Marxism – adaptation lessons or criticism? Ruthless Criticism

[Translation of a lecture by GegenStandpunkt editor Peter Decker, summer 1990 in East Berlin]

Marxism – adaptation lessons or criticism?

There is a completely fundamental misunderstanding about what can be learned from Marx. It is a fundamental misunderstanding in which both the East and the West are in agreement. If I go to a Western sociology seminar, I will learn that Marx was a great sociologist, that he was the first who dared to set up basic and universal laws of human society; alas, they are not correct, but his work is still a theoretical construction of the greatest fascination. Yes, alas, it’s long been refuted, but nobody dares make such impressive associations today. Politics, law, foreign relations, thinking, even culture: everything explained by the same reason, a real marvel; after Hegel, the last genuine systemuc project. Unfortunately, this is way off. The Eastern Bloc, the guardians of the grail of Marxism-Leninism after Engels, and each successor worse than the previous one, said: the social desire and the will to abolish the suffering of humanity is no longer utopian, it has finally become scientific, and its scientific character consists of Marx having discovered the necessary and inevitable laws of development of human society; and this gave the socialists the certainty that, in their discontent with exploitation, with wars, with universal stupidity, they were not on the wrong track. In their views of Marx, East and West agreed on one thing: he had laws for the development of human society. Already an object is no longer evident; it is pure sociology. That’s what one gets in our sociology seminars: yes, true, he was mainly concerned with capitalism, but the most interesting thing about him is that he had a theory that is not only about capitalism, but about primitive society, slave society, the Roman Empire, feudalism, up to the present which stands in a line of necessary development whose laws inevitably lead to communism. In the West as in the East – one thing is for sure: the man formulated a philosophy of history. He managed to squeeze the whole of history into one philosophical system. And that is his great achievement. But they are quite fundamentally mistaken. And in addition: it is a delusion that the old idiot Marx fatally abetted!

Today, whether you listen to the politicians or look at the intellectual journals or the editorial pages, you always read: communism is dead. Clearly, communism is over. That’s the end of it. And it is by no means limited to just saying: well, look at East Germany, it can’t go on any longer, they no longer want it, they have repudiated it. Look at the Russians, they could not withstand the military conflict with NATO in the long run, they are longing for the same kind of national wealth that the market economy produces, so they want to try to copy it.

Communism is dead means more than just saying that some states that once invoked Marx are now fed up with the old program. Communism is dead means: this proves that it has no right to exist. This program, this project, communism, has proven to be a mistake. Now I ask – simply as an objection: has anything in capitalism changed? Has it reduced its unemployment, has it reduced the fact that the vast majority of people always get their living costs as a byproduct of economic growth, or do not get it, depending on economic growth? Has capitalism eliminated its wars? None of the above! If there is talk about “communism is now dead,” as one now hears everywhere, then obviously nobody wants to claim that because communism is dead capitalism has improved to the extent that criticism of it has become obsolete. Nobody thinks that criticism of capitalism is wrong because it doesn’t do anything bad. It is quite different: the triumph of capitalism, which we are now experiencing, means that the criticism of capitalism is obsolete because it doesn’t have a chance. That is funny, because if the criticism of capitalism does not have a chance because the other side is stronger, then perhaps it would be all the more necessary. The criticism of the object is not finished just because the critic gives up. Or that nobody wants to advocate the criticism any more.

In the talk of “communism is dead,” the whole fundamental serious confusion that characterizes M-L is made against M-L (M-L means Marxism-Leninism and the state doctrine of real socialism). They confuse being correct and being successful. Failure thus means being wrong. It is the assertion that because communism did not stand its ground, it was a failure. Because capitalism stood its ground, any criticism of it is absurd. How can one – and this idea has always been maintained in western sociology – find a system bad if it holds its own in reality? Turned around: one can and must find a system bad if it has not passed the test of reality. This is wisdom of the caliber: that which is falling should also be pushed. Something that breaks down deserves to break down. What holds up deserves to hold up because it holds up. That is an idea of absolute adaptation to power. The adaptation goes so far that one certifies rightness to a power because it holds its ground. Communism is dead, so this criticism has no more right on this earth. Why? Because it could not hold its ground as an established power. There is no other argument at all. Turned around: capitalism no longer deserves the criticisms that were once made of it. Not because it can’t be criticized, but because the criticism won’t work, can’t be done. Quod erat demonstrandum. One can see that the GDR is falling apart, just like its fellow socialist states.

It is this confusion – and this is my radical reproach to Engels as the great promoter of this stupidity – of criticizing a thing with a prognosis about its future. It is not the same whether I say this guy is bad or whether I say this guy is bad because he won’t live much longer. The confusion of criticism with a bad prognosis was the core idea of ML: capitalism exploits people, so it is a society that can’t last much longer. Because Marx and Engels discovered the developmental laws of society: all societies have been exploitation societies, history has always been a history of class struggles: these are phrases you all know too well. And what proves the truth of Marx’s proposition? Not that the thoughts are correct with which one finds the society bad and explains why it is bad, but because one sees the number of fighting proletarians increasing from day to day.

If Engels’ statement verifies this, then the opposite is also true: if the proletarians become fewer and fewer, then it is not a good cause. Think how radically this is passed off: if socialism wins one war after another, then the Second World War was the best proof for the viability and enormous invincibility of socialism. Stalin was the great leader of this proof. If socialism wins the war of all wars, then who wants to still be on the side of the capitalists? If socialism loses a war, no matter whether it is the hot war, the cold war, or the economic war, then what? Then the cause lost fair and square! This is the exact thought that Engels arrived at: Marx proves the inevitability of communism as the goal and the result of a development that is going on before our very eyes. This is exactly the same proof with which Engels even wanted to prove the value of Marx’s analysis: the militant proletarians are increasing day by day. (Today we were in the Marx-Engels academy in East Berlin where they have written on the wall: “And the coming century will bring their victory.”) Certainty of victory is made an argument that the cause whose victory one sides with is a good cause. If you share this thought, then you must also say: if the outlook for the cause is bad, then the rats are leaving the sinking ship, don’t be the last one! Here you notice the ease with which I mix in a grandmother’s moral saying; this is, by the way, not a special trick of mine, but corresponds to the logic of this theory. If I now say: capitalism collapses anyway, then that is almost something like: leave the sinking ship to the rats and take our side! People, you don’t need anything, merely opportunism towards the historical tendency. Then join us because we are the winners of tomorrow.

Anyone who believes this, who stands for it, also says the reverse, and this is what appalls me so much at the moment about the GDR and the whole Eastern Bloc: whole peoples were educated in the spirit of Marxism-feminism (whole peoples is perhaps an exaggeration, but whole generations of intellectuals bored with reading Das Kapital), then the state collapses, and you can’t find a thousand people who say: no, I always wanted something else, I still want it, and I don’t know what’s bad about that. If that isn’t happening now, then I will criticize the new conditions. Rather, they all say: now that the GDR is collapsing, real socialism doesn’t work, so what we always said about capitalism seems to fit socialism: this society can’t make it over the long term, so it doesn’t deserve any supporters. The new society proves its vitality and its future orientation. So, maybe with a tear in their eye about the coming hardships, they recognize the need to adapt to the new.

The funny thing about this way of thinking, this claim that the scientific character of Marxism consists in having uncovered a historically inevitable tendency that you just need to join – this is, after all, the idea of opportunism: join a process that is going on anyway – is that today it only exposes its absolutely opportunistic character when it is no longer about opportunism towards a tendency in which one actually only believes in. This tendency did not exist apart from the will and the intentions of socialists. In the past, it was an opportunism in theory, but not in practice. The old socialists – and I don't mean the careerists in the party, but those who 100 years ago and longer who were contemporaries of Engels – they were a funny type, they said: I believe in a historical tendency, I am joining it, and only by joining this belief did the cause they joined exist. In this case, it was not opportunism! They fought against emperors and empires. It was not opportunism in practice, but opportunism in the imagination. They believed that they were joining a tendency that existed without them. And then they fought for their politics, and then their politics actually existed. And when they got majorities or minorities that were enough to strike, they were even a force. Not because of their opportunism, because then they would have been marching behind the emperor and the empire. They were a force because of their subjective belief in opportunism toward a tendency that only they put into the world by believing in the same. This was a complicated way of thinking.

Only today when the program has failed does this way of thinking expose its boundless opportunism. Now they say: the socialists were convinced that real socialism develops the productive forces better than capitalism, so the future belongs to them, so they are moving forward, and capitalism is like a tied up sack. Now they know that it is different: capitalism gives the productive forces more room to maneuver, so they are for it. Now they no longer cling to a tendency they believe in, but simply to the real power that has proved to be stronger.

1. Utopia vs. science

Now three more abstract thoughts; then I would like to take a look at capitalism or the question of the dialectic between productive forces and means of production and the question of being determines consciousness. I still want to analyze the two propositions, their mistakes, and clarify what can be learned from them and the arguments that are put forward for these laws.

