Keynesianism in Crisis

Tomasz Konicz

While many elements of Keynesian economic policy are used in the day-to-day crisis, post-Keynesianism is running wild as an ideology on the German left.

Whether they are stock-conservative market disciples[1] or staid social-democratic trade unionists,[2] in times of crisis, they are all Keynesians. In every crisis episode of recent years, when it was once again necessary to save the fading late capitalism from collapse by means of billion-dollar economic stimulus programs and massive money printing, the British economist, whose demand-oriented economic policy was dominant until it was replaced by neoliberalism in the 1980s, experienced a fleeting public boom. After the bursting of the transatlantic housing bubble in 2008 or the pandemic-induced slump in 2020, everyone was suddenly talking about John Maynard Keynes, who, as the court economist of the old statist social democracy, had advocated an active role for the state in investment programs and monetary policy. Until, after the usual wear and tear in the media circus, nobody talked about him anymore and capitalism seemed to return to “business as usual” after the “Keynesian” stabilization phase.

All that was left were the Keynesians, who had been pushed out of the political and academic mainstream in the neoliberal age and were constantly whining, and with whom the left beyond social democracy now had to contend. But the constant lament from the spectrum of neo-Keynesians and Modern Monetary “Theory” (MMT) that more Keynesianism is needed to make everything better again and for late capitalism to return to the era of the economic miracle is, to put it mildly, misplaced in the face of political realities. Many of the tools of Keynesianism continue to be used in crisis management, but they are not discussed or perceived as such. Keynes has long been a pragmatic part of everyday crisis management, and many of the crisis measures and programs that have stabilized the system since 2008 bear his signature.

And this is only logical against the background of the historical genesis of this school of economics: Keynesianism found its way into the capitalist mainstream after the end of the Second World War precisely as the great “lesson” from the crisis phase that began in 1929 – and in times of crisis the capitalist functional elites almost reflexively resort to its instruments. Consistent regulation of the currency and financial markets, the state as an economic regulatory and steering agent pursuing an active investment policy, a demand-oriented wage and social policy, in which the wage earners of the economic miracle were also understood as consumers, and a counter-cyclical economic policy – these were the now idealized features of the Keynesian economic order until the rise of neoliberalism under Thatcher and Reagan, to which the neo-Keynesians want to return.

It Doesn’t Get Cheaper Than This

The pragmatic recourse to the instruments of Keynesianism finds its clearest expression in all the economic stimulus programs that were launched in the wake of the intensifying episodes of crisis. As a result of this increasing intensity, these government subsidy and investment packages have grown in size with each new wave of crisis,[3] as the notorious management consultancy McKinsey demonstrated with reference to the global financial crisis of 2008/09 and the pandemic of 2020.[4] By mid-2020, global government spending to mitigate the effects of the pandemic-generated crisis surge had already reached around $10 trillion – three times the amount of the 2008/09 crisis programs.

And it was precisely the German government, which was cautious in its economic policy in 2008 and only made negative headlines at the time with the infamous (and disastrous in terms of climate policy) car scrappage program, that launched particularly far-reaching crisis programs in 2020. In relation to Germany’s GDP, Berlin even launched the largest economic stimulus package of all Western industrialized countries: it amounted to 33 percent of GDP. In addition, the Merkel government also initiated a gradual shift away from the pernicious austerity regime in the “German” eurozone by agreeing to a European economic stimulus program in mid-2020 as part of the European budget, which, with a volume of 750 billion, nevertheless includes 380 billion euros of aid payments to the periphery.[5]

And in terms of monetary policy, both the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Federal Reserve (Fed) have, until recently, followed the “it doesn’t get cheaper than this” approach. Key interest rates in all Western currency areas have tended to fall further and further in the 21st century. Between 2009 and 2021, a zero interest rate policy prevailed – with brief interruptions – to support the economy and the financial sector. In addition, after the bursting of the transatlantic real estate bubble, the central banks resorted to pure money printing, first by buying mortgage securities and later increasingly by buying government bonds– injecting additional liquidity into the financial sphere and leading to securities price inflation in the context of the great liquidity bubble that burst in 2020. Over the course of the 21st century, the Fed and the ECB have increased their balance sheets almost tenfold, becoming the dumping grounds of the late-capitalist financial system, doomed to perpetual boom, and the largest holders of their sovereigns’ debt instruments.

Hyperactive Central Bank Capitalism

The central banks have thus become key economic actors in the course of the crisis process, since without their intervention both the financial sphere and government financing would have collapsed. One could speak of central bank capitalism, as the political economist Joscha Wullweber does in a book of the same title, which highlights the dependence of one part of the financial sphere, the largely unregulated market for repurchase agreements (repos), on central banks’ money printing.[6] The current attempt by the ECB and the Fed, in the face of double-digit inflation rates (only the Bank of Japan is desperately bucking the trend),[7] to curb inflation, which has multiple causes (the pandemic, war, the bursting of the liquidity bubble, the climate crisis), by resorting to restrictive monetary policy is not working,[8] but does not necessarily go hand in hand with an end to government bond purchases.

In the eurozone, the PEPP (Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program), a 1.85 trillion euro program that buys government bonds while raising interest rates (net purchases are to be suspended next March),[9] has been created specifically to stabilize the eurozone, effectively undermining the fight against inflation – and in turn strengthening the economic role of the state, which can continue to finance its budget deficit under the PEPP. In addition, there have been steps toward an active economic policy by the state, especially with regard to the Green New Deal. Neoliberal hardliners[10] are now complaining loudly in the Handelsblatt about the state’s efforts to “steer credit” towards the environment, which would be expressed above all in the introduction of the EU taxonomy regulation defining sustainable investments (ironically, investments in natural gas and nuclear power are also considered “sustainable” in this context). Moreover, German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck’s State Secretary Sven Giegold – an Attac activist from the very beginning – already spoke out a year ago in the Financial Times (FT) in favor of an “active industrial policy” by Berlin, which should “support innovations” in order to transform the FRG into an “ecological and social market economy.”[11]

However, this structure of crisis capitalism, characterized by increasing state activity, is not the result of a coherent strategy, but an expression of the respective efforts to prevent a collapse of the world economy during the acute episodes of crisis. It is a Keynesianism of blind action, in which functional elites acted quasi-reflexively. The emergency programs and policy changes, often introduced as temporary measures, then become permanent in the course of the crisis; they coagulate into new structures and dynamics in latent crisis phases. In the words of then Finance Minister Schäuble, the German government’s actions during the global financial crisis in 2009 were “driving on sight.”[12][13] The packages of measures simply build on each other. Habeck’s active industrial policy, for example, for which Giegold drummed up support in the FT, has its precursor in the state promotion of “national champions” under his predecessor Peter Altmaier, who also wanted to specifically promote Germany’s export industry in the face of increasing crisis competition and informal state subsidies in China and the United States.[14]

This “driving on sight” of the functional elites in manifest times of crisis, in which ever new elements of state-capitalist crisis management are applied in response to waves of crisis, gives this formation all the characteristics of a transitional stage within the late-capitalist unfolding of crisis. The economic and ecological crises that force politicians to adopt crisis Keynesianism are not the expression of a “wrong” economic policy, but of the escalating internal and external contradictions of the capital relation, which manifest themselves quite concretely in constantly rising debts (faster than world economic output) and an incessantly rising CO2 concentration.

Due to the ever increasing global level of productivity, the world system is, in fact, increasingly running on credit, unable to develop a new leading industrial sector, a new regime of accumulation in which masses of wage labor would be valorized. Through money printing and deficit spending, the state is increasingly acting as a last resort to postpone the crisis, now that deficit accumulation in the context of the neoliberal financial bubble economy (dot-com bubble, real estate bubble, liquidity bubble) has largely exhausted itself in the hot financial markets. For example, the broad-based U.S. stock index S&P 500 has now fallen about a thousand points after reaching its historic high of more than 4700 points at the end of 2021.

Modern Monetary Ideology

The late phase of globalized financial bubble capitalism, in which central banks’ expansionary monetary policies contributed to the inflation of securities prices in the financial sphere – to the point of swarm investing and the fleeting booms of meme stocks like GameStop[15] – also gave rise to an extreme form of late- and post-Keynesian economic ideology, which, ignoring any systemic crisis analysis, especially the connection between bubble formation and central banks’ monetary open floodgates, could claim that all of the economic and social problems of late capitalism could be solved by printing money. After all, interest rates and inflation remained low between 2008 and 2020.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) seemed to have succeeded in squaring the capitalist circle. Full employment, the welfare state, economic growth and ecological turnaround are only a matter of expansionary monetary policy, according to the central thesis of MMT. According to this neo-Keynesian monetary theory, which is very popular on the socialist left in the United States, governments that control their currency can freely increase government spending without worrying about deficits. This is because they can always print enough money to pay off their national debt in their currency. According to this theory, inflation is not a problem as long as the economy does not reach its natural growth limits or there is unused economic capacity, such as unemployment.

Printing money until full employment – that is the goal of this late Keynesian demand-driven economic ideology, born in the wake of the financialization of capitalism that it failed to understand. Most proponents of MMT point to the expansionary monetary policy of the U.S. Federal Reserve, which pumped trillions of dollars into the faltering financial markets from 2007 to 2009 and from 2020 onward. Since the money printing known as “quantitative easing” apparently did not result in any surge in inflation, MMT wants to elevate these crisis measures to the guiding principle of neo-social democratic economic policy. An expansive monetary policy is supposed to increase the supply of money as a commodity until demand is satisfied, unemployment has disappeared and the economy is humming along. The historically unprecedented purchasing programs of the central banks, with which a late capitalism running on credit is painstakingly stabilized, are ultimately to be declared the new normality by MMT – and thus become an ideology, a justification of the existing.

It is also no coincidence that MMT has its political home in the U.S., which controls the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. dollar. This allows Washington to borrow in the global value measure of all commodities. What it looks like when peripheral countries, which find their global measure of value in the U.S. dollar, start printing their own currencies at will can currently be studied, for example, in the Turkey of the “interest rate critic” Erdogen, where the inflation rate threatens to accelerate into triple digits.[16] MMT is thus not only a very exclusive ideology that may still find supporters in the eurozone, but it is simply disgraced by the experiences in the periphery and semi-periphery.

Thus, neo-Keynesianism sees the cause of the current capitalist malaise primarily in a lack of money supply. The real cause of the crisis, however, is the lack of a leading economic sector, the lack of a new regime of accumulation that would valorize wage labor on a massive scale. Of course, such a regime will never be re-established due to the high level of global productivity. The irrational end in itself of capital is, after all, its highest possible valorization through the exploitation of wage labor – the only commodity that can produce surplus value as the substance of capital – in commodity production. Keynesian demand policy, on the other hand, pretends that capitalism has already been overcome, as if the satisfaction of needs – and not the unlimited valorization of capital – were the purpose of the capitalist economy. It is the usual Keynesian sleight of hand that simply hides the irrationality of capitalist socialization.

We can clearly observe that since the 1980s, as a rule, when capital accumulation in the real economy sputters, speculative growth in the financial sphere sets in. What MMT ignores here is the connection between quantitative easing and the growth of the bloated late capitalist financial sector. The Fed’s money printing (like that of the European Central Bank) did indeed lead to inflation – to the inflation of securities prices in the financial markets. Thus, the inflated financial sector so frequently demonized by the Keynesians – the basis of the global debt dynamics that act as an economic engine – was the decisive factor in preventing a period of stagflation, such as the one that broke the back of Keynesianism in the 1970s and opened the way for neoliberalism. Neoliberalism unleashed the financial sphere precisely in response to the crisis phase of stagflation, which, as a form of crisis postponement, led to the formation of a zombie capitalism that ran on credit and lurched from bubble to bubble.[17]

The Return of the Deflationary Past

Capital thus loses its own substance, value-creating labor, in commodity production, which drives policymakers, confronted with ever greater mountains of debt, into a dead end: Inflation or deflation? In concrete terms, the aporia of capitalist crisis policy resulting from the inner barrier of capital is illustrated by the dreary dispute between supply-oriented neoliberals and demand-oriented Keynesians over the priorities of economic policy, which has been going on for years.[18] Twitter Keynesian Maurice Höfgen likes to practice this mindless shadowboxing.[19] It’s always the same refrain, reeled off in a thousand variations: The neoliberal warning of over-indebtedness and inflation in the case of economic stimulus programs is countered by the Keynesians with the warning of the deflationary downward spiral triggered by austerity programs. Both sides are correct in their diagnoses, which were only obscured by the financial bubble economics of the neoliberal era. Now, in the era of stagflation, it is becoming clear that it is precisely the monetary policy of central banks that is in a crisis trap.[20] Central banks would have to raise interest rates for the sake of inflation, and at the same time lower interest rates to prevent a recession.

Incidentally, the historical period of stagflation in the 1970s outlined above – to which the late capitalist world system is currently returning at a much higher level of crisis– was the point at which Keynesianism actually failed brilliantly.[21] After the end of the great post-war boom, which was fueled by the Fordist accumulation regime, all Keynesian policy prescriptions failed. Thus, neoliberalism was able to prevail in the 1980s only because Keynesianism failed spectacularly –with double-digit inflation rates, frequent recessions, and mass unemployment. When a has-been Keynesian like Heiner Flassbeck claims – true to style in the Querfront magazine Telepolis[22] – that it was only the energy and oil price crisis that triggered the rise in inflation then as now, he is lying to himself. Despite all the economic stimulus programs, Keynesianism was not able to create a new regime of accumulation – and it will not be able to conjure up new markets that could valorize masses of wage labor at the current global level of productivity.

Neoliberalism “solved” the problem through the speculative expansion of the financial sphere, the financialization of capitalism, i.e. through the postponement of crisis within the framework of a veritable financial bubble economy, which allowed capital to live a kind of zombie life on credit for three decades. This is also the fundamental difference between the stagflation of the 1970s and the current phase of stagflation. The level of crisis is much higher – and this can easily be seen from the ratio of total debt to economic output, which has risen from around 110 percent at the beginning of the neoliberal era in 1980 to 256 percent today (excluding the financial sector).[23]

And a sustainable reduction of this mountain of debt is possible only at the price of a recession – in other words, not at all in the long run. Quite apart from the fact that responding to recessions with Keynesian stimulus programs is ecological madness. The recessions of 2009 and 2020, which erupted in the wake of the crisis surges of the time, resulted in the only years in the 21st century in which CO2 emissions declined. But the stimulus packages described above led to the highest emissions increases of the century in the years that followed. In 2009, greenhouse gas emissions fell by 1.4 percent,[24] only to rise by 5.9 percent in 2010 thanks to Keynesian stimulus programs![25]In 2020, emissions fell again by 4.4 percent due to the pandemic, while in 2021 they increased by 5.3 percent due to multiple stimulus packages.[26] Destitution in recession or climate death? This is the expression of the ecological aporia of capitalist crisis policy.

Ideological Material for Leftist Crisis Opportunism

Obdurate old Keynesians like Flassbeck, as well as the completely crazy new generation around MMT, stubbornly ignore these simple connections, which point quite clearly to the necessity of system transformation. They still promote the fairy tale that the wrong policies led to financialization, to the expansion of the financial markets in the neoliberal era – and that the only thing to do is to “contain” them. And, of course, they routinely repeat their tired routine of warning against restrictive monetary policy despite double-digit inflation. But the acrobatics with which the evidence of the crisis trap of bourgeois policies is denied in order to repeatedly dismiss inflation as an “anomaly” to be fought with “real” Keynesian policies are becoming downright embarrassing. In Keynesianism, which is rapidly turning into regression, there is simply no sense of shame, even when one’s own predictions are so clearly embarrassed by the reality of the crisis, as in the current phase of stagflation.

In Flassbeck, the notorious Höfgen, and in many other Keyensians who are absolutely blind to the world crisis of capital, there is a reflex to deny all evidence of the ideological impasse in which they find themselves. Just as inflation is not “real” inflation, they call for the “real” Keynes in crisis policy, since everything that has been used so far in terms of methods does not correspond to the ideal. In all depressing frankness, this is evident in the author of the above-mentioned book on central bank capitalism, who describes at length how central banks have to prop up the bloated financial system, only to claim that this is not Keynesianism because financial markets are not restrained:[27] “So the current heavy intervention by central banks in the financial system and even the support measures taken by governments during the Covid pandemic are not a return to the strong state or a new Keynesianism. Despite the severity of the crises, there have been no far-reaching changes in the course of economic and fiscal policy. It is a way of governing that takes place within the market-liberal economic order that continues to prevail. Neither the functioning of the financial system in general nor that of the shadow banking system in particular is being questioned. But that is exactly what would have to happen to overcome the system’s inherent tendencies toward crisis.”

In fact, today’s crisis Keynesianism cannot live up to the old ideal because, as a form of precarious crisis management, it is confronted with the consequences of the decade-long financialization of capitalism. It is depressing: Joscha Wullweber describes the consequences of this financialization on the basis of what he calls the “shadow banking system” of repo transactions[28] and laments the consequences of the rapid expansion of the financial sphere, only to remain in the capitalist thought-prison and declare the structural dynamics a mere question of a wrong policy. And it is precisely this way of thinking that makes Keynesianism an easy ideological vehicle for left opportunism.[29]The Keynesians are courted by the “Left Party” because they reduce the systemic crisis to a mere question of policy, which legitimizes the deliberate complicity in crisis management of entire Left Party rackets, from left-liberal to right-nationalist. The Keynesian critique of capitalism has long since coagulated into an ideology.

Post Keynesian War Economy

Keynesianism, with its drab deficit spending and its love for the state, cannot, of course, solve the deepening internal and external crisis of capital, but it can function as a transition to a new quality of crisis. Keynes can provide a useful bootloader, a transitional vehicle, to a qualitatively new form of authoritarian crisis management, especially for functional elites who often act “on sight.” Ideologically advanced post-Keynesians, such as the Taz editor Ulrike Herrmann, have long understood this:[30] In her recent book on the “end of capitalism,” she combines an account of the external limit of capital largely cribbed from the critique of value with a commitment to the war economy – including ukase (decree, Russian) and rationing. The Taz editor wants to endow the German state, which is blind in its right eye and riddled with right-wing cronies, with immense power and make it the central agent of social reproduction in the crisis. Here too, of course, Ms. Herrmann is building on a Keynesian critique of capitalism in which the state appears as the great antagonist of capital – and not as part of the capitalist system that is going down with it, as is already the case in a number of “failed states” on the periphery.

This, authoritarian, post-democratic crisis management, carried out by eroding, sometimes openly savage state apparatuses, is what the course of the crisis boils down to. The Keynesians play only the – stupid or perfidious – cheerleaders of this objective crisis tendency towards anomic authoritarianism. Keynesianism, which is only considered to be to the left of social democracy because of the absurd rightward shift of the entire political spectrum, thus degenerates here, too, into ideology in the purest sense: to justify the threatening authoritarian state-capitalist crisis administration, which would be the exact opposite of the emancipation from the collapsing late-capitalist objective coercion regime, an emancipation that is necessary for the survival of humanity. Consequently, the left should finally come to see the Keynesians for what they objectively are: ideologues.

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[13] TN: The phrase “driving on sight” [Fahren auf Sicht] refers to driving a car with the headlights off, in essence only being able to see and react to what is right in front of you, without much ability to anticipate or plan for the future.















[28] Wullweber (source in footnote no. 26) summarizes repurchase agreements (repos) as follows: “Repos are contracts under which securities are sold at a certain price in order to repurchase them after a defined period of time at a predetermined price plus interest. […] In principle, a repo is nothing more than a pawnshop: One side needs money and deposits a pledge in the form of a security as collateral. The other side has money and lends it against this collateral. […] Generally speaking, in the shadow banking system there are, on the one hand, financial players such as hedge funds and commercial banks that need funds to make a short-term profit through transactions with different risk profiles or to make up for a shortfall in capital reserves. […] On the other hand, you find money market funds, asset managers, pension funds and other institutional investors or even companies that want to invest their excess capital with relatively low risks and comparatively high returns.”



Originally published on in 02/2023

Value-Dissociation, Gender and the Crisis of Capitalism

Interview by Clara Navarro Ruiz with Roswitha Scholz

First of all, we would like to share some moments of your career with the Ibero-American readers. What were your defining experiences as a student? How did your politicization take place? In what social context? Which theoretical references or concepts were important in this process? Were there any breaks? How did you come to join the Krisis Group, or how were you involved in its founding? What significance did the split of this group and the founding of EXIT! have for you, where you further developed your theoretical approach of the value-dissociation critique?

As a young person, I read a lot. In the 1970s, the zeitgeist was left-wing, and I was infected by it. In my youth I read a lot of existentialist texts. Especially novels and plays by Sartre, but also Camus. I also read The Second Sex by de Beauvoir. Other authors included Erich Fromm, Bertrand Russell, and psychoanalytic literature by Freud, Adler, Jung, and Wilhelm Reich. Whether I understood all this at the time is debatable. I also read feminist literature by Alice Schwarzer, Carla Lonzi, Shulamith Firestone, Klaus Theweleit and others, as well as anti-psychiatry texts by Basaglia, Szasz, Laing and many others. I read an introduction to Marxism by a Polish Jesuit priest whose name escapes me. Basically, though, I identified Marx primarily with Eastern Bloc Marxism and the K-groups, all of which were deeply suspect to me. In any case, my attitudes placed me on the anti-authoritarian left.

