Questions that shake the world
Can one still be left-wing today?
[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 3-1992]
The German state gives the Easterners a cheap wage level along with rapidly rising costs and ruthlessly raises taxes on wages while cutting social benefits in the West. – Leftists who for years talked about the exploitative character of the capital relation and wanted to eliminate illusions in the welfare state now discover that Germany’s brand of capitalism is a relative island of prosperity.
An expanding Germany claims world-political supervisory rights in the Balkans and elsewhere, plans combat missions, and adopts the corresponding constitutional mandates. – Former leftist critics of an aggressive imperialism discuss the changed world-political obligations of a larger nation.
German politicians unite in arguing about the most effective way to keep undesirable masses out of Germany and how to respond to the poverty in their home countries. – Leftist friends of foreigners who once celebrated internationalism discuss suitable immigration quotas in the service of a multicultural humanity.
The U.S. bombs Iraq at the same time. – Leftists who in the days of the Vietnam war demonstrated against the oppression of peoples find that a joint responsibility is required of Germany because of the German extermination of the Jews.
Bourgeois public opinion argues with rare candor that social victims are unfortunate but unavoidable side effects when jobs have to be profitable and the nation has to compete internationally. – Leftists consider it completely wrong to show the capitalist necessity for such victims and declare it a problem resulting from an amazingly efficient market economy.
The Powers That Be and ideologues of a globalized capitalism celebrate the carrying out of its raison d’etat as proof of the correctness of their ideology of market economy, prosperity, democracy, and freedom. – Leftist critics of ideology all of a sudden know that Marx’s critique of capitalism is clearly ideological and outdated.
In the East, the pursuit of the market economy leads to a poverty never seen before. The imperialist world, because economically successful and politically victorious, struts as ruthlessly as ever. – Leftists ignore the consequences and pose the self-doubting question: can one still be a leftist today?
Why is that? Why do leftists no longer want to take up the starting point of left criticism, the injured interests of people who work for wages? Why do they replace it with opinions that actually belong in the arsenal of their enemies?
Real socialism steps down. Capitalism becomes ever more unrestrained. Thus: criticism is dead.
Leftists give themselves the answer: criticism of capitalism is discredited since the USSR has failed.
An extremely bad argument.
The object of left criticism has not changed with the disappearance of real socialism. It doesn’t get a bit better for the masses here, and the same for those in the new eastern states. Conversely, the cause of socialism does not thereby become a whit worse because a rule that was exercised in its name failed.
Moreover, the Soviet Union did not fail. After all, it brought about an alternative world power with some success on the production front and a military arsenal much too powerful for Western tastes. It was abandoned by its creators. The inventor of perestroika and his followers more than ever took as their yardsticks the wealth of the state in the West, the wealth-promoting qualities of the market economy, and the functionality of democratic procedures for the freedom of governance. That’s why they found the old idea that social gains for the people would justify a better rule outdated. The West contributed more than a little to it. In the end, it did not hold a peaceful competition with real socialism for the more convincing system. It weighted the scale with its superior methods of harnessing the people for the increase of private and national wealth, its military potential threat, and its implacable will. The Eastern Bloc leaders let themselves be impressed, but certainly not under the viewpoint of better providing for their workers and peasants.
If Gorbachev reformed the old state out of existence and governs conditions that bear out any opponent of the “market economy,” this is not an argument against socialism. Not for partisans of the old Soviet Union. And also not for the left, who had no love for the Soviet Union anyway.
But for leftists of every tendency, it is an argument, and according to them a decisive one. They do not ask the reasons why the old program of the USSR should no longer be possible. They do not criticize the standards copied from the West. The new mass poverty is not an argument for them. For supporters as well as non-supporters of the Soviet Union, it only matters that it no longer exists. They consider its self-surrender an irrefutably necessary development. And they do not criticize this development, but because it happened, they avow it had good reasons which they can not avoid. The left confesses to, of all things, a basic lie from the arsenal of their political enemies: that success proves right and power with its means proves the worthiness of a thing. The basic dogma of the historical view – superior force not only prevails, but also vindicates, refuting the loser – is the starting point of leftist self-criticism.
This reflects poorly on their earlier criticism of capitalism.
