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Guidance to the system change, Parts 1 and 2

by Thiemo Kirmse Friday, Jul. 22, 2022 at 2:38 PM

World War II led to U.S. domination of the political West, which was able to make its mark on the part of the world it more or less controlled. Led and dominated by the military-industrial complex, any efforts of autonomous state developments that contradicted its interests were suppressed.

Guidance to the system change

It can't stay the way it is - a reflection on exiting capitalism and starting something new. Part 1/3.

by Thiemo Kirmse

[This article published on 7/21/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Interests are stronger than ideas. There are many good concepts for another world beyond capitalism. But what does not exist is a plan to implement these ideas. That's because influential forces oppose what would clearly be best for the overwhelming majority of people. The question is what can be learned from the past experiences of political parties, social movements, and from people's political engagement, and how a plan for exiting capitalism can be derived from that. The author first provides an overview of mostly unsuccessful attempts at transformation in the past. He then asks the question: what was the problem and what can we do better in the future?

Political engagement outside the established and institutionalized establishment always leads to the question of how to act more assertively or how to have an impact at all. Sometimes one feels almost powerless in the face of a huge state apparatus, billion-dollar corporations, the pervasive mass media or simply in the face of what everyone says, means and does.

The question that is most far-reaching in this regard, and probably the most difficult to answer, is the question of systemic change. With respect to this last question, Daniela Dahn and Rainer Mausfeld put it succinctly: there is not a lack of good ideas for a better world, but a lack of a plan to implement them (1). That's right. It is time to think about such a plan.We start with an inventory.

The answer of the old master

How do you reach people? How do you make an impact? Noam Chomsky is always asked that one way or another. The professor emeritus of linguistics, longtime fellow at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, political activist, author of numerous books, and sharp critic of U.S. politics and foreign policy isn't just anyone, either. The New York Times, which is also not just any newspaper, once called him one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century. This accolade from the heart of the establishment media world, which is itself regularly subjected to Chomsky's critique, is rarely absent from a performance of this character, who is so go-getting and prolific.

The question varies. Sometimes it is a question about how to succeed in a particular cause to which one is committed, then how to influence major political decisions, and even how to change everything and overcome capitalism. Chomsky's answer is specific, depending on the question, but basically he always answers the same way, or rather his answers can be summed up into one.

In the introduction to Chomsky's book, "Rebellion or Downfall!" editors Charles Derber, Suren Moodliar, and Paul Shannon describe what they call a typical Chomsky event as a wide-ranging public lecture and conversation (2) in which Chomsky always engages in an exchange with his audience. At every Chomsky event, the editors note, this question comes up repeatedly (3).

Both are remarkable: both the repetitive question and the unchanging answer. The question itself is unsurprising in this regard; on the contrary, it is as pressing as it is obvious. Of course, in the face of existential problems, one wants to know what to do and how to act as effectively as possible and reach many people. The answer, as Chomsky gives it, is also obvious on closer examination. At the same time, it is unsatisfactory, and that mainly because it never also reveals the way to really ultimately get to where the path is supposed to lead: to a better, peaceful world. The answer remains unclear at this point, and the question remains unanswered in space - and is probably also repeatedly asked for this reason.

Chomsky's answer is comprehensible and certainly not wrong. It is a good answer to be aware of if one is committed and wants to achieve political or social change. It will be briefly outlined here: Chomsky says that first you have to get out of your isolation, which means you have to get together with like-minded people and then get involved. Then you have to educate - over and over again.

You have to present the facts to people and show them the possibilities for action. If you reach a lot of people and build a critical mass, you can put pressure on decision-makers to change.

That, Chomsky said, is the way, and it has worked repeatedly in the past. Change is possible. It takes staying power and continuous work at the grassroots level. In addition, he said, it is necessary to network with others on an international level, because the major challenges are now global in nature and can only be tackled together in international cooperation. Moreover, the immediate problems could only be addressed within the existing institutions, since the conditions for far-reaching institutional change were not yet in place, although the seeds of such a development were indeed already there (4).

So far, so good, one could say up to this point. Chomsky's analysis and response are apt. At the same time, they are sober, and one is left with the feeling of one's own powerlessness in the face of the magnitude of the tasks ahead. What is almost completely missing is a systematic way out, i.e. the perspective of how to overcome the whole system - capitalism in the broadest sense. The answer conveys too little hope and remains unsatisfactory. What is needed is a better and more far-reaching answer - perhaps even a plan.

Interests versus ideas

It is perhaps necessary to distinguish once again what is or could be at stake. Dahn and Mausfeld remind us that there are many well thought out ideas. As examples, they cite the common good economy, ideas on climate protection, redistribution of wealth, a new monetary system, new forms of democracy, or a social education offensive. This list could be extended to include basic income, the distribution of work and the reduction of working hours, ideas about the common good or commons, a socio-ecological change in transport or local circular economies.

All these ideas are not bad and can be thought together. But they are still to be distinguished from the idea of overcoming the entire capitalist system and creating a new form of social coexistence on this planet. For both - the many "small" ideas and the idea to change everything - a plan for implementation is missing.

But why, if the ideas are so good, are they not taken up and pursued at the political level? The idea that it is all about ideas and that the best possible one will prevail precisely because it is the best possible one is naive. It's not about ideas, it's about interests. And this difference is fundamental.

Chomsky provides a vivid and - in view of the state of the world in the 21st century - not entirely insignificant example of this (5). In the course of World War II, U.S. leaders had recognized that sustained government stimulus and intervention in the economic cycle was highly conducive to keeping the economy going.

