The Wilderness Lives
The Possible End of Prehistory as a Beginning of New Ways
By Helmut Thielen
[This introduction of “Die Wueste lebt” by Helmut Thielen, 2000 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.graswurzel.net/verlag/wueste-einl.shmtl. The book was written in the spring 2000 in Sao Leopoldo.]
Is the “Third World” in Europe? A few years ago, such a formulation even with question marks would have been rejected as absurd. The “Third World” was seen as limited to the southern half of the globe, to large parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America, while Western Europe and North America were seen as the rich regions with assured prosperity for broad layers of the population. This way of looking at things is not entirely wrong but reality has changed enormously.
The development of the world economy since the nineties has already reshuffled the cards. The coarse division of the rich North and the poor South is outdated. Identifying socio-economic structures with massive spatial regions veils reality more than it correctly describes or explains reality. That the distinctions of rich and poor, over- and under-developed are not identical with large areas does not mean that these distinctions no longer exist. Rather they are constantly expanding. They appear today in a mosaic structure in which wealth and stagnation, poverty- and wealth regions, prosperity and misery face one another more inscrutably than before. As a result, the geographic emphasis on the North-South opposition is as unsuited for describing and recognizing forms of conflict as the past opposition of the East-West conflict.
Since the collapse of “command socialism”, a world society has existed since the seventies of the 20th century that is standardized by the global competition of mammoth private enterprise forms operating globally. They pursue strategies of capital-, material- and labor acquisition, productive commercialization and sales across countries and regions (worldwide sourcing, producing and marketing). (1)
Since 1999, this economic dynamic has taken a new course in a wave of mergers and buyouts. This is vaguely paraphrased with the meaningless term “globalization”. Multi-conglomerates and organized regions will be involved in the future battles of world economic wars. (2) Profit in the productive sectors will be added to profit in the financial markets. The framing conditions of economic extortion and transformation of politics in positional competition are created and changed through supra-national and global agreements, institutions, treaties or occasional interventions as for example the massive economic associations like EC (European Community), NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement), MERCOSUR (Common market of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), the new WTO (World Trade Organization), traditional institutions like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank or informal groups like G7/8 (group of the seven richest countries with Russia on account of its nuclear bombs). The failure of the multilateral agreement on investments in May 1999 and of the last round of negotiations of the international WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2000 in Seattle show that a global control of capitalism is not possible any more. The confused running amok of capital, the “capitalist anarchy” of conflicting powers, has already advanced too far. The “capitalist anarchy” is a complete chaos of opposing interests, competition, economic, political and military battles, crises, breakdowns, slight recoveries and new crises etc. freed from all reason or positive humanist values.
Poverty and misery grow worldwide. The “Third World” is no longer a mammoth region but includes Moscow, Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, London and New York. This is all part of the standardization of the world society through the world market. The “Third World” appears everywhere. Whether “secure and stable homes” for multinational corporations and political institutions will arise in the course of this development is not foreseeable. Politics reacts to social violence in the US or Brazil by resorting to the state machine. The middle- and upper classes maintain their private gardens. This globally dynamic capital economy is now very susceptible to risks and crises in new specific ways of exclusion and contraction of real capital and in turbulences of financial capital. Therefore the accumulation of wealth in different sectors and regions is increasingly accompanied by poverty and misery.
Capitalism today is increasingly less a system that integrates dependent labor in its exploitation dynamic and legitimates itself through jobs, income and consumption “for everyone”. That was “the social democratic century” as described by the liberal sociologist Sir Ralf Dahrendorf in sovereign contempt of geographic-political proportions (for example, little or nothing of the benefits of this century appeared in Africa). (3) Today capitalism excludes population groups and whole regions from social reform integration or refuses them as parts of the distressed population in East Germany and Europe experience
Capitalism’s expansion dynamic lasting centuries seems to have largely exhausted its potentials. Inventions that created jobs on a large scale instead of destroying them by means of capitalist application are not in sight. Rather computerization and genetic engineering, the leading technologies of the 21st century, are instruments of increased profit with the consequence of extreme exclusion. According to different prognoses, three quarters of the potentially economically active population will be permanently excluded from the formal economy in the foreseeable future. There are hardly any new countries to include in the economic dynamic.
Capital today appears peculiarly brittle in relation to the new market economies of the East. The new capitalism doesn’t realize its profits any more in production that includes dependent labor but rather through financial speculation or production bound with two exclusion mechanisms, high technology that saves workers and exclusion of businesses, employees and even regions that cannot keep pace in the technology competition. Therefore regions and villages in North America and Western Europe including Germany for example are impoverished nowadays.
