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Caught in the discourse of power

by Susan Bonath
The problem is that the country called Ukraine does not belong to the wage-dependent Ukrainian people. This state, for which the Ukrainians have gone to war, is, like every capitalist state apparatus, an instrument of power of the rulers.. The powerful have always been forcing a classic Stockholm syndrome on the population with their propaganda.
Caught in the discourse of power

Opponents of arms shipments to Ukraine shouldn't hide the class issue.

Some see "Ukraine" as the "innocent victim" attacked by Putin, whom the West must support militarily. Opponents of the arms shipments retort that NATO's advance and the Western-backed coup in Ukraine provoked the Russian army's invasion. The latter is provable, but it also leaves out an important argument: the class question. States as capitalist instruments of rule pursue different interests than the majority of the population. The equation of "people and leader" serves the discourse of power.

by Susan Bonath

[This article posted on 3/31/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Pawns for power interests

Western politicians, including German ones, never tire of heroizing "the Ukrainian people". They defend their country "heroically" against the "Russian invaders". The "democratic" West must support them with ever more and heavier weapons. The problem is that the country called Ukraine does not belong to the wage-dependent Ukrainian people. This state, for which the Ukrainians have gone to war, is, like every capitalist state apparatus, an instrument of power of the rulers.

Many western Ukrainians may hope for a better life through EU and NATO membership for their country. Only why do they want to force eastern Ukrainians and Crimean residents, the majority of whom do not support this, to do likewise? That makes no sense at all. A permanent secession of Donbass and Crimea - no matter whether into total autonomy or under Russian leadership - would not affect their lives one bit - war, on the other hand, destroys it, probably forever.

In other words, the Western Ukrainian mercenaries are fighting not for their own interests, but for the interests of those who dominate and oppress them. Whether they reconquer the east on behalf of the power or not, it does not change anything in the lives of the fighters and their families. They are - it has to be said so harshly - not "heroes" but pawns for the power interests of the rulers.

Equating "people and leader

The equation of "people and leader" has always been part of the ruling propaganda. The powerful and their political apparatuses always pretend to represent the interests of the "ordinary" people. They pose as benevolent employers or guardians of law and order. The common people may roll in the dust with gratitude for this. They back up their lies with a lot of hypocrisy about democracy, which is not as representative of the population as they claim.

With this propaganda, of course, the ruling class pursues its own interest: The exploited masses are supposed to submit to it "voluntarily". They should sympathize and collaborate with their oppressors. This saves the rulers many costs that a purely violent oppression would entail.

The powerful have always been forcing a classic Stockholm syndrome on the population with their propaganda. This is the surest means of avoiding resistance. The people are supposed to run with it.

The lust for subjugation

The term "Stockholm syndrome" was coined after a five-day hostage crisis in the Swedish capital in 1973, when victims in Stockholm unexpectedly showed great sympathy with their tormentors. The phenomenon occurs in many perpetrator-victim dynamics. Whether abused children, raped and tortured women, or employees who constantly slave over unpaid overtime, it is not at all uncommon for victims to justify the behavior of their tormentors in some way.

Products of this psychological phenomenon can also be observed in the context of society as a whole. These include, for example, groups that indulge in racist national pride, low-income earners or job center employees who would like to force Hartz IV recipients into forced labor under the threat of starvation penalties, police officers who take great pleasure in beating down demonstrators on behalf of the power - or even soldiers who go to war for their oppressors with great zeal and not infrequently pay for this commitment with their lives.

The lust for subjugation could also be experienced in connection with the Corona measures and the imposed vaccination. Overzealous and anticipatory obedient, countless officials and employees carried out the orders of their superiors.

How many train conductors, supermarket clerks, bus drivers or administrative employees threw people out of their small spheres of influence who did not comply 100 percent with government requirements? How many police officers issued expulsions against "mask refusers"? Some doctors even refused to treat the unvaccinated, and so on.

Buck up, kick down

The psychological cause is well known: Those who submit to power not only relinquish personal responsibility. Granted powers enable those submitting to exercise some power over others in their turn. This acts as a balm against the powerlessness caused by one's own submission.

The Stockholm-symptomatic thus derives feelings of superiority from his own submission, provided that power gives him the leeway to do so. Many know job center employees who are hell-bent on harassing and sanctioning their clients. Or employees of various offices who make it incredibly difficult to apply for any kind of assistance. Even the soldier in war has some powers. He may even kill "the enemy" without being responsible for it.

The lustful submission to a foreign rule is by no means a rare phenomenon. One could call this an autoaggressive act, which can be compensated with aggression against third parties.

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who died in 1980, spoke in this context of a personality with an authoritarian character, which is fostered by capitalist hierarchies.

Fromm's younger professional colleague Hans-Joachim Maaz also sees a systemically produced "narcissistic society" of self-promoters and status acrobats. And the vernacular also knows a term for authoritarian characters: the cyclist mentality - hunch up, kick down.