The only question that arose after the end of the war was where this permanent influx of funds from the state should be directed: to the military or to the social sector. The decision was quickly made. The structures that had formed in the U.S. during World War II, and which U.S. sociologist Charles Wright Mills describes so vividly in his almost timeless work "The American Elite" (6), dominated politics and set the direction. It is this structure, later called the military-industrial complex by outgoing U.S. President Eisenhower, which chose the military line.

Faced with the question of whether it would be better to channel state resources into tanks, aircraft, missiles and military research or into schools, hospitals and a public transport infrastructure, almost everyone would opt for the social sector.

The current war in Ukraine is unlikely to change this decision, if it were viewed not through the mass media's opaque glasses, but historically, geopolitically and from a neutral position. It also does not help to tell the decision-makers that it would make the world a better place if public money were spent on social and human causes instead of buying armaments, that is, that this first idea is "better." People deliberately chose otherwise and simply continued the system that was created during World War II.

The interests of the rulers prevail

And just as it was then, it is futile to discuss what would be better, because the interests dictate the direction. Incidentally, Mills not only clearly warned against the increased power and influence of the military, but also against the strengthening of corporations and the path of modern societies into mass society. Mills said - already more than 60 years ago - with regard to the power of corporations that there is no power "which can effectively and in the long run rise against them" (7). At the end of the road of mass society, Mills said, lies "totalitarianism as in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia" (8).

Corporate power has not diminished since Mills' time, and in the modern states of the West, Chinese authoritarianism and the surveillance and control of the population there are sometimes viewed less critically and more as something to learn from. Technocracy as systemic coercion is an expression of increasing state authoritarianism. Uniform opinions and the suppression of dissenting opinions are another hallmark of authoritarian and totalitarian states. In many countries, and not least the European ones, it is not difficult to see such a direction in the developments of the recent past, say the last 20 years.

To sum up, while the many good ideas are all in the direction of a better world, they are not in the interests of those in power.

So basically it is quite simple and then again not so simple because the world is too complex to change fundamental things easily. This also applies to the path via those who are most likely to do something. You will not reach the power elite - however you understand this group - as a whole. And even in the unlikely event that this were possible, fundamental changes would require cooperation at the international level, which is at odds with the political-economic system based on competition and rivalry.

The tension between ideas and interests had also been envisaged by Keynes and von Hayek as a central point, and they had expressed their conviction that it is ultimately ideas that prevail over interests. In this consideration, which is initially no more than such and not proven beyond doubt, there are variables at play. What ideas are at stake and what interests? The statement that not every idea will prevail against every interest is banal. And if ideas are only about economic theories, that is still different from ideas about a different kind of society.

Especially the neoliberalism advocated by Hayek, when it was needed, did not really have a hard time to be accepted in relevant elitist circles and to be put forward as an ideology. With the idea of a classless society, one is less likely to knock down open doors in the palaces. It is more attractive to those who know the palaces at best from the outside. The question is with what power the interests are connected and with what effectiveness the ideas can counter this power. The question of power plays a central role in the assertion of interests and cannot be ignored.

A cosmos of alternatives

Next to the ideas is the practice. What about the many small and larger initiatives, projects and lived alternatives that have been attempted, partly interwoven with the ideas, or that already exist today and can, in a sense, be seen as nuclei of the new? What contribution do they make, and what can they achieve? Are they indispensable and the key on the way to a new world, or are they doomed as small islands in the rough and storm-tossed capitalist sea and soon forgotten?

A very incomplete, superficial, and at the same time broad picture could be drawn by looking at both political-social struggles, alternative forms of society, attempts to do business differently, and individual ideas that can be both intrinsic to the system and in contradiction to capitalism together and juxtaposing them as a collection of set pieces. Such a flash spectrum should suffice here in the very briefest form as an enumeration. It is no substitute for a more extensive and detailed examination, which would have to be undertaken.

If one were to take a very broad view, one could begin with ancient Greece and Attic democracy. In any case, the commons, i.e. the common use of forest and pasture land in England, could be included in such a consideration. Alongside this, as an example of the attempt to create an egalitarian society, could be the Paris Commune or the anarchist movement in Spain, which experienced its peak and decline in the 1930s. The current liberation movements in Chiapas in Mexico or Rojava in Syria are also about autonomy. Both emphasize grassroots democratic organization and gender equality.

In the cosmos of alternative lifeworlds, if we continue our journey through space and time, we might come across the smallest, selective attempts to organize a society according to anarchist principles. Among others, we would find them in the Andalusian village of Marinaleda or in the free city of Christiania in Copenhagen. In the Danish capital, however, we can find much more if we want to take a look at a possible future. Copenhagen is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world and aims to be the first city - also in the world - to be CO2 neutral in 2025.

Sustainable energy production and decentralization lead us to the initiatives that put energy supply in the hands of citizens, and to energy cooperatives. When it comes to cooperatives, the first thing that comes to mind is self-managed housing cooperatives, and then the Spanish cooperative Mondragón, which is both a corporation and the seventh-largest company in Spain, and which operates less according to capitalist principles and more with the interests of its workers in mind.

Other forms of work

However, it is not only possible to do business differently in the form of the cooperative. Collective farms are a possibility to consciously work differently - not detached from capitalism, but not with an eye on profit, but ecologically, in solidarity and socially. Almost everything is conceivable and available here: the handicraft business, the bicycle repair shop, the café and the pub, the purchasing cooperative, the agricultural business, the publishing house, the print shop and the bookstore. And there are also examples in the fields of education, consulting and IT. That in itself is an exciting development. It becomes even more exciting when networks emerge from it. And thinking one step further, this could also give rise to larger structures not unlike the Spanish cooperative already mentioned. This could even be the path to a different economy.

