On the the Ums-Ganze Alliance booklet Ruthless Criticism

Translated from GegenStanpunkt 1-2013

On the Ums-Ganze Alliance booklet:
“State, World Market and the Reign of False Freedom”[1]

Instead of criticism of the system of exploitation,
a radical-critical rejection of the “system constraints”

The issue

There was once a workers’ movement. Proletarians fought for their livelihoods and saw their enemy as the capitalist class. Quite axiomatically, their struggles were the reference point for every critical thinker who had an objection to state and society; they were even the “bearers of progress” who would bring about and shape the “New Times.” Intellectuals, Marx and Engels and their opponents, addressed this movement, and influencing it was the practical aim of their theoretical activity. After all, what the working class would find necessary and appropriate for overcoming the various forms of its misery depended on how they explained it. Some attributed hunger, children’s and women’s labor, unsanitary housing conditions, exclusion from education, poverty in old age, illness, and unemployment to the wage labor relation as the cause of these evils, while others blamed it on the lack of working class representation in the government; the factions fought out the debate between “reform or revolution” accordingly. That was a long time ago. Today it’s generally accepted, even by wage earners, that a job with social insurance is the highest thing that a modern person can hope for – after all, a lot of people are denied this privilege – and that the only conditions worthy of criticism begin outside relations between wage labor and capital that are regulated by collective bargaining: for example, in the long-term unemployment of welfare recipients, in the realm of extremely low wages, among migrants and marginalized people; in any case, no longer among the proletariat, but the precariat.

People who are still outraged by social and other grievances today no longer look for and find their common denominator; or rather, they look for and find that grievances are cases of failures by those responsible for their tasks, of ignorance of the consequences of political actions, or of a general lack of humanity. Such outraged people do not need theory. Their sense of justice tells them what is good and what is bad, and everyone who has their heart in the right place must agree with this. Their critical standpoint has nothing to do with carrying out any kind of criticism. They are practically committed to doing good by demonstratively making demands on the responsible authorities or by improving the world themselves through donations, various social projects, and “food banks.” In these circles, theory is seen as a waste of time at best, and usually a distraction from and obstacle to the activism whose urgency is beyond question in view of such scandalous abuses.

The Ums-Ganze group has responded to such protest initiatives and their moral self-satisfaction and hostility to theory with the message that a selective will to improvement which does not care about the causes that give rise to the deplored grievances remains blind and inconsequential: “Movements need a theory!”; and precisely one that proves the many abuses are not a coincidence, but are part of a system. Anyone who wants to eliminate them must deal with “the whole thing” [ums-ganze] in order to “critique social domination as a whole” (this and subsequent quotes are from the booklet) because:

“Otherwise, politics drifts off into naïve activism. Those, who wish to concern themselves with concrete issues usually miss the context from which state-mediated capitalist competition emerges. From a perspective critical of domination, all the alternatives of pragmatic politics are usually equally wrong.” (22)

With this argument, the Alliance attempts to radicalize the critical activism of others and win them over to a broad rejection of capitalism; it opposes what it calls reformism with “abolishing the reign of state and capital.” (99)

The great discovery: The capitalist system is “a system,” its content is “constraint”

On closer inspection, the entire theory offered by the authors of the booklet is a formal reminder that the many “concrete issues” are necessary and connected. After all, anyone who wants to “investigate how these spheres [state, world market, law or politics] correspond and interact to systematically reproduce social domination, exploitation, and exclusionary collectivism . . . starting with the elementary structure of bourgeois-capitalist society” (5) is already promising something: anyone who wants to conceptualize the domination and exploitation of the capitalist system and to explain its ‘systemic character’ is attempting to clarify how the political-economic order of business, including its established necessities, fits together in its logic and as a whole is a system – the mere word explains nothing. Explanations of this kind are also imperative if one wants to be convincing in one’s critique that the world of bourgeois freedom is one of domination and exploitation. In this respect, however, there is a complete absence of explanation from the authors. For example, they claim to have discovered the following about the realities of bourgeois society:

“. . . the subjugation of all under the impersonal, systematic coercion of capitalist valorisation. That is to say, the in principle limitless compulsion to constantly re-invest profits anew as capital, and while doing so to displace other capitals subject to the same compulsion. In the competition between wage-workers, enterprises, and states as production locations, this drive to valorisation encompasses every corner of the planet.” (30)

So they have read Marx, and by “capitalist valorization” they have correctly brought up the determining economic purpose of the bourgeois circus. But they don’t consider the necessities that it brings into the world worth investigating: They take the circumstance, the fact that a regime rules here that nothing and nobody manages, for the essence, and they conceptualize this in a fundamentally wrong, abstract way. The authors see capitalism and everything that prevails within it as the manifestation of a purely formal principle of a necessity that is empty of content, thus dissolving all the determinations of the capitalist system into the indeterminacy of a “systematic coercion,” and by this they want to have grasped everything that is an issue in the furthest “corner of the planet.” They speak of “competition,” and they are obviously aware that there are quite different subjects competing against each other as “wage workers,” “enterprises,” and “states.” In their abstract view of things, however, they are just as indifferent to this as they are to the different purposes these subjects pursue in their competition and the means they use to achieve them: They abstract away from everything they have before them and towards the empty idea of an all-pervading power, which they have construed for themselves by doubling valorization into a “compulsion to valorize,” and from there they discover only the same thing in any differences. A very strange critique of capitalism is in the works. It reduces whatever is at issue in capitalism: Wherever one looks, one discovers the same thing, namely embodiments of one’s own abstract idea called ‘systematic coercion,’ and that only confirms the finding that coercion prevails everywhere –

“This drive to valorisation is the inescapable principle of the capitalist mode of production. It is, to formulate the matter paradoxically, a ‘natural law of society’. And because this law decides rather concretely over life and social participation, it leaves its mark upon every zone of so-called individuality.” (21)