I was already in a women’s center when I was 17, but I was an absolute outsider and didn’t dare to say much. Then I went to a second-chance school and concentrated on that for a couple of years. Before that, I had trained as a pharmacy assistant and worked for a pharmaceutical wholesaler for a few years. I come from a lower class background. When I was studying social pedagogy at the University of Applied Sciences, I attended seminars on the Frankfurt School. That was something quite different from the Marxism of “really existing socialism” and the K-groups! I soon realized that I needed to know more about Marx in order to understand these texts and so I joined the “Initiative Marxistische Kritik,” which offered a Marx course, and Robert Kurz was a central figure there. In the meantime, I had also become suspicious of the “sponti” left, which couldn’t live up to its own claims, e.g. everything was supposed to be anti-hierarchical and pro-social, but de facto there were many authoritarian informal structures; free love and sex were advocated, while in reality others were treated as commodities on the love market, so to speak. The promise of emancipation in the here and now was a lie. Anyone who didn’t habitually fit into this scene (language, clothing, etc.) was effectively excluded. There was a double standard. But it was not only these experiences that led me to distance myself from a “false immediacy.” It was also leftist teachers at school in the course of my secondary education who taught me that leftist theory is necessary and not just useless chatter that is of no use in practice.

Incidentally, the study of Marx and critical theory made me realize how questionable existentialism is, e.g. the talk of the “abstract individual” in the “German Ideology” – and how it comes about at all – was very enlightening for me. This individual is presupposed in existentialism without justification. Later, when I went to university (I studied mainly sociology, education and philosophy, but also attended seminars in other subjects), I looked for interesting non-Marxist theories that could be made fruitful for feminism. Feminism was a topic that had been on my mind since puberty. The value critics of the time were not exactly open-minded about feminism, to say the least. At university I also attended several seminars on symbolic interactionism and phenomenology. In the end, however, I came to the conclusion that the “Dialectic of Enlightenment” with its inclusion of psychoanalysis is a key work to which feminist theory must critically connect.

I was involved in the founding of the Krisis group as an outsider, so to speak, because of the conflicts around feminism, but also because of questions of the subject and ideology. I did go to the bar with them, but unlike in previous years, I was no longer involved in a working context within the Krisis group. Together with others, I had formed an outsider group, which, however, did not go as far as the critique of value-dissociation, but moved in the dualistic cosmos: patriarchy-capitalism critique. In this group we dealt with the history of the women’s movement and feminist theory.

In the first years of our being together, there were always fierce clashes with Robert Kurz about feminism. To my amazement, it then made perfect sense to him when I presented him with the thesis that “value is the man.” From then on, he tried to introduce this thesis into the Krisis group, which consisted of men, as its mastermind, but to his surprise he succeeded only with difficulty, in contrast to other innovations. There were fierce arguments and resistance. Some thought that critique of value-dissociation was only an aspect of the critique of value, not a dialectically conceived basic context, whereby neither value nor dissociation were to be deduced separately as origins, i.e. dissociation was to be categorically subordinate to value. This remained the case until the Krisis split.

Then, in the mid-1990s, I started working more intensively on the value-dissociation theory. I was pretty much alone in this. On the one hand, there were the androcentric Marxists and value critics (Robert Kurz was busy at the time with a large number of his own publications; moreover, he had little idea of theoretical approaches that were relevant to the development of value-dissociation critique from a feminist perspective). On the other hand, however, there were hardly any Marxist approaches left at that time, feminist theory was mainly oriented towards the deconstructivism of a Judith Butler; objective structures were hardly an issue in this discussion. In our working group on surplus value theory, I was under massive pressure to consider queer theoretical approaches. And so, I was relegated to working in silence. Especially as a woman, you do need a certain amount of steadfastness to “do your thing” when there is a lot of resistance from the outside. I think I also internalized a little bit of an attitude that came from my time with existentialism.

As far as the split in the Krisis group is concerned, I have already said that there was a tension here between the critique of value-dissociation and the critique of value in the Krisis group. However, the differences were not only based on theoretical content. Sexist behavior also characterized the general atmosphere in the Krisis group – as in many left-wing groups. This went so far that one Krisis man slapped me in the face after a disagreement. I was completely taken aback; I would not have thought that such a thing was possible. Nevertheless, I dismissed this as a slip. The reason I didn’t fight back harder at the time was because I was afraid the whole group would break up, and then where would I have published? At the beginning of the 2000s, a woman was to be expelled from the editorial board (she was the only other member of the inner core of the Krisis group besides me, not so much as a purveyor of theory as I was, but as a member of the editorial board) because she rejected a Krisis man who tried to get involved with her. After she had turned him down, he could no longer stand her in the group because he felt unappreciated. This was the immediate cause for the split of the group. Parts of the group went along with it, others did not. In addition, Robert Kurz had written a large number of books and texts since the early 1990s. If he had been the driving force of the Krisis group until then, and if he had been expected to be the “Supreme Leader,” so to speak, he was now reproached for exactly that. In short, it was, as the cliché would have it, about patricide in the male alliance. In the process, I was accused, also stereotypically, of having broken the Krisis group. And in fact, I had rebelled in many ways, thus disturbing the peace of the Brotherhood.

Since the founding of EXIT!, the critique of value-dissociation has been taken more seriously and has become part of our self-representation, but there is a tendency, especially when new people join – and these are mostly men – to treat the critique of dissociation as a subordinate contradiction. Over time, however, we have become picky about this. For example, if someone doesn’t acknowledge value-dissociation as a basic structuring social context from the outset, he/she won’t be included in the editorial board. But we nevertheless accept articles for publication in EXIT! even if their content does not strictly conform to the criteria of the “value-dissociation” critique, but contain topics and ideas that are interesting, whatever their shortcomings. On the whole, however, we regard the critique of value-dissociation as an absolute framework. It has also long since been clarified how it is to be taught in the so-called theory-practice context. This was also an important point in the Krisis split: they thought that value critique should become more practical and meet people where they are in their everyday lives. At EXIT! it is clear: we are a theory group and we see theory as an independent field of social practice, and theory cannot be directly and platitudinously broken down to the political level. We are by no means against a practical socio-critical engagement – on the contrary – for example against neo-fascist tendencies, but such an engagement cannot be played off against a necessary theory formation on another level.

Theoretically strong groups like EXIT! are hard to find in the Spanish context outside of the academic framework. How would you define the social-theoretical context of the EXIT! group, which has no firm ties to so-called social movements, party-political foundations or the university? This has to do not only with the social location of the theory, but also with the ability to influence and change the existing.

It is indeed the case that there are few theory groups that do not have some sort of institutional background – especially nowadays. When I was a student in the 1980s, it wasn’t quite like that. There was still a lot of the spirit of ‘68. Marxist theory, even in the universities, began to establish itself in the 1970s and for a long time still had an APO[1] smell to it. In the first half of the 1980s, being established was still rather frowned upon– unlike today. Critical social theory cannot simply be reserved for a reified university business and its associated constraints in terms of content and methodology, which, when combined with careerist intentions under precarious living conditions, allow a conformist attitude to flourish.

It is not easy to maintain oneself as a separate project for the development of leftist theory. This is not only because of financial problems (we are financed by private donations). In addition, there is always the insistence on the practical relevance of the critique of value-dissociation. This is a structural problem for a theory group that is not associated with a university, which would automatically legitimize theoretical endeavors, so to speak. Most people interested in theory on the left have some kind of connection to the university or want to get into the university. Today we are confronted with this is on the one hand, and on the other hand with the demand to become practical. Once again, one needs strong nerves and a certain steadfastness to resist the demands  made of non-university theory. It has always been the position of the old critical theory that, if necessary, one must have the courage to go outside the city walls if there is no other way. In this sense, I think that extra-institutional theory formation is very important. Precisely because it seems all too obvious today that alternatives to capitalism must be sought, a theoretical distance and a categorical classification of one’s own position and situation are essential in order not to fall for pseudo-concepts that do not really advance the process of social transformation, but rather inhibit it.

Especially after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Marxist and feminist theorizing has become hand-wringing. I very much hope that in the future there will also be movements of intellectuals on the left who resist the university or otherwise institutional Procrustean bed into which they are supposed to fit if they want to get a job, and who dare to swim against the tide. Usually you don’t have any real chance to influence or change things at the university, you are rather made to fit in and mutate into a “lurch” (Horkheimer/Adorno) for the sake of self-preservation. This doesn’t mean that you can’t accept outside money or participate in left-wing establishment events, just that there would be a cost. There may be niches in academia where other things are possible, but that is not the rule. From these niches, it would then be necessary to carry the corresponding ideas into the university and to create unrest.

Can you tell us something about your collaboration with Robert Kurz? How did you influence and enrich each other’s work? Were there any differences? Were they mediated?

As far as the collaboration with Robert Kurz is concerned, it’s quite simple. We never sat down together according to a schedule and had structured, disciplined discussions; we just did it. We weren’t divided into two parts: life here, and our theory projects and the associated collaboration there. Correcting each other’s texts was sometimes quite conflictual, but we dealt with it humorously, calling it “bickering on the computer.” What is not true, however, is that Robert Kurz and I wrote several books together, as the Wikipedia entry about me says. We wrote our texts separately and then it was time for the “computer bickering.” In the evenings, in a relaxed atmosphere, over a glass of wine, we discussed all sorts of things, and in this way – even in controversy – we influenced each other. We had different focuses. Roughly speaking, Robert Kurz’s main topics were economics and politics, and mine were feminism, “race,” class, gender and the “subject.” Atmospherically, our cats were important – but I won’t go into that here. Our lives were often scrutinized – even in the context of Krisis. We didn’t have any children, which was somehow unnatural. Poor Robert Kurz had to talk to his wife all the time, he wasn’t even allowed to relax in a separate private sphere! Some people simply cannot understand that the formation of theory is not simply toil and trouble, but can be a passion, as it was with Marx, despite having many children, especially when women have this attitude.

There were, of course, substantive differences between Robert Kurz and myself. At the beginning of our relationship, these mainly concerned feminism, the subject and ideology (see above). A controversial issue in the early 1990s was the assessment of racism and anti-Semitism, which were making waves at that time. There were tendencies in Robert Kurz to say that these were to be understood as a symptom of the process of the decay of capitalism; for me, on the other hand, it was equally important to see such tendencies in a country-specific context, i.e. as far as Germany was concerned: the Nazi rule and the Holocaust had to be taken into account. I then wrote an article about this in Krisis: “The Metamorphoses of the Teutonic Yuppie,” in which I also criticized the positions of Krisis. While Kurz accepted and appreciated this article and later, for example in the “Black Book,” classified Germany’s specificity in the process of modernization with regard to the Holocaust, there were fierce defensive reactions against this text in the rest of Krisis. Today, after the split, the Krisis homepage is full of texts that target precisely the kind of structural anti-Semitism that had been fiercely contested in the discussion of the text at the time. Of course, there is no written evidence of this dispute. But the discussion with me at that time is not mentioned at all, and it seems as if people had always held this view.

In this context, one area of conflict in the relationship between Kurz and myself was the confrontation with the so-called anti-Germans in the first half of the 2000s. Kurz was very angry about their bellicose attitude and then broke with all sorts of journals in which he had been publishing regularly. He then wrote a whole book about the anti-Germans; in my opinion, that would not have been necessary – two or three basic articles on the subject would have sufficed. Today I understand his agitation at that time a little better; after all, the Iraq war accomplished nothing. Many people died in the process, and it was based on lies about the weapons arsenals, as even Colin Powell admitted afterwards. Moreover, such interventions only prepared the ground for the Islamic State, as was widely reported in the press. Nevertheless, I don’t think that such an intense engagement of Robert Kurz with the “anti-Germans” would have been necessary. In order not to be confused with them – they, too, have a value-critical foundation, albeit a different one than the critique of value-dissociation (which cannot be pursued here) – a few texts would have sufficed.

Another difference between me and Kurz concerned the question of whether pre-modern societies are also fetish societies or whether fetishism refers to modern societies. Kurz took the former position, I the latter. I am also not sure that firearms play the central role in the constitutional process of capitalist patriarchy that Robert Kurz ascribes to them. There were other differences as well, not all of which I can go into here. They were just there in our life together. That’s just the way it was. We were able to deal with them, they were not so dramatic that they would have developed a centrifugal force. Once Robert Kurz said to me that he couldn’t be with a Bavarian monarchist; admittedly we both laughed heartily.

On the whole, however, we pulled together. Besides Adorno’s critical theory, Kurz was the second main pillar of the critique of value-dissociation. The critique of value-dissociation would not have existed if Kurz, as the leader of the Krisis gang, had not massively supported it – against all the resistance from within the group. Thus, in addition to the immediate practice of the value-critical men’s alliance, which was opposed to its content, this was ultimately another major cause of the Krisis split. Moreover, one must see that Kurz correctly predicted the desolate crisis situation in the world today. Today there is a lot of talk about the end of capitalism, but not so long ago Kurz was often declared crazy and not to be taken seriously.

The approach of the critique of value-dissociation is based on the incompleteness of the critique of value. To put it simply (and without taking into account individual critical statements of the EXIT! group), it places at the center of its critique only the category of labor as a social relation and a central concept of the commodity-producing society. Capitalism is to be understood as a total civilizational whole and at the same time as a particular and historical entity. This in itself represents a decisive correction to traditional Marxism, which is centered on surplus value and its distribution/appropriation. For your part, you have developed the thesis that the assertion of the value dynamic is necessarily accompanied by a “dissociation” of reproductive labor and of the “femininity” traditionally associated with this labor. Could you explain the central elements of this thesis and its unfolding?

In doing so, I assume that it is not only value as an automatic subject that constitutes the totality, but that equal account must be taken of the “fact” that in capitalism there are also reproductive activities that are primarily carried out by women. In this context, “value-dissociation” essentially means that female-determined reproductive activities, as well as the feelings, characteristics and attitudes associated with them (sensuality, emotionality, caring, etc.) are dissociated from value/surplus value. Female reproductive activities in capitalism thus have a different character than abstract labor, which is why they cannot be easily subsumed under this concept; it is a side of capitalist society that cannot be grasped by the Marxian conceptual system. This side relates to value/surplus value, necessarily belongs to it, but on the other hand it is outside of it and is therefore its precondition. (Surplus) value and dissociation are thus in a dialectical relationship. The one cannot be derived from the other, but both emerge from each other. In this sense, value-dissociation can also be understood as a metalogy that transcends the internal economic categories.

The categories of political economy, however, are not sufficient in another respect; the dissociation of value must also be understood as a specific socio-psychological relationship. Certain inferior qualities (sensuality, emotionality, weakness of character, and the like) are dissociated from the male subject and projected onto the woman. Such gender-specific attributions essentially characterize the symbolic order of capitalist patriarchy. Thus, beyond the moment of material reproduction, both the socio-psychological and the cultural-symbolic dimensions of capitalist gender relations must be taken into account. It is precisely on these levels that capitalist patriarchy reveals itself as a social totality. However, in the case of value-dissociation, understood as a basic social context, it is crucial that it is not a matter of a rigid structure, as in some sociological structural models, but of a process.

It can be assumed that a contradiction of substance (products) and form (value) is, in a sense, the law of crisis theory, which ultimately leads to crises of reproduction and the disintegration/collapse of capitalism. Schematically speaking, the mass of value per individual product becomes smaller and smaller. The result is an abundance of products while the total mass of value decreases. The decisive factor here is the development of productive power, which in turn is related to the formation and application of (natural) science. With the microelectronic revolution (culminating today in “Industry 4.0”), in contrast to the Fordist era, in which the production of relative surplus-value was compensated by the additional need for labor to generate surplus value, abstract labor is now becoming obsolete. The result is a devaluation of value and a collapse of the (surplus) value relation. Robert Kurz wrote as early as 1986 that this collapse should not be thought of as a single event, even though sudden collapses, e.g. bank failures, mass bankruptcies, will certainly be part of it, but rather as a historical process, a whole epoch, perhaps lasting several decades, in which the capitalist world economy will no longer be able to escape from the maelstrom of crisis and devaluation processes, swelling mass unemployment, and so on. Today, it has long since become clear that the very impossibility of making profits through the extraction of surplus value, mediated by this process, has led not only to a shift to the speculative level, but also the decline of capitalism.

This structure and dynamic, however, must now be modified according to the critique of value-dissociation. Dissociation is not a static moment in contrast to the dynamic moment of the logic of value, but is itself at the same time dialectically upstream of it and makes the moving contradiction possible in the first place, which is why a moving logic of value-dissociation must also be assumed. Dissociation is thus deeply involved in the elimination of living labor. In the process, it has also changed itself.

Especially in the natural sciences, whose application to the production process constitutes the development of productive power in capitalism in the first place, but also in the development of labor science, which is concerned with the optimal increase in efficiency and rational organization of the production process (keyword Taylorism), a dissociation of the feminine and corresponding images of women were almost the silent socio-psychological prerequisite of their existence, which also finds its expression on the symbolic-cultural level (women are less rational, worse at mathematics and the natural sciences than men, etc.). But it is not only in scientific, philosophical, theological, etc. discourses since modernity that a dissociation of the feminine can be observed. Rather, this classification was realized and materialized in the Fordist phase itself, which was conditioned by the dissociation of the feminine, in that the man now became the breadwinner of the family and the woman the housewife in the enforced nuclear family, at least according to the ideal. The more social relations became objectified, the more a hierarchical gender dichotomy took hold. This dissociation of the feminine is a precondition for the development of the productive forces, which first establishes capitalist patriarchy with its “moving contradiction” and as such first brings about its development as a decisive condition for the production of relative surplus value, and that the gap between material wealth and the form of value finally widens more and more. From the point of view of historical processes, objectification and the formation of hierarchical gender relations are mutually dependent and not contradictory. Such a dissociation of the feminine as a prerequisite for the development of productive power ultimately led to the microelectronic revolution, which made not only abstract labor, but also classical-modern gender norms and the housewife obsolete.

From an economic point of view, the expansion of reproductive, caring and nurturing activities, which used to be carried out privately, and which have now been transferred to the professional sphere, is a component of the crisis, since the mass of surplus value has to be redistributed in order to finance them; however, in the context of moving contradiction and a capitalism that has reached its limits, these redistributive possibilities no longer exist. Thus, there is also a reproductive deficit when women can no longer carry out such activities because they are doubly burdened, i.e. they are equally responsible for family and work. Professionally performed care and welfare activities also reach qualitative limits, since they are largely contrary to considerations of efficiency, even though they often end up professionally in the care sector or similar services. In principle, women today are expected to take on all kinds of work, including work that has traditionally had a masculine connotation, even though they are still responsible for care work, including in the private sphere.

Dissociation has thus by no means disappeared, which is also reflected, for example, in women’s lower earning potentials and opportunities for advancement. It should be emphasized that value-dissociation is not located in the split spheres of private and public, with women assigned to the private sphere and men to the public sphere (politics, economy, science, etc.). Rather, value-dissociation runs through all levels and spheres, including those of the public sphere; it forms the basic structuring context of society as a whole. This is shown, among other things, by the fact that women often earn less than men, even though they do the same work and are on average better educated than men today.

On the other hand, when abstract labor becomes obsolete, there are also tendencies toward the “housewifification” of men. The patriarchy becomes feral when the institutions of family and gainful employment erode in the face of increasing tendencies towards crisis and impoverishment, without patriarchal structures and hierarchies having fundamentally disappeared. Today, women are forced to work just to survive. In the slums of the so-called Third World, it is women who initiate self-help groups and become crisis managers. At the same time, however, they are expected to take over the functions of “rubble women” [Trümmerfrauen] in the commanding heights of the economy and politics in this country [Germany], when the cart is stuck in the mud in the fundamental crisis.

The dissociation of value as a historical-dynamic basic structuring context combined with the development of productive forces based on it thus undermines its own foundation, the caring activities performed in the private sphere. The central point here is that the changes – not only in gender relations, but in social relations as a whole – must be understood in terms of the mechanisms and structures of value-dissociation in their own historical dynamics and not, as has already been said, in terms of “value” alone.

Theoretically, then, the hierarchical gender relationship is thus limited to modernity and postmodernity. This does not mean that this relationship does not have a pre-modern history, but under capitalism it took on a completely new quality. Women were now supposed to be primarily responsible for the less valued private sphere, while men were supposed to be responsible for the capitalist sphere of production and the public sphere. This contradicts views that see capitalist-patriarchal gender relations as a pre-capitalist vestige. For example, the nuclear family as we know it did not emerge until the eighteenth century, and public and private spheres as we know them did not develop until the modern era.

The critique of value-dissociation does not simply assume that a critique of value is inadequate; rather, it raises this critique to an entirely new level of quality.

In addition, your theory of value-dissociation has engaged with the discourses of difference that were widespread in the 1980’s and 90’s, coming from feminist critique. This engagement had important implications for the qualitative determination of your own theory, which then defines itself as a “realist dialectic” and configures a “broken totality.” How does the critique of value-dissociation assess these discourses of difference? How does it critique these discourses and how does it enrich itself through this critique?

In order to do that, I have to say something about the history of feminism/feminist theory in Germany since 1968. First of all, the 1970s were about the connection between Marxism and feminism. How can the oppression of women be theoretically integrated into a workers’ movement Marxism? Then, in the early 1980s, it was mostly about making the connection between capitalism, women’s oppression, the destruction of nature, and colonization/the Third World. Then in the second half of the 1980s, the discourse on women’s differences began. The white women’s movement was accused by black women, Latinas, lesbians, etc. of stereotyping them and making the white woman’s position as housewife the standard for theorizing. This discourse overlapped with one that assumed a multiplicity of life trajectories, individualization tendencies, etc. in the Western industrialized countries against the background of welfare state security. It was now assumed that “the woman” (but also the man) did not exist, but that there were “many” different shades of these two genders. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Marx became passé in feminism. Now a culturalist deconstructivism in the sense of Judith Butler reared its head and became the feminist master theory. Materialist theory was mega-out, culturalist, poststructuralist theory mega-in. It was no longer about the gender division of labor, for example, but about how gender is discursively produced. Gender now no longer seemed to be something real, fixed, but discursively negotiable and, in a vulgar constructivist understanding of the left milieu, freely selectable. Cultural relativist theories moved in. Gender relations were supposed to differ fundamentally from culture to culture, and a universal view of them was taboo. Language, discourse, and culture were, so to speak, substitutes for an old materialist understanding of totality.

