1. The Structuring Social Context of the War
For an assessment of the war against Ukraine, the structuring social context into which the actions of the actors are integrated is crucial: above all, the collapse of the dominant world order and its empires in the crisis of capitalism. This collapse cannot be limited to ‘disintegrating states’ on the periphery. These processes of disintegration also affect the formerly bipolar Eastern and Western empires, which now also have to deal with China as a competitor. Two new blocs seem to be crystallizing: China and Russia on the one hand, and the United States and its allies in Western Europe and the Pacific region on the other. The competition for survival in the crisis of the capitalist world system is being fought out in this geopolitical constellation, as a struggle for access to raw materials, the world’s leading currency and spheres of influence. In this respect, the war over Ukraine is a struggle to determine its membership in newly forming blocs. Unlike the old East-West conflict, which was essentially fought out during the period of Fordist prosperity, the new East-West conflict is about attempts to overcome the crises associated with the disintegrating world system.
In 1989, the capitalist West considered itself the victor over the collapsed East. Nobody realized that it was not a systemic competitor but the ‘twin brother’ of the capitalist West that had met its end: the statist variant of commodity production, which was no longer able to compete with the West and was no longer able to cope with the microelectronic revolution. What was not recognized was that this failure was the harbinger of the deepening crisis of capitalism, in which the internal logical barrier of commodity production marked the limits of development more and more clearly, even in the West. The error to which the West succumbed was not, as is repeatedly claimed, the illusion of an eternal peace, which underestimated Russia’s imperial desire, but the illusion of victory over a supposed systemic competitor, which led the West to rant about the “end of history” (Francis Fukuyama) in its completion in the market and democracy, while ignoring its own processes of crisis and disintegration.
2. Crisis Phenomena in the ‘Victorious’ West
The crisis plays itself out in the familiar phenomena: processes of social division, indebtedness, destruction of the ecological basis of life, disintegration of states, (civil) wars, migration and flight, and violent ideological ‘coping mechanisms.’ The countries in the Western centers were initially able to cushion themselves from these crisis processes by shifting them outwards. The USA did this via deficit cycles in which – mediated by the dollar as world money – its exorbitant indebtedness could be maintained for decades within the framework of a veritable financial bubble economy. Nevertheless, the crisis in the USA could not be ignored. Deindustrialization and high indebtedness also characterized the situation in the USA. As a result, the status of the US dollar as the world reserve currency was no longer an expression of economic strength. The basis for the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the reason for safe investments in the USA was and still is its military strength. With Hartz IV, the ‘model for success,’ and the associated reduction of labor costs in a place with already existing competitive advantages and growing productivity, Germany was able to rise to the position of export (vice) world champion, financing its export surpluses through the indebtedness of the importing countries in the European and global periphery. This ‘success’ was not an expression of successful capital accumulation, but rather the result of better crisis management. At the global level, the crisis manifested itself, among other things, in the failure of attempts to establish political-economic order through military intervention in the processes of disintegration. It was no longer possible for the USA and its NATO allies, as a coalition of the ‘willing,’ to maintain their role as world police and guarantors of the capitalist order. This has become clear at the latest since the crisis in Syria and the failure in Afghanistan.
The internal disintegration processes since the 1970s have been overshadowed by the West’s seemingly victorious superiority over ‘the East.’ Since 1990, NATO’s territory has expanded by about 1,000 kilometers in the direction of the Russian border. Since then, 14 countries have joined NATO – and two more may soon follow. This broke the verbal promises made by the German government in 1989/90 not to expand NATO eastward. The ‘defeated’ Russia became a negligible factor in the power calculation. Security guarantees demanded by Russia were refused, and at the same time, under Presidents Bush and Trump, important arms control agreements were abandoned and the USA’s own arms build-up continued.
3. The Crisis in Ukraine And the Crisis in Russia
The fear now is that Russia wants to assert itself as a great power and secure its spheres of influence, following the lead of the United States and Europe. It is no coincidence that this effort has been spearheaded by the war against Ukraine. Ukraine was set on a pro-Western course with the support of Europe and the United States. The pro-Western orientation is not simply an expression of free self-determination, but is linked to the global crisis. As an eroding state, Ukraine had become a service shop for oligarchs of various stripes. Some of the oligarchs, and with them the so-called democracy movement, saw a way out of the ‘oligarch and disintegration struggle’ in a liaison with the West. This path promised democracy and human rights and subjected Ukraine, as usual, to a structural adjustment regime that further impoverished the destitute population while trying to keep job-seeking Ukrainians out of European labor markets – with the exception of cheap labor in harvesting, care work and prostitution.
