Profession: Politician Ruthless Criticism

Translated from Die Jobs der Elite: Eine marxistische Berufsberatung (München: GegenStandpunkt-Verlag, 1987)


Anyone who goes into politics can rightly be described as a dropout. They leave their bourgeois profession, neglecting it partially or completely – but not because they are “not into” pursuing their inner calling. On the contrary, people who go into politics are extremely motivated. They feel called on to carry out state affairs more fairly or more competently with their personal commitment and according to their own ideas. Their decision is based on a very fundamental partisanship for the state, whether the human touch they give its actualization tends more toward “law and order,” “domestic peace,” “justice” or “the nation’s good image in the world.” People who are involved in politics are always convinced of the broad outlines of the state’s tasks, of the “problems” that have long been cataloged. They are familiar with the state offices and their responsibilities, and they consider themselves qualified to exercise the relevant powers. They feel compelled to “take responsibility” and to contribute to the exercise of state power through their actions.

In a democracy, the path to office – as the aspirants know – runs through the parties (majorities!), so they make a name for themselves in and around the political organization of their choice. This means rallies, voting, speaking and organizing, but such endeavors can be written off as sacrifices for the sake of urgently needed policies. After all, it is known that it is not about a particular interest, but about the need to act for the common good. Its success is at stake unless the right people, i.e. oneself, takes it into their own hands. What is needed are ideas that show they know how to handle the citizens and their conflicting interests. These ideas demand the utmost from the man of politics, as he faces a society full of voters with many competing concerns. Where business people and landowners discover obstacles in the way of their honest earnings, employees and tenants end up asserting all kinds of claims and rights to life. When pensioners and sports clubs, opponents of a bypass road and supporters of a pedestrian zone are at loggerheads – they all submit their requests to the authorities, and a representative of the common good wants to render a great service to its administration. He in turn can only rise through such difficult tasks. From the clash of interests he takes the importance of getting involved with his officious adjudication; and the fact that the state is almost naturally seen as the addressee for all dissatisfied citizens makes him finally aware of his responsibility. In principle, he agrees to all requests, only to then sort them according to “practical constraints” into those he does not want to deny political support and others that he simply does not consider “feasible” and puts in their place. Quite easily – and not because he favors capitalists – he comes to the conclusion that “the economy” is the last thing that can tolerate state restrictions. After all, almost everything depends on its success: jobs, contributions to the treasury, the money available to local authorities, taxes, construction activities, etc. And so on. In a genuinely non-partisan manner, he does not forget to add to his negative rulings that he, with his priorities, is always working on the conditions for the provisionally deferred measures.

The reliable fulfillment of statesmanlike duties is made somewhat easier by the fact that the canon of ideas in which a politician must be at home is quite tightly circumscribed. On the one hand, in the long-assigned ministries in which politicians at local, state, and federal levels divide up the duties of the always due state actions. On the other hand, by the extremely flexibly managed viewpoint applied to money. A serious politician carefully examines all requests and applications in the society he is to govern. In doing so, he is careful not to simply say which requests he wants to indulge and which not. Basically, he bears responsibility for everyone, and if he does not do the best for all of us, it is always due to restrictions imposed on his goodwill by the resources of the state. It is part of the elementary tools of the trade to make money available for essential tasks so that it can be used elsewhere. Of course, it is entirely up to the politician to decide what is necessary and what is “unfortunately” not possible; after all, he wants power so that he can make this decision. Nevertheless, this procedure of democratic office-holders shows how much responsibility they have to bear. Not only do they have to make a decision, they also justify it to the citizens in a very courteous manner. They tirelessly instruct all their dissatisfied compatriots that politics must be realistic and that, with power, they have actually taken on a pile of constraints that repeatedly condemn them to powerlessness.

However, it is really difficult to convey the political reason which this profession takes responsibility for when the common good confronts its representatives with the alternative they are most afraid of: we are talking about the omission of a measure proposed by a citizen, and for the simple reason that the applicable law does not permit it. Only a few democrats, practiced in insisting on the law, will distrust this practice, which is devoted to the rule of law. Not even if, on the other hand, there are always measures without a valid legal basis that simply have to be; without which the state would no longer be what it should be under good leadership: the unassailable means of life for young and old, business and labor, students and tenants, women and demonstrators. In such cases, the politician has no choice but to change the law. Arbitrariness is alien to him, the appointed administrator of the community. Either he abides by the laws in a very submissive manner – or he makes them in such a way that they comply with his mandate. In such matters, not only courage, but also tact is required, especially as the setting of priorities is entirely at the discretion of the statesman who – and this should not be concealed here – has long been fiercely assisted and competed with by stateswomen. And the competition for power always takes place in such a way that compliance with the law is demanded at one time, and legislative action is demanded at another.

