We Have To Do Something!

Action Fetishism in an Unreflective Society

Herbert Böttcher

1. Action and Transformation

“On the struggle for an immigration and post-growth society in Europe” was the motto of the medico Foundation Symposium in 2016.[1] The Austrian journalist and author Robert Misik opposed the fear discourse of both the right and the left. While resentment and the willingness to use violence are promoted by the right, powerlessness is advanced by the left.[2] So what can help against fear and powerlessness?

“The power to act is regained by those who make use of the first virtue of critical thinking: to look for the other world not ‘by looking away from existing evil,’ but by looking in the middle of the ‘real movement,’ ‘which cancels the present state,’” is the answer given at medico, in reference to Karl Marx.[3] And the “real movement” in the 21st century is quickly found. In addition to “explicitly political innovations,” it is the “everyday changes in interpersonal relationships and the ethical and moral attitudes that support them.”[4] Some examples are mentioned: practical solidarity with refugees, self-organized solidarity clinics, and neighborhood networks.[5]

All of this may well make sense. It would only have to be made clear from the self-formulated claim why these activities are not just sensible emergency measures, but would actually abolish “the present state of affairs.” But this state can only be lifted if it is recognized, i.e. if it is clear what is to be lifted. “Real movements,” then, can only be those which are aimed at recognizing the “present state” in order to be able to “abolish” it or – to put it more precisely and less Hegelianly – to overcome it.

Social movements – from the traditional workers’ movements to the new social movements – move a lot ‘in the dark.’ The range extends from the flight into the concrete to the flight into the general – depending on the need. Sometimes it is concrete projects or concrete actors to whom demands are addressed, sometimes it is general ethical-moral appeals or abstract visions that promise an orientation for action. At all costs, however, the question as to what the individual phenomena, from people fleeing their homelands to the permanent deterioration of working and social conditions, which we encounter “in the existing evil,” have to do with the totality of the social conditions to be overcome, is to be avoided. Because this question must not be asked, for fear of paralyzing political impotence, salvation is to be sought in action that jumps back and forth between projects, ‘intercessions’ to economic and political actors, and ethical-moral sermons, between ‘concrete’ and ‘general.’ Such action must remain indeterminate in view of the “condition to be abolished” – as Medico puts it. Its indeterminacy finds expression in empty actionist formulas like: We have to do something. In other words, the main thing is to do something, whatever that may be. Or it leads into moralizing appeals such as: We have to change. Change is everything. It must “become DNA” – as the new NRW Economics Minister Andreas Pinkwart of the FDP inculcates in us.[6]

Two problematic social contexts become clear here: On the one hand, both in labor movement Marxism and in social-liberal reforms, as well as in everyday life, the value-dissociation socialization – that is, the “commodity-producing patriarchy” (Roswitha Scholz)[7] – as a social fetish form has always been presupposed without reflection. Second, with the intensifying crisis of capitalism, a new situation is emerging. The margins of action become narrower because they come up against the limits set by the social form. They cannot be overcome by an effort of the will – according to the motto ‘whoever wants to, can.’ These two problematic social contexts need to be reflected upon.

2. Action as a Struggle for Equality and Political Influence in the Capitalist Form.

Theologian Ton Veerkamp laments how Fukuyama’s talk of the history ending with the free market and democracy leads to a lack of alternatives:

“The new gospel of Fukuyama was also the end of the great narratives of the occidental bourgeoisie, the narrative of true liberté, freedom, true égalité, equality, true solidarity, as we call fraternité today. It was perpetuated in the Great Narrative of the labor movement, the narrative of those who took seriously the narrative of the bourgeoisie, true liberty, true equality, true solidarity, not only in the church, but also in the factory.”[8]

The history of the workers’ movement becomes here the continuation or the completion of bourgeois history. It is completed by extending its promises of freedom, equality and solidarity to all. The promised equality is to become a reality for all those who were excluded from the blessings of bourgeois society, especially the workers. Equality is to apply not only politically but also economically, not only in politics but also in the factory. Equality in bourgeois society was the aim not only of the largest part of the workers’ movement, but also of the largest parts of the slavery abolition and women’s movements.

In the workers’ movement in particular, the struggles were seen in the social context of the contradiction between capital and labor. Capital represented the point of view of domination, and labor, that of liberation. Social power relations were represented by the power of capital over labor and the means of production, and thus over the means that are indispensable for human life.

