Difficult truth – cheap lies

In times of the Internet, historical memory shrinks. Who remembers today that for almost half a century the United States of America represented the realm of enlightenment, truth and progress, while the other side of the Iron Curtain was ruled by arbitrariness, gulags and politically decreed lies? This contrast was inflated by mutual propaganda, certainly, but forced labor camps and those millions of people Stalin had sent to their deaths were bitter reality. There was so little doubt concerning this gruesome past that Solzhenitsyn’s accusations were read worldwide, that is even in Russia. When Gorbachev finally dared to say the truth, the collapse of the regime was inevitable.

Truth in politics works like salvation.

In Nazi Germany, prescribed political lies had been on the agenda from the very beginning of the regime. After Hitler’s seizure of power, his oldest ally Ernst Röhm and the SA militias he controlled had suddenly become inconvenient (a thorn in the side of the Reichswehr and conservative circles, whose support Hitler could not do without). The Nazis therefore invented the fake news of a planned coup. Röhm and about two hundred other citizens were murdered in a cloak-and-dagger operation. This was a foretaste of the nihilism of power that would darken Germany for more than a decade. Hitler and his henchmen assumed that lie and truth had no meaning in politics (or anywhere else for that matter). What counts, according to their credo, is power and nothing but power, for whose sake no human sacrifice would be too great.

The Liberation of Germans

from the bloody rule of Adolf Hitler was perceived as a redemption not because the Nazis had been militarily defeated. In most cases, peoples still prefer to be ruled by local villains rather than by foreign saviors – after all, the latter show them their own failure and humiliation. The sigh of relief was due to the fact that now it was possible again to recognize reality for what it is and speak the truth. Truth and lies are not mere products of power, as diehard nihilists claim. During the last years of Nazi rule, citizen were aware that the constant reports of victory were nothing but cynical lies. Moreover, many Germans had resisted decreed racial hatred at least in such a way that they opposed the ordered lie with private exceptions – the Jews known to them personally were quite different from all others! When holding to this miserable remnant of truth, Germans did not endanger their life which they would have done when resorting to open protest.

The willingness of Germans to welcome the American liberators with open arms at the end of the war was based on the fact that lie and truth were not mere creations of power. American democracy, and soon the German one too granted every citizen the right to decide for himself what he considered true or false in daily life and in politics. This was experienced as an escape from the prison of state-imposed lies.

Between 1945 until the fall of the Iron Curtain

these feelings remained largely unchallenged. It was the scientists, the thinkers, yes, and also the politicians of the West who enjoyed most credibility. As it turned out, they were trusted even in the East. After all, the walls, barbed wires and watchtowers between East and West were not built on the Western side to keep the people of Western democracies from fleeing into Stalin’s empire. They had to be built on the eastern side because so many people were pushing from there to the West. And when the Wall finally fell at the end of the 1980s, it was the heartland of the West, America, that took the whole world by storm. Jazz, jeans, the movies of Hollywood, the internet and last but not least American science and the English language started a triumphal march all over Europe and Asia.

But, as so often happens, the climax was to be

the beginning of decline. Actually, clear-sighted observers were able to see much earlier that it was stupid to maintain that darkness reigned on one side only, and light on the other. Both great powers had no qualms about wearing down or completely exhausting in constant proxy wars the countries on the fringes of their respective spheres of power. Peace in Europe was paid for with enormous suffering in Vietnam, Chile and many African states. Great powers establish order in their spheres of rule – just as each individual state does within its own borders. The Roman Empire had already proceeded in such a way. It had successfully pacified most of the ancient world, so that people could travel safely from Britain to the borders of the Persian Empire. At the same time, the peripheral areas subjugated by the center were notoriously exploited and generally treated with unabashed brutality. The privilege of Enlightenment, peace, and a freedom that included the right to describe conditions truthfully applied to the centers of power, not to the disputed peripheries.

The year 1945 marked the greatest historical break

in the history of Europe. After more than two thousand years of domination, the Old Continent had deliberately catapulted itself out of the world’s center with a civil war lasting for almost 30 years. In its place, the US and the Soviet Union had now become the leading powers. This is how things remained up to now (except that China could outstrip both great powers in the coming decade).

In other words, Europe has become so marginalized and militarily insignificant that it can no longer withstand any encroachment without outside help. In 1989 it could still appear as if Russia too had to bid farewell to its former role as a superpower. From a superficial point of view, the United States had ended the Cold War victoriously by an arms race the enemy was unable to withstand. But there were deeper reasons for the incredibly rapid disintegration of the Soviet camp. The people in the GDR (1953), in Hungary (1956), in the Czech Republic (1968) and finally in Poland (1981) had already shown that they no longer believed the promises of the communist regime. According to Soviet ideology, communism had brought paradise on earth; but Eastern people soon realized that Western nations were much better off than they were. Such evident truths could however not be openly stated – they were taboo. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, people were forced to live with state-imposed lies and had to fear being banished to Siberia for speaking the truth. Gorbachev had only given the external impetus for the dissolution of the regime. In reality, the regime had already been broken down by its own lies – hence its incredibly rapid disintegration.

The meeting of Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow, the great Russian,

(today outlawed as a traitor in his homeland) with the American president Ronald Reagan was one of the great moments in recent world history. Two former enemies communicated in the same language of truth, proving to the world that there is an objective reality that unites people. Both men were aware of the gruesome madness that East and West were threatening each other with weapons of final destruction that at any time could trigger the end of humanity. Both wanted to establish a new peaceful order – and the whole world believed that this was possible indeed. The moment appeared like a release from the nightmare of potential self-annihilation.

Why does all this already seem so remote from present reality?

Why was Gorbachev, who had initially brought so much hope to his own country and to the world, later regarded rather like a traitor? Why did Russia under Putin once again become a great power armed to the teeth and a declared opponent of the West, though now without the communist creed? And yes, while we are asking these unpalatable questions, why not add an even more unpleasant one? Why is politics in the United States under Donald Trump dominated by lies just as much as in Russia under Vladimir Putin?