The compulsions and necessities that the bourgeois individual has to obey in his everyday life, including the mute obligations which arise in the form of material duress from all the circumstances that he has to deal with in practice: The reader may gladly think of all this when the quote alludes to the “concrete” and immutable precedents which decide over “life” in capitalism. But as an objection to the lifeworld of capitalism, everything that may come to mind is far too cheap for the radical-critical authors. First, they invoke the existence of this inescapable necessity called ‘valorization compulsion’ into which they have dissolved all the real necessities by reciting about five times in succession the same tautology about the “systematic coercion” which coercively effects the system as a whole: the said coercion is a “principle,” and as such “inescapable,” which is the least one can expect from a principle with the content of coercion. As such, it is a “natural law,” which once again expresses the same thing in a different way, and because it “concretely” “decides,” it also “leaves its mark” on certain zones – a surprise to no one. So ‘coercion’ is always and everywhere, and because people in a society are governed by it, the same can also be expressed in the metaphor of a “natural law of society.” The authors have also borrowed this metaphor from Marx. In contrast to this, however, they have no intention whatsoever of explaining what seems to them “paradoxical,” i.e. something that cries out for explanation, and thus resolving the paradox. Conversely, they present this as a finished concept of capitalist society, taking Marx’s metaphor for the thing and thus presenting the scandal that capitalism constitutes for them: It functions because people willingly do things, but what they do isn’t up to them as the authors of their doings, but is dictated to them by an “anonymous compulsion,” an “iron law” (p. 24 and passim throughout the text). It is not the material necessities that work through bourgeois life in one way or another that are the subject of this “radical critique.” For the authors, the scandal of this society is not the regime of legal regulations which for many goes hand in hand with the notorious exclusion from all the means of making this life bearable, while for a few others it is the sweet duty to provide for the accumulation of their wealth: These critics interpret all the “objective constraints” into which humanity finds itself trapped in capitalism, and which dictate a life in poverty for some and the methods of productive exploitation for others, as the sign of a wrong society, as a disaster that humans bring on themselves, insofar as out of their free will they only do what they are compelled to do. And what exactly are they doing? And, above all, what are they doing wrong and that would be subject to criticism? Or to put it another way: who, when it comes to all the goings-on in the capitalist world, always thinks only of ‘coercion,’ and what kind of criticism is this anyway, when it’s only argument boils down to this?

To give a preliminary answer to this and to clarify the difference between critique and this kind of “radical critique”: Critique has its starting point in the interests that go to the dogs in this system, and it gets to the bottom of this. It does not accept the appearance with which the capitalist rules of procedure, together with their institutions, present themselves as an ensemble of conditions that can be used by all, in which it is only a matter of making the best of them. Rather, it attributes these conditions to the socially dominant purpose which solidifies into a necessity and which every interest that causes trouble for them has long since been subordinated to. In this and the antagonisms that go along with it, it identifies the content of what appears to the whole world as an established “coercive necessity,” and thereby explains the objective reason, the necessity for the failure of the many. In the case of the authors of the booklet, on the other hand, all criticism is summed up in the fact that people in capitalism simply do what they themselves have not mandated: A “coercive necessity” dictates to them what they must and must not do – as if necessities were able to do that! None of what the beloved people do and what is imposed on them and their interests in their actions is the subject of this critique. Instead, an invitation is extended to see capitalism as a real staging of the problematic case which is discussed in philosophy seminars under the theme ‘Alienation from the Young Marx to the Late Camus,’ and for this distinctive dialectic the critics also find a literary figure in which the whole of capitalism finally descends to the outward concomitant of the main thing they consider exciting about it and their whole critique. Here people already make a society, but not one that laughs at them as an alter-ego, but rather one that escapes their control, that instead dictates behind their backs what they do in their social lives – and their whole critique consists in this interpretation of capitalism as the negation of an idea of socialization which the critics could well agree with: it is a single “enforcement of self-constraint” (21, in the text passim approx. 10 times), and because it is a capitalism, its concept is the capitalist “enforcement of self-constraint.”

With this empty formula, the authors have found the key to understanding the goings-on of “people,” i.e. the machinations of rulers as well as the activities of money owners, the tribulations of the wage-dependent masses as well as the survival struggles of a Hartz IV precariat. This is not without consequences for the theory about the state, the capitalists and the rest of the competition, which they further expound on and with which they want to make their view of things convincing.

The demonization of “systemic coercion” in five steps:

The state – a prisoner of its own sovereign reason

The fact that the capitalist order is the work of state force does not escape the authors of the booklet. It is a “non-partisan monopoly on the use of force” (33) that creates the legal rules of private property, ensures legal equality, freedom of contract, and many more of the “essential preconditions of capitalist competition” (ibid.) in a location. With the purpose to which the state power binds the productive activity of its citizens with the force of law – they should earn money, increase property – and with the decreed forms in which they may pursue their self-interest, political rule establishes the society it governs as the material basis of its power: With the capitalism that it brings into the world, the bourgeois state provides itself – one hears from the authors – with “the macroeconomic foundation of its own existence.”(35) That sovereign powers, when they engage in trade and other transactions with each other, are concerned with themselves, with the increase of their power, is likewise known to them – “the world market is the source of state power” (108, German edition) – they also clearly know the means by which they tend to shape the international procedural rules of their competition to favor themselves: When they “assert themselves”(21) against others, their “own economic weight,” which their business location gives them, functions as a weapon of extortion, and sometimes the weapons that they also have at their disposal do. According to the authors, the states are “worldpolitical trustees and agents of the global opportunities for valorisation of their own national economies”(52) – there is no end to the number of passages in the booklet in which the authors document what the bourgeois state is for them in any case: the political subject of violence that obtains the foundation of its power with capitalism. But they do not let this judgment stand. Wherever they talk about the state and its sovereignty, its power and its achievements, every judgment on the matter is accompanied by a great intellectual “on the one hand.” Because for them everything can only be completely understood as determined by the power of the system, they regularly follow up their remarks on the power of the state with a return back and add a very big “on the other hand”: Even the creators of the capitalist order are subject to the omnipotence of the system constraint which nothing and nobody can escape. These theorists speak of domination and exploitation in order – as quoted above – to exemplify the “systematic character” of both, and now it becomes clear what these system theorists mean by this: It comes down to a political economy of capitalism that sees the monopolist on the use of force as a dependent derivative of its own machinations and attests to the sovereign’s powerlessness over its own work. Goethe’s sorcerer’s apprentice sends his greetings, even though he never succumbed to absurdities of the following kind:

“Within the framework of this form determination guaranteed by the state, the capital relation develops as a comprehensive system of social dependencies. This applies to the economic relationships between citizens of a state, as well as for the state’s own macroeconomic destiny as a location for globalised capital valorisation. The general conditions of capitalist globalisation are periodically renegotiated between states. However, every recognised sovereign can only intervene according to its own economic power and the potential — contingent upon that economic power — of exercising direct military force. States are thus always driven to macroeconomic egoism. The political room for maneuver is thus always defined by the general drive to valorisation and its particular cyclical trends, which are not subject to arbitrary political manipulation.” (33) “Thus the limits of the political are already inherent in its capitalist form determination.” (34)