“North-South conflict”, the defensive struggle of the impoverished against the absolutely pauperized regions, is a term that explains nothing today. At a moment when poverty in Europe grows with economic exclusion and the disappearance of the welfare state, the impoverished region of the Middle East arms itself against the claims of the impoverished from Africa and the Near East, against the consequences of destructive economic and political expansion over centuries. (4) As a result, the security state with its (potentially) violent policy of crisis- and catastrophe management grows as a mirror-image to the dismantling of the welfare state.
The first wars and armed conflicts within the world society point to the “non-military” side of the conflict: 1991 against Iraq, in a region whose control is crucial in accumulation strategy on account of its crude oil deposits and against Yugoslavia 1999 to establish geo-strategic dominance in the Balkans. These motives explain why NATO hasn’t succeeded in attaining its official humanitarian goals in the Balkans. The NATO humanitarian goals were propaganda for the justification of war. From a humanitarian perspective, the war was a failure. Geo-strategically it ended with a growth in checkpoints. Under the sign of the increasing scarcity of non-renewable natural resources and in view of the imminent exhaustion of economically profitable sources of oil, the Iraq- and the Balkan wars could be the first control and distribution wars of the 21st century to be followed by others. Massive damage to the natural, economic and infra-structural environment of the regional and local population should be feared.
A type of conflict where worldwide access to raw materials faces the claim for sovereign use of these provisions by the resident population for their independent development is fundamental for the development of the world society. This conflict also cannot be solved peaceably and can hardly be solved by the political-military institutions of transnational capital. One example is the hidden “low intensity war” against indigenous guerillas in Chiapas, Mexico that achieved great political successes in the first half of the nineties but since then lost control over some areas and the support of part of the indigenous population. The Chiapas affair of the Chase Manhattan bank in February 1995 revealed the direct violence used again and again by the capitalist economy.
According to newspaper reports, the politics of the Zapatistas in Mexico was judged “unacceptable” by the bank. An expert opinion was ordered to justify a military invasion with the goal of destroying the movement with force. The attack of the Mexican army in Chiapas prepared long ago was connected in public discussion with this economic geo-political position of the bank. (5)
Since 1997, the conflict has marked time. Chiapas is the poorest state of Mexico – by the living standard of the Indigenas – and the richest state of Mexico with crude oil deposits and mineral reserves including uranium. To live their lives, the Maya Indians do not need to dig up the earth. The earth is sacred to them and the economy is subordinate to cooperative life and cultural expression. Capital must excavate to maintain the surplus value – and profit-production with raw materials and energy. The conflict is a fundamental conflict between two completely different societies. One is socio-politically and ecologically sustainable and doesn’t provoke damages in the long run. The other is destructive.
The new conflicts and wars and the fear of Europe and the US of becoming impoverished themselves and infiltrated by the “Third World” are related. The strategic reserves in natural minerals must be militarily secured worldwide as though we lived in the 19th century. The North builds “walls” against the poverty migration reflecting the plundering of the South over centuries and the imitation of dangerous aspects of the North – like the spread of nuclear weapons and the wars in the South – because the North cannot solve the poverty problem that now breaks out in itself. Therefore the formulation “Europe as the Third World” is justified.
The Third World is no longer a geographically delimited area since the poverty- and impoverishment phenomena spread like a mosaic. The spatial delimitations are blurred and increasingly include their old geographic causal centers, Western Europe and North America. The new poverty in Europe and its causes must be seen in a new type of capitalist economy and flanking politics. Both force people to the margins of society or exclude them. What poverty actually is in this connection can be disclosed with the help of the term human dignity. Poverty is the epitome of violations of human dignity. Beyond humiliating and pacifying strategies for immobilizing the poor, poverty could be removed by creating the presuppositions for human dignity.
If poverty increases today in regions regarded as rich like Europe, if this also points to the foreseeable end of a socially equalizing policy and if all this is ultimately a necessary result of the present form of free enterprise capitalism, this has decisive consequences for the question about a way out of this fundamental and comprehensive crisis and for answers to the destructive fundamentalism of the capitalist economy and the state politics that serves that economy.
To find answers to these questions, current experiences and traditions of a new beginning (6) must be probed against the spirit of the times. These experiences and traditions clarify the challenge. In this actualization, the truth can be delivered from conceptions where true insight is mixed with ideological distortion. This free and critical appropriation is still in the future. (7) One of the organs of capitalism, The Economist” London wrote in 1998 after a new wave of international economic crisis broke out a second time in Asia and spread from Russia to Brazil: “We must reread Marx.” The self-reflection of capital includes a realism missing from red-green conservatives – out of cowardice and opportunism, not out of lack of gifts. (8)
Present capitalism destructive in many regards points to the necessity of a renewed reflection on the concepts socialism, communism and anarchism that are still intensely scorned and under a strong taboo
The objective goal of all the movements, reforms and “revolutions” in the 20th century was to modify and expand the capitalist world market so that regions of former so-called command socialism and the southern hemisphere become economically integrated in this capitalist world system in an unequal way. Other regions were permanently marginalized or excluded and therefore must be controlled politically and militarily as “trouble spots”… The growing impoverishment is the condition for improved inner-capitalist indicators, above all for financial profits.
