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

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

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

Emancipation in Crisis

In the unfolding systemic crisis, a renewed plunge into barbarism seems preordained. But this need not be the case.

Tomasz Konicz

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: The German Ideology[1]

There is a basic premise of emancipatory practice in the unfolding world crisis of capital that simply cannot be abandoned. It is necessary to tell people what is going on. What most people suspect or only vaguely feel must be clearly stated and become the basis of social movements and struggles: Capitalism is at its end – and in its agony it threatens to drag humanity with it into the abyss by depriving it of the social and ecological foundations of life.[2] The capitalist world system has reached its internal[3] and external[4] limits of development. The economic and climate crises[5] are only two moments of the same crisis process, in which capital’s drive for unlimited growth – the endeavor to make more money out of money by exploiting labor in commodity production – produces an ecologically devastated world and an economically superfluous humanity.

Consequently, it is necessary to consciously seek ways out of crisis and catastrophe capitalism in social struggle and discourse, as the world threatens to sink into barbarism. The overcoming of the capital relation is thus the guiding principle of all leftist practical efforts. Social struggles, protests and movements must therefore be understood and led as partial moments of a transformative struggle for a post-capitalist society. This, the overcoming of capital’s drive to valorize itself, which is running amok worldwide, is the absolute minimum, the sine qua non for any development of civilization in the 21st century. To tell it like it is, therefore, means to clearly name the overcoming of a collapsing capitalism as a necessity for the survival of civilization. All progressive practice must be oriented to this reality of system transformation. And it is precisely this insistence on the necessity of emancipatory system transformation[6] that distinguishes emancipatory practice from leftist opportunism, the attempt to make a quick career as crisis manager in the crisis by means of demagogy.[7]

The transformation of capital into history is the final capitalist imperative. Any group or party calling itself leftist that preaches incremental change without addressing the systemic crisis and emphasizing the need for systemic transformation is in fact opportunist, if not reactionary.[8] In the escalating systemic crisis, it’s no longer possible for incremental reforms to “succeed” because the distortions caused by the crisis, which are increasing in intensity, simply stand in the way of this endeavor. Progressive practice can only unfold on the basis of efforts to ensure that the inevitable systemic transformation follows a progressive course. This is not left-wing “radicalism,” but a realism born of insight into the nature of the crisis. The crisis runs through society as a fetishistic, uncontrollable process that unfolds through competition and market mediation, regardless of the views and calculations of the occupants of the capitalist treadmill.[9]

Even if the wage-earners do not want to admit it, even if all the relevant strata of the population cling to capitalism, the system will collapse because of its internal contradictions. What is open, however, is what comes after – and that is precisely why the struggle, the transformation struggle, must be waged. The agony of capital can be seen in the global mountains of debt under which many economies are threatening to collapse, as well as in the ever-increasing CO2 emissions produced by a capitalist world economy caught up in the irrational compulsion to grow.[10] However, an emancipatory movement can only prevent a plunge into barbarism during the now imminent, open-ended transformation process if it reflects on it socially, understands it and consciously shapes it within the framework of the equally inevitable transformation struggle. In order to be able to achieve this, the left, building on radical crisis theory, must tell people what’s what. Otherwise, the fetishistic dynamics of capital will make the world uninhabitable. These introductory theses will be elaborated and justified in the following.

Unconquered Nature

The contradictory capitalist mode of production is thus not only the driving force[11] behind the mounting debt and economic crises,[12] it is also the cause of the unfolding climate catastrophe. And it goes without saying that “man-made” climate change is in large part the result of the social system – the way society is organized and reproduced – in which people are forced to live. This fact is openly obvious. The climate crisis is a capitalist climate crisis, it is “capital-made climate change.” That it nevertheless seems blasphemous to speak this simple, uncomfortable truth is a result of the enormous ideological pressure that weighs on social discourse, and is also an expression of the increasing density and crisis-proneness of capitalist socialization, which seeks to stifle all oppositional thought and action through opportunism or repression.[13][14]

Since the Enlightenment, the core of capitalist ideology has consisted in ideologizing capitalism as a “natural” mode of production, without contradictions in itself and appropriate to human nature, as a social formation that is simply an expression of human nature and – at the latest since the rise of Social Darwinism – unfolds economically according to the same laws as “natural,” ecological systems. Consequently, this synthetic “capitalist nature” of the subjectless domination of capital,[15] with its mediating levels of market, politics, law, culture industry, etc. is always only the basis and never the object of the published discourse of late capitalist societies. And this is precisely why scapegoating, which quickly turns into fascism, gains such popularity in times of crisis,[16] because the “natural” market economy is literally thought of as natural, and free of almost any contradiction. Thus, capitalism appears to the “enlightened” person in bourgeois society as “natural” as feudalism appeared to the medieval person as God-given.

And yet the common ideology of the “natural essence of capitalism” contains a distorted grain of truth. There is a parallel between the processes of ecological and economic crisis that promotes their perception as “natural”: The element of “untamed nature” in society that promotes the illusion of a capitalist state of nature is the uncontrollable valorization process of capital, i.e., the social fetishism mentioned above. Capital’s destructive valorization dynamic, produced unconsciously by market subjects – “behind their backs,” since it is market-mediated – appears as a natural phenomenon running through society. This fetishism comes to the fore especially in episodes of crisis, when the “economy” suddenly runs amok and “waves of crisis” or “market quakes” wreak socio-economic havoc on entire regions – like extreme weather events. The feeling of being at the mercy of quasi-natural, anonymous and overpowering forces then becomes evident.

This irrational momentum of capital, unconsciously generated by market subjects in their seemingly rational pursuit of the greatest possible profit, thus represents the moment of unmastered pseudo-nature, which, due to its increasing internal contradictions, is destroying civilization and its ecological foundations. As long as capital blindly runs through society according to the formula M-C-M’ with ever increasing frictions, neither the climate crisis nor the social crisis can be overcome.

It is therefore necessary to overcome this fetishism, this capitalist pseudo-nature, in order to preserve the natural foundations of human society. In the end, the process of human civilization must be brought to a conclusion, so to speak. The unconscious reproduction of society by means of blindly running processes of valorization must be replaced, in a tremendous process of transformation, by the conscious discussion and organization of social reproduction, which no longer subordinates itself to the boundless, irrational accumulation of ever greater quanta of spent abstract labor in the form of capital, but has as its rational goal the direct satisfaction of needs beyond the commodity form.

What is Capital? What Must Be Overcome?

From these remarks on the social fetishism that seems “natural,” it also becomes clear what we mean by capital, which must be transformed into history. Capital is not just a thing, it is not just money, or the factory and the machinery. Nor is it simply a person, like the capitalist, the manager, or the speculator. This truncated view leads to the reification or personification of capital, which in turn is the basis of all ideology in capitalism.

Capital is a social relation that runs through society only as a transitory stage of its boundless surplus-making in commodity production. It is only within this movement of valorization – the burning of resources by means of labor for the purpose of maximizing profit – that people or things must become capital. The worker and the manager no longer function as capital after work. The same is true of the tools in their hobby cellars, which are simply commodities, whereas in the factory they function as (constant) capital. The capital relation is thus to be understood as this dynamic of valorization, calibrated for permanent growth and encompassing the whole of society. Capital, in all its social and ecological contradictions, is thus a real abstraction that in every cycle of valorization undergoes a change of form from money, to commodity, and finally to more money: concrete things and people are set in motion by it in the most efficient way possible, in order to accumulate ever greater quanta of abstract labor (the source and substance of capital) in an irrational end in itself.

This real-abstract growth compulsion of capital is thus in a sense totalitarian; the capital relation becomes a social totality. In its flight from its internal and external contradictions, it occupies all social spheres and niches – with the exception of the dissociated (femininely connoted) sphere of domestic reproduction – and leads them to valorization.[17] The state apparatus, the legal and political institutions, the political, economic, juridical and ideological levels of mediation of domination – they have all been produced and shaped by the capital relation in a blindly running historical process. Precisely in its agony, capital has thus subjugated the whole of society, as far as this was possible, right down to its subcultural impulses. The subjectless domination of capital is totalized at the historical moment when it suffocates under its own contradictions. And it is precisely all these institutions and levels of mediation produced or shaped by capital that are now collapsing along with the dynamics of capital.

What must be overcome is capital’s blindly running valorization process, which devastates human society and ecosystems. This destructive fetishism must be replaced by a conscious understanding by the members of society of the reproduction process of society, without the division of activities according to gender or the like. This is necessary for survival, precisely because this process of valorization, on whose drip all capitalist societies hang in the form of taxes and wages, is collapsing under the weight of its contradictions. With it, however, the institutions and social structures that capital has historically produced also perish. The post-capitalist reproduction of society cannot therefore take place in the form of “nationalization,” as imagined, for example, by orthodox leftists, since the state in its capacity as the “ideal total capitalist” is a historically developed, necessary institution of capitalism that must be financed by capital through taxes. This is why many over-indebted peripheral states collapsed into “failed states” as early as the 1990s, once the crisis process had exceeded a certain degree of maturity. The state is not the solution, it is part of the problem.

In a historical process that began with the debt crises of the “Third World” in the 1980s, the crisis is gradually moving from the periphery of the world system to the centers. Therefore, the future of the crisis can be predicted from the course of the crisis in the periphery. Without a conscious, emancipatory overcoming of the collapsing capital relation, it will fall into barbaric forms of anomie or crisis dictatorship, as in Somalia, Congo or Eritrea[18] – unless the process of civilization is brought to an end by a catastrophic nuclear war. Mad Max or 1984 – this is the system-immanent alternative that capitalism leaves open in its agony.

Motivation: There Is No Alternative to Transformation

The character of the crisis described here as a fetishistic process of increasing internal development of the contradictions of the capital relation thus leads to the necessity of the struggle for its emancipatory overcoming. As mentioned at the beginning, it is simply a question of the will to survive. Consequently, it is necessary to address people’s survival instinct, which is unconsciously activated in the crisis and contributes to the intensification of crisis competition. And this survival instinct, in its unreflective, quasi-reflexive form, has long been at work on a mass scale. Unconsciously, most of the inhabitants of late capitalism have long since reacted to the increasing crisis-related dislocations with a quasi-instinctive intensification of competition. The survival instinct unconsciously comes to fruition in the intensification of competition in that one’s own survival is to be ensured through the downfall of competitors at all levels (from mobbing to cutthroat competition to location competition to crisis imperialism).  And it is precisely this crisis competition fueled by the naked survival instinct that causally contributes to the barbarization of capitalism and the rise of the New Right – which cloaks this crisis competition in racism, nationalism, anti-Semitism, religious fanaticism, and so on.

This unconsciously practiced survival instinct, caught up in the escalating everyday competition of late capitalism, would have to be “sublimated” within the framework of emancipatory practice. This is to be understood as the conscious, analytical reflection of the unconscious causes of social action, in this case the interaction of competitive behavior and the systemic crisis process, in which the fatal “barbarizing” effect of the individual competitive struggle would be illuminated. Just as the individual, “blind” survival instinct only accelerates the crisis dynamics and opens the door to barbarism, a reflective collective survival instinct, convinced that overcoming capital in society as a whole is necessary for survival, could be a powerful motivating factor for emancipatory forces in the struggle to transform late capitalism. And this is not a question that concerns only leftist “radicals.” Such a consciously established connection between – collective – survival and the necessity of overcoming the system can also very well become the concern of the philistine who wants to leave his children a future worth living.

And that is precisely why it is important to tell people what is going on. It is important to transform the broad masses’ “sense of crisis” into a reflective crisis consciousness – precisely because there is no “revolutionary subject,” the formation of a radical crisis consciousness with mass appeal is indispensable for an emancipatory course of the crisis. And this would not even be the central difficulty in spreading an emancipatory consciousness in the manifest crisis. It would be instilling belief in a viable systemic alternative to collapsing capitalism. The crisis-induced ideological shift, in which blind faith in capital as the natural precondition of human civilization suddenly mutates into fatalistic cultural pessimism, actually represents the standard ideological reaction in manifest crisis situations.

This late capitalist production of panic must therefore be contrasted with the insight, gained through radical theoretical reflection, into the necessity of system transformation, motivated by a sublimated survival instinct that has become aware of its own social and ecological preconditions. The right-wing “prepper” will not save himself; this can only be achieved collectively at the level of society as a whole. Averting the impending ecological and social catastrophe by means of system transformation thus amounts to “influencing” a crisis process that is driven by its fetishistic dynamics and ultimately represents only the crisis-like dialectical reversal of the contradictions inherent in capital. To be more precise: capital is in the process of dissolution; what matters is to steer this process of transformation, which is taking place blindly, in a progressive, emancipatory direction within the framework of a transformation struggle, in order to finally overcome fetishism and move on to the conscious shaping of social reproduction. This, this overcoming of the fetishistic prehistory of humanity, is, as I said, simply a question of survival. Once again: there is no alternative to the struggle for an emancipatory course of the inevitable systemic transformation.

Emancipation and Extremism in The Systemic Crisis

This also opens up the concept of emancipation – it is an emancipation from social fetishism, i.e. from the “alien determination” of the subjects by social dynamics that these subjects themselves unconsciously produce and that are mediated by the market. This can only be achieved by a movement that is aware of its own situation, that is aware of the crisis described above. Only in a conscious struggle for a post-capitalist future, resulting from an understanding of necessity, could moments of emancipation possibly emerge. Consequently, there is a maxim of political practice that emancipatory movements, groups or parties in the 21st century would have to follow if they still want to function as progressive social forces in the current epoch of upheaval and crisis. Capitalism must be transformed into history as quickly as possible, and the capital relation must be abolished. All leftist actions, all tactics, all reform proposals, all strategies should be oriented to this categorical imperative.