It should not be denied that these liberation struggles, as struggles for participation and equality, have made people’s lives easier. However, at the latest in view of the failure of socialism, it would have been necessary to reflect self-critically that all attempts at emancipation fall short if they move within the fetishistic social context constituted by capital and labor and at the same time within the framework of the dissociated area of reproduction. In it, value and dissociation are always already presupposed, value insofar as capitalist society is oriented toward the irrational and abstract end in itself of the multiplication of money through the production of commodities, i.e., through the production of value and surplus value, dissociation insofar as reproduction, with its feminine connotations, represents the mute precondition for commodity production.

It is not recognized that, just like capital and labor, politics and the state also constitute the fetishistic social context of the capitalist form of society. They are dependent on the process of valorization and can only shape and steer within the margins made possible by the creation of value. It is within this framework that the state performs its task as an “ideal total capitalist” (Friedrich Engels). In view of the incoherently competing individual enterprises, it is its task to create an overall social framework for production and reproduction. It can do this only as long as the process of value creation provides it with the necessary means to do so.

Embedded in the fetishistic capitalist social context is also the subject who believes himself to be autonomous and free. His autonomous cognition seems to be unconditional, his actions essentially controlled by his will. At the same time, his thinking and acting is always already subjected to the unreflectively presupposed factual constraints of the structuring social context of valorization and the reproductive foundations dissociated from it. What appears to him as free thinking and acting has always already affirmed the fetishistic capitalist social context as a self-evident and unreflected given.

On this basis, the subject becomes the agent of abstract labor. Whereas in pre-modern societies activities characterized by toil were due to the necessity of a ‘metabolism with nature’ at a low level of productivity, in modern capitalist societies with a more highly developed productive power, labor is subjected to the compulsion to serve the abstract and irrational capitalist end-in-itself of producing abstract wealth, which is expressed quantitatively in money and is indifferent to its material content. The concrete is to be had only as a carrier of something abstract, the use-value of the commodity only as a carrier of the exchange-value, the material-content wealth only as a carrier of abstract wealth.

Labor subjected to the capitalist end in itself of the multiplication of abstract wealth belongs to the constitution of an abstract and unconscious domination, independent of the thought and action of the actors. Marx described it with the paradoxical concept of the “automatic subject.”[9] The subject is in the service of an automatism in which money is used as capital to produce value and surplus-value through the expenditure of abstract labor, which is expressed in surplus-money after the exchange of commodities. Automatism needs subjects to set it in motion and keep it going. In this respect, the subject is “the agent of a blind social system that sets the ‘automatic subject’ in motion through its own pre-structured pattern of activity.”[10]

Then, however, the subject is precisely not autonomous, but integrated into “the self-movement of the capitalist real categories.” These were “unconsciously created” by people. They have now “become independent … precisely because the individuals live their lives within these categories not wanting to imagine anything differently and seek their happiness by hook or by crook, and through their satisfying the demands brought forth by this matrix.”[11] Their thinking and acting is determined by this unconsciously created, independent and unreflected fetishistic social context. Therefore, political action is also fetishistic. It moves within the polarities of market and state or economy and politics, praxis and theory, which are set by the fetish form. Thus, depending on the constellation, the welfare state can be invoked against the market, the market can be made neoliberal against the state, praxis can be played off against theory, or theory can be put at the service of praxis.

In social movements, political action becomes above all a question of political will or of the interests that are to be asserted against political-economic power. With a shift of the balance of power within the capitalist form and the polarities set with it, i.e. between capital and labor, market and state, theory and praxis, however, the ‘present state’ cannot be ‘abolished’ or overcome. Capital and labor are always presupposed as a fetishistic social context and are not put up for disposition, just as little as the dissociation of reproduction and the patriarchal gender relations. People as social beings remain subordinated to the movements of the commodities they produce and the social relations of a ‘commodity-producing patriarchy’ constituted by them. Their thought, will, and action are broken by the abstract domination constituted by value and dissociation.

As an agent of abstract labor, bound into the fetishistic structuring social context of labor and capital, the subject cannot be a ‘revolutionary subject.’ Through its integration into the fetishistic social context, its supposedly autonomous thought and action is reduced to the framework set by the social form. In this, the subject turns out to be “a category of capital itself, or a function of the ‘automatic subject’ of abstract labor and value.”[12] Then the category of praxis, or the primacy of praxis over theory, also becomes problematic. The praxis of subjects, before there is any thinking, is always already integrated into the dominant fetish forms that seem plausible to the acting subject:

“Working, earning money, gender relations, etc. are in a certain way similar to the way the wild sow digs for acorns or the way the spider weaves its web. Therefore, the absurdity that individuals do not consciously act socially, but according to blind mechanisms, appears as self-evident and is always already presupposed. The consciousness of individuals, precisely because they are separated from these mechanisms, and the fetish forms and their mechanisms, does not refer to the social character of their actions, but to the given immanent calculation according to the given criteria in these immanent forms.”[13]

Just like the praxis of the subjects, the theory produced under the primacy of such praxis remains integrated into the fetishistic social context presupposed without reflection. Such theory becomes either – e.g. in the form of business administration/economics or systems theory – the justification of the relations presupposed in praxis or the justification of a praxis of modernization of relations, which seeks change within the framework of the presupposed social forms by shifting the power relations within the fetishistic social context of capital and labor, market and state, etc. Such theory enters into the service of practical work on contradiction. It moves in the tracks laid by the struggle for recognition in the forms of law and state and for self-assertion in the forms of abstract labor, value, and dissociation.[14]

3. Action in an “Unreflective Society”

3.1 Limits of Action in the Crisis of Capitalism

As the crisis of capitalism progresses, the scope for acting in the presupposed fetish forms becomes narrower. Accordingly, the actors of individual and political action come up against the limits of their action and experience their individual and political impotence. The crisis of capitalism affects the ability of subjects to act insofar as its basis is the expenditure of labor, the ‘substance of capital.’ Because of the ‘moving contradiction’ (Karl Marx) associated with capital, capital producing in competition is forced to replace labor with technology. With the microelectronic revolution, this logical contradiction also comes up against historical limits that can no longer be compensated for, since now more labor substance has to be disposed of than could be compensated for by expanding and cheapening the products. In this way, however, capitalism undermines not only its own foundations, but also the ability of subjects to act as agents of abstract labor.

The illusion of agency is nevertheless maintained insofar as money, too, is detached from its objective social context and declared to be a sign, true to postmodern logic in which the world consists of a multiplicity of signs. Its validity is detached from the objective social context of commodity production, in which it represents abstract labor and thus value and surplus value. It is now recognized as valid on the basis of social convention. Accordingly, the money supply can be increased according to economic necessities. New possibilities for action seem to be opening up via the control of the money supply even to the point of alternative dreams of being able to both secure stability and free up money for social investment via a transaction tax. Negative reality seems to be able to be leapfrogged and to dissolve into an all-determining intentionality. Against such illusions, Robert Kurz has pointed out that “the meaning of an objective validity (in the sense of the fetish relation being independent and reified)” should not be understood in terms of “‘validity’ as subjective kind of ‘validity’ (in the sense of the bourgeois notions of contract and decree).”[15] The ‘objective validity’ of money results from the fact that it represents the expenditure of ‘abstract labor’ and thus value. Fictitious money can only prolong the crisis as long as the connection with the expenditure of abstract labor and the associated production of value and surplus value does not break.      

The extent to which this thread is being put to the test is shown by the increasingly rapid interplay between the capitalist polarities of market and state, economy and politics, in the course of the crisis. In the face of intensifying state financing and economic valorization crises, neoliberalism focused on strengthening the market and the economy through privatization, deregulation and social cuts. Against the supposed omnipotence of the economy and the growing social problems, trade unions and social movements called on the state and its regulatory power. A way out seemed to be found in the miraculous multiplication of capital without going through real commodity production via the buying and selling of financial securities. A simulated accumulation was created which resulted in “money without value” (Robert Kurz), on whose drip the real economy became dependent via global deficit cycles. The ‘natural’ limits of a simulated economy supported by money without value were shown again and again in the bursting of bubbles. The bursting of the real estate bubble in particular called the state back onto the scene to rescue the “systemically important banks” (Angela Merkel). It is becoming clear that not only the state-driven modernization processes in countries of the two-thirds world are coming to an end with the collapse of states that can no longer be financed, but also the ping-pong between market and state or economy and politics in the countries of the global North.