Working differently also means working less overall, distributing the work and not excluding anyone.

While in this country individual companies are collectively reducing their working hours, Iceland, after an experimental phase lasting several years, has been the only country to introduce a four-day week with a weekly working time of 35 hours since 2021 - without any loss of pay, of course. Also exemplary is the small Austrian village of Marienthal, which has eliminated long-term unemployment by guaranteeing a job at no additional cost to the state. As a result, those formerly affected by unemployment have a better financial livelihood, can participate in society and make a meaningful contribution to the community. Stimulating the local economy is another plus.

It can work completely without work if you rely on an unconditional basic income. Of course - again thinking of an economy as a whole - in the long run not without work and an activity of the people, but just without the coercion and with a guarantee of the basic needs. Again and again local experiments are started for this.

What would also make an alternative society valuable would be independent media. Complete financial independence is the least that would have to apply. But it would need more.

If the media, regardless of their financing, were nevertheless too often uncritical mouthpieces than enlightened, then not much would be gained. If the mass media do not do much more than make the thoughts of the ruling class the ruling thoughts, then alternative means of communication are needed.

In any case, independent media - thought of in this way - are an essential building block on the way to a different world. The development of recent years in the field of alternative, predominantly digital, media offerings is correspondingly positive in this respect.

Some things have failed in practice, have been violently opposed or have developed in a completely different direction from what was thought and hoped for. And not everything is as nice and shiny as it might seem at first glance. But even the negative experiences are experiences and things to learn from. Implementing and doing are important, because it is these experiences that show what works, what is good, what can work and what also does not work. They are the germ cells without which it will not work. But they alone will not be enough. We'll come back to this when we think about connecting ideas to practice, about possible plans, and about likely resistance.

Social movements and protest

In addition to the ideas and the examples of practice, an inventory includes the social movements and civil society organizations that are engaged in selective or specific activities and that have a reciprocal relationship to the ideas and the examples of practice. The recent past has produced a number of major protest movements that have been able to mobilize people nationally, regionally, and sometimes globally.

It was eleven years ago when a wave of protests went around the world in the wake of the global financial crisis that began in 2007 and 2008. In Spain, the Indignados occupied public squares, while Occupy Wall Street became eponymous for an entire global movement that took over public space and occupied squares. At the same time, people in North African states in the Middle East rose up.

While in the latter authoritarian rulers, some of whom had ruled for decades, were swept away, governments were newly formed and far-reaching concessions were made to the people, people in the squares in the West protested against a financial system that was getting out of hand and enriching itself. Protests in southern European countries, most notably Greece, continued for years through the subsequent euro crisis.

The Occupy movement, which received a lot of support from the population despite its radicalism and criticism of the system because people agreed that the financial system was the culprit, also stood out because it did not make any demands. Thus, it remained largely unclear what the movement actually stood for.

As extensive as the political uprisings and social movements that had begun in 2011 had turned out to be, the political balance sheet for both the North African-Arab region and the Western states is sobering.

In Libya, a shattered "failed state" remains after the invasion of a Western alliance, while in Egypt, the military, with the silent approval of the West, couped away the elected government and once again installed an oppressive regime.

In Syria, a civil war broke out that lasted almost ten years and devastated the country. Protests in the West, however, faded away without having any noticeable effect. The last remnants were sporadic camps that persevered even in German cities.

The subsequent regulation of the banking and financial sector can be seen as a political reaction of the states, which would have taken place even without the intervention of the protest movements. The policies exercised by the euro crisis in the hardest-hit countries - especially Greece - pushed by the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, were the opposite of what people had so vehemently taken their protest to the streets for. It was also a failure of the political left in Europe.

Almost fluidly came the transition to pushing through a series of free trade agreements designed to put corporate interests above the sovereignty of states. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the EU was the most prominent example of these multinational treaties.

The negotiations, which began in 2013, were long accompanied by persistent protests on both sides of the Atlantic. Criticism was levelled at the lack of transparency, the one-sided consideration and participation of corporate and business representatives, and the private arbitration tribunals, which were among the clearest revelations of the nature of the agreements. It was not the strong protest movements that ultimately took the wind out of TTIP's sails, but the will of the new U.S. President Donald Trump - one of the most alienating people ever to hold the highest office in the most powerful state on earth.

From Occupy and TTIP to Fridays for Future and Corona

A short time later, the young Swedish student Greta Thunberg entered the political arena and initiated the worldwide Fridays for Future movement, which campaigned for climate protection and compliance with the 1.5-degree target from the Paris global climate agreement. Millions of mostly young people regularly took to the streets for this cause, striking schools and demanding clear action to preserve the biosphere. This movement was also able to build on a great deal of support among the population. Parents, teachers and scientists got involved in their own groups and supported the movement. Despite the strong protest, the measures taken by those with political responsibility fell far short of the demands.

In Germany, the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen party benefited most clearly from this new spirit in the Bundestag elections. A number of new, young deputies made it into parliament. Hardly had they arrived there when war broke out in Ukraine in early 2022. The formerly pacifist Greens, whose flagship had always been environmental protection, mutated into the most vehement advocates of sanctions, arms deliveries and high armaments, and with this decision alone trampled climate protection underfoot.

The self-imposed boycott of Russian energy sources, which fails to achieve its stated goal, is politically irresponsible and makes the Greens, who once stood for environmental protection, perform a backward roll to nuclear energy and coal-fired power plants.