As a result of Western economic and political penetration, Ukraine has become a cheap production site and an indebted consumer of Western goods, similar to other Eastern, but also Southern European countries. While the West increasingly restricted Russia’s sphere of influence with the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO, de-industrialized Russia was economically pushed into the role of a supplier of energy and raw materials. With the war against Ukraine, Russia obviously wants to set an – albeit illusory – limit to this dynamic and assert its status as a great power in its historical sphere of influence with military force and ideological megalomania.
4 Russian Autocracy versus Western Democracy?
4.1 Russian Autocracy
Russia’s deindustrialization was, among other things, a result of the neoliberal reforms implemented by Yeltsin with Western support, which, as is well known, impoverished large parts of the population. The flip side of this impoverishment was the increased wealth of the so-called oligarchs, who at the same time gained massive political influence. Putin was a key figure in the authoritarian reorganization of Russian capitalism. Certain economic consolidations could not change the fact that Russia had to increasingly assume the role of a supplier of energy and raw materials. In addition, in neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan, social protests are occurring as a result of economic erosion. In Kazakhstan, the rise in gas prices and the cost-of-living, as well as the growing impoverishment of the population, have triggered social uprisings. Russia’s dreams of an independent Eurasian bloc between the EU and China were thwarted by processes of social and geopolitical disintegration. Russia hoped to consolidate its status as a central power through the sale of raw materials and energy, as well as through military expansionism, as demonstrated on Russia’s borders (Chechnya, Georgia, Kazakhstan, etc.), but also in Syria, Libya and the Sahel.
It is important to note that the ideological ‘accompaniment’ that legitimized a Great Russian Empire was religiously charged in a fundamentalist way. The conquest of Crimea was justified by the sacral and religious significance of the peninsula for Russia, since it was in Crimea that the Grand Prince of Kiev Vladimir had accepted Christianity in 988. The reactionary philosopher Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954) saw the state as an organic community governed and held together by an understanding and caring monarch. At the height of postmodernity, Aleksander Dugin suggests that truth is a matter of faith and that there is a special Russian truth. Such thinking is close to ethnic notions of identity, which were accompanied by genocide in the world order wars waged in the Balkans in the 1990s.
Within the framework of such ideas, the confrontation with the West becomes culturally and religiously charged in a fundamentalist way. Russia defends its own religious and cultural identity against the religious and moral decline of the West. Here the contours of a “clash of civilizations” (Samuel P. Huntington), for which George Bush also had sympathies, become visible. In any case, traditional family structures, ‘values’ and religion are to be upheld as bulwarks of a stable order – accompanied by the demonization of homosexuality and feminism as well as the exaltation of patriarchy. These are probably the reasons why Patriarch Kirill of Moscow supports Putin’s war as a fight against Western arbitrariness and as a protection of “Ukrainian brothers and sisters against the forces of evil.” Against the background of the struggle against decaying values and orientations, one can also understand the sympathy and support of the lateral-thinking scene and extreme right-wing circles. Putin is fighting the “neo-communism of Brussels – an ‘E-USSR’ with an ‘eco-socialist planned economy,’ political correctness, and the destruction of the traditional values of Christianity and family,” according to Jürgen Elsässer. Ukraine, which by virtue of its identity is considered part of Russia, is to be brought back into the ‘empire’ towhich it ‘originally’ belonged. Countries that could be counted as part of a Greater Russian Empire have a cause for concern. This includes Poland, which has been the victim of (Greater) Russian and German interests several times in its history.
4.2 Western Values and Democracy
The Western “narratives” of freedom, democracy and human rights are by no means rational in comparison to such Great Russian fantasies. They’re also identitarian in character. They are inseparable from capitalist relations of domination in their liberal form. These mark the conditions of their validity. The more the crisis progresses, the more capitalist liberalism also relies on authoritarian and repressive structures and ideologies, analogous to the ones deployed throughout the history of the enforcement of capitalism. It’s almost as if it were a film of the same history running backwards, only faster. The commodity-producing system, which has reached its inner logical and outer ecological limits, and to which the supposed socialist alternatives also belonged, is getting more and more out of control. This can be seen in the way it treats those who, as superfluous human material, can no longer be used and are treated as waste and rubbish, and in the way it deals with the climate catastrophe. The political sphere is losing its room for maneuver. State institutions are reaching their functional limits in the face of dwindling possibilities for funding. Anomie is spreading in hard-to-fathom conglomerates of state, oligarchic and mafia connections, up to and including the warlordization that is also evident in the war against Ukraine in the deployment of brutal mercenary armies and gangs on both sides. Ultimately, the processes of disintegration cannot be overcome even by authoritarian-repressive restrictions, because they also lose their foundations in these processes.