3.2 False Immediacy in an “Unreflective Society”

In view of all the social experiences of crisis and catastrophe, it would seem obvious to critically reflect on the limits of capitalist socialization. Instead, theoretical thinking that seeks to reflect on individual phenomena in the context of social relations is denounced. At the beginning of the new millennium, Robert Kurz had already predicted the path to a “unreflective society”:

“The real social contradiction, which is no longer manageable using the previously employed methods, is simply to be banished from thinking. The dark end of modern development is absurdly celebrated as a transition to an ‘illusionless pragmatism.’ Along with social criticism, reflective thinking ceases altogether.”[16]

The contradiction connected with the inner logical barrier of needing labor for the multiplication of capital, but at the same time having to replace it with technology because of competition, which forces efficiency and cheapening, could be dealt with in capitalist immanence as long as there were sufficient possibilities to compensate for the disappearance of labor. Because this logical barrier now also encounters its historical barriers and thus becomes topical, the perspective would suggest itself to reflect on these barriers and with them on the end of capitalist socialization. Insofar as thinking moves within the unreflected, presupposed social forms, it also encounters the limits of its possible reflection with the logical and historical barriers of capital valorization. Reflection also feels the powerlessness that is established by the objectivity of the relations. There is immanently no more praxis towards which one could think in the interest of change. But instead of making these immanent limits of action and of reflection itself the object of critical reflection, reflection stops its operation.

And yet action is being taken. After all, the crisis ‘must’ be ‘managed’ – among other things, by cutting social benefits and activating companies as well as individuals. The further the crisis progresses, however, the more clearly the limits of its manageability become apparent. Thus it becomes clear: the game is up – both the game of increasing money without value in the casino and the associated illusions of ‘anything goes’ as well as the ping-pong game between market and state that tries to stretch out the crisis. With labor disappearing, both – market and state – are losing their foundation. The latter is most evident in the phenomena of disintegrating states and the looting economies spreading in the voids.[17] But here, too, a ‘need for action’ arises: military intervention is needed to protect the remaining spaces of accumulation from the violence threatening the collapsing regions, as well as from the refugees. The chairman of the German Commission Justitia et Pax and Bishop of Trier, Stefan Ackermann, also does not want to refuse his blessing to such an ‘urgent need for action.’ “Strengthening European cooperation – militarily where expedient – is a prerequisite for the demanded long-term capacity to act.” Against the background of the fight against terrorism, the military participation of the Federal Republic is completely understandable, the episcopal press office of Trier let the bishop announce.[18]

The “illusionless pragmatism” that prides itself on being able to dispense with the burdensome ballast of reflection in the form of theoretical thought and at the same time denounces critical thought as superfluous and detached elitist theory that misses the point of people’s concrete problems amounts to crisis management that is enforced in an increasingly authoritarian manner as the crisis intensifies. In the horizon of easy thoughts and easy language, an easier path is obvious for many: instead of the critical examination of the conditions, which seems too theoretical, the guilty are concretized in “false immediacy” (Theodor W. Adorno) – in ‘the’ foreigners, ‘the’ refugees, ‘the’ politicians, ‘the’ bankers, etc: The unreflective rage of concerned citizens is given an object on which it can act out.

The turn to a relieving false immediacy, which manifests itself in concretisms, did not just fall from the sky with the increased ‘turn to the right,’ as was evident in the 2017 federal election. The indicators of false immediacy and concretism were already visible before the 2008 financial crisis:

  • In 2005, Franz Müntefering wanted to revitalize the ossified SPD with a concrete critique of capitalism. He focused attention on the “plague of locusts.” The problem is identified as ‘rapacious finance capital.’ If it were stopped, the problems would be solved. The fact that the distinction between good, creative and evil, ‘rapacious capital’ connoted with Jews serves structural or even direct anti-Semitism is not a problem for such an alleged critique of capitalism, but an advantage: it can be used to reach those who, in view of the crisis of abstract labor, have to circulate on the market as precarious wage workers between changing wage employment situations, pseudo-self-employment and state benefits – i.e., in situations in which they are not able to work. In other words, in conditions in which everyone becomes a “petty bourgeoisie of himself”[19] who, as individualized human capital, is responsive to concretizing right-wing populist slogans.
  • This corresponds to the individualization of the social crisis, in which everyone is supposed to become an entrepreneur of his or her human capital and is obligated to keep themselves competitive in processes of permanent self-optimization, and is supposed to present themselves in such a way that he or she stands out through eye-catching design. In the process, self-optimization and self-presentation remain empty of content. Self-optimization is about optimizing formal competencies and self-staging is about being eye-catching by doing whatever.
  • The individual is not only “Me, Inc.,” [Ich-AG] but is also supposed to be “Germany,” as the campaign carried out in 2005 propagated. “While the Germany Inc. is being wound up in real economic terms, in the midst of the hurricane of globalized crisis capitalism, the German people’s community is to rise as an ideological community of need and compulsion.”[20] The “state of patriotic optimism,” as Jürgen Klinsmann put it in view of the summer fairy tale of the World Cup, “in one’s own country,” with German flags everywhere, came just in time.[21]