Apparently, after the fall of the Berlin Wall

and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, something went very wrong. Under Hitler, the Germans had brought forth a regime at least as totalitarian, bloody and cruel as Stalin’s rule. But the Americans were quick to help defeated Germany back on its feet with the Marshall Plan. We should never forget: Seldom was a defeated people treated so generously.

But what happened to Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Not only was Russia lying prostrate on the ground, it was deliberately pushed to the ground. The West pursued an economic policy that Russia paid for with greater economic losses and misery than those caused by the Second World War. At that time, industrial production in the Soviet Union fell by “only” 24 percent, whereas in the ten years after the fall of the Iron Curtain it fell by almost 60 percent. The nineties under Boris Yeltsin were experienced by the Russians as a period of extreme humiliation. Instead of receiving thanks for having voluntarily shaken off a dictatorship and being willing to recognize the West as a model, they were completely beaten to the ground: entire branches of industry being dismantled, their scientists poached and (with the active cooperation of Jeffrey Sachs) privatization pushed through overnight so that the country’s most important resources were sold off to a few oligarchs. At that time it was an open secret that Russia’s oil wells should be open for sale in the West so that the Russian bear could be finally brought under control.

The comet-like rise of Vladimir Putin

is unthinkable without the thoughtless humiliation of Russia by the United States. That unique wisdom in dealing with defeated Germany, which had distinguished U.S. policy after ’45, was no longer an option in the case of defeated Russia after 1989. Today we have to admit that the increasingly hostile and extraordinarily successful Russian President Vladimir Putin is a creature of misguided Western policy.

The effects of such policy are becoming increasingly evident

While political lies were undoubtedly much more deeply rooted in the East until the fall of the Wall, from then on they began to spread more and more in both camps. It had always been easy for unscrupulous power to substitute lies for truth. Even science had to submit to political arbitrariness. Anyone who openly polemicized against the Nazis’ racial theory could end up in a concentration camp; anyone who questioned Lyssenkoism under Stalin had to reckon with spending the rest of his life in a Siberian gulag.

And what about truth in our time, for example in the United States? Until the 1990s, the denial of Darwin’s theory of descendance remained limited to a small number of crackpots, such as exist at any time in any country. But since about three decades, ideologically blinded crackpots have turned into the broad movement of anti-scientific Evangelicals, without whose votes Donald Trump would not have become president. Even a despiser of the truth like the current American president does not dare to declare the Darwinian theory of descendance a fake, but otherwise he confidently disregards scientific findings (on Corona, for example). And so does Vladimir Putin when he wipes off the table as “unproven” the unanimous finding of German experts that Alexei Navalny is the victim of a political assassination attempt with the nerve poison Novichok. In Russia this denial of truth is nothing new. Regularly occurring political killings were never admitted – see Sergei Yushchenkov (shot in 2003), Yuri Shchekochichin (presumably poisoned in 2003), Paul Klebnikov (shot in 2004), Anna Politikovskaya (shot in 2006), Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned with radioactive polonium in 2006), Stanislav Markelov (shot in 2009), Natalya Estemirova (shot in 2009), Boris Nemtsov (shot in 2015), Vladimir Kara-Mursa (presumably poisoned in 2017), Sergei and Yulia Skripal (poisoned with Novichok in 2018), Pyotr Werzilov (poisoned in 2018), and finally Alexei Navalny (poisoned with Novichok in 2020).

Of course, political murders are not a Russian specialty. Both superpowers never had any qualms about having them carried out in disputed peripheral regions. The CIA looks back on a long list of sins down to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Allende in Chile, whose only mistake had been his intention to achieve a greater degree of social justice for his own people. However, in contrast to today’s Russia under Putin, the United States had maintained elementary democratic rules within its own territory – and this privilege applied just as much to its closest allies like Germany. Unfortunately, many indications give rise to the fear that President Trump – an admirer of dictators like Kim Jung-un and autocrats like Vladimir Putin – would like to override democratic rules even within his country. What we are seeing today gives no cause for optimism: Under Putin and Trump the two nuclear superpowers Russia and the USA have become alarmingly similar to each other.

A weak Europe

is doomed to become a plaything of the superpowers. Peripheral areas are being victimized without mercy. No moral superiority – whether real or imagined – may help them, indeed it has never benefited the weak. That was the case in the time of Rome, and it has remained so until today. Europe must be strong – it must become strong if it wants to escape this fate. Angela Merkel saw this clearly when she spoke of the need for Europe to strengthen its own defense capability.

The snow of yesterday is today’s Deluge – Remarks on an amazing book by Daniela Dahn

There are books – and, alas, they make up the vast majority – that one skims over because they offer nothing more than facts that we barely take note of. There are others where each sentence acquires importance because it expresses an attitude, a person’s relationship to the world, and therefore urges the reader to take a stand. I was recently allowed to read one such book, its author is Daniela Dahn. She writes about the injustice that Germany’s Western half has done to the citizens of the East, calling on the West to reflect on its failures. What so much pleases me about this book – even though its theses are anything but pleasant – is its honesty. In times of generalized dishonesty, where arguments mostly serve as weapons in the struggle of parties, this is a refreshing book. Let us listen to the author’s own words.

About the former GDR and the present new federal states

The possibilities of becoming wealthy or making large inheritances were just as limited in the GDR as those of buying great luxury. This was not only a disadvantage. It facilitated social cohesion.

The pedagogy of the GDR was impressive. The Finns made no secret of the fact that it had been the German Democratic Republic from where they had adopted their education system, which had been generally praised after the first Pisa study. I wasn’t surprised by the fact, I had already heard, that developing countries had adopted complete GDR mathematics and physics textbooks because of the good didactics.

Nor was there any lack of female emancipation. How refreshing when Daniela Dahn laughs at the new political correctness of the Me-too movement. We women of the East were much too self-confident to see harassment as a serious problem. Of course, it existed, and even with us most of the bosses were men. But in this case too, West Germans insisted on knowing everything better. The emancipation of women was immediately declared a mere sham. The superior modern family law, which some developing countries had largely adopted, was, like all laws, disposed of without hesitation.

