by THOMAS SEIBERT – Interventionistische Linke
(… out of the Interventionistische Linke, not for the Interventionistische Linke…)
My talk is divided into three parts: first a brief ascertainment of what I consider to be the problem of the EU policies aimed at resolving the crisis. Then a somewhat longer ascertainment of our own problem. In closing, an even longer part in which I approximate my suggestions for solution.
I think we have no idea where the multiple crisis of global capitalism – and in our particular case, of European capitalism – is leading us. I also think that the opposing side does not know where the crisis is leading us. What we all know is that we are moving towards a new situation in which much of what we and the opposing side considered normal and took for granted will no longer apply. The situation will no longer be the same as in the last three decades. Not everything but many things will be different than before. We are living in a transitional time – in extreme terms this means that we live in a time between two worlds.
Part One: The crisis regime of the EU
The EU crisis regime radicalizes precisely those neoliberal policies that are jointly responsible for the breakout of the crisis in 2008. The German government and governments from northern Europe are the driving powers: the governments of the states and capital groups who have profited from the neoliberal – we could also say financial-market-driven, we could also say highly technological-biopolitical – transformation of capitalism over the last 30 years. However, the difference – and this is the decisive point – is that contrary to the phase of neoliberalism’s ascendency and establishment starting in the late 1970s, at least up to now it no longer connects with a project and no longer holds any promise. The crisis regime openly concedes this when it attempts to justify its attacks on public goods, social and democratic rights, our income and our worth with the claim that there is «no alternative». The crisis regime is still conducting politics according to the same short-run policies to which Merkel was able to «convince» us of at the outbreak of the crisis in 2008. This equally applies to the other actors in the ruling block, just as it applies to the conflicts between them. These conflicts – between Merkel and Hollande, between the IMF and the ECB, between Prodi and Cameron, between the German Christian Democrats and Liberals, on the one hand, and the Green Party and Social Democrats on the other –point only to the tactical differences within an almost unconditional submission to the so-called «financial markets» due to the structural incapabilities of conflicting with capital.
Their sole recognizable direct goal is thus to save the assets that have been jeopardized, the defense of their positions threatened by the crisis. The entourage of capital during Euro Finance Week – in which nobody will speak about ideas with long-run perspectives – leads to nothing other than this. Therefore, the point on which all the participants agree is the saving craze, that is the radical austerity, accompanied by the robbery of public goods, the robbery of mass incomes, the forced dismantling of legal positions, the blatant capitulation in all the issues concerning the future, especially the lack of income of young people in southern Europe. This corresponds with – and this is a central point – the forced de-politicization of «democracy in compliance with the market» («marktkonforme Demokratie» – Merkel), the continuous desertion over past years of its ruling personnel and their replacement by «technocrats» from the financial sector. This includes openly absurd moves such as the Nobel Peace Prize for the EU. «Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of the EU»: this could be the western capitalist variation of the eastern real-socialist absurdity that just before the fall of the wall proclaimed that neither an ox nor a donkey could stop the progress of socialism.
Ultimately is connected with the position of denial – primarily on part of the German government – vis-à-vis systemically alternative proposals that are actually being formulated – and which could possibly spur political debates, and possibly represent a systemic difference. How is this all to be signified? Precisely in the radicalization of neoliberal policies, the crisis regime of the EU is in a position of weakness. This is not contradicted by the fact that all of this leads to extremely dangerous twists and turns: it suffices here to point to the continued authoritarian character of politics and to the gambles with nationalism and racism, combined with an increasingly extensive «security» regime in all areas of life. If stronger and perhaps uncontrollable upheavals, all of Europe could count on «financial state slashes» of the kind that were implemented in Greece with the fall of Papendreou and in Italy with the fall of Berlusconi: although I don’t want to say that we should cry one single tear for these gentlemen.