First, after Engels, the old socialists – and this is in all the textbooks that are now being thrown away and which until yesterday were part of the official knowledge of East Germany – were proud to have overcome utopianism in order to pursue socialism as a science. The antithesis is utopia = mere wishful thinking. Now we are equipped with a much better weapon, now we have science. People were very proud of this. This antithesis between utopianism and science can have a reasonable content. Real socialism, however, connected this antithesis with a quite incorrect, quite unreasonable content. Both sides of what Engels really thought must be explained: the utopian programs of the early socialists (Blanqui, Fourier, Saint Simon, and Proudhon) were of course utopian, and they were utopian because they only devised blueprints of a better social system and did not at all prove the necessity, the inevitability, of the movement to socialism. Here I would like to say: this antithesis is completely wrong. If the old socialists were utopian and not scientific, then it is not because they did not come up with a criticism. It always depends on what the content of this criticism is. And since Engels there has been the accusation of the early socialists that their criticism was only contrived because it was not the expression of a real movement. The early socialists practiced a criticism that was utopian, not even real, because they were not at all the vanguard of the militant workers, but only intellectuals who took the liberty of criticizing society as they found it. Here I say: no, this won’t do! One has accused the early socialists of utopianism because they are not the expression of a real movement, but only have ideas. This is a bad reproach because one does not judge the quality of the ideas, but raises the reproach: you have ideas instead of being the expression of a real movement. Then one does not need to deal any longer with the quality of the ideas.

Now I will say the reverse of how I stand on this subject: a goal is utopian if it is merely wishing and wanting, but ignores the necessities for the dominant purpose. This is an important distinction. Merely wishing and wanting is something Engels and his kind were also capable of. However, mere wishing is not therefore mere wishing because it is wished, but because it is wishing for what is not possible. What then isn’t possible and what is? What is possible is whatever history schedules in its process anyway. What is not possible is that which history does not have planned in its process anyway. This does not even notice the real contradiction between necessity and mere wishing. I will tell you something that is a mere wish: wanting to have no unemployment in capitalism; that is a mere wish. To want to have marriage without domestic violence, that is a mere wish. If one does not want to eliminate the social institution of marriage, then one also does not need to be surprised that there is murder due to jealousy. What is the great achievement of science? The negative characteristics – and it is not denied that there are homeless people in the free world, that there are illiterates, nobody denies this – but everyone denies the necessity for these phenomena on the basis of the dominant society. Everyone says: unemployment is terrible, but it would not have to actually exist if the economy would function. Homelessness also would not have to exist if the chancellor had not neglected the housing development program. Illiteracy would not have to exist if a billion more would be spent on public education and so on. A technique in which all the bad sides of capitalism – and I would like to say again that the bad sides of capitalism are no secret, these evils are not the exclusive knowledge of communists – everyone knows them! Any minister can tell you about how poor the poor are! Only, he has a different task, and he takes from it a different task, which is: then I must take care of it. Then a mark is donated, and then everything is blessed again.

Utopia, mere wishing, consists in separating the negative phenomena of society from the society, in claiming that they do not need to exist on the basis of this society, and then wanting reform, charity or some other compensation. This is utopian in the strict sense of the word. It’s wishing for something that cannot be. For example, if you look beyond national borders: a world market that revolves around value in which Negroes do not starve by the dozens. So millions or billions of people in the third world whose livelihoods do not bring in any money leads people to say: there should be world trade, yes, world economy, yes, and value, but this does not have to exist with Negroes starving, this contradicts our humanity, our society, our image of what we are as a society! This is utopian.

Communists can learn something from Marx: the proof that these phenomena, which are acknowledged to be undesirable, have a reason, and they can only be eliminated with their reason. This is the only thing that differentiates utopianism and science. Utopianism, wishing for something that is not possible, and science are severed. Because if you find the reason for what you find bad, then you know how to stop it. Because then it can also be stopped.

Engels, Lenin, and all their successors saw the matter quite differently; they reproached utopianism for being mere criticism; they, having had the benefit of Marx’s writings, were not mere critics, but expressions of a historical process that is going on anyway. They did not reproach those they criticized as utopians for criticizing wrongly, but that, theoretically speaking, they criticized why there should not be that which exists. And they gave themselves credit because they said their own criticism is scientific and objective; not because it is scientific, but because they have a science that backs them up with the certainty of a historical tendency. The scientific nature of their criticism consists in the historical certainty of victory. One reads all Marx’s books as proof of the justice of our certainty of victory.

Marx proves something in a different way: he proves that there must be unemployment, poverty, stupidity, and violence both inside the society and outside it because of the dominant purpose of the profit economy. How good or bad these proofs are in detail is for communists to worry about. But he does not prove the necessity of the profit economy. It is not necessary at all; it exists only because everyone participates in it and does not get rid of it. There is no higher reason for it. And two statements now that are quite crucial: the necessities of a society exist solely within the scope of purposes that are currently valid, the effects and consequences of which everyone is always lamenting. A necessity beyond the dominant purpose – something like: if we abolish profit now, then it would still be a necessity – is nonsense. No, it is an open question as to what the criteria will be for getting things done.

They all read Marx as if he did not always talk about: what are the necessary effects of money accumulation; but rather, as if he talked about the necessity of money accumulation and the transitory necessity of money accumulation; as if he presented the necessity as not applying within the society, as if the necessary effects are not related to it – the effects are necessary for the socially valid purpose of production – but as if the dominant purpose of production is necessary in relation to history and unnecessary in relation to the future. As if the argument was: capitalism is necessary, but not for much longer. But then it is not unnecessary either, then it is unfeasible.

How does one arrive at such statements, such insights, or rather, what is the error here? The error here is in the revision of Marx – and I remind you, in certain places, Marx himself is responsible for this interpretation – in any case, how does one arrive at this wrong view: a revision of Marx’s critique of capitalism into a philosophy of historical development? How is this done? One takes statements that Marx intended as criticism, leaves out what is critical about them, and says: it was always and everywhere like this. This has two elements: first, by generalizing to all societies and all history. And second, by generalizing, the criticism is suddenly lost. Marx says, for example, “being determines consciousness.” The sentence is an expression of the fact that people do not have their conditions under control; because, otherwise, what they want and what they do would determine social reality. The proposition “being determines consciousness” is a statement that expresses the adaptation of thinking to realities that obviously rule independently of people themselves. Marx, who criticized ideology his entire life, correctly intended this statement as criticism. Now as a real socialist and ideologist of real socialism, I say: being determines consciousness, let’s forget the critical thing about this, and say: clearly, it has always been like this! Now I have made a giant leap. Now I am already far away from: in capitalism, people comply with the practical necessities that are imposed on them. They are opportunists of the conditions in which they are placed. So now I leave out the criticism and say first: thinking is always opportunism; and second: this is also good. Always and everywhere humans have adapted their minds according to the conditions in which they have been placed. Now take a closer look at this: now thinking in general is defined as universal opportunism by a very simple trick: I pretend that, in analyzing current capitalist ideologies, which is where I find that people have these ideologies, let’s say, of a bad human nature, or the ideology that one needs a meaning of life, or something like that – in the ideologies at hand, people have suitably fashioned their adaptation into something meaningful. That these are theoretically not correct, the theorist has to find out, so he has to criticize, has to find the errors, and then reject them. But if he stops saying I am the critic of these ideologies, but says: Marx discovered that thinking depends on the realities to which one must adapt, and no longer understands this as a criticism of capitalism, but as a law, then the criticism is gone, and then I say: this is how thinking is, it’s always just oriented to reality.

Second: Marx proves that capitalism is not the absolute mode of production; that it is not true that capitalism is the most suitable way to organize production for consumption, leisure and reducing labor time. That would be for all people who have an interest in consumption and reducing labor time a good reason to be against it. But the real socialists make a universal law of history from what Marx demonstrated, and this then means: the high level of development of the means of production becomes restrained by the relations of production once again, and then they will be overthrown because it is not possible in the long run to resist the productive forces’ urge to develop. We now no longer have a criticism of capitalism, but a law of history. Again, we leave behind the subject that the discovery was about, what he grasped about capitalism. We abandon the object of the criticism and say: this is universal! This is the tendency of all philosophers to always talk about “universals.” They are indifferent to what is specific and particular about a subject. They say: here one deceives oneself, humans are generally very often mistaken when thinking, we’ll make a new law from it: thinking is always unreliable. That’s their way. The philosophers, by the way, strive to replace knowledge with a world key. And world keys always have the beauty that you do not need to have a concept about anything, but you can always go on about anything. Philosophical knowledge takes basic principles, and if one closes one’s eyes with enough determination, then one can be absolutely sure of one thing: there will be no more surprises in real life. You get to integrate everything into your three basic principles.

And the real socialists were very guilty of the crime of philosophy: They flattened out Marx’s good criticisms of this mode of production, its economics, its politics, its morality and its theories, into laws that are supposed to apply always and everywhere. And by doing that, they removed what was critical about it. Now the whole world looks different: They have a worldview with which they interpret everything: everything that Marx proves is now supposed to be trans-historical and thus always objective. Marx said the society is shitty. Now the criticism is not supposed to address people who have a reason to join, but the criticism is supposed to be an objective process. The society criticizes itself, namely by not having much of a future. I can express the thought in another way: this confuses a practical necessity with an objective necessity. If I prove to the proletarian in capitalism: if you are to be something other than the useful idiot who always takes what he gets, you must realize that you are working for a purpose that has nothing to do with your own consumption; if – and this is important now – you want something else, then you must overthrow this shit. Then I have expressed a necessity, but a practical one. This means: if you have this end, then I can tell you the means you will have to take. This is the type of necessity it is: if this is the end, then it requires this means.

