Archiv der Kategorie 'ENGLISH!'

Routes Sucrées #2 online!

Titelblatt RS #2

„It doesn‘t matter, if you‘re black or white“. If only, Michael! It’s true enough that many do not mind. Skin colour: Mhhh… oatmeal? Pink?
Those who don‘t qualify as white know much more about this. In this second issue of Routes Sucrées we concerned ourselves with racism – another boundary of the world we did not agree on. We tried to find out how these structures arose, how they function and how they are
maintained – still separating us from the beautiful life. To work on this issue wasn‘t easy. How can we write about racism although we ourselves have no direct experience of it? There are people who can choose whether and when they want to deal with racism. That they come from Berlin-Kreuzberg may not be believed, but with a silent „Frankfurt“, „Hamburg“ or „Vienna“ the question about their origin is finally answered. They do not permanently need to explain their sound knowledge of German. They do not need to know the meaning of their name. No demand to integrate or „to leave again“.
What white lies are told to explain. Of overcrowded boats and empty plates. Why „Refugee“ means „fighter“, how activists struggle in the refugee camp in Berlin. And given that we demand streets made of sugar, les Routes Sucrées, it is time to suss out a colonial history that is anything but sweet.

Read it as pdf

Anstatt einer Einleitung: Warum eine internationale antinationale Zeitschrift?

Die Zeitschrift Routes sucrées erschien bisher nur in deutscher Sprache. 2009 in Berlin als einmaliges Zeitungsprojekt für junge Menschen anlässlich der nationalistischen Deutschlandfeierlichkeiten gegründet, wurde aufgrund der vielen positiven Reaktionen eine reguläre Zeitschrift daraus. Mit mittlerweile 8 Ausgaben, die im gesamten deutschsprachigen Raum gelesen werden. Zu Themen wie Alltagskritik, Nationalismus, Liebe, Geschlechterverhältnisse, Sexualität, Kapitalismuskritik, Religionskritik und vielen mehr. Wir versuchen dabei, die Texte allgemeinverständlich zu halten. Linke Texte, die abschrecken und klein machen, gibt es ja schon genügend.

Wenn wir auf deutsch schreiben, bleibt jedoch ein Punkt, der sehr wichtig ist, auf der Strecke: Der internationale Austausch. Wir stellen immer wieder erstaunt fest, wie stark doch die linken Diskussionen auf einzelne Sprachgebiete beschränkt sind. Uns scheint, wir haben über linke Debatten in anderen Weltgegenden oft nur schablonenhaftes im Kopf. Und wenn wir z.B. in die USA oder nach Südamerika fahren, werden wir ebenfalls mit teilweise komischen Vorstellungen davon, was angeblich in der deutschsprachigen Linken abgehe, konfrontiert.

Weil es aber einen ganzen Haufen Leute an vielen Teilen der Welt braucht, um dieselbe zu verändern, wollen wir gerne miteinander in Kontakt treten und einander verstehen. Deswegen nun endlich eine internationale Ausgabe auf englisch, Ausgaben in weiteren Sprachen sind geplant. Wir wollen diskutieren und uns vernetzen. Wir wollen Debatten jenseits der Sprachgrenzen führen (jenseits der Nationsgrenzen sowieso). Diese Ausgabe enthält deswegen Artikel über Themen, die uns am Herzen liegen. Wer mit uns diskutieren will, einfach schreiben an: info[at]strassenauszucker.tk
Wir werden Zuschriften und Austausch mit Eurer Genehmigung sammeln und veröffentlichen auf der Website: strassenauszucker.tk

Diesem Wunsch nach Austausch und Diskussion liegen zwei Urteile zugrunde, die wir kurz skizzieren wollen. Eine Bewegung, die unsere Interessen und Wünsche vertritt, muss – neben vielen anderen Punkten – zweierlei sein: internationalistisch und antinational.

Warum antinational?
Die häufigste Antwort, die wir auf unsere Aussage, dass wir antinational seien, hören, ist:
Das sei doch schließlich auch „unser Land“. Was daran stimmt, ist, dass die Leute, die in den jeweiligen Ländern wohnen, sehr oft auch den Pass oder andere Dokumente dieses Landes besitzen. Das heißt, es ist ihnen behörderlicherseits „erlaubt“, dort zu leben und zu arbeiten. Wenn sie keine Arbeit finden, ist es dann eine Behörde „ihres Landes“, die sie nervt und zu irgendeiner Arbeit zwingt oder kriminalisiert. Es ist „ihr“ Land, das eine Welt voller Konkurrenzsituationen anbietet, das in Kindergarten und Schule verständnisvoll lehrt oder auch nur einprügelt, dass mensch sich anstrengen muss um in der Gesellschaft bestehen zu können. Das alles, weil der „eigene Staat“ sich gegen andere Nationen behaupten will und muss, und ich dummerweise von dessen internationalem Erfolg auf dem Weltmarkt auch noch abhängig bin. Und wenn „Dein“ Land beschließt, dass nun irgendein anderer Staat(enbündnis) gerade der „Feind“ ist und die Berufssöldner_innen nicht mehr ausreichen, darf ich andere Leute erschießen oder mich totschießen lassen, coole Sache, das.
Für die Menschen, die keinen Pass von dem Land besitzen, in dem sie wohnen, ist das Konzept Nation umso gewalttätiger. Sie müssen sich einerseits vor staatlichen Drangsalierungen und anderseits von rassistischen Nachstellungen schützen. Man sieht schon: Unser Problem ist nicht nur ein irgendwie überzogener Nationalismus oder Patriotismus (was für uns das Gleiche ist). Oder, weil die „falschen“ Politiker_innen an der Macht wären. Das Problem liegt viel tiefer, weswegen wir nicht nur antinationalistisch – darauf können sich auch so manche liberals heuzutage noch einigen – sondern antinational sind: Nation und die Liebe zu ihr sind tödlich.

