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International | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism

Society of the Few
by Hans-Peter Gensicher
Friday Apr 26th, 2013 5:59 AM
Public opinion tries to get persons going downhill to believe there are chances for everyone. They only need to exert themselves and seize these chances. The leftist variant is that international capitalism must be forced to give all people these chances. With such mottos, one only promotes the self-doubt and despair of the dependent and hinders them from seeing their situation.

By Hans-Peter Gensicher

[This chapter of “In the Land of Milk and Honey” published in 2008 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet.]

In Western Europe's middle class world, a mentality of growth has prevailed since the French Revolution and has included three basic promises: that economic growth develops over the globe, improves the human fate, ensures cultural and social progress and will continue (“advance”) for all time. This development has really brought prosperity to many people, pushed back material poverty and led more and more people into the comfortable middle. Whenever and wherever a problem arose, it could be repaired by growth (or expansion). So this mentality became a European-North American self-evident truth or foregone conclusion...

The motto “faster-higher-further” goes far beyond sports. It was mixed with the other watchword “freedom-equality-brotherliness” from the French Revolution and thirdly added the Darwinian thesis of higher development. This conglomerate (very worldly, very religious and often believed dogmatically) was the dominant religion of the modern age. The equation “eternal improvement of living standards = democracy” was laid down. While not really convincing, it is a common heritage up to today. Since the 19th century, the beautiful assumption was added: the expansion of the economy would bring about higher intellectual and moral development and not only growth in prosperity. These connections made capitalism very attractive. It did not even occur to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to create an alternative to the growth ideology. While pleading against capitalism and all religion, they also were bewitched by the growth religion of capitalism and adopted it for their way to communism. In the 2005 German Bundestag election, “pro growth” was the credo of all the parties – from the PDS and the Greens to the FDP...

For a long while, growth wisdom has not been wisdom at all. “Historical development in Germany today cannot be equated with “upwards” and “more.” Who still seriously believes economic expansion brings about an upswing in morality or moral standards?

Cities shrivel. Even a growth center like Leipzig is a shriveling region today... Emptying and desertion are occurring on a large scale with the consolation of expansion in other regards. Amid peripheralization, some places even completely disappear.

Children are hardly still brought into the world. A generation shrivels before it was born. By 2050 the German population will shrivel 17 percent (compared to 2006) and even 30 percent in the eastern German states, Only every eighth German is a child. Children are an exotic marginal group.

At the same time an increasing number of the poor shrivel physically and disappear. Many elderly poor reduce their consumption and mobility through their mostly meager lifestyle. The demographic problems are not extreme today in the first decade after the turn of the millennium. Their peak or low point can be predicted.

Professional work ends in society. Whoever is not completely jobless skids into precarious employment conditions limited in time. In 2006 only 56 percent of dependent employees in Germany still had an unlimited full time job with regular wages. Permanent affiliation with the firm gradually became the exception. The first labor market becomes the second.

Economic upswing occurs in Germany sporadically and in phases. However this upswing no longer has a permanently positive effect on jobs or on the whole society. Rather the more intensely the economy booms, the more low wage and subcontracted jobs arise. Economic expansion leads to further increased CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and worsens the serious climate change. In addition, the economy invests its energy in creating new jobs in Poland or Mongolia, in stock market speculation, higher prices for shareholders and further technical innovations. The latter lead to reduced jobs. That is the hardest shriveling and follows a sharp logic.

Economic growth is neutralized by great ecological problems: the extreme shortage of resources and simultaneously the climate disaster. Both are two sides of the same coin: consequences of economic expansion reached with the help of enormous resource consumption. Take crude oil as an example: 84 million barrels are currently produced daily, three times as many as 1890 annually! The need is increasing while the control is decreasing. With current consumption, all provisions will be completely used up in 50 years. Horrible wars are now waged for oil. By 2015 the rising demand for oil will not be covered any more. More wars and higher prices threaten. The same will happen for natural gas after 2050. This is clearly the end for the past style of economic expansion. Secondly, the climate disaster is added. According to Dir Nicolas Stern in 2006, the catastrophe will destroy material assets amounting to seven trillion dollars worldwide and lower the global social product five to 20 percent. To effectively combat this catastrophe, a tenth of this sum will have to be spend worldwide. For Germany, this will be two billion euros annually – for 30 years. Other competent researchers estimate more than ten billion euros of additional spending annually. Expenditures of this size could save the world while enormously lowering the (past) level of material prosperity. Together with the higher prices of extremely scarce resources, they will completely and revolutionarily change today's form of capitalist economy and western society.

The living standard in Germany has fallen since the middle of the 1990s. This began in the West even before the reunification and was increasingly manifest in all Germany afterward. The well-to-do middle class was becoming impoverished. Today eleven (others say 15) million persons in Germany are poor or threatened by poverty. More limitations will alter our lives in the near future through efforts against the climate disaster. The state measures alone will cost every inhabitant of Germany an additional 200 euro a year. The higher price for gasoline is not a state measure.

Economic poverty and social degradation are two consequences. The third hopelessness is the worst. Like scorn that is added, public opinion tries to get persons going downhill to believe there are chances for everyone. They only need to exert themselves and seize these chances. The leftist variant is that international capitalism must be forced to give all people these chances. With such mottos, one only promotes the self-doubt and despair of the dependent and hinders them from seeing their situation.

State revenues decline (except in exceptional years) which makes the state weaker and more helpless. Moreover the state has become indebted at incredible heights, dependent on super-rich private sponsors and as a result lame. Even in economically good years, the state could not drive its new indebtedness to zero.