And the struggle for a livable post-capitalist future is not “radicalism.” It is precisely the opposite: clinging to the disintegrating forms of capitalist socialization, to the market and the state, leads to barbarism, to extremism of the center. The successes of the New Right in the crisis result precisely from its ability to push the ideology that is effective in the neoliberal center of late capitalist society further toward brutalization. Enriched with fantasies of envy against scapegoats, neoliberal competitive thinking has been taken to a racist-nationalist extreme by the right. The competition of market subjects and economic locations is ideologically exaggerated into a clash of nations, cultures, “races” or religions.

What is decisive here is that in this “racially,” religiously or nationally legitimized competition there is no break with neoliberalism and its implicitly nationalist thinking about location. In these ideological lines of continuity lies the open secret of the success of the conformist rebellion of the New Right. It does not break out of the capitalist thought-prison and its so-called constraints. Instead, the authoritarian characters remain in the well-worn ideological track that leads from the neoliberal center to the barbaric extreme. That’s why it’s mainly the right that benefits from the current crisis. It’s very easy to become a Nazi.

What is crucial, therefore, is precisely the aforementioned mental escape from the capitalist thought-prison, which must go hand in hand with emancipatory practice in order to prevent the drift into an extremism of the center. That’s why it’s important to tell people what’s what. In the face of the deadly crisis of capital, the struggle for a systemic alternative worth living for is the only reasonable, moderate thing to do. Progress can only be realized beyond capital. Once again: this is not necessary because of the will of the subjects or the moods and sensitivities of the population, but because capital as a global fetishistic totality is collapsing.

False Immediacy

And that is precisely why it is important to prevent this objectively ongoing transformation process from drifting into ideological delusion and fascist barbarism, as far as possible, by spreading an adequate crisis consciousness. Perhaps the consciousness of a viable alternative to the collapse of capitalism and the climate could only develop broadly in a struggling movement. There is no shortage of confrontations, uprisings and struggles in the accelerating systemic crisis. In Europe, apart from climate protests, it is often anti-fascist or labor and socio-political defensive struggles that serve as focal points of oppositional mass mobilization – but most of these don’t develop a transformative perspective.

These movements often get stuck in the false immediacy of their direct demands; for example, they want a better redistribution of abstract capitalist wealth, rather than its abolition. Increasing impoverishment leads to demands for a larger welfare state, while inflation is met with demands for its containment through subsidies and price caps. These immediately “plausible” demands are forcefully discredited by the reality of the crisis. Similarly, the discussion of measures to combat the climate crisis – such as carbon taxes, boycotts of airplanes, renunciation of meat or electric cars – is discouragingly inadequate in light of the dramatic acceleration of climate change and the steps that are actually necessary.

This contradiction between system-immanent social struggles and the social consequences of the systemic crisis was already pointed out by the crisis theorist Robert Kurz at the beginning of the 21st century:

“The critique of value is not simply opposed to social struggles that are immanent to capitalism. They are necessary starting points. Nevertheless, the question is to know what direction these struggles are taking. In this respect, their basis plays an important role. The trade unions are accustomed to presenting their demands not as derived from the needs of their members, but as so many contributions to improving the functioning of the system. Thus, they will say that higher wages are needed to strengthen the economy, and that they are possible because capital has high profits. Now, however, that capital valorization has obviously stagnated, this attitude is voluntarily transformed into a willingness to engage in the co-management of the crisis, to serve the “higher interest” of the entrepreneurial economy, of the laws of the market, of the nation, etc. This false consciousness exists not only among the trade union officials, but also among the so-called rank and file. If the wage workers identify with their own function in capitalism and demand what they need only in the name of this function, they transform themselves into “character masks” (Marx) of a particular component of capital, namely, labor power. Thus, they recognize that they only have the right to live if they can produce surplus-value. This gives rise to an embittered competition among the various categories of wage workers and a social-Darwinist ideology of exclusion. This is particularly evident in the defensive struggle for the preservation of jobs, which has no other perspective than the mere preservation of jobs. In this case there is often mutual competition for survival even between the employees of different branches of the same company. It is therefore essentially a good idea, and also much more realistic, besides, for the French workers to threaten to blow up the factories in order to force their employers to give them a reasonable severance package. These new forms of struggle are neither defensive nor positive, but can be combined with other demands, such as, for example, higher unemployment insurance payments. To the extent that such social demands give rise to a social movement, the latter will also be confronted by the experience of its practical limits, if it will confront the questions of a new “categorical critique” of the fetishistic end-in-itself of capital and its social forms. The crystallization of this advanced perspective is the task of our theoretical elaboration, which does not exist in some abstract Beyond, but is understood as a moment of social debate.”[19]

Given the advanced dynamics of the crisis, it seems counterproductive to launch a fundamental critique aimed at building a “new” transformative and emancipatory movement. Emancipatory movements would have to work with what still exists, because time is of the essence, and windows of opportunity are closing. Retreating into the ivory tower of “pure doctrine” in order to work towards a gradual “diffusion” of adequate crisis consciousness within the left is not a viable strategy. Instead, the only option is to use the crisis to try to bring an adequate crisis consciousness directly into the current struggles. As I said, building on crisis theory, people need to tell frightened people what is going on, so that the protest movements can develop in an emancipatory direction.

The chances of this happening are actually not bad, since even ideologically blinded left-wing associations –from the green, left-liberal or traditional Marxist spectrum, for example – can hardly overlook the consequences of the crisis.[20] The crisis is both the enemy and the friend of the progressive movement: it narrows the spaces of social discourse more and more, it causes panic to rise and right-wing extremist delusions to swell. But at the same time it compels all social forces that still have their wits about them to face up to the undeniable necessity of fundamentally overcoming the collapsing mode of socialization based on capital.

The attempt to bring into the current social confrontations and conflicts a crisis consciousness that corresponds to the objective crisis process ultimately amounts to a struggle against the false immediacy that characterizes these confrontations. False immediacy is understood as the tendency of social movements to unconsciously persist in forms of thinking that correspond to the social conditions and contradictions against which they are directed.

The people caught up in the growing crisis-related confrontations are not seized by a “revolutionary automatism” that would give them an anti-capitalist crisis consciousness. On the contrary. The fixation on concrete, seemingly achievable goals within the existing system reinforces its logic even in oppositional struggles. The struggle for the closure of lignite mines, against inflation and against social erosion, for a higher wage or against wage cuts, the windmill struggle of the helpless, social-democratized left against the blithely advancing dismantling of democracy and social welfare, all these solidify the corresponding capitalist social structures and forms of socialization in which and for whose will the struggle takes place. Work, bourgeois democracy, the capitalistically neutered notion of “civil rights,”[21] and the state as the “welfare state” thus become quasi-natural preconditions of human society, even within the movement caught up in social struggles.

The immediate goals pursued within the system are thus “wrong,” they lead to the formation of the aforementioned false immediacy, because firstly, they do not break with the crisis-ridden logic of the system, but further cement it, and secondly since their realization is completely illusory in a collapsing capitalist society. After the inevitable failure of the major social struggles in a wave of crisis – for example in Southern Europe after the outbreak of the euro crisis – resignation and apathy are widespread, since these movements lack the more far-reaching transformative perspective that can only emerge from a crisis consciousness adequate to the crisis process. The forces involved in the crisis-related increase in social protests for the most part want nothing more than what they postulate: Fighting against lignite mining, for jobs, for higher wages, against social cuts, against the destruction of jobs, against the constant erosion of “civil rights,” and so on.

It seems absurd: in the crisis, the left is fighting to maintain the capitalist forms of socialization, which are eroding as a result of the crisis. And at the same time, there is no realistic alternative to these very struggles, since they are mostly more or less open forms of the naked struggle for existence. Under capitalism, the reproduction of one’s own labor power is only possible by means of waged labor. The establishment of starvation wages, which are below the subsistence level, is also progressing in the centers. The loss of a job is increasingly accompanied by a fall into life-threatening poverty. The struggle against the dismantling of democracy and the omnipresent fascization of Europe is necessary in order to keep open as much room for maneuver as possible for emancipatory politics. As long as the capital relation continues to exist as the described social totality, oppositional forces are also chained to its forms of socialization.

This does not mean, however, that these forces have make the demands of the socio-ecological struggle only in these forms, let alone perceive it only in these forms. Thus, the consciousness with which the current protests and struggles are led is indeed decisive, even if their concrete course does not initially differ that much from the system-immanent, reformist struggles. The confrontation with crisis ideology, a truncated critique of capitalism and false immediacy ultimately aims at raising the transformation process into the “political consciousness” of the social movements, in order to understand the unconsciously led transformation struggle as such in the first place and to consciously shape it accordingly.

The focus, the goal of such a consciously led, apparently system-immanent confrontation (climate struggles, wage struggles, Antifa protests, demos against the dismantling of democracy, defensive struggles against social cuts) changes as soon as it is permeated by a transformative consciousness; that is, when it is understood and propagated as an early phase of the transformative struggle that is already raging in the periphery with all its mass-murderous brutality. To stay with the example of social protests: Instead of simply postulating that the rich should pay their fair share, it would instead be necessary to demand that the rich pay for this transformation – as long as money still has value and it makes any sense to make this demand at all. The path becomes the goal: the self-organization of the people in the opposition movements would thus already have to be supported by the effort to form moments of a post-capitalist socialization.

But questions beyond redistribution and expropriation will also be raised: How can health care, food, housing, etc. be organized without adequate funding or profitable jobs? At the latest when inflation devalues money and everything threatens to be closed down or thinned out for lack of profitability, the organization of social reproduction according to criteria other than capitalist ones is on the agenda. Not ‘How can pensions be financed?’ but ‘How can material and social wealth be organized so that old people can live with dignity?’ Not ‘How can jobs be created?’ but ‘How would people and resources have to be mobilized and what would have to be done so that people have access to food, housing, health care etc.?’ (and not just at the level of Hartz IV, a slum or a gulag). Either the left gets involved at this level, or it has to participate in the implementation of system-immanent solutions, which will amount to nothing more than shipping old people off to cheap care gulags or euthanizing them in a ‘socially acceptable’ manner.

The demands and forms of organization in resistance against the impending climate catastrophe, against the impositions of crisis management, must therefore already contain germinal forms of post-capitalist forms of socialization. Central to this should be the effort to shape the system-immanent opposition movements into open spaces for discourse and discussion. Discourse on the crisis, which is no longer possible at the level of society as a whole (and which is sabotaged by the Left Party for opportunistic reasons),[22] must at least be conducted in opposition. Moreover, the desired post-capitalist process of an understanding of the reproduction of society as a whole already emerges from an understanding of strategies for and forms of protest. The spaces of discourse must therefore be kept open as long as possible, even in the face of increasing repression. The open process of discussion, the organization and coordination of transformative resistance, could function as a prefiguration of the global, conscious self-understanding of world society with regard to its reproduction.

By the way, this is why the democratic struggle is so important for maintaining the remaining bourgeois-democratic freedoms as long as possible, in order to be able to influence the transformation process in forms of non-military conflicts for as long as possible. Moreover, the necessity of the transition between democratic struggle and militant-military confrontation is difficult to assess; it depends on the degree of fascization and the tendencies towards disintegration of the state in question and its society. However, such an armed struggle, which can be imposed on emancipatory forces in the course of a crisis, also represents a defeat. The open structure of discourse, the beginnings of self-management, which could form the germ of future societies, threaten to give way to the necessities of military organization. Then, in fact, the Leninist prescriptions of practice become inescapable – and, consequently, there is the danger of an authoritarian “sovietization” of the post-capitalist alternatives.

“The Real Movement Which Abolishes the Present State”

Ultimately, it is necessary to understand the various struggles and social movements as partial moments of one globally raging transformation struggle. The world has been undergoing a systemic transformation for a long time, but the crisis-blind left does not perceive it as such. As already explained several times: This blindly running transformation process is in principle open, it is not predestined, which is why the outcome of this system transformation (should it be completed without a nuclear holocaust) is also totally open. Moreover, because the system is in a state of upheaval, because the once concrete social fabric is in motion, because the formerly fixed social structures are in a sense becoming fluid, collective action has a far greater influence on shaping the future than in periods when capitalism seemed stable. However, these greater possibilities for intervention offered to emancipatory forces in the current systemic crisis have narrow windows of opportunity that may close irreversibly.

This is obvious in the case of climate change with its tipping points. But the unfolding of social crises is also not linear – it is not a gradual development. Within the transformation process there are decisive moments or situations of upheaval that determine the further course of the crisis. As soon as such a culmination point of the inner unfolding of contradictions has been passed without entailing catastrophic consequences (nuclear war, ecological collapse of entire regions, etc.), the further the crisis process proceeds along the lines laid down at this decisive moment – it seems hardly possible to change such a development by subsequent intervention.

“They don’t know it, but they do it.” This famous quote by Karl Marx, which sums up the fetishistic process of total social reproduction under capitalism, also aptly characterizes the process of dissolution of the capitalist world system that is now in full swing. The world system is already in a phase of chaotic upheaval, although the direction and outcome of this process cannot be predicted – simply because it is being shaped (unconsciously for the time being) by the actions of the subjects in the unfolding transformative struggle. Since there is no such thing as a “revolutionary subject,” the decisive factor is precisely whether the character of the crisis is reflected upon in the population on a sufficient scale to allow the corresponding tipping points to be passed here as well.

Emancipation and barbarism thus appear simultaneously in the full-blown global transformation struggle: On the one hand, the brutal late capitalist crisis competition is merging into a post-capitalist transformation struggle, partly overlapping with it, both moments of crisis sometimes interacting, with the late capitalist crisis ideology, which is subject to constant metamorphoses, trying to rationalize this process of dissolution. At the same time, uprisings and mass protests against late capitalism’s lack of prospects are breaking out more and more frequently, sometimes completely unexpectedly, a global environmental and climate movement is forming, spontaneous uprisings are breaking out in countries such as Iran, and so on. When social tipping points are crossed, uprisings can erupt as if out of the blue. As the intensity of the crisis increases, these contradictions and conflicts will intensify and the myriad struggles will turn into a global confrontation that may well lead to nuclear war.

