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Related Categories: International | Labor & Workers
How is Corona changing the world of work?
by Dieter Sauer, Richard Detje & Ulrich Teusch
Tuesday Aug 17th, 2021 6:18 AM
Exceptional situations do not necessarily have to be handled in an authoritarian manner; efficiency does not have to be generated in command structures. Independent action by employees becomes productive in democratic structures - perhaps the Corona crisis has also triggered learning processes that go in this direction.
How is Corona changing the world of work?
A survey of the industrial and service sectors
By Dieter Sauer & Richard Detje
[This article published on 7/29/2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.linksnet.de/artikel/48231.]

The Corona pandemic has shaken everyday life more deeply than other times of crisis and upheaval. The focus of public attention has been the restrictions on private and public life. Lockdown measures in both the first and second waves of the pandemic focused on closing service industries with frequent customer contact, unless they were deemed "systemically important." Industry remained and remains virtually unaffected. At most, in spectacular cases such as in the meat industry, working conditions that endangered health could no longer be ignored. Otherwise, broad areas of the working world hardly receive any public attention.

In order to lift the veil on the world of work, we conducted in-depth interviews with works councils, staff councils and trade union secretaries during the first wave of the pandemic between April and July 2020.[1] We wanted to know how the Corona crisis was received in the companies, how it was dealt with, which conflicts of interest were observed and in which direction working conditions are changing.

1 The Corona crisis - the "perfect storm”
There can be no question of the Corona crisis. Rather, it is a confluence of very different development processes that makes the present crisis so special. An example of this is a representative of IG Metal from a region strongly characterized by mechanical engineering, who points to an accumulation of problems:

"There are companies where the crisis basically already started last year with a significant drop in orders ... some have already had short-time work since November last year [2019]. And then, starting in March [2020], there was a massive slump, so to speak. There was a 100% slump for some, quite simply because the supply chains no longer functioned, because companies themselves had Corona cases and then closed everything as a precaution. Since Corona, the problems that were foreshadowed during the crisis have simply tripled."
The points listed here already make it clear: The "perfect storm" (Fratzscher 2020) that erupted in 2020 has numerous impact factors. There are three special features in it: First, state-administered intervention in economic development, the likes of which have not been seen in "peacetime" in recent history. Second, the Corona Crisis is the first crisis with truly global synchronicity and scope - no region of the world was spared. Third: In the Great Crisis of 2008 onward, industry was affected in addition to the financial sector, while today large areas of the service sector - and thus economic reproduction as a whole - are also affected by the crisis.

There is another special feature: far-reaching restructuring processes are taking place that are permanently changing companies, work organization, work content, work locations and labor markets. Ecological restructuring is by no means the only thing being talked about in the automotive industry, and ongoing digitization is now affecting above all the indirect areas of industrial work and large areas of the service sector. Transformation and rationalization processes are increasing the dangers for the labor market and labor policy.

To be sure: Where there is crisis, there are also winners. While brick-and-mortar retailing has been closed down, Internet retailing is presenting record sales; logistics groups are celebrating great moments of corporate development; without IT solutions, numerous attempts at mobile work would not have made it out of the starting blocks, and the cash registers of discounters are ringing. Our survey also shows this: While in the sectors of the economy not covered by the lockdown, sales were "going through the roof," "employees are running on fumes," as is reported not only from the food retail sector.

We know from our research that there is a crisis dimension to the world of work that is, as it were, perpetual because it means permanent pressure, stress and insecurity for workforces. Our finding, which has already come to light in earlier research, that from the point of view of employees in companies "it is always crisis" is corroborated (Detje et al 2011).

2 Short-time work - little attention paid to precariousness and poverty risks
Despite the huge onset of the crisis in 2020, the negative labor market consequences remained manageable. At least temporarily, this has been achieved with the expanded instrument of short-time work. It is said to have saved up to 2.2 million jobs.[2] Once again, there is talk of the "success model of short-time work".

Broken down by sector, the share of short-time workers is highest in the hospitality industry, followed by manufacturing. When comparing the two sectors, it is - to put it bluntly - a question of the whole picture:
The hospitality industry is dominated by medium-sized and, above all, small businesses with insecure, sometimes seasonal employment relationships, often part-time, mainly in the low-wage sector, the vast majority of which have no employee representation, and most of which are not covered by collective bargaining agreements.

