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Welcome to post-democracy!

by Tomasz Konicz
In the current systemic crisis, this capitalist pseudo-democracy is producing a real dystopia on a par with the nightmares of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley: the apparently responsible citizen (in reality a powerless object in the heteronomous process of capital exploitation) chooses the way in which his intensified exploitation and alienation is to be concretely organized and perfected.
Welcome to post-democracy

by Tomasz Konicz

[This article posted on 7/27/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Germany's crisis dictate toward Hellas heralds a dark era of authoritarian crisis management in an eroding Europe

What is the difference between the mafia and the current European leadership? The Mafia makes you an offer you can't refuse. The leaders of the European Union make you an offer you can neither refuse nor accept without densely self-destructing.

It was the Irish Times that most aptly characterized the sadistic logic of the German dictate to which Greece's leftist government had to bow during the infamous Brussels crisis summit in the morning hours of July 13. The socio-economic destruction and humiliation of Greece was the real goal pursued by Merkel and Schäuble.

Should Syriza actually try to implement this extremist program of clear-cutting, with which Berlin turned Hellas into a kind of economic protectorate, the Greek economy will crash even further, with no prospect of improvement.

This would also have been achieved by a Grexit - obviously favored by Schäuble - in which Hellas would have sunk to the status of a Third World country with the active assistance of the German government. Berlin cannot allow anything other than a catastrophic exit of Greece from the eurozone, otherwise other crisis-ridden euro states would be tempted to take a similar path.

The German "Bolldozer" and a New EU

Consequently, outrage at Berlin's thuggish actions, which risked an open break with France, gripped the publics of pretty much all of Germany's Western "partners." The Washington Post, for example, warned of the return of the "cruel German," in which political capital accumulated by Berlin over decades was squandered within a very short time. In the report, the U.S. capital paper quoted the French Figaro, which summarized Berlin's dictate as follows:

Conditions have been imposed on a small member country that in the past could only be enforced by force of arms.

Britain's Guardian noted that Berlin's diktat was "cruel for cruelty's sake." Both the U.S. news site Bloomberg and the U.K.'s The Telegraph published editorials calling on West Germany to leave the eurozone.

The conservative magazine Forbes warned that Germany's austerity sadism toward Hellas was, in effect, a cause for war. The Telegraph called Greece an "occupied country" where basic democratic rules of the game are being undermined.

The well-known U.S. news site Foreign Policy compared the federal government to a bulldozer that had conquered Athens and that had "trampled on values such as democracy and national sovereignty" to establish a "vassal state." It is only a matter of time, he said, before Germany finds more victims in the "monstrous, undemocratic" tower of debt that Europe has degenerated into:

Which country will be next?

Die Zeit summarized the scathing criticism from France of Germany's va-banque game in Brussels. Germany was described by the co-founder of the left-liberal media portal Mediapart, François Bonnet, as a "new problem" of Europe that, through "a brutal and doctrinaire" display of power, is "throwing the European culture of compromise to the wind." Berlin is concerned with nothing other than the establishment of a new, authoritarian Europe under German leadership, Bonnet said:

With the Greek example, it is clear that Germany is fighting the project of an open, pluralistic, solidary, but not uniform Europe, which until now has given the member states wide political leeway, without which democracy is not possible. (...) This will permanently change the European project in the coming years.

The left-liberal historian Emmanuel Todd, on the other hand, drew parallels with Berlin's last two attempts to establish hegemony in Europe:

Europe is a continent that commits suicide with cyclical regularity under German leadership in the 20th century. First in the First World War, then in the Second World War (...). We are undoubtedly witnessing a third self-destruction of Europe, and again under German leadership.

The Irish Times concluded in the article mentioned at the beginning of this article that the "torment of Greece" by Germany served the purpose of sending a message: You are now in "a new EU" dominated by a "dominant power" and a single "accepted ideology." Germans no longer even behave as first among equals: "Germany is first in a Europe of inequality."

German economics professor Christian Rieck provided a similar assessment of Germany's motivation for its sadistic special treatment of Greece to the Washington Post. He said Berlin's "tough stance" will benefit Berlin in the long run because it proves that Germany has the ability to "get it done."

Functional elites' war on democracy

Consequently, Berlin was concerned with making an example and sowing fear. Never again should the population of a crisis country dare to elect a left-wing government that would challenge Germany's disastrous crisis dictate in "its" Eurozone. The message to Europe's crisis states was clear: Those who resist and are not willing to starve for Germany's greatness will be clobbered and kicked out to become part of the global South as a failed state.

The outrage over Germany's actions toward Hellas was thus calculated by Berlin. Everyone should see what Germany is capable of in order to draw the appropriate conclusions from this - and to submit to German dominance. The fallout of international criticism of Germany's actions, which is now pouring over Berlin, the German government simply wants to sit out in the best Kohlian tradition. The new anti-democratic "sparring rules" of the Eurozone, in which Berlin acts as the decisive power entity of the Eurozone, are thus to be pushed through in the medium term and advance to a new late-capitalist "normality" after the short-term storm of indignation subsides.