Authoritarianism is thus not the opposite of liberalism, but its indispensable flip side. Similar to the post-1989 hallucinations of the West’s victory over communism, the defense of Ukraine against an out-of-control dictator and of the free and democratic West against a Russian-dominated authoritarian East is now one of the West’s ‘life lies’ [Lebenslügen].
The East and the West meet in a twisted way in their respective assessments of Augusto Pinochet. Putin is regarded as an admirer of Pinochet. The Western democracies had no objection to his coup against an elected government, nor to his extermination of people, because it was a matter of defending the market economy against socialism and communism in the implementation of the first neoliberal project with the help of the “economists” of the Chicago School around Milton Friedman. With the dictum “A welfare state enslaves, a police state liberates” Franz Hinkelammert had summed up his critique of this project. In 1993, as the Second Mayor of St. Petersburg, Putin told German businessmen that he considered a Chilean-style military dictatorship a desirable solution to Russia’s current problems. In keeping with the logic of the neoliberal self-image used to justify Pinochet’s dictatorship, he distinguished between “criminal” and “necessary” violence. “Criminal violence” aimed at eliminating the conditions of the market-economy, while “necessary violence” protected private capital investments. He therefore explicitly welcomed possible preparations by Yeltsin and the military for a Pinochet-style dictatorship. The minutes record the applause of the representatives of German companies present, as well that of the deputy German consul general. Liberal and authoritarian variants of commodity production converge in their willingness to use violent repression that operates ‘over dead bodies.’ The authoritarian-repressive is inherent in the liberal variant of commodity production.
5. Dynamics of Escalation and Madness
It is true that Chancellor Scholz – cheered on by the coalition and the CDU – had proclaimed the ‘historical turning point’ [Zeitenwende] and had subsequently launched a gigantic armament program, which was already an expression of the militarization of politics. However, he was reluctant to increase arms deliveries, especially of so-called heavy weapons, and justified this reluctance with warnings of an escalation to the use of nuclear weapons. However, the initially reluctant Chancellor came under increasing pressure – first through a debate fueled by circles within the Greens and the FDP, and finally through pressure from the USA and the other NATO countries, as became clear at the meeting in Ramstein arranged by the US Secretary of Defense.
5.1 Escalations in A Confused and Insane Debate
The debate over the German Chancellor’s brief reluctance to supply arms shows that restraint is apparently out of the question. The only options seem to be ‘more’ or ‘even more,’ despite the fact that this could lead to a further escalation of the war. The impression is created that only increased arms deliveries can help Ukraine. They are stylized as a moral standard for assuming responsibility and charged as an expression of solidarity with Ukraine. The dangers of escalation to nuclear war are ignored and the use of nuclear weapons is trivialized. Strack-Zimmermann of the FDP does not want to be “constantly influenced by military scenarios.” Anton Hofreiter of the Greens stated with certainty that whoever did not immediately deliver heavy weapons would even risk a “de facto third world war.” Michael Theurer (FDP) ranted on Deutschlandfunk radio, giving the impression that a nuclear war could be waged because it could be controlled. That sounds like a “special operation,” noted Katharina Körting.
The question of when Germany could be considered to be participating in the war became the focal point of the debate on arms deliveries. The liberal Federal Minister of Justice, Mr. Buschmann, who had consulted the handbook of international law, knows how to answer this question. According to him, arms deliveries do not constitute participation in war. This is only the case if the recipients are trained to use them. “Only if, in addition to the delivery of weapons, the instruction of the conflict party or training in the use of such weapons were to take place, would one leave the safe area of non-warfare,” according to an expert opinion of the scientific service of the Bundestag. In other words: ‘Free passage for heavy weapons from Germany.’ Meanwhile, we are already one step further: since mid-May, soldiers from Ukraine have been trained in the use of these weapons at Idar-Oberstein in Rhineland-Palatinate. But even that is not enough. But even that is not enough. Marie-Luise Beck, a member of the Greens, is even calling for a no-fly zone. There is obviously no stopping them. Putin is rightly accused of breaking international law, but on the other hand it is pretended that he will adhere the definitions of international law when it comes to the question of a further entry into the war. Putin is denounced as evil, unpredictable and crazy, while at the same time the agitators of the debate trust him to calculate rationally and not start a ‘nuclear confrontation.’ And if he does, there are options for further escalation.
