State, World Market and the Reign of False Freedom – A contribution to the critique of the normal execution of capitalism

This book presents a fundamental critique of the state – the bourgeois-captialist state that emerged over the past 200 years as the main institutional form of social domination. Our text reflects discussions within the libertarian communist ‘…umsGanze!’– alliance about essential parameters of radical politics. ‘…ums Ganze!’ was founded in 2006, and by now has many chapters in Germany and Austria. Its name roughly translates as ‘For the Whole’ or ‘Do or Die!’. We try to organise the radical left on a federal and transnational level, in an effort to augment its political impact.

But why bother and publish an entire book about and against the state as such? Because many in the left still see the state as some kind of neutral regulator that – once in good hands – would be useful for the common good. This is a misconception the left shares with the general public and with mainstream economists alike. Especially in times of crisis, everyone seems to call on the state to tame the excesses of capitalism and to correct its outrageous injustices, pleading to resurrect the long-gone ‘welfare state’. The state may certainly try to rein in capitalism, but it will never be able to transform it into a humane order. Even worse: In responding to the crises of capitalism, the state will inevitably renew and intensify its constraints. That’s what we are currently seeing all over Europe. That’s the logic of history in a capitalist world. The left’s reaction to the ugly reality of capitalism is to accuse the bourgeois society of not being faithful to its own ideals of ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ and ‘equality’. Isn’t it strange, though, that a society with such noble principles continuously produces exploitation and social exclusion? From our point of view, this is a hint that something is seriously wrong not only with the current social formation, but also with the terms used to describe it. That’s why radical politics cannot exist without radical critical analysis.

In this book we analyse basic structures and categories of the capitalist society. Everybody has certain ideas about ‘state, world market, law or politics’. But it’s important to investigate how these spheres correspond and interact to systematically reproduce social domination, exploitation, and exclusionary collectivism. This is what we want to illustrate, starting with the elementary structure of bourgeois-capitalist society. This structure didn’t emerge out of nowhere, and there is no master plan behind it, but it does comprise a set of general principles. Today’s bourgeois-capitalist states emerged after centuries of intercontinental trade, after a world market had long been established. Over the past 200 years, they proved to be the most effective way to organise an incessant campaign toincrease productivity and commercial advantages – a global rat race for profit that still rages on today. Only in this context we can understand the hostile nature of both, the nation state and the world market system. At times, our analysis remains on a rather general level, as we seek to identify the adverse principles behind the multitude of conflicts and struggles we observe every day. We think this will in turn help to understand the historical transformations of bourgeois societies, from their revolutionary beginnings to authoritarian decline and neoliberal decay.

Within the German-speaking radical left, our book has caused some debate, especially on the issue of the nature of nationalism. Some claimed we had overemphasised the relevance of material interest in the buildup of such national allegiances. Others argued we had exaggerated the hostile effects of capitalist competition as the driving force behind ideological yearnings for national community. Both argued our analysis was therefore economistic, missing the cultural plasticity of national ideology. While we admit some unfortunate wording, we would strongly reject that claim. Both the individual material interests of the bourgeois subject and the threatening impositions of capitalism as a whole are clearly key factors of an ideological mechanism. We emphasise them in order to counterbalance existing abstract conceptions of nationalism as a mere ‘construction’ or ‘invention’, which have become commonplace in leftist politics and social sciences. Instead, we conceptualise nationalism as an objective mode of thinking and ‘feeling’ within capitalist societies. Moreover, we do not consider nationalism a mere reflection of economic conditions. Instead, we take it as an ideological projection that involves the entire subjectivity of the individual, trying to make sense of and find peace in his or her vulnerable condition. What’s stereotypical here is not our analysis, but the ideological drives of nationalism that continue to engulf everyone.

Who Is ‘…umsGanze!’ and why ‘…umsGanze’?

Most groups participating in the ‘…umsGanze!’-alliance build on the tradition of the autonomous antifascist movement, which is a late descendant of the antiauthoritarian revolt of 1968, or rather of its decline and defeat in the 70s and early 80s. The government crackdown on anti-capitalist organisations and the assimilation of the so-called New Social Movements led many to a unique political style. Combining their fundamental opposition against institutional politics with a militant struggle against Nazis, the ‘Autonome’ tried to protect and develop potentials of self-determination. Theoretical analyses of National Socialism and the Shoah have been of major importance within that movement. Theories trying to interpret fascism as an inherent consequence of capitalist crises have been around for a while. But in their traditional framework Nazis were regarded by many as mere storm-troopers of the ruling class. The ‘system’ would make use of them in order to suppress social and anti-capitalist movements. This obviously couldn’t explain the mass consensus that National Socialism built upon in Germany and Austria. A radical critique of capitalism therefore had to include a radical critique of the way individuals would internalise collectivist ideologies such as nationalism, racism and sexism – as victims, bystanders and perpetrators.

