Editorial, open letter and call for donations.
At least since the financial crisis of 2007/8 it has been possible to see a change in political strategy: after the period of neo-liberal deregulation the solution is now sought in regulation. There is now an increasing recourse to the nation state or even regionalism. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and “America First” are making virtues out of the emergency, in view of the complex breakdown processes, the USA, the global power, is on the descent with its protective tariffs and trade wars (primarily with China). Meanwhile American government debt continues to grow in spite of levying trade tariffs. Greater effort is being made to keep Mexican refugees out of the country etc. Brexit also embodies this isolationism. The discourse surrounding it makes clear the contradictions that arise out of the muddled global economy and global politics, and that there is no easy way out of globalization. This will become apparent after the election of Boris Johnson.
Globally, brash and comic characters and right-wing parties espousing simple “truths” are being elected: Orbán, Kaczy?ksi, Erdo?an, Duterte, Trump, Bolsonaro—the list is growing. Trump is leaving Syria to Putin and feeding the Kurds to Erdo?an. The dream of the anti-imperialists, that the US would withdraw and not intervene, is proving instead to be a nightmare. The proxy war in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran and its disastrous consequences are only occasionally mentioned in our local news and with a demonstrative guilty conscience. Many catastrophic scenarios and grievances have become such everyday occurrences that they only make the headlines when a problem has been exacerbated to a particularly acute state such as the desperate state of the Greek social provisions some years ago which has fallen out of the news cycle but can’t have improved drastically in that time. In the background is the threat of a major economic and financial crisis for which Nouriel Roubini urgently warns, that it may be politically impossible to manage in a way that was still possible after 2008.1 Everyone knows this though. Crash literature is booming. The book by Marc Friedrich and Matthias Weik “The greatest crash of all times. Economy, politics, society. How you can still protect your money” is number 1 on the Spiegel best seller list.
At the same time it is not only the housing problem but also climate change that is preoccupying our contemporaries, for whom it has become obvious that national, regional and local measures are no longer enough. The Greens are themselves only a palliative, so that nothing really needs to change, and instead everything can be fixed within the current system. Figures such as Greta Thunberg have become stars.2 The women’s movement is re-establishing itself globally in light of the #MeToo debate with strikes and demonstrations, such as in Argentina and Spain, being a vehement expression of the outrage. Social unrest against budget cuts in the social sector in Argentina for instance have become a talking point. Price increases for fuel or the subway in Iran and Chile are bringing things to the boil; and there are rumblings in numerous Arab states (more examples could be listed). This is how renewed social unrest is sparked and as always is “addressed” with clubs and guns (with more than 100 dead in Iran).3 The multi-party system is becoming irrelevant and utterly devoid of content. The “major parties” are being eroded, the Greens and AfD are in the ascendant. At the same time the economic situation is predicted to become bleaker, not only in Germany but globally. Meanwhile there are loud calls in Germany to end austerity, not least to stoke the economy which would inevitably drive up government debt.
Consequently, as ever, societies need to be understood as antagonistic structures and in particular—and this is decisive—within the collapse of capitalism. The “collapse of modernization” (Robert Kurz) manifests itself in anomic, unpredictable conditions. What is regarded as a fixed status and tendency today can seem very different tomorrow. Along with rightward tendencies there are also noticeable protests which don’t allow themselves to be easily categorized as simply reactionary in the manner of the Anti-Germans (although broad parts of the Anti-Germans are by this time adopting AfD like stances, not least the Bahamas), this can be clearly seen in the feminist and climate policy movements that cross national boundaries (even if they also undoubtedly display questionable and problematic tendencies).