Dahn does not whitewash, but she insists that facts should not be artificially inflated, even if they concern the Stasi. At no time /were/ more than 0.5 percent of the 17 million GDR citizens victims of targeted, operative reporting… On the other hand, I would argue, it is not so much the actual extent of observations that matters, but rather the consequences they had for determined opposition members. In today’s Russia and China, they are mysteriously perishing or simply disappearing. What was it like in the GDR?

Again and again, she rejects the often deliberate distortion of facts. Until the 1980s the genocide of the Jews in the GDR was /as western sources claimed/… a “completely suppressed topic”. So much disinformation leaves one speechless. I perceived it exactly the other way round: The GDR culture had taken up this topic earlier and more often than the Federal Republic, had continuously pursued it over the years, and this to an extent that caused many people to be fed up with it… /a lecture by Marion Neiss/ showed that from 1945 to 1989, the same period in which shameful 85 desecrations took place in the GDR, 1400 attacks on Jewish cemeteries occurred in West Germany… In 1992, a representative Spiegel survey showed that only 4 percent of the inhabitants of the new federal states were anti-Semitic, whereas 16 percent of the inhabitants of the old states were. “East Germans consistently express themselves less anti-Semitic, right-wing extremist and xenophobic than West Germans,” it was said.

Mrs Dahn is speaking plainly, even when she talks about the economic development of the East, which on the whole must be considered a blatant failure. At the beginning of the short Rohwedder era /from August 1990 to April 1991/, the total value of GDR national property was still estimated at between 600 billion and 1 trillion DM. At the end of the Treuhand’s activities, the value of an entire national economy, with its huge, export-strong combines, often equipped with Western technology, with the debt-free land and all state-owned real estate, had been falsified to a value of minus 330 billion DM… Within a very short period of time, 95 percent of the people’s property fell into the hands of Western entrepreneurs in a colonial manner… /and/ in East Germany itself, 80 percent of the leading positions are still occupied by Westerners. Egon Bahr commented bitterly at the time: “Feudal, early medieval ownership structures have been created in East Germany that were overcome even in Africa and the Orient two generations ago… The south of Italy has a current account deficit of almost 13 percent with the north, but the east of Germany has a deficit of at least 45 percent with the west… A full-time employee still earns on average 1000 euros less per month than in the West. And: the population in East Germany today is the same as in 1905. pre-industrial. This is a warning sign… One of the main reasons for this collapse: The Eastern European markets had not broken away, as is always claimed, but had been taken away… Instead of improving the competitiveness of GDR companies…, 80% of East German industry collapsed.

And instead of “creating a high level of employment”, the hasty monetary union led to the loss of four million jobs, while at the same time two million new jobs were created in West Germany… The number of German millionaires doubled to over one million, while in the East the number of unemployed rose from zero to four million with the long-awaited D-Mark…

The author’s conclusion: instead of taking what was good and worth preserving from the GDR’s heritage, the latter was wholesale discarded as worthless and GDR citizens were robbed of all self-respect by West German arrogance – also in intellectual terms: Even when putting all newly founded publishing houses together, only 2.2 per cent of total German book production is now produced in the East German states. Leipzig, for centuries the number one German book city, now ranks 16th behind Göttingen, Saarbrücken and Heidelberg. The memory of GDR culture was thus erased thought for thought. And even harmless witnesses of the past such as street names were systematically erased: In Dresden, almost 100 streets and squares have been renamed, often in favor of the former Saxon nobility, who were obsessed with pomp. The fates of communists tortured to death and executed by the Nazis were rendered nameless.

Federal Republic:

Daniela Dahn is far from speaking with resentment about united Germany, but she takes the liberty of challenging prejudices spread by the state and the Western press. In East Germany not flourishing landscapes emerged, as promised by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, but dying ones and a population of declassified people. That is, why we should not be surprised about the consequences: The quittance for social coldness and political failure is the AfD… The rebellion predicted by Negt has finally erupted in xenophobia, Pegida and AfD. A “new nationalism of the declassed” – that is exactly what has happened… Before right-wing extremism reached the center of society, it came from the center of the state… And: the main responsibility for the rise of right-wing extremism in the East lies with the political class in the West.

Let me add to this lucid analysis that Le Monde Diplomatique takes a very similar view of Trump’s election. In the “Swing States” of the Rust Belt, it was the whites, driven into unemployment by outsourcing (“White Trash”, as they have been derided), who made Trump, the Terrible, president of the United States.

In this context Daniela Dahn also accuses West Germans of a good measure of hypocrisy and false self-righteousness: Without the preliminary work of the lawyer Globke, /so diligently protected and promoted by Konrad Adenauer after the war/, the Holocaust would not have been possible… The first law passed in the Bundestag was the Amnesty Law for NS-perpetrators in 1950!… Two thirds of the 9000 West German judges and prosecutors had already served under Hitler. And the author takes a look at the impact of this state of mind on contemporary politics.

Daniela Dahn on Ukraine and Russia

There is no doubt that Russia’s tricky incorporation of the Crimea into its own territory was a blatant violation of the Budapest Memorandum agreed with Ukraine. This breach of law has dangerously increased the doubts as to how much reliance can be placed on the promises of major powers.

But the Western approach to Ukraine was no less short-sighted – to put it mildly. Instead of allowing the weakened countries /to maintain/ this basis /for further trade with the East/ and making attractive offers from Europe, the West insisted that Kiev had to decide with whom it wanted to cooperate: either progress from the West or despotism from Russia. This fatal compulsion cannot be seen as mere mistake. What prevailed was rather the intention described by US security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to tolerate no alliances in Eurasia that call into question the US claim to leadership… The consequences are obvious: The EU is about to make the former Soviet breadbasket its own. This is linked to progressive deindustrialization. Today Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe… There are only seven countries in the world, most of them in Africa, where more of the native soil is controlled by foreigners than in Ukraine.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has  been at odds with Russia too. Western countries pursued an economic policy, propagated and supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, under which Russia.. suffered greater economic losses than during the Second World War. During that period, industrial production in the Soviet Union fell by 24 percent, but it fell by almost 60 percent in the ten years after its dissolution.