At the time of the disarmament debates, the peace movement was accused of having an ‘ethics of mind.’ Not without reason, if this meant that moral demands were simply derived from general principles without further ado. Now it is the other way round. The bellicists derive the moral demand for the supply of heavy weapons directly from the suffering of the Ukrainians. There is no limit to what can be gained. In such an upsurge of emotions, the agitated gut feeling driven by anger and indignation ultimately reigns supreme. In this dynamic, the question of the supply of heavy weapons becomes a question of commitment. The current ‘Gretchen question’ is: How do you feel about heavy weapons? At the same time, it functions as a test of loyalty and humanity.
A storm of moral indignation erupted when a letter to Scholz signed by a group of publicists and artists was published. In it, they had warned of an escalation of the war and the suffering it would bring to the people of Ukraine. The writers had failed the loyalty test. They now had to put up with being called “intellectuals with a penchant for paternalism” and (Putin’s, I suppose?) “homeland combatants.” Habermas’ complaint about the “impetuous moralizing urge of the Ukrainian leadership, which is determined to win,” as well as calls for a “compromise,” are seen as an “embarrassment of freedom and humanity” on the part of German intellectuals who “do not strike a good pose in dealing with Russia’s war of aggression.” The expected verdict of the world court was expressed by Jan Böhmermann: “The open letter to Olaf Scholz sends a reassuring signal: If Putin attacks Germany with nuclear weapons, the intellectual damage will at any rate be limited.”
5.2 ‘America Locuta, Causa Finita’?
The debate and the Chancellor’s hesitation probably ended in the run-up to the meeting of the US Secretary of Defense with his counterparts from the other NATO countries and 14 non-NATO countries in Ramstein. Now there is more at stake than just the delivery of “German-made” heavy weapons. It was decided to train Ukrainian soldiers in Germany, together with the Netherlands and the USA, regardless of the definitions of international law. At the same time, it became clear at the meeting that the US strategy is not simply about Ukraine’s right to defend itself. As Secretary of Defense Austin made clear during his joint visit to Ukraine with Secretary of State Blinken, it is also about “weakening Russia to the point where it can’t do what it did when it invaded Ukraine. It’s already lost a lot of military capability and, frankly, a lot of its troops. And we don’t want them to be able to restore those capabilities very quickly.” The New York Times said in late April that America’s goals are shifting “from a battle over control of Ukraine to one that pits Washington more directly against Moscow.” This amounts to permanently weakening Russia so that it is eliminated as a competitor in the struggle over the formation of new geopolitical constellations.
So it’s not just about Ukraine’s right to self-determination, but about defending Western liberal normality by weakening Russia, or about a struggle for new geopolitical constellations in which NATO’s borders are pushed as far east as possible. In the process, Ukraine is becoming a battlefield. The war being waged in Ukraine is claiming more and more lives, destroying towns and villages, destroying livelihoods. Those who are supposedly being defended are being sacrificed to Western normality. Those who fuel the war from a (still safe) distance and venerate its protagonists and victims as heroes turn out to be “homeland combatants” who let others fight the war on their behalf. At the same time, they reveal what Western freedom and humanity entail: people become strategic material when they are needed for war. Refugees are welcome if this serves the war and its legitimation – as long as they have the “right” skin color. If they are superfluous because they cannot be used, they can drown in the Mediterranean, bleed to death in barbed wire at the NATO borders, be put in camps or be deported into the hands of any one of the many ‘Putins.’ This logic also includes the fact that the defenders of Western humanitarianism and the moral apostles of war are unaware of their effects in worsening famines, climate disasters, etc. The threat of catastrophic famine only becomes an issue in connection with the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports, because without reference to the Russian aggressor, the suffering of the ‘merely’ starving remains too remote to stir, let alone outrage, the humane heart and ethical disposition of a ‘homeland combatant,’ and certainly does not provide their brains with ‘food for thought.’ An impending gas embargo, however, does give pause for thought. That’s where the morality based on gut feelings and indignation begins to crack. Arndt Kirchhoff, Vice President of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, warns of the economic consequences of an abrupt halt to gas imports from Russia, because according to him: “We must not only show moral strength, but must also be economically stronger than the dictatorships of this world.”