So capitalism does not develop as a work of state power, but “as” something, namely as a “comprehensive system,” from which it can be learned that it consists of “dependencies.” That’s all one needs to think about, but it’s also better not think about much more, in order to be able to accuse the policies of sovereign states, which they pursue in their own sphere of power as well as against each other, of non-sovereignty. The reason of their rule, capitalism with its law of value, which they impose on their societies and for whose success they reciprocally use each other and the rest of the world at the same time, simply leaves the sovereigns – this is the clear finding – no free choice in the practice of their craft. This can be inferred from the “general conditions” of competition, which are still mentioned as the subject matter, which are “renegotiated” by states – but what the renegotiations are about and what is at stake for the rules of procedure of their worldwide trade is left as indeterminate by the authors as the nature of the disputes and the subjects that states regularly clash over in connection with their negotiations. They obviously do the latter, as the quote shows. But the only thing the authors consider worth mentioning about the reciprocal blackmail manoeuvres that the sovereigns deploy by means of their economic and violent potencies is that, due to their limited reach, limits are also drawn to the assertion of state power: As a recognized “sovereign,” such a subject of supreme power can’t do whatever it wants in the way it would be expected to! At least the critics of the state seem to have a certain horizon of expectations in this respect – otherwise they would probably not come to the devastating conclusion that states, which in their view also compete for their advantage, experience their egoism as a coercive dictate on their own mobility: In their view, states enter into international competition in order to win, and because they can only assert themselves to the extent that their means of power “intervenes,” these same powers see themselves “driven” in that they must fight for their advantage! By using their power to execute the objective constraints that lie in the “economic foundations of existence” which they themselves have established, these bourgeois states are nothing but a document of their powerlessness. One almost wants to advise the authors to take a look at the newspaper. But given how they think, that wouldn’t do much good: They speak of political “manipulation,” but it is quite wrong to think about things that are “manipulated,” by whom, with what interest, and for what reason. One would have to deal with them – but the authors only want to take from all the evidence of the political creative power of bourgeois states, both internally and externally, the proof that the subjects here are subject to a subjectless coercion and that, for them, therefore, virtually nothing can be “subject to arbitrary political manipulation.” Usually the apologists of the bourgeois state power use the keyword ‘globalization’ to invoke barriers and objective constraints in order to justify the practiced national egoism as a compelling imperative of circumstances to which there is no alternative – here it is the critics of the state who want to affirm its inescapability, using the same ‘argument’ that bourgeois ideologues use as an excuse for everything. They do not even bother with the logic of this state egoism and its content, the principles of bourgeois rule, which turns the regime of property into a legal order. For them, the main thing about the rights that states assert against each other and the interests in whose name they do so is the fact that there is no alternative because they are “determined by the system,” and what they are getting at with the nonsense about interpreting the real actions of states as the prevention of indeterminate possibilities, they also say: at the “limits of the political” that are drawn in this capitalist world! So there is no longer any need to talk about what capitalism is all about and what the reason of state is all about, with which it makes this matter its own, in order to fully understand the political economy of the dominant mode of production: It prevents states from unfolding all the beautiful possibilities that friends of philosophical essences such as ‘the political’ have done since Aristotle and for whom even altruism between nations is within the realm of the possible.

The bourgeois state can’t pursue any other policy than the one it pursues: This is the intricately devised theoretical lesson that these fundamentalist critics deem appropriate with respect to people who want a different policy from this state power. The authors refer to “social struggles,” to “trade unions” who want things to be more socialized, fairer, or otherwise nicer in the location, and tells them, as well as all the other “humanists” who are “naïve and superficial” (104, German edition), that they should kindly forget about their wishes. Not because they are putting the fox in charge of the henhouse when they turn to the state with their wishes for a better world; after all, those who hold power, who govern a capitalist location, definitely have other things on their agenda than bestowing their people with happiness and prosperity. The fact that these socially and morally motivated “reformists” are offended by how badly people are treated by their political authorities is certainly conceded to them by their radical critics – and dismissed as a triviality compared to the main point they have to make in this context: “The political” has no “room for maneuver” due to the “drive to valorization,” and a better world is not possible from this state because, for all its power, it is “inescapably” entangled in its “capitalist form determination” – it is a victim of the law of value that it has released into the world and is “driven” by it to always think only of itself, its power and its foundations, and the augmentation of both.

In terms of “theory,” which, according to the authors, is absolutely needed by practitioners who want to make changes, a comment on the matter should be permitted with respect to this pompous bugaboo about a subjectless systemic power that rules over the real rulers. Politicians take care of state affairs, are guided by its criteria for success, calculate with its means, and act within the framework of the alternatives that they find as politicians and really don’t have to invent themselves. They have no need to understand the logic of the system of bourgeois rule that they execute; such a thing would only hinder their professional endeavors in fulfilling the settled agenda and increasing the power of their political system in combination with their power in the political system. The science that is part of this system is not concerned with understanding it either; it earns the title “bourgeois” by the fact that its theories reproduce the standpoint of policy, the concern with the success of business and force, in all kinds of one-sided variants, that is, by replacing explanation with precautionary, success-oriented problematizations. The concept of these relations is needed by those who are bothered by them and want relief from them; for with the concept, the relations lose the appearance of being self-evident, of being a given fact to be accepted in principle and improved in practice. But then, in any case, one does not fixate on the assertion that the world of politics is an ensemble of inviolable constraints, ‘already’ presupposed and pre-set for all interests and all purposes as the ‘condition of their possibility’: This may be meant quite terribly critically, but it is nothing but the transcendental philosophical absolutization of the false appearance – castigated by Marx as “fetishism” – that in the bourgeois world things have in fact come to rule over interests and purposes. When, in fact, there is nothing but the rule of very specific purposes and interests in the objectively given relations.

The capitalists – economic character masks without economic character

With the same logic that the authors have used to expose the bourgeois state as the ultimately powerless executor of anonymous powers, they turn to the species of owners whose interest is the dominant one in the established mode of production. But this is what one has to listen to: “Even the capitalists are condemned by the bond of competition to make a profit or go down.” (20). What they are condemned to is certainly known to the authors in detail. That private owners are each concerned with increasing their own wealth; that they clash because they are all doing the same thing, buying dead and living means of production, having goods manufactured in order to sell them at a profit, and denying each other their success in doing so. The fact that the capitalists themselves, by pursuing their interest in enrichment, produce the constraints of the competition to which they are exposed is as little a mystery to the authors of the booklet as the form in which this process takes its course: It never ends, because every price level, every level of productivity and rationalization, every amount of capital advanced is always only the transitional stage to the next higher level of competition. But again, everything they perceive in the activities of the capitalists and attribute to its determining “law” is only the prelude to the relativizing reminder of what has been said: as with the state, when they look at the activities of the capitalists they again see themselves confirmed in their “intuition” that this can only manifest what they have found out about the power that rules the whole show:

“namely the intuition that in its endless drive to valorisation, the society of state and capital does in fact become independent vis-à-vis the very people who in fact recreate this society everyday.” (59)

Then they provide another example of the enormously widespread method of thinking which subsumes reality under one’s own prejudice. With ‘productivity’ and ‘profitability’ they bring up the weapons of capitalist competition – not in order to explain something about them, but as documents of the principle by which they have explained capitalism:

“The capitalist drive to maximum productivity and profitability is in the final instance an impersonal one, even when it is organised by specific capitalists and diligently implemented by specific wage labourers (Marx therefore speaks of ‘character masks’ as ‘personifications of the economic relations that exist between them.’ It is a drive which through the competition between people and national economies assumes an independent nature against those very people.” (63)

If one takes an unbiased look at the activities of these specific capitalists and wage laborers, one comes across many things that the members of both classes have in common, i.e. what unites them, what determines the identity of their class, and their opposition to the other: In this way, one infers from their practical actions the logic inherent in the objective laws of their source of income as the reason for their activities. One can also, as in the Marx quote above, begin the analysis with the economic matter, with the necessities that commodities and their exchange, money and the peculiarities of its multiplication, are subject to, and from these arrive at the legal and voluntary relations which the members of capitalist society enter into among themselves: Here, too, the latter turn out to be “bearers” of the former, as people who make the economic content they find into their cause, and therefore also run around as ‘personifications’ of the economic relations, as in the Marx quote. The discovery of the drive referred to in the above quote can’t be reached by either of these two paths: this is the product of a false abstraction. In fact, with their ambitious business activities, the entrepreneurs set in motion an economy they are good at handling, but whose reason and logic they do not understand at all: an absurd relationship between a vigorously pursued business interest and the subsumption of the entire social reproduction process, which is thereby operated without any concept, under the technology of private enrichment. This relationship is, however, anything but an essence that takes effect behind their backs, whose essential content determination would consist in the formalism that “through” the actions of “people” it “assumes an independent nature against those very people.” One only falls for such an absolutization of the bourgeois wisdom about the "invisible hand" that governs market events if one merely wants to make one’s dogma of an enforcement to self-constraint come alive in the material of capitalist competition. Only then does one assign importance to the observation that in this competition – if one only immerses oneself very, very deeply in it, namely “in the final instance”something asserts itself impersonally. This is the only reason why the second step is to fall back on reality in such a way that, once again, nothing is explained about the activities of the real people who are summoned with “specific” because they are only allowed to certify that the whole of humanity is unaware of the “drive” that rules over them: “even when” it is real wage laborers and capitalists who put its validity into practice, they have no idea that it is thoroughly “impersonal.” And it is only because they want to illustrate their own empty formula as dramatically as possible that they write such a hideous sentence, which deals with absolutely nothing these free and equal legal persons do in their competition, but wants them to have been made more complete in their conceptualization: They are puppets of a power whose sole purpose is to act powerfully, and so powerfully that it works against them “through” the activities of “people and national economies” – obviously the authors believe so firmly in their own invention that they still see a difference between people and national economies, but consider it absolutely irrelevant in view of their great discovery.

The wage earners – mutated from revolutionary subject into “nationalized proletariat”

Even when explaining the living conditions of the wage-dependent masses, who in this system increase wealth in the hands of others, everything noted about the matter is only mentioned to get off their chest the deeper meaning that lies buried in the “overall system” – for example:

“The freedom of wage labour forces direct producers to participate in the competition for productivity, which is activated by the permanent competition between private capitals. It is the freedom of self-constraint.” (39)

This is another one of those wondrous sentences where one can think many things about the dialectic of freedom and constraint only to be told to think of the all-encompassing formula that the authors have in mind and which does not fit any of the things one has thought of. With the keyword ‘freedom,’ for example, one can think of the authority from which it comes: then one is essentially dealing with the state’s disposal over legal persons and with all the practical constraints that characterize their interaction, the competition between free and equal but differently propertied owners. With the keyword ‘wage labor,’ one can visualize the lack of freedom that sets in as soon as someone has a job: It is a single materialized ensemble of specifications for the performance that its proud holder has to deliver. In this context, it may also occur to one that in the self-perception of such job holders, the constraints to which they are subject appear quite differently: Mostly as something they have perfectly under control and makes them look like heroes in the life struggle which the state commands them to with the right of freedom. The authors allude to all this – only to leave nothing out in the sum they draw from it all: The real world of constraints that makes up the existence of wage laborers “forces” them to always “participate” in everything that not they themselves, but their capitalist masters and mistresses are forced to do. The “drive to valorization” is the subject that voluntarily-involuntarily forces the wage laborers to obey via the capitalists’ self-imposed compulsion, and they then also impose this compulsion on themselves: In this idea of a systematically imposed will to participate, the authors dissolve everything about the cause in which one participates and also about the will of those who participate in it all. In doing so, they may not have understood anything about anything, but they have provided themselves with an incontestable basis for understanding why leftist critics of the system should bury their hopes for the working class as the subject of revolution once and for all. For this class also imposes on itself the systemic constraints which the state stages as the supreme subject – getting this across to their left-wing readership is a very special concern of the authors:

“The revolutionary hope that the continued exploitation of the proletariat would inevitably compel it to abolish all exploitation and domination has not been fulfilled.” (40)

Whoever has taken the side of the proletarians’ cause and whatever hopes they may have had: for a logical split second, the authors sympathize with all the sympathizers of the workers’ movement and note the sad fact that there can be no doubt that the ‘class standpoint’ has passed. However, they interpret this “revolutionary hope,” disappointed by the course of events, as something that reveals the opposite of sympathy for the cause that might once have been important to revolutionary proletarians. The verb “force” in the quote still allows for a rational reading: if the system of exploitation denies the proletarians their livelihood, then they must fight for their interests and, if they are consistent, fight the system for the sake of their interests. The authors, however, aim for a completely different interpretation. For them, revolution is not something that a class decides to do because it has recognized the systemic reason for its misery, but a product of misery itself. For them, the hope that has not been fulfilled consists of a disappointed belief in an automatism, according to which the unsustainability of their situation somehow – or rather: inevitably – forces proletarians to take the step of revolution, which is why, in their conception of a revolutionary class, one can simply buy off the revolutionary spirit:

“Decisive for the continued existence of the capitalist state throughout all crises was the political integration of the working class on the basis of the improvement of its material condition.” (ibid.)