The climate movement as a whole has certainly not disappeared from the scene and it will continue to grow, even if Fridays for Future is unlikely to sustain itself as a driving force in the long term. The war in Ukraine is not the responsibility of the climate movement. At the same time, it is a watershed moment for the protection of our biosphere and, in this regard alone, a setback that could hardly be worse.

Almost in parallel with Fridays for Future, the coronavirus moved around the world. The increasingly authoritarian and disproportionate political measures taken on the basis of an unclear factual situation forced a worldwide protest. In many German cities, thousands of people walked against compulsory vaccination, state authoritarianism and the suspension of fundamental rights. With the war in Ukraine and the warmer season, it has become quieter around Corona for the moment. But a continuation is by no means ruled out and, worse, we are threatened with a permanent technocratic regime that favors vaccination over sound basic hygiene with a well-developed health sector in the area of health protection.

This serves the interests of pharmaceutical producers while preparing the ground for tighter management and control of populations. Even the expression of dissenting opinions has been considered subversive and latently hostile to the state at least since the corona pandemic. The most perceptible demand of the walkers is for a free vaccination decision. A more far-reaching political organization, networking and goal setting is not discernible. The narrow retreat from compulsory vaccination is certainly also in part a success of this critical movement, which unites broad layers of the population.

No breakthrough success yet

There has not been a resounding success of the political protest and the social movements as just described. At best, one can speak of selective or temporary successes. One is reminded in part of the quote by former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said, with regard to the pursuit of a political agenda - meaning also the European political elite - that one goes as far as possible until one encounters resistance. Then you wait for a while until the resistance has disappeared, and then you can continue on your way. The agenda of the political elite tends to include corporate interests. They also outweigh the protest.

If we look only at this relatively short period of the last ten years, we can see that the social movements alone will not be able to fix things. Looking further back into the past reveals even larger, more radical movements and much more intense confrontations, some of which were no less than attacks on the system itself. These are very valuable experiences to learn from and to consider. However, in their efforts to overthrow capitalism, they too ultimately failed.

The first part of our stocktaking has shown that there is no lack of good ideas and practical examples for a different world, but that there are interests that oppose them, that prevent political enforcement and instead pursue their own agenda. Even the major social movements of recent years have hardly been successful in terms of achieving concrete improvements. In the second part, we will continue our stocktaking. This will not be overly edifying either. In the end, we will consider what can be done. The best comes at the end.

Sources and Notes:


(2) Noam Chomsky: Rebellion or Downfall!, Westend Verlag, 2021, page 8.

(3) Ibid, page 11.

(4) Ibid, page 75.

(5) Noam Chomsky, "An Anatomy of Power," Europa Verlag, 2003, pages 103 to 107.

(6) Charles Wright Mills, "The American Elite," Holsten-Verlag Schenke & Haß, 1962, pages 148 and 149.

(7) Ibid, page 93.

(8) Ibid, page 212.

Thiemo Kirmse, born in 1976, first completed a commercial apprenticeship before studying mathematics and computer science in Bielefeld and Münster. Since then he has been working as a software developer. During the financial crisis, he became politically involved with Attac and Occupy. His criticism of capitalism has led him to the question of what a system alternative might look like. More information at


Guidance to the system change

It can't stay the way it is - a reflection on exiting capitalism and starting something new. Part 2/3.

by Thiemo Kirmse

[This article published on 7/21/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Interests are stronger than ideas. There are many good concepts for another world beyond capitalism. But what doesn't exist is a plan to implement those ideas. That's because influential forces oppose what would clearly be best for the overwhelming majority of people. The question is what can be learned from the past experiences of political parties, social movements, and from people's political engagement, and how a plan for exiting capitalism can be derived from that. The author first provides an overview of mostly unsuccessful attempts at transformation in the past. He then asks the question: what was the problem and what can we do better in the future? Part 1 can be found here.

We continue our stocktaking, broadening our view and looking not only at the social movements but also at the development of the political left - primarily in Europe over the past ten to thirty years. Because it is not necessary to reinvent everything that is already there and that is good, we can gratefully refer to the short dossier consisting of three articles in the German-language edition of Le Monde diplomatique from January of this year, which deals with precisely this development under the title "Europe's Left" (1).

Left parties in bad shape

The "tragedy in red" - from the aforementioned dossier - could not be much more aptly described. International developments beyond Europe and social movements are also briefly considered in the dossier. With regard to the latter, the finding is the same as that previously identified in the first part: basically, nothing has been achieved. The Arab Spring, Occupy and the two French groups of Nuit Debout and the Yellow Vests are cited as examples. Pressure on the streets is irrelevant, the conclusion goes, if it does not reach the political system.

This realization, that is, taking social protest to the parliaments in order to change the system from there, was one that drove the Spanish party Podemos. Born out of the Indignados and the social protests of ten years ago, a political party was formed that wanted to learn from the defeats of the political left parties and, conversely, also looked at the successful developments of the left in South America.

South America - it should be mentioned in passing - is a political hemisphere of its own and deserves separate consideration. The extended backyard of the United States is only partially under the control of what was for a long time the only world power, and it continues to elude its influence. The swings into the political left and right camps are much more pronounced than in the Western democracies, where at most there is a comparatively moderate change between political tendencies, which are becoming more and more aligned anyway. One accusation levelled at the European left, for example, is that its decline also had to do with the fact that, when it was in power, it did not implement its own program but that of its opponents. One thinks, for example, of Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder or François Hollande. In South America, political power oscillates more markedly from left to right, and so far any hope of a lasting improvement has been destroyed again and again over time. Socialism of the 21st century is still a long way off.

