The real double crisis Ruthless Criticism

Translated from GegenStandpunkt 2-2020

The real double crisis

Over the course of March, step by step and pending further notice, two of the nation’s living conditions run into danger: public health and the people’s subsistence.


The experts agree: Since the beginning of the year, a highly infectious virus has been spreading all over the world, one that can’t – yet – be neutralized with a vaccine and that causes an alarming rate of fatalities because no safe and effective remedy exists for severe cases of illness. The experts have gradually convinced the holders of state power, the only social regulatory authority in a free bourgeois civil society, of the necessity of slowing down the spread of infection by preventing social contacts beyond the most close-knit of households in order to keep the consequences for public health manageable. This is what happens, with rather drastic consequences.


For a significant number of people, the restrictions on their customary social lives means losing their essential means of life – no, not access to toilet paper or red wine; a shortage of real consumer goods does not really occur: What’s missing is the opportunity to make money. This is lost right away for many “independent contractors” because their independence in reality consists merely in the immediacy of their dependence on a paying clientele, i.e. in their somewhat eccentric petty-bourgeois position in relation to an economic division of labor in which the division of labor is known only as work to access the money of others. For a much larger number of “dependent” existences, survival becomes a problem because their dependence actually consists in the fact that, in order to make money, they are dependent on a “commercial” – simply put: profit – interest in their labor, but are responsible for fulfilling this themselves, as if they somehow have this condition of their existence under their own control. The sham that “their job” is in some active sense their source of income is foiled and turned against them in one act when the restrictions on commerce halt the profit making of “their” companies: the companies save themselves – for the time being, as much as possible – with lay-offs; those who are laid off are instantly left with nothing. And there’s nothing they can do about it.

The nation’s corporate world is certainly in a very different position, but in the long run it’s no better off. It needs customers, which are now being wiped out in many sectors. It operates through supply chains that are no longer functioning well. True to the motto “time is money!” it has set delivery deadlines to zero and abolished stockpiling, so it’s bad at withstanding delays. Especially not in receipts of payment, since – or insofar as – these have already been pledged to creditors in advance. And for the loans that it does business with, it is liable with anticipated profits whose receipt must not be delayed and whose amount must not be reduced; certainly not in a way that would “distress” the financial institutions responsible for creating and granting credit. At least the country’s companies are able to do something. Namely, actively appeal to the highest power in the country.


For its part, it can’t have any use whatsoever for a paralyzed working life. Because it lives off its people, it must ensure that its people can also be on hand and provide for it. That’s why it takes care of their health in such a drastic way. For the same reason, however, the state power can only afford the substantial restriction on free capitalistic money making,with which it wants to prevent its uncontrollable collapse to a limited and short-term extent; especially since, again for the same reason, that is, as rule over a productive proletariat, it can’t avoid a certain degree of compensation for the loss of earnings – whether actually caused by illness or by its decree. This is true even in the model country of free capitalistic money making which protects the sham about the independence of the wage earning population as their decisive bourgeois freedom and, in a way that sets standards and is exemplary for global capitalism, knows and allows something like state-organized (self-)help for people with no income only as an exceptional case, tied to a number of conditions, and at any rate financed for short periods of time and extremely sparingly: even in the USA, there are authorities that in a very short time have accepted a twelve-fold number of applications for unemployment benefits. And the President, with his big heart for his freedom loving and nationally-minded electorate, is planning a one-time cash gift to everyone who is needed by commerce as a customer, in other words, to everyone.

Alongside and above everything, a democratic economic policy is always thinking about the needs of those who make it possible for the wage dependent population to make money in their firms so as to enrich themselves and their financiers, and who in this way create the fund for capital growth from which the state draws its wealth. It thinks of the many bills that might possibly be left unpaid, hence of a chain of uncollected money receipts that could be set in motion; it thinks ahead to a possible non-delivery of debt service payments on a larger scale which could trigger another financial crisis in the banking world. And it not only thinks worriedly about such “scenarios,” but also, wherever it can, demonstratively shows off with the tangible means at the state’s command as a tax authority and – precisely when its working population owes the demanded taxes – as the holder of monetary sovereignty in the country: In its capacity as the society’s budget expert, the government puts at its disposal a money supply that has never been collected by anyone before – the central bank, the one in Frankfurt in the euro zone, does the same in order to service a possibly “exploding” need for liquidity on the part of the banks and their public and private customers –, uses it to help pay for transactions defined as non-performing according to certain criteria and, above all and with the largest amounts, provides guarantees for corporate loans which, solely through the power of the state, retain their quality as ordinary money capital which they would otherwise have lost long ago – or would soon at the latest. This is how the state rescues capital’s force of command over the work and life of the society, where this force no longer works as productively as needed for maintaining it by increasing it; in difficult times it rescues the right, i.e. the credibility, of the power of money to increase itself.