A stance against political correctness, and for honesty

Before talking about the general conclusions that Daniela Dahn draws from these findings, conclusions which I do not share, I would like to say something about the courage of this woman, who has no qualms about sovereignly disregarding the mainstream of political correctness, for example all that terrible “gendering” degenerating into an orgy of small-mindedness. She sums up small-mindedness and hypocrisy in a single sentence when stating: There is no evidence of a connection between decades of language-degrading lip service and a genuine change in awareness. And: If I have the choice between politically correct and linguistically beautiful, I admit that I choose the beautiful. That is also a female attitude. A redeeming truth, indeed!

On other occasions too, Daniela Dahn votes also for the beautiful and the humane, for example when it comes to Muslim dress codes for women. Since then /after she herself had to dress so in Yemen/ I consider burqa or nikab a specific form of violence against women. This custom, which is neither required by the Koran nor by the Sunna, is for me a criminal offence of bodily injury, if not torture…

She also comments on one of the greatest crimes in recent history, the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Contradictions and flaws – for example, the collapse of the third high-rise building, WTC 7, into which no aircraft flew, is not mentioned at all in the official document. The report illustrates that there was never a comprehensive investigation of all circumstances and open questions. Eight times more money has been invested in uncovering the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal than in analyzing the day that changed the world… With interest I have taken note of some of the research on the objections against the official final report on September 11 (9/11 Commission Report of 2004) without participating myself. I didn’t have the time, the strength, maybe even the courage.

“Maybe even the courage” – from how many others do we hear such an honest confession?

Why I will not join the party “Die Linke” (The Left) despite Daniela Dahn

I understand the following objections as a contribution to a larger discussion, because honest and upright authors should not be criticized as we may count on their intellectual openness. I read in her book: I have not encountered anything recognizable in view of the blood toll of millions and millions of dead, which the Soviet soldiers paid for the liberation from our fascism.

That would, indeed, be unforgivable if liberation there really was – as maintained by President Putin and by now by Mrs Dahn as well. Recently, Stalin is more and more rehabilitated as a liberator and opponent of fascism, which I think is a crude falsification of history; as a matter of fact Stalin admired Adolf Hitler and until the end did not want to believe that the latter would attack his country. To be sure, the Soviet Union defended itself against the treacherous invasion of the Hitler regime and in the process made much greater sacrifices than Western countries – that is an undeniable historical fact. But it did not liberate its own and others countries from fascism (totalitarianism) but from a brutal aggressor.  After all, Stalin’s regime was just as totalitarian, just as murderous as Hitler’s so-called National Socialism – I think that after Hannah Arendt these facts need no further confirmation. How can a totalitarian regime liberate other states from totalitarianism, i.e. bring them freedom? In fact, Soviet dictatorship was merely extended over the Eastern Bloc. The uprisings in the GDR, in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland and finally the collapse of the communist regime prove that these countries understood liberation and freedom in a completely different way.

This truth seems so evident to me – and the revision of history pursued by the Russian president so obvious – that I do not quite understand when the book continues to say: How much brainwashing did you /Westerners/ actually undergo in order to believe, even today, the fairy tale that the Americans brought you freedom and democracy after the war? It was always all about capitalism first. Democracy found its limits where it did not subordinate itself to the freedom of capital.

No, that’s definitely not true. During the first decades after the war, Americans brought just that to Western Europe: freedom, democracy – yes, and capitalism. Until the 1990s the latter was not perceived as a dirty economic device, but as a synonym for the prosperity that people in the East Bloc longed for just as much as those in the West. For that very reason, there were uprisings in the East, but I am not aware that Western Europe was until quite recently as outraged against America’s hegemony as Eastern people loathed the Russian yoke (since Trump, things could substantially change).

The word “capitalism”, as used by Daniela Dahn and by an ever wider circle of people, represents the evil par excellence. When she says that Americans always thought of capital and its freedom first, she means that they were always driven by greed. But this view disregards historical truth. Since their independence in the 18th century, Americans have been steeped in the conviction that free men perform best when liberated from the paternalism of the state. The vigorous optimism of Americans, so characteristic of them until quite recently, had its origin here – in the trust they placed in the power of responsible individuals (Max Weber had described the religious roots of this attitude).

As we see today, this trust was based on great naivety, because it has led to the fact that in our time half of all global wealth is concentrated in the hands of the world’s richest eight people.*1* But thirty years ago, when it seemed that eternal growth would make the whole world richer and richer, little thought was given to the concentration of wealth. We should therefore ask ourselves why it is only in the last twenty years or so that we have become so sensitive to criticism of the Americans in particular and of capitalism in general? I miss this historical analysis in Daniela Dahn’s book; instead, she turns to a purely ideological assessment. However, in this case too, I must pay Mrs Dahn the compliment of getting straight to the heart of the matter, that is, the question of private property and competition.

Capitalism:

Private property and competition are the two pillars of capitalism – what makes it, I would say, at some times the most vigorous force of development and at others a force of destruction. For one must be blind to historical reality when overlooking its wealth-creating dynamism. Under Mao, egalitarianism became an ideological principle and competition was forbidden, as it inevitably leads to inequality. Apparently, people tolerated the straitjacket of imposed egalitarianism quite badly – Mao’s rule turned out to be even bloodier than that of Josef Stalin. When Deng Xiao Ping suddenly gave free reign to competition and private property, it became obvious what people really wanted. All previously oppressed energies were suddenly unleashed. Within just three decades, China became a superpower – almost the superpower. Since then, the Chinese are so much in love with capitalism that they sell it to the world as Chinese-style socialism!

Do we still have to talk about the ban on property in collective farms, decreed in the times of Lenin and Stalin, a ban that led to general sabotage and mismanagement, because nobody bears or wants to bear responsibility for something that does not belong to him? Can anybody still overlook the invigorating results of distributive land reforms, which made the masses responsible owners and beneficiaries of their own achievements?*2* Mrs. Dahn does not want to admit this fact but explains that the profiteering /of western capitalist/ was under the proviso that not only a small clique, but as many people as possible had to be offered more benefits than the communists. In her eyes, this was no more than a tactic to avoid looking worse than the Communists, but this explanation, dear Mrs Dahn, seems to be rather tortuous.