Industry is the ideal counterpart: large and medium-sized companies, regular employees in middle-income brackets, full-time, with in some cases strong company and union representation of interests.

Certainly, low-wage sectors can also be found in parts of industry, among temporary workers and other forms of precarious employment who were the first to be laid off - thus drawing a boundary to the outside in the company (exclusion 1). In addition, a boundary is drawn inward: Short-time work secures employment, but at the same time increases the risk of poverty (exclusion 2). However, it is primarily occupational fields in the service sector with large low-wage areas and little or no trade union organizational power that are affected. There, for example, subcontractors in the logistics sector reported release practices reminiscent of zero-hours contracts in the UK:

"In the areas where we don't have works councils in some cases, so people are just sent home and told, yeah, we'll call you back when there's work and capacity. But no wage payment or anything..."

The key point: short-time work, as currently equipped, is an instrument tailored to male skilled labor in industry, not to broad areas of the service sector. Welfare-state regulation has been extended through the two-stage increase in short-time benefits from the fourth and seventh month, but this is taking effect too late. Company-based top-ups, in turn, follow the aforementioned lines of exclusion. These also include the fact that marginal and bogus self-employed workers are not entitled to short-time allowances - there is an urgent need for reform in the direction of employment insurance.

3 Mobile work - expanding the conflict over flexible work
Mobile work became the central instrument of protection for indirect employees during the Corona crisis. In Germany, just four percent of employees worked off-site in 2019; at the height of the lockdown in the first wave of the pandemic, the figure was 27 percent; during the second wave in January 2021, it was 24 percent again.

Twice, workers were sent out of offices relatively quickly and in large numbers to private homes to complete their work assignments. In many cases, without consultation with works councils. In most cases, this was explicitly demanded by a large part of the workforce. Their already existing desire to be able to better cover individual, private needs and requirements through home office has been doubly updated by the Corona crisis: for reasons of health protection and because of the need to compensate for the lockdown of daycare centers and schools.

But more than that: management, which had still relied on strict work specifications and correspondingly elaborate hierarchies, has recognized in parts that one often gets further by leaving the old paths of the operational command system, among other things through "indirect control" underpinned by target agreements. A works council from the financial services sector put it succinctly:

"...it may be that our management sees that people are working anyway, even if they do home office, yes? ...The boss doesn't think the employees are mature enough for home office, so to speak they're all lazy assholes and if the boss doesn't stand behind you and crack the whip, you don't do a handshake, yeah?"

The shift from "command and control" systems with direct access to control to modern flexible control systems with greater autonomy for workers is a key structural prerequisite for mobile work to be more widely enforced - regardless of the Corona crisis.

In several interviews, we were told of a conflict situation that could be described as the return of the old "collar line": between blue and white collar workers. This is true in terms of health protection as well as pay, when production workers are on reduced hours while white-collar workers are working full-time in home offices.

What was born out of necessity is to become the new standard: The pandemic-induced expansion of mobile work is leading to considerations of changing the organization of work, moving business units online. In addition to savings in real estate and travel costs, companies also expect to gain in flexibility. Employees, on the other hand, want to be able to make individual choices about the proportion of mobile and stationary work. In terms of content, this is about the regulation of entitlement rights, time sovereignty (based on the recording and limitation of working time), workplace design and, of course, the co-determination rights of works councils and the participation opportunities of employees.

In addition, the social preconditions of company work (daycare, school, care, etc.) must be considered to a greater extent. Here, the hardships of everyday life have shown how little the market "regulates" and what social and infrastructural preconditions the capitalist wage labor system must fall back on in order to function, in short: what everyday relevance the welfare state has for gainful employment.

4 Protection against infection - a contested terrain
Protection against viral infection is a corporate interest even more than any other health protection measure, since a rapid increase in the number of infections could possibly result in the closure of a company. In fact, large companies in particular have implemented extensive measures to protect their workforces. A statement we have often heard:

"... they do everything they can think of, take up every idea ..., actually do more as they would have to from the authorities... the canteens closed, only take-away food, protective masks distributed, disinfectants set up everywhere, so they really do everything..."

Are they really doing "everything possible"? What is listed in this interview passage are primarily behavioral and hygiene-related measures. According to the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), these are actually the focus in 66-88 percent of cases. Technical and work organization measures, on the other hand, were taken in only one-fifth to one-third of the companies. On average, these are significantly more cost-intensive.