6. Socio-Psychological Considerations
The socio-psychological constitution of the subjects of capitalism is also affected by its crisis. The foundations of their psychic constitution are the internalization of labor and the family as a space for social development. Both instances of socialization, which are interdependent due to their relationship of dissociation, are increasingly collapsing in the crisis of capitalism. As a result, people are being thrown back on themselves. In the face of eroding employment opportunities and social interconnectedness, they are expected to take personal responsibility for not only their happiness, but also for their failures. Self-realization is demanded as a self-adaptation to crisis phenomena such as precarious employment, the imminent danger of falling out of the middle class, or even becoming superfluous and standing alone. Self-responsible self-realization becomes an adaptation to the constraints of being subjected as an “entrepreneurial self” to the permanent stress of an unattainable self-optimization in order to survive in the competition and, in case of failure, to take ‘personal responsibility’ for it and to start again with the optimization. New ‘lot,’ new happiness. The drive dynamic, which in the structuring social context of an internalization of labor was oriented towards ‘rewarding’ oneself for work or being rewarded for it after the drive surge from the willingness to work and perform, is reaching its limits. With the dissolution of the objective social relationship between work and reward, the possibilities for sublimation collapse at the socio-psychological level.
More and more people who are thrown back on themselves are in danger of losing touch with the world of objects. Self-optimization is associated with the message: ‘You can do anything you set your mind to!’ Regardless of the objective circumstances, people are called to greatness. When they fail, they experience themselves as small and insignificant, but they are expected to rise to new greatness in processes of self-optimization. “Making oneself big when one actually feels small” and “blaming and judging oneself” – that is, the depressive variant of falling back on oneself – go hand in hand. Both variants “find it difficult to relate to the world of objects, they revolve around themselves, and cannot find the way to the objects.” Delusions of grandeur offer a way to ward off the narcissistic mortification experienced in ‘being small.’ In this process, self-destruction can be experienced as the final expression of self-realization, in which one’s own greatness is staged.
How do people, thrown back on themselves in the face of war, deal with its horrors and its threatening escalation? Russia’s war against Ukraine and its threatening escalation into a nuclear world war also coincides with the other crises that leave little room for respite. The Covid crisis is not over and we haven’t seen the last of its economic consequences. The climate collapse is approaching and is manifesting itself, among other things, in ever new catastrophic weather phenomena. War, Covid, and climate change are exacerbating the social situations of the crisis via scarcity, supply chain disruptions, and price increases. Fears of restriction, descent and death are intermingled in all of this. In view of Russia’s war against Ukraine, it is noticeable that people tend to avoid the subject. Is this a kind of depressive paralysis, fed by the powerlessness of being at the mercy of an uncontrollable and inscrutable dynamic? Covid was unpredictable too, but at least there were masks and vaccinations for protection. The climate crisis may be getting closer, but it seems so far away that it has yet to get under the skin of many.
In the public debates, an extreme moralization based on ‘gut feelings’ is conspicuous. It combines the blaming of others with the blaming of oneself, the blaming of Putin with the self-blaming of having underestimated him and of having given in to illusions of peaceful coexistence. The best way to exonerate oneself from guilt seems to be to support an economic boycott of Russia, including a boycott of Russian energy supplies, and to supply Ukraine with ‘heavy weapons.’ Such atonement, especially as far as the supply of ‘heavy weapons’ is concerned, is reminiscent of the sale of indulgences and the possibility of buying oneself free of guilt that it opened up. But alas, the cycle of ‘guilt and indebtedness’ cannot be escaped in this way. Supplying weapons implies that these weapons will be used to kill and destroy. On the one hand, the economic boycott threatens the standard of one’s own quality of life and is inseparable from the fact that poor people would bear a disproportionate share of the costs of such ‘atonement.’ And the morally necessary release from the guilt of having supported Putin through energy purchases leads to dependence on other morally and politically questionable figures and potentates in the search for a responsible energy supply.
“Whatever you do or fail to do, you are inevitably guilty,” says Stephan Grünewald. If this is not simply understood as a reassuring postmodern statement of an insoluble dilemma, one of the many tensions and paradoxes with which we must live and act, the statement could be illuminated with insights from Walter Benjamin’s fragment on “Capitalism as Religion.” In this piece, Benjamin writes that capitalism “is probably the first instance of a cult that creates guilt, not atonement. […] A vast sense guilt that is unable to find relief seizes on the cult, not to atone for this guilt but to make it universal, […] and thereby awaken in Him an interest in the process of atonement.” With the inclusion of God in the capitalist social context of the cycle of guilt and indebtedness that cannot be atoned for, “God’s transcendence” is “at an end.” It is “not dead,” but is “incorporated into human existence,” and has become a “worldwide state of despair” that “is actually its secret hope.” The disposed transcendence thus does not disappear, but becomes the fetish of capitalist immanence. There is immanently no way out of this fetishistic social context and therefore there is permanent indebtedness, but no atonement. No action cannot escape the cycle of guilt and indebtedness.