Meine Herrschaft hört auf den Namen Deutschland. Für Menschen in Argentinien heißt sie Argentina und in Russland wird sie Россия genannt. Ein Beispiel mag ein Teil des Gedankens illustrieren: Während der Fußball-Europameisterschaft 2012 wünschten sich einige, Griechenland würde gewinnen. Denn das „arg gebeutelte Land brauche Hoffnung und Freude“. Das zeigt den Kitt an, den der Nationalismus bietet. Gesellschaftliche Widersprüche werden weggetanzt, all die Neu-Obdachlosen sollen, wenn sie schon nichts zu essen haben, sich wenigstens freuen können. Und stolz auf ihr Land sein. Doch dieser Stolz steht einer Änderung der Verhältnisse, die für Obdachlosigkeit und Hunger sorgen, eklatant entgegen. Viele Menschen in Griechenland scheren sich auch schon lange nicht mehr um den nationalen Erfolg. Weil sie wissen, dass ihre Lebenssituation dadurch nicht besser wird. Sie beginnen in den engen Grenzen, in denen das kollektiv hier möglich ist, ihr Leben in die eigene Hand zu nehmen, wie es einige Jahre vorher viele in Argentinien taten.
Auch ich setze keine Hoffnung auf Wachstum des Bruttosozialprodukts. Denn ich werde davon sowieso nichts sehen. Und selbst denen, die davon profitieren, könnte es in einer vernünftig verfassten Gesellschaft besser gehen. Ich verweigere mich der Reden vom Standort, für den mensch den Gürtel enger schnallen müsse. Ich verweigere mich auch den liberalen Reden, ich solle auf die Verfassung oder Sozialgesetzgebung „meines“ Staates stolz sein. Allein, dass ich mir nicht aussuchen kann, welche Verfassung mir weltweit am besten gefällt und ich dort dann Bürger_in werden kann, entlarvt diese Vorstellung der Nation als ideelle Wohlfühlagentur als Lüge von Akademiker_innen. Ich verweigere mich dem Jubeln für „meine“ Nationalmannschaft, den Namen meiner Herrschaft rufe ich nur mit der Erinnerung an seine Opfer aus. Aus den Nationalfarben meiner Herrschaft versuche ich hoffnungsvolle Farbkombinationen zu basteln (in Deutschland einfach das goldene rausschneiden und es wird die schwarz-rote Fahne) oder lass mir Flaggen gleich ganz egal sein. Ich brauche keine Nation, ich brauche Freunde.
Ich will vernünftige Lebensbedingungen für alle Menschen. Und ich will dass wir alle gemeinsam darüber entscheiden können, was vernünftige Lebensbedingungen sind, und uns nicht irgendwelche Behörden, Parlamentarier_innen (die selbst unter ganz anderen Bedingungen leben dürfen) oder irrsinnige nur im Kapitalismus bestehende Sachzwänge sagen, dass die Löhne der Beschäftigten, die Sozialhilfe oder die Gelder für Asylbewerber_innen hoch genug sind.

Warum internationalistisch?
Wir verstehen unter Internationalismus den Versuch, die nationalen Grenzen zu sprengen. Deswegen bereitet uns das Internationalismus-Verständnis, das teilweise in linken Kreisen vorherrscht, Kopfschmerzen: Wenn Internationalismus heißt, sich automatisch auf die Seite von Widerstandsbewegungen in aller Welt zu schlagen, ist es nicht unserer. Wir solidarisieren uns nicht unkritisch mit allen Menschen, die aufbegehren, sondern fragen zuerst nach ihrem Grund für das Nicht-Mehr-Mitmachen. Die Logik, der Feind unseres Feindes sei unser Freund, ist für uns unlogisch. Wir machen unsere Unterstützung an emanzipatorischen Maßstäben fest, für die wir mit Argumenten streiten. Wer sich in martialischem Auftreten und männlicher Dominanz gefällt, Parteidisziplin erwartet und nicht Arbeit reduzieren sondern Held_innen der Arbeit küren will, wer Rassismus oder Antisemitismus in seinen Reihen duldet, Homosexualität oder Transmenschen ablehnt, die_den kritisieren wir. Wessen Kapitalismuskritik darin besteht, Bankiers für alles durch den Kapitalismus produzierte Übel persönlich verantwortlich zu machen und wer die sowieso nur imaginierte „Reinheit der Völker“ erhalten will und an der Herrschaft nur schlecht findet, dass sie von denen ausgeübt wird, die aus einem anderen Land kommen, also „Fremd“herrschaft sei, mit der_m haben wir nichts gemein. Da ist es egal, ob sie oder er gegen eine Herrschaft aufbegehrt, die wir auch kritisieren. Wir wollen nicht einfach irgendwelchen Erfolg haben, sondern Erfolg mit dem, was wir politisch wollen und ersehnen. Wer alles, für was sie_er streitet, vergisst, um mehr zu sein, macht uns ratlos.

Was verstehen wir aber dann unter Internationalismus? Aktuell scheiden sich die Menschen unter anderem in „Nationen“ und „Völker“. Unser Ziel ist es, dass alle Menschen sehen, dass diese Trennungen sie abhalten, sich endlich zusammenzuschließen. Es gibt nur eine Menschheit. Die Liebe zur „eigenen“ Nation – aus welchen Gründen auch immer – ist genau das Gegenteil der politischen Solidarität der Menschen, die wir anstreben. Patriotismus und internationale politische Solidarität der Menschen untereinander sind zusammen nicht zu haben. Aus Patriot_innen werden kurz oder lang immer unsere Gegner, weil ihr Ziel letztlich nicht die Befreiung der Menschen ist.