Protests from the workforce also led to production stoppages. For example, in mid-March at the Daimler Group's world's largest truck plant in Wörth am Rhein (Die Rheinpfalz, March 17, 2020), where 400 trucks roll off the assembly line every day under normal conditions. In other European countries, such employee protests were even more common. In Italy, for example, the slogan for this is "Non siamo carne da macello" - "We are not cattle for slaughter." Strikes also occurred there, for example at Fiat. The government intervened and decided to temporarily shut down all non-essential plants. There was nothing comparable in Germany.

5 From "systemic relevance" to the revaluation of labor
It is not the hedge fund or the bank, but labor that has proven to be "systemically relevant". Conditions have been turned upside down, as it were. More to the point, "The people who helped us maintain the social order are at the bottom of the scale, while those at the top have been, by and large, useless," writes sociologist Eva Illouz (Illouz 2020, 53).

Now it is the precarious and more highly vulnerable occupations and activities that are of particular importance to human and social survival. Low to poverty wages, miserable working conditions, and lack of social recognition are hallmarks of system-relevant groups of workers. Work is being upgraded in relation to the logic of capital, while at the same time precariousness is being perpetuated in crisis management. Employees are aware of the unusual public recognition of their work, but they are ambivalent about it. A nurse in a hospital in Munich puts it in a nutshell:

"People have once again understood in a different way how incredibly relevant this profession is and how many grievances there actually are. This can be used extremely well and I also hope that we use this extremely well for us."

Alluded to here was the collective bargaining round of the public service 2020, where ver.di succeeded in drawing strength and public support from the upgrading of the work. In addition to significant improvements in care work, lower salary brackets were able to record above-average income increases.

However, the price of heroism is high: because one is exposed to health hazards, strains oneself beyond limits, shows great capacity for suffering, and commits oneself, if not sacrifices oneself, for others - the customer, the patient, the general public. We conducted surveys in three service areas where these "hero*ins" were found.

Certain characteristics of "heroism" are least surprising in the nursing professions, where they are, in a sense, part of the professional ethos. Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, hospital workers were exposed to extreme risks because there was great uncertainty in the rebuilding of wards: the necessary protective equipment was not available, the qualifications for care in intensive care units were inadequate, and the handling of Covid 19 patients had to be learned first.

Parcel delivery workers* were also hailed as "hero*s of labor" who could barely handle the shipping business of goods purchased online:
"... so the workload in the parcel services is brutal. ... We have had a huge problem that people with the masks can not breathe and work properly, so especially in areas of maximum physical stress, such as when you are now, for example, packages somewhere layered. "

Further, food retail clerks* have played a special "hero's role" in the Corona crisis, accompanied by applause. They themselves had very negative experiences, especially during the first Corona phase, when customers still had unhindered access to the stores,
"... because some of the customers expressed all their fear and panic in hoarding purchases. At that stage, customers have been so aggressive: The workers were spat at, they were actively approached, in some cases they hit the workers with toilet paper..."

In the political evaluation of the Corona crisis, it is important to continue to focus on the systemic relevance of work. Ensuring high-quality social reproduction has proven to be ultimately decisive over the capitalist system of returns (cf. Detje/Sauer/Schumann 2021, 177-183).

6 The Hour of the Executive or the Co-determination Vacuum
In the first wave of the pandemic, the "hour of the executive" struck in the enterprises as well as in the political system. Many works councils found it extremely difficult to exercise co-determination rights proactively. A number of interviews reported that works councils and staff councils understood the crisis as an "emergency" or "exceptional situation" and deferred co-determination rights. There was talk of initial "excessive demands". A works council member from a medium-sized metalworking company describes the situation:

"When this started..., we actually had a co-determination vacuum for three weeks, because the plant manager unilaterally changed working hours, closed changing rooms, no longer allowed people to enter canteens, sent people into the home office by directive, etc."
Most of the time, this happened without conflict; management's decisions were rubber-stamped. This confirms a transformation of the former conflict partnership to a "partnership without conflict" that has been going on for some time (Streeck 2016, 47-60).

Some works councils nevertheless succeed in exercising their mandate offensively. But the hurdles were high: in short-time work and home office, the company is degraded as a place of collective experience; works council work also took place in part in the home office and in virtual space; addressing and communicating via works meetings was suspended; mobilizing the workforce is massively more difficult under conditions of social distancing.