It’s quite different to understand the same necessity not as a necessity of ends and means, but as a necessity in the sense of a clockwork. Hence in the sense of a mechanism: capitalism necessarily brings forth its gravediggers and they then dig it to death, and then it’s gone. The history clock runs out! The longer capitalism develops and the further it advances, the less time it has left. Yes, that is a completely different law. And this confusion characterizes real socialism exactly as much as sociology. They both have the clockwork idea, the confusion of a practical necessity, that is, a necessity in the sense of: if you have the purpose, then you must see what the means are for it, that are appropriate for it. Then please do not deceive yourself about the means: if you mean that you are too poor, then do not believe that overtime is the correct solution. If you don’t have money, don’t think that overtime is the answer. Then you won’t have time to spend money after work. Then the best idea would be that you can become truly rich if you only work all the time. The joke, which is also a nice law of wages, is a criticism... But that is something completely different than to claim: the necessity would exist outside of and independently of the purpose that this person has.

In this respect, real socialism erased the basic idea in the word “law,” of a social law. This is first of all a criticism. If an analyst comes along and says: in this society, laws are in force that are independent of human will and consciousness, then that is a criticism of this society. Why? Because this already expresses that people do not have their own living conditions under control. Then this has to be acknowledged and the laws have to be abolished. Real socialism always thinks about this in the reverse way: it says – in my own words – Marx criticizes the nature-given, uncomprehended interconnections that behave like laws of nature; there are indeed phrases like this in Capital and other writings; and now the real socialists come and say: one must see the laws so that one can consciously obey them. They did not say: one must understand the laws that dominate here because they are always against people; if the laws weren’t, they would be in accord with their plans and desires.

If people are subjected to uncomprehended interconnections, thus to a law of value by which everyone tries to put something on the market and afterwards finds out whether it worked out for you and not the others, although both made the same effort, then they are subjected to laws of the market which obviously set the conditions for their lives without them knowing and being aware of them. Then this is evidence that people are dependent on purposes that they do not understand. No one can say: I want to fly and then I’ll fly because of my will. No, I must know how aerodynamics works and build devices which have these characteristics. These devices cannot override any physical laws, but use precisely these physical laws. This is a completely reasonable procedure with nature, because these are in fact preconditions completely independent of the will and consciousness of humans, and people must deal with these laws. Therefore, people do something good for themselves; if they know the laws, then they can use them.

The mistake now consists in the fact that one takes exactly the same relationship to society: in society, too, there are laws that are independent of people’s will and consciousness, and there is not even anything bad about that. What is bad is that the laws are not known; that’s capitalism. So we will create socialism, make the laws known, and then obey them. We analyzed the law of value for what reason? Not so that we know what is shitty and what its consequences are, but so that we can handle it consciously. So we do not want to eliminate the law, but handle it consciously, and not only that, everything else too. In capitalism, accumulation is always something that goes at the expense of people’s means of life, to which real socialism says: we must investigate the law of accumulation and then we can manage it consciously and consciously organize the means of living to be lower than the rate of accumulation. And so on. They read the entirety of Capital backwards, as a guide to production, in which they are always accusing the capitalists: everything that happens with you chaotically, anarchistically, unconsciously, happens in real socialism in a controlled, conscious and deliberate way.

They no longer hear that a society is being talked about where laws rule that people do not have under their control; it is like in nature, if one doesn’t have them under control, then they play their own game, you have to know the rules, then one can bow to them. Here too they say in relation to society, to the lives of people: there are laws that are independent of the will, that’s not bad, but if you don’t know them, that’s bad. So now I have explained the basic principle in which bourgeois thinking and real socialism are united: thinking is adapting to reality. That’s what we need science for: so that we can adapt well.

2. The means of production vs. the relations of production

We often have the strange experience that when we talk about the monetary union, the introduction of the deutschmark, and Germany as the new superpower in Europe, after two, three steps into the discussion, we hear about these laws. The discussion always comes down to the same point: maybe history hasn’t been ready for socialism yet. The theme in itself is, of course, an ideological theme with a clear goal: get rid of it! We’ll disprove it once and everyone will put it away and never think these thoughts again. With this stuff one does not explain an object, but proclaims an ideology. By taking up its error and – this is the intention – by robbing it of its attractiveness. Nothing more is done, the reality of today is not talked about, only about the reality of such ideologies, because they really do exist, of course. In this respect, one could talk about more important things, but every discussion comes down to hearing these laws as answers to our criticisms. This was the idea and the intention: then we must really talk about the quality of these answers ourselves.

There is the discovery, in revisionist textbooks, for example, about being and consciousness. They always say: people’s thinking is an expression of their social position. And then we say: then what about Marx and Engels? Although they were bourgeois, they still criticized capitalism, although its development was apparently not yet that far advanced?

Now there are two answers. One is: the development was already far advanced: in their day the proletariat was awakening. And now it is really not said: the object already existed, capitalism was already developed in England, so intelligent people thought about how it works and what it is about. Here you have also been given a wrong answer: it is not just that Marx dealt with it, but: Marx is already in a conditional way an expression of his time. That is one half: Marx too is said to have been practically passive; he too is only a mouthpiece for a development that already exists. The second half is: he is nevertheless quite an advanced mouthpiece; he nevertheless announced the future of the development. So, according to their position, they now have again the oddity that they simply deny their own law.

It is very bad if I say: here I have a law, but for every rule there is an exception. Thus: either/or! Either there’s a law, or for every rule there is an exception. Or in other words: they do not at all say why they do not want to apply their law in this case or are unable to apply it. Instead, they get philosophical. For example, the stupid saying that every rule has an exception, which explains neither the rule nor the exception. Then they say: you must not view this so narrowly. This statement itself already means: I am backing away from the strictness of what I want to prove. Do they ever say about the law of gravity: an exception to every law?! One immediately notices that where a law really exists, talking about the exception is inappropriate. These are the two lines: first, one does not give up saying that Marx and Engels are the expressions, mouthpieces of the history that is unfolding. Secondly, one also has the other side: they transcended the horizon, according to the side: yes, but an exception!

And the third thing is still – most important of all – rather than saying: were they not right? Marx and Engels or, for that matter, the book Das Kapital”? Surely, it would be a much better defense of this book to say: maybe it’s not right? No, here they say that the book is historically correct; it is the most advanced expression of the workers’ movement; phrases like that. They don’t judge it by its quality, but by the good cause that it is an expression of.

I will come back to what has occurred to them. It is a way of philosophizing insights to soften them in the next step. And softening is the stupidest thing that one can do to insights. It neither disproves nor proves them. It is a way of saying: if we make the statement a little less strict, then it can be held. When it is said that “being determines consciousness,” everyone hears that thinking is spoken of as a passive instrument. Anyone who says this needs to do a follow up on determination and freedom. Anyone who has just said that there is no more freedom, that humans are all puppets of the social conditions that exist, must then say in the next sentence: freedom still exists, of course. In bourgeois science there are only ideologies in which the thinkers have let their thinking be determined by circumstances, namely by giving the appearance of rationality to what they have to do anyway.

Because the argument (their thinking is determined by being) is fundamental, not a word is taken back. The determination is not that one could think differently, but totally that one had to think a certain way. By a determination, I prove something that I can never take back. But already Engels with this statement, “being determines consciousness” – at the beginning he represented it boldly, then someone comes and says: you probably want to say that we can’t want to say anything more at all! Then he says, no, not like that: interactions! Now he has diluted the statement in such a way that every reactionary sociologist agrees: yes, the situation and the values of men both influence thinking. Both what they have to, as well as what they imagine to be sacred. But now you have a law that no longer says anything at all: what people think is somehow related to their situation, and somehow not related to it. A mixture of freedom and determination. My dear God, you really shouldn’t have said that statement! It takes enough distance that it can’t be falsified. It is a sentence that no longer contains an assertion. By the way, there are always immediately a few anticipations for the GDR citizens, as far as they are here: if you study sociology and you must translate your Marxist mistakes into sociology, then it’s very easy: you only need to say the same nonsense without the strict assertion. The science of sociology consists generally of a system of sentences that no longer have an assertive character, such as my example: people’s thinking is definitely determined, and to some extent it is also undetermined. One learns such ideas, such “conclusions,” in sociology.

Let’s get back to my program: This idea about the dialectic of productive forces and relations of production expresses the whole historical metaphysics of real socialism. And it wants to say the following: the productive forces are developed further and further in progressive historical epochs. At some point, the emerging productive forces comes up against the relations of production as a fetter, then they are overcome in a revolutionary way and new production relations, new economic formations, create a new space for the forces to develop until they again push up against their limits, and then there is a revolution again, all the way up to communism, which is the society that absolutely deserves the development of the productive forces and therefore no longer pushes at their limits. This is a theory that declares the means of production, of all things, to be the subject of history. This is a theory that says: if the machine develops, then the machine demands a different society. The productive forces rebel. Let’s think over the sentence again, as crudely as it is said: at some point it is the machines, the factories, the powers of production that overthrow the old order. If I count humans as a productive power, humans also count. Humans are a productive power that becomes ever more productive, creates more and more, and they run up against what barrier? Is it the workers’ deep and irrepressible urge to create more and more that comes up against the limits of capitalism? Or is it the will of the workers to develop their productive power more and more that bumps into the limits of capitalism? The absurdity in this is that the means of production, of all things, are supposed to determine their purpose. This can’t add up. By the way, everyone knows what the real content of this could be: people work for a purpose that brings them nothing. Thus people as means of production work for a purpose that does not bring them anything, and they rebel because they want to be the purpose of production and not the means. But then they revolt not in their role as productive forces, but in their role as people who want to get something out of them. Then the whole argument is: if the productive forces increase more and more until they no longer fit the relations, then this depends on the opinion of the people concerned and not on the development of the productive forces. I would like to know: how is the law of the revolting productive forces to be explained? Where does it actually say how this it supposed to happen, that the productive forces no longer agree with the relations of production? And here’s the strange thing: nowhere! They have adopted Marx’s theorem – he also said this nonsense – and constantly defend it, but that is something different than explaining it. They do something completely extra: they say they can find many examples of it. And this is also a bad way to argue, if we ask how can they be abolished? And the answer is: there has already been a revolution once before. Yes, of course, there was a revolution once. But the question is whether this revolution was what it is claimed to have been. A thought is not proved by the fact that I interpret the thought with an example. It is very much in question whether the interpretation is good.