Damit erklärt sich eigentlich schon, warum wir internationalistisch sind. Warum in den Grenzen der Nationen, die wir bekämpfen, diskutieren? Diese Frage ist uns so eindeutig beantwortet, denn wir fühlen uns der Feministin in Benin weit näher als dem Rassisten in Berlin.
Anderseits ist der Kapitalismus als Weltsystem verfasst. Den anti-autoritären Kommunismus, für den wir streiten und in dem endlich nach Bedürfnissen produziert wird, nur in einem Land aufzubauen halten wir für nicht durchführbar. Allzu schnell hätte man die Armeen der Welt gegen sich, die noch jeden Versuch, Rahmenbedingungen für ein gutes Leben für alle zu verwirklichen, blutig niederschlugen. Und in einer arbeitsteiligen Weltökonomie müsste man sich dann zudem noch auf Markt- und Konkurrenzkriterien des Kapitalismus einlassen, um an die Dinge zu kommen, die nicht in der eigenen Gegend herzustellen oder abzubauen sind – mit enormen Auswirkungen auf die eigene bedürfnisorientierte Ökonomie. Deswegen müssen wir auch schon in Zeiten, in denen an Revolutionen nicht zu denken ist, uns austauschen und vernetzen. In Zeiten, in denen wir nur eine kleine radikale Minderheit sind, wollen wir Strukturen schaffen, die über Sprachgrenzen hinweg funktionieren. Strukturen, in denen an Organisationsformen für revolutionäre Zeiten gebastelt werden kann, damit dann in bewegten Tagen möglichst hierarchiefrei über eine befreite Gesellschaft diskutiert werden kann. Denn wir wollen, dass niemand jemals wieder irgendjemandem folgt und diese herrschaftsfreie und bedürfnisorientierte Kommunikation will gelernt sein. Wie lassen sich Wissenshierarchien abfedern, wie kann sichergestellt werden, dass nicht immer nur die Männer oder Älteren reden, aber auch: wie lassen sich zusammen Texte so verfassen, dass alle sie verstehen und sie trotzdem nicht vereinfachend Dinge darstellen? Welche Organisationsformen taugen hierfür? Wir wollen es ausprobieren!

Bist Du jemand, der das auch versuchen will? Dann kontaktiere uns. Kennst Du Gruppen, die das selbe Projekt haben, dann leite uns bitte ihre Kontaktdaten weiter. Willst Du diese Zeitung verteilen oder in Deiner Gegend auslegen, schreib uns, wir schicken kostenlos zu (kann dauern, immer wenn Geld da ist).

Nun aber: Viel Spaß beim Lesen. Findest Du einen Artikel falsch und willst uns kritisieren, auch bitte gleich schreiben.

We are not disabled, we are being disabled.

“It is not our bodies that are wrong, but a poorly-equipped society.”

The fact that the self-determination of people with disabilities is a public issue today is not a matter of course, but rather the outcome of a movement which started forty years ago in the United States but which is still largely unknown: the disability rights movement. For the first time people with disabilities are making their voices heard – loud, ungrateful, even angry, because of the constant paternalism they have experienced. We talked to the left-wing activist Tim in Berlin about who is disabling whom, what needs to happen, and why the cinema is apparently not for disabled people.

Many know about the women’s rights movement, the political struggle of gay people, but still relatively few have heard of the disability rights movements. Does that surprise you? And do you actually use the term `disabled`?

Yes, I do use it, but only in the sense that society is disabling us. And the fact that the movement is so unknown does not surprise me at all. Disability is not a very trendy theme in general. It first provokes misgivings; many want to stay away from it. Also, the movement has become small, especially over the last years. It annoys me that nobody knows it. Many achievements that are taken for granted today would not exist without it. Elevators in train stations or the chance to choose one’s caregiver – it is not that the government just came up with all that.

…or to rename the German TV lottery which gives money to disability projects `Aktion Sorgenkind` (`Campaign Problem Child`) into `Aktion Mensch` (`Campaign Human Being`).

Yes, but that only happened in 2000. It was the disability rights movement that turned itself particularly against the idea of aid and this whole business of pity: people who do not know me are convinced they know how my life looks like, how I am. However, it is me who knows best.

…and all this being nicely presented in a wellmeaning fashion.

Yes, that really gets on my wick. It’s not long ago that I got petted on the head by complete strangers or that I was given a Euro – as a donation. Stuff like that happens less frequently today. What still gets me though is when people are talking about me over my head. For instance when I am with others, especially non-disabled people, it is always them who are being addressed, not me. They are then being asked: “Where does he want to go?” or “Can he get there with his wheelchair?” As if I just wasn‘t there. People are so insecure and afraid to do something wrong, they rather avoid any contact whatsoever. I’d prefer if people would say said something funny at times, or ask a stupid question rather than being constantly excluded as a subject. I also experience this type of exclusion in lefty circles, although to a lesser degree. But often interaction becomes normal more quickly, probably because people are used to the feeling of being outcasts themselves.

What does social exclusion of disabled people look like today? I‘m not that familiar with it, I only know that there are special care homes and schools for people with special needs. Have you been in any of that?

No. But my parents had to fight for that. They wanted to me to go to school with all my friends from the neighborhood. However in order to do so I needed to undergo numerous tests. Many medical reports were needed. Nevertheless enrolment only happened on a trial basis. At any time they could have taken me out of the school and put me into a special needs school. It is good that there is a lot of talk about `inclusion` today and that it is not compulsory to attend special needs schools any more. However, many children with special needs are being put there since regular schools are claiming not to have enough money or properly trained staff. Apart from that this new politic also shows a modernisation of capitalism.

What do you mean by that?

Well, what and who is defined as disabled always depends on how people are `vernutzt` (used up for economic profit). Those who possess very little only have their body to work and earn money with. But what if this working force does not ` function` probably? Then there is the question of how to deal with a person labelled as `unproductive`. The common method used to be custody. These days, however, physical work has become less important in most Western states. Thus the entire `disabled` workforce lies waste. It can be useful after all. That’s why part of my specially equipped car is being financed – but only if there is proof of employment. On the contrary, if I would be unemployed I do not need to leave my house according to the state. I am allowed to submit travelling receipts for going to the job centre or job applications, but apart from that I am supposed to just stay at home. Going to the café or meeting friends does not count. They gave me my first car when I entered university, and strictly speaking I was only allowed to use it for driving to the university. After graduation, public authorities took it back. This shows that it is now commonly accepted that disabled people are `vernutzbar` as well. Thus disability is being addressed just to the extent that it is counter-productive to the `Vernutzung` (the profitable usage of human capital). According to that view, an unemployed, disabled person should not necessarily go to the cinema.

