What do we do with the revolution – and what does the revolution do to us?

Peter Herrmann / Mehmet Okyayuz[1]/[2]

What to do with the revolution – and what does the revolution do to us?

The title of the following article is an allusion to the motto of attac’s coming Summer Academy

1918 – 1968 – 2018: In Favour of Change – That happened to the Revolution?

But the article presented here is about the orientation on the Battle for the Good Life, published on 23.12.’18, authored by Ulrich Brand. In our view, Brand takes up that SOAK motto by correctly pointing out that a revolution is already under way; however, in our view it is misleading to classify the change of life-style as any kind of revolution, being driven by such changes. Such arguments in favour of an anti-imperial way of life can be seen as new-Kantian categorical imperative:

Reasonable, conscious people of all countries, unite.

 

Instead of taking a sound economic analysis of global neoliberalism as point of departure, and deriving from there concrete plans to fight for a “good life”, Brand focuses on attitudes and behavioural patterns, suggesting that we reach from there a point leading almost inherently to the good life.

Admittedly, the path to a good life is naturally closely bound to patterns of everyday’s behaviour. The alternatives presented in the text by Brand – and also in the book which he elaborated with Markus Wissen – lead to a diffuse and individual, negative attitude, founded in and guided by “free will”. This can probably best be described as a denial of consumption: Consequently, we should not drive any SUV, not eat too much meat, preferably not fly, or at least limit this. The list can be continued, and all these quests are surely also commendable. But didn’t Adorno state already in his Minima Moralia that there is no real life in the wrong life. It may be that this statement comes – deliberately – eye-catching. Their basic content should, however, be changed in a constructive way so that structural preconditions, potentially leading to a good/better life, are developed from an analytical perspective – and this is especially true when addressing a readership such as the TAZ-constituency: the risk that dream images will be constructed which, at best, will settle the conscience. Just as the imperial way of life has been subjectively produced, reproduced and legitimised since the beginning of the 1990s at the latest, here the antithetical counter-conception is constructed in the same way.

Analogous to Lawrence Harrison’s “liberal” approach – he argues that underdevelopment is the result of a “mindset” (see Harrison, LE, 1985: Underdevelopment is a State of Mind, Lanham: Madison Books) – we find here a modified version: the breakout from the imperial way of life or from the global underdevelopment can also be the result of an attitude of refusal.

Indeed,

it is not just individual actions that maintain this life that is contrary to but solidarity and sustainability. There are also powerful structures of production that produce mobile phones, cars and food in capitalist competition, generating profits and growth. 

However, such statement is “fundamentally critical” only if it linked to outspoken demands for clear regulations and distribution structures, and asks even more for clear structures of production and its organisation. For example, the requirement that cooperatives can exist has to be secured not least by tax law; recognition of what we produce has to be accompanied by looking at the various damages, however, important is that such alternative perspectives soon lose the character of good, namely when results are forced into balance sheets and new accounting techniques … – An extreme mishap occurs when we look for “pricing of everything” (George Monbiot), which then suggests so-called green growth as way out. What is proposed here is, as well, quite concrete, though laborious. Last but not least, it is also about small steps and the ‘sweeping in front of your own door’ – for example, to work for the development of the Local Public Transport Network and cycle path networks instead of embarking on the dangerous “main road”; for example, it is about denouncing the overcrowding of shop corridors in supermarkets instead of accepting being exposed to the dangers of injury. Of course, these are also truisms and will hardly be considered as a critique of Brand’s critique of the imperial way of life. However, the difference is huge – now it is time for a bit of theory, otherwise it remains really a

we-know-it “Ökoelite”, telling society how to live so that climate change and other environmental problems are overcome.

In comparison – and acknowledging the dangers of such shortcut – the following points can easily be recognised as an important approach to concrete, that is, feasible, utopias.

First, Brand starts from the criticism of lifestyle and then sees ,even powerful production structures’. In contrast, in our opinion – strongly influenced by the French Regulation School – a set of four dimensions needs to be considered: [a] the accumulation regime, in a broad way defined as definition of what has value and the appropriate structuration of value; [b] the life-regime as a framework or “set-box” within which individuals can plan their lives – very different ways but in general limited by cornerstones such as paid employment, increasingly private social security [note this oxymoron of the “privacy of the social”] and many more; [c] the mode of regulation, generally not least an ideological and formal system, which ensures the implementation of the two regimes mentioned before. And here, too, there is a counterpart, namely [d] the mode of life – this is looking at what each individual really makes of life – taking into account the small print or observing the principle that terms and conditions apply.