The subjects, nevertheless condemned to act, are driven back and forth between powerlessness and greatness. Powerless, they are thrown back upon themselves and are always guilty on various levels, economically, when they have mismanaged themselves, and politically, when they have made the wrong choices. They gain greatness in the illusion of being autonomous and able to act as subjects. Political greatness appears in the illusions associated with the fearless and resolute defense of Western freedom and is manifested in the strength not to be blackmailed by the ‘incarnation’ of evil in Putin. In this way, the “authoritarian-anomic erosion” of the ‘East’ can be simplified to “a new empire of evil.”
One reason for the oscillation between powerlessness and megalomania, or the defense against powerlessness in megalomania, is the loss of the object and thus the reference to reality. It disappears in the ‘gut-based’ ethos. Dangerously binding maxims of action are derived from the righteousness that finds expression in general principles, life-wisdom and ‘common sense,’ without reflection on the social conditions as an object of critique. This may temporarily relieve the morally troubled gut and the powerlessness experienced as humiliating. But it is just as impossible to escape the real powerlessness in this way as it is to escape the socially structured indebtedness inherent in the fetishized relations.
The conceptual tools that could help us to understand what is happening have already been dismantled in the name of an “illusionless pragmatism,” as exemplified by the postmodern aversion to large-scale concepts and theories that are capable ofgrasping the totality of social relations, and in a spreading hostility to theory. Thus, the relationship between thought and social reality has been severed. “The real social contradiction, which is no longer manageable in the way it was before, is simply to be banished from thought.” One result of such processes is that anyone who refuses to follow his gut feeling in the current debate must expect to be insulted as an intellectual patron and “homeland combatant” at Putin’s side.
7. The Dangerousness of The Present Situation
The world order wars are an illusory response to the disintegrating “territorial system of sovereignty, which is beginning to dissolve right before our eyes with the involuntary assistance of the democratic-capitalist apparatuses.” With Russia’s war against Ukraine, the struggle over the disintegrating world order is being fought between nuclear-armed ‘blocs,’ whose sovereignty is simultaneously being eroded by the processes of the disintegration of commodity production. In the USA, the processes of socio-economic disintegration are converging with those in Russia. Russia now seems to have its back to the wall militarily as well. The hoped-for quick successes of the ‘special military operation’ have not materialized. NATO, which hopes to gain geopolitical advantages by weakening Russia, is driving Russia and itself into a situation from which there is probably no way out without losing face. Territorial concessions by NATO, which Putin could portray as a victory, are diametrically opposed to the goals NATO pursues and promotes as non-negotiable. A return to the pre-war situation would completely delegitimize Putin.
The aporias that open up in the war situation are once again linked to the crisis of capitalism, which is engulfing state sovereignty, including that of Russia and the USA, in its processes of disintegration. In essence, the processes of disintegration are characterized by the fact that the abstract and irrational end in itself, the production of commodities to augment capital for its own sake, is increasingly coming up against its limits, and can be compensated less and less by accumulation simulated on the financial markets. The financial bubbles burst and cause economic crises. The economy and the financial markets are ‘stabilized’ with new money until a new bursting of bubbles occurs, which in the end can no longer be compensated for.
This emptiness of the process of valorization manifests itself at the individual level in the emptiness of subjects who, with the decline of labor, lose their social and socio-psychological basis and threaten to plunge into ‘nothingness.’ “After the bourgeois, enlightened subject has shed its shell, it becomes clear that the core of this subject is a vacuum; that it is a form which ‘in itself’ has no content.” Self-annihilation accompanied by the annihilation of others, as manifested in killing sprees, becomes the last resort of the self-conscious and free subject from the experience of its ‘self-inflicted’ powerlessness and humiliation, its emptiness without perspective. It offers itself as the possibility of demonstrating greatness and power in annihilation. This will to annihilation plays itself out on the individual level as a double annihilation: “On the one hand, it aims at the annihilation of the ‘other’ for the purpose of apparent self-preservation at all costs; on the other hand, it is also a will to self-destruction that carries out the futility of one’s own market-economic existence.”
Similarly to what happens at the level of the subjects, a double potential for destruction is revealed at the level of the overall structuring social context: one owed to capitalist normality and its enforcement, and a final one when this normality comes up against its final limits. “The concept of the democratic rampage is now to be taken quite literally at the level of military action. […] The more untenable and dangerous the world situation becomes, the more the military perspective comes to the fore and the less the inhibition to use high-tech violence on a large scale without hesitation.”