But the idea that `they are disabled` is not only the state’s view. Most people have internalised norms about what is supposed to be `beautiful` and `normal` and perceive the world in that way. How could such concepts be dissolved?

I believe that as long as disability remains connected to pain, suffering and disadvantage, this won‘t change. Maybe if people with disabilities are perceived as self-confident, joyful and sometimes equally depressed people, and if this becomes part of normality, such things could dissolve slowly. But in order for that to happen, all those disabilities made by society have to be removed.

For further reading:

Disability Studies Quarterly

The Icarus Project
A project dealing with „mental illness“

The Ragged Edge

Ouch Blog

We‘re Running out of Work – at Last!

Running out of work, are you kidding me?!? Reading this, you might think we have gone mad. In this society, labor is one of the most important things imaginable. Unemployment statistics are published regularly and people get excited when any drop is reported. When a planned new factory raises protest, perhaps for environmental reasons, the most common counter argument is usually „But come on, this creates jobs!“ It almost seems as though work is a value in itself. Apparently, many people don‘t work to afford a more or less bearable life, but rather they live to work. This even goes as far as inventing new jobs just as busywork. In 2009 the German government introduced a car scrappage scheme in order to stimulate the economy: When exchanging their ‚old‘ car for a new one, people received a bonus of 2500€. Apart from stimulating the economy, the main line of argumentation was that this would be good for the environment. But destroying a small car in order to buy an SUV has certainly not helped the planet. So ironically, this caused many cars that were still fairly new to end up on the junk yard – so that car manufacturers would have enough work. What a crazy idea: The main aim was to simply produce more, and as an effect do away with perfectly fine cars. Another example: Sometimes tasks are invented just to make people who (have to) live off unemployment benefits „get used to work“. Others speak of work as if it ennobles and cultivates those doing it. And we are all supposed to work longer and longer, even though many people won‘t make it to retirement because of job-related illness. At the same time, more and more young people are unemployed, unable to find work in the first place.

If toil is worshipped it is not my revolution
The idea that work ennobles is a misconception also widely found on the left. The degradation of the proletariat as „uncivilized drudges“ by the bourgeoisie led to a fetishisation of work in the Soviet Union and the other „socialist“ states just as scary as its capitalist version. The „hero of labor“ – an award given to exceptional workers in the GDR – doesn‘t see his or her work as a means to an end either, but as an end in itself. But the reason why we want a communist society is to have a good life for all – and that means avoiding unnecessary work and instead the effective use of labor, so that there is more time for friends, art, parties, politics and whatever else one feels like.
However, many unions and other left forces are united with the majority of the population in rejecting a culture of indolence and hedonism. Oftentimes, this opinion is topped with the anti-intellectual remark that „a little bit of hard work never hurts anyone,“ or that all these students should drop their books and do some „real“ work instead. Not that hard labor in a factory cannot be an interesting experience, but this view is basically designed to make „slackers“ feel guilty for not wanting to do mindless toil.
But even in the self-declared hedonist left that critiques „work,“ one can find fetishization of labor. For example, when everyone talks about their „projects“, how depression is only socially accepted in the form of „burn-out“, or when people blabber about their stressful lives only to indicate how productive they are; these are moments when the totalitarian character of our society reveals itself. To just relax and do nothing is acceptable, maybe, only on the week-end. Even in the left we often think that true social approval can only be achieved by proving our productivity, in one way or another. Equating an individual’s value with their productivity has become second nature even to critics of labor fetishization.

„Work is half of life“ (German proverb)
Where does this idea that you are only worth something when you work come from? We think it has a lot to do with the reason why, and in what form, labor exists in this society. This may sound strange, because after all, hasn‘t work existed as long as mankind? True, but labor today appears in a very specific form, at least in the industrialized countries: as wage labor. What are the consequences of this basic fact?
In our society, we are compelled to work in order to have an income. Most people can‘t even afford to consider waiving part of their income in order to work on something they would enjoy.
Actually there aren‘t too many enjoyable jobs on offer in the first place. And just as people must work in order to earn money, the goods that they produce are meant to yield a profit. In one aspect, production in our society is very egalitarian: the actual type of product is secondary as long as it can be sold on the market. The measure of value is not whether the product in question will produce happiness or if you enjoyed producing it. The only thing that matters is if it makes money. All of this is pretty abstract and far detached from you and your occupation. Some call this form of labor „alienated“, in that it is disconnected from either its use or the desires of the person who actually produced it.
In the end your actual occupation does not matter, your working hours only add up to a fixed amount of some product (be it screws, advertisement copy or school classes). Furthermore, the use of machines usually does not mean less work but only intensifies it. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that there is endless competition to merely create „more“: More working hours, more products. This is not about you, as you matter only as a cog in the wheel since kindergarten days, and on the other hand all your social recognition as an individual depends on hard work, then this comes down to: „I work.
A lot.“ No joke. I can illustrate it with a common enough example: Whenever my dad calls his first question is: „So, lots of work?“ An affirmative answer is enough for him to be relieved. What is actually done is not something he cares about, as long as I don‘t slack off. In this logic, work is the primary meaning of life, and this is not simply an old-fashioned concept. Even hip freelancers in advertisement agencies organize their private lives around the gym and speed dating, their free time increasingly mirroring their work routine until everything, including love and desire, has become work and productivity. There’s another aspect to this pride in one’s work: The pressure to work and the necessary suppression of needs and desires that accompany it find expression in a hatred against all those who (seemingly) do not work. This is clearly expressed in the many talk shows where people are invited to publicly denounce those who don‘t see a reason to work. It is easily imaginable what the mob would do to these „asocial“ elements living on welfare once the cameras were turned off if they knew they could get away with it. The increased number of homeless people murdered in the last few years demonstrate this point clearly.