This applies to the crisis imperialism of the eroding late capitalist state behemoths,[23] as well as to the various conflicts in crisis-ridden societies that are intensifying. However, it is important to avoid “ranking” the struggles in such a way that the class struggle becomes primary and all other struggles secondary. The class-struggle conflicts, exemplified by the demands for increased wages, can only serve, on an equal footing with the other social struggles (antifa, climate struggle, antimilitarism, feminism, defense of democracy, sexual self-determination, etc.) of a transformative movement, to overcome their false immediacy in the way indicated above. This would thereby transform the social struggles, protests or struggles for redistribution into moments of a transformative struggle by introducing a radical crisis consciousness.

As soon as the different movements are understood as partial moments of a struggle for an emancipatory transformation of the system, the emerging, destructive “movement competition” – for example between the climate movement and the social justice movement – which is being pushed by the reactionary parts of the Left Party in particular, could also be minimized.[24] Incidentally, with its “social campaign,” the Left Party is pursuing exactly the opposite of an emancipatory transformation movement: social movements are to be hijacked with social demagogy in order to prevent the emergence of a radical crisis consciousness through repressive movement and crisis management.[25] This opportunistic and right-wing friendly social demagogy, which despite the escalating systemic crisis wallows in a cartoonishly obvious false immediacy, must be confronted in all practice with the collective survival necessity of an emancipatory system transformation.

As it is, it does not remain. This insight from Brecht’s praise of the dialectic[26] could become the maxim for action of an emancipatory transformation movement, which would first have to learn how to influence the transformation process. The question always arises as to which political structures, which social configurations of power should prevail in the next wave of crises. After all, the crisis process that unfolds behind the backs of the subjects can encounter very differently structured late capitalist societies. They can be oligarchic, pre-fascist or bourgeois-democratic, more egalitarian or corporative, nationalist or cosmopolitan, secular or religious-fascist.

It is therefore ultimately a matter of thinking in processes, in developments, of perceiving the existing social structures as being in a state of decay, of locating the decisive contradictions and, in anticipation of the enormous shocks of the future, of creating the best social conditions, the optimal starting position for an emancipatory transformation, which can only happen through large-scale cooperation. The difficulty of such a policy of alliances now consists in locating the appropriate forces that would steer the further transformation process in an emancipatory direction, as well as in bringing the radical crisis consciousness described above into these movements.

In reality, it is only the fetishistic, blind movement of the automatic subject of unlimited capital valorization, that, when it breaks through its inner barrier, turns into the threat of ecological self-destruction and escalating social struggles – possibly even nuclear and world civil war. The late capitalist value society is disintegrating, but social fetishism – the powerless surrender of the subjects to the social dynamics they unconsciously produce – remains strong. The actors, especially on the German left, stagger unconcernedly into the impending world civil war as the vanishing point of the transformational conflicts.

So it really does exist, the “real movement which abolishes the present state of things,” that the young Marx, together with Engels, identified in his early work “The German Ideology” and imagined as a progressive movement.[27] Only it is not an automatism of civilization that leads humanity to communism. Marx, through whose entire work is characterized by the split between an outdated belief in progress and an important categorical critique, expresses here the fetishism of capital while at the same time succumbing to a belief in eternal progress, in the Hegelian world spirit. The real movement that shakes late capitalism to its foundations is that of capital’s valorization process blindly running over society, which is killing itself. It is the fetishism that Marx already suspected at that time.

Therefore, despite all the evidence, it is necessary to fight to form this inevitable transformation movement, which will certainly abolish the present state of things and which is still open in its course and outcome, into a consciously acting movement in the transformation struggle. The transformation of the system is inevitable; what matters is to steer it in a progressive, emancipatory direction – in the struggle against the forces of barbarism that capital is sweating out again in its crisis.

If there is one field of struggle that should be prioritized in the current phase of crisis, then it is an anti-fascism that seeks to build the broadest possible alliance, since fascism is already clearly emerging as the openly terrorist crisis form of capitalist rule. The Querfront, which has long been spreading on the German left,[28] the New Right, which is deeply intertwined with the German state apparatus,[29] and pre-fascism, which is on the rise,[30] are already sharpening their hooves in order to answer the crisis of capital with a renewed plunge into barbarism.

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[17] See on this: Roswitha Scholz, Der Wert ist der Mann,




[21] Civil rights essentially recognize the human being as a subject capable of capital valorization, whereby recognition ceases if the ability to valorize is absent – as can be seen clearly in the case of refugees. See:






[27] “Communism is for us not a state of affairs to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.” Source:




Originally published on on 10/12/2022

Opportunism in Crisis

How the Left Party wants to use the current crisis as a career springboard through social demagogy.

Tomasz Konicz

If history is still to be written in the coming decades, 2022 is likely to go down in the annals of human history as the year in which the capitalist climate crisis began to turn into a global climate catastrophe. In Europe, the U.S. and China, rivers or freshwater lakes dry up, while deciduous trees that don’t burst into flames turn brown in midsummer.[1] The number of heat deaths is expected to be in the tens of thousands.[2] In Pakistan, a devastating flood has covered about a third of the country, affecting 30 million people. Large parts of the country, including large areas of cultivated land, have been destroyed.[3] In many countries, the power supply can barely be maintained on a permanent basis, and there is a threat of blackouts during hot spells.[4] In many regions of the USA, the water supply is threatening to collapse.[5]

The impact of this year’s heat and fire season – formerly known as “summer” – on food prices in the northern hemisphere is likely to cause existential hardship for many millions of people, not only in the global South. And it is clear that this is a capitalist climate crisis,[6] as capital, in its drive to valorize, is unable to reduce global CO2 emissions – this has only ever been done in the 21st century during a global economic crisis. Global emissions of greenhouse gases, after falling during the pandemic, will reach a new historic high in 2023, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) – and this upward trend shows no sign of slowing down or reversing.[7] The pre-crisis level is expected to be reached as early as this year.

It is thus a simple, obvious truth that the capital relation must be transformed into history as quickly as possible if the climate crisis is not to lead to barbarism and social collapse. The fetishistic momentum of capital as infinitely valorizing value is destroying the world.[8] And this truth is factually obvious. It is not secret knowledge. By now many people understand that endless economic growth in a finite world is insanity. The overwhelming majority of the population at least feels that things cannot go on like this, that late capitalist society is heading for an abyss – except for the Left Party, and the now openly reactionary parts of what calls itself the German Left.

Social Demagogy in the Crisis

So what do we need after this year’s summer of horror? If the Left Party has its way, a “hot autumn” of social protests. According to them we need more capitalism, only it should be social. Of the myriad ways to respond to the manifest systemic crisis, to climate collapse, inflation, pauperization, social erosion, fascism, war, and recession, the stock conservative decision-makers in the Karl Liebknecht House chose the anachronistic and opportunistic route that ultimately amounts to social demagoguery. There is no going back to Rhineland capitalism and the social market economy in the face of the unfolding crisis. The “Left” – eyeing coalition options – wants to enrich the crisis ideology of a “green capitalism,” as successfully popularized by the Greens, with a social component.

Social demagogy means telling people sweet, convenient lies in order to make political capital out of them. This is what the Left Party – across all factions– is doing right now: by marginalizing radical crisis theory and criticism of the system within the Left, it is implicitly giving frightened people the impression that the ecological and economic systemic crisis can still be controlled through redistribution and the welfare state, and they do this in order to get votes and posts in the forthcoming regime of crisis administration through this management of the movement, through the de-radicalization of potential resistance. The Left Party in fact wants to create demand for itself among the functional elites, i.e. for opposition management. It is, so to speak, the last opportunistic chance for the Left Party. This campaign is not about the people threatened by the crash, it is about the Left Party, which is in fact lying to them with the comfortable drivel of social capitalism, while our rivers dry up, driving the system into socio-ecological collapse.

Social protests in the escalating systemic crisis, in which people’s only too justified existential fear is instrumentalized for party political purposes in order to distort the manifest systemic question into a mere question of redistribution – this demagogy is not only a caricature-like prime example of false immediacy,[9] but also the result of a critique of capitalism reduced to class struggle and redistribution. It is a reactionary adherence to the old (which is collapsing) that opens up spaces for the Querfront of the old left and the new right,[10] as is already reality in the East German provinces, for example in Brandenburg an der Havel, where on September 17th the Left Party, Wagenknecht’s “Aufstehen,” the peace movement, contrarians, the AfD and Nazis demonstrated together for peace and Russian natural gas. The Left Party is now competing with the AfD in terms of social demagoguery. They are literally at the same demos.[11] The Querfront – as propagated in organs such as Telepolis,[12] is a reality, and it is an expression of the general crisis-induced brutalization, the regression of the German left, that this hardly triggers an outcry, hardly a scandal.

And what is the national-social prominence of the opportunistic imposition called the Left Party doing in this existential crisis? It demands more fossil fuels, of course. Sahra Wagenknecht, the favorite leftist of the German right, who is above all party exclusion proceedings, already demanded in mid-August, together with the FDP right-winger Kubicki, the commissioning of the now sabotaged Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, because this would benefit “people and industry in Germany” more than Putin.[13] The openly reactionary parts of a “left” that is already literally marching with Nazis are thus calling for a solidification of fossil capitalism in reaction to the escalating systemic crisis of capital. But it must be social!

The leadership of the Left Party is actually telling people that in the incipient climate catastrophe, in the manifest agony of capital, all that is needed is a socially just capitalism. This is not a polemical exaggeration. One only has to listen to the current co-chairman, Martin Schirdewan, in his ARD summer interview, who demanded a “fair distribution of the burdens of the expected crisis” and made the goal of the “hot autumn,” “to put the federal government under pressure and to induce it to act” in order to introduce a “gas price cap” and an “windfall profits tax” for extra profits caused by the crisis.[14]

Even if these hypocritical remarks, grotesquely disproportionate to the unfolding of the crisis, were taken seriously and implemented, they would simply be ineffective. Curtailment of profits, state price controls, nationalization – these demands, which show incredible faith in the state, are strikingly reminiscent of the failed crisis measures implemented in the periphery of the world system, for example in Turkey or Venezuela (and this is precisely a consequence of the advance of the crisis process, which eats its way from the periphery into the centers, so that the social devastation in the global South provides a glimpse into the future of the crisis unfolding in the centers). The Left Party, together with its Keynesian appendage, is in fact walking in the footsteps of Erdogan, the interest rates critic, without even realizing it.[15]

Left Opportunism, Querfront and The New Right

Sometimes, in formulating these anachronistic, social-democratic demands, the causality of the crisis is turned on its head (for example, when inflation is reduced to corporations seeking extra profits). The neo-Keynesian real satire known as “Modern Monetary Theory,” which just a few months ago was preaching unlimited money printing,[16] in the face of double digit inflation, flees from intellectual bankruptcy into simplistic conspiracy theories,[17] and attributes this inflation to corporate greed. As if before inflation – fueled by money glut, the pandemic, the climate crisis and the bursting liquidity bubble in financial markets – capital did not seek to make maximum profits.[18] The consequences of the world crisis of capital dying from its internal contradictions, which in its agony devastates ecosystems and society, are transfigured into its cause by the construction of chief villains (such as foreign energy companies), who are supposed to be responsible for it, in order to then offer higher taxes or redistribution as a solution.

The systemic crisis will be personified through the production of scapegoats, which will ultimately benefit the New Right, which will in effect build on the opportunist “groundwork” of the Left Party. All the New Right has to do is replace the bogeyman image of the evil bigwig, currently being constructed by the Left as the cause of the crisis, with the bogeyman image of the foreign conspiracy and the foreign parasite, which is infinitely more effective in the Federal Republic with its terrible authoritarian tradition. Personification of the causes of crisis in a systemic crisis inevitably leads to crisis ideology. The Left Party – and not only Wagenknecht – thus encourages the rise of fascism.

Both – left and right – thus rely on social demagogy in the “hot autumn.” The Left is playing into the hands of the New Right (not only in East Germany).[19] Who is likely to profit from the social protests based on false basic assumptions which are bound to fail in the reality of the crisis? The reactionary, right-wing, national-socialist left, stuck in false immediacy and truncated class-struggle thinking, which has already been involved with the vigils for peace,[20] with Wagenknecht’s campaigns for the AfD during the refugee crisis,[21] with “Stand Up” and with collaboration with the right in the Corona Cross Front [22] fostered the rise of the AfD and Pegida? Or rather the right, which owes its double-digit election results in the FRG to sheer crisis anxiety and the extremist exacerbation of rampant neoliberal ideology (from social Darwinism to economic location nationalism)?[23]

It is thus obvious: what the Left Party is currently doing is opportunistic window-dressing that prepares the ground for the Right. This ultimately misleads the people threatened by the crash, whose emerging fears are only too justified – and this should be quite clear to the people behind the social campaign in the Karl Liebknecht House. Sometimes party members say openly in direct exchanges of views that it is of no use to them “to simply tell people” what is the matter – manipulation is the program here.

The systemic crisis of capital, which is taking place as a blind world process, manifests itself not only in the incipient climate catastrophe, but also in the danger of major war in Europe, in the resource and energy crisis, in the global debt crisis, in the impending recession, in the devaluation of value that is taking place by means of inflation – while the leadership of the Left Party, following Wagenknecht’s right-wing friendly left conservatism,[24] wants to preach an anachronistic return to the “social market economy.” The systemic crisis has reached a level of maturity where the lights are indeed threatening to go out, as value critic Robert Kurz predicted in 2011[25] – and the crisis-blind left only wants to see the “social question,” as if capitalism were facing a new boom phase like in the 50s and 60s, which after all was the economic foundation of the historically short period of the “social market economy.”