Behind the false immediacy that is already apparent in the above-mentioned examples is the need to concretize problematic situations and to banish them in a fetishistic way. It is no coincidence that Pegida, AfD, etc. can grow and flourish in this conglomerate of crisis repression, which marginalizes content and reflective thought. They articulate society’s need to concretize guilty parties for complex problems in a false immediacy. They are offered in the form of ‘the’ foreigners, ‘the’ refugees, ‘the’ bankers, ‘the’ politicians. What shows up at the supposed margins of society is not a ‘marginal phenomenon,’ however, but an expression of processes in the ‘center’ of society, which also show up on the so-called ‘left’ : in the structural or direct anti-Semitic concretization of the crisis of capitalism to casino capitalism, in the polarization of German and foreign poor in the party ‘Die Linke.’ Such immediate concretizations open up possibilities for immediate action. When culprits and responsible parties are identified, complex problems seem manageable. They can seemingly be “sorted out by immediate action. Instead of the realization that there can be no solutions in the value-dissociation form, there is an attempt to banish the resulting powerlessness in an action-fetishistic way.”[22]

In the processes that aggressively deny and repress the crisis, in which the false immediacy of action is combined with the elimination of reflection on content, a narcissistic social character finds expression. It arises in the structuring social context of the crisis of capitalism, which has to be dealt with by individuals who are pressed into the subject form. With work and family, the foundations of bourgeois subjectivity collapse. The labor subject runs out of work and the family as a place of reproduction loses its foundation. Thus, the possibilities of sublimation of bourgeois subjectivity associated with work and its promise of success and prosperity break down. In the face of empty promises, drive stimulation makes as little sense as binding commitment to an object. Needs cry out for immediate satisfaction through an ever new mother’s breast, problems for an immediate solution through the concretization of guilty parties and correspondingly immediate strategies of action. The relation to the external world of objects is fundamentally disturbed. Thus the narcissistic social character is under the compulsion to assimilate objects, repel them as threatening or destroy them.[23] In this matrix, questions of content are only significant if they can be “perceived and processed in direct relation to the self”[24] or, as personal questions, trigger consternation and can be handled. Otherwise, they are denied as an offensive, excessive demand or a threat, or are aggressively warded off.

This helps to understand why people react so allergically, either ignoring or aggressively defending themselves, to strenuous, complex analyses that are perceived as disempowering and, moreover, block a way out of the false immediacy of concretism and fetishism of action. They can withstand neither reflective distance nor the lack of an immediate action strategy.

As the crisis progresses, people who become devoid of reflection seem to merge with the world as it is in an authoritarian and aggressive anti-intellectualism. Individuals who are reduced to subjects threaten to become one with their valorization or with their exclusion in the state of their devaluation.

Reflection as the ability to step beside oneself in order to look at oneself and the conditions one occupies ‘from the outside,’ as it were, seems to become more difficult. The realization that, as a supposedly self-aware subject, one is only an appendage or material of a process of valorization and its accompanying moments of dissociation is painful because it is disappointing and disillusioning. Moreover, no alternative that could be immediately realized offers itself up. Theoretical reflection, which remains within the immanence of capitalist socialization, reaches a limit, because it can no longer hope for a new stage within a process of development. It gained its dynamism in the critique of an achieved state as a stage of passage to a better future, a next step on the ladder of development within the framework of a perpetual movement of progress. Such progress, however, was bound to the metaphysics of money, which multiplies endlessly in a supposedly infinite process of the self-valorization of capital.

It seems increasingly difficult to think beyond the immediacy of individual phenomena or experiences. In the face of growing burdens, on an individual level – not least due to the irreducible constraints of self-optimization and the omnipresent danger of failure despite all efforts – immediate, i.e., without any thought, relief is sought and offered. This implies the activation of racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and anti-gypsy attitudes at any time in service of a crisis administration that is under pressure to act but remains bound up in the social form. The crisis administration is also becoming more and more incapable of action – and nothing at all can be done when it comes to the claim of coping with the problems in an emancipatory way. Thus, the inability of crisis administrations to act, which is advancing with the crisis, threatens to turn into authoritarian tendencies and, where the military and police security apparatuses are also deprived of their economic foundations, into the savagery of a struggle for existence, which is fought out in a ‘war of all against all.’    