Instead, the critique of value attempted to explain the collapse of the Eastern bloc itself in Marxist terms, beyond an old workers’ movement Marxism, by making the category of value the center of its essays and interpreting Marx from there. By that time, I had long since landed as a feminist in the critique of value – with all the dissatisfactions I have already explained – when, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, in my preoccupation with feminist theory, not least the persecution of witches, the thought came to me: “value is the man,” and in this context I also realized that a reference to the dialectic of the Enlightenment on the part of feminist theory was unavoidable. And so it came about organically, as it were, that the previously posed questions about the connection between the domination of nature, the oppression of women, anti-Semitism and racism could be dealt with through a critique of value-dissociation. As far as differences, not only between men and women, are concerned, Adorno’s critique of the logic of identity was very illuminating for me. In contrast to the postmodernists and poststructuralists, he was not concerned with hypostatizing difference, but with respecting and looking at the individual, particular object. This was what the theory of value-dissociation was supposed to convey. By the way, it was by no means the case that the women’s movement of the 1970s and 1980s was simply blind to other dimensions of inequality, such as “race”/ethnicity, and certainly not to class, and was only concerned with women’s emancipation, as was often claimed in the 1990s. It was just that at that time it did not hypostatize difference against the background of culturalist and poststructuralist views. A primarily cultural relavatist view has the consequence that existing commonalities in the oppression of women can no longer come into focus. In this respect, I did not first adopt a way of thinking about differences from a post-structuralist oriented women’s movement, because this was already there before. Nevertheless, I think that for a long time, even in Marxist theory as a whole, the importance of culture and the symbolic order has not been given enough attention. It is therefore important not to negate this level in the abstract, but to include it in the sense of a certain negation in the critique of value-dissociation, as something separate and at the same time belonging to it, similar to the psychoanalytical level.

Of the various authors in the EXIT! group, you are undoubtedly the one who has most strongly emphasized the connections between the critique of value-dissociation and the Critical Theory of the so-called first generation of the Frankfurt School. Theodor W. Adorno seems to be very important for your thinking, as some texts (The Significance of Adorno for Feminism Today, The Theory of the Sexual Dissociation and Adorno’s Critical Theory, Social Form and Concrete Totality) show. You claim his importance for feminism in general and for the critique of value-dissociation in particular. Could you tell us in what sense one can speak of the topicality of Adorno’s thought?

Adorno was not on the workers’ movement Marxist steamship, nor was he an Eastern Bloc socialist. The struggle for money was not his central point of reference; rather, he was concerned with alienation, reification and fetishism at the heart of society. The economy played only a marginal role for him. His critique of fetishism should be taken up again today in economic terms, but without adopting his primitive recourse to “exchange” as the basic form of capitalism. Instead, the moving contradiction and the abstract labor/care activity in the sense of the (surplus) value-dissociation theory are to be taken as the core of capitalist-patriarchal socialization. Adorno, in a reversal of Hegel, had already seen that the whole is the untrue and thus argued for a broken totality in order to explode the hermetic. A broken totality is indeed what we have today. At the exit of postmodernism, however, it becomes clear that this does not necessarily lead to emancipation, but to (civil) war. If differences are allowed to float freely, as poststructuralism had theoretically anticipated, this, in conjunction with processes of material impoverishment in the “collapse of modernization” (Robert Kurz), leads to barbarism. As already mentioned, however, Adorno was never abstractly concerned with differences per se; in his case, non-identity was always claimed against the background of total capitalism and its reifying thinking. The positivist thinking of difference in postmodernism, however, corresponds only laterally to a classical modernist thinking of identification and classification. In this respect, one should continue to insist on the recognition of the non-identical as a prerequisite for a different society, without, however, leaving it in abstraction, and this also means not recognizing every barbaric difference, but also not making the identical the standard. In this respect, a further developed Adorno is highly topical today. A new recourse to Lenin and a workers’ movement Marxism, as can be observed again today, is of course far removed from this and desperately tries to activate old ideas that have long since lain in their graves.

On the other hand, you have had to distance yourself from Adorno’s thinking, especially from the confusion between Adorno’s non-identical and your own concept of the “dissociated.” Could you explain this difference?

Adorno derived a critique of the logic of identity from exchange. What is decisive, however, is not simply that the common third – disregarding qualities – is the socially necessary labor time, the abstract labor, which stands, as it were, behind the equivalence form of money, but that this in turn makes it necessary to exclude what is connoted as feminine, namely “domestic work,” the sensual, emotional, non-identical, not clearly ascertainable by scientific means, and to regard it as inferior. In this way, however, the dissociation of the feminine is by no means congruent with Adorno’s non-identical. For it is precisely the “special” object of the gender relation, which is at the same time a fundamental social relation, that would itself require a “concept” on a very fundamental theoretical level; for it is significant that it is precisely this relation and “the feminine” that was regarded as a dark realm that existed precisely as a dualistic opposition to the conceptual. It would be somewhat absurd to declare half of humanity to be non-identical; nevertheless, and precisely because of this, the thought-form of the non-identical emerges from this basic structure. The thought-form of the logic of identity is thus established with value-dissociation as the socially-constituting basic structuring context, and not first with exchange or value. Dissociation is therefore not the non-identical. It is, however, the precondition for a formal and positivist way of thinking that abstracts from the particular quality of the concrete thing and any corresponding differences, contradictions, breaks, etc. becoming dominant in science and politics. However, it is crucial to start from a modified conception of the moving contradiction according to the theory of value-dissociation (see above), which ultimately leads to the obsolescence of abstract labor, but also of household activities in the modern sense. We can only speak of abstract labor when capital has begun to move on its own foundations and has taken a course within itself against the background of the logic of value-dissociation. Non-identity is that which is not absorbed in the concept, the structure. At the same time, the non-identical cannot be concretely defined from the outset, since it is itself always bound to the concrete content and to the thing in itself.

For the critique of the logic of identity from the perspective of the critique of value-dissociation, this means that the various levels and areas and the “thing” itself must not only be irreducibly related to one another, but must also be equally considered in their “inner” connection on the level of  value-dissociation as a negatively dialectical basic context of the in-itself broken social totality. In this respect, however, the critique of value-dissociation goes much further than the traditional critique of value. Since the critique of value-dissociation has always been aware of its limitations, it does not make itself absolute as an overarching meta-level, but knows exactly how to acknowledge the “truth” of other, particular levels and areas as well. For example, it must acknowledge the socio-psychological and psychoanalytical dimension, which it cannot theoretically grasp because of its necessarily high level of abstraction. In Adorno’s case, “woman” is not the non-identical, but this is only established through exchange; the dissociation of the feminine merely ekes out a descriptive existence, it has neither a categorical status nor is it the non-identical.

Incidentally, in accordance with such a certain critique of the logic of identity, one must not take a linear view when analyzing the capitalist-patriarchal development in the different regions of the world. This development has not taken place in the same way in all societies, up to and including (formerly) gender-symmetrical societies that have not yet completely adopted modern gender relations; however, it must also take into account differently knitted patriarchal relations that have been superimposed by modern Western, objectified patriarchy in the course of the development of the world market, without having completely lost their distinctiveness.

Another reference figure in your thinking is undoubtedly Karl Marx. I would like to ask a few questions about this figure: What are the main theoretical challenges for Marx-inspired thought? This question does not refer to an academic Marxism, but a Marxism that understands itself as a contemporary radical critique of capitalism.

Marx is, of course, the classic of the radical critique of capitalism, who showed that capitalism must collapse not for moral reasons but because of its objective dynamics, without, however, denying the subjective level. Individuals repeatedly generate the fetishistic dynamic, which becomes independent of them and thus ultimately dominates them. It is, of course, the fundamental dimension of value-dissociation in its contradictory complexity that poses the greatest challenge, since, as I have said, it cannot be grasped in simple economistic terms. Marx was a child of his time. One cannot simply say that we need to work out this and that about Marx and then his theory will be perfect and we will have worked him out correctly – in the sense of what he lacked. The dynamics of the moving contradiction has led to the fact that in its historical realization, at the latest in the 4th Industrial Revolution, dimensions of capitalism become visible that Marx himself did not yet have systematically on his radar: specifically racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, and the destruction of nature. A merely androcentric theory of the moving contradiction, a dynamic that has long concealed these repressions that are becoming visible today, must deal with this.

There are many things in Marx’s work that still need to be worked out: for example, the problem of the relationship between productive and unproductive labor, the rate of profit, the problem of price transformation, etc., which would need to be examined even more closely than in Robert Kurz’s Geld ohne Wert. And all this has to be thought about. However, I do not believe that a solution to the problem of a value-dissociation society as a fragmented totality can be found by focusing only on such problems. It’s necessary to work on both, although I don’t think it’s worthwhile to cram Marx indefinitely and still aspire to reconstruct him into old age when you have snow-white hair. It cannot just be a Marx-philological approach. Today, we have long been aware of its limitations, which is why one cannot promise oneself access to the ultimate truth from a meticulous reading of Marx. The crucial and difficult point here is that, in terms of the critique of value-dissociation, the critique of (surplus) value and the critique of dissociation can neither be lumped together nor treated separately from each other. They are thus to be regarded as both separate and negatively-dialectically intertwined, but this also means that they cannot exist as a logically coercive unit.

In some of your recent texts (After Postone, Fetish Alaaf) and in reference to Geld ohne Wert by R. Kurz, you have begun to speak, in contrast to commodity fetishism, of a “fetishism of capital” as a central critical point for cogent critique of capitalism. Could you briefly explain the difference between commodity fetishism and capital fetishism?

This is, of course, a difference that is still entirely within the realm of an androcentric reading of Marx’s “Capital.” But I will first explain the difference against the background of this contrast. The chapter on the commodity fetish in Capital follows methodological individualism for didactic-methodological reasons. Abstract labor is mentioned here, but it is not systematically considered. The first 150 pages are an introduction to the understanding of capital, which is what Marx is actually concerned with. Capitalism in the narrower sense does not exist until capital has begun to stand on its own feet, that is, since the second half of the 18th century. Many interpretations of Marx assume a simple commodity form as the cell form of today’s capitalism, even though this simple commodity form never existed as a principle of socialization, not even in niche form. This is not to say that the commodity fetish chapter should simply be neglected. But Marx wants to point to the capital fetish, which only comes into effect from a higher density of socialization. Only then does the moving contradiction begin to “work” and society become truly independent vis-à-vis the individuals. This would not even be possible in a fictitious situation of simple commodity production, because here there would still be personal, not objectified domination. Within this reading – and only within this reading – the analysis of the commodity form then also has its place. In this context, Kurz criticizes not only a “methodological individualism” with regard to the commodity form (“cell form”), but also with regard to the concept of capital, the capital fetish, and a Marxian understanding that takes individual capital as the starting point. “What transcends the acting subjects and constitutes the real movement of valorization, however, is the whole of the ‘automatic subject,’ the constitutive and transcendental a priori, which only appears in individual capital, but is not categorical. Total capital alone is the self-movement of value, so to speak, a ‘breathing monster’ that confronts the actors, even though they themselves produce […] in Marx’s words, ‘self-valorizing value, a breathing monster that begins to ‘work’ as if it had ‘love’ in its body’” (GoW, p. 178). One of the central moments is the competition between the individual capitals as a necessity of mediation to the capitalist whole which is mediated in-itself. It is not possible to start from individual capital and then aggregate this level upwards.

Within the theory of value, there seems to be a certain proximity between your thinking and that of Moishe Postone, who is better known in the Ibero-American academic space. He too speaks of labor as a specifically capitalist “social relation.” What connects and what distinguishes your approach from that of the North American author?

Postone’s thinking overlaps in many respects with the old critique of value; my criticism of it, as of the old critique of value, is that he does not assume value-dissociation as a basic structuring context, but argues reductively in terms of value theory. But even within the framework of value theory, Postone knows no crisis theory. For him, it’s not a matter of abstract labor becoming obsolete, but rather he assumes a treadmill effect; when jobs are eliminated, new ones are created. This is actually illogical if one thinks the “moving contradiction” through to its logical conclusion. Moreover, labor in capitalism is not simply a “social relation” but an “abstract-material substance,” as Robert Kurz calls it. And in this respect, abstract labor is the inner bond of capitalist socialization.

In principle, the capital form is the actual starting point of an analysis of capitalism and not the commodity form, as in Postone (see above). Robert Kurz formulates this as follows: “Under the condition of this a priori whole, production is already the unity of ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ labor, in the result the unity of material product and the object of value. In social terms, only the aspect of ‘abstract’ labor, as the expenditure of human labor or life energy (nerve, muscle, brain), is ‘valid’ in ‘concrete’ labor. Thus, ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’ labor do not fall apart into two separate spheres, but are aspects of the same logic, which overlaps all spheres, but allows the concrete side to be valid only as a manifestation of the (real)abstract. The product, for its part, is therefore only socially ‘valid’ as an object of representation of this real-abstract substance, as the object of value” (GoW, p. 204). Against this background, “labor” only emerged in capitalism and can and must be abolished. For Postone, on the other hand, the concept of labor is ambiguous. There are certainly passages in which he ontologizes labor. But as little as (concrete) labor can be ontologized, one must insist on an abstract-material substance of social labor, which Postone – and here he is contradictory – sees as the “creator of value,” but then determines this value as a social relation and only insofar assumes a dialectic of “concrete” and “abstract” labor.

In Postone, surplus value is primarily an emanation of value (as it is also in part in an old critique of value); in a new critique of value (of dissociation), on the other hand, it is an indispensable dynamic moment in the self-realization of value, without which abstract labor as a tautological end in itself would have no meaning and a “moving contradiction” would be impossible. It exists in Postone, but it is a secondary moment. And, of course, care activities, which are predominantly carried out by women, are not systematically considered in Postone. A care crisis in the context of a general fundamental crisis of the capitalist-patriarchal system as a whole cannot be grasped by Postone, whereby, to repeat, gender relations and the dissociation of value as a basic capitalist-patriarchal social context are not included in the care dimension.

Given theMarxist and critical-theoretical roots of your thinking, does the theory of value-dissociation have, in your opinion, the possibility of being a critical theory of the present? How do you evaluate this possibility? How do you see the relationship between theory and politics?

For a long time, the critique of value (and dissociation) with its thesis of the end of capitalism, of capitalist patriarchy, was presented by the ruling left establishment as crazy; today, the mainstream left assumes the end of capitalism, even if it is then often supposed to be saved from itself (for example, by Varoufakis). Politics is seen as the salvation, instead of seeing without blindness that it has come to its end with capitalism itself. It is merely itself the fetish administration in the form of a general will. Politically-practically, it is a matter of turning against the new fascism, but not of renouncing its androcentric-democratic roots for that reason.

In the spirit of the last question and considering your work on postmodern individualization and its theoretical reverberations, do you think that both have lost their relevance and impact due to the current deep crisis? What role have theories of individualization (difference vs. inequality) played in recent decades? What other forms and theories of subjectivation can replace them?

I think that in recent years, even in the so-called developed countries, the individualization of prosperity supported by the welfare state has turned into a self-responsible individualization of misery without a safety net or a double bottom. For a long time, the perspective of (accepted) difference corresponded to this individualization of prosperity– after all, it also corresponded to a lifestyle orientation of its own for many years. However, when the middle class threatens to fall, the inequality dimension is quickly activated and an obsolete working class and proletariat are conjured up, especially when it comes to the falling, poor, pitiful Western man. The real underclasses/“proletariats” today are formed via “race” and gender, with the “Jew” as the alleged string-puller in conspiracy theories bringing the world to the brink, and with the “Gypsy” as the alien-racial anti-social person occupying the lowest rank. To this I can only respond with my critique of value-dissociation, which has always been paradoxical in itself. I, as a theoretical individual, cannot concoct new forms of subjectivation; these must already emerge from the dynamics of value-dissociation, which, since they are fetishistic, have always known the dialectic of the logic of structure and action, with the former having the upper hand. The dynamics of the Third World and the fear of antisociality now strike back at members of the First World and the middle classes. Social AND economic inequalities must now be put on the agenda beyond a traditional class struggle thinking. “Class” in the Marxian sense is not a category that has any essential meaning in today’s decaying patriarchy. It is history. Today’s talk of workers and a proletariat that would have helped Trump and the right to power is at best a political fighting term, but in times of Industry 4.0 and a globalized world society it is not even suitable for a sociological determination of the social fabric. Social and economic inequalities can no longer be dealt with in such terms.

I would now like to come back to feminism. How do you assess the current situation within academic feminism? Even if critical economic texts are regaining space, they are sharing it with a revival of sociological discourses, which is opening up a so-called “fourth wave of feminism.” Gender studies is also still receiving a lot of attention. What do you think about this situation?

The crux of the matter is that the critique of value-dissociation is not taken seriously as a basic logic. Academic feminism does not assume a fragmented totality in a negative dialectical way, but is based on a sociological understanding of society. In Germany, an attempt has already been made at the university level to make my theory of value-dissociation explicitly sociological and political. On the other hand, there have also been efforts, especially outside the university, to incorporate central moments of the critique of value dissociation into non-university feminist theory groups. I can only mention this here without going into further detail. On the whole, the critique of value dissociation, as well as the simple critique of value, is being cut off at the university level in Germany. I hope, of course, that the critique of value-dissociation will spread beyond the long-established university and scene establishment, and that within leftist universities and leftist milieus there will be protests against entrenched organizational structures, methods, and content that move in well-trodden paths and do not want to allow anything else.

As the crisis increases the number of subjects who are monetized but do not have access to money, forms of feminism that focus on care work are also spreading: the valorization of motherhood, the rediscovery of the feminine as “the other” of capitalism, the return to communal bonds, to a certain immediacy, and so on. How are we to understand these approaches in the context of the social decomposition in which we currently find ourselves? (see above).

I have already said that value and dissociation are dialectically mediated with each other, that one emerges from the other. It also follows that the dissociated can thus be conceived as an Other, as something abstractly different from value, not as something better, as it is also conceived in some leftist and feminist approaches. In times of social decomposition, this also awakens a need for an imagined ideal world of the past. In a highly complex globalized and technologically sophisticated world, people want manageable structures, especially when living conditions become precarious and even the middle class is threatened with collapse. Then the call for women as mothers, as gentle crisis managers, becomes louder (“Mary spread out her mantle, make it a screen and protection for us,” as it says in an old Catholic hymn). As I said, women in the slums of the Third World are often crisis managers in their immediate lives, having to secure money and survival. It is completely wrong for this to be seen as emancipation in left-wing and feminist groups; rather, such crisis management tendencies can be exploited to maintain the status quo on the basis of a supposed maintenance of order. False immediacy can be costly for feminist and leftist intentions that settle into a comfort zone built on fantasies. What is ignored is the need for a planning perspective that does not simply dictate from above, as in the socialism of the Eastern bloc, but rather, formulated in terms of systems theory, places the overall system and the subsystems in an appropriate relationship to one another. Moreover, the recourse to old gender roles and the left’s turn to the communitarian correspond to new needs for normality and conformity, which in their Biedermeier-like character appear oppositional and thus provide a breeding ground for Querfront politics.

What can we learn from the women in the peripheral countries of capitalism if we want to counteract the processes of social decomposition that are coming upon us with the collapse of modernization? What do the possible differences show about the inequalities of  value-dissociation and how it develops?

It would be a complete fallacy to believe, after what has been said so far, that women in the Third World, when they are responsible for money and survival in the slums, are brave and tough and should be held up as role models. The fact that women in patriarchal capitalism have to be egg-laying mealy-mouths has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with emancipation. It is not the case that the housewife and mother in Western countries is the model of progress for the Third World as well, as was long thought; rather, in the course of the decomposition tendencies of capitalist patriarchy, the crisis existence of women in developing countries is the harbinger of things to come for women in the so-called highly developed countries as well. To be a woman in such a situation is a misfortune, not a fortune. It is true that in Germany, for example, the welfare state coffers are still somewhat larger than in the so-called Third World; however, the crisis is eating its way further and further into the European centers via Southern Europe (Greece, Spain, Italy, etc.). The further decline of the middle class will mean that women will no longer be able to afford domestic and nursing help, e.g. from Eastern Europe, as they have been able to do in the past, but will have to do these jobs themselves, taking on many additional jobs at the same time. At the same time, men no longer have the role of breadwinner and therefore do not feel responsible for their families and offspring. The institutions of family and gainful employment have long been eroding in this country too, and this will become even more pronounced in the course of Industry 4.0 and increasing robotization and abstraction.

Women are supposed to do the social work as crisis managers, so to speak, while men are supposed to be authoritarian and, in the Carl Schmittian sense, the keepers of order, one might say. The fact that there are also a few female leaders on the right is irrelevant here; it only shows that value-dissociation is a basic structuring social context in which individuals are not absorbed into the cultural patterns and women can also be or are (co-)perpetrators.

You have also made important contributions to the theory of anti-Semitism and racism as false solutions to capitalist crises. These phenomena are undoubtedly gaining new relevance in the face of the xenophobic, nationalist resurgence in Europe (AfD, Front National, Donald Trump’s election victory in the US, etc.). How can the intensification of xenophobia and racism be countered from the perspective of value-dissociation theory?

