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Commentary :: International
We Must Choose: Capitalism or Democracy
01 Sep 2016
Middle-class democracy only knows formal political equality. Rule over public opinion grows out of the dominance of capital. The alternative is authoritarian capitalism or solidarity democracy. Resistance is the command of the hour. These theses arose at a podium discussion with spokespersons from Attac and IG Metal.

By Conrad Schuhler

[This article published on June 10, 2014, is translated from the German on the Internet,]

State authority comes from the people. But where does it go?

"Middle-class democracy" from the beginning was a system of the class rule of capital. In his 1863 Gettysburg Address, US president Abraham Lincoln described the claim of this democracy in a different way. Democracy, he said, is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 20 Par 2 says correspondingly "All state authority comes from the people." Bert Brecht questioned this high claim. "State authority starts from the people. But where does it go?"

Power always goes to the elites of middle-class society. This has been true since the burial of the bourgeois revolution in France by Napoleon. Joseph Schumpeter, one of the pioneers of the modern capitalist theory of the state and political economy, called democracy merely a procedure of finding a majority. , "that order of institutions for making political decisions where individuals gain decision-making authority through competition for votes." Who decides this competition for votes? The regime of elites is defined by the cooperation of big business, government, think tanks and the media. They influence approval of the system and individual laws. Walter Lippmann, a neoliberal thinker, and advisor to many US presidents, called this "manufacturing consent," the fabrication of social approval by the specialized elites of the ruling class.

These elites have gained acceptance in science and administration, in businesses and courts, in media and educational systems so that chancellor Merkel describes her ideal as "market-conforming democracy." Democracy is only possible when it agrees with the imperatives of the markets, the greatest profit, and merciless competition. The negotiations around the TTIP, the so-called US-EU free trade agreement, show the limits of this kind of democracy. Democracy becomes a "non-wage trade barrier." In this agreement, every democratic regulation that can improve environmental laws, achieve environmental or social betterment and increase the supply of communal goods like water, energy, education and health care can be sued for compensatory damages by corporations when the profit expectations of investors are reduced. This is called "indirect expropriation" in the agreements. Democracy proves to be a fundamental obstacle for neoliberalism – and therefore should or must be abolished.

What supports the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism?

In the last EU elections, the parties of the European Left increased their seats 50%. This is good but too little in view of the gains of the rightwing and the solid 2/3 majority of neoliberal parties and concepts that amount to a complete undermining of democracy. Four corner-points are essential supports of this neoliberal hegemony.

The submission of losers of the all-pervasive competition

The crisis and its effects are felt to be a personal fate and failure is personal responsibility according to the motto, "we are all the financial market capitalism," The new lower classes, precarious employees and those largely excluded from the world of work mostly have a fear of the future, as the studies of the Heitmeyer group reveal. However, they are mainly resigned to their fate. They only understand a trifling part of the social course. They have biographies of failure and lack of success. On a broad front, they are told to blame themselves for their lack of success in life.

The "exclusive solidarity" of regular employees – who join forces with "their" businesses and separate themselves from the lower class

Klaus Dorre and his Jena group of sociologists analyzed many regular employees in West German and East German industrial factories. They paraphrase the basic structure of the social consciousness of these regular employees with the formula "good business, bad society." Regular employees tend to identify positively with their business. Anti-capitalist attitudes are very widespread. However, this capitalism criticism is not reflected in a principled criticism of the social hierarchy of power. The majority of regular employees desire a society that functions according to the cooperation of labor and capital in their factory. The regular employees studied by the Jena sociologists separate themselves from those below, the unemployed and precarious workers. They develop an "exclusive solidarity." Whoever is not part of the factory and the regular employees has either no claim or a much-reduced claim to solidarity.

Big unions rely on crisis-corporatism with capital – together they will win in the global competition

The conduct of IC Metal, the largest German union with 2.3 million members, is instructive. IG Metal organizes the factories of the metal- and electronics industry responsible for 60% of all German exports. A strategy of the union and the works councils to keep their factories competitively superior will logically lead to surmounting the social standards of their global rivals and ultimately underbidding them. IG Metal says it cooperates with the business camp and parties in the crisis with the result of reduced working hours without full wage compensation and other so-called "wage containment measures." Hans-Jurgen Urban from IG Metal's board of directors says this reflects "the objective economic logic of the constellation" and not a failure of union representatives. Under neoliberal conditions, the German export surplus world master can never escape "the objective economic logic of the constellation" – neither in the crisis nor in "normal" times.

The class of winners develops a "raw civility" – their own status is praised and away with the useless

Rosa Luxemburg coined the formula "socialism or barbarism." Today's neoliberalism comes ever closer to this barbarism. In his study, Heitmeyer speaks of a "raw civility that orients social groups to the standards of capitalist utility, exploitability, and efficiency, makes the equality of people vulnerable or problematic and stages a class struggle from above." This rawness has increased tremendously in the last decade. "Civilized, tolerant and differentiated articles discussed in upper-income groups seem to be changing into uncivilized, intolerant and even brutal articles." This growing rawness is marked "by tendencies of withdrawal from the solidarity community."

Middle-class democracy only knows formal political equality. Society is divided in unequal classes. Rule over public opinion and acknowledgment of the imperatives of capitalism grow out of the dominance of capital. Wolfgang Streeck, director of the Max-Plank Institute in Koln, said: “Economic power seems to become political power today more than ever while citizens are almost completely robbed of their possibilities and skills of democratic defense that are not compatible with the priorities of owners of capital.” When capitalism abolishes democracy, democrats must overcome capitalism. The alternative is authoritarian capitalism or solidarity democracy. Total social democracy is impossible without the democratization of the economy.

4. Resistance – the crucial imperative for the “subservient” in mobilizing for the struggle for democracy

4.1 Today’s democratic potential has an effect but is too weak

The active potential in Germany is stronger than the neoliberal media represents it. The latest election success of the Euroepan Left and the strengthening of Attac that numbered 27,000 members at the end of 2013 and represents a main force against the TTIP’s demolition of democracy are encouraging. Blockupy is active nationally and across the EU and mobilizes against one of the institutional supports of finance capital, the European Central Bank . The unions including the DGB clearly reject the austerity policy of the EU regime. However we are far from adding the “power of organized labor” (Urban) to the anti-neoliberal protest. This will be one of the main challenges of the coming mobilization phase.

4.2 Resistance is the command of the hour

Political resistance is obviously intent on success. In its attempt, it changes both the one who resists and the entire environment that witnesses. Acts of resistance are crucial in a situation where many so-called losers resign and the indifference of the many continues like the haughtiness and raw arrogance of the powerful. The self-image of everyone who sees the acts is changed including some who witness the political acts for the first time.

The German Basic Law awards a high rank to resistance. Article 20 Par 4 says: “All Germans have the right to resist anyone who tries to remove this order when all other remedies are impossible.” Article 14 is part of that order: “(2) Property obligates. The use of property should serve the well-being of the general public. (3) An expropriation is only allowed for the well-being of the general public.” In the given income- and wealth-conditions, the use of property in Germany by capitalists serves the well-being of the richest, to the burden of the general public and does not serve the well-being of the general public. The second prerequisite of the Basic Law is fulfilled. Public opinion, guided by the diverse neoliberal media, obviously cannot reflect and rethink by mere abstract arguments. Acts of civil disobedience or resistance are vital. Civil disobedience was announced, for example, encircling banks, authorities and factories. Actions like Blockupy’s actions for the opening of the new spectacle of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt in the fall of 2014 were important. We were all there.
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