The real existing democracy Ruthless Criticism

Translation of January 30, 2024 “99 Zu Eins” (YouTube) interview with Peter Decker on the second edition of the book Demokratie, die perfekte Form bürgerlicher Herrschaft, Munich: GegenStandpunkt Verlag, 2023.

The real existing democracy

PD: This book will disappoint a lot of people, namely everyone who talks about democracy from the point of view of a beautiful idea or an unrealized ideal. We talk about the democracy that exists in this country, not the one that is made up. This will disappoint those who do not approach the subject by looking at reality. It is damn common to talk about this democracy not as what it is; everyone does this, not just intellectuals who decide what it could be and what it should do. Most people have a pretty bad opinion of real democracy. Hardly anyone believes that they have much say and that they are listened to. You will rarely hear someone say that they their vote makes a difference. The same people who think quite negatively about democracy as it exists are, however, always ready to uphold the value of democracy and say that it is a great thing in the form of value, namely an order, because it’s all about the citizens, public affairs are regulated in the interests of the citizens, and the functionaries of power listen to the interests of people. This very general position is challenged in the book by dealing with democracy as a form of state, the one which exists and not the one that people make up.

The state, as everyone is aware, is an authority, and it exercises rule in the way that everyone knows. Laws are enacted and must be obeyed. They separate what is permitted from what is forbidden and guide the interests of people in society. In this way, with these laws and the binding rules to which people are subjected – if necessary with the use of violence by the police and the judiciary, which is always the real reason for the validity of the law – the political authorities regulate the whole life of society and force the citizens to engage in the capitalist cooperation that makes up their everyday lives. For this purpose, the democracy we have is the ideal political way of organizing the rule that gives itself this form.

When it comes to democracy, people quickly think of the offer it makes to them: you are sought after, you are allowed to vote, politicians even visit them during election campaigns, in allotment areas or in schools, etc. People like to see it as an offer to the citizen. But take it the other way around: it is the way the state organizes itself and the will of the citizens. This would be the introductory thesis; if we take a closer look at the subdivisions, then hopefully we will see how all this is confirmed.

Nadim: The core of every democracy: free elections. What is this election about?

PD: In the sense in which I have just laid out, it must be said that an election is in no way an act of the citizens. It is not a demand of the citizens, not willed on their part, but part of the constitution. It is designated. The citizens are – the expression is quite nice – “called to the polls.” Everything about the election is designated by the state: that elections are held at all, when, how often, who you can choose, how the counting is done, how the mandates are distributed . . . All this is scheduled and regulated by the constitution and the law, i.e. governed from above. And it is also changed from time to time, entirely in line with what the state wants from it. Think about the sub-conditions of the election, the 5% clause that stipulates the minimum percent of votes so that small parties do not get into parliament and interfere with the freedom of political will formation in parliament, the freedom to govern or the stability of government formation. In difficult times, there are discussions – which has happened before in Germany – shouldn’t we extend the electoral term from four years to five? Then you can govern more freely, then you don’t have to face the voters again and again, and then the government is freer to be ruthless. This is also currently the case with regard to the AFD. You don’t have to feel sorry for this party, but look at how the democrats are thinking about how to undermine it, whether it should be banned, whether it is better to ban it or not ban it, and if it is not banned, then maybe you can deny it state funding and dry it up that way? This shows how the formation of will which takes place in the election is organized from above so that the right thing, namely the freedom of state action, results from it. That’s how elections are institutionally regulated.

What role does the voter play in this constitutional body of elections? The voter is called to the ballot box to contribute to a single decision: which person, which party representative, will be authorized to exercise state power for the next term. That and nothing else. The elected representatives are then no longer beholden to their voters, but are set free. This means that they are responsible only to their conscience, i.e. to the state as a whole. They are not to take orders from their constituents. The election actually creates their freedom vis-à-vis the voter and the voter for his part delegates them a freedom of decision that he never has. You definitely have to grasp this. Voters decide on others who can or should decide for them, but in reality the question of whether others decide for them is never an issue. The state as such can neither be elected nor voted out of office; the voters appoint representatives who then exercise power for a limited period of time, but again and again in all elections, i.e. permanently. In this respect, the voter’s vote acts out an agreement to being governed.

The voter chooses from what is offered. The reasons he has for doing so – and a voter always has reasons – are completely irrelevant. Whether he has studied an election platform and somehow found a point of view that would be better suited to his interests than that of another party, or whether he merely likes the way somebody looks, is completely irrelevant. As a result, his vote, which was merely a checkmark, is only included in this total ensemble of votes as a number and contributes to determining which party has the majority and which party has the minority, and thus initially the role of being in power or the role of opposition.

Nadim: It is obviously a relationship of rule and, in a way, consent to rule is carried out through this instrument of a free vote. But rule in itself only makes sense if the purpose of rule is different from the purpose of the people. Then it makes sense to talk about rule. But many people would reject this term and say that this is not rule, they do everything that is in our interest, it is actually just the implementation of our will. How does that go together?

PD: The suggestion is that rule doesn’t exist as a formal dictation over others without it being about something that those who are dictated over do not want and pursue on their own. This is clearly the case and not only is it the case in democracy, but it is even regulated, that is, the will on the part of government leaders to rule for my sake has a content and the content also exists objectively, separately from the individual representatives who come into positions of power or office, that is, in the form of the offices. These, for their part, are regulated by laws, endowed with competencies and equipped with limitations of competencies, and as such they dictate to the politicians who end up in office what the tasks and limits of their discretionary powers are, in which and on which they have to act when they exercise rule. It is actually very clear that the purposes are not the same as what the citizens want, and this is very clearly regulated in the ministries that such a state has. If you take a look at them, you will notice that rule is exercised with a purpose that is made very clear in these offices. One is the Ministry of Finance. What is the task of the Finance Minister? He organizes state finances by collecting from the citizens the money that the state needs for itself. It does not get this money in an exchange; it is not a give and take, but rather a sovereign expropriation. One side decides how much to take from the other side and then it belongs to it. In this respect, it is clear that money is being taken from society, from both the rich and the poor, in order to give the state the resources it needs for its purposes and goals. It then uses the money to exercise its rule by buying and regulating everything in society that matters to it with money.