The Crisis as A Career Springboard

The crisis ideology of a green transformation of capitalism, of a Green New Deal,[26] which is the reason for the electoral success of the Greens, is in fact simply being expanded by the Left Party to include a social component. It is simplistic coalition thinking that feels compelled to take to the streets for career reasons and to defuse the potential for protest that is emerging as a result of the crisis: The green chimera of eco-capitalism, which allows the public to cling to capitalism despite an advanced climate crisis, has the social-democratic nonsense of “climate justice” added to it. The crisis as a career springboard – that is the strategy of the “Left Party.”

Thus it is evident that the Left Party – as mentioned at the beginning – is primarily concerned with itself in its “hot autumn,” since this group of opportunistic plunderers [Beutegemeinschaften] and racketeers sees in it what is probably their last chance for a career and a post, for fully air-conditioned official cars and offices within the coming crisis administration. But the social campaign is also intended to ensure that the scandals of recent years – from Wagenknecht’s right-wing rhetoric, to Porsche-Klaus in the climate committee of the Bundestag, to the sexual assaults – are forgotten and that the party remains above the five-percent hurdle in the next elections in order to secure coalition options in the upcoming crisis administration. That’s why the Left’s socio-political attacks are focused not on Scholz, or the SPD, but on the FDP, whose place the Left Party wants to inherit – as if Lindner were chancellor.

What the promoters of this party are currently spouting is pseudo-radical class struggle talk, which at the same time shies away from any fundamental conflict in its concern for its own competitiveness and the “cohesion” of society. This becomes obvious whenever, in the face of the systemic crisis, it is a question of the entire system, a question which all the Left Party celebrities do their best to avoid. This bitterly necessary, conflict-prone breakout from the capitalist thought prison, which would be a basic prerequisite for emancipatory practice, is avoided by the party as much as possible, because this would actually lead to serious conflicts, as isolated, timid attempts in this direction have shown.[27] On the contrary: in the apparatus and environment of this party, every effort is made to ensure that the left remains in a false capitalist immediacy even in the manifest systemic crisis.

Regression and Movement Management

It was the SPD as the party of the “little man” which, with Agenda 2010 and Hartz IV, pushed through the biggest program of disenfranchisement of wage earners in the post-war history of the FRG, it was the pacifist-minded party of the Greens, which was able to lead the war of aggression against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in violation of international law – in late capitalism, formally left-wing parties are predestined to implement reactionary policies, since they are particularly well able to paralyze oppositional potential through their close ties with the strata, movements or organizations affected by them. This happens first through the marginalization of radical, categorical critique within the left, which is the usual precondition for government participation. In order to become “fit” for government, the Greens, for example, had to cold-cock their “fundis” in the 90s. A similar process is taking place in the current crisis of the left, since the Left Party can only achieve its desired position as capitalist crisis manager by marginalizing radical crisis theory and critique in the German-speaking left.

In their social campaign, the Left Party is thus simply practicing movement management in order, as already indicated, to increase the demand for itself in the political establishment by intercepting the population’s rising crisis anxiety and willingness to protest and redirecting discontent into a reformist cul-de-sac. The focus on redistribution and class struggle that accompanies muzzling and rhetorical militancy will pursue an ideological personification of the consequences of the crisis, while marginalizing radical critique and crisis theory in order to obscure the fact that overcoming capitalism is necessary for human survival. Opportunism must therefore force theoretical regression within the left, it must push back the previously achieved level of reflection on the crisis in order to be “successful” with its opportunist demagogy of redistribution.

How this movement management, including opportunistically motivated regression into truncated, right-wing friendly pseudo-criticism, takes place in concrete terms can be seen, for example, in the Querfront medium Telepolis, which has been hijacked by a red-brown Left Party syndicate [Beutegemeinschaft] from the environment of the Bundestag faction of the “Left”[28] – in order to suppress the previously possible radical critique of the capitalist climate crisis at the request of the publisher, precisely because the crisis is becoming manifest in, for example, the incompatibility of capital and climate protection, which is now clearly evident. The usual thematization of the systemic crisis at Telepolis – despite all the restrictions of the bourgeois media – the insistence on the necessity of system transformation as a matter of survival, has been suppressed by the Left Party; radical critique has given way to mere grumbling about social inequality, right-wing friendly Querfront propaganda and purely descriptive accounts of the crisis. And it is precisely this theoretical regression, this inverted psychoanalysis, that forms the often unconscious foundation of the Left Party’s opportunist program in the crisis – and it too provides ideological ammunition for the New Right.

In this way, the ability to govern the big picture is practiced on a small, greasy scale. Those forces that see the current crisis surge as a career ticket for red-red-green, that are actually already practicing state repression, have to marginalize or domesticate all the “crisis talk,” because it is – in contrast to the distribution debate – simply not compatible with the political establishment in which they want to become something. And this neutralization of radical critique and practice in the systemic crisis is indeed a practical ability that could make a left party open to the right attractive to capitalist functional elites.

Movement Competition

This applies above all to the shaping of the crisis discourse within the left by means of spokespeople. The non-stop talk about tax policy, redistribution, social benefits, and nationalization silences the discussion about alternatives in the manifest systemic crisis, as these are incompatible with talk show rounds and coalition negotiations. The emphasis on “interest politics,” which has become hollow, thus obscures the auto-destructive fetishism of capital in all its aggregate states. This opportunistic fading out of categorical critique, together with the necessary system transformation, also results in the ever more clearly emerging inner-left movement competition in the crisis, which is not coincidentally affecting the climate movement.[29]

The climate crisis, which is hardly supposed to play a role in the “Hot Autumn,” cannot be pressed into the rough grid of class interests, since here the destructive momentum of capital as well as the powerlessness of the capitalist functional elites becomes obvious. Consequently, groups like “The Last Generation,” who are actually disruptive, are criticized by reactionary leftists for their courageous street blockades, because these blockades keep wage-earners from working – i.e., the process of capital’s valorization is interrupted. These are sometimes the same potential crisis administrators who see nothing wrong with the Left Party and Nazis competing in social demagogy, as they did in Leipzig on September 5th. Or when they march together in demos, as in Brandenburg an der Havel.

But the tensions and frictions between different movement approaches on the left only point to the very real social contradictions in late capitalism: This movement competition, in which the class interest of variable capital – readily hallucinated in the swamp of leftist scenes as the “revolutionary subject” – is quite concretely at odds with climate protection, is not just a result of opportunistic calculation on the part of the national-socialist, trade-union and Wagenknecht-affiliated currents of the Left Party, which have also received an internal party offer of reconciliation with the social campaign in order to overcome the trench warfare of the past in cross-currents of demagogy and careerism.

Twofold Opportunism

From the vigils for peace in 2014, to the years of Wagenkencht’s advertising campaigns for the AfD and the New Right, to the lateral-thinker protests during the pandemic: in recent years, a large, right-wing friendly Querfront scene has formed on the left, which is unlikely to have any fear of contact with the right in the upcoming social protests. How far the deadening and the habituation effects have already reached in this respect, was not only shown in Brandenburg an der Havel,[30] but already at the parallel demonstrations in Leipzig at the beginning of September, where newspaper distributors of the junge Welt quite naturally brought their wares to the German man in the Nazi rally and members of the Querfront troupe Freie Linke were quite visibly participating in the rally of the well-behaved social-democratic Left Party.

Of course, there are different currents in the Left Party, but forces critical of capitalism have long ceased to play a role in the party. Rather, they are different approaches to opportunist politics that are currently vying for dominance in the party. The accelerating erosion of the German left after the outbreak of the Ukraine war,[31] into left-liberal and green forces, as well as into the right-wing friendly Querfront, is also effective in the Left Party. This became obvious during the quarrels in the run-up to the first Left Party Monday demonstration in Leipzig at the beginning of September, when the national-social camp around Wagenknecht came into conflict with the left-liberal current.[32]

Wagenknecht’s attacks in the social networks against Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow,[33] who is said to have prevented the Left Party’s Querfronttante from appearing in Leipzig, thus give no reason to hope for a minimum level of civilization in the Left Party. Mr. Ramelow is the one German prime minister who in 2020 deliberately chose an AfD politician as vice president of the state parliament in order to allow the AfD “parliamentary participation.”[34] Ultimately, these are just internal frictions between various opportunist currents in the party: between the left-liberal currents, which are betting on red-red-green, and simply reactionary forces, in which class-struggle thinking has degenerated into right-wing populism, in which the “people” and their will, which took the place of the proletariat, serves as code for the half-Nazi who hangs around Querdenkern & Co. – and whose delusions are to be served.[35]

Ignorance and Careerism

But it is not all intention in the crisis opportunism of the Left Party. Also at play here is ideological delusion, plain left-wing stupidity.[36] The most important ally of left opportunism is left ignorance, the unwillingness to say goodbye to anachronistic ideology, mostly coupled with an aimless activism: “Don’t babble, do.” Groups from various Left-wing scenes marched with such banners at the social demo in Leipzig at the beginning of September, in order not to be disturbed by any theory in their blind practice, which persists in false immediacy. Sometimes, in conversations, any criticism of the opportunist practice of the Left Party is rejected if it is not itself accompanied by practice (“What are you doing concretely?”). According to this logic, the social demagogy of the Left Party can only be criticized if one practices social demagogy oneself, whereby even fundamental insights into the function of theory formation fall victim to the general leftist regression.

This blind cult of practice goes hand in hand with an increasing hostility to theory and a downright hatred of intellectuals, as is characteristic of pre-fascism. The right-wing compatible ideologems of “simple truth” and “common sense” celebrate triumphs, texts must be kept simple and written in the main sentence style in order not to force people to think – which is actually only an expression of the commodified expectations of this regressive milieu, who are simply too lazy to think and shy away from the effort of thinking or the intellectual examination of complex topics. The dull half-Nazi who runs with lateral thinkers forms the bar to fall below here, which is already an implicit insult to the great “people” of whom these circles make so much fuss.

The general regression also manifests itself in a conservative desire for a return to the old, revolutionary times, so that in the meantime, in the wake of the Left Party’s social campaign, traditional Marxist adherents are simply reanimating slogans of the Bolsheviks from the revolutionary period, suddenly demonstrating for “heating, bread and peace” and imagining themselves as a little junior Lenin, while in fact they are only water carriers of the Left Party’s opportunism. Rockin’ like it’s 1917 – which is only possible as an ideological by-product of the opportunist distortion of the systemic crisis into a question of class struggle and social justice. Ignorance of the crisis and ideological delusion thus form a good basis for the only inner-left movement that has a real interest in marginalizing crisis theory: opportunism.

A Pinch of Class Analysis: The Middle-Class Left

Another moment that unconsciously prepares the ground for social demagogy is, ironically, the social origin, the class composition, of the post holders and functionaries in foundations, the party apparatus and media in the environment of the Left Party. These are mostly members of the middle class, who are now quite simply afraid for their white, German, middle-class asses, which are going up in smoke in the current crisis. In the party apparatus and among those mixed in with the “Left Party,” and in the entire “left-liberal” spectrum of the “Greens,” this stratum is dominant. The German-speaking left is largely a middle-class left, as is evident from its indestructible cult of the proletariat, which has everything to do with wishful thinking and nothing to do with late capitalist reality.

And, as soon as the German middle-class snob is confronted with a crisis surge that concretely questions his previous way of life, he suddenly discovers how beautiful life can be – in the middle class of the centers of the late capitalist world system. The conservative wish for things to remain as they are manifests itself in “left-compatible” forms: in blindness to the crisis and social nostalgia. The social campaign is thus also a doomed attempt by people from the middle class to maintain their own social position in the midst of the systemic crisis. The struggle of the left-liberal middle class for the welfare state, in its false immediacy, comes close to the struggle to maintain the system, which is collapsing because of its contradictions, and which had produced in the centers a narrow, privileged stratum, seen globally, that wants one thing above all: to remain middle class, as part of the “first world,” of course.

Summary: Left-Wing Crisis Opportunism

There are thus a number of factors that lead to this absurdly statist, anachronistic bandwagon being so successful, even though the crisis has now reached such a degree of maturity that even its former deniers on the left can no longer avoid incorporating fragments of crisis theory into their left-liberal, social-democratic or Leninist ideologies in order to form veritable Frankenstein constructs. The stupidity, narcissism, and ideological delusion of leftist scenes form a good basis for the only inner-left movement that has a real interest in marginalizing crisis theory: opportunism.

What results from consistent crisis theory? The idea that the overcoming of capital as an autodestructive totality is simply necessary for survival. Left to its own fetishistic dynamics, the automatic subject running amok will complete the world destruction already set in motion. This maxim of leftist crisis practice is therefore non-negotiable. There is no alternative to attempting an emancipatory systemic transformation. But how can one sell this in the late capitalist media or political establishment, in coalition negotiations or on the talk show? With the marginalization of radical crisis consciousness, however, opportunism can still hope to try its hand at being a doctor at the bedside of capital, which in the final analysis amounts to becoming the subject of the coming crisis administration. It is a panicky logic of “save yourself” that gives opportunism its particular brutality in its last great run for posts and positions. Since bunkers or private islands are not up for grabs, people seek refuge in the eroding and feral state apparatuses, which also forms the basis of the increasing faith in the state among parts of the left – preferring to dish it out inside the apparatus rather than having to take it outside.

Left opportunism in the systemic crisis of capital, which in fact degenerates into capitalist crisis management, can thus build on broad ideological and identitarian tendencies that often operate unreflectively in the eroding German left as a result of the crisis. Theoretical regression, the suppression of categorical critique and theoretical insights that have already been achieved, is not only fueled by left opportunism, it is also part of the general brutalization of late capitalist societies in the crisis, which also produces habituation effects and leads to a blunting of critique. Left-wing conservatism, which in its cult of the proletariat clings to the anachronistic parts of Marxian theory and can only confront even the manifest climate crisis with truncated class struggle thinking, also objectively promotes left-wing opportunism, which distorts the systemic crisis into a question of redistribution. And finally, it is the accompanying personification of the crisis, the search for villains behind the scenes who are blamed for inflation or the climate crisis, that also provides ideological ammunition for the New Right – and which manifests itself quite concretely in the Querfront that is now openly marching.[37] The right in Germany already seems to be emerging as a beneficiary of the crisis.