The character suitability for the profession of politician is therefore not at all without challenges. It takes a strong will to power, the conviction that it is best to dictate to other people what’s what. This certainty that one always knows exactly what the “basic parameters” are and the orders that basically suit everyone’s interests or steer them in the right direction is, however, only half the job. Added to this is the profound insight that it is impossible to please everyone – in other words, a self-critical modesty as far as the effect on the people who have been favored by policies is concerned. However, doubts about the point of the sacrifice made, or even about one’s own mission, are not helpful either – they paralyze the decision-making power that the office demands. At best, they come to the realization that the power they have acquired with the office is subject to constraints that limit their freedom of action. This realization can also be shared with disappointed voters; partly with an expression of regret, partly in the form of vigorous advice to critics who have to realize that their alternatives are not realistic and therefore have no place in politics.

The ability to learn is therefore an indispensable prerequisite for the political profession. The criterion of the state, which differs fundamentally from all private interests in society, must be learned. This is also the core of the self-confidence without which a politician will not get far: the completion of political business is the condition for all other business to go ahead at all – from the various types of acquisition to marriage to expressing opinions. This exceptional position obliges a responsible politician to make use of his right to determine how the governed are to pursue their interests and what means they may use to do so. The articles of the Basic Law offer politicians a certain amount of relief in this difficult task, as they at least define the basic sources of income as property and work. This allows the statesmen to concentrate on regulating the consequences and the resulting contradictions. Strictly in accordance with the principle of equality, they decide what everyone must and must not do. Their legal guidelines and the supervision of their observance affect the banking industry as much as the environment and the unemployed. And if the blessings of political activity are reflected in very different living conditions, if rights and duties, wealth and poverty are distributed in somewhat contrasting ways, this is not due to a violation of the principle of equality by the state, but to the equal treatment that the government accords to citizens of different means. And the constitution is inviolable anyway, including the dependence of everything and everyone, even politics, on “the economy.”

In this sense, the achievements of those who dedicate themselves to politics cannot be overestimated. In all seriousness, they make the common good their private life mission. They take it upon themselves to present the guidelines for their actions to all the other citizens whose political commitment is limited to casting their votes. And they do so not out of self-interest, but with the success of the community in mind. They invest all their energy in shaping it, and the only personal success they know is the success of the state they serve. They care about national defense, even though they are not soldiers themselves; about store closing time laws, even though they don’t have a store themselves; about the right to strike, even though they never want to strike themselves; about the morality of the family, even though their own family suffers under the burden of their profession; about human rights abroad, even though they don’t live there. In short, they voluntarily act as character masks for their state, whose advancement constitutes the entire content of their career. In this respect, it is certainly okay that they do not go hungry and that the law makes sure they do not miss out on whatever’s left of their private lives.

What seems questionable, however, is the burden that these noble people have placed on themselves with the democratic form of government. As if the decision to be completely absorbed in the concerns of political power were not sufficient proof of their moral qualification for the responsible offices; as if, aware of their exceptional position as the elite among the state’s citizens, the majority of whom are only dedicated to their private happiness, they really only want to entrust the highest public service to the best among themselves, they insist that competition can only be good for politics. And to make matters worse, they leave the decision on who is allowed to run the state to the many citizens who, due to their selfish attitude, are rather dissatisfied with the performance of politicians. Organized in parties, the representatives of the political class commit to competing with each other. Driven by the same concern, inspired by the same state spirit and the same idea of good government, they subject themselves to the tough test of being compared by the voters and their capricious notions. The consequences are all too familiar: Arguments break out among those who want the same thing; condemned to having to differentiate themselves, committed democrats set about questioning their unity on the issue. And they do so using a whole host of techniques that set them apart from like-minded aspirants to power: Life becomes an election campaign.

It is by no means enough to have an unwaveringly good opinion of oneself, of having what it takes to lead. Lots of people come up with the idea of taking up the parties’ offer; and if any organization complains about its “thin staffing levels,” it is mainly about nationally respectable mainstays who are received by voters as successful but resigning saviors of the fatherland. As a result, extremely young people with all kinds of “concepts” in their heads are already joining the party organizations, which are maintained for recruitment on the one hand and for the presentation of the party on the other. They usually get their “concepts” from the ideas circulating in the political mainstream, and they prove their youthful inexperience not so much by seeing the state as the only realistic chance to assert their drive to “improve the world,” but rather by the fact that they can still tell the state organizations apart. This is very convenient for the established party workers, because each party needs a small difference to win the support of voters instead of the others. In addition, youthful zeal – regardless of whether they are active in the Young Union or the Young Socialists – always comes across as an expression of dissatisfaction and a desire for change. This confusion between the political need for regulation and the desire to do good works is extremely useful.