The second ministry, which complements this wonderfully and is also in a certain conflict with the Ministry of Finance, especially today, is the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Its task is to promote private earnings so that as much money is earned as possible from which the state can take its share. When it comes to promoting the economy, it is of course about promoting the big companies, above all because, firstly, they themselves generate the big sales and bring in the big tax sums and, secondly, because they need a lot of people for their profits if, as is then said, they create jobs, which in turn make them taxpayers who bring in funds for the state, with which, the more there are, the more freely it can pursue its goals.

The third ministry is the famous Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. In our democracy, people always brag that it is the ministry with the single largest budget of all. It should be the argument: “We have so much left over for social welfare.” Yes, that’s true. But this only shows how much poverty and the inability of the vast majority to support a life on their own accompanies their role as a means of the economy and its profit-making, which the state very much depends on because it is the source of its own means. All the help that is needed so that the vast majority can make a living – honestly, it must be said: in order to be able to survive – shows that money is paid to the wage-dependent population not so that they can live and at the standard that this requires, but rather that the money paid for capitalistically profitable work completely disregards the necessities of life. That’s why you don’t make money in any of the phases of life in which you are not useful: in youth, in old age, when ill, when unemployed. Provisions must be made for all these segments so that the wage is actually a means of subsistence, which it is not in itself. These benefits show how much expenditure is needed, and what expenditure means here is basically not that the state donates money to people, but first that it only gives them what it has previously taken away from them; second, it usually doesn’t donate taxes for the big social items, but instead organizes a compulsory solidarity among those who are dependent on this kind of supplementary assistance. They have to pay part of their wages into compulsory funds which are then used to finance these reproductive necessities.

Let’s add the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. These ministries bear witness to the incredible amount of effort, i.e. organization through force, that is required to make a society useful and productive for capital. You can go on through the ministries, but perhaps you don’t have to. The Ministry of the Interior is the organization with the special task of the state’s domestic force, which keeps society under control with police and courts and border protection and secret services, which ensures that the rules are obeyed and that those who somehow evade them, at whatever level, whether an unconstitutional party, criminals, small social swindlers or big business criminals, are all put in their place, and thus the validity of the rules set by the government takes precedence.

The Ministry of Defense: Deterrent force against the external world is normal and is part of every modern state, to every democratic as well as undemocratic one, because a deterrent external force is the first condition of unchallenged political rule internally. All foreign violence must be kept away so that only one’s own can determine the law of life in society. In this way, the ministries make it clear that society is being used for the wealth of the state and that the wealth of the state – this is beautifully circular – is being used to promote the social and economic basis of the state again, so that this power of the state to decree continues to grow. The aforementioned contradiction between the ministries alone suggests that there are indeed alternatives within the state agenda and that these must exist, because there are contradictions between the tasks of the ministries. Take the Ministry of Finance. It can take more money away from society, in which case the state will have more money, but in doing so deprives those who can do something with money, accumulate it and stimulate growth, create jobs, wealth. The state can go easy on the rich so that they have more money to accumulate, but then it also has to cut back on its tasks, on state services for infrastructure, education, research, etc., accordingly. It can also be done the other way round, more taxes can be collected, then the state can provide more services for economic growth, but then the economy also has to bear the higher tax burden. You can tax the rich more and spare the poor, in the interests of their functioning, but also the other way around: as a state, more debt can be incurred and, with more debt, more services provided for economic growth, on the speculation that private individuals will then seize the opportunities and generate the corresponding growth. Conversely, it is also possible to incur less debt and operate more economically with the corresponding consequences.

These are all alternatives that exist and these alternatives are normal. They are decided somehow in all states, whether democratic or not. In democracies, they are decided by the fact that parties can offer themselves as alternatives and then, if they win the election, are awarded the contract for the election period and can put their priorities into practice. Those in the minority are not banned or suppressed, but relegated to the opposition, to the respected waiting room, where they do not get a chance until their chance comes.

This agenda of the state that I’ve been talking about is not dependent on the democratic form. Any dictatorship can do it, you only have to think of China or German fascism, from which the Federal Republic has taken over most of the laws and the structure of the most important ministries. The agenda does not depend on the democratic form. The democratic form is merely a way of organizing this agenda.

Nadim: The agenda is set and within the agenda there are alternatives, alternative governance, alternative ways to carry out rule and specifically rule over a capitalistically organized society. This kind of rule is fixed. The people who go to the polls or affirm this democracy don’t see it that way. They arrive with their own purposes and demands, hoping that something will change for the better in their lives. It is also all the politicians calling on people to raise their issues. They complain about disenchantment with politics if not enough people turn out to vote. So they are campaigning to get elected by appealing to people’s purposes, going to these groups, visiting communities. So what’s the agenda of the whole story if it’s already set?

PD: This reproach – “voter disenchantment” or “disenchantment with politicians” – is another nice piece of evidence that voting is a service to the state. During the election, attention is always paid to who won and the voter turnout. States don’t like low turnouts, even though it doesn’t matter in practical terms; a government always comes into being even if only 20% voted. But it shows the citizens do not trust the politicians, that they have no confidence in the ability of the politicians to solve the problems. That is annoying to the state because what matters to it is that citizens agree to empower it, that they willingly submit. If they don’t go to the polls, they also subordinate themselves, because it doesn’t change anything, but their freely willed submission and explicit consent to being governed is missing.

You say: “Citizens come with their interests in a democracy, etc.” That’s true, but it’s always halfway outside of what is democratically provided. You can do that in demonstrations, when the farmers drive around with their tractors and clog everything up, then that becomes an active issue. But if you look at the political process of will-formation which is needed to make happen this delegation of a decision-making freedom, which is one that you never have, then you have to say that, as with elections, it doesn’t involve any activity on the part of the citizens. It’s all an activity by the other side. The will of the citizens is formed, but it is not they who do what is necessary. The actors are the parties and candidates who compete for votes.