And now I will summarize the arguments that are used to say that this law of the dialectic of the productive forces and the ralations of production is true. And it goes like this: first the concretizing of this law: well, the productive forces and the production relations, they revolt historically again and again, this is the general law, and the specific law in capitalism is: there is social production but private appropriation. The contradiction of productive forces and relations of production in capitalism means: social production but private appropriation. Here one wonders: what does the poet want to tell us with this? Above all, what does he want to tell us with the “but”? What is the content of the “but”? The “but” says there is a contradiction. You ask yourself where is the contradiction? The whole society produces and the private owners collect the money. Where is the contradiction? Again and again, it’s the same thing: either the contradiction is a practical one, then it is one of conflicting interests, or this is a contradiction of the thing, then it is a contradiction between interest and thing. But that is not what it was supposed to be; here the real socialists are keen to say that it is not simply a contradiction between the interests of the workers and the entrepreneurs, but it is a contradiction in the mode of production itself. The contradiction is not a subjective one between the workers for whom it stinks, and the entrepreneurs (who, by the way, also disappear if there is nobody who makes it stink), but the contradiction is objective. Here I can only say: actually, the statement social production and private appropriation is nothing but a new formulation of: exploitation abounds! The whole society produces, no longer like in former times when the farmer worked on his isolated farm, but combined in modern factories, and the whole thing is organized by private capitalists because they have all the money, all the means, thus the livelihood of the workers, and the whole thing happens in favor of the capitalists. Nothing more is said by this sentence than that exploitation abounds. Now the sentence pretends as if this actually doesn’t happen. As if there is something not working in this relation. This is in the “but.” The contradiction is supposed to be objective, not a contradiction between my interest and his interest, but it is supposed to be a contradiction in the thing, which applies independently of my interest and his interest. The society comes into conflict with its productive forces. Yes, there is exploitation, that’s in the sentence; but that exploitation is not supposed to work out, or is not supposed to work out in the long term. Why not? This depends entirely on what those who are exploited make of this.

3. Crisis and breakdown theory

We now come to the contradiction that goes under the keywords: crisis and breakdown theory. It is said that a theory of breakdown is something like a tendency that can be read in Marx’s arguments about crisis. One sees in crises and in the fall of the rate of profit that the productive forces are rebelling against the relations of production.

Now I have to explain what happens with the fall of the rate of profit. The way it works is that the capitalists lower the costs of production – and this decides their position in the competition – by using more and more dead labor and replacing living labor. A complicated word for rationalization, which is well known to everyone: the fact that a machine can replace living labor. Then one produces more cheaply than the competition and the product can be sold at a cheaper price. But this has an effect: the appropriation of labor, which ultimately makes up surplus value, becomes less and less per capital. 100 marks of capital employs fewer and fewer workers and more and more machines. The entrepreneur notices that this is the case, that the worker who does the work and is exploited is needed to produce a profit, when the higher level of productivity is reached, his advantage is lost, everyone is then producing just as cheaply, and the value of the commodities decreases. The advantage he started with has come to an end, but the disadvantage of producing less work overall, that is, of being able to demand less of the workers than before, remains. So the so-called profit rate decreases. What this looks like, i.e. the sinking of the profit rate, is that he needs ever more capital in order to put a worker to work. This is also no secret; anyone in the west can tell you that it is expressed here in an absurdly twisted way: jobs become ever more expensive. I’ll tell you why this is absurdly twisted: because it is not the case that jobs are bought for workers, so that the entrepreneur must then say: I would buy you a job, but they are just so expensive right now. It is just the other way around: he provides jobs because it is profitable for him. They are not a benefit to the worker; in this respect, the whole mode of expression is ideological. But it does express one thing: in the past, one could procure the means with which a worker completes his working day in an engine factory for 100,000 DM. And today one needs a million for exactly the same thing. That is, more and more capital employs less and less labor in relative terms. That is the law.

On the one hand, the law is a law of unemployment. And it depends on the growth of capital whether it grows faster than it releases people. And here I will immediately say the solution to this point: capitalist society is so free that it can grow sometimes with a higher progression, sometimes with a lower, and sometimes in parallel. If the rate of growth of capital is generally lower than the rate at which they throw people on the street, then the unemployment figures increase. And vice versa. The old socialists, particularly Rosa Luxemburg, interpreted it this way: capitalism is approaching an end point. The end point means: ever more gigantic capitals employ ever more people and are confronted by larger and larger armies of unemployed people. And I must make two objections to this. The first objection is: she forgot that capital is still growing. Secondly, she has forgotten that a capitalist is not a zealot of the rate of surplus value who says: if only 3% results, then it is no longer any use. The capitalist is a devotee of the mass of surplus value; if the rate sinks, the capitalist says: then I have to spend even more. And by the way, Marx says in his book that this process which leads to the so-called fall of the rate of profit constantly and always leads to the growth of the profit mass. The entrepreneur becomes richer, so for him the process does not become pointless. For whom is it supposed to be pointless then? For the workers, maybe, because of how it looks from their side?

Let’s do some simple chains of thought: for the workers, the progress of the productive forces looks like more and more unemployment. What does this lead to? It leads automatically to the workers becoming cheaper, so much so that even the progressive introduction of new machinery is slowed down because the reward for investment is reduced and the cheap labor puts some old fashioned machines back into operation. This is what is now being experienced in East Germany. All this talk about how in the East you only have scrap metal; this is completely dishonest. You just have to buy this piece of junk cheaply enough, and it will be good right away. In the West, it is said of a 30 year-old machine: what? A 30 year-old machine? That says it all! If it is cheap enough and the wages are also cheap enough, then a 30 year-old machine is just as good a means of profit as a modern, dust-free computer center. It is not true that there is such a thing as an absolute drive for modernity.

So it is not a problem for the capitalist: he just has to make sure that the profit mass rises when the profit rate sinks. Could it be a problem for the other side, for the workers? The unemployed persons increase. And here I say: this completely depends on the conclusions they draw from it. If they draw the conclusion from it: the unemployed are increasing, oh God, I need work! Then the laws of capital continue uninterrupted. This means: everyone must offer themselves more cheaply. Then it is profitable again for the entrepreneurs, and then the number of unemployed is as high as whatever it turns out to be. Of course, if the people say at this point: what is going on here, we have a level of productivity where we could actually only work three hours a day and live quite well, and this serves in our society for the fact that 10% are unemployed and the others work 40 hours (and sometimes, by the way, 50, even with 35-hour work weeks). We think this is absurd! Yes, then they must stop the process, if they consider it absurd.

But to believe that the process itself would lead to its endpoint, when reading about the fall of the profit rate, its laws and its counteracting tendencies, there is simply no question of this. One must interpret this stuff simply: the fall of the rate of profit leads to crises. But crises are just the opposite of what Rosa Luxemburg imagined: the sign that capitalism can no longer continue to go on. Crises are the opposite, crises are: the accumulation of means of production, of capital, has been ruthless toward its own principle. Means of production have been produced that were not needed, goods have been produced that can’t be bought according to the calculation method of capital. There are people who can’t work according to the method of calculation of capital. And what does the crisis lead to?

It leads to the fact that production stops because it is not worthwhile for profit. At this point, crisis is not the gravedigger of profit, but crisis is the sign of how unconditionally profit rules. In the crisis, everything becomes null and void if it is not good for profit. Everything is shit on, the people who could work for themselves but are just not needed, they should just be left to sink or swim; the material wealth is worth nothing, a finished factory doesn’t produce any more wonderful products if they cannot be sold for profit. And the crisis leads to the fact that production ceases, or to say it another way: because in crisis production ceases, the capitalist carries out the unconditional blackmail of the society that has to serve him, because he says that the necessary reproduction will not take place, the production of food, consumer goods, means of transport, and so on, everything ceases if it is not profitable for me. And how does the society answer him? Shit, they say. Then the crisis spreads: one capitalist goes really broke because he can’t really sell any more, the other one buys him out because the bankrupt competitor can be bought cheaply. The workers are jobless and idle, and the time during which this condition spreads functions as a successful blackmail of the society: all the economic data rearranges itself in such a way and until it is again worthwhile to produce. Crisis is therefore the opposite of the statement: it’s no longer working out for capitalism any more. The crisis is in the interest of capital; in the interest of continuing to make profits, everything is rearranged. Everything in the way is turned upside down, a value is attributed to everything that is not compatible with value and its increase. So the value of everything is written off so that its utilization works. By the way, the real socialist also knows this: there are cyclical crises, and in addition to those, it is maintained, there is the crisis of capitalism. He treats cyclical crises as I have just discussed. Here everyone will say: yes, I learned that, there are such crises. But one does not want to be content with that, one wants to say: there are cyclical crises, but they are not the decisive thing; the decisive thing is the crisis of capitalism. And if you again ask what does this mean? As a last resort, they come back again to the cyclical crises: nevertheless, you can see that the crisis of capitalism is getting bigger and bigger, more and more inevitable, harder and harder! By what? By the cyclical crises, their rhythm, their depth, their consequences, and so on …

[inaudible comment from the audience]

That was, I believe, two arguments in one: ever less people are employed in the production process, but without exploited labor no surplus value can emerge because the machines must always be bought at their price, and then no more surplus value can be pumped out. And the second argument is: it concerns world market conditions of productivity. On the second point, I only want to repeat what I said a moment ago: the capitalist is not concerned with pure productivity, he is no devotee of labor saving production, but for him it is about capital productivity. That is, the profit should be as comparatively high as possible. This effect is reached by methods of increasing relative surplus value and new machinery, but exactly the same thing is reached by low wages and cheaply purchased factories. There are three methods of competition from the point of view of the entrepreneur, who does not at all say he would like a dust free factory: he would like one that makes money. The addition of world market conditions changes nothing in this. For the same reason, in the third world there are the most terrible sweatshops where people work for starvation wages on terribly old machines and produce something maybe on behalf of Toyota. Toyota does not say: that’s too old for us, we need higher productivity under world market conditions. They look at capital productivity, how profitably the advance money pays off, and it can pay off just as well with old machines.