Ukraine - the poorhouse of Europe

Back to Ukraine: the supporters of arms deliveries tell non-stop that the Ukrainian soldiers forced into uniforms and trained by the West defend the interests of their state and government. This suggests that ordinary Ukrainians have the same interests as their regime and the leaderships of NATO countries. Just one look at the living conditions of Ukrainians over the past 30 years shows how irrational this is.

Since the end and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has been one of the most corrupt countries in Europe with the highest poverty rate. As informed by the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BpB), citing the Kyiv Institute of Sociology, more than 12 percent of the Ukrainian population reported not having enough money for food in mid-2020.

Nearly 37 more percent of Ukrainian citizens in 2020 said they could afford just enough to eat, but barely enough for clothing. Another 36 percent reported that they could buy enough food and clothing. However, they would have to do without more expensive consumer goods for financial reasons. This leaves a small middle class of less than 10 percent and an upper class of less than 2 percent.

Street children and forced prostitutes

In September 2020, the BpB described Ukraine as "one of the poorest countries in Europe." Particularly since the Ukrainian army began attacking the population in the Donbass in the east of the country in 2014, poverty has virtually exploded, only marginally cushioned by economic growth. The Internet portal "East-West" reported as early as 2006 on a "general trend toward poverty" in Ukraine. Neglected street children, beggars and people looking for food in the garbage characterized the Kiev street scene, the portal said 17 years ago.

As early as 1999, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation reported on rapidly growing poverty in Eastern Europe, with Ukraine and its victims at the forefront. Men ended up in alcoholism by the dozen, women in forced prostitution. More and more Ukrainians are forced to migrate for work. Violence against women and children is increasing explosively. Twenty years ago, Deutschlandfunk reported on tens of thousands of impoverished Ukrainian women and girls who were trafficked every year by human traffickers into Western European brothels in their desperate search for work.

In the 2010s, hardship in Ukraine allowed another business to flourish: impoverished women sell their bodies en masse as childbearing machines to wealthy people from all sorts of countries around the world in order to make ends meet for themselves and their families. Surrogate mother agencies are still booming in Ukraine today, even during the war. Unlike in Germany, for example, such business is permitted there.

Irrational patriotism

Now poverty is also part of western "democracies". Whether it's the U.S. or Germany, Poland or France: wherever you look, prosperity is disappearing into the upper strata, while poverty rates are rising. The current state of crisis capitalism makes a reversal in the near future more than unlikely. The hope of many Western Ukrainians for better living conditions through the accession of "their" state to the EU and NATO is therefore completely unfounded.

From the point of view of class politics, therefore, the concrete question arises: Why are many people in western Ukraine actually fighting so "heroically" for accession to the EU and NATO - and above all for a reconquest of the eastern territories of Crimea and Donbass against their own brothers and sisters? Why do they allow themselves to be dragged into this conflict by their rulers? The abbreviated answer is: irrational national patriotism, planted in people's minds by means of permanent propaganda.

No matter how zealously the rulers deny it: National patriotism is very popular with them. For where it catches on, it creates an emotional identification of its adherents with their respective instrument of power of the ruling class - with the nation-state and its apparatus in which they live. National patriots are the perfect allies of power, no longer posing the pesky class question.

Collaboration with power

The propaganda battle over the Ukraine conflict, which is really an attempt by the NATO West to destabilize the hated large and resource-rich Russia, aims more or less successfully above all at the psychological subjugation of the masses, or in other words at the - unconscious - reactivation of the Stockholm syndrome in the larger social context.

People in West and East are supposed to identify themselves as "one" with their warmongering oppressors, driven by their longing for social recognition and participation. After all, "everyone" participates, and "everyone" can only be "the good guys." In the NATO West, as a "majority good guy," one has to drum with the mob for arms deliveries and celebrate hatred of Russia. As a Western Ukrainian one should kill Eastern Ukrainians and Russians.

In the frenzy of collaboration with power, the masses all too quickly become blind to their own class interests. Thus an army of the obedient and the willing is created - of fellow travelers of powerful warmongers for geopolitical domination interests.

But opponents of the arms suppliers and warmongers also run the risk of being all too uncritical of the actors on the other side. And at least publicly, relevant questions have not yet been thrown into the debate ring: What exactly would a reconquest of the eastern parts of the country by the Ukrainian government with the help of NATO countries improve in the lives of the impoverished majority of the population in the West? Nothing, of course. On the contrary, the price would be hundreds of thousands of lives.

Out of the submission mode

So let's bring the class question into focus. Let's put on the table the fact that the interests of state powers are always different from those of the wage-dependent masses. Without the class question in mind, every debate, every idea and every action of the ordinary people remains in the subjugation mode. The maximum mental radius remains limited to the consideration of under which power the people might be better or worse off.

Freedom begins in the head. Only those who can think it feel their own chains. Only those who feel their chains develop the need for real liberation. Breaking out of the thought prison would be the first, but most important step: out of the discourse of power, out of the submission mode, out of the "Ukraine syndrome."

Susan Bonath, born in the GDR, has worked as a freelance journalist since 2004 and has reported for junge Welt since 2010. Her main areas of work include criticism of capitalism, labor and social issues. She lives in Saxony-Anhalt.
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