After July 13, it has become evident that one can no longer speak of functioning bourgeois democracies in the case of the euro states. The sovereign's decision-making on future economic policy no longer has any real impact, as was evident in the referendum in Hellas - instead, the political class of the eurozone countries must submit to instructions from Berlin.

Dummies of Democracy

The term post-democracy seems appropriate for the current state of affairs: The institutions of bourgeois democracy are still in place, but they represent mere dummies behind which merciless power politics and escalating crisis dynamics intertwine. Germany is thus also waging a war on democracy, as was made clear by Schäuble's and Merkel's reactions to the referendum in Greece, which, after all, take the intended humiliation of Greece to extremes.

Not only the interview statements of the ousted Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who was made to understand by Schäuble that elections should not change Germany's austerity dictate, prove this deep-seated anti-democratic resentment in Germany's functional elite.

Schäuble had repeatedly stressed that he would not discuss changes to the agreed program, Varoufakis said. He finally asked Schäuble whether it would not be better not to hold elections in indebted countries at all, Varoufakis recalled - he did not receive an answer to this from the German finance minister.

The anti-democratic statements of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" (FAZ), one of the leading German media, are also shocking. There, with regard to the Greek referendum, it said succinctly:

There are a few things in the world where democracy has no place. Debt, for example.

Here, the bizarre Swabian housewife economy was invoked and an indebted house builder who lets his family vote on paying off the mortgage was equated with a national economy.

The fundamental difference between an individual and an economy mired in years of recession, in which austerity measures lead to a loss of revenue (as opposed to the house builder), is hardly noticeable in a chauvinistically charged German discourse, in which nations have long since been reimagined as collective beings. The intention of this primitive ideological construct is clear: Germany's crisis dictates must not be voted on in the crisis states.

This was openly stated in a mendacious manner by the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, which exulted over the German "new toughness" that is "good for the community." The German economic war for hegemony in Europe was compared to the U.S. war tactic of "Shock and Awe."

Even if no one says so openly: Tsipras' defeat had to be so clear-cut to deter potential imitators. Shock and Awe in European terms, only without weapons. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy therefore left the Brussels Council building on Monday morning looking particularly cheerful.

The Spanish paragon Rajoy

The arch-conservative Spanish prime minister Rajoy is indeed considered one of Berlin's closest allies, while his right-wing government is taking social austerity and democracy dismantling to the extreme - without the German government, which otherwise mercilessly pursues any deviation from the austerity regime in southern Europe, ever intervening.

Erosion of the right of assembly

The extent to which the erosion of bourgeois-democratic vestiges of freedom has progressed can be studied precisely in the example of this German paragon, where draconian changes in the law, with the silent approval of Berlin, led de facto to the abolition of the right to demonstrate and freedom of speech. The New York Times wrote of a regression to the "dark days of Franco's regime."

Friday summarized some of the absurd-seeming regulations apparently designed to prevent the emergence of future protest movements:

Unannounced gatherings and demonstrations in front of public buildings, be they hospitals, administrations or the Spanish parliament, will from now on be punishable by up to 30,000 euros. Protests inside public buildings will cost up to 600,000 euros. Anyone who disseminates unauthorized images or videos of security forces will also face fines of more than half a million euros. ... Disruptions of public or religious events will result in fines of up to 600,000 euros. Spontaneous gatherings on public streets or squares cost 100 to 600 euros.

Despite the astronomical fines, these are only "administrative offenses," which ultimately aims to ruin the demonstrators involved:

Legal recourse in advance is thus excluded. At most, the fine can be challenged in court afterwards, provided the plaintiff is still solvent at that time. The legislature has endowed the police officers with quasi-judicial powers: they make the decision as to which administrative sanction is to be imposed.

This undermining of the right of assembly is, of course, a reaction to the success of the protest party Podemos. Thus, there is a division of labor between Berlin and Madrid: While Schäuble is making a deterrent example of Hellas, Rajoy is taking domestic political action against the protest party.

The authoritarian transformation of Europe forced by Berlin's crisis policy is thus not a gloomy vision of the future. It is taking place now. The German dictate of July 13 represents an open qualitative rupture that will massively promote these authoritarian tendencies.

The regime of fear

The new German toughness cheered by Die Zeit is also found in a reaction of the FAZ to criticism of the brutal German drive for dominance. Germany must not be "intimidated" in its third attempt to achieve European hegemony, warned the leading conservative medium. Especially not by counterforces that use "German history as ammunition."

So one should leave the church in the village and stop the (feigned?) fright of the "new" Germans. Perhaps monetary union will actually be stronger in the future than it has been up to now, because everyone knows what is going on and that the time for gimmicks has run out. Then the German negotiation would have served its purpose.

