exit! Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft Nr. 18 available in the Spring of 2021 - Contents and Editorial
exit! Nr. 18 will foreseeably be available in the Spring of 2021 published by zu Klampen Verlag.
Available for €22 in book stores (ISBN 9783866747890) or as a subscription.
Editorial, open letter and appeal for donations
In 2020, the “year of Covid”, the course of the crisis has become more acute. Covid arrived right in the middle of the crisis of capitalism. This is having a particularly dramatic effect on a health system that has been economized to breaking point, but worse still in those crisis regions where people are left wholly unprotected against the virus itself and the measures taken to “combat the pandemic”. And Covid didn’t simply fall out of the blue, but is tied to capitalism’s domination of nature. As far as the outbreak of the pandemic is concerned, much is to be said for so called zoonoses, infections that can be transmitted from animals into people. With the progression of the crisis of capitalism, it will become ever more difficult—in spite of the “ecological rhetoric”—to protect nature and therefore also animals from the valorization process, and with it the destruction by capital. With the increasing substancelessness of capital, the pressure to subject the basis of all life to the valorization process grows. Meat production, trade in wild animals, eradication of species, destruction of the rain forests etc. fuel the transmission of viruses. And the spread is accelerated by global trade and travel routes.
In the western centres, the virus is colliding with democracies that have placed all bets on giving the crisis ridden accumulation of capital a leg up and are then using repressive authoritarian measures, even up to democratically legitimated states of exception, to combat the social consequences of the crisis, which takes the form of, for the valorization of capital, “superfluous human material” which along with social outcasts is most visible in the case of migrants. In this respect, the Covid measures coincide with the shift from the liberal to the authoritarian pole of capitalist democratic socialization.
The measures against Covid—in spite of justified criticism in particular instances (the partial inconsistency of the measures, trivialization of “collateral damage”1, and so on)—differ from the usual authoritarian “reaction patterns” in that the virus is not a phantom but a dangerous reality and that they—against the usual trend—aim to protect at risk groups, the old and infirm who don’t (any longer) belong to valorizable human capital. This has nothing to do with governments having suddenly found the light of humanitarianism, but rather that the viability of the system needs to be propped up, that—with children deposited in schools and day care during the second lockdown—work and consumption can continue, that is to say, must continue, whilst restrictions in the private sphere as well as hospitality, mass events and culture, aim to slow the virus down and prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed (in which the capacity of the “competition oriented health care system” appears as a “natural constant”).
Here, Covid offers the possibility of accelerating certain tendencies. This includes the so called digital transformation, whose agitators and apologist ideologues promise the solution to all problems. Proof for the especial “urgency” of the digital transformation is provided by the claims of the fallout of education, particularly in the case of socially disadvantaged children. The necessity can now really be turned into a virtue. The escalation of the state of exception can serve as a practice run, especially for the times after Covid. This is also true when looking at the emerging indicators of an authoritarian public health policy. This will be ever more oriented towards making society robust, flexible and resistant to future health risks. It is a politics of immunization against foreseeable crises (anthropogenic climate change, mass social impoverishment etc.). It will be accepted as an unavoidable fate against which it will only seem protective measures are the only possibility. Using the primacy of preventative resilience, all that Covid demands and that future outbreaks of infectious diseases will further fuel, can persist in the already familiar processes of the crisis: the domination over nature, breeding and exploitation of animals, globalization and mobility of production and trade, etc. all under the abstract domination of the irrational end-in-itself of capitalism. This needs to be sustained, by hook or by crook and at any price, even when this has become totally illusory. And that which has been implemented with a clear conscience during the Covid crisis can be augmented to establish a permanent state of emergency: this is how restrictions of basic rights are justified using public health policy measures. It was, or is, rule by decree, the “hour of the executive”2 has arrived. At the same time it has to be reiterated, that the permanent escalation of the security apparatus through policing laws and blanket CCTV coverage (Stasi 2.0) etc. did not and does not require a pandemic3. The transformation of “liberal democracies” into militant police states, in which the police with its increased powers can do as it pleases is opportunity and core of bourgeois democracy itself. In order to “deal” with all eventualities, there was always a willingness to sacrifice everything in the name of “security”. Security is after all a “super basic right”, according to the former minister of the federal government Hans-Peter Friedrich in 2013.