Now comes the point you reminded me of: the special thing about democracy, as I said earlier, is that politicians go to the voters, to allotment garden associations, hunters’ associations, schools, trade union meetings and big industry. They “bow” to the interests of the citizens, explain their understanding of the concerns that people have. This includes going into the countryside and saying afterwards that they have done a lot of listening. But then what follows from being able to listen is that they know their complaints, as a proof of their competence, that they know how to deal with people’s interests. However, they do not present themselves to people as executors of their interests, as service providers and vicarious agents of what people want, but rather they present themselves to people as competent decision-makers about what place their interests, which are as honorable as all the others, deserve and should have in the community. They do not promise them fulfillment, but fairness in the integration of their interests into the overall system.

That is also the difference to advertising. Election advertising – there are many derogatory opinions about it, “laundry detergent ads” and “soaping up” perhaps even “election fraud” is a popular word. This is a very poor description of what the election campaign is. Because there can be no question of fraud, of being led behind the scenes. Politicians reach out to interests in order to say that they belong in the greater whole. This includes: “Your interest is fine, we have already done a lot for it, we want to do a lot more for it, but you have to remember that there are many other equally worthy interests. We have to take them into account, and the national budget with its financial limits does not allow us to finance everything that would be desirable.” This always has the character of: “I know what is possible, you have your wishes, but you have to let me judge them, because I know what is possible and what is right.” In this sense, politicians engage in advertising, which is something quite different from commercial advertising: commercial advertising, mendacious or not, promises satisfaction; political advertising promises, at best, justice.

Nadim: There are people who start to make fun of it, who find election posters ridiculous, who always expose election promises as fraudulent, and cynics then dismiss it as theater. These people can be found everywhere in democratic society. There is hardly anyone who seems to take this seriously with all their fervor. Even if everyone still goes to vote. The people who make their mark also say: “Voting doesn’t help, but you have to do it anyway.” How does that fit the picture?

PD: The voters are very skeptical about the credibility of this election advertising; that fits what I started with today: Everyone has a bad opinion about real democracy and also about election campaigns. People like to hear out election promises that promise nothing, but they assume they can’t be taken at face value. And vice versa. That gets at the seriousness of the next point. There is the accusation of election promises: “What, you want to commit the state to some citizen’s wishes just because you want to be elected?” The respective competitors are quickly accused of making election promises. Then it is not a good thing that this statesman promises people something, but bad that the state is burdened with obligations to citizens’ wishes for the sake of electoral success.

The election campaign is a great school of nationalism. I don’t mean nationalism in the sense of the hostility of one’s own nation towards others, the attitude that foreign countries and foreigners are always something suspicious and disturbing. But in the sense that the election campaign is not a one-off act of four weeks before the election, but the election campaign is actually a permanent program of political education. This election campaign focuses people and their concerns on making the success of the state their most important concern. The concerns of the citizens are taken up. This has already been mentioned. First, the politicians go to the citizens and citizens’ assemblies and the various classes and professions and show understanding for their concerns. Second, they then say: “In order to be able to realize what you need, the state budget must be right, the other interests that conflict with yours must also be satisfied.” In this way, citizens are required to view the concerns and interests they have from the point of view of the state, rather than the problems they cause for the state with their concerns. People should think about themselves as if they were the politicians who have to decide on their own interests. They are encouraged to come up with solutions as to how pensions could be financed if they have always been too low, where the money could come from that the pensioner then has to live on.

The transition from “I have my interests and my concerns and now I should think about them as if I were the chancellor who has to sort them out” is what I mean by the school of nationalism. In this way, people are obliged to make the false conclusion that because they are governed, because they are subject to the decisions of the authorities, they must make their success their cause. That is the great logical achievement of this political advertising. The press does this every day. It’s not just an election campaign. This transition of picking up on people’s needs and then saying that you have to make the success of the state your cause, because otherwise your cause won’t work anyway.

This school of nationalism is also much more primitive and direct. For the majority of the public, it consists of nothing more than a few slogans that politicians use to present themselves as the defenders of the big “we,” i.e. they immediately commit people to the fact that they see themselves as members of the nation and that the nation’s concerns are theirs. You can make an election poster that just says: “We in Germany,” then it says CDU or SPD at the bottom, it doesn’t matter. These defenders of the big “we,” the obligation of people to make the nation their cause, can also be found in election slogans such as “Against division, for social cohesion.” What kind of call is that? Keeping the nation together, preserving domestic peace. That can be done more primitively, then you can just write “Germany” on a poster and it’s clear what it’s all about. Germany = “we” or “You are Germany” was once used. Or “Bavaria must remain Bavaria.” Who wanted to turn Bavaria into Hesse? That’s the kind of thing that gets you noticed and understood as a party. The slogan “Future” is also good. It no longer names the subject matter, but simply states that things must go on. It’s easy to make fun of things like that if you feel like it, because the summary no longer contains any reminder of interests, just the résumé of what the whole thing is about. But on the other hand, it’s better to take it seriously than just laugh at it, because what is the point of it all? The identification of the individual subordinated to the nation with his interests under the success of the nation.

Nadim: Rule always requires a subject of rule, i.e. someone rules over someone. We’ve already talked at length about who is being ruled over. The citizens who then march to the polls. Who actually rules in this democracy?

PD: Well, of course, the officials rule. If you take the question trivially, it is also trivial to answer. What is actually meant by the question?

Nadim: They are all members of the people, they are elected and then fall out again, it depends on the people who are in power for four years. The people can change that. That’s why the idea is that the people rule over themselves.