Nevertheless, it is absolutely right that capitalism regularly becomes a force of destruction. For the time being, this is not yet the case in China, because thanks to private property and competition, the masses are doing somewhat better every year – in some parts of the country even much better. In the industrially highly developed countries of the West, however, the opposite has been true for some time now: the masses are doing worse.

The reason seems obvious. If property and competition are left to themselves, then the most intelligent and the most ruthless and of course the owners of capital will become increasingly rich and powerful, i.e. inequality will increase. While in an initial phase privatization and competition can mobilize entire populations, raising wealth and wellfare, as it were, overnight, this process is now turning in the opposite direction as inequality increases and growth declines or even stagnates. Thereafter the already privileged few continue to get even richer, but they now do so at the expense of the majority, who, on the contrary, are getting poorer.*3*

It is not private property and competition per se that are responsible for this transition, but the fact that no state has so far succeeded in controlling both in the public interest so that they exclusively develop their beneficial effects. The big question is how the fundamentally wrong capitalist functional logic of profit maximization through growth compulsion, of privileging the privileged and weakening the weak can be broken. This is, indeed, the crucial question, and it is more difficult than ever before to answer in our new globalized world, where we are all

Caught in the Race of Nations for greater economic (and military) power:

Ms Dahn is realist enough to be aware of the constraints imposed by globalization. She recognizes that locally limited alternative models cannot prevail over the merciless logic of the market. Whether we have a wine-growing cooperative or a /capitalist corporation/.. , the problem is that they all are subject to the brutal logic of competition and the market, which demands that they stand up to others or go under... And: that private shareholders, just because they are smaller and have joined forces with other small ones, can therefore afford to think day and night about the common good, is a leftist illusion.

Yes, that’s perfectly true. But what applies on a small scale to Christian Felber’s Common Welfare Economics and many other initiatives that could make our world more beautiful, also applies to the state as a whole, for example the Federal Republic of Germany. The global race for greater economic (and military) power, which is intensifying from year to year because resources are dwindling, not only concerns the three superpowers but extends to even the smallest states, which all demand their share of the common cake. Under such conditions protecting the weak, just redistribution or giving priority to a meaningful life recede into the background. States are not so much dominated by capitalism, which is a mere method of attaining economic strength, but by the objective which this method is intended to serve, namely the preservation or at least the maintenance of their strength and power. But since capitalism produces different results in emerging states like China and in hardly growing ones like the United States, it is the majority who benefit in the first case and only a minority of the super-rich in the second.

Let us assume that Mrs Dahn is right in saying that common property, as she believes existed in the former GDR, makes for a better society. A more convincing option than real common property has not been revealed to me. In other words, property that does not belong to separate groups, which always pursue their separate interests, but in fact to everyone. If this is really the hoped-for panacea, it should be possible to show that this strengthens the sense of responsibility and improves performance – because in the race of nations, unfortunately, this is precisely what matters. The example of the GDR does not seem to suggest this conclusion. So, I am quite sure that under prevailing conditions no state will adopt the theory let alone the practice of common property lest it be pushed back in the race of nations.

I agree with Mrs. Dahn that we are living in a time of severe crisis, but we will only escape this when this fateful race comes to an end, because as long as it persists we are not masters of our destiny but the victims of external forces.*4*

1) According to a 2016 Oxfam study, only eight privileged people – Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim Helú, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg – currently have the same wealth as 3.6 billion of the poorest people, half of the current human population!

2) Probably the best book on this subject is by Acemoglu and Robinson (2012): Why Nations Fail.New York: Crown Publishers.

3. It is a fact, illuminated by many among them Thomas Piketti, that the majority must pay for a rich minority as soon as the growth rate is below the rate for interest and dividends.

4 Since this article is meant to appreciate Daniela Dahn’s thoughts not to develop my own propositions, my rather superficial reference to what I call the “Race of Nations” may seem quite unsatisfactory to the reader. But I dealt with this topic in detail in my last books (Reflections on Meaning and Purpose in History; Peace and War; and, satirically, Homo In-sapiens).

The Virus in our Heads

Almost daily I watch one or the other transmission of the Russian-speaking channel 1TVRUS, because I want to know about the mood of our largest neighbor. The English-language programs of RT (Russia Today) are less informative in this respect, because they are geared towards Western expectations. “Vremja pokazhet” (Time will tell) is aimed at a Russian audience. It’s a talk show that’s louder and wilder than any other I know. Regularly discussants shout down each other, as if the volume of their voices were decisive for the quality of opinions.

Yesterday, for example, the Corona epidemic came up there too – how could it be otherwise? -, but in a way that surprised me. Obviously, talking about this disease gives smart people the opportunity to feel particularly smart and superior. Some of them wondered whether it wasn’t a sign of collective – especially Western – mental confusion to make so much out of a kind of flu, when other diseases such as tuberculosis claim far higher numbers of victims without anyone being particularly upset about it. Particularly clever discussants insisted that panic was carelessly being bred in the public mind!

No, I would have liked to answer

Much greater danger lies in the know-it-all virus of people who close their eyes to a simple truth. Every country’s health system – especially that of a less prosperous state like Russia – is designed to serve an average number of patients. It has (X times) a hundred beds, if on average (X times) a hundred patients are expected on a monthly basis. Long known diseases such as tuberculosis, diabetes, stroke – but also influenza – are included in such a calculation. If the number of beds were to be increased by even ten percent beyond average demand, this would place an excessive burden on the budget of any state. We all know that modern medical equipment consumes enormous financial resources. For this reason, all states limit the number of beds to the necessary minimum.

Now, the peculiarity of coronavirus or Covid-19 is that its spread – unless the sharpest countermeasures are taken – generates exponentially and within a very short lapse of time so large a number of serious cases especially among elderly people that the number of beds needed (with very expensive intensive care equipment) rises so to speak over night to (X times) two hundred and more. States are confronted with such an emergency only in times of war. Regardless of whether they be governed democratically or by an authoritarian regime, they cannot afford to let terminally ill people die in front of overcrowded hospitals. That is why China has made an admirable effort to create thousands of additional hospital places within a couple of days, and why kindergartens, schools and universities are now being closed all over the world, so that the highly aggressive virus less easily takes hold first among young people (where it causes little harm), but is then transmitted by the latter to the elderly, who are likely to cause the collapse of the entire system.