Antidote to Crisis Opportunism: Say What’s What!

But all this does not have to be – even in Germany with its terrible National Socialist tradition. Regression, the rise of fascism, and the fall into barbarism are not inevitable. How about a new practical approach, instead of reeling off the old, brown-tinged tales of past decades one last time? Like trying to tell people what’s what in the face of crisis? It is obvious by now that the capitalist world system is in agony and threatens to break down because of its internal and external, ecological contradictions – even in the German left this has become known by now. The dull feeling, widespread among the population, that “it can’t go on like this” must be taken up and concretized in concrete practice. The ultimate task of the left is to radicalize the growing unease with capitalism, that is, to go to its roots in order to make it clear that overcoming capital within the framework of a system transformation is necessary for survival. The transformation of the capital relation into history is thus the last capitalist necessity.

Either capital is consciously transformed into history by an emancipatory movement, or it destroys the ecological and social foundations of the process of civilization. It is as simple as that. And this can be explained in an understandable way to people who have long since suspected it, for example by pointing to the absurdity of boundless economic growth in a finite world – but it is a career killer for all the left opportunists who still want to become something in the coming crisis administration in politics and the media. That is why the question of the offensive dissemination of a radical crisis consciousness is crucial in leftist practical efforts. On the one hand, it forms the dividing line separating it from opportunism, but above all, a clear understanding of the character of the crisis is the basic prerequisite for an emancipatory transformation movement. Since there is no “revolutionary subject,” since there is no world spirit secretly helping the “cunning of reason” to break through, the question of crisis consciousness is decisive.

That is why the question of systemic transformation must be addressed offensively in all practice – not because one wants it in a radical attitude, but because it is inevitable for all of us. The self-movement of capital ignored by the truncated critique of capitalism, the fetishism driven by the inner contradictions of the capital relation, clearly emerges in the face of the impending socio-ecological collapse, which also disgraces all Leninist logic of interests. Humanity is powerlessly at the mercy of the destructive dynamics of capital, which it unconsciously produces through market mediation, even in its agony. The hope that must be held on to at all costs, despite all evidence, is that during the open-ended transformation process this fetishism can be overcome and transferred from an emancipatory movement into the conscious shaping of social reproduction.

There is thus a very simple means to distinguish the opportunism of the Left Party from clear, radical opposition in the coming crisis chaos. An emancipatory overcoming of capital is only possible with the formation of a radical, critical crisis consciousness within the population, which is currently being sabotaged by the social demagogy of the Left Party. It is the offensive thematization of this simple, all too evident truth that capitalism is at its end, that a system transformation is inevitable and that it is a question of collective survival to steer the inevitable transformation process in a progressive direction. All concrete left politics should be oriented towards this, towards the upcoming struggle for the transformation of the system, instead of frantically clinging to the categories that are currently in the process of dissolution, in order to still get a place in the government bunker in the looming crisis administration.

Strictly speaking, a revolution, which would mean the establishment of the infamous Leninist “dictatorship of the proletariat,” is no longer necessary, nor is it possible, since the proletariat itself is dissolving. What is inevitably at hand, however, is a transformation struggle, that is, a struggle over the course of the inevitable systemic transformation. And here, especially in its initial phase, moments of the old class struggle may well appear. All concrete struggles – from social protests, to climate strikes, to Antifa demonstrations or civil rights movements – would have to be consciously led and offensively propagated as struggles for a post-capitalist future. It is necessary to think in processes, contradictions, in order to identify those forces and constellations that favor an emancipatory course of transformation. And this consciously led struggle for the post-capitalist future would also be the very real common denominator of concrete social movements, which would prevent competition between various movements – for example between the social justice and climate movements.

The question is simply which late capitalist society should enter the inevitable transformation process: an oligarchic, highly armed police state, or a relatively open bourgeois democracy, etc.? However, the struggles against late capitalist crisis tendencies such as pauperization, de-democratization, the rise of fascism, etc., must be waged offensively as partial moments of the transformation struggle, as I said. This radical crisis consciousness can initially also be articulated in slogans and demands: Social protests and redistribution demands, for example, would aim at making the rich pay for the upcoming transformation – as long as money still has value. For in the end, even in concrete social struggle, we must dare to break out of the capitalist thought prison, instead of clinging to eroding categories such as the welfare state, etc.

For this reason, bourgeois derivatives of the class struggle logic, such as the ecologically motivated critique of consumption and its corresponding ideology of renunciation, are counterproductive. It is not a question of restricting the consumption of commodities, which is only a moment in the process of valorization, but of freeing the satisfaction of human needs from the constraining corset of the commodity form. Once again, the crisis will destroy consumption (including the state!) along with the commodity form, as is already the case for many people vegetating on the brink of starvation in the collapsed areas and “failed states” of the periphery. The question is whether a conscious satisfaction of needs beyond the commodity form can still be fought for in the upcoming transformation struggle within the framework of a process of understanding in society as a whole.

Anti-Fascism as A Struggle Against Impending Barbarism

Progressive practice is thus only possible as a partial moment of the struggle for an emancipatory course of transformation – everything else is opportunism, it leads to crisis ideology and ultimately barbarism. The initial front of the transformation struggle also cuts between the political camps that are eroding due to the crisis, between left and right. The right (together with the Querfront that objectively assists it), which forces the extremism of the center by a reactionary adherence to the collapsing existing, drives the transformation struggle into crisis ideology.[38] The remainder of the left could still counteract this as an emancipatory force, should it acquire a radical crisis consciousness, which would become the basis of a consciously led transformation process. In this respect, it is precisely anti-fascism – similar to the last systemic crisis of the 1930s – that seems to be emerging as the first central battlefield of the transformation struggle.

In contrast to the class struggle, where the workforce remains part of the process of valorization as “variable capital,” the transformation struggle in the course of the crisis can quickly be seized by an eliminatory logic, since with the process of valorization the common economic basis of the classes passing into dissolution collapses. The enemy is no longer economically “needed,” he is only a superfluous competitor. The EU’s willingness to turn the Mediterranean into a mass grave for crisis refugees, for example, offers a glimpse of the barbaric potential of the crisis process. Ultimately, the question is whether the subjectless rule of capital can be overcome in the course of the upcoming transformation, or whether the extreme right, which is already dragging its feet in its networks in the deep state, will succeed one last time in making manifest the barbaric potential inherent in the capital relation.

This is also why, for example, protest movements against de-democratization, the police state and authoritarian aspirations are essential as partial moments of the transformation struggle, as this can help to keep the transformation process on a civilized track for as long as possible before military logic takes hold. The remnants of bourgeois democracy are thus to be defended tooth and nail, in full awareness of their inevitable erosion, in order to preserve free spaces for post-capitalist emancipation, in which freedom would be freed from its deformation and perversion by capital.

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[9] False immediacy is understood here as the tendency of social movements to unconsciously persist in forms of thinking that correspond to the social conditions and contradictions against which they are actually directed.






























Originally published on on 10/06/2022.

The Alternative Imperialists

It is becoming increasingly clear that the capitalist catastrophe is looming. The left should fight for an emancipatory outcome.

Tomasz Konicz

Even before all the ideology, megalomania, and opportunism emerged, many left-wing contributions to the debate on Ukraine suffered from a fundamental logical misconception. Much has been written that assumes an easy way out of this catastrophe. Depending on the political or ideological standpoint, a heroic political party or geopolitical constellation is imagined that, by virtue of itself alone, will defuse the conflict and possibly even promote progress. In ever new variations, either the support of Ukraine and NATO is demanded in order to uphold the victory of bourgeois democracy in its struggle against Eurasian despotism, or it is the defeat of Western imperialism that is invoked instead, to be replaced by a multipolar world order. The left – according to a megalomania common throughout – must seize this mantle of history, must rally behind the forces of the pure, good and true, or else lose a titanic and historical struggle that will shape future decades. And in the background still lingering is the Hegelian Weltgeist with its “cunning of reason,” which needs only its correct interpretation.

But what if there is no progressive or even “neutral” way out of this catastrophe that can restore the pre-war status quo? What if the common assumptions sketched out above are wrong? The following contribution to the debate, drawing on the theoretical basis of the critique of value, describes the war over Ukraine as a qualitative tipping and turning point in an irreversible crisis process of the capitalist world system. It does this to then take a position in the debate within the left. The Ukraine conflict will inevitably shape the coming decades. The war will encourage brutalization and barbarization – it doesn’t matter whether Russia or the West emerges victorious from this imperialist slaughter. We will be lucky – and this is an appropriate generalization – for the war to end without a nuclear exchange of blows, without a breakdown of civilization. Although the reified public discourse on crises loves to neatly separate the individual moments of the crisis process from one another, the reality of the crisis dynamics does not adhere to these conventions, and further economic, geopolitical or ecological distortions could each interact with the war in Ukraine, driving it to a global escalation.

Without the development of an adequate concept of crisis, war simply cannot be understood. That is why the pathetic search for the “rational interests” of the imperialists, in which Germany’s “anti-imperialists” of all shades from red to brown so perfectly disgraced themselves, is always doomed to failure from the start. And that is why it was possible for the critique of value to predict the Russian invasion. The fetishized crisis dynamic is the irrational force driving the rulers of the imperialist powers into conflict. This is obvious in the case of Russia, which faced the erosion of its imperial sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space.

The social disruption within this economically isolated region, wherein former nomenklatura clans have established authoritarian oligarchies and kleptocracies, has created social chaos wherever raw materials and fossil fuels cannot be exported in sufficient quantities to keep enough of the population satisfied. These instabilities provide ample opportunities for Western interests in the region. The Russian war of aggression was preceded not only by the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, but above all by the uprisings in Belarus and Kazakhstan. Here Western interests did not have to intervene at scale, because things were fueled by internal social struggles.

It was the fear of further “revolutions” in its imperial backyard that drove the Kremlin, incapable of modernization, to war. Social tensions in the post-Soviet space – where Russia’s hegemony was rapidly eroding before the outbreak of the Ukraine war – gave rise to a dynamic of protest, insurrection, and external intervention that threatened the balance of power. If Moscow was to remain the capital of an empire, then the West had to be pushed back in Ukraine by force of arms. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is thus a sign of its weakness: all its other means of holding down this key component of its sphere of influence have failed. The invasion is sheer crisis imperialism acting from the defensive, seeking to bridge internal tensions through external expansion. Precisely because of its military and economic inferiority, it acts with its particular brutality.

But the same can be said in the case of the West. It was not only the Kremlin that felt compelled to take an enormous gamble in its invasion of Ukraine. The unwillingness of the West, both the US and the EU, to compromise in the run-up to the invasion reflects a similar dynamic of internal crisis and external expansion – in this case expansion into the post-Soviet space. NATO flatly refused to provide neutrality guarantees for Ukraine, which was of course part of Russia’s sphere of influence. Nonetheless, NATO worked all the while on the modernization of Ukraine’s armed forces, complete with its Nazi elements, and provided the Kremlin with at least a casus belli. Would Russia have attacked Ukraine even in the event of binding neutrality guarantees? We will never know. The only question is whether the West grossly miscalculated or deliberately provoked the invasion in order to bleed Russia dry in the Ukrainian war morass.

The EU’s interest in sabotaging geopolitical competition with a German-dominated Europe was what drove the Western intervention in 2014, when the Yanukovych government was toppled. Berlin and Brussels tolerated no alternative to the over-indebted Eurozone. But the NATO expansion strategy in Russia’s “backyard” is motivated above all by Washington’s efforts to halt US imperial disintegration, to preserve its hegemony and the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Without the greenback as the measure of value of all commodities, the United States would degenerate into a gigantic, weapons-grade Greece. Rising inflation suggests that the Fed’s money printing is now reaching its limits. While the EU and FRG wanted to prevent the formation of the “Eurasian Union” propagated by Putin, Washington was additionally concerned with driving a wedge between Berlin and Moscow in order to strengthen the eroding Atlantic alliance system. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has anchored the EU more firmly in the Atlantic Alliance, made a German-Russian rapprochement impossible in the medium term, and led to the expansion of NATO in Scandinavia.

It is not only the internal barrier of the capitalist world system, choking on its hyper-productivity, that makes war and external expansion appear to the over-indebted, socially broken state behemoths as the last way out; the crisis presents the stark reality of monetary devaluation and deflation. The external barrier of capital, which in its drive to valorize deprives humanity of the ecological foundations of life, manifests itself concretely in the food crisis escalating through the war over Ukraine, especially in Africa. Control over food is becoming a geopolitical lever of power in the emerging climate crisis, just as it is with fossil fuels.

Not only is the cause of the war rooted in the escalating contradictions of capitalist crisis, the war is itself a crisis accelerator. War intensifies the already existing processes of capitalist disintegration, shifting the entire world system into a new quality of crisis: deglobalization with political isolation and campist political formations, conflict over resources, shortages and supply chain bottlenecks, militarization and the permanent threat of large-scale war, the reciprocal emergence of authoritarian political actors and simultaneously the ongoing erosions of existing social as well as state structures. This tipping point in the crisis process is irreversible, there is no going back to the time before the war. As such, the current era of crisis imperialism is defined by an intensifying dialectical relation between state actors and capital, where states are striving for dominance and the crisis process of capital is following its own market-mediated, fetishistic momentum fueled its internal and external contradictions. Capital has produced a social formation today that simply does not have this blindly running dynamic under control, and will be  driven by it ever further into social and ecological collapse.