The Corona crisis changed the conditions for the work of workplace and trade union representation of interests: less presence, disruption of traditional channels of communication, more digital communication. The works councils surveyed differ in their assessment of the significance of forced digitization for their future work:

Some see the lack of personal communication more as a weakening of interest representation, which is dependent on face-to-face contacts. Others see the necessary use of digital media as a useful addition to future working methods, but not as a substitute. Still another group sees the future of trade union work in the use of new media and new opportunities for an activating, participation-oriented interest policy.

7 Potentials of Democracy and Solidarity in the Corona Crisis
It is still unclear what conclusions employees and interest groups will draw from their experiences. Some have begun evaluations in their field of experience in order to understand and classify what has happened. Perhaps the fact that they were disposed of, that their participation was not sought and that co-determination rights were disregarded will also be a reason for reflection here. A staff council chairman from a hospital that was overrun by Covid 19 cases and reached the limit of what could be done to care for the many patients* looks back on the first wave of the pandemic:

"...now they actually realize, hey, I wasn't really asked about this. I was thrown into something. They were briefed there, they didn't actually know what they were doing."

On the other hand, they know that their functioning in extreme situations and their self-sacrificing commitment and willingness to perform were the basis for overcoming previously unknown challenges. Perhaps a new self-confidence results from this and a more active participation in the work processes is demanded. Exceptional situations do not necessarily have to be handled in an authoritarian manner; efficiency does not have to be generated in command structures. Independent action by employees becomes productive in democratic structures - perhaps the Corona crisis has also triggered learning processes that go in this direction.

In our interviews, numerous works councils and staff councils reported on the authoritarian attempts by management to take action, but also on the resistance of the employee representatives, who insisted on their co-determination rights and fought back. Even if no progress in terms of democratization is discernible in the Corona crisis, some successful defensive struggles were waged to secure co-determination as a countervailing power resource. Some works councils and staff councils have emerged from the crisis with greater self-confidence. Even in times of crisis, people experience collegial cohesion and a shared sense of purpose, and work is experienced as a context of solidarity. A nurse in the hospital reports:

"... it was gigantic, this cohesion in nursing. This cohesion was simply promoted in people and I never once heard, I'm not doing this, I don't want this, on the contrary. Everyone outgrew themselves and that was also the feedback from the whole team ... so I could never have imagined it like that. I rather imagined the worst and that was really the beauty of it, even though it was so bad."

Workers - whether in hospitals or manufacturing plants, at the checkout counter at discount stores or delivering packages - are required to act responsibly in risky situations. They know that the consequences of the pandemic can only be managed with their help. This (self-)awareness is refracted by the placement in an authoritarian operating system, which is reinforced by the pandemic emergency situation. In our interviews, thoughtfulness about this discrepancy was evident.

There are other indications of new experiences of collegiality and solidarity: With extended short-time work and mobile work outside the company, company work is missed as a "part of community." The company is definitely also a place of social coexistence with positive connotations, an important part of individual and collective everyday life. This is missed. A works council member in a metal company finds drastic words for this:

"... the company is more than just work, it's also a place of social interaction, it's something like family and that's why many people want to go back to work, ... they miss their company family. That's a part of community and that's where they then shit on the safety precautions to some extent ..."

We don't know what remains of these experiences in post-Corona times and what quickly disappears again in the everyday pressure to perform and in competitive situations. But in the workplace, unlike in public discourse, we encounter not only incantations of "social cohesion" but concrete collegial experiences in everyday work.

Despite the authoritarian crackdown at the beginning of the pandemic, the Corona crisis cannot be understood simply as a democratic regression. If we take a closer look at the world of workplaces, which our investigation makes possible, the course of the crisis bears much more contradictory features, in which democratic and solidarity potentials can certainly be found. That is why we end with a call from academics, which they addressed to the world at the height of the first wave of the pandemic just under a year ago:
"Let's democratize corporations ... let's stop treating people as resources - so we can work together to preserve life on this planet." (Thomas Piketty and others in DIE ZEIT on May 18, 2020)

