law book. That the exchange of value equivalents is the severity that separates the world market into such and such nations is not morally clear enough for them.

– In overpopulation – also in Germany, people who are not useful for capital represent a burden – it is clear to them: killing the supernumeraries is the choice means of restructuring. They immediately recognize pension reduction, homelessness and strenuous work as measures of an extermination policy.

“The helplessness of the poor expresses their hunch: the most sensible thing they could do for the community would be collective suicide.” (p. 42)

It would not be difficult to find the real reasons for these brutalities: pension reduction has the purpose of restoring the pension fund and relieving capital from wage costs; the elderly must not die immediately, but make do with less. Homelessness is nothing final in itself, but the cynical result of circumstances in which the most basic necessities of life are governed solely by money. Strenuous work, by contrast, is final – it aims at getting more work out of the employees per paid working hour, but not at their elimination. The normal cynicism of this society is not enough for the two authors to get the kind of condemnation they aim for. The protection of life has constitutional standing, not the wage. Therefore, the accusers need their agitational exaggeration and take it at face value. If murder is economically advisable, the verdict is certain: misanthropic!

The two, who on other occasions could also sometimes mock fashionable “do-gooders,” jump the rails morally. For the sake of their message, they deliver a flaming commitment to the Preamble of the Constitution and ex-communicate others from the church of leftist do-gooders:

“There’s more communism in the common desire to help and protect each other, in not making people inferior subjects because of their origin and their gender, than in social-revolutionary chatter.” (p. 99).

But this desire is missing! If everything is obvious, if the treatment of subordinates hits the most modest demands for human dignity in the face – then the masses must surely draw the conclusion that Trampert and Ebermann have presented to them. They must! Because the morally and humanely offered uprising fails to materialize, their rejection of Kurz’s alienation philosophy capsizes and turns into one too, one not dissimilar to Kurz’s image of a corrupted people. After a few introductory chapters on economics, they devote the greater part of their book to the representation of the humans who do not overthrow the system, even though everything must be clear to them. With an image of humanity, these people who believe in the obvious need for revolution explain its absence as a necessity. There are no more humane people who have to do the work: the workers have “lost class consciousness and personality.” (p.35)

“Old social class collectives have dissolved. ... It seems that the Marxist attempt to derive a revolutionary subject from its socio-economic position in developed capitalism has failed, if not finally, at least for the foreseeable future. Of course, class societies have therefore not dissolved into air, on the contrary: the cause of the disappearance of class consciousness lies precisely in its consolidation by the successful identification of the exploited with the purpose of the company and the market-related functions that are assigned to them around the clock.” (p.109)

The authors can explain an “advanced stage of dissolution of class consciousness” only because the people are doing too well: In the

“long prosperity after the Second World War ... masses of commodities flew to the proletariat. ... Capitalism had allowed the proletariat to smell in money ... travel ... social advancement ... acquaintance with bonds and shares ... being courted as a consumer looked to the consciousless person like a sign of freedom and recognition.” (p.110-117)

The same system they had previously rumored of naked murder for reason of profit has now committed the crime of bribing the exploited with so many good things for so long that they overlook their exploitation. The Hamburg moralists resurrect the contradiction of the ancient bribery theory which on the one hand can “understand” that workers identify with the system of exploitation that they no longer notice because of a mainly good experience. But on the other hand, they do not want to spare them the accusation of having sold out their nature-given calling to make revolution for a few pieces of silver.

Because their task remains and the bribed only refuse it, the integrated must then be accused of unconsciousness, blindness and perversion. From the absence of the class consciousness which is supposed to belong to them, the authors construct the bad character which corresponds exactly to everything they abhor:

“In the postmodern stupid world, almost nothing any more penetrates into consciousness as it really is. Achieving the company’s goal is no longer understood by the unfree as an effort that one should avoid as far as possible, but as an opportunity for self-realization, like the harried existence in free time whose stress is ever more similar to everyday working life.” (p .110)

Thanks to their drawers – revolutionary or not revolutionary consciousness – they simply can’t represent anything normally. When was the fulfillment of the work for which the worker gets his money ever an effort he avoids if possible? And should the same thing today equal self-realization, as motivation psychologists would like to see work being done? As a contribution to a characterology of the modern stupid person who fully identifies with what adversely opposes him, trashing him serves just as well as the other interesting findings about this guy: work is his life, he can’t stop; he fills leisure time with activity and the fear of missing out on something in his best efforts after the stress of work; he is an authoritarian character who probably only feels under the command or in harmony with the taste judgments of millions, etc.