A struggle for credibility through the ages
Leftists have always wanted to believe that their criticism of capitalism represents more than the objections they have argued. They deem criticism only convincing if they can prove that it is not only theirs, but that it corresponds to a general need of the conditions against which it is aimed. It should be certified independent of them, so that they themselves can believe in it. They were averse to the insight that critics of the system have nothing more on their side than an interest in getting rid of these conditions that do not agree with them, and good reasons for this interest. Simply being against these conditions seemed irresponsible to them, without prospects, and destructive. They understood criticism as a mission which the conditions confer on them, and they speak out as its agents. They therefore confused the critics’ job of convincing others with the proof that everything they argue actually already exists apart from them as a necessary, underway, and recognized interest, just one that is higher, and not only their own. They saw themselves as advocates of a better alternative to capitalism which has already long been on the “agenda of the times.” That convinced them, and that is what they wanted to convince others.
They discussed among themselves in the corresponding manner. They bullied each other with the question what authorization card each one actually has on his side. That was much more important to them than clarifying the only decisive question: whether their criticism is correct. Leftists preferred to concern themselves with endless palaver about the conditions of possibility for left politics rather than with the way the world is run and explaining it. The left construed the world conversely so that they could believe in their mission. They denied any conflict between their views and popular doings and beliefs with the methodological notion that they are an “expression” of a universal longing for better conditions which vouches for the legitimacy of their cause. They saw and invoked this longing in political conditions everywhere.
They wanted to beguile the aggrieved with the information that leftists only say what the people are already thinking with their desire for justice anyway. In the moaning of democratic citizens which – not at all seditious – calls for better governance and is ultimately only good for voting, they overheard the secret yearning of the masses for a different rule, one that finally takes the ideals of good politics as seriously as the left does. In the name of the masses who did not at all ask for it, they demanded “true” democracy, a “real” welfare state, and a “genuine” common good. The critics staged it as a reflection of a popular political turn, posing as followers of their followers, those who one teaches in this turn what a political issue is. Leftists even had the attitude that they saw in the hearts of the people their supposedly true, i.e. predefined, left interests, rather than giving them compelling reasons for it.
However, the left did not consider authorization for this imaginary general interest a sufficient argument. It should furthermore still be necessary – and indeed in the same sense as bourgeois public opinion transforms valid political interests into a service to higher necessities. Its criticism should be the expression of a historic tendency that is pushing for the abolition of capitalism. They confused criticism with the information that the criticized conditions can not function and “deduced” the crisis of capitalism from the periodic crises, thus the conjunctures in the growth of capital. This, however, also changed the object of their sympathy: instead of the social concerns of workers and peasants arising from the capitalistic augmentation of wealth, the damage to capitalist society itself. So they took the public’s concerned standpoint for the progress of the economy and the nation and merely spun it negatively. The main advantage of socialism was therefore that it is the only thing that works and is inevitable anyway.
With the appeal to Marx they wanted to confer the consecrations of theoretical credentials on the human concern that stands historically in line. They accordingly read Marx in an interested way: from his early writings they took the humanistic concerns; especially from “Capital” the predictions of doom, but also the philosophical insight that man is “alienated” in capitalism, thus wounding his dignity and other higher values. Marx was prepared as a witness for the fact that leftism ultimately only involves the social, the just, the good – and will win anyway. So their criticism of society as a belief in progress even fit the tradition of great political-philosophical minds.
Finally, the just, progressive, spiritually profound concerns should also already be a politically effective force in the society, independent of the left’s efforts. The left saw “movements” and “resistance” at work everywhere, from wage disputes to social democratic youth politics that they could “link up with.” What the “workers' struggles” brought for capital and for the workers, and that the “resistance forces” decided to fight against “leftist infiltration,” were relatively unimportant in their assessment of a “balance of power” between the right and the left. Those imaginary transformations should impress and yet only revealed their desperate self-deception.