Democracy in its “handling of contradictions” makes its repressive core visible. If rioting breaks out, which frequently only consists of meaningless destruction (as in Stuttgart in June), this is not taken to be an expression of the irrationality and meaninglessness of bourgeois “normality”. Exhibiting a fundamental lack of reflection, consternation is expressed about such outbreaks of violence. One is “indignant” and “shocked”. Police violence is however regarded totally differently. This is “justified” and “necessary”, indeed “appropriate”. After all, the state needs to crack down hard against “resistance to state power”4. This is most important when defending “property rights”: for instance when 1500 police officers are mobilized to “remove” just 20 people (!) from a squat in Berlin (Liebigstraße 34 on 9th October 2020). The “correct use” of basic rights consists of, in “the best of all worlds”, honestly and obediently affirming the “status quo”.
All debate about violence in demonstrations and protests is therefore totally meaningless, if the “legitimate” or legitimized violence of the police is transfigured into “the rule of law” and power relations, racism, social inequality, the housing crisis etc. are left out of the discourse. That bourgeois society itself in its “normal function” is profoundly violent, via social exclusion and racism etc., is totally suppressed in these sanctimonious debates on violence. Or it is externalized: racism in America is indeed a problem but in Germany it is supposedly only a few “exceptional cases”. How absurd that nobody in Germany is prepared to recognize themselves in Donald Trump, who wanted to label Antifa a terrorist organization5 and thereby adopt the state doctrine of the Federal Republic of Germany (extremism theory, anti-antifascism).6 The bogeyman is always the other. It is grotesque, just what lengths the German Federal Republic and its organs of repression go to (even the Military Counterintelligence Service is involved) to get hold of so called adbusters,7 i.e. people who satirically deface billboards and placards. The furious persecution of adbusters, as opposed to the lacklustre investigation of radical right wing networks in the police and armed services (NSU 2.0, Hannibal, Nordkreuz etc.), makes all the more clear where the priorities of the “security services” lie.8
Double standards count as business as usual as well: while right wing protests, such as the “Covid demonstration” at the end of October in Berlin, have no trouble taking place, despite violating regulations, left wing protests are brutally repressed, such as in Ingelheim at a protest against the Nazi party “Die Rechte”.9 Evidently the following maxim holds: “Whoever resists Nazis, won’t encounter friendly police.” The devil knows why.
And these aren’t just exceptions: The enemy stands on the left and that is exactly how antifascists are treated by the police: as an enemy, who need to have the logic of “law and order” drilled into them with pepper spray and batons.
The treatment of refugees shows what “democratic values” ultimately consist of.10 Fascists and democrats are united on this. The difference seems only to consist in the worthy democrats employing a veil of humanity, with which they can criticize the racist positions of the AfD, which does not hinder them from ultimately doing what they accuse the AfD of. The flesh from which they ostensibly turn away is their own. Their own suppressed and misunderstood shadow is ultimately catching up with them. It is bourgeois society itself that creates its apparent opposite.
Now the Covid measures are not undisputed. It is not objections to the social and psychological consequences or critiques of the economization of the health system that have proven themselves to be particularly influential11 but rather the third-position, that is, conspiracy ideological “hygiene” and “lateral thinking demonstrations”.12
That these demonstrations found a large resonance has to do with the so called mainstream, the “bourgeois centre”, having shifted ever more rightwards. This is, on the one hand, shown by a racist discourse (AfD, Pegida), that aims to “increase the boundaries of what can be said” (Gauland). This has obviously succeeded, considering how Die Zeit (2018) in all earnestness discussed the pros and cons of rescuing refugees. The centre is on the right as Kurt Lenk formulated it.13 On the other hand, there have long been a series of commentators who raise the issue of the crisis in a reactionary form. This is how one best seller appears after another. The left’s ignorance is taking vengeance when they refuse to hear of the “Collapse of Modernization”, the “internal barrier”, “categorical critique” or crisis theory, and have stubbornly rejected all debate.14 It costs too much reflective effort, to have to admit to having only talked bollocks for years on end (remember the incredibly embarrassing anti-german pamphlet “The Theorist is Value”15). This vacuum is filled by all sorts of right wing obscurantists with their reactionary “crisis interpretations”. The right libertarian Markus Krall for instance, whose explanations range into the delusional, believes Germany is close to an “eco-socialist dictatorship”, that can only be prevented via a “bourgeois revolution”.16 Common to these reactionary crisis interpretations, is the view that capitalism can be turned round through, amongst other things, a reform of the money system, e.g. a return to the gold standard. Gold is the “ultimate insurance against crises”, according Max Otte (member of the “Werteunion”, host of the “Neuen Hambacher Festes”, guest of Ken Jebsen, and proponent of a “bourgeois coalition” with the AfD).17 It is clear that the audience for all this are those with significant wealth who fear to lose it in the process of the crisis. The middle classes are getting cold feet and are sweating out the extremism of the centre.