[inaudible comment from the audience]

Then I didn’t quite understand your thought. It still needs a certain activity because otherwise the use value with which one wants to compete on the world market can’t be obtained. Insofar as one needs a certain level of productivity so that dashboards, seats, upholstery, and so on, are made, the way things are made for Toyota in sweatshops, then what matters most: the high productivity of labor is not what the capitalist looks at, but the high capital profitability. And this leads, for example in Japan, to an unusual structure, as they say now, of big industry: there is a narrow area of core production in Toyota’s own companies and many, many parts they get very cheaply from sweatshops that do not produce at the most modern level, but which compensate for the lower productivity with cheap wages and cheap equipment – cheaper than what Toyota would pay – from subcontractors who may exploit in a different way. And from the point of view of money, one is as good as the other. One must know, or one must pay attention to, capital productivity, the degree to which the money advanced pays off, and it is not about working as productively as possible, creating use values with as little labor time as possible. If we go over the second point about deserted factories: the sentence is correct in the last instance: if capital no longer exploits anybody, it can no longer produce surplus value. In the last instance, this is correct. Therefore – now my answer – capitalism does not arrive at such a condition. And this is now the counter argument to yours: “therefore capital comes to the historical limit of its survivability.” It is clear that if capital no longer employs anybody, and even if it employs fewer people, the pressure on wages rises accordingly. Others want to work in the factory too; they want to make a living, so they offer themselves more cheaply. Capital can easily live with 2 million unemployed, soon with 3 million, and united with East Germany even 4 million; this is not at all a problem. To strain the argument: if one day there will only be 100,000 people employed out of 60 million, then eventually it will look bad for capital, if you continue your thought, there I have to say: this kind of hope shows a historical patience that I can’t muster. You do not need to fear deserted factories, if you do, you would have to look forward to it, but they calculate differently. That’s why it does not come to this, not in this form.

4. The historic mission of the working class

Real socialism wanted to prove the truth of the law of the productive forces revolting against the relations of production. Now we have thought through two ideas, one about crisis and one about social production and private appropriation. I would like to take the two in one block now: social production and private appropriation, and the corresponding argument: the contradiction of productive forces and production relations manifest themselves in the fight of the proletariat against the capitalist class. The idea here is: whether one sees the contradiction which is the question we had at the beginning. If one sees the contradiction in the fact that the workers have a role in production that doesn’t make them too happy. But that the means of production and the workers in their role as means of production clash with the relations of production because they do not permit them to advance any further as means of production – this shouldn’t be read into it.

But now I want to point out something else: the real socialists were always very proud that their criticism – and they saw this as their difference from the utopians – was not that these are just shitty conditions for the workers. It should always be more than just that the workers have good reasons to be against it. It should always be a necessity for the society itself, a necessity that the workers should follow, it should not simply be – so they thought – the interest of the workers that is vital here. There is a formulation for it: it was called the historic mission of the working class. Here a historic mission is set up that is independent of the workers and what they want, and then the question arises: either the workers turn out to be worthy of their mission or they forget about it. The idea always means that the historic mission of the working class should be more than what they want. It should be something which they should orient their will toward. It should be somehow more objective than only the material interests of the workers themselves. If they want to explain this, they fall back on more than the workers’ struggle against the capitalists. They did not see this as an argument at all. It is not at all proven that the process proceeds like natural history, it is only said: this exists. And by the way, the same authors would have to point out: and mostly this does not exist: the class conflict in bourgeois society has almost become extinct. It is not at all true that the working class fights the capitalist class, and if it does, then in such modest, concessionary, and desperate forms that one can’t really speak any more about a class that fights the other class.

If you think of Krupp Rheinhausen [translator’s note: a major steel factory in Germany where in the late 1980s mass redundancies were met by large worker protests]: the jobs argument, we want to be employed, and then the arguments that follow: we are so useful, the Poles are not as useful, Mr. Krupp, it is shameful that you do not see this! These were the types of arguments in the Rheinhausen struggle. So there are struggles, but what do they want? The logic goes like this: we are not subjectivists, we are guided by objective things, by the real laws of society, we socialists who have insight into these laws. And the real law of this society is that capitalism is transitory because it provides only limited possibilities for the development of the productive forces. Proof: there are hardships against which one should defend oneself. And secondly, there is a contradiction. The proof is not at all suitable for what it aims to prove. If we take that as evidence, it is noticeable again: yes, if people push back, if it does not suit people, then there is contradiction, otherwise not. There is nothing more objective in this whole contradiction than the desire of those who fight out this conflict. It’s kind of funny: first they say it should be more objective, otherwise it is utopian socialism, and then secondly they demonstrate how it is more objective, and then they fall back on it. That’s when you realize what they want to say, and they want to say something like: the moral judgment on this society is objective. But not objective in a scientific sense: this society deserves to be abolished. But the moral judgment about this society is objective in the sense of: the society is already being abolished because it deserves to be abolished. Here one notices that the representatives of real socialism, on the subject of utopian socialism, can’t stand a subjective rejection or condemnation of this society. But on the other hand, where they find someone who condemns it, they don’t say: let it be, we can’t stand this condemnation, but they treat this as the expression of a necessity and they take the resistance and class struggle as their right to claim that it is more than class struggle where there are people who are engaged in class struggle.

Now a few more arguments about the means-of-production-productive-forces sector, all of which show how they’ve approached the whole thing wrongly:

The fourth argument in my sequence is: “monopoly formation proves the obsolescence of the capitalists.” This is demonstrated by: production becomes more and more social, the big monopolies actually employ managers who are paid to exploit and the capitalist no longer plays any role in the production process. To this I say: how easy he makes his life! Now he is no longer needed, and still everyone serves him! The real socialists say: this proves his historical obsolescence.

Who needs this proof? Someone who has granted the capitalists a historic mission, but wants to establish something like the historical endpoint to this mission.This is the crucial flip side to the dialectic of productive forces and production relations. If I say, every society offers developmental possibilities to the productive forces, which are the driving force of history, and every society also produces limits to the developmental possibilities of the productive forces, if I talk this way, I condemn capitalism as a society that now sets barriers to development. That means, the other way around, if this is the criterion: yesterday capitalism allowed the productive forces to develop, and allowed them better than feudalism did: so, hello capitalists! Exploitation no longer means: who has to work for whom? And who gets something out of it? But: there is an historical phase where exploitation is absolutely ok because it is progressive.

This lousy category of progressive is only the carrying out of historical metaphysics: history leads forwards and any bloody injustice against people is ok if it leads forwards, if it develops the productive forces. The fact that the productive forces have always been developed only for exploitation never bothers this type of socialist. He says: the capitalist was for 200 years the most important figure in human development that has ever existed. But now that there are monopolies proves that he is no longer needed. This is quite amusing, the proof ends with this: we don’t need you any more. The exploited say to the capitalists: thanks, dismissed, we don’t need you any more! This is a mistake. It is true that the development of the productive forces has been organized in so-called modern times by the capitalists, pursued for their profit and operated only to the extent and in a way that benefits their purpose; this is true. But to say that humanity needed the capitalists so that the machine would be invented, thank you, capitalists, but please resign now, your work is done! This reinterpretation is not correct by a long shot. It is not true that humans can’t invent machines if there is no capitalist to whip them in such a way that he can use the machines so that he saves wages. That’s the resulting benefit. For centuries, the development of the productive forces had to take place in capitalist form. Why? Because it just went that way! Here again a necessity is attested to a pure fact. Because capitalism ruled the last few centuries, it had to rule.

In the same way: because Lenin led a revolution, it had to win. What would have happened if the whites had gotten 100,000 more soldiers (the whites were the counter-revolutionaries), what would have happened then? They would have finished off Lenin’s revolution just like they are now finishing off Nicaragua today. Where is the necessity? Lenin just won! Why? He was determined; the others were not as determined. The others were just not as numerous, the foreigners, the English and the American support for the counterrevolution was not determined enough and did not provide enough means; there is nothing more to it! To always act as if there was a higher power in history than the will of those who wanted something and so asserted their will and secured the means is pure metaphysics.

