Corona and the collapse of modernisation
by Roswitha Scholz for the editorial office of exit! & Herbert Böttcher for the executive board of exit! and for the Ecumenical Network at the end of March 2020
[This article published at the end of March 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, EXIT! Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft.]
Corona is the trigger but not the cause of the worsening crisis situation. It will accelerate the disintegration of capitalism. In contrast to the crisis of 2007/8, which came to a head at the 'systemically important' banks, the real economy must now also be given billions in aid. What is needed is once again the (social) state, which in the triumph of neo-liberalism was discredited as a social hammock and a ball and chain in the competition between locations. What had puffed up as a successful model of location- and 'finance-driven' capitalism was itself nothing more than a strategy for stretching the crisis of capitalism. It is therefore no coincidence that Corona is confronted with a partially privatized health care system that has been damaged by austerity, and in the crisis regions with the in part complete collapse of market and state structures.
As early as the first neo-liberal experiments in the 1970s, which Augusto Pinochet - supported by the Chicago boys around Milton Friedman - carried out in Chile under a murderous military dictatorship, critics noted that the motto being followed here was 'enslaving the welfare state'. "Police state makes free. In fact, the further history of neo-liberalism was also connected with intensifying repression, especially against people who became superfluous for the exploitation of capital: from the unemployed and precariously employed, to the refugees and the unprofitable sick and old. Exclusion and repression are not simply products of neoliberal capitalism, but are due to the link between capitalism and democracy, between liberalism and repression, which is the basis of the 'state of emergency'. In recent decades, the 'state of emergency' has increasingly become the 'normal state', especially for refugees. Under the pressure of the Corona crisis, there have been collective forced deportations from Greece to Turkey. It is to be feared that the state repressions already practiced at Corona will intensify - combined with an increasing savagery of the police and judiciary (corruption, mafia connections, etc.).
Just like the 2015 'welcome culture', this time the invocations of solidarity cannot be trusted. Nobody in political circles has come up with the idea that the 'income' of the homeless and beggars should be improved in the Corona crisis. Their chances of receiving donations from passers-by and/or collecting bottles are drastically reduced. Nor was any thought of solidarity wasted politically on supporting people who are dependent on Hartz IV and basic security in old age and who are confronted with a worsening food situation through the hoarding of cheap products to the point of the breakdown of tables and soup kitchens. In the best case, political solidarity extends to those who are usable and 'systemically relevant' and, when the chips are down, to the elderly who are to spend their well-earned retirement after a working life.
In this situation women in particular are in demand as 'cleaners' of the crisis. In this role they are currently receiving a lot of attention. It should be remembered, however, that this recognition comes at a time when the capitalist patriarchy is disintegrating. In this phase, women are more and more involved in the struggle for survival. Their importance and function should therefore be reflected within this context, rather than simply demanding the upgrading of women's work and appropriate remuneration. The entire fundamental crisis process should be the starting point for analysis and also for considerations of intervention.
In the meantime, there are more and more voices demanding liberal freedoms, which at the same time point out that a return to normality must be prepared in the interest of the economy. To this end, they are also prepared to sacrifice people in Social Darwinian madness. It is precisely old people who are denied the right to life.1 Not surprisingly, so-called 'business ethicists', such as Dominik H. Enste in the Tagesspielgel (24.3.2020), also have their say. In utilitarian logic he warns that health should not be too expensive. He refers to the British as an example: They "have clearly defined what the extension of a life may cost: 30,000 pounds, in exceptions up to 70,000 or 80,000 pounds." It doesn't take much imagination to imagine that demands for selection of 'human cost factors' will continue to increase in the future.
We need to prepare for the hour when the supposed normality of capitalism is to be restored and the economy is to be revived. It is to be feared that this will lead to further social restrictions and changes.
It is to be feared that this will lead to further social restrictions and upheavals, which may also lead to unrest and looting, as is already happening in Sicily. In order to cope with this, the police and military are ready for a 'state of emergency'. For their use, there are plans by the US Department of Justice to detain people indefinitely and without trial.2 This would extend Guantanamo to the whole of society. The current discussions in Germany show the tendency that the relaxation of the 'state of emergency' for society as a whole should be accompanied by a 'state of emergency' for the elderly and risk groups, i.e. their isolation.
Isolation and further waves of impoverishment, repression and wildness are exposed to people who have been turned into competitive personal companies in the context of individualization. Medium-sized companies in particular are torn between stress, which has mutated into a status symbol, and the relaxation imperatives of the self-discovery industry, in which relaxation becomes a top performance, without being able to find an intact and healing self. The socio-psychological consequences of isolation are already becoming apparent in the form of depression and escalating violence, especially against women, in the face of situations in which people are completely thrown back on themselves and their immediate environment. The less the usual normality returns and the more impoverishment and social decline spread, the more the subject of competition, which is oriented towards the 'fight of all against all', is in danger of ending up in a Social Darwinist struggle without regard for losses.
What Robert Kurz has described in many of his books, and what we know above all from the global regions of decay, will probably now also be experienced by us in a truly sensual way. From social movements to the left, positions of crisis and collapse such as the critique of value separation have not been and are not taken seriously, or even ignored completely. However, dubious conspiracy fantasies like Dirk Müller's ("Mr. Dax") and collapse analyses like those of Friedrich/Weik are in circulation, which after the "biggest crash of all times" are striving for a new, now better functioning capitalism. Leftists throw themselves into a hyper-social-democratism with Green New Deal, redistribution, expropriation etc., which remains within the form. Or: all of humanity is declared the working class against the "one percent" of the possessing and all evil is not fixed in capitalism and its "processive contradiction", but above all in neoliberalism.