PD: The statement can also be put like this: How else should the people rule over themselves? People are empowered to make decisions that affect everyone else and to which others are subordinated. These are people with flesh and blood. They do not derive their power from the election, but from the institutional framework into which they are elected. The state exists before democracy, even independently of it. If you want to take it historically: Today’s German democracy is based on the victory of the Allies and on the fact that the Allies reorganized state life in post-war Germany with their power, which came from the barrels of their guns. They didn’t wait for a democracy, but protected property and forbade workers from seizing factories, which is what they wanted to do at the beginning. They got the state back on its feet and then they told the non-fascist politicians who survived to get together in Herrenchiemsee and invent a democratic constitution. The constitution is the legal icing on the cake of the state, but not the source of state power. State power is the objective power.

In other words, it is people who rule, who make decisions about others and do so at their own discretion. They do this within the framework of the tasks assigned to them by the state constitution and the state constitution ensures that they remain within this framework. It is also no coincidence that it has to pay attention to this, because it is also part of these ruler figures that they think it is terribly important to them and their discretion is the national good. Every politician is very reluctant to leave office, not just Donald Trump, and everyone thinks that they are basically irreplaceable, that their will is the common good and that’s why, on the other hand, there are the checks and balances of the rule of law, which assign the limits of their freedom of decision to the politicians in their offices and thus ensure their function for the system.

It’s just wrong to think that it’s not just anyone who rules, but the system. You have to understand that. The system only rules by people of flesh and blood having to exercise violence so that property is respected and it is only through this violence that the economic power of property arises. In this respect, one can’t say “the system rules and the politicians are merely puppets of the system,” but their rule is the necessary way in which the capitalist system is organized as a state. The argument “They are elected by the people and can be voted out of office, so where is the rule?” Here one likes to say it’s getting basic somewhere. Yet the fact that someone who is elected is exercising rule does not take anything away from the fact that they are exercising rule. Or if he does it for a period of time and not for eternity. That’s the attraction of the free vote: that the people who exercise power for a limited period of time are therefore exercising rule as such forever.

Politicians in election campaigns provide evidence of their credibility and are totally committed to undermining the credibility of their rivals. They do this with all kinds of stuff. (In America, there are whole industries dedicated to undermining the credibility of a political rival). The main thing is that credibility itself is a category that actually underlines or proves the ruling character of these figures. Politicians approach citizens and say: “I am someone you can believe in.” They solicit trust from those who have to trust that the politicians are already steering the state in the best possible way and that they are somehow getting away with it in the best possible way. The fact that the citizens are raised into nationalism through election campaigns, changing their most important concern from “my interests” to the “success of the state,” does not at all mean that you are also then a quasi-politician and can have a say. Rather: “You citizens must make the transition to national success as the most important concern, but that doesn’t qualify you to have a say at all.” Making policy is done by those in authority and they must be trusted.

Just as you emphasize your own credibility, you try to destroy the credibility of others. In this game of being credible as a leader comes the next monstrosity: success is the best means of success. Someone who already has a lot of followers deserves a lot of followers. That’s why election party conferences are staged in which the party base cheers their front people so that the public can see how much enthusiasm these leading figures are already generating, so that they can also generate enthusiasm among others. All of this underlines once again very clearly that this is not a division of labor in the sense of one person writing receipts and the other writing laws, but that we are talking about people who act as leaders towards the others and the others are those who should agree to be led.

As I said, there are alternative state leaders and politicians advertise themselves to voters as being better at running the state than those currently in government. And those who are currently running it continue to run it as well as they have done so far. In order to recommend themselves to the citizens as the right people for office, they need, seek and cultivate differences among themselves, because there are differences in state-making, but the criterion for success is always the same. (The alternatives have already been explained.)

But whether you do it this way or not, in the end everything is measured by whether economic growth has been satisfactory and therefore the state’s resources, which it then uses to steer society, are plentiful or whether there is an economic crisis and they are scarce. Then it turns out that the state has been far too accommodating to poor people and wages are no longer profitable in the country or we have to work much longer, etc. The success criterion is always the decisive factor. Differences are cultivated, even invented, which are worth nothing at all, in order to present oneself as the other. The parties then write party manifestos that nobody reads, and rightly so, because the biggest difference between the parties is not whether they are called SPD or CDU, but the biggest difference is whether they are in power or in opposition.

Those in power present their state action as the best possible realization of the compromises that are necessary under the given circumstances. In most cases, they have still achieved a great deal for their country under adverse circumstances. The opportunity and the task of the opposition – and this has nothing to do with their program – is to do their utmost to denigrate this track record, to prove as best they can or to cite documents to show that there is nothing to this positive track record. The opposition appeals to the citizens’ dissatisfaction with the government, proves it right, reinforces it, in some cases evokes dissatisfaction in the first place in order to direct it towards its own mills and attribute the dissatisfaction to bad governance. The idealism lies in this. That there is no other reason for people’s dissatisfaction with their situation under capitalism and with the state’s performance than bad governance and that they should be left to their own devices. This achievement of using dissatisfaction for political competition is a very special achievement of democracy.

A brief digression: it was the weakness of real socialism, so to speak, that it actually wanted to genuinely satisfy the needs of the population, the constantly evolving needs of working people, and was then also the addressee of all dissatisfaction, which was then not allowed to exist under it. Democracy is freer in this respect. Democracy does not have the problem that it needs satisfied citizens. It can do a great deal with dissatisfaction. It mobilizes and instrumentalizes dissatisfaction for the renewal of hope for good governance and for the renewal of personnel in offices, in positions of power. In this sense, this “Mr. Chancellor, you can’t do it!” that Merz said to Scholz, this ideal, if you govern properly, then you don't reap any discontent and this applies to the opposition, if it has stirred up enough discontent and wins the election, then this applies to it until enough discontent accumulates against it again, until another change is due. Democracy does not need satisfied citizens at all. It can live well with dissatisfaction because the dissatisfaction is functionalized for the political process itself.