Therefore, in reverse: after feudalism must come capitalism? Bullshit! Since when? Where? First of all, why did feudalism have to end at all? There are parts of the world where it simply continued. Secondly, in Germany there was the Peasants’ War – East Germany boasts that it honors its tradition – and if not for a lack of a few thousand determined peasants, history would have been different. Nevertheless, one must not act as if merely because they did not have the means – here again people just did not have the means – they had to perish! Why? Here again comes the GDR science of history: because conditions were not yet developed enough, therefore Thomas Muenzer was a utopian. Does this make sense?

I can formulate this in another way: the science of history in the west and in the east is based on only one trick: what has happened had to happen because it happened! Always! There is no other argument in the science of history. It can be expressed in a more complicated way: Bismarck could build on the conditions that were fulfilled before him and, on the other hand, he could not go beyond these conditions. It doesn’t matter, you can say it any way you want, there is only one idea in the science of history: what happened had to happen. Proof: it did not happen differently. A clumsy technique to certify the fact of inevitability without any intermediate argument.

Science always has to attach a cause to a fact whose necessity will and also must be caused. One can do this correctly, one can do this wrongly, but the science of history makes an argument of time. Historians say: what came afterwards happened because of what happened; in Latin: Post office hoc ergo more propter hoc [“after this, therefore because of this”]. Thus it is argued that there are laws. There are no other ideas in the science of history. And real socialism expressed this thought most naively. In the west, you always know that they must create some appearance that there must be something else besides “because this occurred after that, it was caused by that,” because this is too stupid. And real socialists said they know of a law: namely, the development of the productive forces and the sequence of social formations, and with this law in the background they can recklessly show “because this happened after that, it happened on account of this.”

Two digressions:

Within the capitalist mode of society, any social mode that can’t compete with capital in terms of productive power will perish. That's true; the statement is correct. But it is not a law of the end of capitalism. It is not a law of the type that capitalism will eventually come up against some kind of barrier; that it will collapse at some point. That is to say: capitalism dissolves all modes of production that cannot develop the powers that it develops. And it does this – one is not mistaken about this – not by competition in the matter of productivity, but by war: all societies which block the capitalist mode of production are drawn into a military conflict, also here it is not, as it were, the historical justice of the productive powers, but weapons. In the end, the society that does not have the weapons that are needed loses. I am telling you this now because it sounds like an excuse; there is nevertheless also a rational core to this law: capitalism dissolves all societies that oppose the unconditional production of value, and that means the productive power of value. But: first, it dissolves them not through the competition of productive forces, but through the competition of weapons. The competition of productive forces is valid in only this respect, when productivity is necessary for getting the proper weapons. Secondly: this is not an argument that capitalism comes up against the limits of the productive forces. So this is not an immanent contradiction, but the contradiction is between capitalism and pre-capitalist societies; here a process of dissolution of pre-capitalist societies takes place. But capitalism must have existed first.

A few more examples to show how false all this stuff is. With this world key – “the productive forces come up against the fetters of the relations of production, therefore it is the progress of the development of the productive forces that demands the relations of production change” – how is one to explain the fall of Roman society with this schema? Roman society declined simply because the Teutonic tribes overran it. And then the productive forces went downhill for 1000 years. As if the Teutons had the superior productive forces, and then the Romans with their substandard social system had to give up! It was nothing like that; just the opposite was the case. A much higher development of the productive forces – they already had cooperation and so on – gave way to a tribe which had just made the transition to agriculture.

And another example that is always given by real socialism, and one that Marx himself also cited as the proof: the French revolution was something like that! The old regime had to give way. Why? Did the productive forces oppose the fetters of the relations of production? Indeed, here too the picture does not even begin to fit: who rebelled against whom? First: the whole people against the king. They realized they no longer needed him. Secondly: it’s always the same, who was this specifically? Yes, it was not the productive forces. If it was, then it was the bourgeois relations of production that were impaired by the political relations of the absolutist state.

It was not the productive forces, which somehow have their own dynamics, and the shackling relations of production that came into conflict, but two interests. And of the two conflicting interests, one interest was not in the means of production and the other one in a relation, but the bourgeois mode of production, which had long been cultivated, sponsored, and expanded under feudalism, i.e. by the king who used it as his financial source, which pushed against the feudal political relations. Then the bourgeoisie said: if we are already the basis of the society, if everything depends on our money, why should we for pay for the king, the aristocracy and their luxuries. The operative criticism here was not of the kind: here forces of production and there production relations, but: another purpose of production developed in the middle of feudalism and grew enormously. And because it was enormous, it turned against the political forms, and here the word “shackles” fits. But the political relations of feudalism were not shackles for the productive forces, but for the capitalist branch of production, that is, for the interests of the capitalists, and not for the productive forces which were always advancing. So even the French revolution, which is cited as the example for this: somebody feeling that the existing rule was a shackles. It was not the means of production, but the already well-established capitalist purpose of production! It is only aims that can conflict each other. The means cannot fight the aims.

Now another example: “capitalism is incapable of making social use of the gigantic productive forces which are connected with the development of the scientific-technological revolution.” Listen to the sentence again: in the list of contradictions between productive forces and relations of production, there is a new contradiction, which is: capitalism is incapable of making social use of the gigantic possibilities of the new productive forces. What is the error of this sentence? The error of this sentence is “incapable.” I can claim an incapability only of someone who is willing. For example, if I do not want to play cards, then someone can’t say that I am incapable of playing cards. This statement is easy because I am unwilling. “Incapable” presupposes the intention and then denies the possibility of doing it. But if I do not presuppose the intention, then the expression “incapable” is simply nonsense. Now they say: capitalism is incapable of using the new productive forces socially. Here one first attests that capitalism might be willing to, and secondly, one says: but it can’t. Why? It is incorrectly organized. Now one has identified a contradiction, this is really true, the contradiction of incapability, but it is a contradiction only if I a) assert the purpose and b) assert the impossibility of pursuing it. Otherwise it is not a contradiction. The truth is: capitalism has no interest at all in using the gigantic possibilities of the new productive forces socially. And unless someone else comes forward, this interest does not exist at all. Then the contradiction is also gone. Then there is no contradiction between productive forces and production relations. You see how they think: They declare that capitalist society has good will in order to then compare the reality with the good will. In order to then say: How badly it lives up to this good will! And then they say: see, they can’t do it, can’t manage it! And then they have the contradiction which of course always says: the contradiction is objective. It is more objective than only being the fact that some people don’t want to put up with this nonsense anymore and then rise up against it. The whole argument has the intention of proving that communism is a good project, you can join it. And the question to people is not: Do you want it? The message is almost something like: You don’t need to want it yourselves, it’s coming anyway, so you’d better join. That is stupid, because it takes people in their worst role, in the role of adaptors. And in the role of the adaptor, of all things, one is supposed to be a revolutionary! That was their idea. And that’s why, when the presumption of winning is gone, the thing is over. When the historical optimism gets slapped in the face by the realities. Then the argument and its evidentiary value is gone. All right, call it a day.

So once again: our assertion today is not: there will be no revolution today and not tomorrow! But our assertion is: there are enough reasons to break with this society. But apart from the people who adopt these reasons, who explain their bad experiences in this way and then draw the practical conclusions, there is no historical impulse in this direction. The idea of the real socialists is to say, first: this exists externally, people themselves are part of this process, and that totally mixes up these two statements. First, on the one hand, it is not the will; secondly, on the other hand, it is nothing without the will; and third, the will is easy to incite because the whole thing is objective. The objective needs the will, of course, because otherwise it does not happen. A pure swindle: it is supposed to be more than just the pure will of the people, but one also does not want to claim that it happens automatically.

5. “Being determines consciousness”

Now I will tell you about the ideological side: “being determines consciousness.” First, how do the real socialists know that being determines consciousness? They know it because they come across ideologies that justify going along with things. Secondly, they do not deal with the ideologies as ideologies, by proving how their thinking is incorrect. So they do not even provide the proof that being determines consciousness, but take the ideologies as expressions of situations. Yes, various middle class layers, they think this way; the proletarians, they think that way; and the capitalists, of course, think another way. If I am determined to take everything that someone says as an expression of what is behind him, I am committing a dirty trick: I no longer care whether he is right. It’s fine, a capitalist has to think like that! You are a proletarian, and so on, same logic. But if I fail to prove that their thinking is not correct, then I have also failed to prove that people adapt their thinking to their situation. Because maybe he is correct, then his situation corresponds to his thinking, and not his thinking to his situation. Maybe he is also correct that he finds conditions reasonable and they are reasonable. Then he is also correct when he goes along with them. The idea that all the thoughts found in the bourgeois world – that is, the dominant thoughts – are expressions of situations needs to be proven. But if I prove it, then a criticism is connected with it. Proving it means: I have to prove that it is not correct. If I say that this is an expression of a situation, and not that the world is reasonable as he sees it, then he is not an asshole who goes along with everything, but then everything fits. So if I leave out the proof of the untruthfulness, then the proof that it is driven by an interest is a mess. Because maybe it is correct, then it is not driven by an interest; so the criticism of ideology must get quite decisively at the truth of opinions. And only if I have convinced myself of the untruthfulness of an opinion can I think the second thought and ask: how does he come up with it, if it is not true, why does he talk like that?