The options for action of social movements, which are linked to capitalist immanence, are also blocked. Instead of critically reflecting on their own powerlessness in the formal social context of capitalist immanence and advancing to a radical critique of capitalism, i.e. one that reaches to the roots, their highest goal seems to be to participate in crisis management or to want to create alternatives without having gone through the purgatory of a radical critique of capitalist society.[25] Thus, individual facets are broken out of the whole of the conditions in the illusion of being able to create an alternative through a niche. Thus it remains with Regiogeld, with exchange rings and free stores, with basic income on the level of misery, with solidarity and common good economy, which do not touch the form of capitalist socialization. In the ecclesiastical field, Caritas and pastoral work take refuge in ‘lifeworld’ orientations, which find their expression in the concept of a so-called ‘socio-spatial approach.’ At least in the ‘small details’ of the immediate life worlds, successes are sought in a praxis that unspokenly admits that it can no longer reach the level of social macrostructures. Praxis becomes the shaping of small life worlds in the immediacy of one’s own social space and is reduced to the framework that the crisis conditions still allow. Playgrounds can then be designed, dilapidated facilities repaired, green spaces tended, and so on. The activated people are given the impression of having influence and of being practically effective. The possibilities of being able to do ‘something’ remain limited to the local area and the framework that the crisis situation allows. Ultimately, behind the often euphorically proclaimed socio-spatial approach is the admission that pastoral praxis and Caritas cannot shape more than the small world of local areas. Thus, it is an expression of adaptation to conditions that are immunized from any critical reflection. Such reflection could, after all, recoil against one’s own praxis and make it recognizable for what it is: as a flight into ‘pseudo-activism’ or into the concretism of false immediacy and as an evasion of the challenge of critical reflection and the necessary overcoming of destructive conditions. The insistence on praxis becomes here – far from being a “forum for appeals against self-satisfied speculation” – a “pretext used by executive authorities to choke, as vain, whatever critical thoughts the practical change would require.”[26] At the same time, the humanitarian significance of solidarity-based crisis management should by no means be underestimated, nor should the improvement of the quality of immediate living conditions against barbarizing savagery in the struggle of all against all. However, without reflection on the structuring context of the social whole, no overall social alternatives to the barbarization inherent in capitalist socialization can emerge from these movements.

4. Religion in a Unreflective Society

Analogous to an unreflective society, an unreflective religion is also developing. As early as the 1990s, Johann Baptist Metz summed up a newly awakened religious enthusiasm with the formula “Religion, yes – God, no.”[27] With this, he described a trend in which religion is very much in demand as a spiritual exaltation and relief from the stress of everyday life, but talk of God is falling into crisis or evaporating. Today René Buchholz speaks of a “false return of religion.”[28] What is false about it is the fundamentalism that is attached to this new interest in religion.

In original religious texts such as the Bible or the Koran, certainties are sought that cannot be shaken by critical reflection on the historical social contexts of the texts. The sacred original texts are just as withdrawn from historical-critical reflection as they are from the question of whether and how their statements can be substantiated. They are valid without time and without justification – then as now.

While religious movements after the 1960s had understood themselves in the horizon of socially critical ‘political theology’ or the ‘liberation theology’ that emerged in Latin America, “today a worldwide religious regression has become the driving force of barbarization. This applies to all religions without exception, from the Catholic fundamentalism of ‘Opus Dei’ to the Protestant sects, Islamism, the messianic-theocratic Jewish ultras, the ultra-right Hindu movement and the racist Buddhists in Sri Lanka, etc.”[29]In the transfiguring retrospection of an ideal situation of origin, they gain their aura and “appear as a way out of the precarious situation and at the same time as a threatened part of one’s own identity, which is regarded as unchangeable.”[30]

In addition, a softer but no less fundamentalist variant of religion is emerging. It is offered as spirituality on esoteric markets, but also by churches that want to remain competitive as entrepreneurial churches in the face of dwindling demand for God. The programs seek success by directly addressing the sensitivities of individuals: the search for an expansion of happiness through intensive and spiritual experiences, for relief for the stressed through wellness, for meaning and closeness for those who have failed in competition or are plagued by fear of social decline. In the immediacy with which individual needs are addressed, the structuring social context is not abolished, but made invisible. The impositions that people have to put up with, as well as the nonsense of a society that has subjected itself to the irrational compulsion of the multiplication of money, is omnipresent, but it should not and will not be grasped.