This perspective remains essential for what we’re doing today. The so-called reunification of the two German states in 1990 triggered a wave of racist assaults, arson-attacks and pogroms against migrants and asylumseekers. Racist and fascist ideas seemed to be held not only by organised Nazis, but also by a large part of the population. In reaction to this, a plethora of local Antifa groups were founded. Almost at the same time, there were initial attempts to establish a nationwide organisation, the most successful example being the AA/BO. (AA/BO is short for Antifaschistische Aktion/Bundesweite Organisation – that’s Antifascist Action/Federal Organisation.) In many cases, antifascism was a bare necessity for defeating Nazi dominance in the streets. But autonomous Antifa groups also understood antifascism as a ‘Kampf ums Ganze’, a struggle against capitalism as a whole. Some argued that direct action against the most reactionary parts of society meant attacking the entire system. Others saw it as a strategic challenge against the police, the state and the general public.

This anti-state and anti-capitalist project of the Antifa took a serious blow in 2000, when the governing coalition of Social Democrats and the Green Party initiated their so-called Antifa-Summer or ‘Revolt of Decency’, unchaining a wave of repression against the organised right. Thus, the whole concept of Antifa as being something rebellious was called into question. Government officials themselves pointed out that Nazi violence especially in former Eastern Germany threatened foreign investments as well as Germany’s reputation abroad. But beyond such rather instrumental motives, there had also been a significant shift in the way German nationalism was articulated, with politics and civil society trying to finally pacify its Nazi history. Exorcising past and present national-socialist demons was an essential part of this procedure and one which would finally allow Germany to re-enter the higher levels of international politics. With its left-wing credentials, the government coalition quickly turned the moral burden into a national asset. In a clear breach of the constitution that had been designed tocontain German militarism, it claimed there was an ethical obligation to wage war against former Yugoslavia to ‘prevent a new Auschwitz’ (the line of argument used by former Foreign Minister and Green Party member Joschka Fischer).

This double-edged change of policy sent many Antifa groups into an identity crisis. Some chose to denounce the state’s actions as hypocritical, asserting that the social and ideological structures of Nazism still existed in the ‘post-Nazi’ society. Others realised that antifascist actions were no ‘Kampf ums Ganze’ any more. Fighting Nazis remained an obligation, but radical politics had to develop a broader perspective. For many, the struggles against capitalist globalization showed a way out of this impasse. It became clear that social domination had to be confronted at eye level – i.e. on a transnational and global scale.

Subprime mortgage crisis, banking crisis, sovereign debtcrisis – all Greek to me!

The current crisis reveals systemic frictions and disparities of capitalism as a system. Its shockwaves have created spaces for new struggles, but also the danger of authoritarian appeasement. Western governments have spent the last 35 years building a neoliberal order that today appears to be without any reasonable alternative. It’s up to us to prove them wrong.

In 2007/08, the US subprime mortgage debacle and the subsequent banking crisis shook the foundations of the world economy, quickly expanding into a global credit crunch and the collapse of key financial markets. The mass default of bad loans revealed a huge bubble of “toxic” bonds and derivatives, spread in portfolios of corporations and investment funds all over the world. As a result, private lending collapsed in many industries, creating a vicious circle of unemployment, decreasing demand, increasing welfare expenditures, and recession. Not many countries could afford to soften the blow of these immediate effects of the crisis with governmental credit and investment schemes. In many EU member states, especially those in the periphery of the Euro-zone, the credit-driven growth of the past decade came to a sudden halt. This resulted in what appears to be a ‘sovereign debt crisis’, with countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland failing to refinance their deficit, and many others struggling.

This development has put the European joint currency in danger, causing a major institutional crisis in the EU, with heated debates about monetary and fiscal policy of the union and nationalist repercussions all over the continent. Should these alleged ‘Schuldensünder’ (literally ‘deficit sinners’) be bailed out by the EU and thus by its stronger economies, or should they be cast out? This controversy will most likely continue, reflecting the hybrid construction of the EU being a union of competing nation states. Nonetheless, comprehensive austerity measures have already been imposed to “reassure the markets” and bolster European competitiveness on a global scale. In many countries, this resulted in social devastation, with collapsing healthcare and public services, mass impoverishment and general despair. To keep things in check, new EU fiscal policies were hammered out, forcing governments and voters to comply with a comprehensive neoliberal growth model of capitalist Europe.

Governments and many leftists alike interpret this ongoing crisis as a consequence of ‘ruthless speculation’ by ‘greedy bankers’, pushing financial markets beyond their limits instead of investing in solid production. The so-called ‘sovereign debt crisis’ is seen by most as a consequence of incompetent or corrupt governments and an outdated welfare-state-mentality of their populace. And from superficial perspective, there is some truth to this: Financial markets, investment bubbles, and bonuses have grown exponentially in recent decades, while welfare expenditures did in fact strain national budgets and general competitiveness – especially since emerging markets (e.g. China) became serious contenders of capitalist globalisation.

But all this is neither a natural given, nor a matter of policy failures that could be corrected by a more socially-minded growth model. By its very nature, capitalism is always ‘speculative’. Yet, there is a different bottom line: Neoliberalism is in itself a reaction to a previous fundamental crisis of capitalism, an approach that has only prolonged the suffering. Neoliberal policies and institutions have been introduced in the 70s and 80s to improve corporate profits and national growth rates that seemed to have reached a dead-end. The extensive privatisations did offer some temporary relief – in conjunction with the collapse of most statesocialist regimes in the early 90s and the subsequent opening of new markets.

