What is the main lesson of the German election?
There is an old anarchist slogan attributed to Emma Goldman: “If elections would change anything at all, they’d make it illegal.” But the lesson is not to turn to a kind of romantic anarchism or to give up on party politics completely. Instead, we should better not expect too much change from establishment politics and rather count on social movements. They are the ones to push forward the topics that we as a society need to confront. Fridays for Future had an immense impact: thanks to them, every party in Germany (with one exception) now pays at least lip service to the necessity of an ecological transformation. At the same time, no party program was endorsed by the movement as sufficient for the Paris Climate Goals. We will require ongoing efforts to drive climate policy forward.
Any other insights?
Another important and impressive example of social movements is the victory of the petition “Deutsche Wohnen enteignen” in Berlin. This initiative managed to bring the “right to city” and affordable living back on the political agenda, problems that are part of what one could call “the new social question”. It put on the table the even broader question of property and the limits of the market. The one million votes in favour of expropriation are one of the rare political success stories to build hope on, even though here too there will be resistance from the new city government led by Franziska Giffey of the SPD. And just like the climate movement, here the future lies in continuing to pressure for change and implementation.
What was the role of capitalism during this election campaign?
Capitalism was the elephant in the room. As usual we were faced with two stories: According to the first, capitalism is part of the solution; according to the other, it is part of the problem. However, these issues are rarely discussed in the open and they are not discussed thoroughly enough. Take for example the question of whether the ecological question can be solved technologically and by means of market mechanisms or whether it requires a more profound restructuring of our economic system, and, as it is, our form of life. This is obviously at the heart of current political conflicts as well as of the choices of direction that lie ahead of us.
What do you suggest?
It seems obvious to me that we are in a situation that requires a fundamental and radical rethinking of the way we live together, the way we work together, the way we consume, own, think, and the way we organize our society and economy. This applies to the ecological question as well as to the different types of “social questions” we are confronted with. It is especially true for the interrelation of the two. Regardless of what happens in the upcoming weeks, it is not likely that the radical transformation our society so dramatically needs will be part of the story. Rather I fear that it will be a tame “let’s go on like this with a little difference.”
In this Gramscian moment: Why is it so hard for the new to be born?
Marx says that a new society can be found in the womb of the old. Either this is not true as of yet or we’re facing a difficult, obstacle-ridden birth and we are in need of some well-equipped and experienced midwifes. I might sound overly pessimistic, but from my perspective we have reached the moment that shows that a crisis does not necessarily lead to a turning point. As we have been witnessing, a crisis can perpetuate itself, resulting in a tenacious situation of indecision and inaction. As the German author Thomas Brasch has written: “The old does not work anymore, neither does the new.”