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Literacy in Economic Questions

by Ulrich Duchrow Saturday, Aug. 20, 2005 at 8:05 AM

The neoliberal total market was created through political strategies, above all the installation of dictatorships by the secret service and military interventions of the US, not through democracy.."


Interview with Ulrich Duchrow

[This interview published in: Freitag 5/26/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]


“If there are only two alternatives, choose the third.” Is this ancient optimistic proverb fulfilled in “life is more than capital – alternatives to the global dictatorship of property”?

Ulrich Duchrow

Franz Hinkelammert and I set this proverb at the beginning of our book as an answer to the quotation from a speech by George W. Bush, Jr.: “Whoever is not with us is against us.” In the context, the proverb means: We refuse the choice between total market and empire on one side and counter-terrorism on the other. We also want to encourage people to free themselves from the pressure of this barbaric alternative. A political economy is really possible in service of life and can be realized when the affected people unite in resistance and implementing alternatives. The response to our book, available in English, Spanish and Chinese translations, gives me hope that we have fulfilled the promise of the ancient proverb.


The well-known theologian Dorothee Soelle said that economic literacy is imperative for preservation of the earth. Do you share her opinion?

Ulrich Duchrow

Completely. In a 1984 project, a Brazilian pastor and I introduced the term “literacy in economic questions” in the discussion. We founded the economics workshop in Heidelberg in 1984 and Kairos Europe in 1989 that did not only speak about this formula but converted this into action through publications, addresses, seminars and the organization of civil society.


Is it “self-manufactured captivity” when the “free” market economy is still regarded in 2005 as a democratic advance and all signs of barbarism are ignored?

Ulrich Duchrow

Yes, exactly. In the time of apartheid, the South African theologian Alan Boesak titled his book in the time of apartheid “Guilty Innocence.” I have often used this term. For example, around 1984 I was viciously attacked in my church in Baden on account of my critical statements and studies on the capitalist world economy. Finally, we agreed to organize a synod on the topic “Justice” in 1987. The preparatory group declared: “We want to speak about God’s justice, not worldwide economic justice.”


How do you explain to yourself and your students that the globalized market is seen as necessary and without alternative?

Ulrich Duchrow

There is an excellent recent study on this question: Bernhard Walpen, “The Open Enemies and their Society. A Theoretical-Hegemonial Study of the Montpalerin Society” 2004. The author shows how the scattered liberals under the leadership of economists like F. A. von Hayek assembled worldwide under the name neoliberalism afterclassical liberalism’s catastrophe in the worldwide economic crisis of 1929 to regain long-term ideological hegemony. They met regularly in that society, established foundations, journals and think tanks and increasingly attracted protagonists of the sciences, media, capital and politics. The left did not take this seriously or offer any equivalent against this targeted strategy.


You pointed out that the earth is subjugated by capitalism in a brutal form since the collapse of the command-socialist countries. Does the political victory of democracy over totalitarian systems now imply the absolute seizure of power of the total market? Isn’t this an “either-or trap”?

Ulrich Duchrow

Yes, in many regards. This alternative is a lie. The neoliberal total market was introduced through ideological strategies, above all through the installation of dictatorships by the secret service and military interventions of the US, not through democracy (since 1953 in Persia, Brazil, Indonesia, Congo, Chile, Argentina and so forth). The dictators open up their markets for transnational capital. Their countries become indebted through credits for imports from the industrial countries. At the end of the 1980s, “low-intensity democracies” under the control of the financial markets were introduced. As the Sante Fe document II (for Bush Senior) shows, democracy is defined as the freedom of capital that should be protected by the “permanent government structures” (the army, justice and administration). I explained this in my book “Total War on the Poor.”


Do terms like freedom, competition, opening new markets, human rights and mobilization against worldwide terror help veil the accelerating worldwide impoverishment that with its highly developed technology must be called barbarism?

Ulrich Duchrow

There is nothing to veil any more. The impoverishment is clear to everyone. The political class of every shade and color as in Muntefering’s capitalism criticism only addresses the symptoms. The immorality of some entrepreneurs is made responsible for the catastrophic situation. That this dangerous immorality has been an increasing danger for years through dismantling the social state and reducing taxes on profits from business activity and assets is concealed. The barbarism has and is a system.


Since capital property must be socially obligated, can the globalization criticism intensifying on all continents and demanding and suing for justice in social movements be called a literacy campaign in human rights?

Ulrich Duchrow

I recently wrote an article about capitalism and human rights for an English anthology. The thesis is that capitalism has produced only the so-called first generation of human rights limited to freedom rights. Economic, social and cultural human rights were gained through struggle by the working class movement and socialist third world states. Now capitalism through its globalization is destroying these collective, political, and civil freedom rights. Therefore whoever wants to struggle for human rights must struggle against neoliberal capitalism.


Finally, did an international church alliance {the Reformed World Alliance] speak publically and very critically on the economic situation in 2004 for the first time in church history? The confession of Accra declares that the present world (dis-) order is based on an extremely complicated and immoral economic system where the majority of people are excluded (from profit) and the creation is plundered.”

Ulrich Duchrow

Yes, the confession of Accra is a great event in church history. The reactions in the South were marked by great joy. In Western Europe, on the other hand, the reactions were reserved or hostile in different regions. However nothing has changed. The next step and the next challenge have already begun. The background document of the 2006 plenary assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre is named AGAPE – Alternative Globalization Addressing People and Earth. Accra is taken up and advanced. The ecumenical basis will not give us any rest in our churches. The (ever-more barbaric) reality overtakes more and more people.

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