They themselves characterize the significance of these differences among politicians when the election is over. Before the election, they dismissed the other party as incompetent, possibly as a “security risk for our country,” as absolutely impossible. Afterwards, when the majority conditions are right, they form a coalition with them. In doing so, they themselves make it clear what the differences were worth. They were good for attracting voters to themselves and turning them away from the others. That is the decisive value of the differences. Even the fact that the political leader, when he loses an election and steps down, shows that he also assumes that the other person who then comes to power will not run the state as fundamentally differently as he himself did. Where this is not the case, it is not the competition between power figures that ends, but the democratic form in which it is played out. The fact that politicians don’t step down when they lose the election was experienced with Trump and anyone who can still remember when Schröder lost to Merkel said on television: “You don’t believe that this woman can run the country.” That’s also close to: “I’m irreplaceable, I’m the will of the state and this incompetent person can’t be left in charge of the country.” This identification of the politician with his state office is always a danger. If they are prepared to give up this identification again, then they are demonstrating that the difference to the other parties is not that great.

What you can see in the election campaign are all signs that the whole story is an event from above, a taking into service of the people or the voters for their institutional role in filling state offices. But it is not in the election that the citizen makes himself conform to the state, but in the election that the state makes itself conform to the citizen. That should now be this summary.

Nadim: The differences between the parties: There are differences between the parties and when a party comes to power, certain groups, minorities etc. are discriminated against and this can have a negative impact, so talking down the differences does not apply.

PD: There are alternative ways of leading the state, of bringing about economic success and strengthening the state with economic success, and in turn strengthening its own foundation with a strengthened state. This circle can be pursued and approached in different ways. Then there are also, of course, differences on the level of culture, respect for minorities, respect for identities, and so on. One person can say that they prefer this or that. But on what level are the differences located? Someone says, for example, they are voting because the right treats gays and the LGBT community with contempt. There is a difference between the parties here. If you cling to the difference, then you subscribe to all the rest of what we’ve been talking about today, the subordination to capitalist roles, the enforcement of capitalist roles – I may have to talk about this again later – the real state activities. All this is accepted and undersigned because you say: I have a distinctive point of view, namely mine, under which I find one better than the other and you get someone anyway, so I choose this one. Someone thinks they have their own point of view, but the truth is that somehow everyone has a point of view, precisely because the differences are on a level that is somewhat slight: the level of culture and respect and the special promotion of alternative culture or high culture and dissenting minorities or social majorities. But for saying yes to the role that he plays in the community and that is assigned to him, which is not a matter of his choice, everyone finds some distinctive point of view from which they can take a difference between the parties seriously. That’s how you get attached to the whole thing.

Nadim: Keywords: secret meeting, remigration master plan. After that, there was an uproar throughout society and since then it feels like the 2025 election campaign is already underway. There are big demonstrations and people are talking about the need to prepare now to prevent the AFD. You’ve already explained what these particular interests are and how they fit into the overall issue. If you now look at the threat from the right, isn’t that an argument to say that things could actually get a lot worse for many people and that it makes sense to vote for something that you don’t actually like in order to prevent the AFD?

PD: The demonstrations now thrive on the fact that this causes a certain shock. People are remembering the Wannsee Conference [Nazi government meeting in 1942 which prepared for the Final Solution to the Jewish Question], and perhaps a little deliberately comparing it to the Potsdam Conference [2023 meeting of right wing extremists in which a mass deportation plan was presented], and with the prospect of the actual deportation of a large number of people – which is also the point at which morality is awakened – the deportation of asylum seekers who are not wanted, whether they are German citizens or not, is now completely normal, at least morally normal. It’s shocking and some people feel reminded of what it led to in the Third Reich and how it ended, how terrible this excess of nationalism was and how much Germany as a whole suffered in the end.

That’s something one does not want. The first thing I would say is that the democrats who are horrified here and rightly so should be horrified that all this is somehow compatible with their democracy. They have to struggle, take to the streets, because there is actually the possibility that these people will win an election and then enact their policies. Democracy as such does not prevent anything. It is not a guarantee of anything. This would be a good first time to turn the tables, not to say now it’s worth getting involved, but to look at the kind of community one is living in, that it knows this to be a possibility, a possibility that people at least now think is so real that they think they have to take to the streets. The other thing is what I said at the beginning about voting: Voting doesn’t prevent anything, because some people are elected afterwards and they then decide what is called for. Today, the honorable democrats are pursuing a policy on foreigners that only the AFD was calling for until yesterday. Did people vote for that, did they think that’s what they wanted by voting for the SPD and the Greens? Now these asylum procedures are in some kind of Rwanda, so it’s not real yet, but they are seriously looking for ways to manage asylum procedures at the EU’s external borders so that they don’t even set foot inside the country, so that we are not obliged to somehow practically fulfill our own asylum oath and let them into a regular asylum procedure. That too is now a reality: deportation prisons where they are needed. Until yesterday, the AFD was calling for this and the others were saying it was inhumane or not in keeping with our civilization. Now it’s policy. What becomes policy is not what the parties promise in the election or with their identity, but what they think is appropriate in the given situation; that fits the fact that there are so many asylum seekers, that no consensus can be reached in Europe without totally radical rejections. Then suddenly it’s also the German way. The argument was, we won’t vote for the AFD, we will vote for the others, and then the others make the policies that the AFD wants or wanted. On that side, the election is not a means and never was.

A small additional point: it is almost good manners for voters to say that they are voting for the lesser of two evils. This also fits with people always having a bad opinion of the real democracy. It’s very rare for people to be really positive and say “this party is doing it right, it’s doing what I want and need.” As a rule it’s about preventing something, preventing others, preventing the right, preventing the left, preventing the left is no good, but preventing the right is good. That’s a funny point, because everyone says they’re choosing the lesser of two evils. But they don’t admit that they’re voting for evil. They think they’re clever when in reality they’ve just agreed that it’s not one party but the other that will decide how their lives and their legal living conditions will continue.