This is where the differences and competitive relations between nations based on wage labor and capital assert themselves, simply because nothing has changed in principle as a result of the pandemic; apart from the size of the sums of money which are created to rescue the functionality of national capitalism and for which the states demand recognition; something which represents at least the beginning of a new chapter in the never ending history of their competition …

For Germany’s democratic public sphere, this competition has for now become a subject with a very specific viewpoint: With an accusatory eye on China, the country where the virus originated in its infectious and life-threatening variant, and in view of the rapidness of the pandemic’s spread, critical concerns about globalization are being raised. Primarily, however, in the form of its preventive dismissal: Beyond all the damages currently accruing for humanity from its “division of labor” linkages via the world market, the benefit that “we all” get from it must not be overlooked, and next to that a pandemic, with all due respect, must always be assessed as the lesser evil – as the bathwater that mustn’t be thrown out with the baby, or something like that. The next, more detailed information leaves no doubt as to what this general benefit actually consists of: The reference to – somehow, overall, generally speaking – cheaper commodity prices makes it sufficiently clear that the benefit accrues to – where else, of course – the movers and shakers of global free trade and worldwide value chains who compete in a big way for maximum cost savings as a means of increasing their profits by concentrating business in their hands. From the German point of view, that’s how it should be and remain; this is made clear by the “all of us” who, according to all the authorities versed in economics, profit limitlessly from a happily unfettered business life. This blessing is in principle critically eyeballed solely from a national point of view: firstly, at anybody, whichever country enjoys it the most, though this is not an urgent topic in the current case, because it – with good reason, that is, above all due to Trump – is primarily about the good reputation of the free world market competition which is ennobled as “multilateralism”; secondly, and in a more serious tone, at that nation which one’s own has on balance become dependent on, to which one has actually delivered the material livelihood of one’s own people. Here everything is brought up that fits the nation’s enemy image which is in place anyway. And here the People’s Republic of China doesn’t have any good cards: firstly, one doesn’t believe its success in containing the epidemic anyway; secondly, one knows that the exemplary control measures which it used to successfully to contain the epidemic, on the one hand, didn’t serve this good purpose at all, but were merely a trial run for a comprehensive population control – enviably effective, on the other hand – for the purpose of suppression. And when China supplies urgently needed medical equipment to particularly needy EU countries, it does so only for propaganda reasons, in order to promote its “Silk Road” project; this is equally clear to Germany’s democratic experts because, as bourgeois moralists, they know that help is always hypocrisy, and the political purpose of Chinese hypocrisy runs into the same standpoint of imperialist competition that they “uncover” in China, thus reject in principle.

In one’s own case, one believes all the more firmly in a good heart without terrible and propagandistic calculation: when the national health care system, demonstratively proud of its globally incomparable high quality, accepts a few seriously ill Italian or French citizens, that is only noble. In any case, so much human decency invalidates the accusation of a lack of European solidarity, which in turn is raised especially by the Italian and French media when the German side rejects the request to jointly guarantee credit in order to save capitalism in the countries of the EU and the eurozone in particular. The renaming of the once desired “euro” into “corona bonds” doesn’t help: the Berlin government remains true to its restrictive line, praising itself retrospectively for the sacrifices it has made with its “black zero” to its own people as well as to its euro partners by compelling thriftiness, because this has led to a virtually infinite increase in its creditworthiness. It concedes to its friends only what it excludes for itself, namely, a far reaching deviation from the stability criteria of the euro regime, insists relentlessly on national liability for such unplanned amounts of credit money created by the state, and deflects the accusation of national egoism in a time-tested way.

So with the economic consequences of the pandemic the competition between the European partner countries is intensified and otherwise unchanged for the time being.


For the time being, however, the focus of general and political attention is not on money, nor on the – internationally answered – question of guilt. As befits a christian-occidental civil society, the focus is on people. And not primarily on the competitive subjects hindered from making money, but on the social being whose social contacts have been restricted. As such, their practically and ideologically responsible caretakers are worried about them. Above all, that they can’t endure their existence of being thrown back into the domestic household. Something that, on the one hand, is not an issue in practice; to make sure they stay at home as needed, the state has the law and a police to enforce this. But this is precisely why the restricted free citizen is worried; and this casts a revealing light on the circumstances which he is restricted to, as well as on the morals with which he endures them.