A broad anti-fascist movement is necessary in any case. But it would be completely wrong to fall into a hurrah-democratism. Because democracy itself is the womb from which anti-Semitism, antiziganism, racism and also sexism and homophobia crawl. The famous people, the demos, voted for Trump by a majority, for example. That’s why you can’t just appeal to an idealized democracy, which is itself essentially exclusion. Postcolonialist works and historical studies, for example, bear eloquent witness to this. I don’t want to deny that Obama wanted overcome these mechanisms of exclusion. But he deported more migrants than any US president before him. But he did it with a humane and democratic discourse. Trump presents himself as the wolf who cannot hold back, as the one who dares to proclaim reality in all its harshness. The state and democracy are institutions for moderating the fetishistic relations that are now going off the rails; that is why, in their impotence, they are increasingly resorting to relations of domination based on “strongmen.” Certain developments in law should not be understood as civilizational ruptures beyond democracy, but are a structural part of this process, part of the “civilizational process” itself.

This process of civilization now also brings with it corresponding forms of consciousness; a positivist view, also in science, a view that hypostatizes alleged data, facts and supposed everyday certainties. The critical accusation of “post-facticity” against Trump etc. merely refers to this basic fact. Superficially, then, it is the others who are responsible for one’s own misfortune in this “pathic projection.”

This (everyday) positivist view is by no means limited to the dominant culture. From a particular point of view, equality feminists and multicultural feminists, gays and Islamists, right-wing gays and conservative feminists, etc. are fighting each other today. The problem between Turks and Kurds has been existed for a long time, different strands of Islamism are also fighting each other, and so on. This shows today the omnipresence of a general competition resulting from the moving logic of value-dissociation. There are tendencies of a “multicultural barbarism” today, as Robert Kurz once said. Group-specific and individual identities are to be fettered in various ways, instead of seeing that they, and also the struggles for them, are the result of the capitalist-patriarchal form.

It is therefore crucial to make it clear that a view outside of this overarching level leads to barbarism. This does not mean disregarding particularities, peculiarities, or individuality, including hybrid identities, as long as one always thinks of such dimensions as liquefied at the same time.

However, all this has to be related to the value-dissociation-form as the dominant social relation, even if they do not merge into it and represent something else. In THIS sense, it would also be a matter of achieving a new universalism, beyond the universalism of the Enlightenment, which already has exclusion inherent in itself.

Even in broad “anti-fascist” movements, massive imbalances can arise that reproduce what they seek to thwart. In this respect, from the perspective of the critique of value-dissociation, it is necessary to consider with whom one can ally oneself, and with whom not. There is no patent remedy for this. However, it is crucial to always maintain a reflexive distance that does not join cheap antifa impulses that are barbarically divided within themselves. In Germany, for example, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, this has been the case for anti-imperialists/anti-nationals on the one side and anti-Germans on the other, although even here the fronts no longer seem so clear-cut and bizarre ideological distortions sometimes occur. But I cannot go into this here. It is necessary to assert a broad vision within an antifascist movement that is bitterly necessary. But this cannot be posed from the point of view of the critique of value-dissociation, but must be set in motion by itself; an external and voluntarist invective along the lines of value-dissociation would make no sense. A rule of thumb here is never to make oneself compatible with Querfront movements or to give them even the smallest concession. Syriza, Podemos, or even “Die Linke” in Germany, for example, which in any case only pursue system-imminent reformist goals, are by no means immune to this, as is well known. An emancipatory, value-critical perspective goes beyond this from the outset. No false compromises, even if one is then thrown back on oneself. I find particularly dangerous a perspective close to the critique of value that defends small networks, solidarity economy and decentralization, sometimes with open source and new technologies tendencies, and that has gained strength since the split of the Krisis group; this includes the return of old-new tendencies that rely on technology from an apology of progress that expects – in the line of traditional Marxism – that all problems will be solved in the future, as happens in accelerationism and speculative realism, which puts its hopes in an extraterrestrial mission to conquer other planets.

Note: “GoW” is “Geld ohne Wert” [Money without Value], Horleman-Verlag Berlin, 2012.

[1] TN: APO, short for Außerparlamentarische Opposition, or extra-parliamentary opposition, was a political protest movement in West Germany during the late 60’s and early 70’s, and formed a central part of the German student movement.

Originally published in Spanish in Constelaciones. Revista de Teoría Crítica, no. 8-9 (2017)

Liberation Theology – Called Upon to Serve the Querfront!

Herbert Böttcher

Now liberation theology has also been hit. Roland Rottenfußer, who worked as a journalist for the spiritual magazine connection from 2001 to 2005 and is currently editor-in-chief of Rubikon, has called upon it to serve the Querfront. In his article “Der Schrel der Armen [The Cry of the Poor]”[1] he draws on approaches to the critique of capitalism associated with liberation theology. This serves the purpose of giving a theological impetus to the resistance against Covid policyand the subsequently staged crises around war, inflation and gas shortages, and charging them with a blessed aura.

His points of contact with liberation theology include taking the side of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed, and the associated opposition to the rich and powerful. For him, the biblical basis for this is the Gospel of Luke, which contains a striking number of passages that address the social differences between the rich and the poor. Even before the birth of Jesus, Mary had proclaimed something socially revolutionary: the reversal of the relationship between the poor and the rich, the humble and the powerful (cf. Lk 1:51-53). In this context, the rich are exhorted to see their attachment to material gain as an obstacle to salvation. They should cancel debts, return unjustly appropriated property and, in general, donate a large part of their possessions to the poor. Although this is primarily a spiritual theology, it also contains the fundamental outlines of a social order that, in contrast to the modern economic order, is capable of closing the gap between rich and poor.

The content taken up is certainly covered in the biblical texts. But their immediate appropriation and instrumentalization is problematic. The differences between ancient and modern power relations are consistently ignored. The personalizing biblical talk of the rich and powerful reflects personalized and religiously legitimized power relations. Capitalist domination, as subjugation and the irrational end in itself of the multiplication of money/capital and as the dissociation of the reproductive spheres, represents an abstract domination that cannot be directly represented in the roles of the poor and the powerful or the exploited and the capitalists, the ruling political class and the powerless masses. Moreover, the biblical traditions fail to show that their talk of rich and poor, powerful and powerless, is bound up with the distinction between God and idols (fetishes). On the cultural-symbolic level, idols legitimize a structuring social context of domination, manifested, for example, in the rule of kingdoms and their ties back to the world of the gods. Biblical texts not only criticize the actions of individuals, but also delegitimize the structuring context of domination in which the actions of individuals are situated. Not only the direct criticism of the rich and powerful should be taken up, but also the biblical distinction between God and idols, i.e. the biblical criticism of domination. And here, too, a distinction must be made again between the ancient personalized domination, which was limited in its reach, and the modern abstract domination, which reaches out to the social totality and thus penetrates into the body and psyche of human beings. The latter is the submission to the objective constraints connected with the law of value. It constitutes the form of capitalist society and reaches out to the whole of this society. It cannot be used to immediately ignite anger and indignation and mobilize the masses to vent their frustrations. Before such immediate and confused outbursts, critical, i.e. theoretical, reflection, which seeks to gain knowledge of social conditions, is necessary. Only on this basis can there be a purposeful overcoming of the constitution of capitalist socialization.

Crisscross, But Always Direct: On Positioning in The Present

Those statements of liberation theologians that seem to be compatible with the understanding of social processes and events as the expression of the will of social elites and their targeted control are used for positioning in the present. The elites suppress the will of the people through manipulation of the media and authoritarian measures up to the state of emergency of a Covid dictatorship. A cosmopolitan program of the ruling elites, which is supposed to corrode the sovereignty of the peoples and national identities, is hallucinated. Against this, elements of liberation theology are now being positioned. All this happens in a crisscross manner, but the domination is always direct. Part of this immediacy is the appeal to the movement of the poor, through which liberation theology was set in motion. They interpreted the biblical stories as something that had immediate (sic!) consequences for their daily lives. Without questioning any forms of mediation, the poor are ascribed a higher quality of knowledge, seemingly independent of social fetish relations. Those who speak of the poor with a false immediacy will speak of their counterpart, the rich, in such a way as to make their wealth directly responsible for the poverty of the poor.

The reflection on the capitalist social context of domination developed within the framework of liberation theology, a social context criticized as fetishistic on the basis of the biblical tradition of the distinction between God and idols, is largely ignored. Taking it up, however, would sharpen the view on structuring contexts of social mediation. In this respect, such a critique represents an immanent corrective to a way of thinking that, probably inspired by categories of the class struggle, associates the poor in their struggle against the rich with the revolutionary subjects of the class struggle without reflecting on social contexts. Rottenfußer does not really know what to do with reflections critical of fetishism that aim at the structural social context of domination. He takes up Boff’s critique of neoliberalism, a critique that understands social exclusion as a consequence of the new modes of production, the world market and neoliberalism. But he immediately lands on the financial economy driven by greed for wealth and the rich who profit from interest and financial investments. In addition to Heiner Geißler, with his equally agile and confused tirades against capital interests measured in stock market value and share price, he identifies the theologian Ulrich Duchrow and Pope Francis as benchmarks for his position.

Rottenfußer refers to Duchrow’s speech on poverty-creating wealth and to Pope Francis’ statement that “this economy kills.” With regard to poverty-creating wealth, Duchrow is quoted with reference to mechanisms of enrichment, which are declared as natural necessities and are thus idolized. The mechanisms of enrichment are located on the legal level with the reference to private property. The right to property is thus the reason that one can pursue wealth enrichment according to the laws of the market. Thus, according to Duchrow, the following is made possible: if the interest rate is higher than the growth rate, the owner of monetary assets robs the others involved in the economic process, i.e. mainly the working people, of their fair share of what they have jointly earned. The Pope’s criticism of capitalism is similar. His criticism of the dogma of the neoliberal credo, according to which the market solves all problems, is quoted, as well as his demand to renounce the absolute autonomy of the markets and to address the structural causes of the unequal distribution of income. Last but not least, the pope’s criticism of the tendency toward uniformity in world culture fits into the worldview of the opponents of erased ethnic, national, and/or regional identities. Accordingly, Francis is quoted as saying: “Local conflicts and disinterest in the common good are exploited by the global economy to impose a single cultural model. Such a culture unites the world but divides people and nations.”

Duty to Resist

At the end of the text it finally becomes clear what the discussion about liberation theology is aiming at: the resistance against the Covid narrative, before which the churches had folded in their conformism, even though Jesus had embraced lepers. Their failure in the face of the cultural rupture sparked by Covid forbids them from muddling along any further. The issue of Covid does not exist independently of the discourse on capitalism. After all, the Pope and others, with their insistence on a moral obligation to vaccinate, have helped to swell the coffers of a few pharmaceutical giants. Above all, growing poverty will be the big issue of the next few years. The culprits for worsening poverty are easily identified: de facto occupational bans in the lockdowns, investments in armaments, and inflation wantonly caused by politicians through disastrous energy policies. Against this, a sentence from the Acts of the Apostles is invoked: “We must obey God rather than men.”

A Twisted Way of Thinking

A common thread running through the text is the attempt to identify victims and pinpoint perpetrators. This is also reflected where structural factors linked to capitalism come into play. They are not understood as structures that have become independent as abstract domination, but rather are traced back to the immediate actions of the actors: to those of the rich, who enrich themselves within the framework of these structures and make the poor their victims. Of course, this critique does not imply a simple determinism. Rather, the point is that the form of abstract domination cannot be deliberately bypassed, and the conditions that drive people into poverty cannot be overcome by a change of direction on the part of the elites.

Such a critique of capitalism also remains truncated in that it is limited to the level of circulation, and there again to the circulation of finance capital. There, the greedy actions of the profiteers can be scandalized particularly drastically. The proximity to (structural) anti-Semitism, with its distinction between rapacious and creative capital, is no problem for lateral thinkers anyway. The fact that Jesus was not the founder of a religion, but a Jew, and that Christianity is rooted in the Jewish tradition, and is therefore not simply a new religion, is consistently overlooked by Rottenfußer.[2] After all, the rootedness in the Jewish tradition is inherent to Christianity: Christians refer to no other God than the God of the Jews.

In the fixation of the critique on (Jewish) rapacious finance capital, the critique of commodity production remains hidden, i.e. the law of value (M-C-M’) and thus the production of capital itself, together with its irrational goal of increasing capital for its own sake and subjugating the globe to this madness. Thus, the crisis of this madness must also remain unrecognized: the logical and historical barrier to the multiplication of capital, which was reached with the replacement of labor by technology and, since the microelectronic revolution, can no longer be compensated for, despite the expansion of commodity production and markets. For a while, the inflow of money from the money multiplication simulated on the financial markets, i.e. money without value (R. Kurz), could serve as compensation. The bursting of the resulting bubbles and, above all, the coincidence of inflation and economic crises signal that the end of this possibility of compensation is rapidly approaching.

This cannot be grasped directly, but only through theoretical reflection that shows how social phenomena are mediated by the social whole. But such insight does not provide an immediate target for the expression of anger and indignation, accompanied by illusions of agency and fantasies of power in the midst of real powerlessness. Lateral thinkers prefer to cling to the cult of immediacy (Günter Frankenberg).[3] It promises to be concrete instead of abstract, practice-oriented instead of concerned with theoretical explanations far removed from practice. This addiction to immediacy is also connected with the recourse to elements of liberation theology and its connections to biblical traditions. Reflection on different historical social contexts, which should be critically related, is ignored. Instead, elements such as the question of the poor are taken up and placed in direct relation to lateral-thinking world views.

Questions for Liberation Theology

It is also not enough to indignantly reject the instrumentalization of elements of liberation theology by lateral thinkers and Querfrontler. Rather, it would be important to reflect critically on where and why such points of contact are offered and how liberation theology needs to be corrected and further developed. This is all the more true since it emerged in social contexts in which it seemed possible to achieve alternatives, up to and including socialist options, through political changes and thus through the state. Liberation seemed conceivable within the horizon of the liberation of labor from capital. In addition, the various variants of liberation theology, which also existed in Africa and Asia, were concerned with liberation from colonial dependence. But this, too, remained largely stuck in the transfer of political power to indigenous elites.

Against this, it would be necessary to recognize that labor, as well as the levels of state and politics, are elementary components of the formal structuring context of capitalist socialization, and that the more the crisis of commodity production progresses, the more the possibilities of regulation collapse. Furthermore, the possibilities of crisis management reach their limits, and state structures collapse and go wild in the interplay and struggles of remnants of the state and gangs.

The tradition of fetish critique in liberation theology could be critically continued. But here, too, it would have to be taken into account that the critique of the market as a fetish remains limited to the level of circulation, that it is not enough to single out individual fetishes such as the market, money and power from the fetishistic social structure of the whole. Rather, it would be important to reflect on the social whole as an in-itself broken totality and to recognize it on the most abstract level in its constitution through commodity production and the dissociation of the femininely connoted and subordinated areas of reproduction, which unfolds in the structuring forms of labor, state, subject, etc. It would be crucial here to recognize this fetishistic social structure as crisis-ridden in its potential for destruction, not discounting the possibility of a destruction of the world. In this framework there can be no emancipatory developments, but only an emancipatory break. Only a consequent negation can open up horizons for emancipatory action.

What this means for theological reflection should also be considered:[4] For the theologically central option for the poor, for speaking of God in the face of suffering and the ever-advancing catastrophe, for connecting with biblical traditions, the Samaritan action and a practice that aims at overcoming the capitalist constitution through negation. Indispensable is the demarcation from identitarian thinking and all temptations to immediacy, and in this sense from all Querfront-like lateral thinking.

Ulrich Duchrow and Pope Francis, who are mentioned in Rottenfußer’s text, must also allow themselves to be questioned. When Ulrich Duchrow speaks of greedy money he does not mean direct personal greed, but a structural social context that is greedy for money, i.e. for the multiplication of capital.[5] Nevertheless, his analysis also focuses more on finance capital than on that of production and circulation and its related crisis. Accordingly, the alternative approaches listed in the book are not adequate attempts to break with capitalism.[6] The same applies to Pope Francis. His critique is courageous because it takes on conservative-reactionary forces, and helpful because it opens doors within the Church for a more radical critique of capitalism. Nevertheless, it is far from the indispensable critique of fetishism.[7] It clings to the ethical regulation of the market, to the illusion that money can serve instead of rule.[8] Furthermore, positions and strategies in the ecclesial sphere that do not or insufficiently include the fetishistic social context of capitalist commodity production and its crisis are worthy of criticism. In this context, the positioning of the Institute for Theology and Politics with regard to Covid policies must be criticized,[9] as well as the insufficient reflections and practical orientations in the environment of Kairos Europa.[10]

In view of the necessity of a consistent demarcation from all lateral thinking, the acceptance and consistent continuation of the critique of fetishism, which can be connected theologically to the biblically central distinction between God and idols, is of decisive importance. It is within this framework that the crisis that is destroying the foundations of life is to be located. The destructive irrationalism of capitalist self-purpose seems to determine more and more the thoughts and actions of people in the struggles for self-assertion in the crisis. Combined with the structural impossibility of rigorous action, this can also explain the confusion in the actions of political-economic actors and the lateral thinking resistance against them. Critical reflection is all the more important if there are to be paths to liberation.

[1] Cf.

[2] The impression that Christianity is a new religion is suggested by the history of Christianity, insofar as Christianity separated itself from Judaism in anti-Judaic tirades. This is expressed, among other things, in the (anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic) view that the Church has taken the place of Judaism, which became obsolete with the advent of Christianity. To speak of Christianity as a new religion would confirm this, but it is not immune to the danger of Christian appropriation of Jewish tradition. It is crucial to understand Judaism and Christianity as two variants of the search for liberation, connected in their (fetish-critical) reference to the one God of Israel.

[3] Günter Frankenberg talks about this in his book Autoritarianism, Berlin 2020.

[4] Cf. Herbert Böttcher, “Kapitalismuskritik und Theologie. Versuch eines Gesprächs zwischen wert-abspaltungskritischem und theologischem Denken,” in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (ed.). Nein zum Kapitalismus, aber wie? Unterschiedliche Ansätze der Kapitalismuskritik, Koblenz 2013/2015, 117 163, online:; cf. ders, Der Krisenkapitalismus und seine Katstrophen. Challenge for Theological Reflection, in: Netztelegramm. Information of the Ecumenical Network Rhine-Moselle-Saar, Koblenz 2016, online:

[5] Ulrich Duchrow, Gieriges Geld. Auswege aus der Kapitalismusfalle. Befreiungstheologische Perspektiven, Munich 2012.

[6] Cf. Dominic Kloos, “Alternativen zum Kapitalismus. Im Check: Gemeinwohlökonomie,” in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (ed.): Die Frage nach dem Ganzen, Koblenz 2018, 299-356, online:; cf. also Thomas Meyer, “Alternativen zum Kapitalismus. In Check: Buen Vivir und das Ende der nachholenden Entwicklung,” in: Ökumenisches Netz Rhein-Mosel-Saar (ed.): Bruch mit der Form, Koblenz 2020, 465-479, online:

[7] Cf. Herbert Böttcher, “In der Freude des Evangeliums. Aufstehen gegen Repression und Depression. Der Papst wechselt die Perspektiven, in: Perspektivenwechsel!? Eine Herausforderung für die Kirche angesichts sich verschärfender gesellschaftlicher Krisen. Eine Intervention zur Synode und daruber hinaus,” 14-32, online:

[8] Cf. Evangelii gaudium, 57f. For a critique of the Vatican positions on financial markets, see Dominic Kloos, “Die Himmelfahrt des Geldes in den Prinzipienhimmel Zur Finanzialisierung des Kapitalismus und den Grenzen christlicher Sozialethik,” Bielefeld 2022.

[9] Cf. AK Theologische Orientierung, “An Corona und am Kapitalismus vorbei Anmerkungen zu Corona und die Kirchen. Eine Kritik,” Koblenz 2021, online:

[10] Cf. the Zacchaeus Tax Campaign (cf. critically Kloos, note 8) and the call of casa comun on the occasion of the 11th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Karlsruhe in September 2022:

Originally published in Net Telegram in October 2022

Free Debate for Free Citizens?

Some remarks on cancel culture and its critique

Thomas Meyer

“Cancel culture […] is a political buzzword that describes systematic efforts for the partial social exclusion of individuals or organizations that are accused of offensive, discriminatory, racist, anti-Semitic, conspiratorial, bellicose, misogynistic, chauvinistic, or homophobic statements or actions” (Wikipedia). Today, many see the freedom and diversity of opinion as threatened by cancel culture. Liberal classics such as Voltaire or John Stuart Mill are often quoted. The critics of cancel culture point out the importance of being able to hear and take note of dissenting voices (because of course, without a plurality of opinions there would be no progress in knowledge), as well as to the danger of censorship and exclusion from civil society (boycott, deplatforming).

As the anthology Cancel Culture und Meinungsfreiheit – Über Zensur und Selbstzensur [Cancel Culture and Freedom of Expression – On Censorship and Self-Censorship] points out, critics also complain that Cancel Culture prevents free scientific discourse.[1] Cancel culture acts emotionally. It operates in the mode of argumentum ad hominem. It opposes the “misconduct” of individuals. The aim is not the truth, but the moral or professional destruction of public figures who have expressed a “wrong opinion.” The opponent is not refuted, but cancelled, i.e. the person is dismissed, he is forced to resign, becomes a non-person. The discourse is broken off. Or so these critics claim.