This is hardly different in Europe, where the political left has been on a long path of decline and, with the exception of France, currently presents a very weak picture. Greece's Syriza has failed bitterly. Jeremy Corbyn has gone from being the bearer of hope for a new strong left-wing movement in Great Britain to a factionless member of the English House of Commons, while on the other side of the Atlantic, the charismatic Senator Bernie Sanders has ultimately failed against the political establishment and repeatedly against the U.S. electoral system. And in Germany, the Die Linke party is fighting for its political survival.

Severed ties

The decline of the political left in Europe and also in the U.S. has a counterpart in the depoliticization of the lowest class, which rightly no longer feels represented by the ruling political establishment, which has decoupled itself from the political process and which hardly participates in elections anymore. In the process, a countervailing movement has taken place. In the 1950s and 1960s, the more educated and higher classes still voted largely to the right, while people from the working class, which, before the great deindustrialization set in, could also be described as such, voted for left-wing parties. Sixty years later, the situation is quite different. Left-wing or social democratic parties tend to be voted for by the more highly qualified and by people in urban centers, while the rural population and the lower classes - if they vote - vote on the right.

The links that once existed between the working class and an educated middle class, and which formed the basis for a strong political left, no longer exist. Along with this, an exodus has begun among the members of the major, long-established parties.

Membership has dropped sharply, and people from the lower classes are hardly present anymore. What remains are middle-class university graduates and pensioners. The electorate is made even more fragmented by a "wall of values" (2) that has formed in the cultural sphere and on issues of identity and belonging. These differences, which can be traced to issues such as immigration, religion, abortion rights, gender justice or gender policy, divide society, so that even sections that agree in many essential areas, such as their criticism of the system, can hardly find common ground.

Among the lowest strata, the established parties have lost trust. In order to win elections, it is no longer even necessary to respond to the wishes and demands of these people. Contributing to an additional disenchantment with politics, across all social groups, are the system constraints - which find a prominent expression in the fact that politicians often have their "hands tied." Repealing the value-added tax on certain products, something 90 percent of the French support? Impossible. That violates European regulations.

Courage for a new radicalism

The conclusion that the left must "summon up the courage for a new radicalism" can absolutely be agreed with and can only be underscored in view of the development of the political parties. The recurring political appeasement, the adaptation to the system, to the constraints, the smoothing over, and in the end "governability" lead to irrelevance. There are already more than enough "parties capable of governing." Radical in this sense may also be understood as pronounced opposition to the system.

But here, too, it should be noted in advance that, with regard to system change, we are "only" talking about political parties and the politically established process. For history in particular - most recently the "Tragedy in Red" - shows that even this path has not yet led us to our goal and to a different society. As promising as the approaches and the beginnings may have been again and again, in the end there is not much left. This is not to say anything else than that politics in parliament can, at best, be only one of several building blocks when it comes to fundamental changes and perhaps even a change of system. How exactly such a building block might be constituted in order to make a constructive contribution will be considered later.

The example of Podemos

Podemos started out this way: radical and promising. Out of the social movements and in continuing connection with them, as an association of different, though most likely left-wing, political currents, it wanted to become politically effective, to take power in order to break with the existing. The young party seems to have done many things right at first, on the one hand by wanting to learn lessons from past defeats of left-wing parties, and on the other hand by looking to South America for successful models. Podemos relied on independent media and on its chairman Pablo Iglesias as a charismatic and media-present identity figure. The approach of leaving the classic left camp in order to be attractive to more people was also certainly well thought out. Moreover, the simultaneous polarization between a corrupt caste on the one hand and the mass of people on the other was an effective, albeit populist, move, but one that could easily win approval.

But then Podemos also failed. A number of reasons can be identified for this failure. In the foreground were quick political electoral successes at the expense of engaging the otherwise active political base, which ultimately led to the break at this point. Another point and a challenge that every party, no matter how radical, faces at some point if it wants to take political power is the necessary compromises, the constraints of the existing system and the prevailing order, especially at the local level. There is little financial leeway, only limited scope for action overall, and an established administration that tends to be unwilling to change. In addition, power structures and networks have evolved. If you want to govern there, you have to adapt.

The party's adaptation to majority positions took place relatively quickly, and not only at the local level. The reflex to say and demand as little as possible that was wrong, in order not to lose anyone and to win over as many as possible, caused the most far-reaching and radical demands, such as an unconditional basic income, a referendum on the monarchy or a postponement of the repayment of the national debt, to slowly disappear. In addition, there were other factors that put the party under pressure and cost it some popularity. Thus, at some point, the established media began to open fire, and a new political force emerged in the form of the liberal Ciudadanos party, which also offered itself as an alternative to the political establishment, even if it came from a very different direction than the emancipatory Podemos.

In 2016, in the struggle for political majorities and the highest possible electoral approval ratings, Podemos positioned itself on the left of the political spectrum by forming an alliance with the United Left, at the same time classifying itself as social democratic and moving more toward the center. The party was unable to achieve electoral success with this. In the meantime, Podemos has worn itself out. Important allies and prominent leaders have left the party.

The movement leaves its mark

It is now possible to analyze anew why this attempt at a progressive political party has also failed. Whatever the exact causes, it is clear that the path through the parliaments is not an easy one; on the contrary, it almost always seems to lead to once radical and left-wing parties either being smoothed out or deformed beyond recognition by the system over time, or losing themselves in irrelevance and disappearing from the political stage again. So far, the system has swallowed every such party in one way or another.

It is precisely this point that must be taken into account when considering the role that parties and parliamentarism can play on the way to a different world.