Socialism real, thus possible
The left endured without mass popularity in successful capitalism anyway. In fact, they did not really place themselves under the standards that they used as an argument for their credibility. They interpreted their lack of resonance so that it was only due to a lack of belief in a better alternative, because of doubts about its feasibility. They interpreted the partisanship for conditions exactly conversely: the majority is merely for capitalism because they think that nothing else works. So they wanted to offer evidence that it works after all. A very uncritical need: here the left no longer bothered about the conditions that they attacked, clarified their criticism and the starting points, how they are to be unscrewed, and tried to explain to the aggrieved the necessity of their situation and win them over in this way. Instead of this, the possibility of change – in which nobody except them doubts – should foment the interest in change occurring. The left thereby cast doubt on all the reasons for their opposition and slaved away at the question whether what they want is at all imaginable and visible in the world as it is. They justified themselves with their concern of wanting to do something different for themselves and the world, made a problem out of it, whether it is all right in general, and thereby treated it themselves as a pious wish to attempt it nevertheless, some day, differently, better. So they toiled away at the accusation that critics are “unrealistic” without wanting to notice that this is how the existing conditions are declared the only feasible ones because changing them is not desired.
With this idealism of wanting to convince with realism, the left verified that it saw through the Soviet Union, along with the global political camp it sponsored. The USSR by no means testified to the anti-capitalist urge of the people here, did not even derail capitalism, but it did erect a political alternative in the name of socialism and the masses. The left took a shine to that, regardless of everything the Soviet Union did and did wrong. The majority were not supporters of real socialism, they saw nothing in it to favor, and yet they still conceded it the function of a historical proof: an alternative is possible, no matter how bad it always looks. That should convince others even if one’s own ideas about socialism are very different. Both the left opponents of the USSR who now mourn it as well as its left partisans who no longer want to stand up for it appreciated one thing in it: that it was “real.” Hence in the eyes of the left it was supporting evidence for the fact that capitalism is, no, not criticized, but criticizable, because socialism is viable.
There could therefore be no talk of the will to make socialism: it seemed implausible to the left that they could make an impression without the notion that they already had a power on their side. Even if it was not at all theirs, and also not what they meant. They saw the cause of socialism residing less in their own work in their own capitalist society or the celebrated resistance of the masses, but in the world political confrontation between the Blocs. They were more interested in the balance of power between the world powers than in the state of affairs between the damaged masses and their employers and national leaders. They judged the position of the workers, peasants, unemployed, and welfare cases from the standpoint of power mongers who treat the people as pawns. They were alternative political observers; their concern was the struggle of rival world powers to take the leading role in world politics. They did not judge this, but interpreted it: they conceived the power struggle as a “world historical” striving apart from all the real state conflicts and calculations which proves the superiority of one or the other system; not only on the field on which success is achieved in the sphere of political force, but for the superiority of the political ideas in whose name the system conflict was waged. The system competition was for them the higher tribunal over the credibility of their commitment to socialism; socialism was thus an issue for the state and not the masses.
Attention in the bourgeois public sphere
And not that which they wanted to take in hand. They should be recognized. This distinguishes them from the Bolsheviks who acted in the name of the same calling. The Russian revolutionaries did not wait for the masses to be committed to their vanguard, but made themselves the politically decisive force; they did not hope for the downfall of the old society, but took “history” in hand; they not only sued for justice, but wanted to enforce it, thus to smash the old Russia. The efforts mounted by leftists here was less subversive. They did not want to create validity, but to get it awarded. They did not want to win over the much-praised masses, but to be acknowledged as a social force by the appointed democratic mouthpieces of bourgeois public opinion.
They also were, in a certain sense. Not because the discontent of the masses had pressed for some socialism, not because capitalism with its crises had landed in a quagmire, and not even because the Soviet Union faced it down or provided the left with power, which it mostly wanted nothing to do with – but because the Soviet Union had made an impression on the democratic public. The confrontation of the capitalist West with the real socialist bloc not only defined world politics, but also the ideological activities of national political analysts. They had some fears for the existence and success of their own rule and took the enemy blocs as the occasion to legitimize their own system, as well as to make the alternative look suitably bad. Socialism and the social market economy were therefore perennial subjects of the “system comparison,” an ideological confrontation of brands they were obligated to lead as partisans of their own political power and censors of thinking and demands harmful to the state. The East was measured and disgraced in the western propaganda slogans – efficiency, prosperity, freedom, democracy, social security –, some inadequacies were conceded in their own side, only to end up with the predetermined conclusion that ultimately there is no way around capitalism. Marx was isolated and ostracized as a social philosopher, a philosopher of science, an impossible economist, a forefather of Eastern terror, and marginalized, but in any case paid lip service. Everywhere democracy to all appearances was submitted to the demand that it needs social and other improvements in order to then insist on the distinction between legitimate concerns and undemocratic demands that are threats to the state. The ideal of a more beautiful political world was recognized in order to squash it. Union demands for fair wages and a more generous welfare state were exaggerated into perspectives for socialist progress or faced with suspicion; unwelcome protest movements and citizen movements were accused of communist activities. Every public complaint, every identified social problem was related to the Soviet alternative, and the signboard “socialism” was the constant theme of public fears, justifications, and acts of censorship.