Given this framework, it is possible to determine more precisely where we stand – and against which we must develop systematically our strategy: it is methodological nationalism and methodological individualism – this goes further than simply nationalism and individualism, for it is about the roots of these phenomena, without which just a left critique quickly reaches the limits. With these four dimensions in mind, it is also possible to illuminate the developmental path more systematically and to look at perspectives of the “no movement further this way” – five core areas will be mentioned, also aiming of replacing the Keynes Beverdige orientation on the five major evils: greed, illness, ignorance, misery and laziness. Although many challenges still need to be addressed, the five tensions are outlined as major economic and political challenges:

  • The overproduction of goods – globally and locally – turns into a production of very concrete, tangible bads
  • Huge public and quasi-public wealth meets with extremely unequal access options for the majority
  • The wealth of knowledge is trimmed by an orientation on skills
  • The individualisation of problems itself causes social problems
  • The complexity of governmental processes leads to the inability to govern, which in Germany is partly criticized as “Merkelogy” – the attempt of doing everything right by avoiding clear decisions.[3]

Admittedly a bit snappy, a remark remains to be added: even the discussion about the anti-imperial way of life, as brought forward by Brand, has something of that oxymoron of the privacy of the social – and unfortunately that is different and perhaps even contrary to the slogan that the private is political.

Sure, communism “is the simple thing that is so difficult to do” – this is how Brecht formulated, writing the role for Palagea Vlasova, The Mother. And so it is with every kind of better life. Anyway, we think more appropriate than those Christmas- and New Year wishes put forward in the article we refer to, are the following ideas and demands:

  • Conscious life – as a recognition and evaluation of successes already achieved instead of continued recalculations of what we know at least in principle [19.7% poverty and exclusion in Germany[4] are too much – but already 15% and even 10% were already too much.
  • As part of this: emphasis of existing opportunities emerging from the public use of public goods – e.g. more data access and control for everybody, considering them as public goods, instead of excessive protection of artificially defined privacy.
  • Lived equality and openness instead of closing “communities” in order to maintain consensus of the various kind – something that concerns gated communities in urban settlements as well various “critical” groups that are sealing themselves of against critical debates
  • Which translates in the need for an open and honest disputes and conflict culture against forced “burden of consensus”, aiming on a pseudo-peace culture.

Sure, it is not be meant this way – yet the fight for the good life nearly pushes its advocates to see Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Cronies as allies. They already live in such a rational world of sharing and doing good, of course far from a rights-based approach and far from the idea of producing something different and producing in different ways. They fear redistribution probably less than establishing rights-based systems that would block the possibilities of initial exploitation – that mode of accumulation, which easily determines the last fibres our way of life. It is precisely this notion that makes also Brands wish-list not much more than well-meant, and certainly not worthless, individualistic efforts. The testimony of such “revolution” will then be that it had been tried hard to reach the goal – everybody who knows about the rules of phrasing such documents knows what is actually means: trying to achieve a goal does not mean actually doing so.

[1] Social philosopher; UEF, Finland ; Corvinus University of Hungary; EURISPES, Italy; currently Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy [Social Law], Munich

[2] Social scientist; Middle East Technical University, Ankara

[3] These five tensions are first addressed in Herrmann, Peter, 2016: From 5 giant evils to 5 giant tensions – the current crisis of capitalism as seedbed for its overturn – or: How many gigabytes has a horse ?; Seminar ‘Continuidad y Cambios en la relaciones Internacionales’ at ISRI (Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raúl Roas García), Havana [ https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301815015_From_5_giant_evils_to_5_giant_tensions_-_the_current_crisis_of_capitalism_as_seedbed_for_its_overturn_-_or_How_Many_Gigabyte_has_a_Horse ] ; Growth and Development – Complement or Contradiction? Challenges for a Global Agenda; Shanghai Forum, China and Latin America. The Development Partnership of the Trans-Pacific Section [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303549291_Growth_and_Development_-_Complement_or_Contradiction_Challenges_for_a_Global_Agenda]

[4] https://de.statista.com/themen/120/armut-in-deutschland/; 31/12/17

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