The occupation of the poles of market and state, which changes according to the course of the crisis, becomes less and less possible, because in the worsening course of the crisis it also encounters its immanent limits more and more sharply. A return to the nation state would be fatal. The closing of borders testifies to helplessness and is rather a substitute action. Instead, pragmatism and cooperation on an international scale would be called for to contain the current crisis, which is coming to a head on Corona. Research, transfer of goods etc., production of vital things would have to be regulated beyond national borders, unbureaucratically and free of charge, to counteract further barbaric consequences. The forced situation requires mutual assistance and cooperation. Such pragmatism and such cooperation should not, however, be confused with the appearance of another society. It can only come into view when thinking and acting leads to a break with the forms of the value-division-society.
from the conclusion of Herbert Bottcher's article on the Corona discussion in exit-online.org, April 2020
There are parallels with 9/11: Even the measures that were adopted head over heels at that time are still being applied today in areas that have nothing to do with terrorism, and they have been retained even though they have proved ineffective as measures to combat terrorism. It is therefore obvious that the technical and repressive possibilities offered by, for example, the 'corona app' or a lifelong (!) existing digital biometric 'vaccination certificate'5 are by no means based on 'corona specificity'.
In essence, the reference to the relativity of life appeals to something familiar to capitalism, the willingness - and if you are not willing, then I need violence - to sacrifice life. Thus - despite all the experiences from the two world wars - the discussion about worldwide German military operations was accompanied by appeals that soldiers must be prepared to give their lives. Solidarity also demands sacrifices. Peter Jungen from Peter Jungen Holding GmbH, a business angel investor in Europe, the USA and China, made it clear what this meant: "Solidarity means keeping rules "2. What is meant is Italy, which should pay back its debts. Crisis and questions about connections or not - debts must be paid. This is all the more true as Italy has refused to implement structural reforms despite its debt. The fact that even greater savings in the health care system would have caused even more people to die is the sacrifice that must be made to the law of values.
Killing in order to fulfill the economic and political obligations that go with it, making people redundant, driving them away and destroying the natural foundations of life globally, all this is an expression of the capitalist obligation to sacrifice - preferably out of insight and free will, if necessary forced - in a system in which it has always been decided, as it were, a priori that the value of life is 'absolutely' nothing to the unworthy. It should raise awareness if some demand that tracking programs should be mandatory6 or that data should also be collected from non-infected persons.7
The extent to which even supposedly critical thinking is integrated into the forms of thought associated with the value-division society is made clear in an interview with Marlehn Thieme, the president of Welthungerhilfe8 . She refers to "the disastrous interplay of the corona pandemic, armed conflicts and climate change", which "leads to a famine catastrophe of the greatest magnitude". And yet everything depends on the exploitation process: "Even with one percent less economic growth, the number of poor and starving people could increase by 2 percent." Conversely, this means: We need 'growth' - no matter what kind of destruction that entails.9
In the discussion about crisis capitalism in Corona times, the hopeless jumping back and forth between polarities seems to take place ever more quickly and confusingly. Sometimes the state protects life, sometimes it relaxes it in the interest of the functioning of the economy - and that too serves to protect life, because all other values, the entire canon of values in the constitution, depend on the exploitation of capital. On the one hand, there are complaints that digitalization in schools has not progressed far enough. At the same time, there are complaints about the psychological and socio-psychological burdens caused by the lack of face-to-face communication, because they increase the pressure to relax the rules. The political forces are torn between relaxation and state of emergency. It is quickly overlooked that even authoritarian politics has its limits. It has to assert itself in the face of dwindling resources and by means of savage apparatuses, and it also encounters a collapsing functional intelligence, as can be seen in the opening of schools. The tangled back and forth and then again the turning in circles is an expression of the confused and confusing conditions that are fired by Corona but not created with Corona.
Some leftists move close to those who see an opportunity in the crisis. It is said that every crisis is associated with a kairos, a favorable time for a turnaround. With the collapse of Corona - as a perverted Badiou event, so to speak - we make the existential experience that our everyday life can change "from one day to the next". Then something else can change as well: the activities that are invisible beneath the fetish of goods, such as nursing, become visible and appear in the light of systemic relevance. The savings in the health system turn out to be a mistake. Politics rescues companies, why shouldn't it be possible to democratize them? After all, measures that Corona suggests could be made permanent: In other words, "taking the healthcare system away from the market, obliging large companies to orient their economic activities to the common good, would be a step in the direction of infrastructure socialism". If it were that simple: Corona blows away the crisis, including the value-division society, its thinking and socio-psychological conditioning. and all will be well.
It wasn't Corona that blew our minds. That was lost with the collapse of theoretical reflection and the pragmatism associated with it even before Corona. This loss is one of the pre-existing conditions the virus encountered. The effort to become theoretically capable would be an indispensable prerequisite for a process of recovery and change that does not dream and wish for itself, but recognizes and negates what constitutes capitalism and thus creates the conditions for a transformation based on the negation of the accumulation society. Only then would Corona have become a kairos.