On the upswing of the political culture
in times of economic downturn
[Excerpt from GegenStandpunkt 4-2002]
In crises, the bourgeois state power suffers losses in its civilian means of power. Unfortunately, this means anything but a weakening monopoly on violence for its regime. On the contrary, its economic powerlessness only makes extra clear how completely it has subjected its community, in all its subdivisions and relations, to the power of capital. In fact, so consistently and so without any alternative, that the state itself runs out of budgetary funds, and the means for its everyday activities of rule thereby dwindle away when, during the crisis, the commissioning of its taxable and dutiable citizens for the expansion of capitalistic property leaves much to be desired. Even to its own detriment, the state respects the capitalistic purpose and the ensuing conditions on the use of money to which it nevertheless is the owner of the copyright. It submits to the objective constraints of the universal acquisition of money through the capitalistic expansion of money which it itself imposes on its society. Its powerlessness before the autonomous laws of the capitalist economy is the downside of the fact that it absolutizes the command power of money – i.e. those who have enough of it – over social labor.
In the crisis, that is exactly what the bourgeois state power lets its country’s inhabitants experience. Where it lacks the economic means, it uses its political command power over its citizens to adjust their living circumstances still more perfectly to the conditions which the representatives of capitalist property assert they are entitled to. It quite openly discredits its promises of better days, that its free market policies would inevitably shower the blessings of a permanently growing prosperity over most of the working population. It practically demonstrates and announces, without even sugarcoating it, what is not feasible under its regime and in the “free market” system it favors – namely, even merely maintaining existing living conditions, when ever more laid-off workers attest to how an ever increasing material wealth can be manufactured and supplied with fewer employees; and it declares and enforces what instead must be and why and for what – namely, more poverty and deteriorating working conditions in the interest of the good mood of capital, so that maybe investment picks up again and new people are needed and used. In the crisis, the state presumes what in other contexts is generally contemptuously dismissed as a simplistic leftist critique of the system: that the artful synthesis of democracy and market economy supports its wage dependent population only after a fashion and even then only when the conditions for wages and work are completely stacked in the interests of the employer. In crisis, all the reasons come together that speak against the capitalist mode of production and its sovereign trustee; and it even acknowledges it.
All the same, the crisis is simply not an especially good time for true criticism; the state power proves this with its open admission that the system unfortunately requires the type of employment and impoverishment that it is also organizing. It counts on people who habitually put up with this system as their allotted and fair living conditions, who then also do not try to account for its basic hardship when they are made to pay for capital’s losses and the state’s shortfalls, and that too is declared unavoidable; who then rather rely on the contrary, that the state and capital will again have something left over for them if things first gets better for the state and capital, thus business gets back on its feet and state revenue flows in again. Democratic politicians assume, in crisis as in normal times, that when they enforce the demands of “the economy” on their citizens and permit no alternative, the affected citizens will show their understanding and accept that no alternative probably exists. In this sense, they trust their country’s inhabitants to “come to the conclusion” that if the state with its unshaken monopoly on violence can’t do anything against the crisis and its consequences, then more than ever they, the ones who are really powerless, have no other choice than to resign themselves, come to terms with it, and hope for better times. The victims of this economy are expected to accept the fact that the state with its force over the society excludes all alternatives to the political economy of capital, including its crises, as an absolutely convincing and good enough reason for the mental feat and will power to acknowledge their own damage as absolutely necessary. And while they’re at it, they should also equate their damage with the losses which the state brings upon itself in its unconditional commitment to its political economy, share the concerns of their government, and practice unity. The political Powers That Be unabashedly speculate on the citizen in the wage laborer: the partisan of the common good who understands that if the very highest authorities of the community must cut back – the fact that it is he who is “cut back” on must quickly be forgotten – then all the others, including himself, can’t get around renouncing a bit and having to make sacrifices; because there is no other way “the economy” can eventually get going again, and what’s more, than in this way. Because ultimately everything and everyone depends on its general success for their well-being – and even this is not a critical clarification, but a pertinent clue demanding understanding and agreement!