Nadim: Many criticisms of democratic government are often limited to the fact that things don’t actually work the way they should and that the people sitting in government don’t have a clue and that’s where all the problems come from. But isn’t it a question of the sovereignty of democracy or democratic government? “Is the democratic state an autonomous actor?” It is not the case that the government really rules sovereignly over all the people. There are revelations about corruption and lobbying influences. Movements that are directed against lobbying complain about politicians moving into business after taking office, about politicians generally being in cahoots with the business world, and that some of them are even guided by their own capitalist interests. The state and democracy are merely a kind of legitimizing game and there is a shadow government of capital behind the state.

PD: Three thoughts on this. First, the criticism of the corruption of politicians by and lobbies and businessmen still upholds the standards that are part of the democratic system. The criticism is based on the point of view I have been talking about today: Sovereign power over the whole of society, subservient to no special interest, but all special interests subsumed under the standpoint of the success of the state and made subservient to it. This is held up as the good system. In this respect, criticism, with the standard it applies, confirms this quality of the democratic state in the form that it should be. Corruption is indeed forbidden, i.e. a criminal offense. Anyone caught taking money for state decisions will be imprisoned.

Second, this idea that the state has been hijacked by capital and is subject to it is based on a false separation between the state and the economy. That is why this critique asserts a false identity based on a conspiracy theory. The false separation consists in thinking that the state does not have an interest in the success of the economy. Of course it does. After all, it is its material basis, the use of the entire population as a workforce if possible, the transformation of all citizens into taxpayers. That is its concern. That is why it is not a misappropriation or a misuse of the state’s mandate when politicians sit down with captains of industry and say: how do we do this with Germany’s competitive position in the car market of the future, how do we do this with the order to switch energy production from fossil fuels to wind and solar? The lobbyists even help make laws because they know the needs and problems of the respective industries. The politicians want these industries to succeed. They need them to. In this respect, cooperation and “cronyism” is not at all a conspiracy that is alien to the cause of national success. There is no need to keep it a secret. Part of lobbying is that it is made public. Lobbyists need to register; if their cooperation with the lawmakers is disclosed, then everything is okay.

Third, leftists do not see that even the labor unions are involved in the nation’s success, which is at their expense, which is based on the cheapness of their work, in the sense that “It needs an economic upswing. It needs economic growth. It needs jobs” and they too must have a political interest in wealth that is not theirs. Then they think that if the politicians get together with the business people and discuss the course of events with each other, they would be failing in their duty. They don’t need to do this in secret and they don’t usually do it in secret because it’s perfectly in keeping with their duties.

So it’s a false separation between state and economy and therefore a false, quasi-conspiratorial identity: Only through dereliction of duty can a politician pursue the interests of the economy. No. The interests of the economy are the interests of the nation. That’s the bad thing about living in a system in which even those who have nothing to gain from it depend on what the economy or capital achieves at their expense. But if capital doesn’t succeed, then it’s at their expense even more so.

Nadim: State or democracy are terms which many people on the left also hold in high esteem and defend. The question of the honorific of the word democracy. It is often said that what Peter is describing is bourgeois democracy, democracy with capitalism. But what about socialist democracy? There are some communists who advocate a genuine democracy that is not restricted by capitalism and can carry out its mandate to serve the people. Aren’t we throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we equate the concept of democracy with bourgeois democracy?

PD: Yes, it’s something like “saving the honor of democracy.” People are desperate to find something good about democracy and are therefore once again not talking about the real democracy, but about the possibility of another one. Why are we talking about something that doesn’t exist? Why are we talking about possibilities that we want to find in the future or in a different society and in this way ignoring what has been said? I have a quote that I want to use to show that it is not simply changing the subject from reality to the realm of possibilities, but more than this: “What you are describing is only bourgeois democracy. That doesn’t have to speak against democracy per se. Some communists advocate genuine democracy that is not restricted by capitalism and hindered in its service to the people. Council democracies come to mind (for me) as a radical left concept.” There’s more happening here now. It is the implicit rejection of my entire analysis. Anyone who thinks or talks like this may not even realize or know it, but it’s there. Now you think up some kind of council society, some radical left-wing communist thing and ask yourself the question: isn’t there another society in which it’s not a matter of using political power to subjugate people to an economic power that uses them for purposes that are hostile to them, but in another society in which people themselves organize the work necessary for their consumption in the most intentional and energy-saving way possible, which tries to ensure that everyone gets something out of it. Do such societies not also need some form of decision-making? One thinks this way. You can say: yes, it will be like that. I don’t want to go into the question of whether majority decisions are actually a good idea, but that doesn’t matter now. The question is: don’t such other societies also have methods or ways of deciding disputes or alternatives? As soon as you have said that, you have, as is the case with a comparison, placed an identity between the democracy we are talking about here and this idea of the future that you are making. Comparisons always imply an identity. You can compare apples and pears as fruit. So there is always something in common if I want to find a difference. What is the common ground here? It’s this: democracy is a way of making social decisions. But this democracy we are talking about, the one that exists, is definitely not that! It is not about making social decisions. Democracy is the way in which citizens relinquish a control over themselves which they have never had. That is something completely different from a way of making decisions. If you take a closer look at the quote, you can see how this identity has already entered the narrative. It says: “Communists are committed to genuine democracy that is not restricted by capitalism and hindered in its mission to serve the people.” According to this assertion, capitalist democracy is a decision-making process that serves the people, but only to a limited extent. That’s not what it is. Democracy is the way in which rule is organized, not how citizens make a decision, but not as freely as they could if capitalism did not limit them. And then there’s this phrase “obstruct their mandate to serve the people.” My presentation has said that democracy puts the people at the service of the state; not that democracy has a mandate to serve the people, but in capitalism this mandate is less important than it could be. This identity, this view of democracy as a method of decision-making, is actually the fundamental ideology behind the subject of democracy!

Nadim: This also answers another question: the fact that democracy is a relationship of rule that is merely legitimized by those in power is not really disputed by the proponents of democracies. It is often argued that this rule is (unfortunately) necessary in order to “balance” the conflicting interests in society – the so-called social contract.