Part Two: Our problem
Even on our side, we must speak of a fundamental weakness, despite all mass activism and the first European general strike. Our weakness results, on the one hand, from a division of struggles and of the readiness to struggle, which is the consequence of the division in the crisis regime: mass struggles in the south, very limited resistence – even though coming from more combative minorities – in the North. Exemplary is the position of the German labor unions, which at best does not express a «betrayal of masses ready to struggle by corrupt leaders», but rather is an expression of the actual political will of the majority of the personnel of export-oriented industries. However, our weakness also results from the fact that we have no project. By this I mean less a lack of widespread notions of a different kind of politics: this exists, in a wide arch stretching from the defense of social rights and social income standards to diverse drafts of social-ecological transformation and the debates about commons, and from solidarity-based economies to decidedly anticapitalist programmatics. Instead of this, I mean the lack of a notion of how these drafts of «other worlds» could be foreseeably implemented. What do I mean by this? I should try to explain it summoning what has become an historical example: during most of the twentieth century, the left had a similar kind of a project – a project one must not like, but a project that was one in the full sense of the term. It consisted in the idea of a primarily national – meaning nation-state – path towards socialism of either leninist or social-democratic form. Its implementation was either conceived of through a radical break or a step-by-step transition or through a combination of both strategies. For this reason, socialism in terms of the nation or nation-state always seemed tangible, «realisable», realistic, even realpolitisch – even in its revolutionary form. Precisely this «realism» is missing in the circulating drafts of «other worlds», and thus, the debates are lacking at the least with regard to the problem of their implementation. This is surely one of the reasons why many leftists limit their only activities to education and in this sense assume that people wouldn’t know what is going on in the crisis around them. But is that really so? Do the people not know exactly where things are headed? Are they not for this reason – especially here in Germany and especially in the milieus addressed by the unions – betting on the corporatist share in the crisis regime? Would that not be otherwise if there were a real option for «another world», a concrete idea of its implementation? And would that – a concrete idea for the implementation of «other worlds» – be exactly that which people want to hear from us instead of instructions on the nature of capitalist crisis? Does that not apply for many other left initiatives or interventions: that many people who agree with the goals don’t join us because we are unable to tell them how these goals can actually be reached? Isn’t it possible to understand in this way the polls according to which a majority of people believe that capitalism is not the best of all worlds, without drawing from this the practical consequences? Is this not even more evident in the talk of «the rejection of politics», which does not coincidentally mediate the transition into authoritarian, nationalist, racist positions: when nothing else is possible, you can always take a step downwards – an option known not only here, but also in Greece, Italy in Spain – an extremely dangerous option summarized in the joint declaration of the interventionistische Linke and the Ums Ganze Alliance as «the reactionary phantasm of the national particularity and the racist distortion of our commonalities»?
Part Three, so once again: Crisis – which crisis?
Obviously it would be nonsense to simply construe strategies for implementation. It can not be excluded that there are none or that they are emerging elsewhere. That strategies for implementation are emerging in those places where it no longer makes sense to limit oneself to the survival tactics of pulling through individually, for oneself. In actuality, however, options of implementation are emerging. More precisely: two options of such implementation. The first regards the movements and their struggles, the second regards the parties allied with these movements and their struggles, concerning mostly relatively recent formations of the last decade. The one option has more the character of a speculation that scans the reality of the struggles, though nonetheless not unfounded. The other is of an historical-local and in this sense of a unique particular character, to the extent that it emanates from the north-south split of the EU.