In any case, it is difficult to imagine a party that says that it does not want the state to exist as it does, that it wants to redistribute property and that the democratic process should be put to the test. Others have been called "terrorists" for much less - and that's where the fun stopped a long time ago.

A preliminary conclusion cannot be really positive after what we have seen so far. While there are many good ideas, there is a lack of a plan to implement them and a lack of a good and satisfying answer that shows how the way to another world can look like. The more recent social movements have not been crowned with success, and the politics in the parliaments, like the big media, somehow follow a different direction and a different agenda. Nevertheless, the conclusion should not be too one-sided. In addition to the goals, which are then achieved to some extent after all, a political consciousness is also always formed - more or less - among those involved, which can serve as a basis for further involvement.

In this context, Chomsky likes to refer to the protest against the Vietnam War. The U.S. could no longer afford to invade other countries with its military at will. It would have to choose other ways of intervention. Whether this is really better is another question. What is certain, however, is that it would not cause hundreds of thousands or even more people to fall victim to direct military confrontation. The environmental movement, which has lasted for decades, has also raised awareness of this problem and played its part in Germany, for example, embarking on the path to alternative energies, shutting down nuclear power plants and deciding to phase out coal.

It is not only the experiences from social movements and political engagement that become a personal experience for the participants, but above all it is the history itself that is instructive for all of us - and here we are not only thinking of the history of social movements. As is well known, one learns most from experience. First and foremost, this is certainly personal experience, but the insights we can gain from what others have experienced are also invaluable. This insight, that is, learning from history, is actually so banal and simple that it would be almost unworthy of mention if it did not all too often seem as if the lessons of the past were given far too little attention.

Still no critical mass

But the increased political awareness among the people who do get involved is not enough for a critical mass. And what's more, it has to be re-established every time, that is, in every generation. With the elite, they say, it's different. They learn from the past and can therefore constantly improve their response. This can hardly be true in its entirety, for otherwise the world would not be as it is, and the elites would not often be so obviously clumsy. Perhaps this only applies to resistance against resistance, and perhaps this is why the successes of the social movements fail to materialize?

In addition, the size of a possible critical mass cannot be precisely determined.

It sometimes seems to simply not matter if millions of people demonstrate in the streets or if a, perhaps even clear, majority is against certain political decisions.

Taking stock and then considering what can be done also involves asking why a critical mass does not form and, moreover, what happens if it does form. By the latter point, we mean possible resistance from opposing interests.

It is the raising of awareness with which it begins. You can also call it enlightenment. And it does not exist, at least not as a mass product. Enlightenment is a stroke of luck and a fluke. It can't exist at all. Henry Ford said that it was good that the broad masses had no idea about the financial system, otherwise a revolution would break out before the next morning. It is no different with the system of capitalism. It depends on the fact that there is no education about it and that the broad masses do not understand how it works - at any rate, they do not deal with it critically and are certainly not offered any alternatives.

The role of the major media is precisely not to provide such enlightenment; on the contrary, the media take on a watchdog function (3) in the opposite direction, which makes them a supporting pillar of the entire system. Because there are elections and because they are not supposed to change anything, a consensus must be established in the public sphere in which crucial questions are not asked in the first place. A narrow spectrum of views, perspectives and opinions, the failure to point out connections and the failure to educate people to become mature and self-determined beings turn us into "the lambs that are silent" and into the "confused flock" that thus cannot become a critical mass.

Combined with the impossibility of effective political organization, the opinion-making control of the population leads to an apolitical and apathetic mass.

Against the backdrop of the political sovereignty of opinion mediated by the mass media and the enlightenment as the starting point of a critical movement, the role of alternative media offerings is anything but insignificant. The growth of alternative media in their diversity and in their reach is a very positive and valuable development that has led to dominant narratives being challenged. It also puts the established media themselves at the center of criticism. The debate is fierce. Fact checkers on both sides are intended to discredit the opposing side in each case and strengthen their own position.

The views on various political issues are often extremely contradictory and hardly compatible with each other. The popularity of alternative media offerings has played a major role in making criticism more perceptible. The almost disjunctive factual situation - concretely and currently in the matter of Corona and in the matter of Ukraine - hardens the debate not only in the digital sphere. However, the penetration of alternative media offerings is still far from sufficient to decisively change the weight vis-à-vis the media mainstream. The balance of power remains quite clear here. But make no mistake about it: The greater the influence of alternative media, the greater the resistance, and the battle may yet be waged with quite different bandages.

New old orders after 1945

Before we move on to the constructive part and start "making plans," we still need to take stock of the resistance to the resistance. This consideration is, as it were, the transition to the constructive part, which would be incomplete and of little value on its own if possible resistances were not also a part of the considerations. The assertion of interests and the fighting of resistance are part of the same process and can be considered from each side - from the preservers of the existing and the opposing forces. From a system-critical point of view, the "keyboard of resistances" covers the entire conceivable spectrum.

The political reorganization of the world after World War II is a good example of asserting interests and fighting resistance. It is also essential for understanding today's political order on a global scale. With the end of the second great war in the 20th century, Europe and Russia lay in ruins. The old continent was literally destroyed. In the Asian region, Japan was forced to surrender unconditionally, while on the mainland the Chinese Civil War continued and a short time later a new conflict escalated militarily in Korea, in the aftermath of World War II and the systemic conflict between East and West.

World War II led to U.S. domination of the political West, which was able to make its mark on the part of the world it more or less controlled. Led and dominated by the military-industrial complex and engaged mentally - as well as partly in reality - in a war with the Soviet Union, the USA suppressed any efforts of autonomous state developments that contradicted its interests. Leftist movements, parties and an emancipating labor force were fought everywhere and with all means. Instead, they sought stability and continuity and relied on conservative and reactionary forces.