PD: It is worth going into this because it leads back to the election campaign. Your formulation was: “Violence and rule are necessary to balance conflicting interests.” You can say that too, if you like. Politicians have the task of balancing conflicting interests. (Chancellor Merkel once said that her task is to bring the conflicting interests of citizens to a common denominator, or something like that). But if politicians refer to interests, then the fundamental achievement of the state is that it already has them behind it, in that politics refers to the ready-made interests of the capitalistic working population. (The farmers need cheap diesel and the workers need labor protection laws and families need family assistance, housing benefits, etc.) The fundamental achievement of the state with its power to establish and secure property as a legal institution, this power that places things that benefit everyone under the precondition of the legal right to dispose of them and thus converts all useful things into instruments of power in people’s dealings with one another. Only through ownership is the possession of a machine an instrument for making other people subservient to it – this fundamental achievement of the state never comes up in democracy, because the level at which politics is conducted, at which expectations are placed on politics, is already at the level of ready-made interests. That is why the idea that force is needed to balance conflicting interests is wrong, because state power is the source of interests that are directed against each other and endowed with rights. This economy with its conflicting interests only exists on the basis of this guarantee. This does not come from human nature, but from property and the use of property as capital. Once you get to this level, you have a whole host of conflicting interests and then you can say that this society must be forced together, because without coercion it would fly apart.

Nadim: What role does the so-called state of emergency or emergency law play in a democratic constitutional state? Why is it not abolished in a democracy?

PD: Democracy is the perfect form of bourgeois rule over a capitalist society. It is the perfect form because it secures the consent of the governed and manages to transform their dissatisfaction into a commitment to the state. You can also say it from the other side. Because, unlike the pre-modern forms of bourgeois rule, it does not suppress the interests of one class and elevate the interests of the other class into state law, but rather politically subjugates all classes and therefore also accepts all interests. But it places them all under the condition that they experience their satisfaction only to the extent that they contribute to the overall national success. The state of emergency is definitely not the perfect form, but it is the form that the state resorts to when democracy no longer works. This shows that the state ranks higher than democracy. The state does not give up when the democratic way of organizing it fails because of irreconcilable differences. Then the people are simply not ready for democracy and freedom must be secured against the citizens by dictatorial means, so to speak. So the emergency laws are good proof that the state comes before democracy.

Nadim: The criticism may be right, but aren’t there still some good reasons to take part anyway? The title of one of your talks a few years ago was quite pragmatically “Voting is wrong.” Doesn’t it make sense to go and vote when things like a referendum are coming up? Isn’t that an aspect where you can still gain something from the election?

PD: A referendum is not an election! That is something else. Referendums are already thematically defined in such a way that not much is decided by them. A referendum on whether or not the state may levy taxes is out of the question, or whether or not property is to be respected, or the right to work, whether the state should be obliged to provide everyone with a job and thus a source of income.

I’m familiar with referendums in Bavaria. There was one once: “Should smoking be banned in pubs?” You can let the people decide. Recently there was one on the protection of bees. It didn’t even come to that because the Bavarian government said it was actually a good cause, we’ll do it ourselves and then it’s up to us to decide exactly how it’s structured. There are referendums in various states, but not at the federal level. In the federal states, you can bring them up on various topics. In Berlin, there was the issue of housing associations. What does a referendum do? A referendum sets a target: the housing associations should be nationalized. Then it’s up to the next government to decide what to do with them. Nothing is decided, but the really powerful are presented with a vote. In the main, it does not reverse anything, in the topical vote it is a matter of things that are, so to speak, arbitrary options in terms of the raison d'état and its necessities, and once the referendum has been held, everything is again in the hands of those in power as to what exactly its implementation means.

A digression on this: In Switzerland, there was a referendum 15 or 20 years ago on the question of whether to join the EU or move closer to it, and this was voted down in favor of the SVP, i.e. the Blocher party. The effect: The government in Bern organized all the agreements that are really necessary with the EU not in the form of a general rapprochement with the EU, but in the form of individual agreements, because Switzerland as an industrialized country needs the EU market and must come to terms with the conditions set by the huge market surrounding Switzerland. What have the referendum voters achieved? It turned out to be much more complicated than it would have been with a constructive agreement with the EU, but in substance all the points were realized that were made about foreign infiltration and “you also have to pay money to some foreign country” and so on. So the referendum presents those in power with a vote and they decide what happens according to the needs of their national advancement.

“Voting is wrong, but not voting is also wrong.” This has been taken up in one of your discussions: that voting is wrong, but sometimes you should do it. But: it’s not about “shoulds” anyway. It’s not that we mean anything we say as a left-wing moral, that if you’re an upright decent, then you don’t do that. That’s not the point at all. If you understand what voting is, you have no interest in doing it. The sentence was not meant to say: sometimes you should vote. But rather: you should not act as if the omission of consent were a political act. It is nothing of the kind. Only one thing, which is nonsense, has not been done, but nothing has been done. Anyone who thinks that changes of a more fundamental nature are needed must realize that there are other ways than voting. That was what was meant and not how it was apparently understood.

Nadim: There are still people, such as left-wing lawyers, who refer to the constitution and the Basic Law and say that parliamentary democracy and the economic system could be changed via the expropriation paragraph. The Basic Law does not specify that this form of economy is one based on property and capitalist accumulation. People like Wolfgang Abendrot are advocates of cooperation between communists and social democrats with the aim of levering capitalism out of democracy using democracy’s own tools. What do you say to that?

PD: Three things. One, a reminder of what has already been said. This is a way of not dealing with the democracy that exists and how it exists. Democracy is explicitly not seen for what it is, but as an enabler of something completely different. Why does one not want to know what it is for and why it exists, but instead wants to say: I could imagine what could be done with it? Our book deals with the democracy that exists, with its procedures and its achievements.