A significant reaction of the left to the new circumstances since 2008 is the reactivation of class struggle, which it regards as one of its fundamental categories even if it is repeatedly said we are no longer dealing with the “old” classes. Other problems (sexism, racism, ecology etc.) are then subsumed as apparently no longer existing sub-problems. Klaus Dörre wishes in all earnestness for a movement that will write “Expropriate Zuckerberg!” on its flags.4 Class should once again have primacy over “identity”, so that racism and sexism become secondary issues. Even in feminist circles a feminist manifesto for the 99% (!) can be written.5 It’s as though such forms of discrimination, beyond some marginal niche cases, have undergone a serious treatment, after all, the hegemonic discourse of the social sciences in the 80s and 90s dealt with milieu, subculture, lifestyle, and individualization. Today people are looking once again for someone to blame. A (vulgar) Marxism of personification is spreading in which capitalists, speculators and investors are the bogeymen, which of course represents a form of structural anti-Semitism.6
Following the post-growth debate, all sorts of pre-existing ideas are being thrown into one pot and stirred together to create a dish: economic democracy, solidarity economy, businesses run by workers, and so on. Obviously an inedible mishmash. Even a “green new deal” is gaining wide attention which corresponding publications from Jeremy Rifkin and Naomi Klein demonstrate. Even the president of the EU Commission von der Leyen is advocating a “Green Deal”.
A focus on and a discussion of a new reading of Marx, fetishism7 and a discourse on “capitalism coming to an end”8 all follow on from from focusing on the “new” class question.9 An understanding of fetish in which the fetish encompasses the workers as well as the capitalists is missing. Today everybody feels threatened by capital from the outside, as much as [Gerhard] Schröder may have endorsed it, following the trend in the 90s of discovering the stock market. This all indicates that everything should be resolved in the value-dissociation critical form. The basic problem of our situation today is fundamentally articulated in Greta Thunberg’s speech to the politicians: “How dare you?”—to which politicians reply: she should provide a practical answer to the whole question! In fact everyone is against climate change (except for the AfD and the like): business people, politicians, the famously notorious civil society.
Such a political economic helplessness manifests itself when trying to solve these problems within a fetishistic frame of reference: carbon tax, banning diesel vehicles and such like have only a symbolic character. It requires a fundamental change in the modes of production and way of life as well as the corresponding structure of needs, beyond the logic of worker and capitalist classes. This is in principle clear to any child. ‘They know it, but they are nonetheless doing it’ could be claimed today as Žižek does, but in a totally different sense, to what he means (see the article on “Lacanian Marxism” by Roswitha Scholz in this issue). The debates about eco-dictatorship that similarly haunt us need to be contrasted with Marcuse’s insight into the false needs generated by capitalism and their misplaced satisfaction, because there is no emancipatory society that could provide us with alternative needs and structures of needs. The solutions currently being provided in no way match the drama of the collapse of capitalist patriarchal relations.
Instead of insisting on radical changes in the sense of the critique of fetish, a pseudo discourse is being conducted. The left is stuck in the mud and hasn’t offered anything new for decades. There are endless offers of utopia and courses of action. The answers since the 70s are in principle the same. No-one is reckoning with a radical change. A small debate on the critique of work has developed10 but this also remains within the pre-existing societal conditions, without any actual transcendence.
What hasn’t been addressed at all is the severe trauma of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc countries. In addition to this: the end of social democracy, the failure of the alternative movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement etc., that helped to create the “new spirit of capitalism” (Boltanski and Chiapello). And not to be forgotten: the defeat of the attempts at left government in Latin America (Venezuela, Bolivia). Instead there is simply a renewed invocation of all the conforming themes, the revitalization of all the conforming ideas (economic democracy, solidarity economy, basic income and such like), which are proclaimed to be radical and to transcend the system.