The objective crisis process of capital as a system is enacted through the crisis-imperialist confrontations of the corresponding state subjects. This, the concrete execution of crisis dynamics through economic, geopolitical, intelligence or military power struggles, is the objective core of the crisis-imperialist practice. The Kremlin is waging its war in Ukraine to maintain Russia’s status as an imperial power. The US provoked the war to remain a hegemonic power. Thus, the crisis drives the late capitalist state behemoths into confrontation, with both economic and ecological consequences. Since the systemic socio-ecological crisis cannot be solved within the framework of the capitalist world system, crisis imperialism has its vanishing point in a large-scale war. The possible consequences of which, due to the capacity for destruction accumulated in late capitalism, are unfathomable. Without emancipatory systemic transformation, the collapse of civilization is now threatened both by climate catastrophe and by nuclear war.

In the absence of an adequately radical concept of crisis, a large portion of what saw itself as part of the left in Germany has, since the beginning of the Ukraine war, diminished itself to nothing more than squabbling over sides. The war has only accelerated the collapse of these crisis-blind, politically opportunistic aspects of the German left who claim themselves to be the front lines. On the one hand, there are the Putin apologists around Wagenknecht and the [conspiracy theorist] Querfront media such as Telepolis or Nachdenkseiten, who shamelessly excuse Putin despite paying lip service to anti-imperialism. And on the other hand, there are supporters of NATO and hollow Western values who peddle the stale bourgeois-liberal ideology one last time before the Western states sink into barbarism.

While even Bandera finds praise in the left-liberal environment of the Greens, Germany’s anti-imps of all shades act as alternative imperialists, propagating nothing more than the imperial interest of Russia or China. The whole thing culminates in megalomaniacal appeals, always formulated from a safe distance, for Ukrainians to either bravely hold out as cannon fodder for freedom and democracy, or to surrender to Russian imperialism because the gas prices are skyrocketing in Germany.

The new quality of crisis that emerges with the war supersedes the era of neoliberal globalization. As such, it also marks the domestic limits of leftist practice within capitalism. Progressive, emancipatory “politics” can no longer be expressed without a radical concept of crisis, which makes the struggle for full-blown systemic transformation of capitalism the only option. It is the blindly running crisis process of capital that drives destructive dynamics of conflict on the geopolitical level, opening the door to large-scale war. This process itself must be the central pivot of any leftist praxis, not the opportunist parroting of imperialist propaganda or the imagining of any “objectively progressive” constellations of states each perpetuating their own crisis imperialism.

Ultimately, the German left would have to get comfortable with facing up to the evident and for decades stubbornly ignored fact (which also hardly plays a role in the current debate on Ukraine) that capital is in a systemic crisis. This would at least offer the theoretical chance for it to fight its way out of impotence and insignificance.

This would require a politics that could really tell people what’s what, instead of bothering them with anachronistic ideology. How far outdated the anti-imp icon Lenin is, for example, can be seen in the actions of his ever regressing fan club. In the context of the Ukraine debate in Konkret, they were able to spout reactionary rubbish superficially disguised as praise for Wagenknecht and the national minded socialists of the party Die Linke. Ironically, this Querfront darling of the Left, who assiduously advertises for the New Right, is not known to be opportunistic. Only to those whom the concept of an opportunist rebellion is unknown could think in such a way.

Germany’s alternative imperialists – these trivial anti-imps – can spread their anachronistic, reified rubbish, which has long since functioned as apologia for authoritarian capitalist crisis management in countries like Russia or China, in organs more or less open to Querfront tendencies like Telepolis, Nachdenkseiten, Freitag, Berliner Zeitung and Rubikon. It is no coincidence that these media are primarily financed by rich, old, white men from the German upper class, the petit bourgeoisie and the middle classes notoriously receptive to reactionary ideology. The same applies to their newspaper of choice, junge Welt.

Such anachronistic and reactionary ideology is simply not up to the task of confronting the reality of the crisis. People everywhere have long been feeling that the system itself is facing an irreversible crisis, that its transformation has already begun. Leftist political practice can now only be implemented as a partial moment in a wider movement to overcome the systemic capitalist catastrophe that is becoming ever more apparent. The catastrophic threat of large-scale war can only be countered within a struggle for systemic transformation, a struggle which must be formulated offensively. The process of transformation is inevitable, but in the face of the war in Ukraine, emancipatory praxis must aim to ensure that this change is not one that will end in barbarism or world war.

Instead of debating over the imperialist frontlines or parroting bullshit propaganda, leftists would have to anticipate the course of the crisis, name the crucial contradictions, and facilitate a transformation of the collapsing system into something post-capitalist that could salvage as many moments of the historical process of civilization as possible. Struggles against the threat of large-scale war, against crisis driven dictatorships, against chauvinism and reactionary agitation would have to be fought with the aim of creating favorable conditions for an emancipatory course of transformation. These struggles would necessarily unite with others, not least the struggle against climate change. The struggle for systemic transformation would form a common ground on which to bring together seemingly disparate protest movements.

At first, propagating systemic transformation as a necessity for survival might seem to guarantee the marginalization of any movement. But it is precisely the dynamics of the crisis that, with each new episode of crisis, demonstrate so clearly to people everywhere just how urgent it is to overcome capitalism. Clearly, the current Left is useless. But by consistent propagation of a radical and anti-capitalist crisis consciousness in concrete praxis, we could change this very quickly, and indeed preempt the fast approaching waves of oncoming crisis. This praxis would be, of course, an alternative to that of the “anti-imps,” who have withered away to the vanguard of imperialist barbarism, and have left their flank wide open to the far right. In the struggle for transformation, the capitalistically deformed scope of Western bourgeois democracy – so hated in these circles as a mendacious US import – must now be defended against barbarism precisely because it is within this framework that an emancipatory course yet remains open at all.

Originally published in konkret in 09/2022.

The Subjectless Rule of Capital

Who is to blame for the increasing contradictions and distortions of late capitalist societies – and what can be done about it?

Tomasz Konicz

Who are the rulers in capitalism? Preliminary observations seem to confirm what is, for the most part, the core principle of leftist ideology or theory: it is the capitalist class, the owners of the means of production, who seem to hold the reins of power – and they are therefore the ones responsible for the current state of the capitalist world system.

This conclusion seems justified at first sight, given the absurd level of inequality between rich and poor, between the mass of wage earners and the “happy few” of the billionaire caste, which has only been exacerbated by the neoliberal economic and financial policies of recent decades.

The data on the ever-widening gap between rich and poor seems downright bizarre: the 26 richest billionaires now own assets with a face value equal to that of the poorer half of the world’s population – that’s about 3.8 billion people. In the US, it is the wealthiest 20 people whose assets are equivalent to that of the impoverished half of the population.

In the Federal Republic, on the other hand, this ratio between billionaires and the destitute is 45 to 41 million. 45 mega-rich capitalists own just as much as the lower half of the population, and the income divide in the Federal Republic is now even more pronounced than in the United States.

The inequality of late capitalist societies, together with the emergence of a largely segregated caste of billionaires, goes hand in hand with an intensified, increasingly open assertion of the interests of the capitalist class. The ability of this class to successfully lobby has been reflected not least in the financial and tax policies of recent decades, which have almost exclusively favored the super-rich and large corporations.

US billionaires like the notorious Koch brothers finance a veritable political machine that puts their reactionary interests into law in Washington. As a result, there is a debate about whether the US has degenerated into an oligarchy dominated by a few billionaires.

In the Federal Republic, on the other hand, BMW billionaires from the notorious Quandt clan make donations to the CDU before the federal government once again undermines CO2 emissions limits, which directly benefits the German car industry. In addition – with the rise of the New Right – there is the direct financing of right-wing extremists and populists by billionaires, as in the case of US President Trump and the German AfD.

The same applies to political inaction in the face of the escalating climate crisis. For decades, both in the US and in Germany, the lobbying groups of the fossil fuel-driven capitalist economy have spent millions of dollars to torpedo any serious measures to combat climate change, and have largely been successful.

Capitalists, Class Struggle and Crisis

In the face of this informal power of the capitalist class, which can effortlessly put its economic interests into legal form through its lobbying machines, the causes of the current crisis seem clear, especially to the left: it is the increasing socio-economic division of society caused precisely by the seemingly behind-the-scenes ruling class of billionaires, the capitalists. The boundless greed or insatiable hunger for power of the capitalist class has led capitalism into crisis.

It seems to be similar with the ecological crisis: the greed of the corporate bosses of the oil and automobile industries, and their influence on politics, seems to be responsible for the fact that climate change, despite all the soapbox speeches, continues raging on, fueled by constantly rising CO2 emissions.

Economic stagnation and the decades-long social decline of large sections of the population in the centers of the capitalist world system, appear as a consequence of the policies of the super-rich class, which is waging a real class war against the working population, as for example the billionaire and speculator Warren Buffet once said: “There’s class warfare, all right, … but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The beginning of this “class war” is usually traced to the neoliberal turn of the 1980s, which, after the bloody prelude in 1973 in Chile, was first implemented in the US and Great Britain by Ronald Reagan and Margaret (“There is no such thing as society”) Thatcher.

Meanwhile, the bouts of destitution that followed the housing crash in 2008, which devastated the US middle class, for example, have also contributed to the formation of a strong, class-struggle oriented left. In response to the increased animosity towards minorities which the New Right pushed after the crisis surge in 2008, the left in the USA and Great Britain have been calling for a class struggle, in which the class war waged by the super-rich would now be answered consciously by way of the political mobilization of the “bottom,” the wage-earners. This left is also calling for a massive Keynesian investment program, the Green New Deal, to overcome the climate crisis.

A False Approach and A False Premise

Politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thus argue for a redistribution from the top to the bottom, for a strict taxation of large fortunes and for a curtailment of the informal political power of the super-rich, in order to lead out of its ecological and economic crisis through large investment programs. In the face of this renaissance of leftist class struggle, which has now also taken hold of the German left, a progressive counterweight to the reactionary wave of the New Right seems to be forming.

And yet this approach to explaining the crisis, which remains stuck in the dichotomy of proletariat and bourgeoisie, is a distorted consciousness that is ultimately not radical enough to adequately grasp the crisis process. The crisis is more than the result of escalating class struggle. The inherent premise of old, leftist, class struggle thinking, according to which there is a group of people who consciously control social reproduction, is false.

The reality of the unfolding capitalist crisis is far more frightening than any specter of an all-powerful rule of super-rich villains operating behind the scenes of the political establishment – however repulsive and reprehensible the individual egomaniacal actors in these exclusive circles may be.

Fetishism: The Autonomous Movement of Capital

Despite all the conspiracies that actually exist, there is no one behind the curtain who is ultimately pulling the strings, who is somehow “controlling” the course of events of the capitalist system. Humanity under capital is the object of an independent, contradictory dynamic, which it unconsciously produces by way of market mediation. This process of capital’s autonomous movement, called fetishism, is constituted “behind the backs of the producers,” as Karl Marx famously remarked.

Generally speaking, capitalism as a fetishistic social formation is thus characterized by the fact that in capitalism, “the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite,” as Karl Marx wrote in his main work Capital. The fetishistic forms of the valorization of capital, which are independent of the subjects, “appear to the political economists’ bourgeois consciousness” as a “self-evident and nature-imposed necessity.”

This fetishism pervades all the aggregate states that capital passes through in its autonomous movement, its cycle of valorization, in which more money is created from money through the production of commodities and the exploitation of wage labor (M-C-M’): commodity, money, labor.

In the labor process, for example, the wage-dependent market participant (“proletarian”) becomes “variable capital,” the only commodity acquired by capital on the labor market, which through its capacity to work can create more value than it is itself worth. Labor is “external” to the worker, he therefore “only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself,” as Marx put it in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts.

This being at the mercy of an external labor process over whose goal and course the worker has no control, in which his divestment is a moment of the fetishistic valorization movement of capital, leads to the formation of the well-known, omnipresent sense of alienation in capitalism. This “forced” labor under capital no longer serves the direct “satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it,” Marx continues. Its strangeness emerges “clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague. External labor, labor in which man alienates himself, is a labor of self-sacrifice, of mortification.”

The market subjects, isolated from one another by the compulsion of competition, who enter into commodity exchange only through the mediation of the market, appear similarly powerless in the face of commodity fetishism. The social character of their own labor is reflected to the commodity producers in the representational character of the products of their labor, Marx explained in the famous fetish chapter of Capital.

The social property of a commodity as a bearer of value (the quantum of socially necessary labor-time expended in its production process), produced within the framework of the valorization process, appears as a natural property of these things. The individual commodity seems to be endowed with the property of being a bearer of value in the same way as it is endowed with its other physical properties. Since the commodity, as a socially constituted “object of value,” appears only in the exchange of commodities on the market, it appears to the isolated producers as if it were a matter of a “social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers.”

Things thus become “independent” in a market-mediated way from the market subjects, who literally produce them themselves and offer them for sale in commodity form on the market – and this process is animated by the overall social compulsion of capital to valorize. This independence of capital is particularly evident in the financial markets, where fetishism manifests itself in the abstract form of money, and forms the most important driving force for reactionary crisis ideologies, including anti-Semitism.

Especially in times of crisis, when once again a “market quake” or financial crash threaten the stability of the entire economic system – as most recently in 2008 – it becomes clear that even the capitalist class is by no means “in control” of this fetishistic and destructive dynamic of capital, that the crisis-like course of events under capitalism is by no means controlled by a conspiracy.

The fetishistic reality of capitalism is thus actually scarier than the worst conspiracy ideology. The entire real world, human beings as well as nature, are only transitory stages of a blindly unfolding process of the accumulation of abstract wealth, which is ultimately abstract quanta of spent, “dead” human labor. The whole late capitalist horror consists precisely in the fact that there is no one at the wheel of the valorization train that is constantly hurtling towards the abyss.