In a broader perspective, however, this deepening and expansion of capitalism only globalised its general tendency towards crisis. Competing for lucrative investment, more and more capital had to flee into the fictitious realm of the financial industries. Such virtual, credit- and debt-inflated growth quickly exceeded the combined global product by an exponential margin. The current crisis and downturn eliminate some of those virtual assets. Austerity measures will allow the agents of capital to squeeze some more profit from its primary source, wage labour. But all that won’t ease the accumulated constraints and systemic impasses of capitalist accumulation itself. So, yes, capitalism can consolidate itsprofitability for some time under a new regime of austerity and coercion. But the left shouldn’t pretend that a new infusion of a caring social market economy would be either possible or desirable. This option is over and out.

What is to be done?

The ongoing crisis seems to have deprived capitalism of any kind of utopia. This did not, however, lead to the development of an alternative capable of inspiring and mobilising people, not even to a general criticism of the current formation of society. New forms of protests, like the assemblies in Southern Europe or the Occupy movement, did have international ambitions as well as the expressed intent to question the capitalist system as a whole. The major problem was, however, their demands’ strong orientation towards state control and an often moralistic and foreshortened critique of capitalism, grounded in nationalism and conspiracy theories.

With the European Day Of Action on March 31, 2012 (‘M31’), we tried to initiate a new phase of crisis protests. Together with other anti-capitalist initiatives in Germany and with comrades from many European countries, we called for simultaneous joint manifestations and actions. Demonstrations and rallies were organised in more than 30 different cities, from Kiev to Lisbon and from Athens to Utrecht. We wanted to connect with local struggles and to overcome the national limitations of previous protests. Our common goals focused on anti-capitalism, self-organisation and anti-national critique. Two months after this promising beginning, tens of thousands of demonstrators from several European countries participated in “Blockupy” in Frankfurt am Main, a three-day event aimed at blockading Frankfurt’s financial centre. The German police enforced a state-of-emergency-like policy as it banned various demonstrations and rallies and took more than 1,500 demonstrators into custody. But the anti-capitalist notion of Blockupy did not go unnoticed. Central ideas from Blockupy and M31 were carried over into the formation of ‘Beyond Europe – Antiauthoritarin Platform against Capitalism’. BE was founded in 2013 by groups from Germany, Greece, Austria, Cyprus and the United Kingdom and based on a common rejection of state, nation and capital and a shared willingness to cooperate together against austerity and capitalism. One of the first major events to put this into practice was Blockupy 2015, where several thousand demonstrators exposed the European Central Bank in Frankfurt as an important political actor in support of the Troika carrying out austerity measures. Its ‘opening party’ was mitigated to a little event, a demonstration held in the afternoon took public dissent to the streets.

In August 2015 the 1st Beyond Europe Camp in Greece was co-hosted by us as a part of Beyond Europe. We decided to organise this gathering in Skouries, North-Eastern Chalkidiki, not only for the purpose of organising a come-together and an exchange of anti-authoritarians from all over Europe, but also to support the local ecosocial struggle against the devastating project of reopening the local goldmine. This struggle is not only concerned with resistance against the goldmine, but is deeply involved in the question of how we wish to work and live together. Thus, we were able to show that local struggles, activism, and transnational organizing cannot be understood solitary, but rather stand in a dialectical relation. This specific region would arguably be affected most by the goldmining and it is neither a coincidence that this project was started in the crisis laboratory Greece nor that authorities are enforcing it despite massive resistance. Our gathering therefore aimed at exchanging ideas and taking part in a struggle against capitalist exploitation as well as learning from the struggle. It was, for many of our participants, an important and inspiring experience to take part in a thorough and powerful social movement.

2015 also coincides with the ‘refugee crisis’. After witnessing and watching the drowning of thousands of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea for years, governments competed in a race to the bottom on who is able to treat the surviving asylum seekers the worst. Cynically, governments celebrated themselves via the local press for supporting and helping the arriving refugees. Refugees, who had to undertake perilous routes only because of these governments and their continuing work toward building a Fortress Europe. The German deal with Turkey to keep Syrian refugees off the European mainland, the building of barb-wired fences and the reinstallment of borders and border-controls in the EU unveils the real interest of Nobel Peace Price Winner EU. Commodities are still allowed to move rather freely between states, humans are not. Especially, if they own the wrong passport and are not considered to contribute to the national economy. Meanwhile in Germany and other countries, racists, fascists, and ‘concerned citizen’ are demonstrating against refugees, blocking transportation to local refugee homes and arsons happen on a weekly basis. Events have recently followed up in quick succession. The Brexit has led some to announce the beginning of the end for the European community of states, while the French Social-Democrats have announced ‘Loi Travail’, harsh labour reforms, similar to those unleashed by the German state with its Agenda 2010.