1) The project of the metropolitan strike
The recent struggles are on the one hand all metropolitan struggles. They bear on the whole space of the city and on the «center» of the city, on its central plazas. The recent struggles are on the other hand transnational struggles, which despite what are in part massive local differences, sprang up in a chain reaction from metropole to metropole: struggles that leaped from Tunis and Cairo to the whole North African and West Asian space, then to Tel Aviv; then were carried on in Greece, then in Spain and Portugal, then in the USA, with sideshows even in Iran, Russia, China, and Nigeria. In these struggles, an image became alive that is itself a few years older, tracing back to the 1990s: the image of a «metropolitan strike», whose first eample was the great strike in Paris in 1995. The metropolitan strike reflects the fundamental weakening of strikes in factories, it transgresses from the workplace to the city as the place in which, for decades now, work and life are increasingly inseparable. The metropolitan strike poses the question of power in the struggles over the city, it asks the question: «Who owns the city?» and refers to exploitation in work as well as the exploitation of public and private space, the capitalist realization of value in no longer just labor power, but generally of our entire life, our desires and our needs, the systematic neglect of the right to housing, to education, to access to health, up to the most fundametial right, the right to rights, which is demanded not least by migrants.
The strongest point of Occupy and of Blockupy was the encirclement of the banks and the effective disruption of the operation of power. Initially, of course, this was just symbolic, and in 2013 it will remain symbolic. But: the experience of self-emplowerment in direct action and of the claim to the recapture of public space as common space still remains. The metropolitan strike seeks the connection with very daily initiatives and interventions, here in Frankfurt not least with the decade-long tradition of struggles around the airport and the struggles around the university. However, it also seeks the connection to approaches such as that of the network «Who owns the city?» – whose name is in itself more than promising. Again: at present we are speaking of symbolic actions – but the titles of Occupy and Blockupy promise even more…
2) The project of Syriza
The project of Syriza is first of all extraordinarily vague and in itself immature, starting with the composition of Syriza itself: nobody knows if the Syriza coalition will even hold if the chance to take over governmental power should be realized. Decisive for the project of Syriza, however, is, despite everything, its positive orientation with respect to the EU – despite the will to break with the current EU reality: the project of Syriza may not be confused with the Stalinist KKE: Syriza rejects the restriction to the Greek nation-state. A Syriza government in Greece – which, since the last weeks has become even more probable, but of course remains only probable – does not aim at the «organization of socialism in one country», but at forcing the EU, from Greece, into a political crisis. It aims at transforming the financial and economic crisis of the EU into a political crisis in the first place – into a consititutional crisis of the EU, which unfolds into a new constituent process, into a new constituent act. Even an open break with the EU would be – and that is the historically new element of the Syriza project – intended as an act of European politics, as an act awaiting European answers, relying on European answers. If the project takes effect in Greece: could it become a model for Spain, Portugal and Italy? What consequences would have in the North the formation of a southern European block? Are metropolitan strikes in the North conceivable – which would be at first, like Blockupy, in solidarity with the South, but then could develop their own perspective? Are party formations imaginable, initally in southern Europe, but then also in the North, oriented towards and based on Syriza, which could simultaneously become the parties of metropolitan strikes? What does that, with reference to Blockupy, have to do with the composition of the Blockupy coalition, to which movement activists and movement-oriented organizations belong, such as the party DIE LINKE, which in Germany at present is the only party that rejects the fiscal pact? Is it not high time that we not only speak of «other worlds», but finally also of their implementation, no longer in the frame of the nation-state, but also not in a totally inconceivable «elsewhere»? Is it not high time to speak of a project that has its place in streets and squares just as in state and supra-state institutions? Is it not high time to ask such questions – to ask questions of power? And is it not high time to practically test out our tentative answers to such questions, including in our daily politics, the struggles for the city, for the right to housing, to free residency and free share in the common, the struggles for those rights and goods that have been taken or are withheld from us, including the struggles against exploitation at work, and against oppression in education, the exclusion from knowledge. Must all these initiatives and interventions not also be applied to such a political crisis, such a constitutional crisis and such a constituent act? And might it be that we start to discuss these questions amongst ourselves and with others, while we disrupt Euro Finance Week, in order to – perhaps – prevent it from taking place next year, in order to deny its personnel the right to hospitality in our city, in order to open it to those who we really welcome? In order to open our city to cities who are closer to us than the towers of the ECB here on the banks of the Main: to Athens, Thessaloniki, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon? We have much to talk about, and a lot to do…