Society, however, is a necessary appendage of the real-abstract valorization process of capital running amok, since capital can only be valorized through wage labor and the burning of resources in the production of commodities. In the end, only that which is necessary and financially viable within the framework of this blind cycle of capital multiplication has social existence: that is, only that which contributes directly or indirectly to the expansion of capital.

This applies not only to the category of “jobs” in the economy, but also to the state apparatus in its function as an “ideal total capitalist,” (Marx) and even to cultural production, which has to contribute to location optimization within the framework of neoliberal marketing strategies – social existence under capital is always subject to its ability to be “financed.” On the overall social, global level, capital thus acts as an “automatic subject” of boundless, tautological self-aggrandizement.

The concrete world is thus only the “material” of this independent, real-abstract autonomous movement of capital, which in its boundless growth mania deprives humanity of its social and ecological basis of existence. The global surplus value machine of capital thus burns the world to the ground in order to maintain the irrational end in itself of unlimited capital growth for as long as possible. A growing, economically “superfluous” humanity in the periphery and an escalating ecological crisis are the consequences of this autonomous movement of capital.

In a reversal of the old romanticism of progress, the image of a constantly accelerating train hurtling towards the abyss thus suggests itself, a machine out of control, driven by the autonomous movement of capital, which is produced unconsciously by the market participants, mediated by competition and the market. The transformative act that is necessary for survival is to find and apply the emergency brake, as Walter Benjamin already remarked.

Social structures unconsciously produced by human beings that objectify themselves vis-à-vis individuals; social dynamics that become independent vis-à-vis the subjects that produce them – this absurd form of social reproduction that characterizes the “prehistory of humanity” is illuminated by the concept of fetishism.

Thus the people of “enlightened” bourgeois society are nothing more than sinister fetish servants. Domination in capitalism is thus ultimately subjectless, as the crisis theorist Robert Kurz explained in his text Domination Without a Subject; the capital relation rules as a fetishistic abstraction of reality.

The inner essence of the capital relation, according to Kurz, is not captured by the disdainful greed of all the capitalist philanderers who were able to increase their (largely fictitious) wealth to obscene levels during the neoliberal decades:

Their “individual objectives” are not what they seem: in accordance with their form, they are not individual or voluntary objectives, and for this reason their content is also distorted and flows towards self-destruction. The essential point is not that individuals mutually use one another for their individual objectives, but rather, to the extent that they seem to do so, that they themselves execute a totally different, supraindividual and subjectless objective: the autonomous movement (valorization) of capital.

The subjective, “managerial,” exploitative interests of the capitalists thus form the outward appearance that conceals the fetishistic essence of the irrational, subjectless domination of the capital relation at the “macroeconomic” level. In general, capital can only be understood as a social totality; attempts to project the relations of the reproduction of individual capitals (enterprises, corporations) onto the system as a whole ultimately end up as ideology.

The Question of Guilt and Responsibility in Capitalism

As soon as people act as subjects in the valorization circuit of capital, they become character masks (Marx) of their respective position in the accumulation process – whether as assembly line workers, managers, salespeople or service providers is irrelevant in this respect. They are no longer “within themselves,” but act as the personification of their respective economic function (this is the basis of the feelings of alienation mentioned above).

Marx, for example, describes the capitalist in his function as a character mask “as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will,” who functions as the “point of departure and point of return” of the self-purpose of the endless circulation of capital. The “objective content of that circulation – the valorization of value – is his subjective purpose,” according to Marx in Capital.

What emerges here is the absurd position of the market subject within the automatism of capital valorization. On the one hand, capital as an automatic subject turns people into objects of its valorization movement, into things, into commodities that are traded on the labor market – and who have to adapt to this mediated form of subjectless domination as if it were a man-made law of nature, with a subliminal feeling of powerlessness.

At the same time, the only chance to still live out a stale imitation of subjectivity is to cooperate, as the aforementioned economic character mask, in the “subjective” perfection of this automatism of boundless capital valorization – and thus, in turn, to degrade “the others” to objects and “make them equal to things.” Within the all-too-real fetishism that the automatic subject perpetuates, the inmates of the capitalist treadmill are always two things at once: the subject of accumulation as well as its powerless object.

All character masks, as personifications of their respective economic function, therefore function as subject-objects of the autonomous movement of valorization that they themselves perpetuate, whereby the concrete relationship between these two poles depends on their specific hierarchical position in the reproduction process of capital. And it is precisely this hierarchical position of the subjects within the automatism of capital valorization that must also be taken into account in the question of the category of guilt, of personal responsibility. For of course the fetishism of capital does not absolve the actors who carry it out.

While some are obsessed with finding scapegoats, at the other end of the spectrum is a powerless systems theory that exculpates the current actors in business and politics. In this view, it seems as if those responsible can no longer be identified due to systemic constraints and objective structural laws. The concrete perpetrators disappear behind the destructive action of the automatic subject of capital’s collapsing dynamic of valorization.

The fact that the fetishism of capitalist society, in which the market-mediated actions of market subjects confront them as an alien, quasi-objective force, by no means leads to an exculpation of the actions of the perpetrators, was already pointed out by the crisis theorist Robert Kurz at the beginning of the 21st century:

Now, when the common form-context of abstract labor, commodity-form, state-citizenship, etc., moves into the field of vision of critique, where is accountability? Can one make a blind structural connection, can one make the automatic subject responsible for anything, even if it is the greatest crime? And vice versa: if capitalist barbarism is ultimately inherent in the mute compulsions of competition, etc., are not the barbaric acts of the ugly managers, the dirty politicians, the bureaucratic crisis administrators, the bloody butchers of the state of emergency somehow excused, because they are always conditioned and are actually caused by the subjectless structural laws of “second nature”?

Such an argument forgets that the concept of the automatic subject is a paradoxical metaphor for a paradoxical social relation. The automatic subject is not a distinct entity squatting out there somewhere by itself, but it is the social spell under which people subject their own actions to the automatism of capitalized money.

But those who act are always the individuals themselves. Competition, an artificially generated struggle for survival, crises, etc. all increase the potential for barbarism, but practically this barbarism must be carried out by the actions of people, and must pass through their consciousness. And that is why individuals are also subjectively responsible for their actions, the ugly manager and the dirty politician just as much as, on the other hand, the racist unemployed person and the anti-Semitic single mother.

The potential dangers of this society, and the immense anxiety that accompanies them, must be dealt with on a daily basis, and every moment individuals make choices in this process that are never completely without alternatives – neither on a small, daily scale nor on a large, socio-historical scale. No one is simply a puppet, without any agency, but everyone has to deal with the hair-raising contradictions, fears and sufferings of this spell.

Therefore, it is not absurd to direct the necessary critique of society to the level of socially overarching structures, to abstract labor and the automatic subject, but nevertheless to hold the acting individuals responsible for their actions, even if their social character mask leads them to a state of insanity.

Robert Kurz, Marx Lesen

A Donald Trump or Jeff Bezos, as subjects who carry out the contradictory automatism of capital accumulation on a political and economic level, are fully responsible for their actions. This is also true of a Wolfgang Schäuble, who is fully responsible for everything he has done to Greece and Southern Europe during the euro crisis; but it is also true of the little nasty forum troll, who is responsible for all the agitation he spreads on the net – even if these actions only execute the systemic crisis dynamics on a political or ideological level.

Of course, the historical guilt that an egomaniac like Trump or an austerity sadist like Schäuble has brought upon himself weighs far more heavily than the pitiful word-vomit of a single fringe extremist of the New Right in newspaper forums or social networks.

The great question of guilt in relation to the subjectless domination of capital can now also be specified in relation to the dynamics of the crisis and crisis ideology: the crisis as a historical process is a consequence of the increasing internal contradictions of capital, which confront the subjects as ever more severe “factual constraints.”

Specifically, it is the tendency of capital to get rid of its own substance, value-creating wage labor, by automating the production process. This applies not only to the economic crisis, but also to the ecological crisis of capital, which, in its fetishistic compulsion to grow, must burn up the natural foundations of human life at an ever-increasing rate by increasing production.

Therefore, we can simply conclude that absolutely no one is to blame for the crisis of capital. The crisis was certainly not “orchestrated” by any conspirators. The crisis erupted precisely because market subjects are doing more and more efficiently exactly what the system demands of them: exploiting wage labor for the purpose of unlimited capital accumulation. The more effectively wage labor is exploited, the greater the pressure, the tighter the market-mediated noose around the necks of all market subjects.

The first false question, leading to ideological blindness, which imposes itself on the reified consciousness as a matter of course at the outbreak of the crisis, is the question of guilt. But the shoe is on the other foot: personal guilt must be sought in the “everyday life” of capital valorization, in the “normal execution” of the capitalist treadmill, in the concrete economic exploitation, in political oppression and in the production of ideology that keeps the automatism of the system running.

Thus, while no one is “to blame” for the outbreak of the systemic crisis, the dynamics of which unfold quasi “behind the backs of the producers” (Marx), it is precisely the everyday functioning of the system – the market-mediated oppression, exploitation and ideology production – in which all the individuals who consciously execute the systemic constraints as “character masks” of their capitalist functions, are guilty. Even more: in interaction with the dynamics of the crisis, it is precisely the exploitation, the oppression, the production of lies by the system that is taken to the point of absurdity.

If, as in the neoliberal decades, the exploitation of wage dependent workers continues to increase, this points to a systemic process of crisis that is perpetuated on the backs of those same workers. And this is all the more true when a “normal employment relationship” becomes the exception and, globally speaking, more and more people can actually no longer be exploited by capital because they are superfluous and therefore nothing more than “useless eaters.”

Class Struggle as A Struggle for Distribution

The increase in exploitation, impoverishment and precariousness described above, even in the centers of the capitalist world system, must therefore be understood as a systemic reaction to a deep historical process of crisis. This occurred in the 1980s in response to the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s and the crisis period of stagflation. Consequently, neoliberalism prevailed only because Keynesianism was at its wits’ end. In this sense, neoliberalism was not a kind of “coup” against a supposedly ideal world of the welfare state, as many on the left like to imply.

It is precisely the seemingly absurd split between rich and poor, between the masses of precarious and impoverished wage-dependents, and the fictitious millions in largely fictitious capital that a few billionaires seem to possess that points to the systemic crisis, which also brings with it a lack of profitable investment opportunities in the real commodity economy, and a corresponding shift to speculative activities in the financial sphere (“financialization of capitalism”).

It is precisely these consequences of the crisis that confront all actors as increasing, objectified contradictions or “constraints.” The subjects react to this in a system-immanent way with an intensification of competition: politicians and states that enforce social cuts within the framework of the competition for locations, corporations that find ever more brutal forms of exploitation, in the mass media whose opportunism in the production of ideology seems to know no bounds, and wage-earners who increasingly resort to mobbing.

The market-mediated mute compulsion of the ever “tougher” conditions compels the character masks of their respective social functions to execute this compulsion under penalty of their own downfall. The capitalist who is not able to increase the exploitation of his human material in the context of increasing competition on “tighter” markets will perish. The same applies to the capitalist economies as national “locations,” which are also in a race to the bottom due to the crisis.

The Hartz reforms, with their intended strategy of increasing precariousness and fixating on exports, have thus been “successful” in that they have so far been able to pass on the consequences of the crisis to other countries through the export of debt. The same applies to public opinion: the tendency towards opportunism in politics and the media is increasing, and oppositional thinking is being marginalized, especially on the “left.”

Against the background of what has been written above, a clear assessment of the class struggle now also seems possible. Class struggle is thus a struggle for distribution within the process of capital reduction, the intensity of which is determined by the concrete, historical unfolding of its contradictions. In periods of strong economic expansion, as during the post-war boom until the 1970s, forms of “social partnership” can emerge between the functional elites of capital and the trade unions representing the wage-earners (of “variable capital,” as Marx puts it).

As long as markets are expanding strongly, high profits can be agreed upon with wages that turn wage-dependent workers into consumers. This changes relatively quickly in times of crisis, when the main concern of every capitalist is to perpetuate the irrational end in itself of capital accumulation, if necessary at the expense of his own wage-earners.

The class struggle as a struggle for distribution thus has no inherent objective transformative potential. It is a struggle for shares in the real production of value, which is melting away as a result of the crisis, and it does not question this irrational form of social reproduction as such. The class struggle (and this is also historically true of such struggles) thus moves within the forms of capitalist socialization (value, labor, capital, state) and seeks emancipation and recognition within these categories, rather than their abolition.

The intensifying class struggle is therefore a struggle for distribution. The militancy with which this “class war,” (Warren Buffet) which is escalating because of the crisis, is propagated, conceals its lack of radicalism, since the causes of the crisis and the above-mentioned fetishistic form of social reproduction in capitalism are not reflected upon by this movement.

The present social conditions also seem to resemble the impoverishment of earlier times because the historical “ascendant phase” of the working class in the 18th and 19th centuries has social parallels with the present descendant phase of capital and the working class. The current widespread misery within the eroding class of wage-earners in the centers of the world system thus mirrors the misery of its historical formation.

To put it vividly: The foundation on which the class actors operate, the expenditure of wage labor in commodity production, is disintegrating. The one-sided rhetoric of class struggle obscures the fact that the classes themselves are in the process of dissolution as a result of the crisis. The proletariat is disintegrating into precisely that economically “superfluous” layer of people who are desperately fleeing to the core regions of the capitalist world system.

What Do We Do?

To be radical is to grasp a problem at its root in order to find a solution adequate to it. This is precisely what Marxist class struggle thinking does not do. It is not the distribution of commodity wealth that is at the heart of the crisis, but the contradictory form in which wealth is produced for the sake of the irrational self-purpose of unbridled capital accumulation – the commodity form itself. The blatant, ever worsening social division of late capitalist societies is, as explained, precisely the consequence of the escalating internal and external contradictions of capital’s compulsion to grow.

