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Commentary :: Labor
Democracy in Crisis: The Terror of the Economy is a Danger for Democracy
07 Aug 2012
There is a powerful crisis dynamic that is stronger than the will of the sovereign and its democratic institutions. When capital relations fall into crisis, everything can be redefined or instrumentalized: the basic law, democracy, elementary human rights and even human life. Economic pressure creates an extremism of the middle.


The present Crisis reveals the ambivalent character of middle class democracy. The crisis of capitalism - Part 4

By Tomasz Konicz

[This article published in July 2012 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Where are we going? For a long while, we did not govern, lead or determine our path. Whoever believers specters and ghosts do not stagger around us is a liar. They break down, crumble, faint and collapse. Day is breaking and we don't know whether this is twilight or daybreak, dusk or dawn.
Kurt Tucholsky

Is the German basic law compatible with crises? Germany's constitutional guardians now see themselves subjected to tremendous political pressure [4] to affirm this question since the German Constitutional Court held a trial against the Euro "bailout umbrella" and the fiscal pact. The German finance minister Schrauble summarized the fears from politics when he warned of "considerable economic dislocations with unforeseeable consequences." [5] The German Constitutional Court should stop the ESM (fiscal pact) bailout umbrella:

"Doubt in the constitutional possibility or the readiness of the Federal Republic of Germany to avert dangers for the stability of the eurozone could strengthen the present crisis symptoms." [6]

Rush orders against these crisis measures submitted by different political forces like the Left party (Die Linke) were recently passed by the German Bundestag. CSU-populist Gauweiler and the former SDP Justice minister Daubler-Gmelin ("a referendum is needed" [6]) articulate a widespread diffuse feeling of unease in the population manifest in anxiety about undermining democracy, feelings of powerlessness or resentment. The suspicion spreads that the population's possibilities of influencing the crisis process fade, that a creeping loss of power of legitimated institutions begins with delegating nation-state authorities and instruments of power to an inscrutable European and post-national bureaucracy.

These feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness that often explode in aggressions against scapegoats of the most different shades and colors have a very real core. Schauble is right. We have no choice - not only in the case of the ESWM (European fiscal pact). A decision to stop the ESM by the German Supreme Court would obviously plunge the already shattered eurozone into more turbulence. Without this "protective screen," the interest burden in southern Europe would quickly rise to an unbearable level and the eurozone would again find itself on the brink of ruin.

Late capitalism seized by a system crisis can only be maintained as an authoritarian, hyper-bureaucratic structure that openly denies the elementary needs of most people in Europe. Late-capitalism resembles the absolutist military dictatorships in the 17th and 18th centuries that served as midwives of this brutal social formation.

The reproduction of the whole society depends on the drop of capital reproduction.

In a certain way, the population in Germany has the same experience already well-known to people in southern Europe [Venturing Less Democracy (7)]: that there is a powerful crisis dynamic that is stronger than the will of the sovereign and its democratic institutions. With threats before the parliamentary election, the system-immanent hopelessness of crisis policy was already shown repeatedly to the Greeks. When German politicians applied enormous pressure to animate voters in Hellas to the "right" choice. The guidelines of politics were long ago determined in a land held in debt-bondage by the "troika" of the EU-commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

Spain's rightwing government around Premier Rajoy fought for years against an intervention of the EU in the banking sector. Such an intervention was always described as "relief" until the country had to capitulate because of its rising interest-burden on the "markets." Italy's Prime Minister Monti is himself a "product" of the crisis since his predecessor Berlusconi had to leave his office after an escalation of the Italian debt crisis and massive political pressure.

The illusion of democracy and self-determination in capitalism is now lost because the production-relation has fallen into a fundamental crisis. On account of the crisis of capital relations which always produces new thrusts of productivity and rationalization {see "The Crisis Explained" (0)], more and more people are thrown into unemployment [10] and misery - while resistance against new "bailout packages" for the southern periphery grows in Germany.

This market-mediated process is stylized as a "practical necessity" that has no alternative since breakdown-like dislocations threaten with non-compliance. The Greeks and Spaniards must accept ever new austerity packages. Germany will again be liable for the eurozone since otherwise the collapse of the eurozone threatens. The crisis now makes crystal-clear for everyone that we really have no choice since the reproduction of the whole society depends on the drop of capital reproduction. When capital relations fall into crisis, everything can be redefined or instrumentalized: the basic law, democracy, elementary human rights and even human life.


The "governments of technocrats" in southern Europe are only the blatant manifestation that the whole society is handed over to the instructions of crisis-laden capital accumulation. The escalating dictatorship of the capitalist "practical necessity" is an objective accompaniment of the crisis of capitalism. In the end this subject-less rule [11] of capital relations is the total negation of democracy when emancipation, self-determination and actual election possibilities affecting life conditions are understood as democracy. On the other hand, middle-class democracy is a competitive-event - both between the parties and even within the parties - in which the optimizing of the present system is contested and which only represents an echo of the all-embracing competition in the economic sphere. Election possibilities are limited to the optimizing of the present system. Alternatives are not up for debate. In the final analysis, middle-class democracy does not go beyond and is exhausted in the choice between Pepsi and Coke.

We never had a true election. This one-dimensionality of middle-class democracy comes into crisis since this insight spreads by leaps and bounds. The suspicion that under capital relations our life cannot be organized in a self-determined way was also an important impulse in the founding of the pirates and similar radical-democratic movements in Eastern Europe (Tschechnya's pirates: Dissidents against `Mafia-capitalism' [12]. These movements experiment with new forms of democracy like the "liquid concept" or think back to original supposedly "pure" forms of democracy. "Recalling" the origins and founding myths [13] of crisis-shaken societies occurs where the mad chase for the disintegrating "ghosts and specters" of the past point the way to the future.