But this doesn’t represent the whole chamber of horrors. A certain Thorsten Schulte, the “Silberjunge”, moves in these circles, a historical revisionist of the nastiest sort (who also produced a bestseller with the book “Fremdbestimmt”), who was naturally enough a guest of Ken Jebsen and on 1st August, standing in front of the Federal Chancellory, said “We can only break away from this satanic (!) system of government that dominates there in the Federal Chancellory, and I pray to God and Jusus Christ, and this isn’t a PR stunt, I have a rosary here. […] Jesus Christ is on our side. I say this clearly. Your are all witnesses of the beginning, I mean this very seriously, the apocalypse (!) […]. And that is why I hold this cross up to you, you satanic creatures (!) in there. With the love and the way of God we will contribute towards our path to self-determination […] And we will bring this system down with the way of love.”
Here the long unfolding authoritarian desires following the “decisionist authoritarian turn”18 of postmodernity are paired with a conspiracy ideological delusion, mixed with a pompous religious, that is populist religious jargon.19 Such a speech, shrouded in missionary “piety”, fits the overall picture of Schultes and his ilk, after all “conspiracy theorists […] are overflowing with the need to communicate and with missionary conviction”.20
“QAnon” is a particularly bizarre conspiracy theory gaining influence (even in German demonstrations against Covid), that has also been pushed by Donald Trump. Numerous Republican congressional election candidates (supposedly around 60) positioned themselves as followers of “Q” (Marjorie Taylor Greene was actually elected to Congress). In this conspiracy delusion, Trump is someone fighting against the “deep state” (which consists of a “network of paedophile elites”), which tortures and kills kidnapped children in underground dungeons in order to produce adrenochrome, a derivative of adrenaline, used as an “elixir of youth”. The parallel to anti-Semitic myths about ritual murder is apparent.
Where conspiracy delusions are expressed, anti-Semitism isn’t far away, as once again became abundantly clear in the Covid crisis: “For example, approximately every fifth person in England more or less agreed to the view that Jews had produced the virus to collapse the economy and to profit from the situation”. Anti-Semitic self-victimization could also be observed at anti-Covid demonstrations in Germany with so called “anti-vaxxers”, who are evidently hallucinating that they are “today’s Jews”, wearing T-shirts with the Star of David (!) and “unvaccinated” (!!) printed on them.21 From this it is apparent that anti-vaxxers, with their affective delusion, are in no position to provide a critique of the medical apparatus (in the sense criticizing the rolling back of health care on “financial grounds”). The conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite Christoph Hörstel (who is a frequent speaker at the anti-Semitic Al-Quds demo22 in Berlin) makes this abundantly clear, who in all seriousness spoke of the “virus ideology”, i.e. according to Hörstel, viruses are only an invention of dubious machinations!
Contrary to what their proponents might like to believe, “conspiracy theories […] never [offer] alternative counter-narratives to the current common sense of a society […] but much rather attach themselves opportunistically to prevailing opinions”.23 Or they reformulate the “mainstream”, for instance by “searching” for an answer to the exhausting and all “explaining” phrase, cui bono? The coronovirus pandemic and the measures against it are also understood in this sense. For example, Ernst Wolff (repeated guest of Ken Jebsen, speaker at Ivo Saseks conspiracy ideological “Anti-Zensur-Konferenz” 2019) assessed the lockdown in the following manner “the lockdown was certainly nothing more than the deliberately produced pretext for the possibly last major bailout of the existing financial system”.24
The result of the “subjectivization of the crisis” is nothing other than a conformist revolt. There is no sign amongst the “lateral thinkers” of a critique of capital’s movement of valorization and how this contributes to the emergence and spread of pandemics (globally chained commodity flows, environmental destruction, “cost efficient health systems” and so on). Conspiracy ideologues of all stripes don’t criticise capitalism (that is, money, work, etc.), but much rather naturalize it.25 That they behave as though they are of all things “alternative” or “critical” seems like a bad joke, where the laughter gets stuck in the throat.