A fundamental problem of cancel culture, we are told, is its tendency to “equate verbal expression with physical violence” (p. 64). This encourages “censorious thinking” (ibid.) and leads to a “cult of vulnerability” (p. 24). Comparatively harmless statements are scandalized (e.g., so-called microaggressions). On the basis of individual statements, conclusions are drawn about the defendant’s “attitude,” and they are accordingly judged as guilty. It is the fact of being affected and of belonging to a certain group that is decisive for this assessment, not an unbiased argumentation. There is an aggressive protest culture whose central argument is being offended. If certain people or groups felt offended, they feel as if they are on the right side as victims. Being offended is used as justification and reason (especially on “social media”) for militant agitation. This ranges from preventing events (i.e. restricting freedom of speech and teaching) to death threats (e.g. against J.K. Rowling, because she believes that trans women are not “real” women). So far, no representative of “TERF” (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism) has been beheaded for insult, transphobia, or the like (unlike people who would have “insulted” Islam, such as French teacher Samuel Paty in 2021). Rowling’s books, however, have been burned[2] (by Christian fundamentalists as well, by the way).[3] Such events are used to argue that “cancel culture” (or what is considered as such) poses a threat to democracy. The consequences are (self-)censorship and a narrowing of the space of discourse. A “climate of fear” (p. 57) emerges. The purge of the classical educational canon in schools, in art, in museums, etc. is also criticized. One can summarize this criticism of Cancel Culture by saying that the agitators of Cancel Culture appear thoroughly authoritarian and self-righteous, but adorn themselves with the halo of being progressive and forward thinking.

According to Stefan Laurin, cancel culture has its origins in postmodernism, “which in turn has its roots both in linguistics and in the rejection of democracy, the Enlightenment, and the market economy” (p. 175).[4] In the United States in particular, Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay[5] point out that identity politics agitators, unlike classical postmodern theorists (such as Michel Foucault), espouse an absolute truth claim (queer theory, “critical race theory”, disability studies, fat studies, and others).[6] According to Pluckrose and Lindsay, it is hardly possible to disagree with these people without this disagreement being quickly identified as part of a pernicious normality.[7]

It is indeed a problem when substantive differences are not resolved through “sober discourse” but when everyone starts a shitstorm from within their own filter bubble (if they are capable of receiving or understanding content outside their own bubble at all). The inability to deal with content or other positions outside of one’s peer group or filter bubble is characteristic of authoritarian and narcissistic subjects.[8] Disagreeing with one or another premise of certain identity politics practices or theories does not necessarily indicate a reactionary point of view (one is not, for instance, immediately a Western imperialist or a racist with a “colonialist view” if one rejects certain aspects of non-Western cultures as authoritarian or reactionary, or if one criticizes Islamist anti-Semitism).[9] Although postmodernism spoke out against essentialist and binary thinking, it falls into these very waters when it acts in an identitarian way. Terry Eagleton therefore accused postmodernism of not applying its methods to itself.

The critiques of cancel culture and of the claims to the absoluteness of postmodern “cynical theories”[10] and their agitators described here certainly have their true and justified moments. However, against the background of emerging right-wing or fascist movements and agitations, a critique of postmodern thought and its identitarian derivatives remains highly inadequate if this critique remains based on the idea of a liberalism of “free” discourse and the progress of knowledge through sober argumentation. This critique of cancel culture is therefore problematic in several respects: the first concerns the “idealism of domination-free scientific discourse.” Free discourse at universities is often not possible, even without cancel culture. After all, there is the standard academic pecking order. Then there is the academic filter-bubble thinking itself, which emerges out of hyper-specialization and precarious employment. The latter encourages conformist behavior. If you do not conform, your contract will not be renewed (or your grant application will not be approved). Instead of open and non-hierarchical discourse, ass-kissing is the order of the day. Professional bans are not even necessary in the entrepreneurial university.[11]

It is not that every idea is freely discussed and disproven theories disappear. On the contrary. One example is Peter Singer, the philosopher and animal rights activist. While he wants to grant personhood to certain animals, he simultaneously denies personhood to certain humans. What he proposes is a concept of “life unworthy of life” – as one would have formulated it in earlier times. Today, the right to life is denied to those who only cost money and, according to Singer, would be better off if they had never been born. Misanthropic positions do not disappear just because they have been refuted in a free scientific discourse. Capitalist conditions themselves reproduce Social Darwinist ideologies that deny the right to exist to those who are not exploitable (any longer). Finally, such positions do not remain only “gray theory,” but become a program.[12] And is it really an expression of an authoritarian character and of a ‘hostility to democracy’ to try to prevent events with Peter Singer, who has not revised his position since the 1980s until today, by demonstrations and agitation?

Secondly, we have seen quite a few people (Thilo Sarrazin comes to mind) that have received a career boost and a growing degree of recognition as a result of shitstorms and cancellations (or attempted cancellations), i.e. people who have not disappeared from the public eye or lost their jobs. But to then stand up and claim that the corridor of opinion is being narrowed or something like that shows nothing other than that those who criticize racist or anti-Semitic etc. positions are being excluded from the supposedly free discourse. Cancel culture can thus also be classified as a right-wing rallying cry that isinstrumentalized to deny legitimacy to the political movements of those who are marginalized and discriminated against. This rallying cry is meant to immunize against criticism. Of course, no one is racist, anti-Semitic or sexist anyway.[13] Nor is the lumpen intelligentsia. From this point of view, any accusation is pure denunciation: Criticism of racist positions is not criticism, but a shitstorm and a suppression of freedom of speech (which is ironic, given the fact that these opinions are pushed by the mainstream media and the “victims of leftist do-goodism” are invited to a thousand talk shows). Criticism of discriminatory language is not criticism of the linguistic devaluation of certain people or groups of people (think of the endless denigration and harassment of the unemployed!),[14] but nothing other than the unacceptable paternalism of “free citizens.” Privileged people[15] feel that they are being “trampled on” when the official channels of criticism are not followed, or when they encounter any opposition at all (what were the times when sexist and homophobic hostility could be expressed without those affected having the opportunity to complain!).[16] Criticism thus becomes “censorship.” If Friedrich Merz regards cancel culture as the “greatest threat to freedom of speech,” it is not exactly difficult to guess what he will probably invoke in the next election campaign in order to avoid criticism of himself and his reactionary positions. Merz thus instrumentalizes “cancel culture” in order to be able to delegitimize and denounce his political opponent from the outset.[17]

We can see that the public discourse has shifted more and more to the right in recent years. So-called “taboo breakers” have played an active role in this.[18] The aim of the right-wingers was to push back the “limits of what can be said.” This was apparently successful. Fighting the extremism of the center is entirely justified and necessary (those who see it differently may be part of the problem). The repeated demand to “talk to the right” because freedom of speech requires it can be interpreted as an unconscious desire to let the right say what one has secretly been afraid to say.[19] The liberal critique of cancel culture thus suffers from the fact that freedom of expression – freedom of opinion – is formally conceived and usually depoliticized. There is a reluctance to admit that there are social struggles and antagonisms that cannot be erased by arguing with each other in the lecture hall. The connection of certain positions with a social (crisis) dynamic that promotes anti-human viewpoints is ignored. Instead, all opinions (except, of course, those that violate the law, i.e., Holocaust denial) are made equal. A supposedly free and neutral scientific and democratic discourse, i.e. a free exchange of arguments, is supposed to pave the way to truth. Of course, this presupposes a positivist understanding of science, which makes no distinction between a natural order, which would be what it is even without human intervention (e.g. the movement of the planets), and an objectified social order, which is, however, historically contingent, i.e. has only come into being through human action itself. Positivist thought can only trace reality, but cannot criticize it as a false or alienated reality. It makes “the existing reality appear as the only possible and historically necessary one.”[20]

The prevailing conditions are not soberly “analyzed” by the critics of cancel culture at all. Rather, they blindly assume them, and their catastrophic consequences for man and nature are trivialized, distorted, naturalized, or denied altogether. That the critique of cancel culture remains only a bourgeois critique, i.e. one that is unable to establish a connection to the capitalist enclosure of bondage, is shown, for instance, by the publicist (and Novo editor) Kolja Zydattis when he documents the following example of cancel culture from 2017: “A planned lecture by the federal chairman of the German police union Rainer Wendt at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main on the subject of ‘Everyday police work in an immigration society’ was cancelled. Left-wing groups had previously mobilized against the event. An open letter from 60 academics at Goethe University and other German universities also demanded that Wendt not be allowed to speak. The head of the police union reinforces ‘racist thought structures’ and positions himself ‘far away from an enlightened discourse.’ Wendt had spoken of Germany ‘not being a constitutional state’ in reference to Merkel’s opening of the border to refugees in 2015 and claimed that police officers in Germany do not engage in so-called racial profiling.”[21]

Positions that promote isolationism, view refugees as disruptive factors and security risks, and trivialize racist police violence should apparently still be discussed “with an open mind.” The demand to open discussion ignores the fact that there are already “results.”[22] You don’t have to discuss all the shit people say, especially when it is clear that what’s being discussed is meant to shift the discourse and public opinion further to the right,[23] and criticism is dismissed as unfounded leftist intolerance anyway. A leftist critique would certainly say that such agitation is insufficient and that the reference to “enlightened discourses” initially sounds somewhat naive. But a more far-reaching critique that goes beyond this, one that addresses the causes of migration[24] and places them in the context of the crisis of capitalism, would not even occur to the liberal critics of cancel culture in their wildest dreams. No critic of cancel culture would ever think of calling the closure of hospitals, libraries, and swimming pools for “economic reasons” cancel culture (or all kinds of IMF austerity policies and structural adjustment reforms, etc.). If people cannot successfully sell their labor power in order to participate in the valorization process of capital, if they are thus only “social waste” and a “security risk” for the allegedly “open society,” their existence is cancelled in real terms, they can freely and openly discuss different opinions as much as they want… But at the same time, on the contrary, the space of the free opinion and discussion may not be so wide after all, if in it people dare to question the sanctified capitalism. To take the liberty ofcriticizing and pointing out the limits and restrictions of bourgeois freedom[25] would certainly be considered by some an “abuse of freedom” by the “enemies of freedom,” especially if this criticism were not limited to language and argumentum ad hominem, but went as far as the realization of this freedom. The mendacity of the bourgeois critics of the cancel culture lies precisely in the fact that the bourgeois public itself is unable or unwilling to argue neutrally, soberly and openly when, for example, there is talk of expropriation (to the detriment and not the advantage of capital)[26] or if the “C-word” is even mentioned, i.e. when capitalism is considered as a fundamental problem! There is no mention of Voltaire here, but right away comes an aggressive shitstorm from the liberal Twitter mob (again, just a coincidence that they are mostly men).[27] The bourgeois ideal of an open-ended debate is disgraced by the reality of its bourgeois bigotry!

The emptiness and meaninglessness of the monstrous capitalist self-purpose (M-C-M’) finds its expression in the emptiness and groundlessness of positions charged in an indentitary manner (“free ride for free citizens” or the like). Just when identities fall into crisis because their social foundations are breaking down, they are defended all the more fiercely. Their disintegration or obsolescence is blamed on an “external threat” (leftists, politicians, migrants, feminists, the “gay agenda,” etc.). The insistence on the formal correctness of a “dominance-free” discussion ultimately leads to what is called “dominance-free” and “democratic” – what is considered “normal” – shifting further to the right. This does not make all bourgeois criticism of cancel culture wrong (it is right to criticize senseless purges of historical artifacts and affective shitstorms instead of discussions), but it would have to grow out of its bourgeois bigotry if it wanted to contribute to the critique of ideology against widespread brutalization. However, the bourgeois critique of cancel culture, with its idealized liberalism and its adherence to capitalist real-metaphysics (sometimes summarized as “common sense”), makes it more compatible with right-wing positions or, as it is called in popular jargon, connectable [anschlussfähig]tothem. It is therefore no coincidence that some Novo authorsalso write for magazines such as Achse des Guten or Eigentümlich frei. In fact, the focus of the bourgeois critique of cancel culture is not the critique of right-wing cancel-culture: think here of “political masculinity,”[28] which aggressively mobilizes for patriarchy, and the agitation against Fridays for Future.[29] The ban on gender studies in Hungary apparently did not count as cancel culture to liberal/conservative and right-wing critics.[30] On the contrary, gender studies is considered by many to be a pseudo-science that should be abolished!

The decisive factor in criticism is the question of content and not the formality of a so-called domination-free discourse. If one follows the liberal critics of cancel culture, and only focuses on the freedom or openness of discussion, the question of the historical and social context of “controversial” positions remains unanswered. Likewise, the constraints and structures of domination that prevent (or at least make very difficult) an open discussion – for example, about the possibility of a non-capitalist mode of production – remain unthematized. But that is exactly what ison the agenda![31]

[1] See for the following remarks: Sabine Beppler-Spahl (ed.): Cancel Culture und Meinungsfreiheit – Über Zensur und Selbstzensur, Frankfurt 2022.

[2] Cf:

[3] For example, in Poland:

[4] Stefan Laurin: Ein Angriff auf die Aufklärung, in: Sabine Beppler-Spahl (ed.): Cancel Culture und Meinungsfreiheit – Über Zensur und Selbstzensur, Frankfurt 2022, 175-190.

[5] Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay: Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody, Durham 2020.

[6] Authoritarian tendencies have also been noted in the German queer scene, as is well known: Patsy L’Amour Lalove (ed.): Beißreflexe – Kritik an queerem Aktivismus, autoritären Sehnsüchten, Sprechverboten, Berlin 2017. The situation is no better in the anti-racist scene: Vojin Sasa Vukadinovic (ed.): Freiheit ist keine Metapher – Antisemitismus, Migration, Rassismus, Religionskritik, Berlin 2018.

[7] On the critique of postmodernism, see: Terry Eagleton: Die Illusionen der Postmoderne, Stuttgart/Weimar 1997, first, Oxford 1996, as well as Robert Kurz: Die Welt als Wille und Design: Postmoderne, Lifestyle-Linke und die Ästhetisierung der Krise, Berlin 1999, and ders: Der Kampf um die Wahrheit – Anmerkungen zum postmodernen Relativismusgebot in der gesellschaftskritischen Theorie, in: exit! – Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft No. 12, Angermünde 2014, 53-76.

[8] Cf. Leni Wissen: The Socio-Psychological Matrix of the Bourgeois Subject in Crisis – A Reading of Freudian Psychoanalysis from a Value-Dissociation-Critical Perspective,

[9] Cf. Sama Maani: Respektverweigerung – Warum wir fremde Kulturen nicht respektieren sollen. And neither should we respect our own, Klagenfurt/Cleovec 2015.

[10] Pluckrose & Lindsay cannot be discussed further in the following.

[11] Cf: Gerhard Stapelfeldt: Der Aufbruch des konformistischen Geistes – Thesen zur Kritik der neoliberalen Universität, Hamburg 2011.

[12] Cf: Peter Bierl: Unmenschlichkeit als Programm, Berlin 2022, and Gerbert van Loenen: Das ist doch kein Leben mehr! – Warum aktive Sterbehilfe zu Fremdbestimmung führt, Frankfurt, 2nd ed. 2015, first Amsterdam 2009.

[13] The satirical magazine Titanic put this denial and downplaying of anti-Semitism in a nutshell a few years ago

[14] Cf: Anna Mayr: Die Elenden – Warum unsere Gesellschaft Arbeitslose verachtet und sie dennoch braucht, Berlin, 3rd ed. 2021. As if it were the most normal thing in the world, the culture industry is also busy generalizing and hounding, see Britta Steinwachs: Zwischen Pommesbude und Muskelbank – Die mediale Inszenierung der “Unterschicht,” Münster 2015.

[15] As, for example, Herfried Münkler: Cf. Peter Nowak: Münkler-Watch – Neue Form studentischen Protestes?, Telepolis, 11.5.2015, Cf. also

[16] No kidding: Jasper von Altenbockum (of the FAZ) writes in all seriousness, in the Novo anthologyI listed here, about the Adenauer era: “The question is, however, whether political mores were not much more open, tolerant, interested, and argumentative back then than they are today. Debates about Thilo Sarrazin, Boris Palmer, Sahra Wagenknecht and Hans-Georg Maaßen show a degree of political prudishness in the respective parties and beyond that even the Adenauer era, which was truly uptight and taboo-laden in other respects, seems like a haven of freedom” (p. 73f.). What a mockery of the victims of the Adenauer regime! (Communists, opponents of rearmament, homosexuals, etc.).

[17] Cf. The Dark Parabolic Knight: Fritz Meinecke and the Cancel Culture Danger:

[18] Cf: Annett Schulze, Thorsten Schäfer (eds.): Zur Re-Biologisierung der Gesellschaft – Menschenfeindliche Konstruktionen im Ökologischen und im Sozialen, Aschaffenburg 2012.

[19] Cf. Christine Kirchhoff: Gefühlsbefreiung by proxy – Zur Aktualität des autoritären Charakters, in: Katrin Henkelmann, et al. (eds.): Konformistische Rebellen – Zur Aktualität des autoritären Charakters, Berlin 2020, 213-230.

[20] Miladin Zivotic: Proletarischer Humanismus – Studien über Mensch, Wert und Freiheit, Munich 1972, first Beograd 1969, p. 39.

[21] Kolja Zydatiss: Cancel Culture – Eine Begriffsbestimmung, in: Sabine Beppler-Spahl (ed.): Cancel Culture und Meinungsfreiheit – Über Zensur und Selbstzensur, Frankfurt 2022, 50-65, pp. 53f.

[22] Cf: Herbert Böttcher, “Wir schaffen das!” – Mit Ausgrenzungsimperialismus und Ausnahmezustand gegen Flüchtlinge, 2016,

[23] On Rainer Wendt, see

[24] Cf: Georg Auernheimer: Wie Flüchtlinge gemacht werden – Über Fluchtursachen und Fluchtverursacher, Cologne 2018.

[25] Cf. e.g.: Leo Kofler: Zur Kritik bürgerlicher Freiheit – Ausgewählte politisch-philosophische Texte eines marxistischen Einzelgängers, Hamburg 2000 and especially: Robert Kurz: Blutige Vernunft – Essays zur emanzipatorischen Kritik der kapitalistischen Moderne und ihrer westlichen Werte, Bad Honnef 2004.

[26] Tomasz Konicz: “Comrade Kühnert,” Telepolis, 12.9.2020,

[27] Cf. Der Fall Elisa Avesa – Das Gespenst des Kommunismus, Neues Deutschland, June 9, 2022,

[28] Cf.: Susanne Kaiser: Politische Männlichkeit – Wie Incels, Fundamentalisten und Autoritäre für das Patriarchat mobilmachen, Frankfurt 2020.

[29] Cf: Enno Hinz, Lukas Paul Meya: Headwinds for the climate movement, of 12.11.2019 or Analyse & Kritik No. 654.

[30] Cf.

[31] Cf. Tomasz Konicz: Emancipation in Crisis,

Originally published in Grassroots Revolution No. 475 (January 2023)

Rebranding Capitalism

The liberal end as an authoritarian beginning: When left-liberal business editors write about the end of capitalism, they mean its descent into authoritarianism. A review of Ulrike Herrmann’s “The End of Capitalism.”

Tomasz Konicz

For just where fails the comprehension,

A word steps promptly in as deputy.

With words ’tis excellent disputing;

Systems to words ’tis easy suiting;

On words ’tis excellent believing;

No word can ever lose a jot from thieving.

Mephisto in Goethe’s Faust, Part 1

At last! After all these long years,[1] in which critics of value, like lonely voices in the wilderness, have addressed the self-destructive tendencies of capital, and warned of the collapse of the process of civilization due to the incompatibility of capitalism and climate protection,[2][3] it now seems that the mainstream of published opinion is also taking up this issue. This is hardly surprising in view of the manifest systemic crisis, in which all attempts to nurse capital back to health are bound to fail.[4] While the opportunistically closed-off “Left Party,” in which national-social and left-liberal rackets fight for hegemony,[5] clings to its dull social demagoguery, Ulrike Herrmann, economics editor of the daily newspaper taz, the left-liberal organ of the ruling Green Party, has written a book on the “end of capitalism,” the subtitle of which at least notes the incompatibility of “growth” and climate protection.[6]

Isn’t that great? Herrmann’s radical crisis theory, for years thoroughly marginalized, not least in the taz, now seems to be becoming “mainstream”! The former Keynesian Herrmann, who still in her 2018 bestseller Kein Kapitalismus ist auch keine Lösung (No Capitalism Is Also No Solution) refused to part ways with her beloved capitalism, thoroughly misinterpreting Karl Marx in the process, now sees no alternative to an alternative system. Unlike many arch-conservative leftists who are still stuck in the 19th century, Herrmann seems to have undergone an enormous change of heart within a few years, from a healthy worshipper of capitalism to a post-capitalist. Better late than never!

What does it matter if some of the central statements of her new book give the impression of having been simply copied from texts of the critique of value, without a citation or a simple reference to where Herrmann suddenly gets her wisdom, which includes the inevitability of the “demise” of capitalism? Take, for example, when she writes that there is no alternative to “renouncing growth,” because otherwise things would end violently in the long run, having “destroyed the foundations of life.”[7] This is an – admittedly rather hairy – rendition of a central thesis of the critique of value.[8] The same applies to the (former?) Keynes fan’s observation that Keynesian stimulus programs boost the economy in times of crisis, but at the same time literally fuel the climate crisis.[9]

In the late-bourgeois media and political establishment, where competition and copyright are sacred, intellectual theft is considered a serious offense; it is pursued by “plagiarism hunters” and can end the career of a politician or journalist. Without saying so, Herrmann seems to be shamelessly drawing on the resources of value-critical crisis theory, which has been systematically marginalized for years, not least in her newspaper. Measured by the standards of the liberal middle class to which she belongs, this is unacceptable; it comes close to intellectual theft.