In Italy, the Communists had been leaders in the resistance to fascism during World War II. They were also a strong political force immediately after the war and into the 1970s, and were continuously opposed and prevented from taking power. The U.S. president, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Justice Department, top judges and prosecutors, and the Voice of America acted as part of a massive campaign to prevent the Communist Party from winning the 1948 election. Threatening to cut off all economic aid from the Marshall Plan, bribes, blackmail, intimidation, and massive support for conservative Christian Democrats and millions of dollars, the United States intervened in the election campaign. The CIA pulled the strings in the background with covert political operations, propaganda, and paramilitary operations (4).

In Korea, after liberation from Japanese occupation, the country was divided up by the victorious powers. The South Korean part of the country remained occupied and controlled by the U.S. military until 1948. A government structure was formed from the population immediately after the Japanese withdrew. Its headquarters were in Seoul, while widely distributed "people's committees" in rural areas formed the foundation and support of the government. On September 6, 1945, the People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed. The United States was hostile to this self-governing structure. It was crushed by force. To this end, the U.S. reactivated old colonial power structures and the police apparatus from the Japanese occupation. In the little-noticed conflict, which forms part of the prehistory to the Korean War that broke out in 1950, several 10,000 -probably even more than 100,000- people died between 1945 and 1950.

Similar efforts to obtain a desired political alignment took place in other countries, such as France, Germany, and Japan. As Noam Chomsky summarizes it, "This happened not only in countries like Italy, France, and Greece, but also in Korea and Thailand. The first chapter of the postwar story is about how we brought the Italian, French, and Japanese unions to their knees and eliminated the very real threat of a popular democracy, the idea of which had spread around the world after 1945" (5).

In Defense of the American Way.

The most sustained and extensive campaign to get the "American Way" into people's minds and to promote the free market economy, however, took place on the home front, because the most dangerous enemy is always on the inside. Beginning in the second half of the 1930s and continuing through the early 1950s, the National Association of Manufacturers (N.A.M.), the apex body of U.S. industry, conducted an unprecedented propaganda offensive. Messages were disseminated through multimedia, weekly radio programs, movies and educational films, direct mail or letter-writing, exhibits for schools and businesses, and an industrial press service that provided short news items for hundreds of smaller newspapers. In this process, the delivery of information was neither transparent, let alone objective.

In the 1940s, the N.A.M expanded its efforts, aiming to influence educational and religious institutions. It also sought to immerse itself more in local communities to spread the message of free enterprise there. An editorial from Fortune magazine in May 1949 states that nearly half of the content of the best newspapers was derived from corporate press releases and publications. Almost all of the content of the smaller newspapers, as well as hundreds of specialized magazines, was also the work, directly or indirectly, of public relations departments from corporations, it said.

In the 1950s, the N.A.M. turned to television. By 1951, business-sponsored films were reaching a weekly audience of 20 million people. At that time, the U.S. had a population of just over 150 million. Imparting the correct economic view was tantamount to an educational offensive, which took place not least in the companies themselves, but also encompassed traditional educational institutions such as schools and universities. Many of the large companies, such as General Motors, Sears Roebuck and U.S. Steel, developed their own educational programs, produced booklets or films, and held demonstrations and discussions during working hours.

Millions of employees were thus economically educated in the right spirit over time. The history of the N.A.M. and its enormous public relations campaign in defense of the existing system cannot be duly described here. Nor does the ideological defense and propagation of its own point of view end here. The threat of the global social uprisings of the 1960s required a renewed effort on the part of the business community and a campaign that, according to Fortune magazine, was a study in gigantism that permeated the media and reached virtually everyone in the country.

State Terror

The 1960s and 1970s are also a period marked by an intense and sometimes violent confrontation between social movements, leftist currents and groups on the one hand, and state structures and a bourgeois milieu on the other. The state's methods are pervasive and reveal well that the keyboard is played very extensively when it seems necessary. In the process, the legal framework is also abandoned, and sometimes not even terrorist actions are shied away from. One example is the Counterintelligence Program - Cointelpro for short. It began in wartime, was stepped up under Kennedy and reached a peak during the revolts of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It included fomenting riots in the ghettos to destroy black organizing, attacks on the Native American movement and the women's movement, fifteen years of surveillance of the Socialist Workers Party, and also the assassination of a Black Panther leader. The story of the civil rights movement in the U.S. and the mobilization of the African American population between the 1960s and 1980s is also a story about the crushing and splitting of very strong and progressive movements by the state, where all the stops have been pulled out: from surveillance, infiltration, splitting, to political assassination.

History is very instructive in this regard as well. The violent confrontations ultimately played into the hands of the state side not only in the U.S., but just as much in Germany or in Italy. The escalation, which was deliberately promoted by state structures, must also be viewed in this light. The terrorist attacks by the secret organization Gladio in Italy between 1969 and 1984 are among the most drastic examples in this category under the concept of the strategy of tension.

At this point, a review by Prof. em. Dr. habil. Hans-Ernst Schiller on Erik Olin Wright's book "Real Utopias" fits in semi appropriately (6), because although Schiller's comments are essentially strategic - we anticipate the plan a bit - he makes clear that in a transformation strategy one must not disregard the resistances and namely the means of violence of powerful actors. Wright, who died in 2019, was a professor of sociology. One focus of his work was on utopias. In 1991, he launched his "The Real Utopias Project," which published seven books, of which "Real Utopias" was the final one. The preface to the German edition records a key idea of Wright's, who believed that capitalism could not be tamed by reforms from above, nor should it be smashed by a revolutionary break. Instead, he argues, it should be eroded by "building emancipatory alternatives in the spaces and fissures within capitalist economies while struggling to defend and expand those spaces."