Notes
[1] Richard Detje/Dieter Sauer: Corona Crisis in the Workplace. Empirical experiences from industry and services. Hamburg 2021. The survey study was gratefully supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the IG Metall, FB Sozialpolitik, Frankfurt a.M.. Interview passages reproduced below are taken from this book. In the metal and electrical industry, companies from the automotive industry and its suppliers, IT and automation technology, mechanical engineering and tool manufacturers were included; in the field of services, it was care, retail, postal services, logistics, air transport, telecommunications and public services. The survey results are based on 43 interviews from 34 companies. Due to Corona, the interviews were conducted by telephone.
[2] "Short-time work saves over two million jobs" was the headline in Boeckler-Impuls 9/2021.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"I am worried about the democratic constitutional state"
Interview with Ulrich Teusch
[This interview published on August 16, 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet,

Political anxiety: that's what journalist and author Ulrich Teusch felt for the first time in his life during the Corona crisis. And there is a reason for this: "In many cases, things are no longer proceeding according to the rule of law in this country. We are experiencing a crisis of the constitution, of the rule of law, of the administration of justice, of legal certainty," says Teusch in an interview with the NachDenkSeiten. An interview about his book "Politische Angst - Warum wir uns kritisches Denken nicht verbieten dürfen", the concept of freedom and what he means by "anti-politicians". By Marcus Klöckner.

"They took away my basic rights. Even the right to have rights could no longer be relied upon."
Mr. Teusch, you write this in your current book. What is the background to these statements?
I am concerned about the democratic constitutional state, although my accent is less on "democratic" than on "constitutional state." What has been going on in this country for the past year and a half, and similarly in other countries, may be democratically legitimate. After all, most executives are freely elected, and if you believe the polls, they and their "measures" still enjoy broad popular support. The situation is different with the rule of law: Many fundamental rights have been effectively suspended. The impression is created that it is perfectly okay to take rights away from citizens and (perhaps) give them back to them at some point - under conditions dictated by the executive branch. What understanding of fundamental rights is revealed there?
In the meantime, one can see: In many cases, the rule of law no longer applies in this country. We are experiencing a crisis of the constitution, of the rule of law, of jurisdiction, of legal certainty. The judiciary, starting with the Federal Constitutional Court, is cutting a pathetic figure. And the few laudable exceptions - in Weimar, for example - are being put under unseemly pressure. These are unbelievable events. Where is this supposed to lead, where is it supposed to end?

Your book is called "Political Fear." I noticed that you write quite openly about your fears....
Yes, it's a very personal book, at least for long stretches. That is to say: I report a lot of my own experiences and feelings, and I believe that much of what I write is representative, i.e. it was (and is) experienced and felt by many other people in a similar way. I hope that readers will recognize themselves in the text and that it may help them. As for the fear: I do indeed write quite openly about my fears. It took me some effort to do so, to reveal myself in this way. But it is, I think, simply necessary. There is no point in pretending normality where there is none.

So what is it about political fear? And why did you feel it - for the first time in your life, as you write?
First of all: Fear is of course a big topic, and this topic has many dimensions and facets. We have known at least since Machiavelli and Hobbes that fear is an exceedingly effective means of domination. The corresponding power techniques have been steadily perfected throughout history. They are also being used again at present. This has been described and analyzed many times, most recently by Rainer Mausfeld, Hannes Hofbauer and others. But questions remain: Why do people allow themselves to be frightened at all (and so easily)? Why do most of them give in to the pressure again and again? Why do they all too often sacrifice their individual freedom for a deceptive security? And why are few others steadfast?
As for myself, I did indeed encounter political fear for the first time in my life in the wake of the Corona crisis. Until then, in the political field, I had only known worry, tension, anger, indignation. I never felt directly and personally threatened. Now, however, I was overwhelmed by the sudden, imperious political interventions in my life. It was all sudden, unexpected - and my emotional reaction to it took me by surprise.

Why did it surprise you?
Because my becoming an ego, my individuation, was actually successful. I have formed a stable, self-confident personality. Individual freedom and autonomy are more important to me than anything else. And I never suffered from the fact that I usually belonged to a small minority with my political views, that my individualism might have made me a social outcast. Being politically "out of touch" was nothing unusual for me. I could cope with that.
But that had changed now. For the first time in my life, I felt I was paying a high price for my freedom. The feeling of being politically alone, lonely, isolated, this feeling now set in permanently and moreover with an intensity that was unknown to me until then. It was deliberately intensified by the state-imposed bans and restrictions on contact. I felt lost, out of time, unfree. My fear was politically based. Yes, I felt political fear. And I still do.