Nevertheless, party activists are not so much paid compliments as put to a test by their peers as well as by old timers. Their usefulness to the party is suggested to them as the criterion for their success. Honing their idealistic attitudes in the difficult dialectical relationship between desirable and feasible plays a role, as does their dedication and voter appeal with the public. Young politicians from the student youth, who think like a social studies textbook anyway, have the same experiences as those who have been drawn into political engagement by the ideological whims of a union-oriented home: They have to prove through their collaboration whether they are and want to remain mere supporters of the party – or whether they are willing and able to do more.

Most of them simply do not have the time or the irrepressible political will to decide in favor of the latter when it comes to the “double burden” of career and politics. So the search is on for those who loudly shout “here!” when one of the not-too-scarce positions is up for grabs. Those who have to be pushed into the position of secretary of the local organization are not much good – even if they do accept the post – because they are then counted among the “loyal souls.” However, the party likes anyone who takes on the position of secretary because they think they have a good chance of becoming the second local organization chairman. “Healthy ambition” and a career aspiration that is useful for the party are noted – “he/she doesn’t shy away from the dirty work.” From now on, this is someone “to keep an eye on.” This means that the young man/woman is gradually given more and more responsibility in the party and in “public life.”

In the party, it is important to assert oneself against rivals within one’s own ranks and to help the party beat the other parties. These two tasks must go hand in hand; because only if one rises to the top in the party will one get the positions, and only if one brings the party to power will the positions exist. This rule applies to the local council as much as to a place on the party list in elections to the state assembly or the federal government.

One thing is learned above all: that in a political career, tactics, i.e. calculation, must guide thinking so that it can be presented in reverse. A certain strengthening of character can’t fail to appear, and after a few years of party work, the question of attractive topics and problems is seen as the epitome of political know-how.

Since all this can only be done on the basis of a conviction in one’s own and the party’s mission, the suspicion of opportunism is completely misplaced. Even the criticism which is of course occassionally due in the event of failure and also naturally brings “personal alternatives” into play, only has the success of the common cause in mind. It is just as much a sign of solidarity as the unreserved support of a chairman who is irrefutably vindicated by the 2% he won in an election. His merit is unmistakable, just as the positive effect of the program only proves its quality. Conversely, adverse political cycles are merely an indicator that a new type of program is needed. Anyone who does not allow themselves to at least do some fundamental rethinking after an election defeat is clearly not concerned with the matter at hand.

A career in the state is a result of success. Anyone who proves himself in the party is entrusted with the handling of state affairs. The higher up someone rises in the party, the clearer it becomes that he is capable of using state power, which in turn benefits the party in the form of votes. Of course, this also works the other way around: anyone who proves himself in the position entrusted to him is recommended for higher tasks in the party.

Command over legitimate state force begins with the “small” district administrative officer who, in the name of the city’s “image,” manages vagrants, prostitutes, and liquor licenses in such a way that meticulous compliance with even the slightest detail in the rules is emphatically impressed on the citizen as the “basis of coexistence”; and ends with the Federal Chancellor who can impoverish millions or send them to war with a single decision. The career is reflected in the extent of force it is entrusted with.

In the higher echelons of the party political hierarchy, there is no end to the competition. However, it is clear that the main endurance tests of a political career have been passed. Anyone who is considered for a ministerial post or even for the chancellorship is a statesman. Everyone can see this from the fact that the person is “in the conversation,” is covered in opinion polls and the media, so that their ideas count as a variant of the valid national consciousness.

This is not surprising. Whatever objections may be raised against a figure of such caliber, it remains indisputable that he has not gotten to where he is by chance, but because of the respect of the electorate. This respect must be earned, which, when translated into the person’s own unique character, can be called “assertiveness.” A first-rate politician takes this achievement to heart without false self-doubt, but also without arrogance. He knows that he cannot rest or take a break if he does not want to lose sight of the meaning and purpose of his efforts. He does not simply play politics, whether on the government or opposition benches, but works tirelessly to maintain his credibility.

That’s not easy, although it’s possible. Self-promotion is not an invitation to examine what one is doing. Rather it’s a reminder that success proves you are right. And an invitation to hand over the leadership of the nation to someone who definitely has nothing else in mind. In this respect, the job of a politician isn’t so difficult after all. At least not as long as one can count on the voters really having no other problem than he himself: good leadership. Then the self-praise of the character mask is also the argument for empowering him.