By Robert Kurz
[This article originally published in: Neues Deutschland, October 2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.krisis.org/.]
Social conflicts are always conflicts around terms and "definitional power" deciding how problems are generally seen. Problems are defined quasi naturally in accordance with the dominant system logic. The terms then assume a corresponding coloring according to the model of the chameleon. No conscious discussion or censorship occurs. Rather the mechanism of forming concepts and the process of definition are much more subtle. A certain way of speaking predominates. Suddenly everyone speaks the same language seemingly out of deepest conviction. A general official socio-economic version gains acceptance in the scientific enterprise, the media and the political class, a "consensus language: that is all the more rigid because it is not decreed in a directly administered way.
This state of affairs derives from the fact that science, media and politics cannot also work silently and automatically like the invisible hand of the market. They form the "subjective" side in relation to the "objective" system laws. As a result, conformity with capitalist imperatives does not arise automatically but must always be produced in a discursive process. One essential function of this discourse is fencing in the participants to the claims of the general capitalist situation to which all social and cultural conditions must adjust. This necessitates the official version. In this sense, science, media and the political class form a kind of cartel watching out that no one steps out of line. A general framework is set in which clients are subject to marketing and simultaneously kept on a tighter rein.
Whoever has definitional power deciding what is "reality" and what is "real-politics" dominates ideological semantics. The semantic cartel prevailing today declares the requirements of capitalist crisis management as the reality principle and correspondingly redefines the term reform. The former social and emancipatory pathos of reform that arose in the course of the historical development of the standard wage, the "welfare state" and public services is now invertedly instrumentalized for the counter-reform. The campaigns for privatization and social restrictions run under the motto: "The new age moves with us." The more private and the cheaper, the better.
Everyone worries whether the "reformers" will prevail against the "diehards". Reformist "compromises in the joint-creation of society" are invited. For example, will the cut be 5 or 10 percent? Must the hospital or the kindergarten be shut down? Should the allowances for cancer patients or for the physically disabled be cancelled? Is there a 1 percent increase of something and a threefold burden in another place? The degree of deteriorations "wrestled" for with reformist gestures is now called "human improvement". The political competition only promotes the one who can sell harsher cuts most skillfully. The political left is threatened with "falling into insignificance" "without convincing reformers". The "voters' will", as the control semantic intimates, bristles with "realism" and "citizen maturity" and lights the way for low wages, social cuts and privatization.
This dominant language rule is as flimsy as the announcements of the speedy upswing that have dragged on for years. If this continues, the once honorable name of "reformer" will soon become an ordinary swearword with which "rural folk" describe wicked neighbors or wicked dogs. Brainwashing does not always function. The dominant definitional power over reality can be broken by a social counter-realism. A large scale campaign against the project of low wages would be far more than a mere social policy at the limits of political arithmetic, namely a cultural struggle, an offensive for an elementary level of civilization. Such a counter-realpolitik that relentlessly follows all the ramifications, subtleties and meanness of repressive work- and social administration has a chance of mass effectiveness.
An earnest struggle around public services as an essential element of the living standard is vital. "People" still have the stock market-railroad, postal service and the threat of stock market-waterworks along with two-class medicine and the cheap lack of education. The "counter-fire" (Pierre Bourdieu) must not be tied "eternally" to the bureaucratic state traditions. A concept of public service in the form of self-administered non-profit associations in which the material apparatus of infrastructures would be transferred is conceivable. Such a useful public value orientation would be a possible and realizable moment of emancipatory transformation.
If capitalism cannot maintain a civilized level, one cannot "accept" it with bows of subservience. Conversely capitalism on its side no longer "accepts" more and more people. The need of social expatriates for forms of organized representation is not gently dissolved like the refugees after the 2nd World War who were absorbed by the "economic wonder" but on the contrary massively increases not only in East Germany. The arithmetic of the dominant semantic and political cartel cannot give them any voice but steers their voices to the treadmills of nationalist-racist resentment. Personal responsibility is announced, not state bondage or enslavement. This is personal responsibility in the sense of an unbureaucratic, independent social counter-movement, not in the sense of "joyful acceptance" of an authoritarian market bondage.