Would anybody work in a communist society?
Those who criticize the work fetish and the resulting hatred for all those ‚parasites‘ are usually confronted with the objection that if it weren‘t for external pressure, nobody would do any work. When one asks those fans of coercion if they only work because they have to, they typically claim the contrary, namely that they find fulfillment and self-realization in their work. A peculiar contradiction, but in reality both are false. On the one hand, in this irrationally organized society where people produce for an abstract market under constant pressure and force, we are not surprised that many people are not keen to work. One reason for this is that our work itself is completely untransparent. Not because everything has become so complex, but rather because it is deemed unimportant that people understand what their labor is actually for. But even if people do know the function of their work, this doesn‘t necessarly make it liberatory. And concerning the alleged self-fulfillment through work, one does not have to interview all the call center drones or workers in Asia forced to produce trainers under horrendous conditions (because machines would cost a few cents more than manual labor). The claim that some truly enjoy their job, or another makes a living from their hobby also often falls flat when faced with reality. In the end, either jobs are paid badly or the amount of enjoyment one gains is relatively small compared to what actually must be done.
Our alternative to all this is a society where production aims at actual human needs and not – like in capitalism – because these needs are a source of profit. We‘re not interested in producing goods that are designed so poorly that one has to purchase a new something-or-other every few months. And we want a society where all human beings can collectively decide and plan what goods are produced, and how. Where a person is not a mere cog in the wheel but actually matters and is asked: What are their needs, how much do they want to work, how do they feel at the workplace? We want a society where the elimination of labor is the actual benchmark for production. When one looks at the advertising industry, or at all the people performing various tasks solely to shuffle money around, it is clear how much labor would be superfluous in a society based on producing what is needed. And one could further reduce the amount of human labor by effectively using technology instead, whereas in capitalism machines are used only if there aren‘t enough able hands to do the task cheaper. And finally, we envision a society where some kind of jobs rotation system exists; and no, this doesn‘t mean that a pilot has to perform a heart surgery. So why not think of ways of changing our current production processes, where people have to work in monotonous, boring or dangerous jobs? Clearly, we can‘t afford to continue such a crazy sort of production: It’s finally time to organize a reasonable way of getting the things we need in life, both our basic as well as luxury goods!

For further reading:

Why the use of robots and machines in capitalism won‘t lead to more spare time

[Karl Marx, in Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 13.]

Adorno: Sur l‘eau (Aphorism No 100, scroll down the page)
In: Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life.

Manifesto against Labour

Interview with David Graeber, one of the main organizers of Occupy Wall Street

David Graeber is an anthropologist, anarchist, and one of the main organizers of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in the United States. He has written about direct action, revolutions, capitalism, anarchist anthropology, and other issues; his latest book is „Debt: The First 5000 Years“. His writings have been translated into several languages. We interviewed David in Berlin.

Routes sucrées: While in Europe, you got invited by non-leftist members of the German parliament, mainstream TV talk shows, and conservatives applauded your new book. What do you make of the fact that both state institutions as well as those who want to abolish the state seek your advice or at least the discussion?

David Graeber: It’s really strange. And I don‘t know what to make of it. My first reaction was that these guys must be in really big trouble, much more than they say. Which I think is in fact the case. Members of the elite have spent a lot more time on ideological warfare than they have on the practicalities of maintaining a viable system. They seem to think it’s much more important to convince people that capitalism is the only viable system than creating an actually viable economic system. With the result that when things do start falling apart, nobody can imagine that that could be really happening and that nothing else could replace it. Obviously, as so far they want me to save capitalism for them, I couldn‘t help anyway [laughs]. So I‘m not really worried.

You are both a public intellectual and an activist who is openly anarchist. This has caused problems for you in the past. What would you generally say about being in a career where you inevitably have to hide some political views?

I think we can‘t separate theory from practice. Which is of course what academia is all about: trying to do that. They don‘t care what you think in academia as long as you are willing to be a hypocrite about it. But we have a problem when we try any form of actual practice that is consistent with your ideals. My solution is that I never published anything about politics in journals. And when I wrote something about politics, I did it with anarchist groups. So I have kind of two lives. I would agree, it is a profound problem.

You were very active with „Occupy Wall Street“ in the US. One thing that stuck out with OWS was that there were no demands towards the state, those in power etc. This also means not acknowledging them as a legitimate entity.

Yes! In fact it was a delegitimating strategy.

OWS, and you as well, speak of the 99% and of the 1% that profits. But doesn‘t that ignore structural factors and open the way for a personified critique of capitalism?

It is a slogan. It could lead to almost anything. It is not in itself an analysis. But the reason why we thought that it would be a good starting point is because it points to something deeply structural about contemporary capitalism. The 1% of the population is the one who managed to turn their wealth into political power.

When we think of a liberated society, for lack of a better term we often speak of „communism“. In the United States, this term is not so much used by anti-authoritarian, radical left groups. Do you think it is of any use?

I think it is difficult to use because of the historical baggage. However, I think it is absolutely critical to make an intervention there! Because the way the term is deployed is quite insidious. One reason I tried to set up a different definition of communism was that I think we need just to transform totally the way we talk about these things. I think we are all communists most of the time. Whenever we cooperate and we are together in a common project, that is how we act. Obviously capitalists are ultimately exploiting communist relations so that they will be turned into their opposite. Capitalism is just a bad way of organizing communism. State socialism was not a great way to organize communism, either. We need to come up with a good way of organizing communism, but communism is always here.

David, thank you for the interview!

Due to lack of space, only part of the interview is printed here. Moreover, we needed to save a little bit of space for some remarks on our part: During the course of the interview, we had several disagreements with Graeber. While we want to use the interview above to give room for his arguments, we also want to sum up our criticism here: We believe that David Graeber’s success in both the conservative and the economically liberal media, i.e. the mainstream, can be explained by the fact that his ideas are more or less harmless (sorry, David). Yes, we believe that Graeber truly wants to abolish capitalism. But according to him, a rupture with the current society – something that radical critics usually propagate – is not necessary. Graeber uses radical language which won‘t lead to radical acts. By labeling every form of non-monetary co-operation
„communist“, even Mother Theresa could be called a communist. While we believe that building autonomous institutions can be important for various reasons (see the article „“Start with Yourself? in this issue), we also think that for a truly liberated, „communist“ society, it won‘t be enough to extend already existing principles of solidarity. In the long run, some form of rupture – a „revolution“ – will be necessary to get us out of this misery called capitalism.
[see the article Expanding the Floor of the Cage ]

Actually existing socialism?