The worried look is focused particularly on the housing conditions in which people are already having a hard time alone, as a loving couple, and even more so as a family, much too often not at all putting up with each other when they are denied the usual outings – to work, to the bar, to the stadium or theatre, wherever. To be sure, a roof over head must come first, especially in corona times; and because in a free market even this is anything but secure, especially when tenants are no longer earning what they had to get by on up till now, social policy is giving itself high praise for prohibiting immediate evictions for a certain time period in the event that rents fall into arrears for up to three months – payment must be made afterwards. At the same time, it is suddenly inconceivable to professional and freelance social psychologists how a normal person is supposed to get along with himself and, even more so, with his family in an average apartment with an average living space. It isn’t only advocates of profits, which are already not made after three unacceptably long days and are supposed to be pumped out again after Easter, but even honest friends of the pleasures of a simple pub, fan club, religious and other collective activity are officially suspected of murder and manslaughter – in official jargon: “an increase in domestic violence” as well as a “rising suicide rate” – if this “social isolation” persists; the consequences of a reduction in mass incomes, which quickly drives those afflicted with debts or even just normal liabilities to despair, have already been included in the calculation as a limiting condition. That’s how nice it is to live in “one of the richest countries in the world.”

The persons who are thought capable of such violent aberrations are also, quite incidentally, shown in a rather poor light – or more precisely, a very telling one on the bourgeois morality which apparently goes hand in hand with such shaky mental health in so many people. What do they expect from their domestic environment if they can bear it only in habitual alternations between private and public spheres of life? What are the services and what are the echoes of their own personalities for which free citizens use each other “at home”? And what will become of this claim if the actual result only seems to suffice when they can distract themselves from it again? Obviously, the aftermath of the efforts of professional and private competition, the need for compensation of various kinds, and especially for honest recognition, collide in such a way that the private sphere, which has to compensate for all this, becomes as indispensable as it is unbearable in the long run.

After all, one social service that is important to a self-confident social animal, one small compensation is provided by the state mandated exceptional situation itself: The willing citizen can enjoy the compliments of his authorities for proven good behavior, and may even look like a life-saver for doing nothing more than keeping his distance; the Chancellor says thanks very personally in her own demure way, and that’s why she seems trustworthy. Even more recognition, apparently the elixir of life of a moral personality, is obtained by those who can provide sought-after services because they have learned them, are called upon, and have the time: such a person can prove the virtue of solidarity in practice and earn the thanks of the fatherland. The positive response to these appeals testifies to the widespread need for just this kind of social recognition – and to how badly satisfied it is in everyday life: a deficit that the average person can only cope with because, and to the extent that, he has found a way to get used to it.


A not-so-small minority obtains its recognition within a self-constructed echo chamber in imagined opposition to the politically prescribed behavioral guidelines by refusing to accept the reasons which have been publicly announced and reinforced in a continuous loop. No knowledge about corona viruses is needed, just a few answers to the relevant 1000 euro question is enough to expose the medical expertise that public authorities worldwide have taken into account with their restrictions on their citizens’ everyday social life as a conspiracy against civil liberties – in the case of China, one even has the official enemy image on one’s side. Conversely, quite a few theorists delight in the idea that they have caught their rulers in a gigantic trivialization of a looming apocalypse or even a conspiracy against their own people and could cheat this attack with smart alternative medicine; on the internet, they also find an audience who would rather see the actual shortcomings of the state health care system, which are now so blatantly exposed in many places, as an evil machination than as the logical consequence of a capitalist economy for which such precautions count as false costs, as a competition-distorting burden on all the business profit calculations, which is what really counts.

Yet the matter isn’t so difficult. What some patients are not surviving at the moment and what in hindsight is being lamented – yet again, as usual in a comparable situation – as failure, as neglect and careless reduction in the necessary capacities of the health care system, what is blamed on the formerly responsible persons – this is the narrowly limited range of normal health care policy which is systemically appropriate to a capitalistic bourgeois society. But this simple truth is considered by some anti-communists to be an unacceptable insult to the best of all worlds, by others a trivialization of a system which they harshly condemn in light of the fact that they undauntedly expect much better from it than its real achievements. And the virus that could ensure that the bourgeois mind would for once make sense of harm has not yet been invented.