If spiritual offerings are to be successful on the market, this structuring social context and with it reality must be faded out. They must be experience-intensive and at the same time content-empty and reflection-free. Their fundamentalism lies in the fact that the world as it is, and the merging of individuals with it, is always already presupposed to be without justification, authoritarian, and hostile to reflection. They reflect what Theodor W. Adorno described in his studies on the authoritarian personality as follows: “The superiority of the existing … over the individual and his intentions” is to be “acknowledged” as realism and implies “classifying oneself as an appendage of the social machinery.”[31] With the authoritarian presupposition of the world as it is, any idea that the world could be otherwise remains excluded. It is confined in a closed immanence that is exalted by a contentless spirituality that renounces any thinking that could transcend its object to a level that supersedes it.

5. What To Do?

If the processes of crisis are not to drive further into barbarization, it cannot be a matter of anything less than “abolishing the present condition.” The ‘power to act’ cannot be gained without recognizing and negating what constitutes this condition as a structuring social context of form, namely value and dissociation and the levels of ideology production that are mediated by them, but also connected with a momentum of their own, as well as the cultural-symbolic and the socio-psychological level. In view of this social context, the proclamation of a primacy of praxis is also misleading, since praxis, like the subject as its bearer, always presupposes the ‘condition to be abolished.’

In view of the constraints of immediacy, a reflection is necessary that can gain distance from the condition of a society closed in the form of capitalist socialization. This presupposes an epistemological break with the form and its characteristic thinking in the polarities of capital and labor, market and state, as well as those of subject and object, and theory and praxis. Instead of instrumentalizing theoretical knowledge one-dimensionally from and to praxis, it would be important to understand theoretical reflection as an independent moment of social emancipation. As a mere instrument of praxis, it must remain within the limits set by the form of capitalist relations. In this prison it becomes – just as in the Middle Ages philosophy was once understood as ancilla theologiae (handmaiden of theology) – “the Cinderella of unscientific and pre-scientific premises and forms of life, to which it has to serve as a handmaiden of legitimation.”[32]

“The recovery of theory’s independence lies in the interest of praxis itself,” Adorno says in his “Negative Dialectics.”[33] The background of this statement is the insight that in the demanded unity of theory and praxis, theory succumbed and became “a piece of the politics it was supposed to lead out of; it became the prey of power.”[34] A different praxis is only possible if theoretical reflection can step out of its functional subjection to a praxis already determined by the circumstances and gain its own weight. But then, against the attempts to reconcile the tension between theory and praxis by including critical reflection as ‘theoretical praxis’ under the concept of praxis, the tension between theory and praxis must be endured. It is necessary “to refuse any ‘fusion’ of critical reflection with the given ‘counter-praxis’ of immanent contradiction processing or even an everyday metaphysics.” “In order to be able to shatter this fetishist constitution, both ‘theoretical praxis’ as well as immanent ‘counterpraxis’ must undergo, each in its own respective domain, a process of transformation, until both go beyond themselves and can only merge in the result. Thus, the celebrated ‘unity between theory and praxis’ can no longer be a presupposition, but only an immanent telos of categorical critique; it coincides with real transcendence, or else it will not exist.”[35] Such transcendence is in the interest of social emancipation. It opens up possibilities for recognizing and negating the limits imposed on praxis by capitalist socialization. Without such recognition, “there would be no changing the praxis that constantly calls for change.”[36]

Nor can a royal road to overcoming capitalism be derived from a theory as an independent element of emancipatory praxis and implemented as a model. Theory cannot replace emancipatory praxis. Only in a social movement that negatively reaches beyond the limits set by the capitalist form do paths to overcoming capitalism seem possible. In this sense, it would be important to insist on and fight for demands that cannot be met under capitalism. This includes the struggle for the satisfaction of basic needs as well as the struggle against low wages and precarious working conditions and for ‘public services,’ in short for everything that is possible in view of material wealth and the state of the productive forces, but fails because of the constraint that material wealth in capitalism can only be represented and have meaning as abstract wealth. In this sense a ‘different world would be possible,’ but only in the break with the capitalist form of abstract wealth. This would be the precondition for an orientation towards the life needs of people and the production of the goods that are necessary for this. Corresponding demands would therefore have to know and make clear that they are by no means raised from a situation beyond the form of value and dissociation, but that they lay claim to its overcoming. However, this claim would already be denied if, in the interest of mediation and mobilization, the limits of the capitalist form of society that are to be overcome were no longer allowed to be thematized: For “no theory may play dumb for the sake of agitational simplicity against the objectively achieved state of knowledge. It must reflect it and push it further. The unity of theory and praxis was not meant as a concession to the weakness of thought, which is the spawn of repressive society.”[37]

[1] Cf. Thomas Seibert, Stiftungssymposium: Vom Kampf um eine Einwanderungs- und Postwachstumsgesellschaft, in: meidico international, rundschreiben 2/16, 41-43.