In his review, Schiller says that it is aberrant to assume that there can be a peaceful coexistence of different modes of production and that it is doubtful that the exploitation of free spaces can be anything like a transformational strategy. Schiller points out that Wright himself says that "any significant move toward real social empowerment threatens the interests of powerful actors who benefit most from capitalist structures, and that they can use their power to combat such developments." Schiller adds that "there can be no socialism without breaking the power of big money, which consists not least in the disposal of mass media and means of violence. But who wants to risk a fight to the death? The preservers of class relations do not know the abhorrence of violence that intellectual activity usually entails."

Nonviolence as part of the answer

It is precisely this point, that is, the resistances evoked when alternative forms of economy, society, and life begin to expand, and the cracks and niches become larger and larger fissures and aisles that may even amount to a rupture, that must not be ignored. Wright's point is certainly compelling. Reforms from above will not eliminate capitalism. Revolution as immediate rupture risks the greatest devastation and an uncertain new beginning that could quickly turn out to be an even worse alternative. However, transformation alone through the germ cells of the new seems too little, just as Schiller thinks, if it remains only that and the complete system change is not thought of from the beginning. Even if it sounds promising, it would then not be enough to occupy the niches and cracks and expand from there. Again, this can only be one of several building blocks.

The possible resistances and adversities that one encounters in overcoming the capitalist order toward a different system raise the questions about the path that have long been discussed. Reform or revolution? Violence or no violence?

Transformation through reform will not succeed. If one conceives of revolution as a punctual upheaval that replaces one system with another, then this variant is also beyond imagination - especially in the case of fundamental changes, such as the introduction of a society free of domination. This would leave only a slow process of transformation.

The question of the use of force may not be pretty, but it inevitably arises and cannot be ignored if it is not to be answered spontaneously and individually. India's liberation from the colonial rule of the British Empire appears to be a viable path, and perhaps non-violence is the only way at all to move from a system like capitalism, which certainly has creative powers but whose destructive power outweighs them many times over, to a just and peaceful world. The comparison with liberation from colonial rule is not entirely valid, because we are not dealing with a foreign occupying power on the one hand and an oppressed population on the other. Even more, the human conditions and the constitution of the states in the first half of the 21st century are diverse, the freedom for the people and the restrictive, sometimes repressive actions on the part of the state are quite different. And yet the Indian example is illustrative.

The non-violence is convincing in several respects. First, it seems obvious to design the path in exactly the same way as the future and desired society is envisioned. The opposite notion fits poorly. Choosing the violent path and then laying down arms and proclaiming a peaceful world does not fit and is difficult to imagine.

Thought in the form of a revolutionary break, it becomes quite unthinkable, because who should stand up - after the victory won by force and with all means of power in hand - and say, from now on we do everything differently. I give up my power, and nobody shall have power anymore and the world shall be peaceful from now on. Those who view anarchy favorably or even endorse it should do their best not to mention the words chaos and anarchy in the same breath, so as not to serve a dominant and at the same time false narrative. But those who think of transformation as a violent-revolutionary rupture in order to subsequently proclaim an anarchist society are creating chaos.

Non-cooperation as passive resistance

Another thought is quite pragmatic. When push comes to shove, the state side has all the physical means of violence - basically an almost inexhaustible and very wide-ranging arsenal - in its hands: the techniques for surveillance, the weapons, the soldiers and other armed units. Wars in the past have often been won by superior technology. The greater the advantage in weapons technology, the more unequal the balance of power became. The state's means of violence are so extensive that a violent resistance to take over power in the state, for this reason alone, if it needed another reason to avoid violence, could only cause head-shaking.

On the way to another world and to overcome capitalism, non-violence is the means of choice. It convinces by another reason, which can be taken from the Indian example: It is the idea that an unjust and oppressive regime, where only a minority really benefits while an overwhelming majority wants a very different system, can only be sustained if those who are oppressed cooperate.

The idea is simple and becomes readily apparent with the Indian example in mind. If no one performs the work imposed and no people can be found to participate in the system by monitoring or oppressing others, then the regime cannot be maintained. On the other hand, there is no question that what sounds so simple is more than challenging to implement.

The second part of our stocktaking is like a parforceride. We looked at the development of left-wing parties in Europe over the past decades, and then returned to the social movements and their effectiveness. We have contrasted the raising of consciousness up to the critical mass with the resistance on the system side. To do this, we again took a look at history. There we could also discover non-violence, which can be one of the first building blocks of a strategy on the way to another world. How such a way could be more exactly still, is to be considered in the last part.

Sources and notes:

(1) Le Monde diplomatique, German-language edition of January 2022. Dossier Europe's Left with the articles "Trauerspiel in Rot," "They Called Themselves Podemos," and "Das seltsame Verschwinden des PCI."

(2) "The cynical victory of Macronism" by Serge Halimi, Le Monde diplomatique, German language edition, May 2022.

(3) Fabian Scheidler: The End of the Megamachine, Promedia Verlag, 2015, pages 158 to 160 and pages 165 to 168. See also Fabian Scheidler: Chaos, Promedia Verlag, 2017, pages 153 to 164.

(4) Armin Wertz: Die Weltbeherrscher, Westend Verlag, 2017, page 105.

(5) Noam Chomsky: An Anatomy of Power, Europa Verlag, 2003, page 212.


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