An unacknowledged ‘left melancholia’ (Walter Benjamin, Wendy Brown, Enzo Traverso) has retreated into retro-ideologies, utopian hubris, and actionism that don’t really offer anything to counter the poor conditions and will show themselves to be ineffective. After the disgrace of social democracy all of the sudden some sort of “hyper social democracy” is supposed to resolve everything. What is ignored is that social democracy itself was just a motor for the development of capitalism (as it was primarily in Fordism) and a that a new (“green”) edition under the aegises of precarious finance capitalism, continued rationalization processes, international competition, capital interdependence etc. (which is now also attempting to uphold rights) is not possible.11
A hype for movements is defining the left once again; theory, which doesn’t meat the desire to take immediate action and that is even able to ask the questions we have just raised, has a bad hand. Certainly it isn’t possible to put up with everything and submit to the dictates of funding (rent prices, unemployment benefits etc.), a practical engagement against racism, anti-Semitism, neo-fascism etc. is indispensable. However, any abstract hypostatization of practice is to be avoided and the social and historical frame of reference needs to be considered. The necessity of the value-dissociation abstraction needs to be taken into account and to keep the famous totality in view even to potentially develop the long view to see to what extent action and movements contribute to an affirmation of the administration and regulation of the crisis. In particular the value-dissociation perspective should be used to see where there might be movements, which have aspects that overshoot the mark, but which we can contribute to by extending their intellectual horizons to include a critique of the societal synthesis. It is in such a manner that opportunities to act should be exploited to improve the current situation. Ultimately we don’t live in the “administered world” any more as was the case in Adorno’s time, but instead in the times of the “collapse of modernization” (Robert Kurz). But it is not simply a case of tagging on to existing movements. Critical distance, constructing theories, and questioning the social form are especially critical now when the mainstream left think that the complex problems can be resolved within this social form and thereby bring pseudo solutions to the table. As opposed to the new reading of Marx the goal is not to conduct a form analytical and philological exegesis of Marx but instead to grasp Marx’s concepts as real abstractions and apply them to the real global social changes happening today. This also means recognizing that politics and (political) subjectivity have been eroding for decades now. Postmodern theories were an expression of this. Even when solidarity, not least the newly kindled women’s movement, is very important, this should not tempt us to proclaim, in an anachronistic feeble agitprop like manner, a new political subject, namely woman (this needs to be pursued in a separate article). It is the value-dissociation critical theoretical understanding that makes it possible to group social processes and movements in a larger historical and progressing social continuum instead of swallowing a reductive view that has currency in the time of movements: consternation and immediacy, which often follow, after some years, the sense of depression, so that demands and their content remain constrained within the system (here state feminism is brought to mind). The pressure, that we really “must do something”, distorts our view that developing theory is an independent practice within the total social context that can only serve a practical engagement that aims at social processes and social changes if it doesn’t fall prey to a practice fetish and merge together with it.12 This appears to be the case when striving for practical engagement while being critical of theory and without wanting to be bothered with the unavoidable radical change needed and instead being simply content to deal directly with the false status quo which is unsustainable anyway. If in the last 30 years a queer and post-colonial stance was insisted on i.e. one based on the perspective of those affected, it now appears as though the (not only feminist) class orientation of the supposedly “99%” wants, in this regard, to replace the post-modern theories and ideologies. With such a definition of social issues, the bourgeois need, to be regarded as “normal” and to represent the masses, becomes apparent, rather than to act in solidarity with the marginalized and those discriminated against, even if it is claimed that these groups are included. That “women’s rights”, as well as others, were regarded as parallel contradictions seems to have fallen by the wayside. But women and migrants are those most directly affected by “social issues”. Being considered incapable, superfluous, and excluded and then not given a voice is the greatest crime. The cultural explanation provided by postmodern theories for such discrimination should be criticized as well as remaining in the space of “identity politics” rather than addressing “social issues” from a primarily “materialist” stand point. It is from such a perspective, beyond cheap postmodern hybrid assumptions, that broken experiences, in the context of the world-historical totality in the process of collapse, should be emphasized or even analysed for the first time. Otherwise any opportunities from such an insight into a self-referential fetishistic system may be lost, a system that men and women have themselves constituted and continue to constitute. You could maliciously say: those who have truly essential experiences are not primarily bothered with experiences as such any more (the current issue No.7 of the journal Outside the box has “experience” as its theme).
There was, even in the value critique context, a drive to be practical and to take on direct experiences. The buzzwords were solidarity economy, commons and open-source.13 Nothing has disgraced itself quite so much as the open-source ideology. Freedom on the internet has primarily given voice to ressentiment, emotional opinionated filth and the vulgar mob, a gift (sharing) ideology became Uber etc.