It has to be emphasized that the “left scene” is by no means free of the conspiracy theory mania.26 Such thinking isn’t only to be found in Stalinist sects like the MLPD, but expresses itself amongst diverse leftist “critics of neoliberalism”, who imply that neoliberalism was a more or less insidious coup, that with the “right sort” of politics could be done away with.27
The term “Querfront” (third position) that is often cited in these “lateral thinking demonstrations” and in other contexts throws up more questions than it really answers. That left, right and bourgeois positions appear to be converging isn’t as a result of “alliances” being formed between distinct camps (as was the case with “third position efforts” during the Weimar Republic), but much rather that their common categorical frame of reference is reaching its historical limit and as a consequence they are becoming barbaric in their obsolescence. Or in Robert Kurz’s words: “right, left, and liberal ideologies are equally less well differentiated as bourgeois, petit bourgeois, and proletarian positions. None of these now only superficial alternatives can independently mark out a historical field, or sustain an intellectual coherence within itself. The tired pragmatism and eclecticism that is spreading through all camps, which are no longer distinguishable, betrays the sheer helplessness in the face of a global social development that is incomprehensible to the conventional schools of thought and systems of interpretation. This collective helplessness, that allows any clear distinction in the theoretical and political content to collapse, points to the demise of the common historical frame of reference.”28 This could be termed as a paralysis of consciousness. A society that is not able to maintain a critical distance to itself, and whose subjects without any critical reflection imagine capitalism as an unavoidable fate, benefits all sorts of irrational and anachronistic “interpretations of the world”. And the spreading of the conspiracy mania completes the paralysis. While the “susceptibility to conspiracy theories […] evidently always increases when the view prevails that there is no possibility for an independent, self-determined way of life and instead all around anonymous powers secretly do as they please. In such hopeless pressured situations, which for instance can be brought about by social decline and a drastic deterioration in the economic situation, conspiracy theories offer a deceptively easy path to understanding the most complex relations and provide a feeling of certainty, at finally having understood what is happening all around oneself and to oneself […]”.29 It is clear, that it is in no way enough to counter conspiracy theories and their proponents with arguments and facts, as is attempted in various places. It has to be stressed, that a critique of the conspiracy mania is insufficient or even wrong, if it is countered with an instrumental reason that proves itself to be the “internal logic” of a profoundly irrational capitalist production and way of life. The more untenable and hopeless “crisis management strategies” become, the less distinction there will be between the conspiracy mania and “bourgeois rationality” (or rather its barbarized derivatives). This is all the more true, the less some sort of “normality” can be propped up or simulated. None of this will change after Joe Biden’s election as President of the USA. Rather, a further intensification of the societal contradictions can be expected. The same can be expected from the authoritarian “reaction patterns” of the so called “state under the rule of law”. The “practice run” of the state of exception during Covid will bear fruit soon enough.
It remains a necessity in these times of the barbarization of the consciousness, to continue to make the social relations understood, and now all the more. For this to remain possible in future, we ask once again this year to support us with a donation. The articles published in this issue of exit! document how we contribute to this effort.
The text “The End of the West in the Covid-Crisis” by Tomasz Konicz traces the upheavals of US hegemony and its successive erosion within the crumbling western system of alliances in the context of the historical process of the crisis which follows the intermittent unfolding of capitalism’s internal limit. Based on the now more than 40 year old transformation of the economic basis of Washington’s hegemonic position, that was precipitated by the post war Fordist boom and the ensuing stagflation crisis, as well as the modification of the military roll of the US military after the end of the “Cold War” against the collapsing state socialism in 1989, the central role of the global deficit circulation is stressed along with the financialization of capitalism due to propping up the US’s hegemony up until 2008. With the crisis phase of 2008 however, the instants of crisis competition—according to the central thesis of the article—are now making themselves felt within the West itself, so that it was the economic nationalism of the Trump administration itself that accelerated the disintegration of the West and the final collapse of American hegemony. According to this there is no returning to the status quo ante Trump. The historical process of the crisis is so far gone and not least having been accelerated by Covid, that any attempts by the western centres to produce “stability” will prove futile.
The goal of the article “The growth of the crisis in the Brazilian economy in the 21st century as a crisis of the labour society: commodity bubble, fictive capital and value-dissocation critique” by Fábio Pitta is to relate the phenomenon of the economic growth in Brazil since 2003 and the economic crisis after 2012/13 with the fictive capital fuelled financial bubble economy, an instance of the global reproduction of contemporary capitalism in its fundamental crisis. The article leads with a critique of Brazilian authors who only analyse the crisis based on Brazil’s “backwardness”. A bubble in the commodity-derivatives market that led to a significant price rise, drove Brazilian exports as well as the indebtedness of the country. This allowed for competition for the debts between the corporations of the so called “real economy”, which led to an acceleration of the development of productivity, a rise in the organic composition of capital and a suppression of living labour in the production process—this has been the case in Brazil since the 1970s, but has become more intensive in recent times. These processes could only sustain themselves up to the bursting of the commodities bubble between 2011 and 2014, a consequence of the financial bubble of 2008, which in this article is understood, following Robert Kurz, to be determined by fictive capital and simulated accumulation. Since 2012 there is a high level of public and private debt in Brazil, mass unemployment, widespread bankruptcies, political instability and a rise of right wing radicalism, that has intensified social barbarization and violence towards women, black people, indigenous people, and rural workers. The article concludes with a defence of the necessity of radical value-dissociation critique, which, with its critique of capital, the commodity, and labour, aims to overcome this social mediation.