Or in other words: why do people always fight so hard to defend their indefensible views? What is the interest behind it, when someone so stubbornly supports such unsupportable theses? It is vulgar materialism to regard people as basically victims of their conditions. And when applied to politics, it means sympathy for conformism. Because the criticism is left out, it no longer says: you are fooling yourself! The second half, all thinking is the expression of a situation, comes first.

Notice how reactionary the idea is: if the workers in West Germany have no desire to criticize capital, no desire to strike, no desire for class struggle, then what? Then their situation seems to suit them! The logic is quite brutal: if people don’t want to fight, then there is probably no good reason to! This is a technique to justify conformity when one does not want to give a blessing to conformity. Notice how complicated this is: one justifies conformity because one wants to bless the nonconformity that one originally aimed for by saying that if you engage in class struggle now, there is more behind it than you just not liking the way things are, namely, there is a historical trend behind you, which you are the expression of, but which you can also get on board, which you should also advance! To attribute a historical mission to the workers is the same as considering their interest to be a minor thing. Their interest is an expression of the historical mission insofar as it is in order, but the revolution should not be made for the sake of bread and butter! It should be made so that history progresses.

What I wanted to show was: criticizing ideology is the right thing to do and absolutely necessary. Namely, because people are conscious, they participate even in the worst shit with consciousness. And this is the opposite of the statement: they grope along without knowledge or consciousness. They do the stupidest things intentionally and consciously. In most cases, they are only deceiving themselves about what they are actually bringing about. Here communists have a task: we will show you what you are really bringing about. And it is not the same as what you think!

The starting point is that they believe, think, and do everything with consciousness. This knowledge and consciousness is the crucial prop of capitalist society. In fact, everyone in our country believes that he goes along with something that is basically reasonable and good. All opposition fails because it can’t penetrate this. People, on the other hand, are basically not satisfied – in the sense of: I am doing fine – but believe that things are reasonable the way they are, essentially, except for all the scoundrels who are making life so difficult. So criticizing ideology is at the core of communist efforts. And the real socialists made their program almost the opposite of this. They said that ideologies are objective. That’s why it’s misplaced to criticize them. Well, I don’t want to carry this claim too far, but anybody who holds that ideology is simply an expression and then says that different conditions must be created, is saying that there is then a different ideology, and that is then again an expression. Anybody who says that the workers of West Germany do not fight, and then does not go on to say that they are not doing themselves a favor by not fighting, but who then go on to say: and this seems to be an expression of their situation, with monopoly capital in a eminently successful situation that is exploiting the third world – do you know where this ends up? It ends up with the message: the workers are too well off! The starting point was: they should make a revolution. The discovery was: they do not do it. The starting point was: the historical development forces the working class to make a revolution; it maneuvers the workers into a situation where they can do nothing else. And now they can do something else completely different. So the conclusion is: then the situation is not so urgent! Now the circumstance that people reject communist arguments and are not interested in them has become a trite statement: the arguments are probably inappropriate. The people are right, if they tag along, because it is not so bad for them.

Of course, leftists do not stop believing in their historical trend. They say: just wait a while, the next crisis will come! Then there will be nothing for you any more! This continues the idea that a person in his activity is the expression of his situation, the stimulus-reaction creature of conditions. Now that says in reverse: if they do not want to make a revolution, then they seem to have no reason to. But we communists are pessimistic about the chances of capitalism; we believe the crisis is coming. And then, when it comes, what of it? Then the advocates of this idea that thinking is always an expression of conditions discover only two things: either they say: well, now that there are unemployed persons no one can duck out! And if they duck out, its always the same logic: they still just have it too good! Yes, just wait until the historical situation is ripe! This is only the brutal expression of: they are still much too well off; wait until they have no other choice but to make the revolution.

[Inaudible remark from the audience]

Exactly, the organized vanguard of the proletariat was missing, so they stood around and there was nobody to tell them what to do. The logic is brutal because they do not want to criticize the workers for not taking matters into their own hands, but prefer to criticize themselves and their rival organizations for not taking leadership. Well, of course, if only there had been leaders!

Now something else comes to mind: it is an untruth that misery makes people innovative. It might make you innovative, but it is fundamentally wrong that you will learn something from misery. Everybody knows this, and it’s the stupid thing that our leftists in West Germany absolutely agree with the East Germans about: as long as no revolution takes place, they hope for a crisis. If the crisis is there, it makes sense to them that the workers become fascists. They believe that the crisis will finally be the condition for success, and when it is there, they say: an unemployed person of course joins the brown shirts! You might think this through: first you believe that it is the condition for the revolution, and then one is afraid that this will happen. Then it suddenly occurs to them: this is the condition for something completely different as well!

Then at least keep the third insight: it seems to depend on what people think explains their miserable situation; whether they think all the freeloaders and lazy people must be locked up in concentration camps so that work finally gets done or whether they think that production for value, the accumulation of capital, is the reason why nothing ever works out for them. It depends on how they view their misery, and not on their misery. Incidentally, it is almost automatic that they view their misery in a way that always leads to Hitler rather than to the leftists. Why? Because this necessarily follows the ways of thinking that have so far been normal to them.

How does somebody come up with such an idiotic idea as there is too little discipline in the country? The disclosure is always: then they must make me work harder. I am not breaking my back, then I would be better off. Thoughts leading to: if you only work for 37 hours, it’s no wonder you are poor. Where does this come from? This is the toughest of the ideological techniques which follows from the will to adapt and the free will at the same time. It goes like this: I believe that this mode of production is my livelihood. Where do I get this belief? Quite simply: I must find an employer, then I will have work, then I will have wages. There is a small error in this: the job and the wage do not exist because I need a wage, but because of the employer. But the worker needs the job now, so he doesn’t stick to the truth of the matter, but to his need: his job is his source of livelihood – this is not correct, but it is correct for him in practice. Or the thought follows the necessity in which the person is placed, so he no longer asks why jobs exist, but thinks: why should jobs exist? Well, because of me jobs should exist! Because if there aren’t any, it’s tough for me. So now he has reinterpreted it; he has declared that exploitation is his livelihood. Here he has not yet become a fascist, he is a completely normal character: I go to work, the capitalist gets my work, I get my wage, these are normal conditions.

Someone becomes a fascist when they discover that this is not true. Someone believes that capital and nation are his livelihood and then realizes they are not. He looks at his own problems and asks: what’s wrong now? And then he has to decide, does he ask himself why it is that he doesn’t get anywhere, or does he look for scapegoats to explain why he doesn’t get anywhere, although everything is in order. Someone becomes a fascist when they say: despite the nation being my sustenance, it just isn’t. One holds on to the idealism of the first mistake, then realizes that’s not at all how it is: who is messing everything up? The labor unions, the students who are protesting! And outside the country? No wonder that nothing functions in Germany when our enemies won’t leave us alone! On the capitol: it’s no wonder the corrupt politicians are flip flopping, they only think of their private benefit and not the state! One measures everyone with the belief that they are there to perform duties, and ascertains that they are neglecting their duties. This type calls for harsher punishments and law and order and concentration camps because he finds out that what he believed the order is there for is not working. That was a digression on how ideology actually functions.

[Interjection from the audience, unintelligible]

We stand outside factory gates in West Germany at every big factory. And people say, “no thanks,” and by this they mean: “sorry, I am a family man and have an installment loan on my car.” Your arguments do not help me get by. He’s right, really. Any special sales coupon is more useful for him in getting by than our criticism. Our criticism aims for something completely different: think about whether it’s good for you to tighten your belt in order to live within your means, which they have set for you. We ask people if they don’t want to pause for a moment in their willingness to cope. Are they willing to think about it for moment, what it is they are actually coping with? And then they tell us: sorry, I don’t have time right now; I just have to get by.

[inaudible comment from the audience]

You now say that the crisis has something like a catalyzing role. Not: the crisis drives people to the left, but: the crisis forces people to make decisions. The catch is this: on the one hand, there are also reasons to make decisions when the system is functioning normally. It’s not like there are no unemployed persons, but that there is a hierarchy of living situations ranging from people living quite well to circumstances in which no one would like to live. There are poor, there are rich, there are open political maneuvers. We, the Marxist Group, for example, in the material we put out every week, point out something: people, don’t you want to explain this, what this is about, why is this being done, do you want this? There is a contract, but is it to your benefit? And so on. That is material for criticism and also: you are involved in something that does not benefit you at all! You can’t truly claim that this doesn’t happen in normal times. That’s the first point.

You think there is an advantage to abnormal times, when there are crises, and that means: oh dear, normality has come to an end. And they have a disadvantage: people wish for the return of normality. This is quite clear when the non-functioning of the system becomes the criticism. And that’s the stupid thing about it: anyone who becomes political only because of the crisis – and not only as an occasion to just explain it – becomes a savior of the functioning of the society. This is such a strict law that I know an example where the left argued this way: the communists before the Third Reich, the KPD during the Weimar Republic, also saw themselves as national saviors from the disgrace of Versailles! They did not stand up and say: what does this shit about Versailles have to do with the workers? Instead they said: the Versailles treaty can only be abolished by the proletarian revolution! Just imagine: the communists, along with everyone else, talked about Germany as a victim of foreign powers! They said there are good states and there are bad states, and we are now a victim! And then they suggested another solution for getting Germany out of the role of victim. Hitler said that the enemies must be crushed, and the communists said that the international system must be revolutionized and then Germany can play an equal role again. Taking the crisis not only as an occasion for reflection, for thinking about it, but as s problem that needs a solution – this sees normality as an ideal.