The exit! Context, along with Claus Peter Ortlieb, who died on 15th September 2019 and for whom we’ve written an obituary, has always resisted such tendencies and distanced itself form the (more recent) developments of theory coming from Krisis. In this respect it is highly problematic that Krisis should claim Claus Peter Ortlieb for themselves in their own obituary and to praise his article “A Contradiction of Matter and Form” so unashamedly as was done on Krisis’s website (krisis-online.org retrieved 10.10.2019). After all it is this article that describes the significance of relative surplus value for allowing this contradiction to exist and that Trenkle disregards in his evaluation of (Michael) Heinrich and plays no decisive roll for Krisis up until today. Claus Peter Ortlieb also made plain criticisms of Streifzüge and Krisis in other aspects as well.14
We ask the readers of exit! to continue sending us donations to support our theoretical efforts, which as ever cannot be lead by directly practical endeavours nor bow to the constraints of a left academic enterprise which is driven by career considerations and cheap political correctness and attitudes. Nowadays especially, we need intellectuals who in terms of content and institution, “method” and “methodology”, aren’t caught in the academic hamster wheel and allow their thinking to be dictated to and spoilt, but instead keep the (global) social totality in view, beyond the usual well worn paths. Without them there would be no genuinely radical critique of society. It’s the same figures with their doctoral theses that for years, if not decades, have been appearing in the anthologies and at conferences. They are exposed to an ever more precarious university operation, which is why they cling, or are compelled to cling, ever more to academia as a potential source of employment—“Wes Brot ich ess, des Lied ich sing” as the saying goes.
In the past, value (dissociation) critique did experience a small boom and some reference is made to it in texts and references of the left, but this evaporates when it comes to the crunch i.e. the radical questioning of the capitalist patriarchal form of socialization. But even this phase seems to be over, with a reversion largely to a somewhat modified stone age Marxism. After years of post-modernity with its “breakneck standstill”,15 which pushed the empty form of value, based on the dissociation of the feminine, ever more to the fore, there is now a need again for something ‘concrete’, for something ‘identitarian’, for a clear bogeyman, to make individuals and groups responsible for the misery and other problems: the world should once again be clearly divided into top and bottom, friend and foe, good and evil, the non-identical is ignored. This is how the new pogrom is mentally prepared for. This is how the “new seriousness” is expressed after the end of post-modernity’s playfulness. It is this form of critique that the articles of this issue of exit! still stand for.
“Freie Fahrt ins Krisenchaos” (Free Ride into the Chaos of the Crisis) by Robert Kurz is a reprint of an out-of-print text from an anthology published in 1994. It’s subject is our society’s automotive mania. Kurz provides a historical sketch of the development of private transportation and in the process shows that this development was primarily a consequence of the irrationality of the capitalist mode of production. With this Kurz highlights the destructive consequences. Furthermore he emphasizes that private transportation, the ‘car’, is not simply a technology, but is associated with a specific way of life. And not least of all this “painted attack dog” serves the “total mobilization” of labour as a commodity and is as a consumer product symbolically loaded: which makes the automotive mania a masculine mania.
A commentary on this text is planned for exit! No. 18 which will update Kurz’s essay and take a look at new developments in this automotive mania (self-driving cars, electric cars) not least in light of the ongoing climate catastrophe.
Žižek has been one of the most influential left wing intellectuals for some time now. Any attempt to write about Žižek is usually met with incomprehension. He’s said to be confused, hollow, polemical, sometimes he is even dismissed as a bluffer and a phoney and so shouldn’t even be addressed. But then the question remains, why is he considered respectable, frequently invited to give talks and why do the masses flock to his events. Why is he published by Suhrkamp and Fischer and regarded as a “star philosopher”? Roswitha Scholz’s text “Capitalism, the Crisis … the Couch – and the collapse of capitalist patriarchy. A few critical remarks on the Lacanian Marxism of Slavoj Žižek and Tove Soiland” primarily aims to critique Žižek’s theory and his androcentric bias from the perspective of value-dissociation critique but also to show, at least to some extent, his roll as a pivotal figure in the transition from post-modernity to an authoritarian-anarchic age which goes hand in hand with his half ironic references to Lenin and Stalin in his works. It is therefore all the more remarkable that Tove Soiland, whose approach as the title suggest is also dealt with here, should ignore such characteristics of Žižek and in the process uncritically adopt his thinking in an attempt to make them fruitful for a feminist Lacanian Marxism.