The left, with its ideas about being a socially active force, based its self-confidence on these ideological endeavors of democratic public opinion, not on the power of the labor movement and the coaxing of the masses. They reinterpreted the ongoing system comparison and the interpretations anxiously prepared in its light of the democratic grievance and petition process as the credential for the system’s doubt in itself and the modern validity of their alternative. The politico-moral reflections on national interests and concerns in the public sphere they took as true disclosures about political life. The public’s self-deception that the nation is in the service of higher values and is the appointed inspector of their fulfillment – the moralistic way the bourgeois public sphere agitates for the national interest – was the left’s elixir of life. The left also believed in the democratic lie that the public determines the course of politics, and they wanted to play a recognized role in it. That was the power they were after and that they dreamed of.
It also could not, of course, remain completely hidden from the left, with their desire to present criticism according to the more general needs, that the ongoing public debate was a rejection of their relevant body of ideas. Just as little that the hypocritical public interest in a democratic awakening increasingly spread to new shores with the progress of the nation and the success in softening up the East. The changing conjunctures of public concerns and the waning reception in the intellectual scene in good time therefore aroused the left’s insatiable self-doubt that it was not quite on the cutting edge of the times. They consequently became intensely concerned with constantly refuting this – by adapting to public opinion. They made each publicly discussed social “problem” the content of their critical interest. Capitalism no longer failed just because of its class antagonism, but because of peace and environmental problems. In particular, hostility toward their certification of the possibility of socialism made them think, because they stuck to imagining that democrats get their views from the system comparison and not vice versa, that they get their fixed bias from it. They conceded this despite all the complaints about anti-communism. Some wanted to convince with a painting of the advantages of the East, so that the real alternative would look like a colorful model even to dyed-in-the-wool citizens of the front states. The vast majority put the blame on the Soviet Union and East Germany for doing so little for the German left’s desire for public recognition. Because opposition movements here were suspected of being enemies of the state and were shot down with the shout “go back to East Germany,” they accused the East of making leftist criticism suspect – and publicly distanced themselves from real socialism. The left was interested not just in the Soviet Union, but in the impression it made, and the popularity it should win for the idea of socialism in public consciousness.
The left’s coping with the crisis of faith:
Socialism is fictional, capitalism is real, so better than expected
Now the East has stepped down. Public opinion wallows in the exhibition of the West’s assurance of victory. It settles accounts with its own hostile system comparison, as if it would have made far too much fuss about a thing doomed from the start, and basks in the demonstrative certainty that there is no alternative to democracy and the market economy.
And the left? It is as if it wanted to retroactively confess that the competition of systems and the system comparison born from it had been the reason for wanting to speak up as a radical critic. When those circumstances that caused the West to make ideological justifications cease to exist, they see themselves deprived of the justification for making objections and therefore consider themselves refuted. For them, the world has so completely changed with the disappearance of the Eastern Bloc that they can no longer understand their criticism of yesterday. Their historical prognosis does not lead them to the simple judgment that their hope in the automatic emergence of socialism was unfortunately then probably wrong. As observers of the balance of power, they are not in despair, but converted. Their need to be an expression of the times is undiminished, even if they are no longer it. They withdraw their old ideas about the conditions and explain them solely an illusion, as if the conditions would dictate a new point of view. Now they notice that all the realities which they had imagined to certify their cause were mere illusions. Not because they have seen through them, but because they are won over to the illusions of the democratic public. They make the failure of their certainty that socialism is possible into new determinations of the world. It looks, as a result, quite mirror-inverted:
Socialism has failed, so it is impossible – and indeed with the whole moral double meaning of the word, the left has always thought that: historically mistaken, ineffective, and unsocial. In the bygone real socialism, the left now discovers only the system-related downsides of an outdated rule that should have been better attached to real capitalism – with a few shamefaced opening clauses regarding its not entirely to be ignored good intentions. In the socialist state program that was not merely formally dedicated to serving the people, they notice now only the disappointed expectations, the impossible promises, and the senseless force, even if it does does not make sense that a political system should perish because, of all things, its force. So they deny the former Soviet Union the moral seal of approval on which the Eastern communists and local fans of socialism had always placed the greatest value: 70 years of the USSR is now solely a fiction of a so-called “real” alternative.
