The Global Justice Movement: Criticism of Globalization
"Economic, political, social, ideological and ecological reality has dramatically changed since the 1970s.. The social state redistributed the unequal market incomes, for example through a progressive tax system down from above. This social model was thrown overboard.."
The Global Justice Movement: Criticism of Neoliberalism
By Ulrich Duchrow
[This address at the 2003 Ecumenical Church Day in Berlin is translated from the German on the World Wide Web.]
The Churches in Germany Fall Behind Globalization Criticism
The churches in Germany are falling behind. I concentrate on the evangelical churches. To whom are they falling behind?
1. Behind the churches in the South;
2. Behind the worldwide ecumenical movement;
3. Behind the Bible;
4. Behind reality.
These are my four reference points.
Economic, political, social, ideological and ecological reality has dramatically changed since the 1970s. After the classical-liberal capitalist model of society collapsed with the 1929 worldwide economic crisis and two world wars, politics and the economy introduced the so-called "social market economy" in industrial countries. In the countries of the South, "development" was the main keyword. Conditions for the social-market economy were the strong working class movement and the competitive pressure of so-called real socialism. Frameworks were fixed for commodity-, capital-, service- and labor markets that made property socially obligated. The social state redistributed the unequal market incomes, for example through a progressive tax system down from above and so forth.
This socially regulated social model was thrown overboard by clearly identifiable actors and dismantled piece by piece in favor of the new neoliberal model. The transnational corporations created so-called free trade zones in which they could manipulate prices and avoid taxes. Financial- and money markets increasingly eluded national regulations by acting freely on deregulated transnational markets. In 1973 the US government abandoned the gold standard of the dollar and fixed rates of exchange. Currency rates were left to the market and as a consequence to speculation. The US set up dictatorships in most countries of the South through hidden actions or open interventions. This opened markets, abandoned national industries to transnational capital and heavily indebted their countries. Pinochet in Chile since 1973 is the best-known example.
At the beginning of the eighties, Thatcher in Great Britain, Reagan in the US and Kohl in Germany introduced the neoliberal policy in western industrial countries. Transnational capital also began to produce structural unemployment, production transfers of workers to low-wage countries and migration in transnational financial speculations while paying less and less taxes. Thus the public budgets also became more and more indebted. The consequences were continuing social cuts and intensive redistribution from poor to the rich. In the heavily indebted countries of the South, the undemocratic IMF dominated by the rich countries assumed the role of dictator with its structural adjustment programs. In the meantime, politics lost so much power in relation to the economy and finances that even our social democratic government claims that only social cuts are possible on account of this globalization. According to Agenda 2010, the unemployed and receivers of income support should revitalize the budget while mammoth assets and incomes are untouched.
The quotation of one of the most important ideologues of neoliberalism, Friedrich v. Hayek, shows that this sketch is more than an insinuation:
"A free society needs moral definitions to maintain life, not all life since sacrificing individual life may be necessary to preserve a larger number of lives. Therefore the only real moral rules are those leading to a "life calculus": private property and contract."
In plain English, only those persons with private property and capacity for contract - that is, those who can sell their labor power - have a right to life. Everyone else can be sacrificed on principle because private property and contract are the basic elements of the capitalist market. This refers to the property brought into the market to multiply wealth, not the personal use of property needed by every person to satisfy the necessities of life.
Neoliberalism means: only this market should govern - through liberalizing, de-regulating and privatizing. The only task of the state is guaranteeing private property and contracts. Thus all owners and persons capable of contract can increase their wealth in competition according to their ability. No word about the social obligation of property and preservation of creation is heard here. Nature is not an owner and therefore is only material for increasing wealth.
Responses of the Churches in Germany
In its 1991 economic memorandum, the EKD (Evangelical church in Germany) acted as though the model of the "social market economy" still governed. There were no references to the critical analyses of the neoliberalism that had ruled for ten years at that time. That the IMF strives for "a development-friendly strategy of adjustment" was confirmed (#20). The text bristling with euphemisms, smooth talking about reality admonishes - naively perhaps - the long-term self-interest of businesses and proposes introducing the German "social market economy" internationally.
The 1997 Joint Declaration of the Council of the EKD and the German Bishops' Conference says: "A pure market economy" model has no adequate answers to the new challenges (e.g. to the social market economy)." "Holding to the status quo and defending all social assets is also inadequate." With such beautiful balance, the declaration was applauded from all sides. Quietness prevailed even within the churches. Nothing could be read about how the churches themselves as economic actors deal with their money or distribute work and income. Nevertheless good initiatives are planted in the Joint Declaration, for example the demand for the social obligation of property, a wealth report and a more just distribution of assets and taxation. A clear analysis of the obstacles to the conversion of these demands was lacking. No outcry of the churches was heard when the first Red-Green government in its tax reform did not reintroduce the property tax contrary to its election promises. Mounting profits from mergers always cost jobs from the unpaid taxes.