But within the left, within progressive, emancipatory forces, different rules apply. Ideally, an open-source approach prevails, so to speak. Here, insights and theoretical findings are common property that can and should be disseminated and, above all, criticized and further developed by all interested parties. Insight is a collective process gained in dialectical discussion, in dispute. And Herrmann’s book – in contrast to most of the intellectual exhalations of the “Left Party,” which is passing into open decay – seems to fulfill a central progressive claim in the manifest systemic crisis: It clearly emphasizes that overcoming capitalism is necessary for survival. Por la causa, for the sake of the cause, it is also important to remember that Herrmann acts as a multiplier. In her media appearances, with the support of the green and liberal media, she can reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, not hundreds or – if all goes well – thousands, as is now common in the left-wing scene.

So, is the struggle for a post-capitalist future finally becoming mainstream in the face of the manifest systemic crisis? Or, to put it another way: Is Herrmann’s book a progressive contribution to the crisis debate? First of all, one might have doubts about this after reading the effusive praise Herrmann heaps on capitalism for its alleged merits (democracy! prosperity! comfort!) before discussing the ecological barriers of its development. Here, of course, the narrow-minded perspective of the German, white middle class comes into play, which confidently ignores the catastrophic conditions in the periphery of the world system and the underclass in the centers.

But here, too, one could argue that the praise of capitalism is intended to soften the necessary rupture that the middle class itself would suffer if it were to part intellectually from its golden capitalist thought-cage. On the other hand, it becomes more difficult to maintain a positive assessment of her argumentation when Herrmann starts to develop quite concrete specifications for an “alternative” way of doing business – which look suspiciously like the old state capitalism of the 1930s – with reference to the slogan “System Change, not Climate Change.”

The economics editor of the taz refers quite specifically to the wartime economy of Great Britain, which is supposed to serve as a model for a post-capitalist alternative (the wartime economy of the Nazis, by the way, differed little in its basic features, with the exception of forced labor in the last years of the war). State planning, rationing and a renunciation of consumption are cited as methods by which the reduction of emissions would have to be achieved quickly. Finally, Herrmann demands that every citizen be assigned the same CO2 limit of one ton per year, so that the rich would have to cut back far more than the middle class or the poor.

This plea for state capitalism is flanked by ideas from the alternative ecological milieu of the Greens: the degrowth movement, the barter economy, or the public goods economy. The sharing of goods, the reduction of working hours, an unconditional basic income, and vocational reorientation are mentioned in this context as supporting measures of a state-planned “survival economy.”[10] A state capitalism with a green tinge, so to speak. The renunciation of consumption in the face of state-organized rationing of goods and joint yoga courses – this is what Herrmann’s “system alternative” seems to amount to, and it can only be sold as such because the taz journalist takes great care not to elaborate a concept of capital, as even the weekly newspaper Freitag noted in its review of the book.[11] That capital is a process of the unlimited valorization of waged labor in commodity production, a totality that shapes the entire society in its image,[12] Herrmann, in her previous book, at least still suspected in her discussion of Marx.[13] All that remains of this is the regressive and nebulous talk of “growth.”

It is simply not clear what Herrmann means by capitalism, so capitalist institutions, processes or phenomena can be sold as post-capitalist. A renunciation of consumption, as Herrmann demands, implies the continued existence of consumption, which is, after all, only an expression of commodity production. Consumption, as opposed to the satisfaction of needs, is always commodity consumption, that is, a by-product of the pursuit of maximum profit. In a post-capitalist society, however, human needs would have to be freed from the constricting corset of the commodity form. Herrmann thus wants to abolish capitalism while retaining the “elementary form” (Marx) of capital, the commodity as the bearer of value. A necessary liberation of needs from the consumption compulsion of the commodity form in post-capitalism, however, could save resources on a massive scale without being perceived as a “renunciation of consumption.”

Oh yeah, and private ownership of the means of production is also supposed to be a part of the overcoming of capitalism, in the “Democratic Private Planned Economy” (Thus Herrmann on British wartime capitalism). Hermann’s post-capitalist labeling fraud, however, applies above all to the state, which is not a counter-principle to the market and capital, but, in its capacity as the “ideal total capitalist” (Marx/Engels), a necessary pole of capitalist societies, guaranteeing the functioning of the overall system as a corrective agent. Historically, the state was also the midwife of capital, by means of the monetization of feudal levies in the firearms economy (Robert Kurz) of absolutism, and it is dependent on the valorization process of capital through taxes.[14] Without sufficient capital valorization there is no state – and vice versa. That is why, in the crisis episodes of the past decades, many states on the periphery collapsed one after the other and became the notorious “failed states,” because in these places the economic crisis of capital had grown to such an extent that even the state apparatuses had gone wild.

In her middle-class-compatible fetishism of the state, the taz author is thus once again completely Keynesian. At this point, at the latest, the fact that Herrmann only copied the ecological side of the crisis process of capital from the critique of value, without adequately perceiving its economic dimension, takes its revenge.[15] The current systemic crisis is not a mere re-enactment of the crisis of enforcement (Robert Kurz) of the 1930s and 1940s, when Fordism made its breakthrough as a new regime of accumulation with the total mobilization for war.[16] There is no prospect of a new regime of accumulation, which is why the tendencies of state erosion are spreading more and more, even in the centers. In Germany, this takes the form of right-wing networks and rackets, which are acting with increasing self-confidence (the taz reported, for example, on the coup plans of Uniter & Co.) – and to whom Herrmann now wants to entrust control of the reproduction of society as a whole. State capitalism is already a crisis reality in many places: for example in China, in the form of the Russian state oligarchy, or even in Egypt, where the Egyptian military is building a “war economy” without war.[17] State expansion and state erosion often go hand in hand.[18]

Of course, Herrmann would indignantly reject suggestions that she would look to Russia or Egypt as models. But this is – like the state Nazi networks in the FRG – the harsh reality of the crisis, not the Keynesian ideal of the impartial regulating state. The capitalist state, too, is caught up in the socio-ecological crisis of capital. And at the same time, it is a common capitalist crisis reflex, as the above shows, that the role of the state increases in times of crisis. The authoritarian and “brutalizing” state will play a greater role in the further course of the crisis. And that is why Herrmann’s statements must be called ideology, justification. It provides the justification for the coming era of authoritarian state crisis management in the capitalist systemic crisis, which is now not only devastating the periphery, but is also fully taking hold in the centers. The German middle class’s fear of the crisis is likely to provide mass support for this authoritarian flight into the arms of the seemingly strong state – from which the German right is likely to benefit (the AfD is already on the rise).

This justification takes place through the gutting of the concept of capitalism, which degenerates into a mere empty phrase that can be filled with content at will. It is a strategy borrowed from the advertising industry, where it has become a habit to fill words with content at will. Since capitalism has fallen into disrepute due to its permanent economic and ecological crisis, its form of crisis must be given a new label, a new tag: the capitalist crisis management that Herrmann propagates is no longer capitalism, according to the central ideologem of the taz editor. That is why Herrmann does not give a definition of capital, as Freitag criticized; she has to remain vague so that this ideological sleight of hand can succeed.

Actors from the Green Party, the party of the social austerity of Agenda 2010 and the wars of aggression that violated international law, are thus leading the production of ideology in the climate crisis: the chimera of “green capitalism” that has been successfully propagated for years is now giving way to a mere relabeling of the looming authoritarian crisis management as post-capitalism. This is a Mephistophelian trick that takes ideology to a new level: it is a rebranding of capitalism that operates with empty words while capitalism has a very bad reputation due to its permanent crisis.

And that is why it is also legitimate to be outraged by the fact that Herrmann, here completely the bourgeois competitive subject, is basically committing intellectual theft, taking central insights of value critique out of their theoretical context and incorporating them distortedly into her state-capitalist ideology. But this approach is characteristic of this rapidly brutalizing middle-class milieu in its ruthless crisis competition, which we must also judge by its own copyright standards.

Finally, it should be noted that this late Keynesian fetish of the state, even in its idealized and largely unrealistic version, has nothing to do with emancipation, if this is to be understood as the overcoming of capitalist fetishism and its absurd regime of coercion, which is driving towards socio-ecological collapse. Emancipation is not “hollow talk” pursued by “do-gooders,” but the necessary, conscious shaping of the reproduction process in a thoroughly conflictual, egalitarian discourse encompassing all of society. And this liberation of democracy from the fetishistic fetters of capital would ultimately be more efficient than any state economy, which inevitably tends towards authoritarianism, as a look at the history of the GDR or the Soviet Union shows. But the most efficient social reproduction possible, freed from the capitalist irrationality of limitless valorization, would be urgently needed, especially in view of the escalating climate crisis.

Ulrike Herrmann, Das Ende des Kapitalismus. Warum Wachstum und Klimaschutz nicht vereinbar sind – und wie wir in Zukunft leben werden, kiwi, 2022

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[11] “Unfortunately, the author does not give us a clear concept of what she wants to call capitalism in essence, although that would actually be necessary if one wants to explain the necessity of the end of capitalism.” Source:

[12] https://www.untergrund-blä


[14] See also: Robert Kurz, The Bang of Modernity. Innovation through Firearms, Expansion through War: A Look Back to the Origins of Abstract Labor. Online at :

[15] https://www.untergrund-blä

[16] Robert Kurz, Die Demokratie frisst ihre Kinder, Bemerkungen zum neuen Rechtsradikalismus.



Originally published on on 12/14/2022

You Must Say “Health Dictatorship”!

Who Is the Best at Regressing?

Herbert Böttcher

Conspiracy as The Key to Knowledge

Under the title “Did You Say ‘Health Dictatorship’?” Anselm Jappe had headlined his criticism of repressive health measures, up to and including compulsory vaccination, and defended himself against being labeled a “conspiracy theorist.” This was not enough for Karl Rauschenbach.[1] He wants to go beyond Jappe… Exit!, which he imagines as “at war” with conspiracy fantasies, thus serves as  a negative foil. The group is apparently united by “three dogmas” that also constitute a “moral code”: “Thou shalt not deny Covid and the pandemic! Thou shalt not be a conspiracy theorist! Thou shalt not be a contrarian!”

Now Rauschenbach’s zeal against exit! could be left aside if it did not reveal something about ‘conspiracy theories and lateral thinking.’ The dogmatism attributed to exit! is extremely forced and contrived, as are the statistics that are supposed to support it. The relationship to the Covid pandemic and the political response to it becomes, as it were, a fundamental epistemological category with which to examine social conditions and hallucinate a practice of resistance. The point is not to understand Covid in the context of the social totality, but vice versa: the social totality, including the consequences for practice, is derived from the pandemic – and this quite directly, without ifs or buts.

Even Jappe’s talk of a “health dictatorship” cannot clear such a high bar. He jumps below it conspiracy-theoretically. Rauschenbach discusses this ad nauseam. He refers to “social mechanisms that do not require an actual [sic!] conspiracy” and cites as examples “the sensationalism of the media,” “the conformism of politicians,” “the profit-seeking of individual actors and capitals, such as the pharmaceutical industry or this digital economy.” Later, he mentions the restructuring of capitalism and the possible replacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. In any case, the enumeration of such phenomena obviously does not allow us to establish an overall social context, because “given the depth and duration of the state of emergency, such phenomena do not represent its essence.” It is therefore necessary – so far so good – to think about the phenomena together with the essence that is represented in them. That essence is found in the “conspiracy.” This is not a denunciatory attribution, but the author’s plain language: “The structurally conditioned upheavals cannot do without conspiracy in the broader sense.” With the conspiracy, the “actual” has emerged from the thicket of phenomena.

It is precisely this bar of the “actual” that Jappe failed jump over. His decisive jumping error is that of “a dutiful distancing” from the conspiracy theory. After all, he does not want to be considered a conspiracy theorist and thereby lose his reputation. Therefore, “a pliable sentence” flows into his PC: “Of course, there are no secret meetings of the superpowers who pull the wires in all freedom.” Rauschenbach knows how to correct such pliability and refers ‘quite concretely’ to “a little secret meeting of some superpowers” in 2019, at which “the New York financial octopus Bloomberg allied itself with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE)” in agreements on the problem of an aging population with “unaffordable social promises.” In addition, of course, there are “many such nodes of power.”

As one might expect, the whole construction boils down to Covid; for “now two years later, we see how, under the cover of a false pandemic, work has actually begun on settling both the pension question and the question of unaffordable social promises, of which the healthcare system is one.” Thus, “much […] makes more sense if one accepts the hypothesis that the king flu is an operation of the representatives of the ideal and global total capital, and much becomes clearer if one analyzes the machinations of such and similar conspirators of power.”

What is problematic is not simply the references to actors and their meetings, but the epistemological meaning attached to conspiracy. Of course, there is no self-moving fetish of abstract domination here. Nevertheless, the fetishistic structure of capitalist value-dissociation socialization as abstract domination forms the objective social context that even economic and political actors cannot escape. It would be necessary to start from this basic structuring context when trying to understand the crisis relations and the actions of the various actors. The assumptions of conspiracy theories are already contradicted by the fact that uniform action – even in the context of Covid – could not be discerned. The powerful actors in their alliance with the pharmaceutical industry could not even bring about compulsory vaccination. The crisis conditions simply work differently. They are driving a confused and increasingly rapid alteration between the familiar polarities of economy and politics, market and state, and within these between deregulation and re-regulation, freedom and coercion, with a recognizable tendency towards the authoritarian. The latter, however, can be discerned not only among authoritarian politicians, but also in civil society groups and, not least, in the conspiracy theory and lateral thinking scene.

A “Fermented Heap” And New Alliances

The path of lateral thinking leads from the imagined conspiracy of some to the longed-for conspiracy of others. The conspiracy of the powerful is to be opposed by a conspiracy of the powerless. For this, allies are needed. They can be found among the “people who have been labeled Covid deniers.” They are “the only ones who are allowed to somehow name all the horrors.” Among them are more than a few who distinguish themselves by means of their identity from the horrors experienced by others on the seas, in wars, in the destruction of their livelihoods, and who are primarily concerned with their ‘horrors’ under the ‘health dictatorship.’ The goal is to fish consternation and anger out of the darkness of diffuse feelings in order to arrive at a practice of resistance. Such a “fermenting heap” is suddenly imagined as capable of emancipatory fermentation. For despite its ideological fragmentation and a lack of real organization, “the protest against the impositions of the recent years, which is as broad as it is confused, has grown out of it.” In addition, “it must also be said that the explicit structure of lateral thinkers was the most likely to oppose the state of emergency in an organized way and thus at least hinted at a danger for the authoritarian state.”

Such strategic considerations are opposed by those who insist, for substantive reasons, on distinguishing themselves from conspiracy fantasies and lateral thinking. They stand in the way of the longed-for ability to form alliances and take action, to “make a difference” in some vague way. “If one wants to achieve something [sic!] on the street or even in the counter-public that has long been forming, one will have to seek the split with the gatekeepers in one’s own ranks.” There, however, Anselm Jappe got stuck in the middle. True, he made an effort and was also less timid than the other “Halbschwurbler[2] on the left. But that doesn’t change the fact that he also jumped under the bar. There is only a chance to jump over the bar and to get out of half-hearted criticism and to make “even the bitterly necessary criticism of capitalism more credible again” if there is an offensive commitment to the health dictatorship. So say “health dictatorship!”

In looking at Jappe, Rauschenbach seems to be concerned with the question of who is the best at regressing. Instead of emancipatory insights that aim to break with capitalist relations, the progress of the crisis processes leads to regressions that are an expression of the ties to the relations that should be overcome in an emancipatory way. Classes, identities, interests, identifications of good and bad, newly identified ‘revolutionary’ subjects, and strategies of alliances around a “fermenting heap,” are supposed to save us from the crisis. The less one can do within the framework of fetishistic crisis relations, the greater the pressure seems to be to take sides, to save one’s own skin, or to be on the right side, if not to win, at least to show greatness in resistance.

These times of crisis call for the ‘simple’ and the ‘manageable’: for simple explanations to the point of conspiracy hallucinations, for actionist feasibility, for alliances that bring as many people as possible into the streets. The fact that ‘right-wingers’ and ‘left-wingers’ think and act in contradiction to each other does not bother many people, but is rather seen as an advantage. What is disturbing is content – all the more so when it goes against to the urge for immediacy and is linked to theoretical reflection. What is needed are ‘concrete’ and immediately comprehensible explanations that can also show against whom anger and indignation should be directed and discharged through action. The world becomes manageable, can be sorted into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ without tedious theoretical efforts that bring with them the unbearable feeling of powerlessness. Actionism, on the other hand, suggests a diffuse power to act. It must remain diffuse as long as it refuses to adequately comprehend the conditions. Compared to the sobriety of an analysis that seeks to understand what people suffer in the context of fetish relations, feelings of immediate self-efficacy are more comforting, especially the affirmative feeling of being able to “make a difference” in a counter-public that is forming – combined with the awareness of being on the right side, on the morally good side of the ‘affected.’ And those who are on the good side, who are even ‘affected’ themselves or at least see themselves as the advocates of the ‘affected,’ may also feel empowered to implement and enforce ‘the good’ in an authoritarian way.

Fabio Vighi shows that in all this ‘squirming’ there are also cross-hybrids.[3] Following Robert Kurz, he analyzes the developments in financial capitalism as attempts to compensate for the crisis of capitalization. To this end, huge masses of “money without value” had to be mobilized. Through a cycle of pseudo-accumulation, money could flow into production and consumption. This cycle is leading to the present situation of intensifying financial crises in the combination of deflationary debt crisis and stagflation, which is “practically impossible” to overcome or stabilize. So far, the analysis is comprehensible and enlightening. At the same time, however, it is precisely here that the regression into conspiracy hallucinations takes place. According to Vighi, the elites have realized the hopelessness of managing the crisis economically. Covid and the war in Ukraine were fueled by the elites and used to once again prolong the crisis of capitalism and to control it by authoritarian means. In Vighi’s work too we encounter an epistemological shift from the question of abstract domination and the actions of actors embedded in it to the immediacy of cognition and the purposeful actions of elites.

A “Cult of Immediacy”

All of this is underpinned by a fixation on an immediacy that is unwilling or unable to grasp individual phenomena in their objective social contexts or, driven by an addiction to the supposedly ‘concrete,’ imagines the objective social context as a conspiracy. This is where the pragmatism that has been ‘cultivated’ for decades, with which the reflection on social contradictions and objective social crisis has been banished from thought, takes its revenge. It finds its expression, among other things, in a – structurally anti-Semitic – hostility to theory and in a hatred of intellectuals who fail to formulate complicated social relations simply, i.e., as a rule, in a personalized and manageable way.

A “cult of immediacy” (Günter Frankenberg) is regressively spreading against the question of understanding the phenomena of the crisis in relation to the social totality of fetish relations, the core of which consists in the fact that society as a whole is subjected to the irrational and contentless end in itself of the multiplication of capital, while at the same time the realms of reproduction are dissociated and marked as inferior. Only the recognition of how these relations mediate what people suffer globally can open up horizons for an emancipatory practice. Specifically, an understanding of the categorical constitution of capitalist relations in value and dissociation, in production and reproduction, in work and money, in economy and politics, as well as in the subject that is certain of itself and its autonomous capacity to act, that is self-sufficient and that in its narcissism loses the reference to objects and thus to content. Everything that is hallucinated in false immediacy is not ‘concrete,’ but pays homage to a pseudo-concretism. Something becomes concrete only when it is understood in its constitutive social context. An emancipatory practice can only be effective where it understands the irrational and abstract relations of domination, whose destructive dynamics become visible in the phenomena of the crisis, and aims toward their negation.

If this were the ‘dogmatism’ of exit!, it would mean a commitment to the content determination of the critique of capitalist fetish relations, which are up for discussion as a whole, connected with the question of an emancipatory practice. These relations are not to be understood statically, but in terms of their movement. Therefore, there can be no critique that stands alone from which everything else is blithely deduced in an identity-logical manner. It has to reflect processes, especially the accelerating crisis processes that are driving towards global destruction, in terms of their mediation with the social totality, taking into account different levels of mediation, from the economic to the socio-psychological, while at the same time thinking against itself. Such a ‘dogmatism’ implies, in terms of content, a demarcation from the various forms of lateral and conspiratorial thinking and their ‘mishmash.’ Exit! will therefore not say “Health Dictatorship!” and will withdraw from the competition to see who is the best at regressing.

[1] Cf. Karl Rauschenbach: Einige Anmerkungen für halbschwurbelnde Linke, die künftige Gesellschaftskritik betreffend, Aug. 23, 2022, All quotations are taken from this text, unless otherwise indicated.

[2] TN: The German word Schwurbler is a derogatory term for someone who rambles on excessively about nothing substantial. It was used at the beginning of the pandemic to refer to conspiracy theorists and people who spread misinformation, but was eventually taken up affirmatively by those who it had referred to.

[3] Cf. Fabio Vighi, Pause for Thought: Money without Value in a Rapidly Disintegrating World, May 30, 2022,

Originally published on the exit! homepage in 10/2022

Sustainability for All

Robert Kurz

The peace movement ended when Nicole sang ‘a little peace’ and Ronald Reagan and his family joined the human chain. Today, every arms industrialist and torturer is for ‘a little peace’ and democracy. The same goes for the socio-ecological movement and its arbitrary concept of ‘sustainability,’ which misses a fundamental critique of economic calculation by a hair’s breadth.