“But it doesn‘t work, look at the last time”
Whoever criticizes capitalism has sooner or later been confronted with this phrase.
A lot of responses to a fundamental criticism of existing social relations point to the failure of so-called “actual existing socialism” in the Soviet Union and the GDR as “proof” that there are no alternatives to capitalism. “Look, maybe capitalism isn’t brilliant,” so the argument goes, “but any other way of organizing human society inevitably ends up in a dictatorship.”

A lot of leftists in return think that this is a stupid argument and that one doesn‘t need to deal with this brand of so-called socialism and its crimes. But if we’re looking for an alternative to capitalism it’s clear that we can’t avoid dealing with the problem of what was once called ‘communism’ or ‘actually existing socialism’ by people on both sides: its opponents in the West and its representatives in the East. Our aim here is not to discredit the search for a fundamentally different model of society – , one which is based on the needs of human beings – and we certainly won’t be equating the states of the Eastern Bloc with the Nazi regime. Instead, we want to make it clear that our idea of a communist society actually has very little in common with either of the former dictatorships.

But what exactly was this ‘actually existing socialism’? According to those in power in those days, the people had embarked on a path towards the construction of a classless, egalitarian society. But since this classless society had obviously not been achieved yet, they called it ‘actually existing socialism’ instead.

‘Actually existing socialism’ I: Dictatorship over rather than of the proletariat
When Karl Marx deals with the transition from capitalist to communist systems, he speaks of a period of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. During this stage, the proletarians who have come to power are compelled to defend the revolution from the former ruling class. Once this danger has been dispelled, the institutions necessary for doing so, such as the state and military apparatus, wither away because they are simply no longer needed.

The rulers of the Eastern Bloc states appealed to this ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as the ideological justification for their instruments of rule and structures of power. In the course of events, the demand for broad-based self-determination on the part of working people actually turned into its exact opposite: the dictatorship of party bureaucracy over the vast majority of the population.

Under Lenin’s leadership in 1917, the October Revolution led to the Bolshevist faction of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party taking over government. Immediately afterwards, the people managed to establish real popular self-determination for the first time. This was clear, for example, in the fact that workers were able to plan industrial production themselves, collaboratively, whereas previously they had always had to implement orders handed down from above.

But this phase didn’t last long. It was soon brought to an end by the dictatorship of a small party clique, a system introduced by Lenin and taken to its extremes by Stalin. After Stalin’s death, the personality cult that had developed around him and the Soviet leadership was abandoned, and a period of ‘destalinization’ began. Crimes that had been committed by the state were also addressed to a certain extent, though the authoritarian rule of the party bureaucracy over the population and extensive control of almost every area of life nevertheless continued in all the Eastern Bloc countries.

‘Actually existing socialism’ II: Liberation through instead of from labor
The Eastern Bloc countries promised their inhabitants an economic system that would function without mass unemployment, without the principle of competition, and without exploitation. But in fact, the Eastern Bloc countries failed to develop a proper communist economic system. There was actually no fundamental break with the principles that determine capitalist economies.

It would be more accurate to say that those in power in these countries imitated the mechanisms of capitalism. They essentially just changed the company name from ‘private company’ to ‘nationally owned company’. The basic criteria of capitalist production – exchange, money, wages, and profit – were not really called into question. This is clear enough from the fact that even the ‘actually existing socialist’ states were in competition with one another and the capitalist states and even used military means to obtain spheres of influence at a global level. Those in power in these so-called socialist states were in fact eager to compete with capitalism in its most central categories: the pressure to work, the need to be efficient nevermind the effect on people. Pretty idiotic – so no big surprise that capitalism won this game in the end.

In everyday life under ‘actually existing socialism’ these developments manifested themselves, amongst other things, in the predominance of a fully-fledged labor fetishism. People were set to work simply to expand the wealth of the state, rather than that of the population. Others had to do largely pointless or superfluous work in order to create the impression of ‘full employment’. Thus labor became more than a necessary evil that you only do when it has to be done. People had to work just as much as they had under capitalism.

‚Actually existing Socialism’ III: Hard-working bodies, hardened souls
This fetishization of work was only one part of this so-called socialist ideal. Hard work was also supposed to toughen the body, and the demand for a moralistic and ascetic way of life was reminiscent of the dreary and oppressive atmosphere of protestant churches. But when every sign of weakness is condemned and every demonstration of emotions labeled as ‘petty bourgeois’, the necessary foundations of a society that is based on needs cannot be laid: the capacity for empathy, non-authoritarian behavior and an attempt at non-violent and needs-based communication. Now, why do we come up with this point? Because we see that whoever wants to be successful in capitalism has to toughen up and strengthen those bits of him- or herself that are authoritarian and violent. That doesn‘t mean calling for everyone to be ‚good‘ and altruistic. There’s already enough altruism in our society, leading people to willingly die for ‘their’ nation. No, what is needed is an interest in realizing one’s own needs and bringing these desires across in a non-violent manner. In our experience, the realization of one’s own authoritarian ways can be quite scary. But it is the first step toward changing them. So, back to ‘actually existing socialism’ and its cult of toughness: An authoritarian personality developed that was comparable to capitalist society. Therefore, we are not surprised what cruelties people who called themselves ‘communist’ were capable of doing. A society that is not interested in supporting people’s capability for empathy and instead advocates and is built on authoritarianism and toughness is the very opposite of what we would call an emancipatory society.

‘Actually existing Socialism’ IV: Was failure inevitable?
When people criticize the former Eastern dictatorships, others object that they emerged out of seriously difficult circumstances. Their starting conditions are supposed to have been far more difficult than those of their competitors in the West.