Thomas Meyer’s contribution “On Positivism's Unending Misery – a belated follow up to the ‘Sokal affair’” looks at the so called Sokal affair. This was the case some 20 years ago of physicist Alan Sokal submitting a faked article to a post-structuralist journal, with the article using jargon typical of the scene so that no-one noticed that it’s contents wasn’t to be taken seriously. Meyer demonstrates that Sokal’s criticism of postmodern nonsense remains superficial and that he himself has nothing more to offer than ordinary positivism. Sokal is far from a critique of “unconscious objectivity” (Claus Peter Orblieb). Additionally Meyer takes on Sokal’s criticism of the feminist critique of science and shows that Sokal’s androcentrism and inability to go beyond the bounds of positivism make him incapable or unwilling to grasp fundamental aspects of the feminist critique of science and consequently has to more or less haughtily dismiss feminists such as Evelyn Fox-Keller. Furthermore, the method of demonstrating deficits in the academic sciences by palming off faked articles to supposed idiots so as to ‘prove’ that those branches of science do nothing more than produce pure nonsense stills goes on today. As Meyer stresses, this is problematic insofar as all sorts of right wing populists get themselves worked up about the unscientific nonsense that Gender Studies and similar fields spread and then advocate for them to be abolished and banned. Palming off hoax articles can therefore be connected to right wing populist, that is to say, neo-fascist agitation, not least demonstrated by the abolishment of Gender Studies in Hungary.
Leni Wissen directs her attention to the “History of Poor Relief”. ‘Work’ as the central form of activity in capitalism implies a special relationship to non-work. As a result, the relationship between ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ is, especially for the structuring of social relations, decisive. This is reflected in how poverty is dealt with, illustrated by looking at the history of poor relief. With the establishment of the value-dissociation society began the distinction between the worthy i.e. working poor, and unworthy i.e. non-working poor which decisively shaped the structure of the social welfare that was beginning to form. The history of poor relief is therefore closely meshed with the history of anti-Romanyism because social and racist discrimination are inseparably connected in anti-Romanysim. In light of the general tendency towards barbarity that has come in the wake of capitalism’s postmodern form of the crisis, it appears that a “structural anti-Romanyism” offers a means for the middle classes to cope with their downfall and needs to be considered the accompanying background noise of the restructuring of the welfare state during capitalisms decay, which Wissen shows by way of example in Germany’s ‘activating welfare state’.
In his contribution, Andreas Urban dedicates himself to the history of old people’s homes as a modern institution. He combines this directly with the thesis he developed in an earlier article (exit! No. 15) about capitalism’s “superfluousness” of old people (as the basis for modern society’s structural hostility towards old people), a superfluousness reified materially in a perhaps particularly striking way. He shows that old people’s homes both historically and logically represent an institution for keeping old people as ‘unproductive’ and superfluous’. This function is still true today despite numerous superficial changes that old people’s homes have made in the past decades. This can particularly be seen in the spatial and social segregation and the de facto containment of old people and people in need of care which up until today is in the very nature of even the most comfortable and homely nursing homes and “retirement homes”. Beyond this, the care for old people is subject to (not simply, but primarily, institutional) economic cost-benefit analysis as well as the time optimizing logic of capitalism’s value-dissociation structure. In this context, the article also provides some critical insight into phenomena and tendencies, which in the sciences and media are discussed with the keywords ‘care emergency’ and ‘care crisis’, for example the increasing economization of care systems, intolerable working conditions in care, neglect and abuse of those in need of care etc.
Even the churches are being sucked into the maelstrom of the crisis. Their crisis manifests itself in the crisis of the long-term dwindling of financial resources and on the symbolic level and on the level of content as a loss of social and political meaning. Just as for the ‘earthly’ realms, the church is due for ‘reforms’. Herbert Böttcher’s text “The road to an ‘entrepreneurial church’ following the collapsing (post-)modernity” shows how the churches are looking to reform themselves, not in the sense of the ‘holy spirit’, but in the ‘spirit of capitalism’. They are looking for advise in the concepts of organizational development that operates on the basis of systems theory. As enterprises, the churches want to find connection with their surroundings and ‘get with the times’. The result of which is a process of conforming to (post)modern society in the crisis which is on course for a crash landing. However it is not simply organisational restructuring. This can only help if the pastoral and religious products the church offers are competitive in the mystical-spiritual markets and meets the demands of their customers. People should be reached in their ‘everyday lives’ and their ‘social spaces’. Without reflecting on the mediating context of society, individuals, stressed from the crisis conditions and driven to depression, should be reached and provided for so that they can recover or at least feel better under these conditions. The religious-mystical products offered aren’t measured by their claim to truth but by their usefulness. At the same time the churches are supposed to offer a home for people who in light of post-modernism's ‘relativism’ are looking for meaning and identity. In the face of this problematic situation the churches are opening up to identitarian and authoritarian thinking and activity. This does not leave the substance of the Judaeo-Christian tradition undisturbed. This is becoming individualized and mysticized and should at the same time be secured existentially and/or in the objectivity of ‘eternal truths’. What is lost is the emancipatory content of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which is based on a distinction of transcendence and immanence that is pointedly critical of authority.
