The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: The national situation in Germany. The discussion was initiated by Fred.Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!
Increasing use of the word "populism" on various websites had me puzzled for a time and I longed for a definition. After all "populism" doesn't sound all that ugly yet it's use in various writings was hardly flattering. Well I believe I have my definition now:
ICC wrote: The present wave of refugees and immigration, on the other hand, accentuates and illustrates another aspect of populism: the sharpening of competition between the victims of capitalism, and the tendency towards exclusion, xenophobia and scapegoating.
So there we have it: exclusion, xenophobia and scapegoating. Unpleasant competition between capital's own victims! And perhaps some kind of an explanation for Brexit and the machinations of the US election?
But that's not all.
ICC wrote: The misery under capitalist rule gives rise to a triad of destruction: firstly the accumulation of aggression, hatred, maliciousness and a longing for destruction and self-destruction; secondly the projection of these anti-social impulses onto others (moral hypocrisy); thirdly the directing of these impulses, not against the ruling class, which appears too powerful to challenge, but against apparently weaker classes and social strata. This three-pronged “complex” flourishes therefore above all in the absence of the collective struggle of the proletariat, when individual subjects feel powerless in face of capital. The culminating point of this triad at the root of populism is the pogrom. Although the populist aggression also expresses itself against the ruling class, what it demands, so vocally, from it is protection and favours. What it desires is that the bourgeoisie should either eliminate what it sees as its threatening rivals, or tolerate the fact that it starts doing so itself. This “conformist revolt”, a permanent feature of capitalism, becomes acute in face of crisis, war, chaos, instability. In the 1930s the framework of its development was the world-historic defeat of the proletariat. Today this framework is the absence of any perspective: the phase of decomposition.
This is well said, is it not? For does it not explain exactly the misery and discomfort of the present time in our human history? The hatred and self destructive forces generated by the unbearable politico-economic situation turned inwards by the exploited against ourselves, while the bourgeoisie, the major source of our woes, escape untouched: up to their ears in riches; envied and revered by those they exploit who cringe pleadingly at their feet. This is it. Decomposition!
ha yeah, neat quote. Wouldn't say that this was all there is to alienation, but it seems like its most pertinent forms
Congratulations to the comrades who are involved in the drafting of this excellent article (and also the critical note at the end). This more than anything I read in English gives a clear answer to several important question about the German situation which is key to understand international balance of forces between the classes.
It is also a very timely contribution considering the Brexit and other recent developments. In that connection I wanted to ask comrades about how Brexit can effect the overall German position in the EU. Do you think it can weaken the EU and potentially isolate Germany, eventually forcing it to become more (openly) militarized, disintegrate the EU etc. - or would these be merely exagerrated, "catastrophist" expections? In short how do you think this will effect the existing status quo?
I think that this is an important text on its own account but also an important one for the coming discussion on migrants and refugees. I want to make some comments on the text as a whole but first a few words about the effect of the UK’s vote to leave the EU. It’s too early to draw out all the elements of the referendum result for Germany (there’s quite a good post-referendum text on the ICT website though) but the vote to leave by the UK will exacerbate all the problems raised in the text on the situation in Germany. We see this particularly affecting Germany as the leading political and economic force in the EU from which it’s done quite well so far. In what was already the fraught context of the European Union further centrifugal tendencies have been unleashed or strengthened as well as, in the general context of the permanent crisis of decadent capitalism and its decomposition, the rise of the forces of xenophobia and fear and hatred of the “others”. In the meantime, on the political level, Chancellor Merkel is at least appearing level-headed on the next post-Brexit steps to be taken on what is a political minefield which tends to underline the political intelligence of the German bourgeoisie overall as well as the internal divisions and pitfalls that could possibly confront it – again as the text suggests.
The efficiency of German industry and its workforce have been the basis for the development of the German economy. This sort of nuance has been somewhat lost in the idea of “economic catatrophism” and a mechanical approach to the economic question within the ICC that has been criticised elsewhere. Its competitive edge and its low military spending have greatly contributed to the relative German success. It has regained the ground it lost due to the absorbtion of the East in reunification over a couple of decades and is now the second-largest exporter, with a budget surplus and unspectacular but steady growth. The inter-action of German industry strengthens the national capital and, while I agree that there are divisions within the German bourgeoisie, I think it would be an error to underestimate the development of state capitalism even within the neo-liberal period of late – something that I think the text is very strong on. The unprecedented, almost unbelievable attacks on wages and conditions from around 2007 in Germany, “Agenda 2010” are an example of this. This all helped Germany strengthen its position within and on top of the EU.