The “unresponsive world” and “the incomprehensibility of the problems” mobilize a diffuse destructive rage. “It repeats on the level of the administrative psyche of the world market what goes on in the psyche of individual spree killers.” Within the framework of this psychodynamic, nuclear annihilation also becomes conceivable and feasible. In the escalating crisis of capitalist commodity production, it is not good and evil, or rationality and irrationality that confront each other, but rather agents and subjects who are caught up in irrational structures of fetishized relations and their normative and symbolic implications. The nation states, which confront each other as blocs in warlike or dangerous constellations, are parts of the insane commodity-producing fetish system that is reaching the limits of its reproductive capacity. There can be no peaceful coexistence of people within the framework of this system. In defense against the experienced emptiness and powerlessness, a last resort could be sought in the search for one’s own greatness in atomic annihilation as the last expression of powerful self-assertion in order to ward off humiliating powerlessness. “In the world of consummate capitalism, only open madness is realistic. Under these conditions, so-called pragmatism itself inevitably takes on eschatological features.”
How such perverse eschatology can present itself theologically was made clear by Gustav Gundlach, a representative of Catholic social teaching, during the ‘Cold War.’ The right and duty of defense apply unconditionally even in the face of self- and world annihilation, for: “Even in a situation where only a manifestation of God’s majesty and his order, which we owe to him as human beings, would remain as success, duty and defense of the highest goods are conceivable. Yes, if the world should perish in the process, that too would be no argument against our reasoning.” Meanwhile, after all, if we follow Walter Benjamin, God’s transcendence has migrated into the immanence of capitalist socialization as its fetishization. As a “‘secularized’ and reified God,” God now stands for the “form of value expressed in money,” for “the objectified metaphysical real abstraction of modern Dasein.” The “downfall of the world” is to be offered as a sacrifice not to a transcendent fetish as the expression of an ontological order, but to the majesty of immanently fetishized relations. Such “religion” is “not the reform of existence but its complete destruction.” Esotericists play their accompanying music in their longings for extinction in fusion with the cosmos – dreams that have not only become ‘modern’ in postmodernity, but were already dreamed of at the beginning of the Enlightenment, and are obviously in vogue in times of crisis, as they were before the beginning of the First World War.
8. What Remains (To Be Done)?
This question leaves us at a loss. No instructions for action can be derived from the theoretical considerations necessary for understanding – certainly none that are unambiguous. Moreover, the aporia that the question of action encounters is due to the ‘progression’ of the crisis conditions in which the globe is being driven to the edge of the abyss. Immanently, there is no way out and yet action is necessary. From my point of view, it is obvious to refrain from supplying more and more weapons. With more and more weapons, the suffering and death of people and the destruction of the living spaces only threaten to continue and to claim more and more victims. All in defense of an empty form of government.
Thus, by refraining from supplying weapons, an attempt could be made to interrupt the dynamics of escalation. This could open the window for something like what Walter Benjamin had in mind with the concept of interruption. He opposes the continuity of the flow of time and prioritizes interruption in order to recognize the present. He wants to interrupt the meaningless progress of modernity, which leads to catastrophe. Interruption instead of ‘Keep it up!’ could open a window of time for critical reflection and interrupt paths that can lead to a global catastrophe that once again goes far beyond what we experience in the ‘normal’ catastrophes of crisis capitalism.
Knowing the present implies for us a “radical critique of society” as a “critique of earthly real metaphysics,” as a “critique of the fetishistic constitution of society.” Without it, it is impossible to grasp what is ‘going on’ as barbarization and annihilation in the worsening crisis of capitalism. “Radical social critique” interrupts the continuum of fetish relations by reflecting upon them. In doing so, it aims at the “complete break(s) with capitalist real metaphysics, with the economic reality principle, and with the nomos of modernity.” If there are to be realistic perspectives, then they will only emerge through the path of an unvarnished and self-critical reflection, interrupting the continuum of normality, upon the socially delusional system of commodity production and its escalating crises, in which the system itself is increasingly running amok.
 Cf. Tomasz Konicz, Auf zum letzten Gefecht, in: Konkret 4/22.
 Jan Varwick, Raus aus der Eskalationsspirale mit Russland, Telepolis Jan 14, 2022.
 Cf. Sandro Mezzardo, Aus dem Krieg desertieren. Drei Gründe sich dem russischen Angriffskrieg zu widersetzen. Für einen neuen Internationalismus, in: medico international, rundschreiben 01/22, 12-15., 12f.