The end of the expansion of the modern rule system has a twofold significance. The falling away of the seemingly external conflicts – with the end of the East-West conflict and liberation movements (11) – and the dissolution of balancing social reform policy now release their internal self-destructive crisis potential for the first time in the history of modern capitalism. Equalizing through social reform in inner and outer expansion is no longer enough. The economic crisis and the related civilization crisis of the western model become permanent and gradually deepen. These crises are consequences of the contradiction between growing production potential and invested capital and on the other hand limited profit chances and overstrained sales markets. They lead to two exclusion mechanisms: rationalization and competition. Rationalization immediately excludes employees while competition excludes businesses together with their personnel. Rationalization intensifies competition; competition accelerates rationalization.
Capital has produced immense wealth and the scientific-technical conditions for surplus. Doing anything rational is impossible since realizing this wealth potential would break the capitalist accumulation logic. This potential is only possible in another social logic. One result is the far-reaching exclusion of massive regions and population groups – like Africa south of the Sahara – from active participation in the dynamic of the world market. The next victims of exclusion could be Russia and successor states of the former USSR.
Economic development corresponds to the defense of assets and crisis management as a social and political reaction in the old core regions of the capitalist market economy. The “free West” realizes bloody exclusion and military control against “rogue states” like Iraq since 1992 (the intellectual brilliance of this Mickey-Mouse language is striking!) and against Yugoslavia since 1999.
The most important historical tendencies after the end of the expansion of the capitalist system of rule have already been described, the “permanence of crisis” and “crisis management” and on the other hand the dismissal of regions, populations and natural, human and technical potentials from the dynamic of the world market with political and sometimes military control of these excluded areas. In general, the excluded still have the chance of beginning a development sovereignly determined by themselves, a genuine history of humanity. Since the excluded must learn that capital doesn’t need them any more while the state still controls them, they could learn that they no longer need capital and the state and can evade state control to sovereignly develop and create their social life, a life in peace with themselves and with nature in concrete freedom and justice for personal happiness.
If the past revolutions of 1789 and 1917 and beyond were only upheavals within the integrated socio-economic, ecological, political, cultural and psychic rule systems of the modern age, a true revolutionary process resulting in a liberated society, liberated from capital and the state, is still in the future.
If this assessment is correct, the socialist-communist-anarchist utopia of liberation for a free and just society is not outdated as the blinded and conformist spirit of the times proclaims but is a present challenge. This utopia includes the remembered visualization of the unfulfilled hopes of the past still to be actualized and the realized anticipation of hopes for the future. This is not the sudden and complete realization of an abstract model but possible steps in practical experimentation in structurally and spatially ignored areas. Like reformism, this new way is also a gradual process.. in experimental communitarian life and work institutionalized in an effective democratic way. Like past socialist-communist revolutions, the new way strives for a free and just society.
Nevertheless the new way contradicts past revolutionary politics by granting priority to immediate social structures, rejecting the priority of conquering political power, referring politics to second place and strategically dissolving the powers of the status quo while protecting the seeds and advances of the new society. This would be a “politics of anti-politics” that would annul itself as alternative social structures grow and the dominant powers are superseded by inner subversive powers. Such politics could affect the existing authorities “in a fatal bloodless way” (12). These authorities would be destroyed.
The indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico in the nineties is an example from the “Third World” for this new way beyond mere reform and conventional revolution since it is beyond power politics. Its armed potential doesn’t contradict this new way. This violence potential was used transitionally and symbolically to defend the new communitarian structures appended to old traditions and stimulate a policy for social and political democratization in the limited spheres of influence of the guerillas. A social civil movement in the whole society seeks social development and democratization dissolving its own armed forces. Therefore the Zapatista guerilla is a new type of the social revolutionary movement rightly described as the first post-modern guerilla of the 21st century by the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes.
This book “The Wilderness Lives” shows how challenges can be solved and opens up a perspective beyond capital and the state. The theme human dignity is emphasized. Human dignity casts a light on poverty, its causes in the crisis of capitalism and the bright and dark sides in the modern history of liberation.