There was a lot of discussion in the ICC about Germany becoming a bloc leader over a coherent European Union after the collpase of the Warsaw Pact and, quite rightly, this mechanical position was rejected by it – I don’t know what the positions of groups that held this view are now on this question. But while Germany didn’t re-arm that doesn’t mean that it has no imperialist ambitions, after all they come with the territory. The war in Yugoslavia that began in 1991 was tripped by German imperialist ambitions.
The text mentions the mediating role of Merkel between Russia and Kiev and the perspective for German economic gains from any possible Russian “modernisaion” – which would be against US interests. Since then (18.6.16) the German Foreign Minister, astonishingly, has criticised Nato (of which it’s a member) for its “warmongering” and “sabre-rattling” towards Russia in its forward military deployments of 31,000 troops (Germans amongst them) and heavy equipment bearing on Russia’s border, echoing Nato’s “Forward Defence” deployments towards the end of the Cold War. Foreign Minister Steinmeier has rather called for “cooperation” and Germany was ambigous about the extension of sanctions against Russia. This in the context of the “re-interpretation” of Germany’s foreign policy principles and Merkel calling for Germany to “converge” with US military spending. The German military is expanding for the first time in 25 years. It has already intervened military throughout Europe and beyond and, under the guise of the “War on Terror”, has sent its navy to the Mediterranean. The text details how Germany has used the “refugee crisis” to increase its imperialist clout but, as with everything, this contains its own contradictions.
I’ve already mentioned the massive 2007 attacks on the working class in Germany and these were part of global phenomenon of all the major capitals: carefully chosen, phased-in attacks on a class that is weak and almost powerless, union-controlled and a few crumbs given here and there to a class that was deemed to be “priviliged” in the face of ‘poor refugees’ say.
The attack on the working class with not least the use of the superiority of democracy is powerful. As the text says there is no link made in the working class generally between migration and the capitalist system. It’s seen as an element of competition between wage-slaves, a fight for crumbs and what follows is a descent into xenophobia, scapegoating and hatred. The global phenomenon of political populism is partly impelled by the forces of “us” and “them” within the working class. But there is also another side to this: “multiculturism” and democratic nationalism are no less dangers. In this respect “openess” and xenophobia are just two sides of the same capitalist coin. This populism is manipulated by the bourgeoisie into a division of labour as we’ve seen over the vote leave or remain camps in the British referendum. This latter is also an example of how this populism can escape the control of the bourgeoisie and fail to serve its overall interests. The populist upsurge, what the text calls a “conformist revolt” defines itself as being against an “elite” but pleads its case to this same or another elite within the capitalist state. The encouraged populism which hasn’t served the interests of the British bourgeoisie could also be a drain on the political cohesion of Germany where the question of immigration is for high stakes. The effects of decomposition also make themselves felt in this area.
The text makes it clear that the “welcome” to refugees in Germany has no class terrain of solidarity, uncertainty at best but this could be integrated into a class response. On the class response generally to civilians caught up in an overwhelming war (like Syria), the ICC and its sympathers have argued on libcom for example that the best course is to flee to safety and not to stay and fight for any side. Communists show solidarity with this position against the support for Kurdish nationalism or the “lessser evil” in this case.
On globalisation, there is a further nuance to this question in the text aside from the general, rather mechanical position, that globalisation began at the beginning of the twentieth century. The position in the text is much more rounded and up to date. The latest development of “globalisation” is the ability to confront the class struggle everywhere, i.e., there is a new “quality” to it. I remember the union strikes I was involved in in the 70’s. We had the whole industry sewn up over a whole region covering many towns but the company just downsized the firm and moved elsewhere. It’s a bit like that everywhere today in the development of production and finance. This is fully part of a tendency of decadent capitalism – a state ordered and imposed global disciplinary system. It poses serious questions for the class struggle that the working class has been unable to answer so far.