Since modernity has been given a postmodern facelift, anything goes because nothing means anything anymore. Against the background noise of the global market machine, nothing matters: expressed in monetary terms, all things and living beings in this world seem to be of the same interchangeable quality. And freedom is insight into the necessity of market conformity; Orwell didn’t even need to invent ‘new-speak.’ A voracious plastic discourse is taking hold, appropriating all terms and levelling all differences, the more it talks about ‘individuality’ and ‘diversity.’ Any social critique is swallowed up to become a market commodity alongside credit cards, panty liners and cell phones. Politics and the media stir up the ready-made soup of the zeitgeist, in which the latest buzzwords have to swim for the sake of saleability; even if they have no more substance than a Knorr or Maggi ‘chicken soup’ contains real chicken. It seems that the plastic term ‘sustainability’ has been invented for this fast food ‘discourse.’ This new word is ideally suited to merge hard-headed market interests with whispers of ecological responsibility, in order to feed the product, which is edible for everyone, into the endless operation of morsel journalism.

With the help of ‘sustainability,’ one can effortlessly act as an eco-social beacon without questioning the prevailing social order and its economic rationalization of the world. Every child knows by now that economic rationality permanently externalizes costs: to society as a whole, to the future, and also to nature. It has proved virtually impossible to internalize these externalized social and environmental costs back into the economic balance sheet through political regulation.

But this could have been foreseen, because the essence of business management is that particular calculation which, in the interest of economic self-preservation, literally doesn’t give a damn about the whole. If you don’t screw up the world, the markets will punish you. In any case, it would be an absurd procedure to continue to organize society according to a principle that systematically calculates out the social and ecological consequential costs, only to want to add them back in later. Why not simply use society’s resources wisely?

Unfortunately, this common sense can only be mobilized if society puts an end to the blind business calculation robot. But let us not get carried away. The socio-ecological debate of the 1970s and 1980s was obviously a luxury product of the world market winners. Now the fun is over. And precisely at a time when eco-dumping and social deregulation are accelerating the crisis, ‘sustainability’ is making a career for itself. It is the title for the certificate of surrender of socio-ecological social criticism.

The faster tropical forests disappear and drinking water is contaminated, the more dramatically global mass unemployment and mass poverty increase, the more general the commitment to ‘sustainability’ becomes. This is why even a free-market radical like BDI boss Olaf Henkel can appear as an authority in the sustainability debate. All the goats will become gardeners, and the victorious microeconomy will sustainably destroy the world.

Editor’s note: This text was first published in: Political Ecology January/2000, p. 10. The text could have been written today. Some names would have been different and the word climate catastrophe would have been added.

Radicalism vs. Extremism

Some reflections on the anti-fascist transformation struggle in the manifest systemic crisis.

Tomasz Konicz

 “It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never “radical,” that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. […] Only the good has depth that can be radical.” – Hannah Arendt

Where did all the “extremists,” who seek to dominate the current social protests by using social demagogy, suddenly come from?[1] In the German media circus – where ignorance is a competitive advantage – the extremist threat to the democratic “center” of society is always seen as coming from the fringes, or, to put it more precisely, from an imaginary outside. As if extremist aliens were hijacking our good bourgeois democracy. All this rampant delusion[2] couldn’t possibly come from the seemingly rational capitalist mainstream, could it?

The concept of extremism, as it is commonly used in public discourse, is in fact hollow; it refers not only to the political and ideological “distance” between the moderate center and the militant “fringes” of the political spectrum. By listing outward characteristics and extreme methods, it is also an expression of the political majority conditions that prevail at the moment. The center is the political place where the majority of people are, while the “extremes” of the “lunatic fringe”[3] are thought to be the small, lunatic minorities. Thus, the commonly used term extremism refers only to the fringes of the political spectrum. This spectrum, however, is subject to change, and for years it has been marching sharply to the right, in interaction with ever new waves of crisis.

But every actor in the bourgeois political establishment wants to be part of the center. The AfD is no exception.[4] Starting with the Sarrazin debate and continuing with the euro crisis, the refugee crisis, and the AfD’s march through the country, culminating in the Corona mania of the lateral thinkers, the political spectrum has begun to shift. If only because other parties and political forces are reacting to the successes of the right – mostly by trying to copy or adapt parts of the ideological “recipe for success” of the New Right, which is what Ms. Wagenknecht is trying to do.[5] Views of what is considered “normal” and part of the “center” consequently changed during the rise of the New Right. What was once considered agitation and “brown” becomes normal.[6] This calculation is also part of the strategy of the New Right, which seeks to achieve its hegemony of discourse precisely by deliberately breaking taboos and trampling on the most basic norms of civilization.[7]

Ideology and Extremism of The Center

“Extremism” finds supporters in the center of society, thus rendering the bourgeois concept of extremism – which is located in the environment of the ideology of totalitarianism – completely meaningless and therefore “extremely” useless.[8] In the eastern part of the FRG, the AfD has long been the strongest of the parties. So can it really be called “extremist”?[9] And yet, a modified concept of extremism is indispensable for understanding the rise of the New Right in the crisis. But it has to be understood precisely as a crisis-related “extremism of the center,” as an ideological reaction primarily of the middle classes, of the bourgeoisie, to the crisis-related dislocations.

Ideology is not to be understood here as a mere fantasy or figment of the imagination, but rather as a distorted perception of social reality that seeks to justify and legitimize it despite its contradictions and distortions. Ideology, therefore, always refers to the contradictions of the society in which it emerges. Consequently, a critique of ideology is also a critique of society. Ideology is fabricated precisely in the center, in the culture industry and in the media business, and it always carries an ideologically distorted moment of truth; it fabricates half-truths in order to make people resign themselves to a self-destructive mode of economy that is devastating society, climate systems and the environment, a devastation that is becoming more and more obvious.

In response to waves of crisis, right-wing crisis ideology thus pushes the legitimation patterns and narratives prevailing in the “center” to their ideological extreme in a kind of conformist rebellion. The concept of centrist extremism can thus only shed light on the foundations of right-wing crisis ideology – which is rooted precisely in the existing and seemingly “everyday” – if it is taken seriously and not merely used as a purely formal conceptual shell to which forces at the fringes of the political spectrum are assigned in a totalitarian-theoretical manner.

On the one hand, the New Right thus draws on views, values and ideological frameworks that prevail in the mainstream of the societies in which it is successful. This middle-class ideology, whose form has been decisively shaped by the neoliberal hegemony of the last three decades, is being sharpened and taken to an ideological extreme in response to the dynamics of the crisis. It is thus not “external” forces opposed to the bourgeois center that are now questioning many civilizational norms. The center, unsettled by the crisis, is incubating ideologies of human inequality entirely on its own. Thus, it is not the desire to change the world that fuels centrist extremism, but the reactionary reflex to cling to crisis-ridden late capitalist society.

Therefore, it is necessary to show the continuities between the center and the right-wing populist ideology. It is not a matter form, but of concrete ideological content. It is only by examining the concrete content of new-right ideology – as well as its rooting in the mainstream of late-bourgeois societies – that the aforementioned concept of centrist extremism becomes fully comprehensible. And this ideological continuity also explains why the New Right was able to achieve such rapid electoral success. It is precisely because there is no need for an ideological break. It is the same, well-worn ideological path on which the paranoid and fearful citizen drifts to the extreme.

Competitive Pressure and Location Nationalism

Which ideological concepts, then, that have become hegemonic in the “center,” especially in the era of neoliberalism, are being sharpened and taken to extremes by the New Right? First and foremost is the idea of competition, which under neoliberalism has taken hold in almost all areas of society.[10] And of course, right-wing populism and right-wing extremism in all their varieties have always enthusiastically embraced the principle of competition, modifying and sharpening it in many different ways. Right-wing ideologies give this basic principle of the capitalist economy, market competition, a “higher,” timeless meaning by imagining competition as an eternal basic principle of human coexistence: The ideological spectrum here ranges from Social Darwinist ideas to culturalism, racism, economic chauvinism, and the Manichean delusion of German National Socialism, which hallucinated an eternal competition and struggle for survival between Aryans and Jews.

The hatred of “do-gooders” and of moral action is an expression of this crisis-induced barbarization of capitalist competitive pressure, which is characteristic of fascism. The extent to which the hegemony of the New Right has already advanced in this respect is made clear by the right-wing friendly Querfront protagonists of the rapidly eroding left. Christian Baron, for example, denigrated in Freitag (40/2022) as “moral” any criticism of Wagenknecht’s longstanding promotion of the AfD in the financial and refugee crises.[11] This not only confused radical criticism of the activities of the brown fringe of the “Left Party” with morality, but also reproduced the usual resentment of the New Right, which pushes the crisis-induced barbarization of the principle of competition through hatred of the basic principles of civilization.

However, a corresponding drift to the extremism of the center also takes place at the identitary level, in national identity. The era of neo-liberal globalization produced a special form of nationalism and a modification of national identity in the middle class of the “export world champion” Germany, which was very strongly influenced by economic thinking. This locational nationalism, which drew its chauvinism from successful competition on world market, was accompanied by a change in nationalist patterns of exclusion. Culturalism, racism and xenophobia were often economically mediated.

In these economically based resentments, the cultural or racial hierarchization of nations and minorities is derived precisely from their economic position in the world economy or in the national economy concerned. Economic success is said to indicate superior genes or culture, in Germany especially the right attitude towards work, while impoverishment and marginalization are inversely attributed to genetic or cultural deficiencies. These sentiments already found their public breakthrough during the Sarrazin debate,[12] and they became public consensus during the euro crisis, when Schäuble harassed Greece with ever new “austerity packages.”[13]

Moreover, right-wing crisis ideology falsely imagines that the victims of the crisis are its perpetrators. The Hartz IV recipients, according to Sarrazin, are responsible for their misery due to their deficient genetic make-up; the lazy Southern European, according to Schäuble, are to blame for the euro crisis; the refugees, according to Wagenknecht, abuse the “right to hospitality.” This personification of the causes of the crisis in corresponding scapegoats also shows quite concretely that the crisis is a historical process that takes place in stages and promotes the ideological “driving to the extreme” of the existing ideology: The Agenda 2010, which brought about the misery of Hartz IV, which Sarrazin then wanted to attribute to genetic defects, the European debt crisis, the mass migration movements from the periphery, which is collapsing in civil wars, to the centers – these are concrete phases of a crisis process of the capitalist world system that takes place in stages.[14]

National Response to the “Social Question”

The social demagogy of the New Right, which is currently especially successful in the former GDR and which made the AfD the strongest party, is based precisely on giving a national answer to the “social question” in the familiar patterns of thought formed in the brutalization of neoliberalism: “social peace” is to be achieved at the expense of all those who do not belong to the national collective. The right-wing narratives of foreigners who only want our money, of conspiracies to cut off our natural gas, are accompanied by complaints of rising prices and social erosion. This national-socialism that is developing and that has reached the “left”[15] thus seeks to externalize, to project outward, the internal contradictions of capital that are coming to a head as a result of the crisis. These are the same reflexes that appeared, for example, in the euro crisis, when the Greeks, Italians, Spaniards or Portuguese were declared to be the cause of the debt crisis, a crisis that would not have existed without the extreme trade surpluses of the burnt-out republic of Germany.[16]

This process of extremist “brutalization” of the center can thus be traced quite concretely: Since the beginning of the 21st century at the latest, an ideological “rearmament” has taken hold in the Federal Republic, in which the familiar line of thought is not abandoned but taken to the extreme. In the systemic crisis, the logic of the capitalist system is not questioned by the vast majority of the population, but driven into the barbaric. For right-wing populism, therefore, a public that has been conditioned by neoliberalism for decades is a guarantee of electoral success in times of crisis. All it has to do is to continue to stir existing fears, to fuel existing resentments, and to further push ideological armament by means of “courageous taboo-breaking” (similar centrist extremism brought someone like Donald Trump to the White House in the US).

The maxim of the right-wing populist “extremism of the center” is fully effective. What emerges from the frightened – and the fear is only too justified – center of society in response to the misunderstood crisis is poured into politics: Close the borders! Foreigners out! Forced labor for useless deadbeats! Germany first!

And after all, it’s quite easy to become a Nazi. In almost all European states right-wing populism can triumph precisely because it is so easy to understand – no fundamental break with the dominant ideology is required. And it is easy because, as a conformist rebellion, it does not seek alternatives but remains on the surface of appearances. The well-trodden ideological lines of thought do not have to be abandoned; they lead almost naturally into the barbarism that is emerging.

To Be Radical Is to Go to The Root of The Matter

What is needed, however, is not a parroting of the rising resentments that feed on the decaying forms of capitalist ideology, as practiced, for example, by the “Left Party” of a Wagenknecht,[17] but a clear break with the logic of the system in order to initiate a broad social discourse that seeks to initiate a transformative movement.[18] Clinging to categories and concepts such as state, people, nation, market, money, and capital, whose real social equivalents are disintegrating due to the crisis, can only lead to disaster. The radical break with the dominant capitalist discourse of the crisis, which is rapidly running amok, is a bare necessity in the face of the crisis.

To be radical means to tackle a problem fundamentally, to penetrate to the root (radix) of the problem. That is why radicalism is not a preliminary stage of extremism, as is repeatedly suggested in the hollow, late-bourgeois discourse on extremism. Radicalism is the opposite of extremism. While the latter remains on the surface of phenomena, pushing the ideology that prevails in the center to the extreme, radicalism strives for depth, in order to penetrate to the core, to the essence of phenomena. Thus, the struggle against the New Right, if it is to be consistent and ultimately successful, would also have to be accompanied by radical reflection in order to produce an adequate practice.

A radical anti-fascism would therefore have to fight against the re-emergence of fascism not only as an external phenomenon, but also as a terrorist form of capitalist rule during the crisis. The crisis ideology of the New Right, which is rooted in the neoliberal center, is an expression of very concrete contradictions that escalate because of the crisis: the social as well as the ecological crisis of capital, which has reached the limits of its development and threatens to drag humanity into the abyss, into barbarism. The New Right, on the other hand, is the political subject that concretely carries out this objectively threatening crash in the systemic crisis. This is especially true of the climate crisis, to which the New Right responds with trivialization and denial on the one hand, and with a drift toward eco-fascism on the other.[19]

A radical anti-fascism that understands fascism as a potentially mass-murderous crisis form of capitalist rule would thus seek to understand and conduct the struggle against the fascist danger as part of an inevitable transformative struggle for a post-capitalist future.[20] Broad anti-fascist alliance building, as it was already successfully practiced in the 90s, would have to go hand in hand with the open thematization of the systemic crisis and the role of the New Right as the executor of the barbaric and destructive potentials unleashed in the process.[21]

Thus, in the current phase of the unfolding world crisis of capital, the anti-fascist struggle has the central role of keeping open the possibility of an emancipatory course of transformation – in the struggle against the extreme right.[22] Actually, emancipatory forces would have to be the exact opposite of the right-wing friendly social demagogy of Sahra Wagenknecht’s “Left Party.”[23]

The break with capitalism, which is sinking into a permanent crisis – and which carries fascism with it like a storm cloud carries rain – is necessary because it is objectively imminent. Either the transformation of the system will take place in forms of fascist barbarism, or we can fight for an emancipatory transformation. The social reality shaped by the frothing fascist crisis ideology is the yardstick of radical anti-fascist practice, which must go to the root of the very real capitalist systemic crisis. And this would not be mere voluntarism, but insight into the necessity of a transformative anti-fascism.

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[8] Cf. Eva Berendsen et al: Extrem unbrauchbar – Über Gleichsetzungen von links und rechts, Berlin 2019.



[11] There, with an evident misuse of a Droste quote, it literally says: “[…] ‘If the brain has come up short, morals are taken very readily,’ wrote the sadly deceased writer Wiglaf Droste. This can be seen in all the major debates of recent years. During the financial crisis from 2007 onwards, ‘good’ left-liberals interpreted the ‘bad’ protests against big banks as ‘truncated capitalism’ that was ‘structurally anti-Semitic.’ During the ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, those who pointed out that there was a need not only for a ‘welcoming culture’ for refugees, but also for locals who felt fear of social decline, because otherwise the democratic legitimacy of refugee aid was at risk, saw themselves defamed as ‘racist’ […]” Source:







[18] https://www.untergrund-blä






Originally published on on 10/27/2022

Caught in The Spiral of Escalation

The threat of nuclear war is greater than it has been since the end of the Cold War

Tomasz Konicz

By now it should have dawned on even the last German Putin troll that the Kremlin’s war of aggression in Ukraine is not going according to plan. The best indication of this is Russia’s annexation of the four Ukrainian oblasts of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson, which came in response to a dramatic defeat of Russian troops east of Kharkiv in mid-September. By partially mobilizing – for the time being – 300,000 reservists and annexing the four eastern and southern Ukrainian regions, the Kremlin opted for further escalation. This was exacerbated by intense Russian missile attacks on energy infrastructure and civilian targets across Ukraine, including the capital Kiev, following an explosion on the strategically important bridge linking Russia to the peninsula it annexed in 2014.

Adjustment of The Goals of the War

The current annexation of the four territories was motivated by several factors. On the one hand, it represents an adjustment of the goals of the war, which on the one hand are being massively scaled back in order to make them unavailable for any negotiations. These are Putin’s minimum goals, which are no longer to be the subject of negotiations – at the same time, there is less talk of regime change in Ukraine or anything like that. The Kremlin must adapt its imperial ambitions, which only a few months ago saw Ukraine as part of Russia, to military realities in order to simultaneously satisfy the Russian right, the imperialist and nationalist hardliners who are constantly pushing for a further intensification of the war. In the course of the war so far, Putin has been pressured not by liberal forces, but by right-wing forces, which have been calling for total mobilization and unrestricted warfare for months.

With the annexation of large parts of eastern Ukraine –accompanied by offers of negotiations to Kiev – the Kremlin is not only signaling to the West what it intends to take with it as the minimum spoils of its imperial adventure, it is also paving the way for nuclear war, for the final stage of escalation. Since the beginning of October, the Kremlin has considered the annexed Ukrainian regions as part of Russia, and Russian military doctrine provides for the use of nuclear weapons for national defense, even against conventional forces. The danger of nuclear war is now greater than at any time since the end of the Cold War, precisely because the Kremlin, in its imperial megalomania, has overestimated the military capabilities of the Russian army and is still barely able to stabilize the front in eastern and southern Ukraine.

At the latest since the partial mobilization, which is also an admission of the weakness of the Russian armed forces, Vladimir Putin’s political – and ultimately physical – survival is also at stake in the war. Authoritarian regimes encourage apathy, the indifference of the population, in order to secure their rule, which is why Putin has long resisted mobilization because it will inevitably politicize Russia. Without imperial gains, Putin cannot end the war and survive politically, because partial mobilization is already destabilizing the state-oligarchic, kleptocratic ruling structure in Russia. This is currently evident at its borders, where tens of thousands are leaving the country, even before the expected heavy losses among the reservists. Putin thus needs a victory in his imperial war, even though he has no ability to secure it. In view of this power-political impasse, the Kremlin’s flight to a nuclear attack, which is constantly threatened, seems quite possible. The use of weapons of mass destruction by the ailing Russian military machine would even become likely in the event of an advance by Ukrainian units into Crimea or into the eastern regions that had already seceded during the 2014 civil war.

Instrumentalization Of The Systemic Crisis

For Ukraine, Russia’s partial mobilization and annexation means that everything is now riding on a military escalation. Kiev is pressing ahead with the so far successful offensives in the east and south of Ukraine with all its might in order to, despite all the losses, take advantage of the window of opportunity that remains for the Western-equipped and modernized army before the Russian partial mobilization materializes on the front. Putin’s annexation is rendered meaningless by Russia’s inability to hold these “new” territories militarily, which at the same time should help destabilize the “power vertical” around Putin. This is why Kiev responded to Putin’s offers of negotiations with a decree that categorically rules out negotiations as long as Putin is president. This is meant to encourage revolts in the palace.

Meanwhile, not only Kiev but also Washington seems to be banking on the very regime change in Moscow that Putin’s invasion aimed to bring about in Ukraine. The stakes in this crisis-imperialist “Great Game” over Ukraine are getting higher and higher, the warring parties have more and more to lose, which in turn makes de-escalation more and more difficult. The blowing up of the North Sea pipeline, which had been a thorn in the side of the former Central Eastern European transit countries and the US in particular, illustrates the readiness for escalation that exists on all sides. Sometimes crisis tendencies, state erosion and state disintegration are deliberately promoted: the Ukrainian right sees the disintegration of Russia as a strategic goal. There are similar considerations in Western think tanks, where it is currently being debated whether Putin is still needed as a “factor of order.” Russia, for its part, is trying, not entirely unsuccessfully, to bring Western Europe to its knees in the coming winter through its economic war. The capitalist systemic crisis is being instrumentalized to some extent by all the warring parties.

Pre-apocalyptic Conflict Constellation

The West’s political stability is therefore also at stake in the face of increasing economic distortions. This does not only apply to Germany, where the New Right is already smelling the morning air and the Querfront of parts of the Left Party and the AfD is already marching together, for example in Brandenburg an der Havel, for Russian natural gas. Rising inflation, the renewed threat of a global financial crisis, the recession – these are the very concrete internal contradictions of the crisis that are also driving the West into confrontation. The intransigent, escalationist attitude of Washington and Berlin towards the imperialist Putin, which is a sharp contrast with their laissez faire towards the bloody imperial adventures of Western ally Erdoğan, is driven by the same crisis-imperialist logic as in Russia’s crumbling “power vertical.” The internal crisis is to be bridged by external expansion: The dwindling dollar must be defended as the world’s reserve currency at literally any cost, and access to the raw materials and energy sources that Moscow uses as an economic weapon must be restored – even if this requires regime change and state collapse.