The know-it-all virus in the heads of those

who see only panic-mongering in such precautionary measures is at least as great a danger as Covid-19 itself. But the virus of deliberate ignorance causes us to worry even more.  The great event of these days, an event that finally steers Russia into the path of an undemocratic, autocratic state, is hardly discussed in the talk show “Vremja pokazhet” – or if it is, it is so under cover of pretended ignorance. How beautiful, we hear, that the country is finally getting a New Con­stitution, which includes social demands usually absent from such documents, namely that all people are entitled to a minimum wage and that the size of pensions should keep pace with yearly inflation. In Russia, there is rapture over what is believed to be a tremendous social progress. Of course, nobody explains how the government is supposed to keep its promises if oil revenues – the main source of Russian social expenditure – were to dry up, which may indeed easily happen in times of depression.

But that is not the point anyway

What is at issue – and everyone knows this, but hardly anybody in Russia dares to say so publicly – is an amendment added at the last moment to the new constitution – added, as it were, in passing during its second reading in the Duma, so that nobody might think that it was its main item and purpose from the very beginning. The new Constitution is intended to give Vladimir Putin the possibility to retain the office of president even beyond 2024, the last year of his presidency according to the old Constitution. For this purpose, the parliament and the Russian people were baited with minimum wages and pension indexation – a Russian operetta or political farce of a very peculiar kind.

President Putin is very popular with a majority in his country

Many Russians even adore him like a reborn tsar. Even abroad he meets with the admiration of those who hope for a strong leader in their country too. Putin’s popularity is based on the fact that he restored to his countrymen much of their lost self-confidence. We all cheered Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev when he liquidated the Soviet Union. At the beginning of the 1990s, a majority of Russians probably sided with this bold reformer, because most of them hoped that the West would reward their willingness to break with the past. But that did not happen. Instead, Russia was humiliated and had to suffer the trauma of economic collapse during the 1990s without the West providing any help to alleviate its misery. On the contrary, the then President Yeltsin was urged to privatize Russian oil wells so that they could be bought up by Western corporations. And additional salt was later rubbed in the Russian wounds. Barack Obama, who at other occasions refrained from hurting the sensibility of other people, frivolously proclaimed that Russia was nothing more than an insignificant “regional power”. With regard to its economic output, this state­ment is certainly true. Russia’s national product is roughly on a par with that of Spain, even though the Russian federation is more than thirty times larger and is home to about three times as many people.

Putin was not able to change this situation,

even though he has now been directing Russia’s destiny for almost twenty years. As before, state revenues are based primarily on the sale of oil and gas – the rest of the economy being still underdeveloped. Nevertheless, the new tsar managed almost effortlessly to win over the Duma, the Russian parliament, for the New Constitution and its primary aim to prolong his presidency until 2036. Even if there is no electoral fraud, the Russian people will most likely vote for its implementation as Putin has achieved something else which contradicts the claim that people are primarily concerned with material prosperity. As I said, he restored self-confidence, namely the feeling that Russia is once again respected abroad as a great power – most recently even equipped with a supersonic missile system against which the existing Western defense is up to now powerless.

The realization that psychological factors

play at least as important a role among states as material ones, is of utmost importance for anyone seriously wanting to uphold international peace. If we refuse to respect others when they need solidarity and compassion (and that was the case of Russia during the 1990s), then respect will be forced on us by means of fear. This is exactly what Putin succeeded in doing. He has once again transformed an army almost disbanded at the time of Gorbatchev and Yeltsin into a powerful instrument ready for war, and he is now breeding a nationalism – even a new Russian chauvinism -, which unmistakably has the purpose of teaching the West to again be afraid of the Russian bear. Thus, he has taken revenge on all those who denigrated Russia as a weak “regional power”.

Putin continues to take revenge

by persistently trying to prove to his own people and to the West as well that the Soviet Union was to thank for the liberation of Europe from the yoke of fascism. Yes, Vladimir Putin is doing everything possible to recall the supposed liberation of Europe in military parades, on national holidays and in his public speeches. Untiringly, he claims that the world is indebted to the Russians for this great historical achievement. But instead of giving Russia the recognition and gratitude it deserves, the West begrudges the Russians this triumph achieved at so immense sacrifices and instead maliciously distorts history. That is the message almost daily spread by Russian media and by Putin himself.

All this constitutes a subtle mixture of truth and lie. Incurring immense sacrifices – much greater than those of the Western powers – the Russians defeated Hitler, who had insidiously invaded their country. In a glorious struggle they saved their country – and that is a reason for every nation to celebrate. But the Russians only liberated themselves and by no means Europe, because its entire eastern part only exchanged Hitler’s regime of terror for the no less bloody terror of Stalin. One dictatorship replaced the other, one unscrupulous tyrant made room for the next, one regime despising freedom merely followed its predecessor. The Russian President blatantly falsifies history when he praises Russia’s actions as a grandiose act of liberation. Can he really be unaware of the fact that the former Eastern bloc countries have a completely different look at the past? Certainly not! The Russian president’s great skill is demonstrated by a tactic that rarely fails to have an effect on the unsuspecting: accuse others of falsifying history when you do it yourself.

Here we are confronted with the most dangerous virus

because it colonizes our heads with particular tenacity. It is the virus of resentment. Russia, our great neighbor, so admirable in many respects, has been wounded in its pride. The nation has been humiliated. I do not say this with the intent of justifying or excusing Russian politics. But I am convinced that Putin’s success is closely linked to the failures of the West. He has turned the real and the felt humiliation of his country into a powerful political drive. What the AfD is striving for in Germany, namely national greatness and power (and the suffocation of all democratic dissent if it stands in the way of this ultimate goal), has become reality in today’s Russia. Ideologically charged slogans like “home­land” and “fatherland”, “glorious army”, “self-sacrifice for the community” – all this is conjured up daily in the Russian media and the president’s speeches. In Europe, we believed that such invocations were once and for all a thing of the past. Nor were we particularly afraid as long as NATO was far superior, at least technically, but now that Russia may boast of a definite ballistic advantage, the world has become a different place – especially for Europeans. The Russian bear is showing its muscles again. Since we refuse to like him, he is intent on teaching us fear.