Because they see revolution as something like a reflex of workers to living conditions that become simply no longer bearable, it is immediately obvious to them that such mindless and will-less appendages of their circumstances are suddenly satisfied when a caring patron called the state takes care of them. The authors cite labor protection laws, social benefits, and education as examples of how the state successfully satisfies the materialism of wage earners on the one hand, while at the same time diverting them to itself as the very first condition for satisfying their material hardships, with the result:

“The dependency of citizens upon the success of national wealth production objectively superimposes itself upon the class antagonism to which party-based Marxist dogmatism had tied its revolutionary hopes.” (43)

The authors do not even want to tell the party-based Marxist dogmatists that class antagonism is completely gone. They only modestly emphasize that, in their eyes, it no longer plays a role given the citizens’ dependence on their state. In this dependence, they see their dogma confirmed once again, namely another manifestation of the systemic effect of a coercive lawfulness which expresses itself here in the form of the state taking possession of the proletarian class. Their willing participation in the freedom-based class state is not their doing at all. It “does not document in the first instance the lack of ‘class consciousness,’” (43) i.e. it does not document the mistake of the members of this class that they take an affirmative stance to the practical coercion to which they see themselves exposed, that they take the conditions of the established rules of procedure positively as a means for their advancement as self-confident activists in their life struggle, and then rely on the state, the violent creator and guardian of their hostile living environment, as a protective power and political guardian of their interests. No, for the authors, this active exercising of all the freedoms granted, which means subordination to all the established constraints that exist in the world, once again only “documents” the boundless “powerlessness” to which the system condemns its elements. Where the members of the class ignore their real economic identity and calculatingly replace it with an imaginary one with their state, these anti-Marxist dogmatists see only the next case study of the passivity to which the “coercion of valorization” forces “people”: for them, it “reveals” – not the wrong conclusion that proletarians draw from their dependence, but –

“Rather, it reveals the historical stand of the objective nationalisation of the proletarian class, its integration into the national-economic ‘we.’” (ibid.)

So the wage earners are “objectively nationalized”: Not only is class missing from their consciousness, they actually have no consciousness about anything, especially not about their state. The state provides them with a means of living and in doing so makes these creatures so dependent on itself that the affirmation of the donor settles into the mind of the recipient as an “automatic emotional state” (46): The revolutionary subject has mutated into a pure disposable mass of the state and, as a being objectively formed “into a Volksgemeinschaft (national collective) with a common destiny”(43), awaits whatever comes its way.

In the political ideal of fascism, these radical critics find the closest suitable image of the systemic power that determines “life,” and like Marx and his ‘natural laws’ of the capitalist economy, they take the metaphor for the thing and see themselves once again justified in what they consider to be the concept of bourgeois reality by fascist ideology. That is why, conversely, what they have discovered about the proletariat as the will-less playdough of their state is also their entire explanation of German fascism:

“The unmediated relationship of the German individual to the state was a power source of national willingness to sacrifice and steadfastness down to the last bullet in the economic and military competition between states.” (84)

Even a world war and a genocide can be made plausible with the empty formula of ‘enforcement of self-constraint,’ but even the Führer, who was certainly not unfamiliar with the projection of the nation and its mission into the German individual, would vehemently protest against this: He was a statesman and therefore realistic enough to force his people into the virtue of “willingness to sacrifice,” the yields of which he was keen on. And against these fantasies of the ‘unmediated relationship of the German individual to the state,’ it should at least be pointed out – ‘theory’ was indeed promised – how power and powerlessness really work: The entire power of a state is based simply on individuals seeing themselves as a people and submitting to the authority of their masters. Even if the mistake has become a habit and a matter of course for them, they are not in “an unmediated relationship to the state” – nobody but themselves, in their fatal calculation that rule is a means of their advancement, prevents them from realizing that they would be better off taking their happiness into their own hands. So much for the “powerlessness” that the system “forces” its proletarian inhabitants into: If they didn’t declare themselves powerless in the pursuit of their own interests and instead practically set about correcting their mistake, all this capitalist nonsense would suddenly come to an end.

All activists of free competition together – cheated of true freedom by the false one

But such reminders of real life in the coercive society dominated by capitalist control must seem unworldly to the authors of the booklet. After all, they want to have characterized and criticized all the antagonisms of the capitalist rules of exploitation with its dichotomy between systemic constraint and freedom – the opposite pole always follows the first, otherwise it would indeed not be a constraint. Poverty, lifelong work that doesn’t amount to much, and the constant insecurity of the wage earner’s existence – all of this is understood as, and drowned out, in a “lack of self-determination and social powerlessness.” The power of the owners of capital to arrange the reproduction process of society as a means of their exclusive enrichment is seen through as merely illusory because it is only achieved – “in the final instance,” as the escape clause regularly states – through subordination to the impersonal requirements of competition and is therefore absolutely unfree. Again, the authors would never want to deny that the members of civil society are free to pursue their interests, that they are allowed to use whatever belongs to them to exploit the dependence of others on their things or services, and that they do not have to obey any obligations, other than legal ones, that they have not freely agreed to. In terms of freedom, there is nothing lacking – for the authors of the booklet, however, the main thing lacking in this freedom is:

“‘Autonomy’ in capitalist societies does not mean that one can do what one wants or what one should reasonably do. It essentially means that one can at any time enter a legal contract, that is to say one can (and must, in order to survive) enter into a business relationship — insofar as somebody else can be found, who also has a private interest in this transaction.” (29)

Where did these philosophers actually get the promise that capitalist society supposedly fails to fulfill when it comes to ‘autonomy’? As far as the first half of their missing person’s report is concerned, bourgeois society is full of well-meaning people on an educational mission to vigorously teach young children and older kids that in this country “you can’t do whatever you want.” They, like all educators and other self-appointed governesses, always garnish their rules of etiquette with the recommendation: but please only “do what you should within reason,” so that one wonders what deficit these critics are actually complaining about. Especially since they are completely silent about what they think is within reason and what one should therefore do, so that the second half of their negative report contains nothing more than a formal invocation to be reasonable – and that of all things should be missing?! Then comes what bourgeois society has to offer its citizens who have been bestowed with autonomy, and one learns for a second time that autonomy in capitalism does not mean what the critics imagine it to mean: In essence, freedom would only be the freedom to conclude contracts, to enter into business relationships, which private individuals enter into for the sake of their interests. So? What do we now know about the legal institution of private autonomy when we are told the main form in which private individuals make use of it? For the critics, apparently, everything, because they are not concerned with the nature of the interests and the conflicts which the contracting parties come to terms over. They don’t care what the exchange of labor for money and all the other specialties from the world of the civil contract is all about, what levers of blackmail one contracting party uses to appropriate the will of the other and make it usable for his own interest. That freedom moves solely within the prescribed boundaries of contractual matters, and is therefore entirely dependent on how someone manages to get by within these boundaries and whether he can find a business partner at all: With this formalism of dependency, they construct capitalism as a single negation of the autonomy that it actually promises. A man is not at all free because, as a person who is only free of contract, he is and always will be dependent on the calculations of others – a moral lament that at least reveals the content of the ideal they believe capitalism has cheated mankind of: Calculation-free interpersonal relationships and similar moral highlights from the early Jesus to the mature Geissler – for them that’d be great!