With the caricature of modern leisure activities, the revolutionaries tread the field of cultural criticism. Like generations of elitist critics of mass taste before them, they bitch about people’s pastimes. When it is about nothing – just about entertainment – they play the austere judge and accuse the masses of falsely amusing themselves. To their sorrow about the kind of people who are unsuitable for revolution, they now add the other side of morality: their own due. The pleasure of not being like them comes all by itself by imagining the assholes who populate recreational parks, bodybuilding studios and techno parties. That these activities are unworthy of one’s developed individuality is instantly clear to people who sometimes like to read a good book, listen to Miles Davis in addition to the Stones, drink their beer with a discussion in smoky rooms and unwind by keeping fit on the free public course.

“The loss of any socio-political utopia moved his own body to the center of existence. The whole tragedy consists in that the narcissistic manifestations of assholes absorb thought and action ...” (p.131).

Our Hamburg masters of the art of living, who sportily present themselves on the cover of their book, must not suffer from that. They still have their utopia. Against the loss of correct values and the correct autonomous self-understanding, the authors set the example of their values: real enjoyment, real rest, deep relaxation and idleness.

The rest of the results of the investigation of the human abyss are quickly summarized: After the leisure time of the masses, the book turns to the issue of nationalism. Here “the German” is put in the pillory for several hundred long pages. With their jumble of reports of German abjection, collected through the centuries and added to the stock of a despicable tradition that characterizes today’s wage laborers and makes them useless for revolutionary efforts, they then also end up at the actual subject matter of their book. The little smatter on economics and exploitation becomes recognizable as an ingredient; it figures as a proof that for all their disgust before the blown – especially German – humanity, the relations are still repugnant. Or the other way around: they give the appearance of an objective economic reason to the disappointed left’s current fashion of identifying “the Germans” with a totally despicable, incurably bad people’s character, pointing their fingers at people’s interest in an exploitation that they simply can’t resist.

III. How the views are alike ...
The rejection of the useless revolutionary subject

For all their appearance and self-image as opposing representative of left directions, they come to a matching result: the image of a human race that is screwed-up, self-defeating, unfit for rational activity. Their Marxisms, i.e. their ideas of justice or reason, are both just as good for the realization that humans are not as reasonable as they are. No wonder the hostile points of view make the same mistake when from opposite extremes they erase the difference between what people want, what they lend themselves to, and what they have to put up with. Both sides end up with a necessary consent on the part of the exploited in their exploitation. One, because it can only regard the workers as unconscious character masks, even as creatures of capital, whose blameless egotism is just perfect for the dance around the golden calf. The other, because they discuss exploitation and subjugation as an obvious fact and then put together the corrupt, work-lusting, authoritarian character who wouldn’t have it any other way.

Their efforts to prove the necessary identity of people with capitalist relations is the confession that they do not theoretically misunderstand Marx, but set forth as followers of the revolutionary automatism, which they always were, now in reverse. It does not interest them that workers are revolutionary or decent, nationalist or Christian, depending on how they explain their bad experiences. Criticism, i.e. arguing with the revered revolutionary subject who does not draw the conclusions that they want to see drawn, is alien to them. For years they have sought this subject as though he would be found somewhere or other; wanted to ally with him, put themselves at the head of his movement – if he had only turned up. But since he does not turn up by himself, his disappointed lovers take revenge on him and paint a grotesque portrait of the human who is alienated from himself, heartless and uncultured, to justify their rejection of the subject who is unfit for his revolutionary definition. They do not give up and do not drop it with a simple: Then forget it! With the help of their image of a totally misguided people, they firmly hold on to their idea that the workers would have to make a revolution and also would make one if they were more or less humane. A few proletarian errors about the economy and their own role in it would just not provide the proof that it is always impossible to raise the workers against capital. When they summarize their concerns, they formulate the hopeless circle that people must already have a different society in mind beforehand in order to fall for objections against the present one. The Hamburgers agree with Adorno’s theory of colors – one must already have the idea of other colors in order to despair of gray – ; Kurz warns of an opposition to wage cuts because people only want wages and not “the overthrow of the system”:

“Spontaneous mass actions for the preservation of social gratifications, which many on the radical left place their hopes on, would run into the same trap of historical aimlessness ... But even in the high-tech era, the stick can’t be wiser than the one who swings it. Without a new idea about the overthrow of the system through a ferment of social movements, there will only be flashes in the pan of hopeless resistance.” (Kurz, Konkret 11/96, p.37) [4]

The fierce debate of the two camps defines being a leftist today: one side says the workers are victims, insults the other as “stubborn workers’ movement Marxists” who have not figured out that anyone who criticizes value and money may not engage with the workers. The other counters: anyone who calls capital a “fetish relation which includes all parties” is a petit-bourgeois class compromiser. The old capitalist enemy surely still exists – only, the old friends are gone. Of course, decent leftists may no longer enter an “alliance with the proletariat of today with all its ugly sides,” since Germans attack foreigners. If the Kurz faction then “deciphers [racism and anti-Semitism] as manifestations of the appearance form of value,” they drown the special bad habit of Germanness in the concept of value ... and so forth. Nothing but nonsense on both sides and warped rebuttals which criticize nothing, but itemize the other camp’s sycophancy to the normal people who are useless for the left. They line themselves up in a radicalism competition over the harshest condemnation of the proles who have copped out of revolution. Just as the old radical leftist once proved that he has an even worse view of the capitalists and imperialists than his neighbor, so disappointed leftists today prove their radicalism in disgust at the proletariat: it wants its conditions, so it deserves them. [4]

Incidentally, the writer of the letter to the editor has found these opposite directions equally stimulating and warmly recommends that we change our views. He has noticed the commonality of the hostile parties and finds that rewarding. This is not good, but bad.

[1] “But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.” “The final pattern of economic relations as seen on the surface, in their real existence and consequently in the conceptions by which the bearers and agents of these relations seek to understand them, is very much different from, and indeed quite the reverse of, their inner but concealed essential pattern and the conception corresponding to it.” (Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 3, ch. 48 and ch. 12, III)

[2] Kurz’s exaggerating and misinterpreting of the periodic crises in the accumulation of capital into a breakdown of the system has been addressed in a previous article: Robert Kurz, Der Untergang des Abendlandes – linksherum, GegenStandpunkt 2-92. [Robert Kurz, The Decline of the West – counterclockwise; untranslated]

[3] Once again R. Kurz should get a chance to speak, because he expressly represents the opposite in relation to the objective constraint and its dissolution: “The difference could not be more marked: for vulgar Marxism, the autonomous movement of capital, the valorization of value, is precisely the appearance which must be traced back to peoples’ objectives, will and subjective attitude, thus being resolved into subjectivity (of an authoritarian and mistaken kind). A radical and coherent critique of fetishism, on the other hand, will tend to expose empirical subjectivity itself as an appearance, that is, it will tend to dissolve the objectives, the will and the subjective activity of commodity producers in their true absence of a subject, as the simple execution of a presupposed fetish form in all subjects – not in order to be subjected to the ‘automatic subject’, but so as to be able to apprehend it as such and to overcome it.” (Kurz, Domination without a subject) In comparison with his task setting, it must be an easy thing for workers to notice that they come out badly and come to an explanation. Kurz demands that Being, which no subject is, recognize its subjectlessness in order to become a subject. But they do not need to despair. Strictly speaking, Kurz only means that one “must” if one wants to be a “radical” and “coherent” fetishism critic... But who wants this!

[4] The radical human critics avail themselves of a logic which bourgeois apologists have used to disprove Marx a thousand times: participation by the people who are harmed by capital, the functioning social peace with its democratic forms, have always counted as sufficient proof that the class conflicts that Marxists talk about can’t exist. Now this tour celebrates capitalism as the people’s will, thus good, to explain its resurgence – in the distorting mirror garment: The masses feel uplifted in these relations, thus they are theirs too – as bad as they both are.