But in the end it doesn’t matter how we think about Russia

and its president. It is important that we accept both for what they undoubtedly are: pivotal powers that decide on war and peace in our world. A good relationship with Russia is therefore just as essential as a good relationship with the United States. We should do everything possible to dispel Russian resent­ment. However, we will only succeed in doing so if we also take equivalent steps at home. Resentment arises from exclusion, humiliation and contempt. Several million Germans who vote for the AfD feel marginalized, humiliated and disparaged. No matter how politically uneducated and narrow-minded these people may be, if you exclude them, humiliate them and make them contemptible, we transform them into a real danger. The refusal of dialogue is the beginning of the end of democracy.

Instead of wondering

what circumstances generated such narrow-mindedness, i.e. instead of searching for our own failure, we take the so much more comfortable way of demonization and humiliation. This happened with regard to Russia, and this happens again in our own countries. If it is true that since this century at the latest we are all passengers on the same fragile boat, then everything depends on strengthening in all states the awareness that we now share the same destiny being part of the same world community. Certainly, we must insist on telling and being told the truth, but we can no longer afford to resort to exclusion, humiliation and contempt.

Is Democracy still alive?

We are used to measuring this form of government above all by the degree of freedom that a government grants its citizens. Viewed from this perspective, the picture is as bright as it is gloomy. No one prevents me from expressing even the most absurd opinions. I may even call publicly for the overthrow of the government, provided that this is done without insulting specific individuals and without denouncing the democratic constitution as such. We should not regard this as a matter of course. In Putin’s Russia, we see opposition members disappearing under unresolved circumstances; in China, they are simply eliminated under resolved circumstances. Countries such as Germany or Austria not only allow an almost unlimited freedom of speech but to a certain degree even of action. I am not forbidden to organize my life according to personal preferences living as a single person, in a homosexual relationship or as a protester with long hair or full body tattoo or even as an accepted dropout somewhere in the province. In the leading democracy of the West, in the US, I am even allowed to publish books in which I offer detailed descriptions of how to best crack the safes of rich people. Yes, and nobody prevents me from selling the tools that are best suited for this purpose. I am only forbidden to realize such recipes or to put those tools to a practical test.

This distinction is generally valid in the US. No law forbids me to openly confess my liking for human butchers like Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot as long as I do not take concrete steps to translate their ideas into practice. Even a cursory glance at history teaches us that individual freedom, as it seems self-evident in the US or in contemporary Western democracies, never existed to such an extent.

Seen from this perspective, we have good reason to be grateful

for not being citizens of Putin’s Russia or Xi Jinping’s China. Many people who do not want to keep their own opinions in check would have to spend their lives in a prison cell – unless, that is to say, they are threatened with something even worse. These are facts that are hard to argue about. And yet, we have to say that such gratitude is not very widespread and rather meets with sneering smiles. We may be astonished by such reactions but they are not so difficult to understand. Let us for this purpose take a second look at Russia or rather at the international broadcaster RT (Russia today). It is striking how many outstanding Western intellectuals regularly appear at this platform – by no means only those who are sympathetic to the policy of the new Russian Tsar. They take this as a welcome opportunity to familiarize a wider audience with their thoughts, because they have little chance of being invited by the media in their own country.

It is true that in western democracies

everything may be said. Nobody wants serious thinkers to shut up, even annoying oppositionists, unscrupulous quacks, radical do-gooders or incorrigible reactionaries are allowed to speak out unhindered. The question is whether what they say will be heard.

Here the odds are definitely against them. Media concentration in a few hands has so much progressed in Western states – above all in the US – that opinions are now sifted and controlled by a handful of press moguls. This means that only those they admit as politically correct have any chance of being published and known by a broad public. Of course, social media such as Facebook etc. still open an almost limitless field to the freedom of expression, but at the cost of being unnoticed and unheeded. Utmost freedom is indeed perfectly compatible with an undemocratic control of media-effective opinion. The end of this development could very well be a de facto opinion dictatorship.

The fact that high-ranking US intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky are barred from public appearance in the media of their own country so that in order to be heard they accept invitations by RT, suggests that we are already heading in this direction.

Western societies suffer from a paradox

On the one hand, their people are doing better than ever before. Material living standards have never been as high as in modern welfare states. In earlier societies people regularly starved to death – as we know, in some parts of the world, this is the case even today. That is not to say that we do not witness premature deaths in Western societies, but instead of being caused by want as in earlier times they are the result of excess: obesity and other luxury diseases of present-day civilization.

On the other hand, we do experience a process of creeping disempowerment of the democratic sovereign. Many people are painfully aware that their vote counts for less or even nothing; the trend towards abstention should be an unmistakable warning. People feel the same with regard to their electoral participation as with regard to their personal opinions: they may freely indulge in both, but in the end they hardly matter.

Is this resignation justified

or does it only indicate an oversaturation with benefits that one takes for granted? After all, it is still up to the voter to decide whether Mrs. Merkel or the AfD, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump come to power! And it is still up to the voter to elect a social regime like in Sweden or a decidedly neo-liberal one like in Great Britain. Such alternatives continue to be full of meaning! The democratic sovereign may still decide to use his voice for the sake of more social peace at home and greater respect from outside.

And yet the suspicion that even Western democratic states are granting their citizens less and less power is more than just an illusion. If Western peoples were really the lords of their own destiny, they should be happy with what is, after all, the outcome of their own choices. The barometer of satisfaction in Sweden or Great Britain would have to show a higher value than in autocratic China (before the Corona epidemic). But this is definitely not the case. A majority of Chinese look to their own future with optimism, while people in Western states – whether under left-wing or right-wing governments – face it with concern and fear.

But let’s leave psychology aside,

as it is subject to great fluctuations, and turn instead to those objective conditions that increasingly limit democratic freedom. Regardless of whether they are democratically governed or not, all modern states are forced to measure and align their own policies with those of their most successful competitors. Not only the latest inventions of technology, but also the most efficient organization of work or the most effective ways of attracting investment and international corporations are spreading like wildfire across the globe. Large companies always copied the best strategies of their competitors lest they fall behind. External pressure tends to be so overwhelming that they pay little or no attention to the needs of their workforce. But the same thing is happening between countries. These are increasingly behaving as if they were nothing more than variants of big corporations. Democratic self-determination is well on the way to being replaced by undemocratic external conditioning.