Would you classify for us how you have experienced the time since March 2020? What has happened there?
In one of the opening chapters of the book, after all, I tell the dramatic, authentic story of a family of four quite extensively and in anonymous form. This family was not the victim of Corona, but of the "measures" against Corona. They slipped very close to a catastrophe. There are many fates of this kind, even much worse. They probably number in the millions in this country alone. All this should not have happened and should not be allowed to happen. With which I have already answered your question: I consider the state-administrative handling of "Corona" to be completely one-sided, counterproductive, misguided. The consequences are catastrophic and will keep us in suspense for a long, long time.

Let's take a look at how those responsible on the political-administrative side, including their experts, have behaved and how the citizens have reacted. Suddenly, politicians - in the name of security - have massively restricted fundamental rights. Was that understandable for you?
No, I couldn't understand it from the start. I also don't believe (anymore) that the drastic interventions were only intended to serve our security and health.

But what?
Social control. They were deliberately repressive measures. If you don't want to believe that, you should think counterfactually for a moment and imagine that the defensive and protective measures were actually taken with the best of intentions, i.e. solely out of burning concern for the health and lives of all of us. Let us assume that this purely compassionate attitude toward all of us would have been the authoritative political approach of the authorities. How would they, i.e. the authorities, have communicated and justified the "measures" they considered necessary to the public, i.e. to us?

The answer is obvious: They would have communicated and justified them in a completely different way than they actually did. They would have created a completely different social climate. They would have relied on voluntarism, tried to convince people with good arguments and patience, worked with incentives, and so on. So although the crisis could have been dealt with in a completely different way, it was dealt with in exactly the same way and not in a different way: namely, in an authoritarian and repressive way. This was neither a mistake nor an oversight - it was intentional. And it allows conclusions to be drawn about the motives of those politically responsible. Moreover, there is no end to it: The German Bundestag, with its majority and with equally adventurous and ridiculous justifications, insists that we are still in an "epidemic situation of national significance. This borders on arbitrariness. And when you rule on the basis of arbitrariness, you eventually end up with arbitrary rule.

To the citizens. Masks, distance bans, curfews, tracking or tracing apps: all of this was widely accepted. Amazing, isn't it?
I perceive a deep division in society: We have a minority that suffers from the impositions of the repressive measure state and rebels against them as best it can. Opposed to this is a large part of the population - I don't know if it is (yet) the majority - that willingly went along with the official Corona policy and supported the various "measures." These people obviously had no problem with the fact that numerous fundamental rights were suspended across the board. They believed in the seriousness of the situation and in the immense danger of the "novel" virus. They also believed the old media, which were reporting in panic mode.

How do you explain this behavior?
You mean affirmation, adaptation, conformism? I follow Erich Fromm, whom I refer to several times in the book. I suspect that such a large part of the population conforms to the new normality so willingly and reliably because they are afraid of belonging to the minority and of being alone in case of emergency. Because they are afraid of taking a different position. Because the burden of freedom would be too heavy for him. He conforms in order to shake off this burden. So it is possibly a case of escape behavior.

Fromm calls this type of person, this character, "authoritarian"....
Yes, people of this type admire authority and are ready to submit to it, but at the same time they themselves want to be an authority to which the others have to submit. They know only power and powerlessness, only ruling and being ruled - but never solidarity. The authoritarian character, says Fromm, even has a real affinity for living conditions that restrict human freedom. He loves to surrender to fate. This, he says, constitutes his "heroism."

You have thought a lot about the concept of freedom. In the media, the tenor was something like this: In a society, everyone must be considerate of one another. The individual citizen's need for freedom must take a back seat where his or her own freedom causes a problem for other citizens.
But it's not that simple, is it?
That everyone should show consideration for one another is not wrong. But the emphasis is on "everyone". Solidarity is not a one-way street. If, for example, it is said, "Every Corona death is one too many," then it is also true that "Every measures death is one too many." Even in a severe crisis, we must be able to get everyone on board, to compromise, to find a modus vivendi. You can't manage a complex society with virological tunnel vision. This requires a broad social discourse in which no one should feel excluded. Unfortunately, pretty much the opposite has taken place over the past year and a half.

You make an interesting comparison in your book. In 1969, Willy Brandt said, "Dare more democracy." A few months ago, the Süddeutsche Zeitung published an article with the provocative headline, "Dare more dictatorship." What changes do you see in politics and society with regard to these opposing "marching directions"?
What is currently happening I would sum up as "Dare less democracy". We are experiencing a steady dismantling of the rule of law, democracy, liberality. The pressure is increasing. Threats and bans are being issued, coercion and reprimands are being imposed, punishments and sanctions are being imposed, harassment and denunciation are being carried out, patronization and cancellation are taking place. Not even the observance of minimum standards of civilization in the form of simple political decency can be relied upon. This erosion began long before "Corona," but the current crisis is being used by state power and its affiliated large corporations to accelerate and intensify the downward process.