Voter turnout falls and shrivels permanently. This also weakens the state. Democratic attitudes and actions no longer have a majority. Interest in politics becomes the hobby of a minority and suffers the fate that religiosity has suffered for 150 years. With the few voters, the bond to a certain party fades. This makes the democratic state unstable. Massive disillusion stands behind the voters' turning away.

The nation state becomes the spin-off or secondary phenomenon of a global economy and its petitioners. What V. I. Lenin once fantasized about the “dying state” has now become reality, entirely without Lenin. “Crumbling state” would be more appropriate. Paradoxically this crumbling state sees itself as an agent of economic expansion. Thus the state is blind to its own situation and endangerment.

One doesn't need to be a culture critic to diagnose the undermining of ethical values and the disappearance of binding behavioral norms and educational substance. What was once proudly called the “leading German culture” shrivels and fades. In Germany, an enormous “education poverty” prevails. Ten percent of German students are functionally illiterate along with four million adults. In East Germany, more than half of all the unemployed have not finished vocational school. Between 30 and 70 percent of German schools are regarded as “incorrigible.” A behavioral poverty and ignorance of simple manners – even in the middle- and upper class – is also characteristic. Ideas of courtesy often disappear or are regarded as out of place or uncool. In everyday life, the disappearance of respect, meeting halfway and giving deference to others and the loss of all the little elements of fairness and solidarity is rather striking.

In this society of descent, the influence and the number of members of churches has declined for a long while. From 1950 to 2000, the number of Sunday church visitors has fallen by three-quarters. In the meantime, every third church building is not needed for the Christian community. Uncertainty of faith, orientationlessness and a rather diffuse and timid hope prevail in the church community with the remaining Christians. In light of the many new shrivelings, disappearances and crumblings, the connection between the church-religious and the economic-social shriveling must be completely reassessed. For a long time, the former was seen as the product of the latter. The old and reactionary had to finally yield to the new and progress. Now it is clear: the church-religious shriveling was only the forerunner of the social, state and economic shriveling!

The same phenomena in the unions followed the peripheralizing and collapse of the churches. People forgot solidarity within the class and the class itself dissolved. The unions continuously lost members. They slept through the establishment of the “class” of the (long-term) unemployed. They are still fighters for higher wages and more social security – but for fewer and fewer persons with a steady or permanent job. They develop almost into enemies of the unemployed or at least into foreigners (for them). They have not found any new answers to these new questions. They did not even worry about a burning theme like “new forms of work.”

The many shrivelings are different but connected. One knows the “hard” shriveling in the economic figures, in vacant buildings, in news about job cuts and birth numbers. When a “shriveling” is thematicized, its harsh elements are addressed. Ethical and religious shriveling and the crumbling of social bonds and self-evident cultural truths are “soft.” Both kinds are combined and get worked up – or skid downward together. Self-confidence collapses because long-term jobs are missing... Children are hardly born. Sociality can hardly be practiced any more in the family since theaters had to close for shortage of money and libraries can hardly buy any new books. Life models and solutions to conflicts cannot be staged any more or assimilated in reading. When regard for neighbors or street pedestrians has become so unusual, how should consideration be practiced toward threatened African animal species or unborn descendants?

Perhaps someone can show that none of the shrivelings can be stopped or reversed – from birthrates, voter turnout, educational poverty to the crumbling of ethics. We have a cluster of phenomena before us, a whole reality that cannot be unraveled any more... The individual “threads” of the tangle seem to be mutually strengthened and stabilized. The correctable partial shrivelings cannot be repaired or reversed any more.

The ecological shriveling is cut short in the discussion of shriveling. This is terrible because the dying-out of species, the increasing scarcity of mineral resources, particularly crude oil and water and the disappearance of undamaged landscapes, the decline of climate stability and the melting of the polar ice-caps must be faced. Economic-, population- and prosperity-growth are the main causal agents of the environmental crisis since they unscrupulously exploit nature. These expansions now lead to stagnations and collapses in the northwest of the world! The kind of growth or expansion that triggered the crisis is now its own victim. Already in 1972, one human generation ago, the wise heads of the “Club of Rome” spread the insight worldwide that we can only prevent a catastrophe of the eco-systems – and thus the catastrophe of society – through a voluntary limitation of growth. That insight is actually overtaking us now... An end of growth as a strategy to prevent catastrophe was meant in 1972 but now it comes as this catastrophe.

At the margins of society, the plaster and the foundations of this society crack... Social cracks arise. More correctly, the social state only occurs in the ruins of society. These margins consist of concrete regions, areas like the Uckermann... or parts of Saarland – often at the geographical edges of the republic. They are always found in the old cities or new developments that originated in the 1970s. From them, the new wealthy drew into the suburban row houses. Seniors, the poor, the alone in the world, the written-off, excluded, foreigners, dropouts, illiterates, alcoholics, in general the dependent and outsiders, those who cannot pay for their new row houses, return and live in the old cities. In the main schools, society grudgingly “educates” its superfluous children reluctantly, unwillingly and aimlessly – unsuspecting what this society wants from them and what they should become on their part in this society.

Being pressed beyond this margin is a completely new experience. On the other hand, people resist in their thinking with all their strength. The illusion “helps” that there is only a temporary dent of growth (only an isolated dent) and then the economy will grow again. Serious rethinking doesn't happen. Another illusion is that ecology and growth are connected so increased prosperity will be attained. People still believe in the “faster, higher and bigger.” This fiction iss maintained through over-chemicalization, over-technization, genetic manipulation or simply bribery of the judges. People lie to themselves.

These are not only counter-reactions to the inexorable dying of the growth religion, not-wanting-to-see that the presuppositions for the growth religion have long vanished.