The progressive choking of democratic self-determination

is not the work of malicious conspirators against democracy – it is the result of external conditions. Without Germany and Austria succeeding in maintaining a presence on global markets through innovation, they will not be able to maintain their current standard of living. But in order to remain at the top, they must subject their people to the same degree of performance – and ultimately the same working conditions – as their most successful competitors. They must even allow the same concentration of banks and corporations as soon as mere size becomes an advantage in global competition.

And even more: they will have to sacrifice their own industries if their competitors gain an advantage by doing so. The policy of outsourcing industrial production to Asia was not the result of democratic decision nor of government planning – not even the CEOs of German industries wanted to do so, but it was dictated from outside by Germany’s most powerful competitor, the US. After the United States had embarked on this path, giving it a huge cost advantage, the Europeans had no choice but to follow suite, otherwise European products would no longer be able to compete with American products on world markets.

Why does the struggle between left and right political camps

seems rather unimportant after Tony Blair in England or Gerhard Schröder in Germany? Not at all because these two ideological positions suddenly lost credibility. It still makes a big difference whether we want to realize a maximum of material equality or a maximum of freedom.

The loss of significance of both positions is the result of external constraints. It is due to the fact that the individual state is no longer able to enforce its preferences when these are in conflict with the demands of global competition. In other words, the margin left to the democratic sovereign is increasingly restricted by globalization. Freedom only exists where neither a nation’s economic and military position nor the standard of living of its population is at stake. In the election of its President, Austria was able to choose between Alexander Van der Bellen and Norbert Hofer – a difference like between light and darkness. In Francois Hollande’s France, millions of people could take to the streets for or against homosexual marriage – the pressure from outside triggered by global competition only played a role insofar as the decision for this form of human bonds was considered “progressive” by most Western states. But even a decision against homosexual marriage would not have had any influence on the French standard of living.

But in a globalized world

it no longer depends on the decision of the democratic sovereign whether or not the country’s economy continues to follow a path of growth, whether or not it is dominated by international corporations and banks, whether or not Greta Thunberg’s demands are applied.

No – this observation needs to be corrected. It still depends on the democratic sovereign, because theoretically he could indeed elect a party that prohibits economic growth as well as any further increase in the consumption of resources. A democratic majority could even impose a radical green turn and initiate a basic transformation of the economy by reducing the current ecological footprint from more than two globes to the sustainable consumption of just a single one.

But this is precisely the step that no single state will take

Not because government or citizens are too stupid to recognize its necessity. After all, man has never been so foolish as to voluntarily devastate his own garden when he owes his survival to its fruits. The real situation is much more difficult and much more dramatic because the democratic sovereign literally fights against himself as he is torn between two insights that both have equal strength. Of course, every informed person would like put an end to ecological destruction rather today than tomorrow. But at the same time, everybody is equally aware that it would be of no use to his nation or to nature – if a single state sets an example that others do not follow. This applies both to sustainability in our dealing with nature and to the use of increasingly deadly weapons. The state that offers the world a truly Christian example by scrapping from one day to the next its entire nuclear armament will find itself the following day under the guardianship of villains who did not for a moment think of following its lead. Europe, militarily utterly weak when compared to the US, Russia and soon even China, likes to regard its weakness as proof of a higher moral stance. But it could one day bitterly regret this as fatal mistake if the superpowers exploit its weakness by making it the next theatre of war between them (like they did before to so many militarily defenseless states).*1*

The limitations of democratic sovereignty due to global competition

are a lot more pervasive than the interventions of the Brussels Commission in the sovereignty of European member states. In all central matters of national existence industrialized countries such as Germany, France or Canada follow the lead of the world’s most successful nations, just as every successful company constantly looks to its competitors in order to remain competitive. That is why consistent growth and the concomitant sell-out of nature remain categorical imperatives of governmental action as long as they give the individual state greater economic power in the race of nations and its citizens a higher material standard of living. States that would decouple themselves from this trend fall back to the level of developing countries or may even end up among “failed nations”.

The fear of relegation explains why CO2 emissions and the destruction of nature are constantly in the rise, although the need for green policies is being talked about more loudly every year. Every educated person is perfectly aware that progressive growth – both economic and military – is bringing humanity ever closer to its own ruin and that of the planet, but as long as the race of nations continues, they will not be able to do anything serious about it.

The question of whether we still live in democracies

thus allows for a twofold answer. Yes, we may still decide in favor of Merkel and against Höcke (AfD), in favor of Van der Bellen and against Hofer (FPÖ) – and that is an enormous asset. But unless being content with economic marginalization or imposed militarily domination, we must adapt to the most successful “role model” of leading competitors – in other words, we are forced to exchange a substantial part of democratic self-determination for a determination from outside – even doing so in the knowledge that it is precisely this race of competing nations that is leading all of them into disaster.

This insight amounts to an admission of powerlessness. But we must have the courage to face the truth, because only then will we be able to find a way of escape. This can only consist of a willingness in all states to renounce part of their sovereignty in order to put an end to the disastrous race that threatens everyone with both environmental and nuclear destruction. True, this demand too reduces sovereignty but it does so on a voluntary base in preventing disaster while current constraints from outside, that is the race of nations, make us involuntarily court disaster. In a globalized world, where each state influences the fate of all others by consuming scarce resources and destroying precious environment, events do no longer follow man’s true needs and intentions: democracy is in danger of degenerating into a mere farce. In the 21st century, man will reemerge as the master of his destiny only when he entrusts to an international authority the care for the tiny boat that (despite Mars and the Moon) will probably remain forever the only one for mankind.

1 How I hate to write this sentence! On a globe that already resembles a powder keg, every additional atomic bomb means another step towards the apocalypse. Unfortunately, strict pacifism is no alternative either when applied to a shark tank. The global race of nations has maneuvered mankind into a situation from which it can only rescue a supranational authority that ends this race.

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