But once again, it is ultimately stated here that Berlin was concerned with making an example of Hellas in order to end the period of democratic "shenanigans" in the German monetary union.

Supervise and punish - this was the Austrian Standard's denominator for the German ideology, which was accompanied by a "populist and nationalist mania" in Germany "that is unparalleled." Berlin wants to establish a "new style of politics," a "regime of fear in all of Europe: Whoever breaks away will be put down."

The regime of fear aims at authoritarian discipline - the time when elites still tried to govern by consensus is over. The new style of government relies on coercion instead of consensus, which is its anti-democratic core.

To us, of course, it is the severe systemic crisis (The Crisis in Brief) in which capitalism finds itself that is now allowing this authoritarian turn to take full effect in the centers of the world capitalist system. The time of gratifications with which "consensus" was bought is finally over, because the escalating dynamics of the crisis are eroding the economic possibilities of governing by consensus.

Thus, capitalist democracy turns out to be a mere fair-weather event that leaves the illusion of freedom of choice to wage earners only in times of economic prosperity. In times of crisis, anti-democratic resentment grows precisely in the middle of society, for example in German editorial offices, as the above examples illustrate.

That is why analogies to the 1930s, when the capitalist world system experienced its most severe systemic crisis to date, are quite apt. National mania and contempt for democracy on the part of the "elites" are currently taking hold in Europe just as rapidly as they did after the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929.

Endless multiplication of capital

In times of crisis, it also becomes apparent where the limits of democracy in capitalism lie: with the "constraints" of capital. Even in the current systemic crisis, capital and the "free markets" are never up for discussion or disposition, because in the prevailing ideology they take on the character of natural laws arising from unalterable intrinsic properties of man or nature.

Thus, in capitalist democracy, even in times of prosperity, only different ways are discussed to optimize the capitalist end in itself of the boundless utilization of capital (growth!). This irrational end in itself of endless money multiplication is axiomatically presupposed to all political decisions and public debates as a kind of taboo, deeply burned into the public discourse logic.

Citizens are thus allowed to vote on how to boost fetishized economic growth, how to create more "jobs," but it is simply impossible to even discuss alternatives beyond the market and capital in the mainstream even in the current systemic crisis - it is already more likely that the former sacred cow of capitalist mutilated pseudo-democracy will be sacrificed than that the rule of "markets" will even be questioned.

A tremendous potential for identification

Yet this pseudo-freedom of a sham democracy, in which citizens can only vote on and discuss the most efficient ways to optimize the economic system imagined as natural, carries with it an enormous potential for identification. As soon as citizens can vote on the concrete form, on the nuances of the unalterable systemic constraints and capital imperatives, processes of internalization set in among them, leading to a comprehensive self-disciplining.

Elections promote the illusion that the imperatives of the economic machinery, mediated by authoritarian discourses, correspond to one's own subjective will. And who would not want to submit to one's own will? After this, one is at most annoyed that "those up there" would screw up everything again anyway.

Active participation in the optimization of the techniques of exploitation and domination

In the current systemic crisis, this capitalist pseudo-democracy is producing a real dystopia on a par with the nightmares of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley: the apparently responsible citizen (in reality a powerless object in the heteronomous process of capital exploitation) chooses the way in which his intensified exploitation and alienation is to be concretely organized and perfected. No form of domination is more efficient than the one that can make its objects of domination actively participate in the optimization of the techniques of exploitation and domination.

This self-dressing and internalization of the capitalist system imperatives, dubbed in public discourse in Orwellian fashion as "democracy and freedom," can hardly be sustained in the present crisis. This is simply because in many countries there are no viable ways of optimizing or even maintaining capital utilization that could be voted on in a democratic manner with any prospect of success.

In the current systemic crisis, which globally produces a huge army of "superfluous" people, these wage-dependent people are simply expelled from the labor process and left to destitution. Thus, the capitalist logic of crisis - executed in Europe with particular devotion by Schäuble and Merkel - simply demands the extensive socioeconomic marginalization of the superfluous "human material." Consequently, capital demands economic suicide from the citizens of Greece, Spain or Portugal, for example, implemented through ever new austerity programs.

And it is precisely here that the profound absurdity of the referendum in Greece appears: Given Germany's dominance in the Eurozone, it was de facto a choice between various forms of economic suicide. Grexit to the Failed States or debt bondage - this was the choice facing Greece's voters.

In the current crisis, the democratic varnish is peeling off the increasingly sputtering capitalist machine of exploitation, while the barbaric core of capitalist socialization - total competition in all spheres of society - is becoming ever more brutal and obvious. Thus, Germany, which preaches harshness, is ultimately the subject that executes these authoritarian and barbaric crisis tendencies on the European level. And here, too, can be drawn to the final German grip on world power.
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