At the threshold to the 21st century, a new project of liberation can be invented along with criticism of the given social situation. This project must satisfy two conditions: striving for knowledge of the current ultramodern conditions of rule and not repeating misguided past historical attempts at change and liberation, whether reformist or seemingly revolutionary. The most important conventional forms of politics have reached their end. Repeating or varying them is excluded. In 1999, the social-democratic finance minister Lafontaine was barred by the German social-democratic government from pursuing Keynesian welfare policy. Therefore he resigned. This reveals our state of affairs.
A new project can be connected to the diverse traditions of a third way. (13) These alternatives circle around ideas and experiences of utopian socialism, anarchism, anarcho-communism and communitarism. Alternatives include the historical breakthroughs of the authentic communitarian praxis of the Christian faith from the beginnings in the Jesus-movement 2000 years ago to current life and work communities motivated by this faith. In the past, all these projects were slandered and repressed both in relations of rule and in traditional processes of reform and revolution. This points to their authenticity and their actuality after the other ways proved to be dead-ends in the modern rule system. (14)
A new way actualizing these experiences and ideas consists in realizing anew the utopia of free persons in freely ordered communities in the here and now, in every moment and as far as powers and possibilities reach. The strength, courage and necessary approaches for relating to the large structures of capital and power-politics can be found in the cells and areas of the “new” in the middle of the “old world”. (15) Imagination, gifts, abilities and the theoretical and practical intelligence of many different individual persons and social groups are necessary instead of subordinating them – as customary in traditional politics – to a standardized scheme and thus repressing these forces and sabotaging from within the desirable goals. (16)
In Germany, there was an awakening to a communitarian way of life at the end of the seventies. However only a few communities remained in the nineties. Some of them call to mind the new era of the seventies. That this movement will develop further in the 21century as a reaction to the permanent crisis and exclusion is more a hope than a reality. The theoretical work corresponding to these traditions and experiences must still be done. (17)
The creative development of new ways doesn’t mean being original and setting something new in the world that is already antiquated. What are involved are symptoms of the capitalist structural crisis, the “eternal return of the new” as Walter Benjamin formulated. (18)
The new with power and continuance is a brother and sister with the ancient or very old. The authentically new is the other in this old.(19) The Zapatista movement in Mexico can teach us as an example. (20) The truth can be said again and again so it becomes the reality that it is always is inwardly by acting outwardly. What is possible today here and now requires a chance for the courage and trust promised and demanded of us with human dignity. With all social dependence and powerlessness of individual existence, insight in this state of affairs should be communicated with the ethical challenge of making a new choice for this existence..
Deliverance from the delusional blinding in the misguided status quo would be a great gain. The status quo is limited and not lasting from eternity to eternity as the quasi-religious worship of capital asserts that is handed over to its own destructive dynamic. This worship of capital is still dominant but not unchallenged. The life before us is fraught with its own problems and should not be transfigured. There was a life before and there will also be a life after this economy and politics of death. This book emphasizes the challenge of a new beginning, its necessity and its possibility. Readers who can be stimulated to courage for unsparing truthful criticism freed from the false and failed and recognize initiatives of a very new beginning that draws from what is unsatisfied in the oldest sources to set out together on other paths.
11 Functional expansion areas are regions already geographically penetrated by capitalism which nevertheless are not potential markets for all segments. Functional expansion areas are above all Western Europe and the US regarding the exploitation of the sensuality and eagerness of children by their transformation into consumer desires and thus into a segment of sales markets (cf. Elmar Altvater, The World Market as a Practical Constraint). Indebtedness crisis, Blocked Industrialization, Ecological Peril – the Case of Brazil, Hamburg 1987).
14 Cf. the following texts: Martin Buber, Pathos in Utopia. On Community and its Realization; Gustav Landauer, Call to Socialism; Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You; Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom.
15 The subversive substance of Adorno’s misunderstood axiom that there is no true life in the false (from Minima Moralia, 1962) should be defended against misunderstandings. All attempts to fundamentally change conditions should not be refused because the negative result will supposedly occur a priori and independent of historical acts. No analysis can affirm the impossibility of praxis purely theoretically and separated from practical struggles… There cannot be true life in the false since true life only exists in threatened beginnings and traces as “weak chances”, the elements of the new embedded deeply in every present (Benjamin). All attempts at change move in an historically different and concretely present dialectic of great danger and limited chances… The practical consequence of this dialectical interpretation is the opposite of inactivity. The immense threat of the respective chance becomes an additional motive and argument to do everything to emphasize the “tradition of the oppressed” and keep alive the possibility of its victory in the historical struggles.
16 This is an old problem. In his argument with Marx, Michail Bakunin stressed: “Power corrupts even the most intelligent and most devoted…”
19 The idea of the other is used in the sense of the philosophy of religion of Emmanuel Levinas. Its discussion and reception in the Latin American philosophy of liberation, particularly in the works of Enrique Dussel, should be mentioned here.