Long before Corona, you say. How long has this process been going on?
Hard to say: did it start with the end of the Cold War? Or after 9/11? With the financial crash of 2008? In any case, the golden years - they lasted from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s - when people dared to be more democratic, could afford a high degree of liberality and a considerable breadth of discourse, are definitely over. Many democracies, not only Germany's, have been in a steadily worsening crisis mode for years, from which they cannot find a way out.

Some fear that our history could repeat itself....
You mean that we could slide back into dictatorial conditions? It hasn't come to that yet, and it probably won't, hopefully. Nevertheless, the development is alarming. In the book, I draw some similarities between today's conditions and the years 1930 to 1934, i.e. the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of the Nazi era. Anyone who wants to learn from history should take a close look at these decisive years, this slippery slope.

What did you learn in your examination of this period?
I realized that the transition from republic to dictatorship was a longer process. The Weimar Republic did not end on the cut-off date of January 30, 1933, and the Nazi dictatorship did not begin posthaste. Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor was an eminently important event, but it was not the dividing line between democracy and dictatorship. The NSDAP's seizure of power had been preceded by a three-year agony of the Weimar Republic, ruled by presidential cabinets and emergency decrees. In the summer of 1932, the Prussian government had been swept out of office in a coup d'état and without significant resistance. Taking this into account, one must realistically say: the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship did not come at one stroke, it was not a punctual event, but a process that took place over about four years. The Germans slowly grew into the dictatorship. At some point, somewhere, a point of no return was passed. After that, everything then proceeded at a breathtaking speed that crippled the forces of resistance. I am not claiming that Germany is in a similar situation today or that history is repeating itself. But the situation is serious. If Germans can learn one lesson from their history, it is: Be vigilant and resist the beginnings!

What else have you learned?
I noticed that many people who should have known better lied to themselves and glossed over things, such as many of the country's leading journalists. Everything was burning around them, but they were unwilling or unable to make a realistic assessment of the situation - with fatal consequences. Particularly in serious political crisis situations, a hard realism is needed. Many lacked it then, and it is still in short supply today.

What possibilities are there for our society to counteract these developments?
In your book, you talk about the need for "anti-politicians. What do you mean by that?
My book consists of two large parts. The first part is time-agnostic and, I have to admit, does not inspire much confidence. The second part - called "Orientations" - is somewhat different. There I make a number of suggestions: What can be done concretely here and now? What do we need? In which direction should we move? In this context, I explain the concept of "antipolitics," which I take from the Hungarian writer György Konrád. Antipoliticians defend themselves not against politics as such, but against excessive politicization, not against the state, but against statism; they build, in Konrád's words, "dams against the political tide." They defend civil society or small communities against the pretensions of politics. They do not want to "come to power" in a conventional sense, but they elude the usual political game or set their own rules of the game. I think this approach is very fruitful and I try to fill it with content.

How should the anti-politicians continue to act?
I want to mention one important aspect: Anti-politicians exist on the left, on the right and in the center. They should find each other! And they are already doing so. Many people are currently crossing political boundaries and becoming aware of fundamental commonalities with other movements - while at the same time noticing fundamental differences with groups with which they previously believed themselves to be in agreement. This may be irritating at first, but it could also provide political impetus. What should be opposed to regrouping and new alliances? What should prevent state-critical conservatives, libertarians and anti-authoritarian leftists from making common cause here and there, from arguing for common goals? What should prevent them from ignoring the political distance commandments?
Perhaps a development is emerging here that will gain in importance in the time "after Corona": no more firmly established camps, no more ideological narrow-mindedness, no fear of contact (i.e., no "political distancing"), but rather flexible, surprising, difficult-to-calculate, and always issue-related cooperation between very different forces. There would be no need for much coordination - true to the motto: march separately, strike together. Such cross and lateral fronts, as I call them, could have a liberating effect, i.e., they could get established politics moving - and revitalize a democratic political culture.
Editor's note: We do not share the interviewee's speculations about cross fronts and consider them adventurous.
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