[2] Cf. ibid., 41.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. ibid.

[6] Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 10.11.2017.

[7] Cf. Roswitha Scholz, Das Geschlecht des Kapitalismus. Feministische Theorien und postmoderne Metamorphosen des Kapitals, Bad Honnef 2nd ed. 2011.

[8] Ton Veerkamp, Die Welt anders. Politische Geschichte der Großen Erzählung, Berlin 2012, 423.

[9] Cf. Karl Marx, Capital Vol I, Penguin Publishing Group 1992, 255.

[10] Robert Kurz, The Substance of Capital, Chronos Publications 2016, 184.

[11] Ibid, 183f.

[12] Robert Kurz, Marxsche Theorie, Krise und Überwindung des Kapitalismus. Fragen und Antworten zur historischen Situation radikaler Gesellschaftskritik, in: ders., Der Tod des Kapitalismus. Marxsche Theorie, Krise und Überwindung des Kapitalismus, 19-34, 26.

[13] Robert Kurz, Die antideutsche Ideologie. Vom Antifaschismus zum Krisenimperialismus: Kritik des neuesten linksdeutschen Sektenwesens in seinen theoretischen Propheten, Münster 2003, 233.

[14] Cf. Robert Kurz, Grey is the Golden Tree of Life, Green is Theory, online here: https://libcom.org/library/grey-golden-tree-life-green-theory-robert-kurz.

[15] Robert Kurz, Geld ohne Wert. Grundrisse zu einer Transformation der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Berlin 2012, 231.

[16] Robert Kurz, Das Ende der Theorie. Auf dem Weg zur reflexionslosen Gesellschaft, in: ders., Weltkrise und Ignoranz, a.a.O., 60-67. 66.

[17] See, among others, the text by Tomasz Konicz in this publication, see: https://www.oekumenisches-netz.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Festschrift-Die-Frage-nach-dem-Ganzen-25-Jahre-Netz-Webversion-full.pdf.

[18] Diocese of Trier – Press Service Koblenz from 11.12.2015.

[19] Cf. Robert Kurz, Die Heuschreckenplage, in: Neues Deutschland, 20.5.2005.

[20] Robert Kurz, Du bist billig, Deutschland, in: Neues Deutschland, 30.9. 2005.

[21] Cf. Robert Kurz, Wirtschafts- und Fussballpatriotismus, in: Neues Deutschland, June 30, 2006.

[22] Leni Wissen, The Socio-Psychological Matrix of the Bourgeois Subject in Crisis, 2017, online here: https://exitinenglish.wordpress.com/2022/02/07/the-socio-psychological-matrix-of-the-bourgeois-subject-in-crisis/

[23] Cf. ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Cf. Dominic Kloos’ text on the common good economy: https://exit-online.org/textanz1.php?tabelle=autoren&index=8&posnr=591.

[26] Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, Routledge 2004, 3.

[27] Johann Baptist Metz, Religion, ja – Gott, nein, in: ders, Tiemo Rainer Peters, Gottespassion. Zur Ordensexistenz heute, Freiburg 1991; ders, Gotteskrise. Versuche zur geistigen Situation der Zeit, in: Diagnosen zur Zeit, Düsseldorf 1994, 76-92.

[28] René Buchholz, Falsche Wiederkehr der Religion. Zur Konjunktur des Fundamentalismus, Würzburg 2017.

[29] Robert Kurz, Weltordnungskrieg. Das Ende des Imperialismus im Zeitalter der Globalisierung, Bad Honnef 2003, 435.

[30] René Buchholz, op. cit., 148.

[31] Theodor W. Adorno, quoted in Buchholz, op. cit. 141.

[32] Claus Peter Ortlieb, A Preface to the Memory of Robert Kurz (1943-2012), located here: https://libcom.org/library/memory-robert-kurz-1943-2012-claus-peter-ortlieb

[33] Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, Routledge 2004, 143.

[34] Ibid, 143.

[35] Robert Kurz, Grey is the Golden Tree of Life, Green is Theory.

[36] Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, op. cit. 143.

[37] Ibid, 206.

Originally published in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (ed.): Die Frage nach dem Ganzen – Zum gesellschaftskritischen Weg des Ökumenischen Netzes anlässlich seines 25 jährigen Bestehens, Koblenz 2018, 357-380. Slightly shortened and with minor changes for the Exit homepage.

2 thoughts on “We Have To Do Something!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s