For many of the main parties to the conflict, there is little turning back from the spiral of escalation.  In early October, Moscow warned the West of a “direct confrontation” if the recently negotiated resumption of arms deliveries to Kiev went ahead. A distanced view of this crisis-imperialist war reveals a pre-apocalyptic constellation of conflicts. As capital breaks down from its internal and external contradictions, as climate and economic crises escalate, the crisis-ridden late capitalist state behemoths, driven by these contradictions, threaten to attack each other – until the self-destructive urge of capital is unleashed in a nuclear exchange.

Originally published in analyse & kritik on 10/18/2022

China: Multiple Crises Instead of Hegemony

Why the state-capitalist People’s Republic will not be able to succeed the USA as a hegemonic power

Tomasz Konicz

Launched in 2013, the New Silk Road, Beijing’s ambitious investment program in developing and emerging countries, was supposed to usher in an era of Chinese hegemony and make the 21st century a Chinese century – after the 20th century went down in history as the period of US hegemony. Beijing has budgeted more than a trillion US dollars for this strategic development program, which evokes memories of the US Marshall Plan in devastated postwar Europe. Just as Washington used Marshall Plan funds to rebuild Europe after 1945, while emerging as the undisputed leading power of the West in the second half of the twentieth century, the huge Chinese loans to many peripheral countries were motivated by a similar strategic calculation.

According to this calculation, the infrastructural development boost that the construction of power plants, railways, or roads should trigger in the “developing countries” would go hand in hand with close strategic ties between these countries and China. Beijing would thus buy geopolitical dominance through credit-financed economic development in many regions of Asia, Africa and even Latin America. China, which has long since become the leading trading power in most regions of the global South, would thus become the most important lender and strategic partner that could build up its own alliance system around the People’s Republic – similar to the “West” with the US as the leading power.

A Gigantic Investment Program and Its Spiraling Debt

By the end of 2021, the People’s Republic had invested the equivalent of $838 billion in this ambitious development program, which made China “the world’s largest bilateral lender,” according to the Financial Times (FT).[1] This preeminent position is especially true for the periphery of the world system, as Beijing has lent more to the 74 countries classified by the World Bank as low-income than all other “bilateral creditors combined.” The Belt and Road Initiative, as the “New Silk Road” investment strategy is known in English, was not only the People’s Republic’s largest foreign policy venture since its founding in 1949, but also the “largest transnational infrastructure program” ever undertaken by a single country. Even the Marshall Plan, which today would be equivalent to around 100 billion dollars of investment, pales in comparison to the “New Silk Road.”[2]

And it is precisely this gigantic investment program that is causing China’s first major international debt crisis. More and more of the debtor countries on the “New Silk Road” are being forced to ask China to defer payments or renegotiate loan terms. According to calculations by US think tanks, about $118 billion in Chinese loans are at risk of default, or about 16 percent of the total investment in the “New Silk Road.”[3] Countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America – the Financial Times (FT) continues – that have been set back economically by the latest wave of crises triggered by the pandemic are affected. According to the report, Beijing had to renegotiate the terms of foreign loans worth $52 billion in the pandemic years 2020 and 2021, compared with only $16 billion in debt in 2018 and 2019.

Negotiations between Beijing and borrowers from the global South revolve around partial write-offs of the loan amount, payment delays, or interest rate cuts. In addition, Beijing is increasingly having to provide emergency loans in order to maintain the solvency of its debtors on the periphery of the global system. As a result, according to the FT, China increasingly finds itself in a “role usually played by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)” in many of the large-scale credit-financed investments under the “New Silk Road.” Ironically, the IMF, whose crisis loans have been tied to draconian austerity measures for decades, called on China and other creditors in mid-July to make concessions to faltering debtor countries as large parts of the global South threaten to collapse in the face of a dramatic debt crisis. According to the IMF, “one-third of emerging market economies and two-thirds of developing countries are in distress because of high debt.”[4]

Meanwhile, Beijing has emerged as a “serious competitor to the IMF” after the People’s Republic had to issue secret “emergency loans” and bailout packages worth tens of billions of dollars to over-indebted states to prevent defaults or debt crises, the FT said, citing studies by US research institutions.[5] According to the report, Beijing’s three biggest debtors alone – Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Argentina – have received bailouts worth $32.8 billion since 2017. The list of countries that have had to be stabilized by Beijing through crisis loans includes Kenya, Venezuela, Angola, Nigeria, Laos, Belarus, Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine. For the most part, these emergency loans have prevented infrastructure projects financed under the New Silk Road from going bankrupt.

In this way, Beijing has often been able to prevent failed major projects from leading to payment crises or sovereign defaults. And China is a more popular creditor than the IMF because, according to the FT, the People’s Republic keeps its debtor states “afloat with ever new emergency loans” without demanding that the debtors “restore economic discipline” or carry out the infamous “structural adjustments” with which the IMF has wreaked economic havoc on much of the periphery of the world system since the debt crises of the 1980s. One Western analyst told the FT that there is a suspicion that countries with debt problems prefer Chinese loans in order to “avoid going to the IMF,” which demands “painful reforms.” But this only delays the inevitable “adjustment” and makes it “even more painful.” In any case, many of China’s Silk Road loans follow a geopolitical logic of creating dependencies with debtor countries in order to “limit the strategic options of the US and the West.”

Geopolitical Dimensions of Investment

The geopolitical component of China’s investment strategy is particularly evident in the high level of lending in the post-Soviet region, where Beijing has invested a good 20 percent of the funds it has earmarked for the “New Silk Road.”[6] At $125 billion, the largest share of Chinese loans has gone to Russia, followed by Belarus with eight billion dollars and Ukraine with seven billion dollars. These gigantic investments by Beijing are now threatened by the war in Ukraine, which Russia currently appears to be losing – and which could lead to a collapse of Russia’s sphere of influence. China’s investment strategy in the region literally depends on the outcome of the war. After all, even in such a case, Beijing can hope to recoup some of its loans through in-kind payments. Under loan agreements, Russia can settle outstanding payments in oil or natural gas, making a total default on loans extended to Russia unlikely.

Another focus of Chinese investment activity is sub-Saharan Africa, where, according to Western estimates, the People’s Republic granted loans worth around 78 billion dollars.[7] Although this represents only a small share (12 percent) of the foreign debt held by this largely economically isolated region of the world, with private Western lenders holding 35 percent of the total debt, China has been able to make up ground here in recent years. Between 2007 and 2020 alone, Beijing lent $23 billion in public-private partnerships in the sub-Saharan region, while the United States, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and France together invested only $9.1 billion.[8] China is in demand as a lender in the region because Beijing’s lending terms are far more favorable than those of Western institutions. Interest rates on Western loans are said to be twice as high as those offered by the People’s Republic.

And it is not only developmentally nonsensical, corruption-ridden prestige projects, as was the case in Sri Lanka, that are being implemented in Africa. In Ethiopia, for example, Chinese capital financed a railroad that cut travel time between the capital and neighboring Djibouti from three days to 12 hours. In Kenya, a new line was built between Mombasa and Nairobi; a new rail link between Tanzania and Zambia also drastically reduced travel time; dams were built in Uganda; and roads and infrastructure projects for water supply and electrification were pushed forward in Africa or Central Asia. The Chinese strategy of accumulating geopolitical influence through economic development seemed to be working in Africa until the recent crisis.

The Illusion of Recuperative Development

But even projects that make sense in terms of development policy are increasingly reaching their economic limits due to the growing global crisis: The railway line between Nairobi and Mombasa, built in four years by the state-owned Chinese Road and Bridge Corporation, is said to have incurred a loss of some $200 million within three years. Meanwhile, China is said to have accumulated by far the most default-prone loans in sub-Saharan Africa. More than a hundred loan agreements have had to be renegotiated in the region, compared with 21 in Asia and only 12 in Latin America.[9] A prime example of the collapse of this Chinese development and hegemonic strategy in the face of late capitalist crisis realities is provided by the South African country Zambia, which went bust on its foreign debt of $17 billion in 2020. China had previously built a railroad to Tanzania, a hydroelectric power plant, two airports, two sports stadiums, and a hospital in Zambia in investment projects worth six billion dollars.

Outside of Africa and the post-Soviet space, it is not Sri Lanka but Pakistan that has seen the most rapid influx of Chinese investment in recent years. In Sri Lanka, Chinese loans amount to a mere five billion dollars, or just ten percent of the total liabilities of the economically collapsed state, where corruption and mismanagement culminated in absurd investment projects that contributed to the disastrous aggravation of the current crisis.[10] $62 billion flowed from the coffers of the Belt and Road Initiative went to Pakistan, which has always been of high strategic importance to Beijing as a counterweight to China’s geopolitical rival India.

Beijing’s investment activities have ranged from infrastructure projects, with funds flowing into energy generation and transportation, to the strategic expansion of the port of Gwadar, to the establishment of manufacturing facilities in Pakistan to take advantage of the country’s very low labor costs.[11] This development of “extended workbenches” in Pakistan, to which labor-intensive manufacturing activities were outsourced, sometimes took place not only in the economic centers of Pakistan, but also in the unstable periphery, such as the province of Chaibar Pachtunchwa, which was plagued by Islamism and ‘tribal struggles.’

Hopes for capitalist modernization were dashed by 2020 at the latest, as some of China’s investment projects were put on hold after the outbreak of the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, while the crisis quickly made Pakistan’s debt burden unsustainable. Work on the Gwadar port project, for example, is said to have largely stopped.[12] In order to avoid bankruptcy as a result of the unfolding downward economic spiral,[13] in which inflation, rising borrowing costs and collapsing government revenues rapidly eroded foreign exchange reserves, Islamabad had to resort to emergency loans from both the IMF and China – by July 2022, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves were only enough to cover the cost of the country’s imports for two months. Chinese banks had been extending “a number” of loans to the country on an ongoing basis, most recently to the tune of $2.3 billion in mid-2022, to shore up its dwindling “supply of hard currency.” The IMF, meanwhile, has pledged more than seven billion in crisis loans to Islamabad.

At least until early August, the impoverished country, plagued by Islamism and state erosion, appeared to have averted acute national bankruptcy after reaching a new loan agreement with the IMF, accompanied by the usual harsh austerity measures, such as higher taxes and cuts in energy subsidies.[14] But then came the historically unprecedented floods, the frequency of which, like other extreme weather events, is increasing because of the climate crisis.[15] About one-third of Pakistan’s land area was inundated, and more than 33 million people were affected by the floods. The country now faces a hunger crisis and rising extremism,[16] while the economy is on the verge of collapse.[17] Initial estimates by Pakistani government ministers put the cost of the floods at around ten billion dollars.[18]

The increasingly manifest interaction of a debt crisis and the climate crisis,[19] of internal and external limits to capitalism’s ability to develop, devastated entire regions of Pakistan in August that were already suffering from a severe economic crisis, devastation that was largely ignored in the West. This is the global crisis environment of a late capitalist world system that is collapsing because of its contradictions, in which China has launched its grand attempt to build its own system of alliances through an ambitious investment program in order to emerge as the new hegemon. Mounting global debt and the escalating climate crisis are throwing a wrench into Beijing’s imperial calculus, which sought to emulate the rise of the United States after World War II.[20]

Washington’s hegemonic rise after the end of the Second World War, however, took place against the backdrop of the long Fordist boom period of the 1950s and 60s, the “economic miracle,” as it is idealized in Germany. Mass motorization and the total penetration of all areas of post-war societies by the logic of valorization, heralded by the total mobilization of the war economies,[21] made it possible to utilize gigantic masses of labor in the labor-intensive accumulation process for almost two decades. This Fordist regime of accumulation, with the automobile industry as its leading sector, formed the economic basis of US hegemony until it was phased out in the 1970s,[22] only to be replaced under neoliberalism by the financialization of capitalism – in effect, the increasing global accumulation of deficits leading to ever new financial bubbles and debt crises.

In the “Cold War,” the USA was able to emerge as the unchallenged and accepted leading power of the “West,” the hegemon, not least because the prolonged economic boom enabled Washington to grant its allies room for economic development – which Japan and West Germany also made ample use of in the course of the “economic miracle,” soon surpassing US industry in terms of quality. The rapidly rising tide of Fordism lifted all boats. As long as capital was able to expand into new markets (cars, “white goods,” consumer electronics, etc.) that had only emerged during Fordism, the competition between the “economic locations” remained in the background – even in the face of the “clash of systems.”

The Impossibility of a New Hegemonic System in The Crisis of Capitalism

China, on the other hand, has to operate in a crisis-ridden world system in which the extremely high global productivity level of commodity-producing industry has led to a systemic crisis of overproduction, resulting in constantly rising mountains of debt, since the hyper-productive system is effectively running on credit. Moreover, the lack of a new leading sector and regime of accumulation leads to an increasing export fixation of economic policies and corresponding trade wars, in which the core capitalist countries try to support their economies with export surpluses – at the expense of the competition, which often reacts with protectionist measures. The pursuit of export surpluses, perfected above all by the FRG within the framework of this beggar-thy-neighbor policy, with which the systemic crisis of overproduction is to be “exported,” is thus a source of permanent inter-state tensions between the “economic locations” threatened with decline.

And these are precisely the reasons for the almost insurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of the construction of a hegemonic system in the current world crisis of capital. Hegemony, i.e. the leading position accepted or tolerated by the subordinate powers of a power system, is now only conceivable at the price of credit financing, since there is no economic basis for it in the form of a new regime of accumulation. According to the FT, China’s foreign exchange reserves have already shrunk from four trillion dollars to three trillion dollars, partly due to the massive investments in the “New Silk Road,” and Beijing’s lending abroad has also collapsed massively. While the People’s Republic made more than 55 loans worth more than a billion dollars each in 2015, it made less than ten in 2021. But the drying up of Beijing’s generous financial flows, which used to stimulate the economies of Africa and Asia, is exacerbating the current crisis on the periphery of the world system. China can thus lend and gain influence in the short term, over a number of years, but because of the high level of global productivity, it cannot create a new leading sector that would utilize a sufficient mass of waged labor in the production of commodities.

And China itself, as part of the world system, is affected by the world crisis of capital. This is particularly evident in its tendencies towards a beggar-thy-neighbor policy, since the state-capitalist People’s Republic is also striving to achieve the highest possible export surpluses at the expense of its competitors, which counteracts the formation of hegemony. Due to the simmering debt crisis[23] in China’s anemic real estate sector[24] and the pandemic-induced slowdown in the domestic economy, export surpluses are becoming increasingly important in terms of economic policy, even for Beijing. Last June alone, China ran a trade surplus of $98 billion – a new record![25]

It is not only in the US that China’s surpluses are reflected in corresponding deficits. The group of ASEAN countries in China’s immediate Southeast Asian neighborhood ran a $17 billion trade deficit with China in the same period. Instead of building a hegemonic system in which China’s neighbors also benefit economically from the rise of the People’s Republic, a fierce battle for market share is now underway, Reuters noted, as we find ourselves in a world where “absolute demand” is falling and there will be “brutal price wars” for shares of the “shrinking pie.”

China’s Changing Position in The World Economy

The “workshop of the world” thus seems to be returning to the origins of its meteoric rise, which in its initial phase was driven by an extreme export orientation, by the achievement of gigantic export surpluses. Until the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, triggered by the bursting of the transatlantic real estate bubble in the US and the EU, the export industry functioned as China’s main economic engine. The extreme Chinese trade surpluses vis-à-vis the “deficit economies” of the USA and parts of Europe, which were running on credit, not only drove the export industrialization and modernization of the People’s Republic, but also went hand in hand with the export of debt. The Federal Republic of Germany, the multiple “export surplus world champion,” also engaged in the practice of exporting debt until recently.[26]

However, the Chinese accumulation model changed fundamentally with the crisis surge of 2008, the bursting of the housing bubble in the US and Europe, which was countered globally with enormous economic stimulus measures. In fact, the massive government demand stimulus that Beijing unleashed through several economic stimulus packages made the Chinese economy the global economic locomotive in 2009.[27] But the Chinese government’s gigantic support measures in response to the 2008 crisis also provided the initial spark for a transformation of China’s economic dynamics: exports lost weight, and the credit-financed construction industry, infrastructure, and the real estate sector became the central drivers of economic growth – culminating in today’s absurdly high 29 percent share of GDP.[28] China’s export-driven modernization, with its export of debt that at times made the US the People’s Republic’s largest debtor, thus turned into a state-fueled deficit economy – one that has long since escaped state control.

China’s Real Estate Bubble

The Chinese deficit economy, which created a gigantic real estate bubble, experienced its first major crisis in the summer of 2021, when one of China’s largest real estate companies, Evergrande, was on the verge of bankruptcy. The group, which was saved from bankruptcy by the Chinese government in early 2022 through a “restructuring program,”[29] has accumulated $300 billion in debt, $20 billion of which is owed to foreign investors. Domestically, more than 1.5 million real estate buyers are waiting for the completion of homes already planned and paid for at 500 construction sites. Meanwhile, the group’s creditors are fighting over who will bear the inevitable losses.[30]

How big is the real estate and debt bubble created by Chinese state capitalism– and can it stand up to comparison with the housing speculation in the US in 2008? In a study of this speculative dynamic, US economist Kenneth Rogoff concluded that China’s construction and real estate sectors directly and indirectly generate about 29 percent of China’s gross domestic product (GDP).[31] This means that the bubble in the state-capitalist “People’s Republic” need not fear comparison with the West, not only in absolute terms, but also in relation to its economic output. In Spain, at the height of the transatlantic housing bubble in 2006, the real estate sector accounted for about 28 percent of GDP, while in Ireland it was about 22 percent.

The situation is even more dramatic when the price level in the main housing markets of the People’s Republic is compared to the wage level. In Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, more than 40 average annual salaries are needed to buy a property, compared to 22 in London, one of the most expensive cities in the West, and ‘only’ 12 in New York. Rogoff spoke of the “breath-taking” and, for large economies, “unprecedented” extent to which China’s financial market-driven state capitalism drove its housing bubble. This is also evident from the ratio of living space to population, which, according to Rogoff, has long since reached the level of France and Great Britain in the People’s Republic – and even exceeds that of Spain. If the construction fever were really about providing people with housing, China’s real estate market would have been saturated long ago.

Thus, the Evergrande debacle is indeed only the proverbial tip of the iceberg in an authoritarian Chinese state capitalism that shares a fundamental crisis tendency with its Western competitors: it runs on credit. In 2020, all of China’s accumulated liabilities (government, private sector, financial sphere) amounted to about 317 percent of the People’s Republic’s GDP,[32] which was only slightly behind the global average of 356 percent.[33] Despite declarations by the leadership in Beijing and intensified efforts to curb lending, China’s mountain of debt has been growing faster than the GDP of the “workshop of the world” since 2008 – as is the case in many of China’s debtor countries.

But all of Beijing’s official figures should be taken with a grain of salt, as much is simply swept under the rug in China. China’s local governments are also said to be saddled with a gigantic mountain of debt, which Goldman Sachs estimates could be as high as $8.2 trillion – the debt has been outsourced to “financing vehicles,”[34] so as not to show up in the statistics.[35] That would be about 52 percent of the People’s Republic’s GDP. Incidentally, in the course of the real estate boom, the over-indebted municipalities have tapped into an important source of financing: they sell land to real estate companies, which build their speculative properties on it. The officially unrecorded mountain of debt that China’s shadow banks are said to have accumulated is estimated at $13 trillion.[36]

Multiple Crises as An Expression of The Crisis of Global Capitalism

As a result, China’s leaders are facing not only an external but also an internal debt crisis that is not only strikingly similar to the real estate bubble that burst in the West in 2008, but also reminiscent of the distortions in many of the People’s Republic’s debtor states. So far, Beijing has been able to delay the bursting of this bubble through a series of interventions and financial injections, but at some point the devaluation process will inevitably have to take place – especially as the political fallout from China’s internal debt bubble grows: In Zhengzhou, the capital of the central Chinese province of Henan, for example, angry bank customers recently clashed with police as they protested the freezing of their accounts after local banks were embroiled in a scandal and collapsed.[37] The Chinese Communist Party has also had to deal with a mortgage strike by angry home buyers who have stopped paying their mortgages en masse while waiting for their homes to be completed.[38]

Finally, the climate crisis is not stopping at the People’s Republic, which, with its global investment program, is trying to export its own fossil-fuel driven modernization model, which has made China the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to the periphery and semi-periphery of the capitalist world system, since the new “renewable” industries that are supposed to enable the ecological transformation of capitalism are too capital-intensive and utilize too few workers.[39] Not only Pakistan, which is indebted to China, but also the People’s Republic itself suffered historically unprecedented weather this summer with a combination of prolonged drought and an extreme heat wave[40] that put pressure on energy supplies, economic activity and food security.[41] The sweltering heat literally shut down production, not only diminishing China’s growth prospects, but also threatening to put a strain global supply chains.[42]

The struggle against climate-induced societal collapse that emerged in this year’s summer of horrors, not only in China but also in the EU and the US, is thus likely to make the very idea of global hegemony seem absurd in the years ahead. With the crisis-induced increase in inter-state tensions and struggles, which escalated into a neo-imperialist war in Ukraine, the rotten late-capitalist state behemoths will be more concerned in the coming years with passing on the consequences of the crisis to their competitors in order to delay their own collapse.





















[21] Robert Kurz, “Freie Fahrt ins Krisenchaos: Aufstieg und Grenzen des automobilen Kapitalismus” in exit! Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft, no 17, 2020, 23-44.

[22] https://www.untergrund-blä












[34] LGFV: local government financing vehicles. Financing companies established for the purpose of financing specific infrastructure projects. Their liabilities are traded on the financial markets, but do not appear in the statistics as government debt.









Originally published on in 10/2022