“Autonomy” – the critics have ideally adopted this fine value as their highest object of protection; it is this that goes to the dogs in the machinery of coercion that works “through” the inhabitants of the system and determines the actions of everyone, and here again they betray their affinity with the apologists of the bourgeois world. Because, objectively speaking, this noble title is nothing more than the ultimate exaggeration of all the ideologies in circulation about the ordinary competition of class society as a paradise of freedom. In one way or another, they all amount to whitewashing a world full of antagonisms into a sphere in which “the self” – everyone for himself and tending to be in harmonic unison with all the others – forges his happiness in life and “realizes himself” in it – and the quintessence of this, the ideality of self-realization intended for one’s self, is expressed by the foreign word. But for the Ums-Ganze authors, this deceitful decorative label of the practiced antagonisms of the bourgeois world is precisely the real telos of all human suffering and is known to be the decisive test standard for the critique of everything that humanity achieves in its socialization. In their theory, this headstand has its own – certainly wrong, but simple – intellectual logic. “Autonomy,” the formal idea of the self as master of itself, is the imaginary antipode to everything that is constantly being negated by the “systemic compulsion” and “enforcement of self-constraint,” the formal idea of the self as not-master of itself. Capitalist reality has to be understood as a litigious contradiction between these two degenerations of the art of abstract thinking, in which freedom, which really does exist, then takes its appropriate place: a self confined within a “system” is bestowed with a whole host of freedoms that give it the illusion of autonomy, but which in reality are not, because they merely consist – as in the quote above – of, for example, concluding “legal contracts.” If the freedoms of a legal person are measured by what a philosopher thinks when he hears the keyword ‘autonomy’ and considers to be true freedom, then they are simply the insignia of a “false freedom” (title of the booklet, passim in the text in variants that seem about 30 times). But only then, which is why in the further discussion of bourgeois freedom and its yields one consistently learns nothing more about either, but instead becomes acquainted time and again with the standard by which they are discredited with the predicate ‘false’:

“Under the unceasing pressure of capitalist competition, the individual, in the case of economic advancement, experiences the frustration that the social content of bourgeois freedom and equality has little to do with the resonant emancipative promise of those words.” (30)

So “the individual” has experiences, even if maybe not under the “unceasing pressure of capitalist competition,” but rather perhaps with his active participation in the same. Somehow they are always disappointing, sometimes or even more often certainly “frustrating,” even for the rich. But under no circumstances does anyone in this world experience what has been mulling exclusively in the minds of these critical philosophers to the point of deep frustration: they interpret bourgeois freedom as a “promise.” They see their ideal of ‘autonomy’ and everything else they have stored away in their idyllic imaginary worlds of freedom and human happiness as tainted by the disgraceful reality in which freedom-based life goes on – and then, as the actual source of all their dissatisfaction, they blame on people their disappointment that the course of events does not obey the “content” that they have imagined it to have. These critics title the first chapter of their booklet: “Normal Execution as Catastrophe” (19), and by now it’s clear how the polemic is meant. The ‘catastrophe’ is the insanity of a society that hounds its members into a fight for money in order to satisfy even their most basic needs under the viewpoint from which the authors see it. For them, the ordinary customs of competition become a scandal because they do not actually deliver on the emancipatory promise of happiness for people that is supposed to have come into the world with the sheer fact of their socialization. They interpret capitalism as the negation of an ideal of society which they arrive at by extrapolating their ideas of human autonomy onto the community building of those autonomous people, and then with due pathos proclaim the ideal in several variations: “emancipation in solidarity of humanity from subjugation to nature and social domination,” “greatest possible harmonic organisation of social cooperation.” The realization of these values, which the bourgeois world has adorned itself with since its inception, looks, of course, very badly off under the yoke of “false freedom,” and the disaster that capitalism produces “as” the negation of a concept of true society, namely “as false socialization,” can be visualized, for example, as follows:

“The compulsory competition, as well as the crisis-dynamic of the capitalist order of reproduction, constantly calls into question the already highly exclusive gains of freedom of bourgeois individuality. The political economy of bourgeois freedom thus systematically produces individual and social powerlessness. That is its self-contradiction — which the bourgeois state maintains by force of its monopoly of violence.” (31)

Isn’t the joke about the competition the stuff it revolves around, what competitors are forcing each other to do and with what? The authors obviously see it differently. They have a firm view of competition and its content when they consider ‘coercion’ to be an essential defining characteristic of competition. Then they bring up the keyword ‘crisis’ – and wouldn’t it at least be worth knowing who or what causes it? No, because ‘dynamics’ is the main thing, and we already know everything about ‘crisis’ if we see it as the expression of a force that lies dormant within competition and that no one can escape. That would then be the second negation of freedom, and with that we have already learned everything about capitalism, which is presented here as an ‘order of reproduction’: Its essential achievement consists in negating freedom. The philosophical exegesis of the business section is then deepened with the newspaper’s arts section, and one can join the authors in celebrating the bourgeois show as a kind of progress for humanity in comparison with traditional forms of domination and servitude. There is no need to think of anything specific here either, because the only thing that needs to be said about the beautiful ideal of ‘freedom’ is that, firstly, it is highly exclusive and, secondly, it is always threatening to slip away. ‘Coercion’ & ‘dynamism’ vs. ‘freedom’ is therefore the front line in the battle of fictions, which in all its intellectual simplicity is of course impossible for dialectically savvy fans of individuality to express in this way: they absolutely have to choose “the political economy of bourgeois freedom” as the subject sui generis. It is not clear what the attribute is of which subject, but it is to be understood this way: where freedom is written on it, there is only capitalist economy inside, and this economy of freedom produces unfreedom – there you have the unsurpassable issue of a “self-contradiction” that can only be maintained by the state with its monopoly on violence; after all, it has nothing else to do.

At least the authors have managed to free themselves from this inescapable pandemonium of an enforcement of self-constraint and the hermetic web of imposed self-delusions about their own powerlessness. They at least have seen through the system and see themselves as an elite in matters of “emancipation” – and they explain why they are to everyone else who does not have their insight.

The nationalism of the citizens – a system that also forces its inhabitants into partisanship

The authors of the booklet, in denouncing the freedom of the subjects of capitalist competition as “false,” are faced with the fact that the members of this society do not share their view. They come to the following initial conclusion:

“In light of the comprehensive dependency of the private individual upon the competitive success of ‘his’ enterprise and ‘his’ state, his loyalty to the agencies of social domination and exploitation is only too understandable.” (57)

What, pray tell, is understandable about this loyalty? After all, it is not the citizens who depend on it, but the so-called “agencies of social domination and exploitation”: These, together with all the “dependencies” they put their citizens in, are based entirely on the fact that the members of this society allow themselves to be exploited by the state and capital – that they are keen on the loyalty of their human maneuverable masses goes without saying, but by no means that the victims of their machinations display the same towards them: The practical coercion, which no inhabitant of a market-based democracy can escape, to earn a living within and in accordance with this system of domination and thus to put themselves at the service of other peoples’ interests that are harmful to their own well-being, is anything but a good reason to approve of this coercion, to treat it with indulgent understanding and sympathetic forbearance. But those who are stuck in the dreary tautology of the “comprehensive drive to valorization” and the corresponding “comprehensive dependency” obviously no longer ask themselves any more questions and find it only logical that they can use the material of exploitation to illustrate the “drive” that it represents for them. Accordingly, the next reason these critics give for the loyalty of the citizens to everything they criticize as a monstrous apparatus of coercion is:

“Educational opportunities, jobs, economic growth, public services, and state transfer payments all depend upon the competitiveness of the national valorisation zone.” (74)

It’s interesting what the system-critical authors register as self-evidently on the side of the material services with which the state – here referred to as a “national valorization zone” – wins over its citizens: That one gathers from “state transfer payments” the poverty caused by capitalism as the persisting reason for them and its functional perpetuation as their decisive purpose; that one sees in a profitable “job” the economic relationship of exploitation that is objectified in it, and in the good reputation of this institution and the need for a job the systemic nastiness that this kind of dependent money-earning is not even secured; that “educational opportunity” is a glossed-over expression for the fact that the competition for conditions and means of self-assertion in a hierarchically constructed cosmos of professions begins in childhood and does not end until retirement, and that an “educated” person can also notice this; that with “public services” there is at least the question as to whether they serve the citizens or more their normal commissioning: This comes so little to mind to the radical critics of the system that one wonders whether they themselves have any understanding of these things – or whether ultimately they also consider “economic growth” to be a state of affairs whose confusion with a service to mankind is all too understandable for them. In any case, it is a mistake to classify the creation of growth-promoting jobs, etc., as a dependent variable of the “competitiveness” of the national location, as if the preparation of the nation’s inner life were not conversely the competitive means of states. And the embarrassing thing about this mistake is its unmistakable proximity to the lesson in civic ideology with which the ruling nationalists tend to point to themselves, to their successful assertion in world business as the very first condition which all growth and all services for their people would depend on, for which – the next lie – they alone are on the move. The authors expand this fairy tale of national competitive success as a source of private prosperity and of the state as a service provider for its subjects into their real material basis of life, painting a picture of the state that once again only illustrates from A to Z the infinite dependence and negation of any private autonomy with which citizens are cheated out of their promise of happiness under capitalism, and have thus created the irrefutable reason to believe that their loyalty is “only too understandable”: For the sake of their sheer survival, they can’t help it. At least they can do something else:

“Since every citizen can take a reading of its dependency upon the state collective from the macroeconomic cyclical data and the figures of the state budget, it has every reason to accept as patriotic obligations the impositions of national competitive success and the state mobilisation of the national human capital. The state and the nationalised individual share here a competitive interest, and thus usually act in concert with regard to demographic policy.” (78)

The authors speak of the “impositions” that the nation’s materialism bestows on its inhabitants: That they would therefore do well to shoulder these as “patriotic obligations” and to share their interests with those of the state is something they want to call into question. The reader can – and probably should – find the type of sense that people make out of the dependencies they have to deal with somehow understandable, but also problematic or even wrong – only to then find out that the question of whether the citizens are right or wrong in their nationalism is absolutely wrong. They have resorted to the art of passive thinking – a phenomenon with which we have already become acquainted in connection with the nationalized proletariat, but which the authors explain in more detail here as a mechanism all citizens fall victim to:

“The objective dependency of the individual upon the fortunes of ‘his’ state in world market competition is imparted to everyday consciousness as an obvious and ineluctable precondition of individual existence.” (74)

The loyalty that citizens show to their state, as well as the calculations they make with regard to their own material well-being for a successful outcome of the calculations which sacrifice their materialism: for these critics, these are not thoughts that people give to the circumstances they find themselves entangled in – for these theorists, dependency is something that is conveyed automatically into people’s consciousness! The everyday consciousness they are talking about is not a consciousness of something or a judgment about something – it is everyday life itself that reproduces itself in people’s heads as their consciousness; it is not they who think, but what they think is thought in them by the circumstances they can’t escape. In this way, in the minds of the authors, the inescapable systemic coercion is implanted in consciousness as a matter of course – and therefore they find it quite natural that constraints are so natural to the minds of the citizens. But that’s not all:

“This socially produced appearance of a ‘natural’ togetherness of individuals and the state creates a feeling of certainty of national identity. . . . However, the identification with the nation remains an automatic need of capitalistically atomised individuals. They are dependent elements of the nation-state and national economy, which still remain their essential social interrelation.” (75-6)

Not only consciousness, but all the rest of the political-psychological mental life of such an individual is a single product of the conditions in which he lives. The society “produces” an “appearance” of “togetherness,” that is the first self-mediation, and the illusion “creates,” this is the next one, the “certainty” in the subject that the first is a genuine “feeling”: this is “system coercion” interpreted para-psychologically for a change. Then the authors discover nothing in the competition but “capitalistically atomized individuals” – maybe ultimately concerned with competing on their own? Presumably, because how else could an “automatic need” for socialization arise in them in the first place; the absurdity of an instinct that once again conveys itself into consciousness and, bypassing his will, programs the subject to the object of its satisfaction. But that’s exactly how it seems to be, and the reader learns in the last sentence of the quote why the isolated people take refuge so “automatically” and “spontaneously” in their nation. “The nation state and national economy . . . remain” – even if they apparently don’t want to distinguish between the state and the economy: the authors announce a determination of both with the little word “remain.” What follows, however, is a big nothing, namely the explanation of the determinate by the indeterminate: state and economy are the same thing because they are a “social interrelation,” and that would then also be the essential thing about them. So the next tumble is from the concrete to the abstract.

We are used to a lot from bourgeois apologists when it comes to interpreting nationalism as a natural emotion. In their critical manner, the authors take the anchoring of the affirmation of the state as an automatism in people’s thoughts and feelings to the extreme by using their formula of the “nationalized individual” to express the pinnacle of unfreedom into which the system forces people. The empty formula of “enforcement of self-coercion,” which we already encountered at the beginning, is implanted with the material of nationalism, the unconditional partisanship of the oppressed for the apparatus of domination that oppresses them, the material with which one can imagine the ultimate perversion to which the system of “false freedom” leads: the freedom in which they live also forces its victims to affirm the authority to which they owe their bondage!