Vice versa, capitalism for the left now represents the reality of what they had formerly thought of as their ideal of socialism, only with a few opt-out clauses. They used to criticize capitalism not because of its achievements and the victims included in it, but very methodologically awarded it negative attributes in the hope of its deserved failure – unsocial, thus unjust, thus inefficient, thus historically obsolete, thus ultimately impossible. In light of their disappointed hope, they now read the same moral equation backwards and with positive signs: successful, thus historically alive, thus efficient, thus social – in short: it is the real alternative to their fictive counter-model in which everything they invoked is found better repealed so that the very meaning of forcecompletely disappears with it.
– The mootness of the USSR and the annexation of the GDR is an expression of the need of the masses, thus capitalism must be more social than thought. Leftists prefer to criticize themselves than the craziest expectations of stirred up East Zonis. They prefer to take a distance from their pioneering role than to question the desire for a market economy by which the ex-GDRers are made pawns of their new masters. Most recently, German workers have astonishing social perspectives, because the left no longer wants to distinguish between the expectations of the masses and the real conditions.
– The market is no longer a sphere of enrichment, but an effective and innovative invention for providing the society with productivity and goods. The immense collection of commodities, from which Marx deduced capitalist money accumulation and the exclusion of wage workers from wealth, is now in leftists’ eyes the end point and purpose of this society. If wage laborers will not become rich by working for wages, but relatively poorer, that is at most a problematic side effect of an undeniable social progress. One can forget about the profit-yielding wage-performance standards in the production plants of the “social market economy.”
– Lately, democratic politicians with their welfare state measures establish a balance between the social layers and thereby preserve social stability. The current political attack on the already modest standard of living does not let the converted left be discouraged over taxes and social security funds.
– Moreover, capitalism is no -ism, but a highly diverse, complex, and vibrant society. This surely does not say anything about its character, but a lot about the basic attitude of the left: this system’s successful implementation also turns it into an exemplary model for solving the supposedly so difficult problems of organizing a society and regulating the needs of all. Those things that should be taken as basic arguments against capitalism are now, as is democratically normal, reduced to “problems to be followed up on.” Everything that was once considered evidence of the indefensibleness of capitalism is now subordinated to the standpoint that its viability, thus its room for improvement, is demonstrated. The new attributes born from the dialectic of social justice and world historical right which leftists use to document their newly won realism is at least as ivory tower and monosyllabic as their old hopeful criticism. They do not yield anything more than praise of its existence and its moralistic embellishment. But one thing can not be denied them: the left finds itself thereby at the cutting edge of the zeitgeist. The left makes its new commitment to the merits of the system similarly twofold. They look at the capitalist world as uncritically as they look critically at themselves. As if their eyes had now opened, they present themselves with the question why they have until now denied triumphant capitalism the premature praise they had supposedly so lavished on a revered real socialism. True to the standpoint that Marx did not criticize the functioning of wealth production but predicted its necessary failure, they treat the world situation that is gestating capitalism as a general refutation of his theory and now withdraw from circulation the article of faith they gathered from him: his “approach to the state” is one-sided, the “concept of revolution” outdated, the “view of class” too narrow, the “image of man” simplified. One can even spare him the accusation of inhumanity and dogmatism because he provoked the wrong test that political criticism carries out. Leftists meanwhile take little issue with the bourgeois dogma that thinking has to align itself with the ruling political force. It is sufficient for this type of refutation of Marx to pose the rhetorical question in left publications as to whether, in view of his world historical delusion, one could still “unquestioningly” take Marx as a starting point. Impossible! So with the pose of enlightenment, the left breaks one taboo after another – the left’s basic dogma in which they have long not wanted to believe in, of course, but never the officially valid commandments for thinking.