Of course, such enormous understanding still does not make the discontent disappear, which spreads in the crisis even amongst the most loyal supporters of the market economy. The political leadership serves this discontent all the more plentifully: by naming culprits for the economic “disaster” and angles on justice for locating the real damages and for distributing the sacrifices due. Because even a small shift in the perception that in the crisis the society and its highest authority fall short of the common good and the material services it owes is enough to satisfactorily answer the question of guilt in every direction: greedy CEOs and parasitic illegal workers, union vested interests and super-rich tax evaders, early retirees who are a burden on the younger generation as well as older employees who don’t allow the young to enter professional life, wage earners who earn too much and consumers who buy too little: all contribute to the “hard times.” For experienced politicians, it does not take much to label all the upper and lower sections of their class society, including the special interest groups they define as morally required, to pit its members against each other and thus to ensure that they hear in their quarreling mob of people one single call for a resolute legal use of force against others, thus against all. This agitation is one of the timeless golden oldies, in addition to the suspicion that the main victims of the crisis, the unemployed, are parasites, and the translation of the anything but harmonious relation between the banks and credit-needy businesses into a moral conflict between greedy “parasitical” and honest “productive” capital – for whom the fallen heroes of the most recent speculative boom may enter as dramatis personae on the one side, the “small businesses” stranded by their banks on the other – the discontent of the rank and file really can’t be more constructively served than with a smear campaign in the name of “job creating” exploitation of wage laborers against those who are allegedly to blame for its failure. The more so as a second very important criterion can quite easily be attached in determining the true agents of the crisis and a proper government response: not only dubious elements from the midst of the national community, but also and especially forces and people from outside it are on the move here, damaging business and the common good; if necessary, the cosmopolitanism of finance capital suffices as proof. At the other end of the social hierarchy, in the underworld of the economic universe, the sloganeers for a politically correct and morally high standing processing of the material discontent among the crisis-battered people of course strikes a bonanza just as easily in the same sense. The discovery of wretchedly situated foreigners in barracks, be it an asylum-seeker camp or a construction site, already suffices for the irrefutable suspicion that they “take away” from “us,” the community of native citizens, money and above all “jobs,” something that in times of high unemployment belongs to the greatest crimes against the national common good – this is the other popular version for serving the material discontent with the idea that the status of exploited labor power would be a quite exclusive privilege. A very temperate version, by the way, compared with the figure of the “Bolshevik Jew” stirring up class conflict, against which righteous popular anger was once incited and has been successfully eliminated since then. In the meantime, the universal rule of the capitalist system, undisturbed by any class conflict or “communist threat,” as well as the not completely so unhindered mobility of the “labor factor,” has ensured the multicultural tolerance of which modern civil society may be so proud, without denying its members a quite private right to nationalism; how much hatred of foreigners and mania for exclusion should follow from it, each mature citizen in the free community may then decide completely for himself. The same ideal reward which supplies the discontented victims of the crisis and the state crisis policy with viewpoints for an even tougher unconditional partisanship with those responsible for their damage is ultimately also connected with the view, sharpened by the crisis, of the foreign country. Anti-imperialism is in great demand with the governing as well as the governed: the bourgeois kind, in which the leaders and the followers still see the greatest and most violent “empires,” because it consists in the determined refusal of the – real or even only assumed – imperialism of the others. Depending on the status of international accounts and the affect on their own nation, the inhabitants of the capitalist civilized world are briefed about who among external friends and partners is currently disrupting the global harmony of interests which would otherwise doubtlessly be working for their own national cause and where, despite all the efforts at mutual understanding, hostile disputes are in place.
So the people are politely invited by their leaders and urgently encouraged by a free general public opinion to make the private material discontent, which is surely there despite all the resignation, productive, namely to identify with the suffering of “the economy” in its missing conditions for success and the state power in its powerlessness and to demand a tough crackdown on any obstacles and opponents of the national upswing – all the tougher, the more the discontented private individual is himself affected by such a crackdown. “Above” and “below” should join together in the need for an effectively executed and capitalistically useful public power. The coincidence that is called for is not yet mirror-inverted: for precisely that which they do and allow, the “above” appeal to the wishes of their people for a fair dosing of blame and distribution of damages, and the “below” come off exactly like the ones who ordered what is done with them.
For this democracy makes an unbeatable offer to the governed. It allows, and an institutionalized opposition even emphatically summons, the people to be angry in the name of all the understood necessities of effective governing and in the interests of an actively enforced justice, not only against foreign nations which only cause problems, against foreigners who do not belong here, and against domestic interest groups who fail in their duties to the common good, but also and especially against their own government, which obviously fails on all these fronts. Dissatisfaction is positively incited in order to steer them into an aggressively affirmative and militantly conformist criticism of an insufficient exercise of political power, that is, one that lags behind its own criteria for success. The democratic vote then offers them the chance to settle their claims with the presented reasons for the general crisis as well as their own personal financial crises, by helping different or even the same politicians again appoint sovereign trustees of the real cause of the crisis, namely the capitalist growth in the country. Those for whom the brief act of voting is not enough to act out their frustrations can take part in the election campaign and become activists in the one party which promises the only correct use of power against the supporters of another, which promises exactly the same, all the way up to fist fights. The crisis in this respect is a good time for voters: it politicizes people who judge their own living conditions according to the criteria of the authorities who decide over them. It is therefore also a good opportunity for those who want the people’s democratically incited and exploited need for “strong” leadership and just use of force to reject not only the sitting government, but to finish the business of democratic authorization and exercise of power in general. Fascists do not put up with the powerlessness which follows from strictly committing state power to capital’s exclusive regime over the national economy, and would like a capitalism in which even money obeys the leader – something that can even be managed up to a certain extent in complete compliance with the system; they are not content with the functional subordination of all social conflicts under the common good and all conflicting interests under the crisis virtues of the understanding citizen, but pursue the elimination of the identified troublemakers; they fight with military power to correct national defeats in the competition of imperialistic powers when the ruling balance of power – still – does not make them look like superior referees and global police who sponsor order; and in view of all these great plans, they consider it completely beneath the dignity of a decent national unity to subordinate themselves to fixed constitutional rules and even less to periodic judgments of taste by the governed – which, by the way, and this only consistent, doesn’t stop them – after tackling the crisis and/or suffering defeat and after the chieftain sent by providence dies – from returning the state of emergency back to the normal form of bourgeois rule. Vice versa, democrats are very proud of themselves for only practicing in exceptional cases everything that fascists pursue and otherwise propagandizing only in order to allow themselves to be authorized for a period – without the ambition of clarifying the national and international balance of power “once and for all.” And in view of what freely elected power holders are also capable of and what they completely constitutionally do in times of crisis, one can really be grateful to them for everything that they exclude out of consideration for their anti-fascist ethos.