Thomas Meyer’s text provides another contribution to the series of articles “Alternatives to Capitalism—Reviewed”.30 Here the post growth movement and the commons are taken under the microscope. It is clear that these supposed alternatives to capitalism are far from a categorical critique, and instead prove to be capable of assisting a repressive crisis management. Concepts such as “regional money” just revert to surrogates of the market and the state for a zombie like prolongation of capitalism. The need to raise “practical” questions of capitalism is admittedly greater than ever, for instance by calling “financial feasibility” into question, however the post-growth and commons movements don’t provide much more than an “alternative” in the social misery of the crisis; key points such as the question of the social synthesis are not pursued.
Following on from the republication of Robert Kurz’s text on automobile mania in the previous issue of exit! (Springe 2019), Thomas Koch in his article “The Timeliness of Robert Kurz’s ‘Free Ride into Crisis-Chaos’” sheds light on newer and more acute developments in automobilism, not least against the background of the climate catastrophe and the environmental movement. What options are buried in electro-mobility's “vision of the future” or autonomous vehicles and technological solutions in light of the global loss of control, tied to the keywords Covid and climate? There is also a critical reflection of the developments, that have come about due to the so called emissions scandal and its projection onto an unrealistic management in the heartland of automobilism.
In his article, Andreas Urban discusses cultural-symbolic aspects of the “barbarization of patriarchy” (Roswitha Scholz). The starting point is primarily the diverse changes on the level of gender relations that are much discussed in society, in particular postmodern tendencies of softening gender norms and identities. For example, there has been a normalization of female professional careers in recent decades and women have advanced into top social, but particularly economic and political positions. In this regard political measures for equality between men and women (gender quotas etc.) are included. On the other side, because of such developments in gender relations but also due to increased obsolescence in the job market, men are experiencing sensitive encroachments into their historically grown hegemonic position and with it their male identity—tendencies that in recent times are being dealt with in the form of a “crisis of masculinity”. The central thesis of the article is that such changes, in contrast to current (feminist) estimates, can’t be regarded as an index for the softening or even overcoming of historically grown patriarchal and androcentric structures, but much rather are an indicator of their progressive barbarization within the fundamental crisis of capitalism and the underlying value-dissociation relations. This is particularly evident when gender hierarchies, both on a material and a symbolic level, continue almost without interruption to be reproduced, even if partially in other forms.
Robert Kurz’s 1993 article “Democracy devours its children”31 has now appeared in Portuguese from Consequência: A Democracia devora seus Filhos, Rio de Janeiro 2020, with a forward by Roswitha Scholz.32 In French, a new edition of Anselm Jappe’s Guy Debord from La Découverte, Paris 2020, is available as well as the second and third issues of the journal Jaggernaut – Crise et critique de la société capitaliste-patriarchale, by Crise & Critique, Albi 2020, with articles by Claus-Peter Ortlieb amongst others; by Robert Kurz: L’industrie culturelle au XXIe siècle – De l’actualité du concept dAdorno et Horkheimer (ibid.)33; as well as an anthology on the Covid crisis: De virus illustribus – Crise du coronairus et èpuisement structurel du captialisme (ibid.). This collection shows that the new global crisis is not a consequence of the virus but already started beforehand. It explores the difficulties of getting capitalism going again as well as the vacillation of governments between “saving the economy” and “saving the people” and shows the specific consequences, in terms of value-dissociation, in a country such as Brazil. New surveillance technologies are analysed and the question is discussed of whether the new environmental consciousness at least is something useful that can be pulled out of this crisis.
The book Béton – Arme de construction massive du capitalisme by Anselm Jappe (from L’Echappée, Paris 2020) explores the roll of concrete, which draws much less criticism than other massively used materials such as plastic or oil. After a summary of its history and consequences, it is shown how this material can be regarded as the “concrete” side of the abstraction of value: Marx’s idea of the “congelation” of value is materialized in the always uniform concrete, quantity without quality, that has levelled the diversity of construction in the world to the benefit of a uniform architecture based on concrete.
Tomasz Konicz’s Klimakiller Kapital – Wie ein Wirtschaftssystem usere Lebensgrundlagen zerstört, from Schmetterling-Verlag, Vienna/Berlin 2020, is now available.
Thomas Meyer for the exit! Editorial board in November 2020.