A job creation program for leftists who have laid themselves off
Converted leftists’ need to communicate is amazing. If everything they had to tell the world was off target when they were already plagued by doubts about their old opinions or at one time supported a majority of their enemies and start talking just like bourgeois sociologists and economists, they could indeed best keep their mouths shut. Leftists think otherwise and consider the message that they say the same thing as everyone else and that they, the converted leftists, say it, to be more than interesting: to be urgently due. First, they consider retraction on the public stage to be a special badge of honesty and moral quality. Second, they think that with their confessions they again perform a higher task that corresponds to the left as an institution of public criticism. If in their eyes the world has totally changed, then the world expects a credible opinion from its left. They have not given up the self-confidence of being the better part of the public and, as such, obligated to inform. In this sense, they directly fulfill their radical about-face. That’s why they owe it to themselves and the world, not merely to be in favor of it, but to explain how still today – in the face of an undoubtedly successful capitalism, the failure of socialism, and the refutation of left criticism – what leftists call criticism is still possible and how “socialism” can be redefined to keep up with the times. What emerges are lots of confessions about the responsibility of intellectuals who do not simply say yes, but especially worriedly think of the whole. A few radical tones are even still heard.
The long-term project of publicly granting a contract for constructive criticism unites them all. The leftists record without shame that they no longer know anything exactly, not even whether they should still carry the attribute “socialist” in the title of a leftist magazine. But one thing they know precisely: that they need a “conceptual design” which can be savored even by diehard supporters of capitalism, and that this again requires “rethinking” and “coming to terms” with everything. That’s about the whole program: the permanent invitation to pay attention to credibility when criticizing; and the argument-less general doubt about everything that has so far been called left. Anyone who even only gives the impression that he knows something, by contrast, automatically rules himself out. The methodological insistence on how the possibility of thinking “differently” is becoming endlessly more difficult unceremoniously ends up censuring deviant thinking. These methodological debates thus no longer serve the endless search for an up-to-date justification of their criticism. They are committed to what keeps up with the times as allowing what critics may argue. By announcing this duty, the need for announcement is also then extinguished. Leftists cultivate the self-confidence that they, as responsible spirits, are assigned with improvements of capitalism.
The majority of the left has long made their pitch and the new content of their left perspective out of this duty. Now socialism is the name for the ideal task of no longer ascribing the previously denounced “abuses” to the system, but seeing them as problems affecting the community which should be taken care of in the framework of its conditions. Environment, social justice, and women are now registered as attributes of a socialism that is a faithful clone of the public responsibility posture in whose name democratic politicians build nuclear power plants, frugally manage unemployment and occupational disability funds, and ensure business and control around the world. It is only the ideal of capitalism with a “human face,” which communally considers all the victims and destruction which the basic calculations of profitable dealings with man and nature require. They do not pronounce the word “socialism” without loud assurances that the call for a better world is nowhere to seen: in any case, not as a serious alternative. Instead of this, all the capitalistic realities are divided into healing functions and harmful side effects that require resolute political leadership and control. Democratic state socialism – guaranteed not real: such insane constructive thinking is considered “realism” by leftists who in no case want to repeat the mistake of real socialism of nationalizing everything and at the same time consider the nationalized life here the realm of freedom – at least the possibility, and that’s surely enough. Do-gooder-type issues have dissociated themselves from the old consciousness of representing their desire for change as an alternative world-historical tendency. Instead of the criticism of yesterday, the left devotes itself to the problems of today and accompanies its proposals with the constant assurance of demanding nothing impossible. The old left search for conformity is thereby reversed: one is for it, but with the difference of a critical attitude. So intellectuals just present their being for it: with loud requests to the politicians in the name of humanity and with the Habermasian self-consciousness that “guarantees the ability of self-criticism and self-control of the bourgeois-capitalist system,” thus particularly responsible, because permanent functioning is indispensable.
However, a minority does not want to be robbed of the belief in a philanthropic alternative, even if it has lost what was part of the inventory of a conviction-bolstering idea – the proven possibility of the better, the impossibility of the worse, and the idea of an opposition already on its way. All these authorization badges of socialism have always only existed in their imagination. With appropriate interpretation, all this shows up again unruffled, although no longer as a necessity, but as a possibility which they at least do not want to give up. According to the proven model, they construct a historical tendency, characterized by, of all things, the fact that it is nowhere really tangible. But if one only thinks far enough ahead, then the failure of the successful West can still be predicted, even if it can not be seen when this will be. They provide the admitted functioning of capitalism with a defiant “but probably not forever!” – and are not a bit wiser, but merely become self-sufficient prognosticators. They cannot let the possibility of socialism be taken away from them – as an unprovable, but also irrefutable belief: “real” socialism was only just a preliminary anticipation in the epochal calendar. In a caricature of their lost self-confidence, such a left fiddles away on a world-transcendent consolation perspective that moves casually in the scope of centuries, instead of just once considering the possibility that the present provides enough arguments for being oppositional. Also a way of responsibly coming to terms with the conditions! Instead of their old authorization for being oppositional, such a left justifies the need to do little “for now,” thus farsightedly professing an empty hope for better times.