The contribution “On the March into Barbarity or the East as Bogeyman” by Gerd Bedszent deals with the media hype surrounding the 30th anniversary of the so called fall of the Berlin wall, but also with the raging violence of the radical right primarily in those regions of East Germany that have been left behind. Bedszent cites several somewhat older texts by Robert Kurz and analyses the relationship between the two events. After 1990 there was a reprieve from the final fatal blow for the majority of East German industrial towns which had already been subject to competition with the stronger western economies and therefore in decline. Following the deindustrialization of whole regions, many millions of people lost their jobs; for others the ‘streamlining’ of bureaucracies and the razing of large parts of the cultural landscape provided a permanent career disruption. That parts of the East German population were portrayed as heroes in the media while those same people were often classified as economically ‘superfluous’, provided fertile ground for numerous confused and not infrequently anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. However, as Bedszent writes with reference to Robert Kurz, the current wave of right wing radicalism has its structural origins in the ultimate crisis of the commodity producing system. The bizarre response to this crisis from right-wing politicians is a full throated demand for the strengthening of national state institutions, whose weakening is in fact caused by their own economic political programme.
The following books and anthologies have also been published: Both parts of Robert Kurz’s “The Substance of Capital” (exit! No. 1 & 2) have been translated into French: La Substance du capital, Paris 2019; as well as a collection of articles by Roswitha Scholz: Le Sexe du capitalisme – ›Masculinité‹ et ›féminité‹ comme piliers du patriarcat producteur de marchandises, Paris 2019. Additionally the first issue of the French-language journal: Jaggernaut – Crise et critique de la société capitaliste-patriarcale, in which, amongst others, articles from Robert Kurz and Roswitha Scholz have been translated. Robert Kurz’s book Weltordnungskrieg (The War of World Order) has been translated into Portuguese with unfortunately only excerpts available in print from Antigona (Lisbon) (the complete Text is available at https://exit-online.org/pdf/A_Guerra_de_Ordenamento_Mundial-Robert_Kurtz.pdf). Alastair Hemmens has written a history of the critique of work in modern French thought, from Charles Fourier to Guy Debord, published in English by Palgrave Macmillan 2019, as well as in French: Ne travaillez jamais, Albi 2019. La société autophage – Capitalisme, démesure et autodestruction by Anselm Jappe has been published in Spanish: La sociedad autófaga, Logroño 2019. Die Abenteuer der Ware (The Adventure of the Commodity) is now available in Italian: Le Avventure della Merce – Per una Nuova critica del valore, Rome 2019. An anthology of texts by Claus Peter Ortlieb has been published by Schmetterling: Zur Kritik des modernen Fetischismus – Die Grenzen bürgerlichen Denkens (On the Critique of Modern Fetishism – The Limits of Bourgeois Thinking), Stuttgart 2019. Raimund G. Philipp has published the book Die Geschichte Chinas als Geschichte von Fetischverhältnissen – Zur Kritik der Rückprojektion moderner Kategorien auf die Vormoderne: ausgehendes Neolithikum, die drei Dynastien (The History of China as a History of Fetish Relations – On the Critique of Projecting Modern Categories on Pre-Modern Times: Originating Neolithic, the Three Dynasties), Darmstadt 2019.
Daniel Späth and Patrice Schlauch have resigned from the editorial board.
Roswitha Scholz for the exit! editorial board, December 2019.