Under the 2001 title "Responsible Global Economy", the synod of the EKD weighed the chances and risks of globalization and "reminded economic actors of their responsibility." The synod admonished personal obligations of the economic associations, recommended the global compact of the UN with the economy and protested that the churches "need the TNCs (transnational corporations), the IMF and the World Bank as partners who need critical dialogue, not as adversaries. In view of the brutal reality, one could ask whether the authors were really so na´ve to imagine globalized pure capitalism could be restrained by such admonitions, dialogues and personal obligations. Don't we face an obsequiousness of the churches before the market in the good old Constantine tradition? While the churches in Germany do not openly represent the market religion, they do not call it blasphemy when the CDU (Kohl's party) calls for more social cuts and fiscal relief of the rich under the name "Christian" in Schroeder's neoliberal policy. In an interview on Kirchentag (in: Berliner Zeitung, May 28/29, 2003), president Kock and cardinal Lehmann supported Agenda 2010 and even used the unspeakable neoliberal nonsense word "social envy" in responding to the demand for more taxes for the wealthy.
What do the victims say, especially the churches of the South, who could not raise their voices at the EKD synod? In 1995, an assembly of Reformed churches in South Africa declared: "Our painful conclusion is that the African reality of poverty caused by an unjust economic world order is not an ethical problem. Rather this unjust order is a theological problem that now justifies a status confessionis (i.e. a confessional situation in which the church must say unequivocally Yes or No or lose its church existence). The gospel itself, the Good News for the poor, is at stake today with the mechanisms of the global economy." In reply the Reformed World Alliance called member churches to a 1997 general assembly "to a binding process of growing discovery, enlightenment and confession (processus confessionis) as to economic injustice and ecological destruction."
Along with the Lutheran World Alliance (LWA), the World Council of Churches (WCC) answered the call at its 1998 plenary assembly. The Reformed Alliance and the Westphalia national church, the churches in Germany did not accept this call. Consultations in all continents followed as in Western Europe 2002 although many churches held back. A letter to the churches in Western Europe was sent by the general secretaries of the ecumenical organizations to all churches urging wide-ranging discussions and decision-making processes in the groups. However little echo was heard.
In April 2003, the Reformed churches from Asia, Africa and Latin America met. They wrote their own declarations of faith on the global crisis of life. They saw themselves in the tradition of the 1934 Barmen Theological Declaration in view of National Socialism and the confessions against apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s. The Declaration of Faith proclaims:
"Through the exchange of our experiences, we are clear about the dramatic convergences and sufferings of people and nature in the countries of the South. Unanimously we recognize that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization produce negative effects with their dominance and exclusion toward countries of the South. We share the experience of disadvantageous and destructive consequences in the wake of deregulation and speculative money streams."
"Seeing all these negative effects of neoliberal globalization, we are convinced that the neoliberal model can neither be redesigned nor adjusted since system-immanent contradictions appear and break down again and again. The countries, nature and people of the South can be brought nearer to life. For this reason, we are united in our rejection of the neoliberal model. We share the criticism of the global social movements including the worldwide peace movement that regards the neoliberal model as destructive for creation and resists it."
"In summation, the economy whose real goal is guaranteeing the life and prosperity of everyone has become a totalitarian faith system in the interest of the accumulated riches of a few in the times of neoliberal globalization and endangers life on our planet. This system represents a structural sin. Globalized neoliberalism is in complete contradiction to the foundations of the Christian faith."
The churches of the South appeal to the Bible. The Bible knows prophetic criticism, legal restraint of economic and political structures and resistance and refusal when oppressive and exploitative systems make themselves absolute as in the Hellenistic and Roman empires (cf. Daniel 3 and 7 and the Revelation of John). Jesus himself entered into life-threatening conflict with the temple. The temple was Judea's economic center and was used to exploit the poor with the help of sacrifice theology by the priesthood collaborating with the Romans. For that reason, Jesus called it a den of robbers.
We cannot simply wait until our churches comment clearly. Kairos Europe, the European base movement in the conciliar process, has initiated an alliance across our churches and groups. Kairos Europe calls us to go to our communities and synods and set the ecumenical status confessionis "Economies in service of Life" on the agenda...
Our efforts are not hopeless. The Reformed Alliance and the office for youth work in the Bavarian national church have joined Attac. Could your community and church change from a rear light to a locomotive of the global justice train? Perhaps some of our fellow Christians hear their sisters and brothers from the South who say: the gospel is at stake. Perhaps the churches in Germany will still be a blessing for the world.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article