This crisis-ideology that locates the future in the past has a method in it. Since middle-class democracy and its corresponding public discourse only focus on optimizing the present system, they cannot reveal any solutions in the present system crisis. Instead the protagonists of democratic discourse turn faster and faster in circles, repeating their own arguments and distorting (nachschnappend) the demands of the other side.

The discourse movement of individual actors [14] is reminiscent of dogs chasing their own tails. Since the outbreak of the crisis, the dreary conflict [15] has raged in the public over whether more economic packages or austerity measures can lead out of the crisis - without the participants noticing that both concepts were tested in the past crisis policy and failed spectacularly ["Is it already too late?" (16)]. Drawing lessons and recognizing the system crisis is hardly possible within the "published" opinion.

This ideological one-dimensionality, this blind persistence in the categories of crisis-laden capitalism, makes capitalist democracy susceptible to fire breaking out in crisis times. When system-immanent prescriptions - like economic programs and austerity measures - do not help in mastering the debt crisis, the tendency to drive the existing system to the extreme gains intensity. The effort to overcome the system crisis with a return to the "pure" and unadulterated origins and founding myths leads in praxis to a structural hardening and increased pressure in the system.

Economic pressure creates an extremism of the middle

The pressure increasing on everyone considered a cost-factor - the unemployed or southern Europeans. The economic logic was long imposed on the whole society that is proverbially described as "Germany Inc." In its final crisis, the capital relation in a last brutal expansion strives to subordinate the whole human community to economism in the process of its breakdown. Everyone must constantly show he or she is not a burden to economic location Germany. Everyone who falls out of the work society is deemed unprotected (fair) game in the general public and to state authorities. [17].

This attitude obviously has a majority. Harsher punishments against the unemployed can be carried out at any time in Germany by means of liquid feedback. The overwhelming majority of the population in Germany experiences the crisis as a constant increase of pressure on the job. This pent-up pressure is helped by the changeable scapegoats. An extremism of the middle has a majority now. The economic logic is projected on the whole society and all persons falling out of Germany Inc. are viewed as its enemies. Democracy sinks to a naked terror of the majority against the marginalized minority.

Unable to put in question the structures and categories of collapsing capitalism, the public middle-class discourse tends to extremism - and ultimately to barbarism. This crisis-conditioned "extremist" movement of published opinion also explains the success of populist actors like Hans-Werner Sinn and Thilo Sarrazin. They speed up the extremism of the middle by bringing all the resentment into the general public. Samazin's successful business model consists of a permanent break with civilization and its last public remnants of decency and consideration. [18]

In crisis times, the one-dimensional public democratic discourse - caught in the crumbling capitalist categories - is the greatest danger since it gives a democratic legitimation to the terror of the economy. Still democracy is the conditio sine qua non of every transformational mastery of the crisis. Every search for alternatives to the permanent capitalist crisis can only appear in a broad public discourse in which participants reach agreement about the ways and goals of a post-capitalist society. Such a democratic discourse would search for the new and trigger a social awakening without being worn out maintaining a crumbling social system with crazy and increasingly barbaric characteristics. The Occupy-movement [19] and the Spanish "indignados" [20] are examples of efforts at initiating such an awakening by means of new base democratic forms of organization.


The struggle over the future of our crisis-shaken society is a struggle over terms. How do we understand democracy? What does democracy mean to us? Will the categories of capitalism be the silent presupposition of a public discourse guided by the mass media or can an egalitarian discourse aiming at the transformation of the present social order be introduced?

A struggle around the structure of public discourse rages alongside the battle over terms. Despite all the positive changes through the Internet, the crisis-discourse in Germany is still hierarchically structured so a few media groups can shape the discussion with their products and web presence. However free communication possibilities and an egalitarian discourse structure preventing monopolization of the discourse are the prerequisites of a democratic awakening from the permanent capitalist crisis.

The public reaction of "powerlessness" nourished by the escalating crisis dynamic is ultimately crucial. In Germany, an increased submission under the terror of the economy carries the day. On the other hand, movements that react with resistance and test new forms of democracy and decision-making could become established in countries like Spain and Greece.

Thus democracy is the greatest danger for our future and at the same time our greatest hope. It ultimately depends on us whether we are in twilight or daybreak. The next text will discuss the crisis-conditioned changes of rightwing extremism.


[1] Teil 1:
[2] Teil 2:
[3] Teil 3:
[4] Teil 5:
[5] Druck: link to
[6] warnte: link to
[7] "Dazu braucht es einen Volksentscheid":
[8] Weniger Demokratie wagen:
[9] deutsche Politiker:
[10] Die Krise kurz erklärt:
[11] Arbeitslosigkeit: link to
[12] subjektlose Herrschaft:
[13] Die Piraten Tschechiens: Dissidenten gegen "Mafiakapitalismus":
[14] "Rückbesinnung" auf die Ursprünge und Gründungsmythen: link to
[15] Diskursbewegung einzelner Akteure: link to
[16] öde Auseinandersetzung:
[17] Ist es schon zu spät?:
[18] Freiwild:
[19] geschleift: link to
[20] Occupy-Bewegung:
[21] spanischen "Indignados":


The Systemic Causes of the Crisis March 2012

Who is to Blame for the Crisis Outbreak? - Joe Keady - March 2012

Is It Already Too Late? - Joe Keady

Culture of Profit - 2010

The Middle Class Falls - 2008

From the Debt Showdown to Recession - 2011

Zeitgeist - It's the System

The End of the Golden Age of Capitalism - 2010
link to


Let's Go West

Richard Wolff

European Crisis Domino - German - 6/2012


link to

See also:
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