So the authors understand these pitiful creatures only too well. In their own case, of course, they completely rule out the possibility of taking refuge in the state in their quest for true autonomy and genuine socialization. But for everyone else, onto whom they project their longing for a “certainty of identity” – the philosophically pompous expression for the idea of perpetual harmony between self and world – accessing this surrogate for the real makes perfect sense to them:

“The need for a reassuring identity is an answer to the powerlessness of the individual manifest everywhere . . . As a projecting surface of an original and therefore ‘real,’ crisis-free identity, the identification with the nation guarantees a deceptive relief from the constantly latent crises and offenses of capitalist socialisation. . . . The citizen — always threatened in capitalism and tormented by contradictory compulsions — looks here for indications of a secure, unquestionable, and contradiction-free common bond rooted in an ancient past.” (76)

From what they say about the state as the founder of “false freedom,” these poets construct a psycho-pathology of the bourgeois individual as a suitable counterpart. Half of this consists of constant suffering from being denied “real” autonomy, and the other consists of the “need” for what is being denied. This means that they are only saying the same thing twice, but in a different way, which is why, to complete the circle, this need can also be interpreted as an answer to its own content. The rest follows from the same tautology: those who suffer from powerlessness take refuge in the power that cures their suffering; but because this is the same power that causes them to suffer, the “relief” they seek is only “deceptive” and there is no escape from “false socialization.” One has in fact already conceived of this with the “inescapable constraint” that constitutes it. But now we also know – as noted in the last sentence of the quote – that capitalism apparently makes use of a basic anthropological constant for the purpose of its hermetic self-compartmentalization. This figure of thought is also familiar from the arias that social psychologists and other experts sing about a value-based, properly anchored self-confidence whenever and wherever they think it appropriate to have reservations about an overly blatant ‘identification with the nation.’ But for these critical philosophers, everything that others call ‘lack of a strong ego,’ ‘existential distress’ or ‘disorientation’ is summed up as a sign of the general powerlessness to which ‘the system’ with all its constraints condemns its inhabitants. In this abstract negation of “autonomy,” which they envisage as a practiced ideal of life, they dissolve everything they allude to in material terms with their dramatic talk of the tormented citizen: For them, the citizen’s real torment consists in his longing for a genuine collective homeland – which can’t be met due to the system – and they interpret the patriotic attitude they find as the coerciveness of the system which has metastasized into the mental and emotional inner life of the citizen, to reprogram the thirst for true autonomy into the mendacious promise of happiness of an “identification with the nation”: This is how nationalism works for them and that’s their criticism of it. It therefore has a “rational core” (108, German ed.), precisely this rationale of an insatiable urge for genuine socialization, and they themselves consequently have a great deal of understanding for nationalists:

“First the identification with the sovereign power of the force monopolist promises the transcendence of the lasting experience of individual powerlessness . . . This identification with the state promises participation in its perfected power, beyond the desperate compulsions of daily valorisation.” (77)

But as much as they can understand the subjects spinning in the hamster wheel of systemic compulsion in their grasping at the only straw available to them, this only perpetuates their powerlessness: From the perspective of critics who have their eye on the “whole thing,” people who, even when attempting to emancipate themselves from powerlessness, are and will forever remain a single document of what they are inwardly rebelling against, deserve contempt rather than understanding:

“But what seems understandable from the perspective of the individual is, within the total context, an egregious contradiction and absurdity: engagement for a system of social domination, social self-incapacitation in the attempt — demanding many sacrifices — not to lose out at least as an individual.” (57)

Viewed from the lofty heights of the abstractions in which these fundamental critics think, these people in their nationalism are just one document of their inescapable imprisonment in a system that also produces the mental bias of its inhabitants towards it. In this respect, they are, on the one hand, above criticism because they are merely will-less executors of the “system constraints” that have taken root within them and ensure that they – “automatically” and “spontaneously” – affirm the constraints they suffer under. On the other hand, it is precisely this lack of will that makes them the object of these critics of the “whole thing.” They see in all those who affirm this inescapable system of coercion, which they themselves have imagined capitalism and its state to be, the ultimate confirmation of their critical philosophy: by saying Yes! to their state, they are carrying out the “social self-incapacitation” that capitalism as a whole is.


The authors come across people whose moral coordinate system finds many of the things that capitalism inflicts on people to be completely unacceptable and who turn to the state with the request that it should take care of getting rid of whatever they consider to be antisocial, unjust, or otherwise intolerable. The critics consider the “humanism” of these good people to be wrong, “superficial,” “unreflective,” and “naive” because the world is merely measured against an ideal of the good. They counter the moral idealism of this criticism by saying that one has to make clear the reason behind something that one doesn’t like; one has to know its necessities if one wants to criticize it intelligently. For this purpose, they offer their theory – and as a correction of idealistic criticism, they arrive at a judgment about capitalism that shows it to be a single perversion of all the beautiful ideas about society which good, well educated people value! They have an ideal of human self-determination in their heads that they call ‘autonomy,’ ‘identity’ or ‘maturity’ in order to give a name to their idea of a true and unadulterated humanity and the happiness of knowing oneself in society among one’s equals. They want to have taken this code of values from the capitalist world of domination and exploitation as the wrong that this world continuously practices so that they can claim that their practice is self-contradictory. This is negative dialectical thinking that could not have been done better by its Frankfurt inventors: One sees that society is continuously not realizing what one has deduced to be its true and actual purpose from this very circumstance – wow.

The “radicality” boasted by this critique is nothing but an abstract negation. The authors of the booklet, under the slogan ‘Freedom, but true!’, address the bourgeois world and the idealistic critics who operate in it with nothing more than an anarchist-tinged letter of dismissal: “State, nation, capital – shit” (demonstration slogan) – that’s all; they have no political purpose beyond this radical rejection. They are engaged in a critical thinking that exaggerates all the ideals of the bourgeois world in a highly complicated manner, and are thus inherently beyond everything that constitutes the reference point of a rational critique of the system: the damaged interests of those who create wealth under the rule of property. The fact that the standpoint of a workers’ movement has become just as obsolete as the aspirations of communists who once wanted to turn it into a movement for a revolutionary overthrow of the system is a matter of the utmost importance to them – they want to continue left-wing system critique, of course, and this is what it looks like. They plead for “revolution” and “communism” – and underpin their plea with a theory of capitalism that explicitly seeks to justify why the only material reason for both has rightly ended up in the dustbin of history: If they ever even talk about the material interests of the wage-earning class, then it is with the profound insight that they have seen through them as the link by which the state buys eternal loyalty – and accordingly deserve contempt. When they talk about trade unions and other social movements and struggles, they dismiss them with the grand gesture that anyone who gets involved with “the system” in any way to remedy their material hardships is doomed from the outset – they are correspondingly “blinded” and even “naive” if they do not notice this themselves.

In the view of these fundamentally critical philosophers, proletarians, like all other inhabitants of class society, labor under the highly immaterial circumstance that there is no right life under the “rule of false freedom.” And anyone who has purged the standpoint of damaged interests from criticism to such a radical extent, then also winds up resolutely turning over humanistic phrases into ridiculousness as the ultimate argument, is supposed to convince others of the necessity of a revolution, of all things:

“The exit of people from their self-created immaturity must be the work of conscious individuals.” (111, German ed.)

A howler creatively combined with another bad text from the history of philosophy to convey the message that revolution can’t be achieved unconsciously: Thank you for the enlightenment, we always thought it would take care of itself in its sleep.

[1] “State, World Market and the Reign of False Freedom”