By Andrea Noll
Hurrah – we’re export champion again! Germany is the largest export nation in the world – larger than the U.S., larger than Japan. We’re the greatest! And at the same time we cut old people’s pensions and blow our social security systems to kingdom come.
October 17th was a big day for the dismantlers of the German welfare state. They won their crucial vote in Parliament. Chancellor Schröder and his Green Foreign Minister Fischer were able to hush the Socialdemocratic/Green conscience into subordination. Earlier this year, we saw deep cuts into statutory health insurance and with ‘Hartz IV’ now they go for the throat of the 4,3 million (official!) German unemployed.
“… Working men need to much feeding and that makes a man’s work dearer
(…) By the way, what is a man? Don’t ask me what a man is. Don’t ask me my advice. I’ve no idea what a man is; all I have learned is his price…”
(‘Song of Supply and Demand’ (‘September Songs’) by Brecht/Eisler)
Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956) was probably the greatest German poet and playwright of the 20th century. When he wrote this song, in 1930, Germany was in a critically unstable political/economic situation (1929 stock market crash!) with massive unemployment and poverty – three years later Hitler came to power. Nowadays Brecht seems more relevant than ever:
“What kind of times are they, when a talk about trees is almost a crime because it implies silence about so many horrors?” (B. Brecht: ‘To those born later’). Brecht was hated by the Nazis threefold: as a political author, as a Socialist, and as a Jew. They chased him through Europe till he ended up in the U.S. – in 1941. After having to give evidence before the House Un-American Activities Committee Brecht left the “land of liberty” in 1947 – heading for Switzerland. In 1949 he immigrated to the GDR where he died in 1956.
Two themes are of the most relevance in Brecht’s work: the fight for social justice, and the fight for peace. As a consequence, he wrote plays about social injustice and of war – “Lehrstucke”, as he called them. According to his theory people are intelligent enough to know for themselves what’s best for them – if you strip away the blinding web of lies and propaganda before their eyes. Brecht regarded his avantgardistic plays as didactic spectacles, to see more clearly through the mist of media blurr, and Governmental smokescreening.
The “reforms” (deep cuts into the German social security systems: statutory health, pension, and unemployment insurance) are necessary to save the German welfare state, so we are told by the Administration. Well, would you call a butcher a ‘surgeon’? But there is one good side to it: They have tried this before, and didn’t get away with it. Like Captain Ahab in Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ they went down with the thing they tried to destroy.
Think of New Zealand’s “reformers” – where are they now? Thatcher very “effectively” restructuralized Britain according to neoliberal principles. Remember the Tories? Gone with the wind. (By the way, as I write this, in the past 48 hours two trains jumped out of their privatised rails in the London Tube, injuring more than six people).
Ronald Reagan, and later Bush senior, were hailed worldwide for their relentless neoliberal reforms. But the ungrateful people of America replaced Reagan-Bush with the Democrat Clinton (much good did it do them). Captain Ahab Schröder’s Socialdemocratic Government ranges at disastrous 35% in recent polls. Still he’s franticly and self-destructively driven to hunt down the white whale German “Sozialstaat” – a more than one hundred year old weather all creature. When he’s finished the job, there will be no Chancellor Schröder, no Socialdemocrats, and no Greens left. So, why should we follow their suicidal drive?
“Famines don’t simply exist. They are organised by the grain trade” (B. Brecht).
In the Middle Ages the plague killed two thirds of the European population. Neoliberalism is the plague of the 21th century. Brecht wrote:
“It is true I still earn my keep but, believe me, that is only an accident… By chance I’ve been spared. (If my luck breaks, I’m lost.) They say, to me: Eat and drink!… But how can I eat and drink if I snatch what I eat from the starving, and my glass of water belongs to one dying of thirst? And yet I eat and drink” (To those born later’).
Global neoliberalism is killing people all over the world on a massive scale – through wars, famine, and environmental catastrophes.
In 1999 Ismail Seralgedin, President of the World Water Commission (and a WB official!), stated a dramatic warning that the number of refugees produced by environmental causes had already reached 25 millions – that was 4 millions more than refugees of war!
Seralgedin prophesized that in 2015 the number of environmental refugees will be four times as high as the number of refugees of war (and the number of the latter is growing too, as we all know).