 See also Andreas Umland, Das eurasische Reich Dugins und Putins. Ähnlichkeiten und Unterschiede, 2014, https://www.kritiknetz.de/images/stories/texte/Umland_Dugin_Putin.pdf.
 Throalf Cleven, Des Kremls heiliger Krieg, in ‘Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger,’ 4 May 2022.
 See Benjamin Bidder, Russlands rechte Freunde, 2016, https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/russland-wladimir-putins-rechtsextreme-freunde-in-europa-a-1075461.html; see also Patrick Gensing, Silvia Stöber, Moskautreue Rechte, 2016, https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/neurechte-russland-101.html.
 Cited from: https://taz.de/Querdenker-unterstuetzen-Putin/!5838247/
 See also Gerd Bedszent, Zusammenbruch der Peripherie. Gescheiterte Staaten als Tummelplatz von Drigenbaronen, Warlords und Weltordnungsriegern, Berlin, 2014.
 Cf. in detail Robert Kurz, Blutige Vernunft: Essays zur emanzipatorischen Kritik der kapitalistischen Moderne und ihrer westlichen Werte, Bad Honnef, 2004; Roswitha Scholz, ‘Die Demokratie frisst immer noch ihre Kinder’ – heute erst recht! In: exit! Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft, Spring 2019, no. 16, 30-60.
 Cf. Pinochet als Vorbild, Neues Deutschland, 31.12.1993, https://www.nd-aktuell.de/artikel/461493.pinochet-als-vorbild.html.
 Quotations from: Katharina Körting, Debatte über Krieg und Aufrüstung: Fortschreitende Verharmlosung, in: der Freitag vom 04/24/2022.
 Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger on 05/02/2022.
 Markus Decker in the ‘Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger’ of 05/01/2022.
 Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger from 05/03/2022.
 Quoted from: Florian Rötzer, Ukraine Krieg geht es nicht um die Ukraine, Telepolis 04/29/2022.
 Cf. Bernhard Torsch, Refugees welcome, Ausländer raus!, in: Konkret 4/2022; cf. also Ramona Lenz, Die Grenzen der Solidarität, https://www.medico.de/blog/die-grenzen-der-solidaritaet-18565.
 Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger from 05/07/2022.
 Cf. Leni Wissen, “The Socio-Psychological Matrix of The Bourgeois Subject in Crisis,” online at: https://exitinenglish.com/2022/02/07/the-socio-psychological-matrix-of-the-bourgeois-subject-in-crisis/
 Cf. Ulrich Bröckling, Das unternehmerische Selbst. Soziologie einer Subjektivierungsform, Frankfurt am Main 5/2013.
 Herbert Böttcher, Leni Wissen, “Between Self-Reference and Solidarity?” online at: https://exitinenglish.com/2022/07/09/between-self-reference-and-solidarity/
 Cf. Stephan Grünewald, “Das Thema Krieg wird gemieden,” in: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 4 May 2022.
 Walter Benjamin, “Capitalism as Religion,” online at: https://cominsitu.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/capitalism-as-religion-benjamin-1921/.
 Cf. Herbert Böttcher, Kapitalismus – Religion – Kirche – Theologie, in Kuno Füssel/Michael Ramminger (eds.), Walter Benjamin’s Prophetic Legacy, Münster 2021, 31 – 48.
 Cf. Robert Kurz, Geld ohne Wert: Grundrisse zu einer Transformation der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, Berlin, 2012, 389ff.
 Cf. Tomasz Konicz, Krieg als Krisenbeschleuniger.
 Robert Kurz, Das Ende der Theorie: Auf dem Weg zur reflexionslosen Gesellschaft, in: Robert Kurz, Weltkrise und Ignoranz. Imperialismus im Niedergang, Berlin 2013, 60 – 67, 66.
 Robert Kurz, Weltordnungskrieg: Das Ende der Souveränität und die Wandlungen des Imperialismus im Zeitalter der Globalisierung, Spring 2022. Expanded new edition of the original Bad Honnef 2003, 414.
 Ibid, 68.
 Ibid, 71.
 Ibid, 429.
 Robert Kurz, Marx lessen: Die wichtigsten Texte von Karl Marx für das 21. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt am Main 2001, 395.
 Gustav Gundlach, in: Stimmen der Zeit 164 (1959) 13, quoted from: Rupert Feneberg, Gerechtigkeit schafft Frieden: Katholische Friedensethik im Atomzeitalter, Munich 1985, 126.
 Kurz (note 34), 69.
 Gundlach (note 40).
 Benjamin, (note 27).
 Kurz (note 34), 434f.
 Ibid, 436.
Originally published on the exit! homepage on 05/27/2022