Europe is divided – economically, socially, and also politically. In this context, Germany seems to be on the winning side: with strong industry, growing employment, with parliamentary majorities and a political opposition asking for minority rights. While Germany embodies hostile hegemonic power for those protesting in the southern crisis countries, others see it as a model for a revitalised Europe. How does the German population itself its country?1)
1. The majority of Germans see their own country as a ‘threatened paradise’. Its special position within the crisis in Europe is not interpreted chauvinistically – a majority are for financial support for the crisis countries. However, this is part of a – completely sceptical – expectation that this support could contribute to overcoming the crisis – in their own interest, in order to keep the external threat – and the re-importation of the crisis – at bay. Europe is present in everyday consciousness, associated with fears of potential threat, but for the majority of the population these do not justify going it alone as a nation-state.
2. But the threat is also internal. Despite economic wellbeing social inequality is spreading. Germany’s island of stability is being threatened by the refusal to provide: in school through the systematic disadvantaging of the lower social strata and through poverty wages and unjust old-age pensions. In this island of stability too, social services are under pressure from austerity policies, which results in a disdain for public services and in social discrimination in the field of education. In the everyday consciousness of the majority there is a co-existence of the ‘two faces’ of capitalism. The widespread ‘discontent with capitalism’ must be understood by taking account of its contradictions, and not in a one-sided way.
3. A further potential threat that mostly plays a secondary role in political confrontations – including those of the left – is the threat to working and living conditions through the continual reorganisation processes in plants, outsourcing or relocation, the intensification of performance pressure, budget cuts, and work-time flexibilisation. It is crisis despite more work – from putting jobs in peril the consciousness of the crisis is being displaced to the problem of putting labour power in peril.
However, here too there is a contradictory perception: Gloomy outlooks for societal development are buffered by personal optimism. This does not indicate trust in the system but is essentially explained by the self-confidence in one’s own performance capacity, in one’s individual resources and competence. The private individual is buffered by a sense of certainty about his or her own performance capacity.
4. The dismantlement of social injustices can only occur as a political project. However, politics is hardly held in high regard. This is because the protagonists and institutions of the political arena are seen as alienated and no longer available for intervention in the interest of wage dependents. It is the primacy of the economy and not of politics that reigns. The ‘political class’ appears unable but also unwilling to intervene against the economic elites. The Federal Chancellor’s formulation ‘democracy in conformity with the market’ describes the horizon of experience of our survey groups. It is the description of a reality that is determined by the economically powerful.
The state no longer appears as the factor that guarantees social equity. After decades of neoliberal policy it is by now seen as a hostile institution: as the state of ‘the others’. That which has to be politically worked out – for example a legislated minimum wage – must be done despite or against the political class.
5. This blockage in political conditions has to be broken internally and externally: internally by a left that presents itself as a new political protagonist and, as such, changes the criticised ‘rules of the political arena’ (Bourdieu); but, still more, externally through societal and trade union pressure. Alongside the civil-society protagonists the left should tap into the ‘world of work’ in a fresh way for itself. The criticism of capitalism has to be put to the test among those who are at the bottom in the division of social labour. This requires transparency, porousness and the reinforcing of communications resources – for people who have pertinacity and believe that another politics is possible.
Translation into English: Eric Canepa
1. Richard Detje et al., Krise ohne Konflikt, Hamburg 2011 and Krisenerfahrungen und Politik, Hamburg 2013.