Radical leftists relucatantly refrain from the illusion of representing social resistance and see the forces of good already at work. What remains is decidedly moralism and the good feeling of remaining true to oneself – despite all the successes of capitalism. They also do not want to be stigmatized as violating all the ideals of a politics full of spirit and responsibility. Rather than revealing the necessity in capitalistic activities, they charge it with immorality, discovering destruction, injustice, and unconscionability everywhere – and thereby pledge that they do not want to let go of the faith in a better democratic politics, which they miss in the democracy taking place. They are oppositional out of sheer responsibility for humanity – and console themselves with the knowledge that they are guaranteed to be the better Germans, somewhere between Kant’s categorical imperative, the Jewish question, fair trade shopping, and cultural criticism.
Not even leftists who do not want to be “Marxists” need to abandon Marx. After all, they have worked long and hard to classify Marx in the tradition of the great humanists, historical philosophers, sociologists, and methodologists of science. Now they free Marx from the last echoes of a critique of capitalist wealth production and cling to what then “remains” in him: the vision of a better social life where man relates to man and the unalienated subject to the object, etc.; the faith in the openness of history; his contribution to the question of how one should think, namely dialectically, always the possibility of the Other. Completely trained in dialectics, they even come up with the idea that Marx’s real achievement lies in a grandiose mistake of subject: everything he dealt with best in “Capital” fits real socialism exactly, so that he is the principle witness for the conversion of Marxists to capitalism’s superiority and fitness with human nature.
Leftist life after death:
A self-contained special little corner in the paradise of participation in national public life
The left called for the overthrow of capitalism because they thought it was coming. They were not against capitalism because of capitalism, but because of the proven possibility of its alternative. They were not for socialism because of socialism, but because of the predicted failure of capitalism. Because, instead of this, real socialism managed the unique trick of abolishing itself, they have drawn the conclusion to change and to interpret the world anew. In this, they remain faithful to their mistakes.
The certification methods of their old criticism are still in use. Certainly, the unity has been lost between the belief and its changing need to be up-to-date, and thereby the critical concern. Now it is the set piece with which the left fulfills its positive attitude to the new zeitgeist. The desire to improve the world is alive – as a majoritorian petition to the governing for ethical responsibility and a mission in its own right to participate in; and as a minority vote by upholders of conviction who urge a radical social reversal. The historical-philosophical interpretation of world events is not killed off – as an inconsequential know-it-all attitude in consciousness, it takes the long view, in contrast to others. The endless search for authorization of their own criticism continues to take place – as a commitment to the standpoint of concern for the progress of the system. The intellectual authority is still in use – as a museum tradition and at the same time an out of fashion but still useful contribution to scientific pluralism.
The left has abolished itself and mostly entered into the public discussion and problematization of national political progress. So they are again merely the mirror image of a public opinion which they never create themselves but want to play a role in. Now they no longer disrupt and mostly do not even want to disrupt, but contribute. However, their role is finished. Even the brief interest in their public abjuration is no longer in demand. Nevertheless, they still have a modest place in the public life they so much want to be involved in. As a scene that still and always deals with itself. In addition to unmistakable contributions to national responsibility – on war issues, the capitalistic development of the East, globalization, the trade union co-governing of wages and performance, looking after hunger and the deportation of asylum seekers, nuclear power and the relocation of garbage: in short, with everything – they continue to make a few unique additions and postscripts by their undeterred public turning away from the ideals, hopes and efforts of yesterday. Leftists bemoan what they can no longer talk about as a “realistic left,” talk about what they may affirm as a “responsible left,” affirm what they must as a “responsible left.” So “the left” continues to exist: in the “post-socialist,” “post-Fordist,” “non-Marxist” dissatisfied-self-satisfied, slightly manic-depressive narcissism of notoriously constructive critics.