Consequently, the crisis cannot be resolved by social-democratic redistribution. The radical goal should not be to gain “control” (possibly still under the leadership of a dictatorial state and cadre party) over the machinery of capitalist accumulation, but rather to fundamentally transform it in order to finally liberate the production of consumer goods from its commodity form, from the fetishistic end in itself of the valorization of value.

Even the “democratization” of capitalist enterprises, as is currently being discussed in left-liberal circles in the US as direct worker control, would continue to expose these cooperatives to the constraints of the crisis-induced tightening of the markets, and thus change little. The crisis of capital, which is reaching its internal and external limits, can thus only be overcome by overcoming the fetishistic dynamics of the accumulation process – for it is precisely these dynamics of exploitation, unconsciously generated by the market subjects, that are devastating impotent human societies and the global ecosystem.

Ultimately, it is about simplifying social reproduction by organizing it directly, through an all-encompassing process of society-wide communication, rather than – as is currently the case – degrading society to a mere transitory stage of a blind world-burning process run amok. Post-capitalism thus means, at its core, the conscious shaping of the process of social reproduction by the members of society, as opposed to the current state in which people are subjected to a quasi-objective, fetishistic dynamic.

Karl Marx’s seemingly cryptic remark that the overcoming of capitalism would conclude “the prehistory of human society” thus gains clarity. All human history to date has taken place unconsciously, within the framework of fetishistic social systems: from the religious fetishism of early times and the Middle Ages to the secularized religion of capital.

And here is the thing: the crisis is also an irreversible, fetishistic process. It will run its course, and there is no way to stabilize the system in the long run, because the eternal creation of debt will eventually reach its limits, even in the centers. This is not a vision of the future; it is already a reality, especially in the periphery.

The system, choking on its contradictions, is already producing an economically superfluous humanity and collapsing regions known as “failed states,” as the refugee crisis has made clear. The same is true of the climate crisis caused by capitalist growth mania and its monstrous consequences.

Whether the collapsing system will be overcome is therefore not a question of the subjective “will” of the members of society. It is a question of the very survival of human civilization, and ultimately of human existence, how the coming transformation process will proceed: as a chaotic disintegration, in the form of the establishment of a brutal, murderous crisis dictatorship, or in a progressive direction that would open up new emancipatory perspectives for humanity, despite all the climate-related distortions to come.

What is more, this transformation process is already underway – and the increasing political, ideological, and military conflicts are precisely the expression of this upheaval that is unconsciously taking place in humanity, as the sociologist and world-systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein pointed out at the beginning of the 21st century:

We are living in a transition from our existing world-system, the capitalist world-economy, to another world-system or systems. We do not know whether this will be for the better or for the worse. We shall not know until we get there, which may not be for another fifty years now. We do know that the period of transition will be a very difficult one for all who live in it. […] It will be a period of conflicts and aggravated disorders […]. Not paradoxically, it will also be a period in which the “free will” factor will be at its maximum, meaning that the individual and collective action can have a greater impact on the future structuring of the world than such action can have in more “normal” times, that is, during the ongoing life of an historical system.

Immanuel Wallerstein, Utopistics

Civilization or barbarism – these are the extreme poles in this historical “phase of transition,” whereby it is the New Right, with its extremism of the center, which insists on adhering to the forms of society in decay (nation, “creative” capital, state), that is paving the way towards barbarism.

It is precisely the extreme networks and associations of the New Right that are sometimes consciously preparing for the crisis – which they imagine as the result of a conspiracy against Germany – with death lists and coup plans. A dictatorship planned for the next wave of crisis is supposed to serve to finally “cleanse” the left through mass murder. Thus, neo-fascism is a kind of fire accelerator for barbarism in the crisis.

There is a maxim of political practice that left movements, groups or even parties would have to follow in the 21st century if they still want to function as progressive social forces according to their concept in the current epoch of upheaval and crisis. Capitalism must be consigned to history as quickly as possible, the capital relation as a social totality must be consciously abolished – all practical actions, all tactics, all reform proposals, all broader strategies would have to be oriented towards this categorical imperative.

This is not an expression of leftist “radicalism,” but the formulation of a reasonable bare minimum, that, if not realized, would lead to the end of 21st century civilization in barbarism. Precisely because capital is collapsing, it must be overcome. Progress can only be realized beyond capital, in the transformative struggle to shape a post-capitalist society.

A progressive movement, based on an understanding of the necessity of systemic transformation, would thus fight to create conditions that could steer this transformative dynamic in an emancipatory direction. The maxim of such a post-politics would be, on the one hand, the effort to maintain and further develop the process of civilization, and, on the other hand, the struggle to overcome the inherent destructive dynamics of capitalism.

The goal of a progressive transformation movement would thus be to consciously shape the process of civilization, which is fetishistically carried out by powerless people, within the framework of a process of communication throughout society. The forms in which a self-conscious transformation movement organizes itself in the context of the crisis-related increase in social conflicts would thus possibly become the germinal forms of a post-capitalist society.

Bourgeois politics, the actions of political subjects, are thus “important” again, they have weight. Not because they can solve the crisis, but because they determine the course of the crisis. An example may illustrate this: whether a Schäuble puts Europe on a neoliberal starvation diet (austerity) after the outbreak of the euro crisis, or whether the crisis process unfolds within the framework of a pan-European economic and social policy, is of great importance for the further unfolding of the crisis, as the rise of nationalist and right-wing extremist movements in austerity-ridden “German” Europe shows.

The increasing social struggles against the dismantling of the welfare state, against the dismantling of democracy and police-state tendencies, and for a genuine climate policy should thus be understood as fields in which the social subjects literally fight for the course of the transformation process that is objectively taking place.

And here the class struggle – insofar as it is aware of its role as a means in a struggle for transformation – also has an important role to play. The class struggle is part of the struggle over the concrete course that the transformation process will take.

Which Society Will Undergo Transformation?

For this to happen, the class struggle must look beyond itself and no longer primarily strive for recognition or social satisfaction in a declining capitalism, as the workers’ movement historically did. The historical expansion of capitalism and the wage-labor regime was the precondition for this, which is no longer the case today because of the crisis.

To put it more concretely, understanding the crisis as a maxim of emancipatory praxis means asking in what form late capitalist society will enter the inevitable process of transformation. Will it be an authoritarian, racist, police-state administered oligarchy with absurd social abysses, or a more egalitarian, bourgeois-democratic polity in which there continues to be space for radical critique and praxis?

Superficially, then, an emancipatory left that wants to be progressive in late capitalism resembles an existentialist figure, comparable to Albert Camus’ Sisyphus, who consciously engages in a seemingly absurd practice. The struggle for social improvements against the dismantling of democracy, for the equality of minorities, for the Green New Deal is waged in full awareness of the internal capitalist futility of this struggle – in the face of the escalating economic and ecological systemic crisis.

But this is where the analogy ends. The consciousness and rhetoric with which this “battle for the tea water” is fought is crucial. It is necessary to tell people clearly what is going on, that the old capitalist world is dying, that the new one has not yet been born – and that this is a struggle against social cuts, for redistribution, against racism, climate destruction and warmongering, a struggle for optimal starting conditions for the inevitable system transformation.

Through this openness, which only makes explicit what has long since been unconsciously embedded in society as a dull crisis agenda, coupled with the search for post-capitalist forms of organization within this movement, it would also be possible to overcome the false immediacy that has often led progressive movements to get bogged down in the false whole of late capitalism.

False immediacy is understood here as the tendency of social movements to unconsciously persist in forms of thinking that correspond to the social conditions and contradictions against which they are directed.

A prime example of this is trade union struggles against job cuts, which have to be fought by the actors concerned for the sake of their social survival – but which, without a corresponding awareness of the crisis, reproduce the existing forms of thought – in this case thinking in terms of “jobs” as the only option for individual reproduction – even in times of crisis among the actors.

It is similar with the protests against inflation, a phenomenon which is often reduced to the greed of the capitalists – and which without radical crisis consciousness must end in impotence. It would be crucial to raise the question of the system offensively in the coming crisis confrontations, precisely because capital is perishing from its own contradictions. The concrete protest must be carried out with open eyes as part of a struggle for the transformation of the system.

Such necessary social struggles would thus have to be coupled with a radical emancipatory critique of the capitalist forms of existence and thought that are in the process of disintegration, as Robert Kurz has already pointed out:

The task, then, is to formulate the emancipatory critique of the objectified, socially overarching forms of existence or thought and to assert it from within the social struggle in order to consciously break through this categorical prison. […] What matters is to develop a will against the dominant form of the will and to make conscious its fetishistic character.

The text is an updated version of an article that was published in the magazine Telepolis in 2019, before it was hijacked by a Querfront racket of the Left Party and converted into a Querfront organ. The text can be taken unabridged by anyone interested, with credit to the author.

I finance my journalistic work mostly through donations. If you like my texts, then you are welcome to contribute via Patreon.

Originally republished on on 10/02/2022

Turning Point in Ukraine?

A military disaster looms for Russia’s army in northeastern Ukraine

Tomasz Konicz

There is movement in the war in the east – and it is the Ukrainian army that has apparently been able to seize the momentum. While the Western public, to the extent that it still follows the war in Ukraine, which has coagulated into normality, at all, was mainly aware of the offensive around the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, large territorial gains seem to have been recorded in the northeast by combined Ukrainian units in a rapid attack.

Ukrainian units were able to break through the Russian lines southeast of Kharkov on a broad front and gain dozens of kilometers of ground within a few days, between the 4th and 9th of September. Even pro-Russian propaganda sources openly admit this.[1] Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops are reported to be on the outskirts of Kupyansk,[2] the main Russian-held city in Kharkov Oblast. Moreover, the most important supply route of the Russian army units in the western Donbass around Izium runs through Kupyansk. Consequently, cutting this supply route would be devastating for the Kremlin’s operations in eastern Ukraine. The attacks by Ukrainian troops in the south thus appear to have contributed primarily to weakening the Russian front in the north – and it is precisely these weak points that Kiev’s army leadership – probably evaluating Western information – was able to correctly identify and exploit.

The Russian defense, thinned out by troop deployments to Kherson, sometimes consisting of conscripted reservists from Lugansk and units of barracked police, is said to have literally collapsed. The Ukrainian army, ironically, has successfully employed the same tactics that the Russian army leadership failed to implement at the outset of the war. No mobile units of combined forces have advanced far into enemy territory after breaking through on the front lines without capturing towns and settlements where significant Russian occupation forces are entrenched. The difference so far, at least, is that the demoralized and encircled Russian troops are not leading attacks on Ukrainian supply routes and supply lines, as Ukrainian soldiers did during the Russian advance at the outbreak of war.

Currently, thousands of Russian soldiers are said to be in these cauldrons west of the Oskol River. It’s a disaster for the Russian army that even Western military experts could scarcely have imagined before the war broke out.[3] In the coming days it will be decided whether the Ukrainian forces can maintain these gains in terrain, or whether Kiev overestimated its forces, overstretched its supply routes – and Ukraine faces similar setbacks in Russian counter-offensives as the Russian invasion forces did at the start of the war.

In response to this disaster, in which terrain that had to be painstakingly conquered over months was lost within a few days, the Russian army is supposed to pull together strong formations in the region in order to quickly reverse any of Ukraine’s territorial gains that are not secured by defensive installations, and to dislodge the encircled Russian troops. But this weakens other sections of the front, as Russia attacked Ukraine with a vastly outnumbered army, and the initial military-technical and equipment superiority of Russian forces is increasingly fading due to Western arms deliveries and war-related attrition.

Further attacks by Ukrainian forces thus seem likely. But this would ultimately mean that the strategic momentum in this war would pass to Ukraine after weeks of de facto stalemate. Russia’s invading army would thus be put on the defensive, while Ukrainian formations exploit weak points to break through thinned Russian fronts and make repeated gains in territory. The coming days will show whether this latest offensive by Kiev southwest of Kharkov indeed marked a strategic turning point in the war. The decisive factor will be the extent to which Kiev’s troops will be able to maintain these gains in the face of Russian counterattacks.

On September 10, the first photos of Ukrainian soldiers from the strategically important city of Kupyansk appeared on the web – as mentioned, the most important Russian supply line to the western Donbass runs through here. Apparently, parts of the city were abandoned by Russia without a fight. It takes Russia months to capture Ukrainian cities. Ukraine appears to be taking them in a hand sweep. Russian troops south of Kupyansk, especially near Izium, are now in a very difficult position. Indeed, it seems that Russia is losing all conquered territory west of the Oskil River. Izium is almost surrounded by Ukrainian army, thousands of Russian troops are threatened with capture or death.

But the unexpected aspect of the Ukrainian offensive is its total surprise effect. Russian intelligence and intelligence services (satellites, aerial reconnaissance, informants) seem to have been blind. It’s 2022, every major Russian troop movement is known to the West, and sometimes troop redeployments – as most recently towards Kherson – are discussed on the internet. Russia is apparently hardly able to do this, the Russian army actually seems to have been “in the picture” and not to have noticed the significant deployment, the preparations for the Ukrainian offensive – this in the era of satellite-based reconnaissance.

The desolate state of the Russian army, which suffers not only from corruption and mismanagement but also from an archaic command structure, enormous casualties and rapid wear and tear on material (Putin has made gestures to North Korea to procure ammunition), seems to have put the Kremlin in a similar position to that at the start of the war: When the Russian lightning advance on Kiev and Kharkov failed, Moscow had to choose between withdrawal and escalation. Putin opted for an escalation of the cycle.

The Kremlin will soon face a similar decision if the current Ukrainian offensive is successful: Either the admission of defeat, which will certainly cost Putin his head in the medium term, or further escalation. And Russia certainly has the means to continue following the logic of military escalation – which at the same time increases the danger of a major war.

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Originally posted on on 09/09/2022