And indeed: the October Revolution in Russia happened despite severe pressure from the capitalist powers in Europe. The West supported internal enemies of the revolution – the ‘white’ counter-revolutionary groups – as much as it possibly could. In particular, Germany – which would become Nazi Germany a few years later – exerted an enormous amount of pressure on the Soviet leadership. They had to press on with industrialization, and with no small human sacrifice, in order to arm the country against an expected attack.

There is a kernel of truth to all these explanations. But they overlook the fact that revolutions always happen under very difficult conditions. A politics created under such circumstances must be prepared to deal with these problems rationally. Even within the communist parties at the time there were calls to create a liberated society of individuals coming together of their own free will. On sober reflection then, and to judge by these standards, ‘actually existing socialism’ clearly failed.

But pointing out these adverse circumstances should not give the false impression that the power structures of ‘actually existing socialism’ were based entirely on Lenin’s Bolshevik ideology. ‘Democratic centralism’ does not inevitably lead to Stalinism. In practice, Lenin’s ‘vanguard party’ was indeed the authoritarian rule of professional revolutionaries over their party base. This was for example evident from the fact that opposition was not permitted even within the party, and that the party base was strictly bound to the decisions of the party leadership.

In our view, purges come as no surprise within a party whose central doctrine of Historical Materialism sees itself as the vanguard of inevitable historical change. „Necessary processes“ which stagnate or fail can be explained in two different ways. The first option is that such changes were ultimately not necessary after all. But unfortunately very few took this view, whether Lukács, left communists like Gorter or Pannekoek or Critical Theory. The other explanation starts with a search for the „culprits“ for the failure. This explains the terribly long list of supposed counterrevolutionaries within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other countries. In this view of history, it is no surprise that Stalin and company became the biggest murderers of communists in all of history.

What now?
Even if our reasons for addressing the issue of ‘actually existing socialism’ are entirely different from those of the political mainstream, in our view this project was indeed a catastrophe. But it would be stupid to conclude from this that the search for alternatives isn’t worth the effort. The capitalist system we live under means constant terror. This terror takes the form of war, poverty, and oppression in the so-called ‘developing countries’, but also increasingly in the capitalist metropoles. One doesn‘t even have to mention the 30 000 people that die because of capitalism every day in order to point out that the search for alternatives to this economic system cannot wait one day longer.

For further reading:
- Hermann Gorter/Anton Pannekoek/Sylvia Pankhurst: Non-Leninist Marxism: Writings on the Worker’s Councils

Historical Materialism – an anti-revolutionary theory of revolution

- Arno Lustiger: Stalin and the Jews. 450 p., Enigma Books.

A critique of Khmer Rouge ideology and practice

Start with yourself!?

There are some perennial discussions in leftist groups, at the dinner table of housing co-ops, and amongst activist friends, among them the question of how far your individual behaviour is able to change social relations. Was Michael Jackson right when he sang: „I am starting with the man in the mirror“? Debaters on both sides seem to have a point. A lot of people who have found their way to the political left actually started their political awareness by questioning their own behaviour, more precisely their own consumption behaviour. Whether it is boycotting McDonald’s restaurants, H&M clothes or Coke, the refusal of animal products, avoiding specific travel destination and certain means of transportation or buying TransFair products, they all have one thing in common: They all attempt to change bad conditions through the means of one’s personal behaviour.
Against that stands a form of criticism which could be paraphrased as: „It’s the system, stupid!“ Whoever wants to change his or her behaviour individually is under an illusion because this can only be a drop in the ocean, and therefore is senseless. Eventually the sentence (which the communist thinker Theodor W. Adorno actually meant somewhat differently) is brought up: „There is no right life in the wrong one“. Attempts to alleviate suffering in the here and now are defamed as being mere charity. But as much as we share the opinion that suffering is mostly produced by social means, and therefore can only be replaced via a radical program of abolition, we also share the opinion that such a critique is often too simple.

Changing what we can, where we can
The area in which a reflected and potentially altered behaviour may reduce suffering already takes an enormous place in our own lives. We are talking about gender relations. On the one hand, it can be seen that some changes in gender relations perfectly adapt to current demands of capital and the state. For example the current ideal in western countries that women are supposed to be able to combine child care and a job is based on the fact that modern states cannot afford to exclude half its citizens from being used by capital. On the other hand there are no objective bounds which deter anyone from breaking out of the silly conceptions of how one has to be and how to present oneself. In other words: If a lot of people refuse the idea that girls and women are soooo sweet and need to be protected or have the world explained to them even by progressive men, and that boys and men are soooo strong and smart that even emancipated women can only be trophies to them, a change within your circle of friends or your political group is likely to occur in the end. This dynamic is quite similar for racist stereotypes. Besides a critique of the content of such stereotypical images, which stand against every form of human emancipation, this demands reflection about the images in one’s own head, as well as a change of personal thoughts, feelings and actions. Whereas oftentimes individual action is attached to a certain form of abstinence, in this case it is different: To free oneself from these kinds of images creates a win-win situation for everyone.
Another field where people can start with themselves is communication. Even in left circles communication is often riddled with authority. A result of this, apart from the direct suffering this can cause, is the emergence of status hierarchies. But if the next revolution should really be about liberation it needs people who don‘t just want to follow anymore and who believe that everyone has something important to say. An analysis and change of one’s own communication style is necessary so that this doesn‘t result in individual fights between people who want to become authority figures.