By the way, has the U.S. finally signed the Kyoto Protocols for the reduction of greenhouse gases? (It hasn’t). In Western Europe people are not dying from neoliberal causes (well, some die earlier) – they impoverish from them. The structural “reform” of the German statutory unemployment system that passed Parliament on 17th October – shame on all those Socialdemocratic/Green Quislings – will deliberately (!) produce 1,7 million new German poors (among them many children), additional to the number of people already living on welfare (2,8 million). So, we will have more than 5% of all 80 million Germans living in real poverty. And since unemployment’s still on the rise their number will grow further.
“Who has turned us in? The Socialdemocrats!” a popular German slogan runs.
But we had no choice, the thugs say. The German (in fact, European) welfare state has grown much too fat. Our solidarity-based, statutory social security systems are too expensive. We had to re-form them. And this reform had to be structural and painful, sorry, but without this emergency operation all would have been lost.
Isn’t unemployment already at 10%? And then the downward economic trend. Pensioners live too long, women don’t produce enough babies, and workers are too lazy. Economy’s under high pressure. Big companies threaten to leave the country for ‘cheaper countries’ where employee on-costs are smaller. So let’s drop social ballast, let our economic balloon rise to prosperous heights. We all – you too, believe us – will benefit from the change. Look, how prosperous neoliberal countries like the U.S. are, or Great Britain! (No, wait, forget Great Britain.)
It’s time to do away with all that rubbish from the employers’ camp, and answer a few questions:
– How can Germany be world export champion if companies are dissatisfied and wages too high? The cold truth is: Germany’s a gangster’s paradise when it comes to big companies. They meet first class conditions and pay virtually no taxes. Germany’s problem is the domestic market. Due to our high rate of unemployment, and – yes – due to the “reforms” people are simply in no mood to consume. A vicious circle – that calls for Keynesian intervention. Germany’s leftist party (PDS), trade unions, social movements, and many individuals have demanded ‘deficit spending’ for a long time.
– But aren’t the planned tax cuts the solution? “If you let us do away with all that expensive social luxury”, so ordinary people are lied to, “we’ll be able to cut your taxes. We put your money right back in your pockets, so you can consume and the domestic market will flourish.” Rubbish. Only the rich und superrich profit from tax cuts. Normal people profit very little to zero from that instrument.
You have to understand: In order to profit from tax cuts you had to be very rich. The riches of the majority of the people: the sum of services you get for free, the health benefits paid for you in solidarity, safe and sustainable statutory pensions, and unemployment benefits in case of need. That’s normal people’s treasure chest. Your tax cut will cost you very, very dear when paid for with the dismantling of your social security systems.
– And what with the argument that Germans are too old, too sick, that they work too little, that our welfare state is therefore unaffordable? Nonsense. Just put the pyramid from the top to the basis. Let more people pay into the system – not just workers and employees, but all professional groups (‘Bürgerversicherung’) – and the pyramid will stand solid as a rock.
– Fighting unemployment by fighting the unemployed, as now with the decided Hartz IV bill? Well, I hope the unemployed fight back.
“(We went) through the wars of the classes, despairing when there was injustice only, and no rebellion” (B. Brecht).
What the masses in the Western world have to learn – and they have to learn quick – neoliberalism in all its forms is a disease, not only in the countries of the global South but right here, where they live. Sure, some people profit from that disease but for the overwhelming majority it’s a sickening condition.
It’s up to us to open people’s eyes to the truth – like Bertolt Brecht did in his days. People in the West have to realize they won’t get rich from the crumbs from their neoliberal masters’ table – in the long run they won’t even be able to feed on them. Forget the stock market, forget privately securing your risks!
Our Western European social security systems are majestic creatures that have proved their strength and vitality in over a hundred years. Why kill those white whales – and suicidally sink with them to the bottom of the sea? Why can’t it be the other way round: that we show people all over the world the advantages of real Socialdemocracy – the people in the global South as well as the people of Japan, and, yes, the U.S.?
People have to realize that those they put their trust in – New Labor, and even some of their unions – are now in the enemy’s camp.
Don’t listen to them! And don’t listen to brokers and tax cut prophets who try to seduce you with their fata morganas. The illusion of getting rich at the stock market, or through decent work, reminds one of a greyhound race: all those hardworking people racing after a dummy (hare) they can’t possibly reach. I once read, if you don’t put away that hare before the dogs’ eyes, they’ll run till they drop dead. Dead Captain Ahab is waving to us, strapped to the body of the harpooned whale – don’t follow him to his suicidal grave!
‘Nein zum Sozialkahlschlag!’ Attac, labournet and many other social groups are calling up for a central rally in Berlin/Alexanderplatz on November 1. against the dismantling of the German social security systems. Please come and support us!