Two, this possibility of socialism, which has been written into our Basic Law with the expropriation paragraph, states however that expropriation is possible in the interests of the common good, provided that compensation is paid in a fair manner. In other words, expropriation in the sense of taking away someone’s property is not meant, but basically a change in the form of ownership. Someone/something has to give up a piece of land, but in return they have to get as much money as the land/thing is worth. This is the perpetuation of property, not its abolition. In short, this is exactly the kind of claim to political sovereignty over property that is part and parcel of capitalist society. The state sometimes needs to expropriate a field where a road is going to be built or a railroad line is passing through, even if the farmer is reluctant to give it up. Then the institution exists because if it is in the overriding interest of the common good, it can be taken away from you, but only if your property remains in the same dimension, but in a different form, not as a field, but as a sum of money. Every capitalist state needs this type of expropriation, and every capitalist state authorizes it, whether it writes it into the Basic Law or not. It is necessary and useful for nothing other than this society, in which there is a capitalist common good, e.g. infrastructure purposes that are necessary in the interests of national economic success and that then also at times go beyond individual property.

Three, what kind of idea is that anyway? Someone says they want socialism and then asks: is it in the Basic Law that I’m allowed to do this? That’s close to Lenin’s joke when he said: “The Germans buy an admission ticket when they want to make a revolution.” Do we really believe that a revolution is allowed by the system which it is directed against? Do you really believe that you have to be allowed to make a revolution if you want to do such a thing? Do you think: if I take it this way, that politicians could be instructed to say, we’re voting for revolution now, you can make the revolution for us, while we can carry on doing our jobs and earning money? How absurd is this idea? How loyal to the state is the idea of saying that socialism is allowed in our constitution, so we can be in favor of it?

A small addendum to the big issue: democracy can live perfectly well with dissatisfied citizens, because it makes dissatisfaction productive for the renewal of state personnel. In a democracy, parties compete for approval, for trust, for people’s votes. If they succeed, they are the object of hope for improvement and trust. When they are in power and execute capitalist necessities, sooner or later they become the object of mistrust, the target of all kinds of disappointments, sometimes the object of hatred. It is always only parties that are the object of political affection and aversion. In this way, the state itself and its reasoning are and always remain out of the game. The state and reason of state are above what is being fought over. This is never discussed: What actually is the reason of state? The art of introducing a rule, of directing all hopes at it doing well and all anger about it doing bad to the personnel, who are then interchangeable, is the way in which the state itself is always out of the game as an object of judgment and as an object of criticism.

Nadim: There are also communist parties that are running for parliamentary seats. They have communism in their name, like the KPÖ in Austria. Then there used to be this idea: couldn’t a communist party at least use parliament to somehow have the workers’ backs, to create better fighting conditions for them, to use parliament as a stage for the class struggle? What can be said about such almost tactical considerations?

PD: Should one say much about this at all? Because the parties that have said that they are using parliament as a platform for class struggle, i.e. that still distinguish class struggle from parliamentary participation, are dead in my opinion. What we know today to be parties that call themselves communist or else socialist or left-wing populist, and the KPÖ is certainly one of them, are parties that, if they could get into government, want to make policies for the little people, but that’s where what I said very early on today belongs.

There are indeed alternatives as to how to achieve success in a state. But the measure of success is always the same, namely economic growth as a condition of the state’s financial freedom. Because this is the case, it doesn’t matter whether a politician like Wagenknecht or Lindner is running, whether they want to make policy for the little people or for the environment or for families. Really, not even the FDP really wants to make policies for the rich. It doesn’t matter who they want to make polices for. They have to organize the success of the state as the condition for all the good deeds they can think of and then they have to functionally subordinate all good deeds to what the success of the state requires. If you put poor people in a better position, then that also has to means that they are more productive for the country and if they are and are used accordingly, then you can simply grant them higher wages or longer vacations. But if they become more expensive and the economic success slows down, then that is proof that they have been accommodated too much. And vice versa. Of course, you can make poor people worse off and then a lot of money is left for the rich and they can accumulate and grow and create more and more jobs or abolish them again with the productivity increases that they then pursue. The question then remains whether what is necessary has been done for the productivity of the people, i.e. for the conditions of usability. If you want, you can read our article on the citizen’s basic income that appeared six months ago. These were considerations, and you can really see how the SPD says that hitting the long-term unemployed harder and harder doesn’t help. You have to make sure that you rekindle their already broken will to compete, to participate, to earn money. This is 100% functional thinking. The parties that appear on the left today are those that want to organize benefits for the poor as a service of a successful state, and benefits are only acceptable within the framework in which they are functional. Because this is the case, the whole idea of the tribune of class struggle is a history story. The best one can say of it is that it has led over decades to the left that we have before us today.

Nadim: What I’ve often heard now after dealing with this criticism of democracy, when you then say that voting is not in my interest. But what do I do with this knowledge, what do I do with this criticism of democracy? Or: What is this knowledge good for?

PD: Today’s criticism of democracy is first of all good for knowing what you are up against. If you then think you can’t live with it, then you have to look at what is needed to change it. This requires something other than forming an opinion about the circumstances. At a time when the left is weak, there is nothing else to do anyway. The idea that I want to do something practical now does have its moments of not wanting to accept everything that has been considered. If you say that none of this is going to help you now, I hear you saying that you’d like a political offer where you can be told that if you sign it, everything will be different, better or something similar. Nobody can offer that. We live in a system, we have an entire order against us, at least those who find it bad.

Nadim: I was also surprised that it came up a lot, especially on this topic. The same left-wingers would never say, wait a minute, but I’m reading three volumes of Kapital and that didn’t help me at first because it didn’t change anything. They are quite open to that. But there’s more resistance to this criticism.

PD: Because it is this temptation that democracy, because you are asked, is an offer to you: that you get to say how you would like it to be. Now our criticism takes this offer away from anyone who follow these thoughts. Then they should realize that it isn’t one. Then they won’t have the impression that there is a loss that goes with this.