The privilege of being poor in rich countries
As the examples above have emphasised the importance of individual action in order to make change, the following examples will show its limitations. Most notably, in the following examples the call for different behaviour is actually proof of a misleading criticique of capitalist production. To start off: When some of the editors of this fine magazine made a plan to escape the cold winter and fly to Morocco, they tried to convince a friend who had little money: „Bungalows there are just two Euros“. The friend, however, was shocked. He complained about our joy, because supposedly cheap prices are based on people’s poverty there. „But“, we replied, „We can‘t afford expensive trips. Is staying at home the answer?“

Generally speaking, changing personal behaviour is extremely limited when it comes to economic relations. This is because of the way in which stuff is produced for people to live, and the reasons why. It is not done based on people’s needs and how to fulfil them. Instead, companies speculate that a product increases consumer demand. Therefore they buy the labour of people who need to earn a living. This relation is therefore founded on the exploitation of people living in misery who have nothing to offer but their ability to work. Those people – more or less all of us – are confronted with a „silent constraint.“ It is not forbidden not to work, but if you don‘t sooner or later you won‘t be able to pay your rent. Former German chancellor Schröder made that clear by saying that laziness was okay, as long as lazy people did not claim state benefits. Very funny. This makes it sound as though having no money is your own fault. But it’s exactly the other way around! If companies assume they can make money with a certain product, you are allowed to produce it for them. How much money you can earn mainly depends on one thing: how many competitors there are. If there are a lot of people who can do what you can, you have to give away labour and time without earning a lot. Mostly people have to handle their money carefully because it is hard enough to buy the necessary things and to fulfil some of those small dreams that have not vanished already.
When the winter is unbearable, an expensive vacation is not affordable for most people – and besides, the reason why luxurious hotels are expensive is certainly not because wages are any higher there. But what is the result of not going on vacation at all? A lot of people in Morocco live from tourism. This is not meant to make tourism seem purely beneficial for the people living there. But it is no help to them if you spend your holiday in Germany instead. In this example, individual behaviour is tangled up in the capitalist economy and its implicit laws. In a similar vein, no one would label it an act of emancipation to forgo a job after an interview in order to leave it to another applicant. This would be a form of charity which certainly not everyone can afford, and therefore is not a form of behaviour that can be universalized. So do we instead demand that at least rich people buy organic food and TransFair products? No, they should rather imitate a capitalist named Friedrich Engels, who financed the studies of his buddy Karl Marx. This would help to find a solution which is able to help everyone.

Change your burger and your pants?
No one can proclaim that not buying H&M clothes or renouncing Burger King and McDonald’s is something one has to be able to afford. Different forms of boycott have been organised against all those products. They have focused on collective action to make companies change their behaviour. Boycott movements actually have succeeded with certain initiatives. The fear of bad press has pushed some companies change their form of production. Moreover, an awareness of important topics – like worker’s rights, the environment, or repressive regimes – can be achieved as well. However, the practise of boycotting is not able to achieve anything beyond that and remains symbolism limited to a small number of companies or products. The production practises of the competitor companies often work in similar ways, which is ignored by boycotters. Moreover, a success in boycotting a company usually brings across the idea that the terrible effects of the markets are only caused by single companies. The possibility is evoked that misery might disappear if bad intentions are just exchanged with good ones. Such an assumption might explain the popularity of this kind of criticism: Hunting for the guilty protagonists earns more „likes“ than questioning markets and states which are assumed to beneficial. But should one therefore abstain from boycotting?
For a few years there has been a McDonald’s in Kreuzberg, an ‚alternative‘ neighbourhood of Berlin, which for a long time was guarded by ten cops every night. Obviously, opinions on the company differ within left structures. A grassroots initiative in Kreuzberg targeted the company’s working conditions. At first sight, working conditions in a traditional snack bar might be more comfortable, but usually the workers in these small businesses have to work seven days a week. It remains unclear whether it would be better for them to work at McDonald’s, where they are actually covered by social security. Furthermore, at a large company there are formal criteria for hierarchies, as opposed to working conditions influenced by family structures which often are dominant in snack bars. Is this a recommendation on what to eat? No, it’s simply too expensive at McDonald’s, chips are wishy-washy and the McChicken is too small. But criticism of big companies is often superficial and overlooks or idealises equally problematic things occurring within smaller companies. It often ignores why the salaries are kept low. H&M and other clothing companies are also often criticised, typically aimed at child labor. Even people who criticise the general conditions which workers have to deal with in countries with low labour costs cannot deny the special nastiness of child labour. Indeed, several local changes can be achieved via boycott and public campaigns, but making child labor illegal oftentimes is not helpful for the children concerned. Due to several reasons children are cheap workers and have to contribute to their family’s income. Even though international companies ostracise child labor, working children are a part of capitalism. Moreover there are children who organise themselves in order to enforce their rights. There have been, for example, protests of working children against the abolition of child labor. In this case, abolition would actually make how they make a living illegal. They would suffer even more from the dependency on their bosses and constantly fear the cops. In some cases children’s protests (and the protests of those who exploit them) were successful, causing changes in laws and constitutions. Child labor is a tragic example of making things worse by having good intentions.

What remains?
So how does all this differ from the opinion that there is no possibility to change anything, already criticised above? It differs because we look at the claims of people who believe in changing things via certain behaviour. We don‘t disparage certain behaviour in an abstract way. And we don‘t ridicule or look down upon ameliorative actions, for example helping refugees by protesting against deportation, even though they may only be a drop in the ocean. Such actions are desperate attempts to reduce misery and to stay human under the current conditions.
And it is therefore understandable that some kind of change needs to happen instantly when one cannot bear this horror any longer. But just because of this fact, we should avoid focusing on scandal without considering systematic conditions. Naming and explaining those conditions to others could be an important element of personal behaviour. Future insurrections have to be organised as well. Those who claim to have all those systematic conditions in the back of their head, but sees an ultimate need for very concrete actions doesn‘t share our criticism. This person denies the fact that the very ruling principles of this economic system are responsible for the situations where one sees the need to reduce misery by altering individual behaviour to remain endless and immeasurable. You could go to cinema or give your money to a person who is begging at the station instead. You could go on holiday or support a project like this magazine. The capitalist economy is responsible for an endless occurrence of such situations. And therefore there can be no satisfying answer to the question whether you should change your consumption habits or not. Everyone has to decide that for her- or himself. Learning names of bad companies by heart instead of using that energy for reflecting one’s own racist or sexist behaviour to avoid concrete misery seems to miss the point. And those who believe that changes in consumptive behaviour might cause fundamental changes, if only a lot of people took part, harbour under an illusion. And it is those people who in the end stand in the way of real change.

Watch and listen more:
Seven Left Myths About Capitalism

Audio: Consumption and Consumerism in Capitalism

Cartoon: Slavoj Zizek’s thoughts on consumption, ethics and charity