Now let’s put it another way: if people are not happy about being put in a situation where they have to work 8 to 14 hours a day (including breaks and commute) to pay for a three room apartment for them and their two crying children and a Volkswagen that they need to drive to work – in other words, about their entire lives – if they do not find that strange, not even if they see people right next to them living quite differently, if they don’t even ask themselves: does it really have to be this way? It’s easier for them to ask: why isn’t it working out? If people are in the kind of shape that they think this way, then they won’t be any wiser because of the crisis, unless they ask: what’s going on? Not: why isn't it working? This takes the standpoint of functioning. That’s why for communists a crisis is neither luck or bad luck, but an object of explanation. No reason to wait, no reason to say: hopefully it doesn’t happen. Neither are reasons in this sense. In one sense, it is a catalyst, you are right. But a catalyst for the wrong problem: why doesn’t it work? Is the existence of the nation functioning? That’s why, as I said, it’s dangerous to hope for a crisis. In West Germany, all the leftists waited for the crisis, and then it came, and then it lasted five years, and then nothing happened, and then all this repeats itself again. And in 1975 people like Altvater [German Marxist crisis theorist] said wait for the crisis! Altvater predicted the world economic crisis, predicted the debt crisis, predicted the EEC crisis, and said: just wait, then you will see! Now that it’s all over, he still doesn’t stop making predictions.

So, the claim now is: people in capitalism must find normality weird, and not the violation of normality. I found that pretty easy to do: I went to work in a brickyard for eight weeks after high school. And after that I knew: Living like this means that life is over! I don’t know why that’s so difficult for other people.

[inaudible remarks from the audience]

This is quite simple in one respect, for it is not at all the case that someone – by this I mean the ordinary citizen in the West as well as in the East – would have the theory: I am glad that I am not an Indian. I am doing well in comparison to ... That is not true at all! But these are techniques, intellectual procedures, with which one processes disappointments. You have to pay attention to something: It is not true that we are confronted with a nation of satisfied people and we are the only ones who don’t like something. It’s much more complicated: all people have massive disappointments, and they adhere to techniques for processing them. I can also tell you a story that is really true. You visit your relatives who have a conversation at the table and everyone grumbles about the prices on vacation, and then nothing is any good, their social betters lord over everyone, co-workers do nothing, children do not behave the way parents expect them to, teachers block opportunities for children. Then I sit down at the table and say: is anything ok for you anymore? You talk like communists! And then they say: oh yes, one has to be content. Then it simply goes in the other direction.

This is to show the following: it’s not true that people are content, and then someone comes along who doesn’t like things. But if you say: take your discontent seriously, get to the bottom of it, and see what the consequences are, what comes of it, and then there is a counter-objection, which is: that does not help me any with what I have to deal with. That’s the previous argument: it doesn’t help me get by! At this point, something peculiar is at stake: namely, interest versus thought. That is our peculiar weakness: we have a thought, and he senses that we are against an interest. The interest is: I am a worker, I want to earn money, I must earn money, so I have to get to work. Can you offer me an alternative? Here you really have to ask him: do you mean am I a capitalist and will I pay you more? That’s what someone like that means. It’s to say: whether he doesn’t have to change anything about his living conditions and find someone who will make things better for him. That is the question, and by this standard every critic in the world is discredited. Because he wants him to change something. It’s the position of the powerful who dictate the terms, and can or will dictate differently.

So some peculiarities stand against each other: it isn’t thought against thought, and it is not interest against interest, but interest against thought. You say: isn’t it stupid to do everything you are doing? And then there is the counter-answer, which always means: but I can’t do anything else. Are you offering me anything? That always means: one only refers to one’s practical necessities, which forbid one from thinking about such things. That is the logic. Where is our chance in all this? Our chance exists only in one thing: in the moment when someone says: is it true, what it is actually about? Do I actually need to live this way, as I do here, is it necessary? Then he is already half on our side. The difference consists in the following – well, this is now a methodological debate, but agitation consists in the following – agitation can only attack the ideology of an interest. But the interest itself is there. The interest is: to run after work and earn money. Now there is the ideology: I am a good worker, I am a bread winner. That’s fine with me. Then we come and say: well, it’s not like that! We tell him how his wage is calculated, why there is a wage hierarchy, how he is classified in it, and so on.

We need those who say, whether out of materialism or pride: if it really is so stupid, then I will also criticize the interest that I have. Then I will also criticize the dependence in which I want to prove myself. Somebody must be willing to examine whether something that is a necessity for him is actually ok. You have one lever: nobody wants to say about himself: I just go along with things because I am an asshole and anyone can do anything to me. That doesn’t happen in a free society. So everyone needs an ideology to present their own involvement as their clever way of asserting themselves in the world. So everyone lives with the belief and the necessary thoughts about the rationality of the process in which he goes along. Ideology is a necessity. Otherwise we would have slaves and not free wage workers. But ideology has a weakness: it is not correct! The interest that he considers so reasonable persists, however. So if you are in a debate, your only leverage consists in letting them know: you consider the whole thing reasonable, but I tell you: you are mistaken, and I can show it to you! Everyone who says: what!? It’s supposed to not be rational what I am up for? You can’t prove that to me! Anyone who does this will win. Anyone who, at the moment when you prove that this is not correct, says: yes, but what else should I do? He does not remember the field of his ideology, but half way proves to you that it is not correct, and remembers why he maintains the ideology, because of the practical necessities that he can’t get away from even if he discards his ideology that it is reasonable. Anyone who remembers this is a lost cause. Because he refuses to debate the reasonableness of his ideology.

This morning we were in a high school, Friedrich Engels High School. We hadn’t even opened our mouths yet and the seventeen year olds were already asking: What’s your alternative? Is that realistic? What do you offer? These are the questions now that the market economy is winning here: why criticize it if it exists? I almost want to say the reverse, why should I criticize them if they do not exist? But I only want to criticize them if they exist. For example, it doesn’t cross my mind to criticize feudalism simply because it’s long been gone. Now they tell us that the market economy is coming anyhow, why are you still criticizing? As if they want to say: You should only criticize in the phase when it is not yet clear what will happen. But when it is clear what will happen, then criticism is obsolete because it happens anyway. It was all backwards, it was just attempting to show: If people immediately present whatever they have to do anyway as a counter-argument to a free thought, then you don’t need to come up with a free thought anymore. Then you only have one quite simple lever: You confess to the accusation! This can be proved, after all, you are very familiar with the accusation of ideology. The worker who says: “I can’t make the effort to examine whether capitalism sucks because I have to work” also says: “I have to orient my thinking in the way that my necessities require.” He straight up says he needs a different ideology than I am offering. Because he can never be happy as a worker with what I am offering. Think how low people sink: They say: “I must orient my mind in a way that fits the conditions because otherwise it does not fit them”!

Now a summary of “being determines consciousness”: Marx said that in capitalism there is necessary false consciousness. And I have the impression, apart from our explanation, there is no one who can maintain the categories “necessary” and “false” at the same time. The real socialists misunderstood the words “necessary false” in that “necessary” is emphasized so much that “false” is deleted: yes, if consciousness is unavoidably an expression of class position, then where is the mistake? Then it only expresses exactly what its role is! Then if I say “false,” I don’t even have to explain to him why it is “false” anymore. Instead I say: oh well, he just has a position that expresses itself in this way. And there is also the reverse: I say that he did doing something false and delete the “necessary.” (Spontaneism goes a bit in this direction.) He denies that there is a reason for the false consciousness; it is only your fear, timidity, narrow-mindedness, thus a groundless reason for your false view.

The harshness of “necessary false consciousness” consists in this: In capitalism, everyone who is a free wage worker is forced to come to terms with conditions. By the way, this is also true for communists: You don’t get bread just because you are a communist and don’t believe in money. Secondly, in conditions where you are forced to comply with their theories, consciousness of your freedom is only possible as false consciousness. It is a consciousness that thinks these economic institutions – wage labor, capital, money – are a means for you, democracy is a means for the citizen to influence the state, and so too ideas about freedom, that the world revolves around me. This consciousness, the intellectual point of view of constructive participation, is only obtained by coming up with wrong thoughts. In this sense, false consciousness is necessary in capitalism. It is not necessary – and this is how the representatives of real socialism have understood it – in an epistemological sense: one can’t think any differently! Of course, one can deal with things and ask what they are about. The contrast is clear: false consciousness is necessary not for theoretical but for practical reasons. These are, of course, not theoretically necessary reasons. There is no reason why one should not have correct thoughts. Except: then it no longer justifies one’s own practice. Then it breaks with: “I am a worker, earn my money, and bring up my children.” That is the only necessity of necessary false consciousness. But one must not think this so radically that one declares “necessary” to mean epistemologically unavoidable, so to speak, thus virtually ridding the world of the word “false.”

One last point: one can also express the contradiction that I wanted to make clear today with these words: one must be able to underline both adjectives in necessary false consciousness equally, although they constitute a contradiction. Necessary and false are a contradiction. I can’t say at the same time: necessary and mistaken. Mistaken means you made an error, an avoidable mistake. Here Marx says: in capitalism necessary false consciousness is everywhere. I tried to explain how it is that a misunderstanding of “necessary false” deletes the “false.” Because if it is really necessary, then it is also no longer false. It is like a storm: if it is really necessary and inevitable, then one should not criticize it. Anything that is necessary and inevitable can’t be criticized. One can only criticize that which does not have to be. But that is how people are: they do not criticize what does not have to be, but they constantly criticize the weather.