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GegenStandpunkt

Work and Wealth

V.

Industrialists compete for profit all over the world. When beneficial to their calculation, they acquire all kinds of business items abroad; when selling their products, they take advantage of foreign purchasing power for their turnover. Due to the internationalization of trade, a company’s profitability depends on its products standing up to the comparison with commodities from all over the world, at home and on foreign markets. From the global supply of competitively-priced commodities, capitalists daily gather what profitability is required of work, and what a workforce has to achieve in terms of costs and productivity if it is to justify the unit wage costs it generates. Once companies have the freedom to place their investments anywhere in the world they choose, they explicitly subject their workers — without any prejudice in the “issue” of foreigners — to this global competition over the price of labor. Whether and to what extent their “employment” is necessary is settled by a universal comparison to which they are subjected by those who lord over labor.

The capitalists’ freedom to make money across borders is the result of an agreement between nations, which regard the territorialization of the business they look after as a restriction. States that obligate their societies to accumulate capital after all base their continued economic existence conversely on procuring their financial means from their citizens’ turnovers and incomes. Their interest in as much “gainful employment” in the country as possible corresponds to the need of businessmen to expand production and trade by making use of foreign wealth.

The internationalization of the sources of the wealth of nations turns this wealth, the nations’ money, into the object of their competition. By resolving to make their national currencies convertible in the interest of foreign trade, states, on the one hand, acknowledge them in principle as having the quality of world money; on the other hand, they relativize the equation between their local means of payment and universal money. From exchange rates and national balances they realize how much world money the competition of capitalists has raked in for them; and in their permanent concern about the stability of their highest national good, which they define by the entire range of capitalist usefulness, they sum up the success they seek to secure themselves against others.

Money patriotism is, firstly, always on the agenda because it is the capitalist state program. Secondly, a lot of fuss is made over it from time to time when the capitalists’ calculations and results do not (any longer) provide the service for which the state promotes their business. Then the national leadership supplements its extensive supervision of the global business world with site policies. The pertinent measures are regarded as a national reaction to “globalization,” and they aim to keep (restore) attractive business conditions in the country.

That doesn’t bode well for “labor,” because it — it’s profitability, of course — is what the fuss is explicitly all about. To be sure, the pronounced will for “change” is blatantly directed against foreign countries, but sets out to overturn domestic “social conditions.” When politicians seek to fend off damage to their people with site policies, they are just accepting the judgment the international business world has passed on their working population. Then wage earners have to prove their worth according to the global standards of price and performance — and the lever to bring about this condition lies in the power of the social constitutional state over the national wage level. The state executes the imperative of global profitability on the working class because, after all, a nation’s wealth is based on profitable labor.

Those affected by this requirement are called on as citizens not only to put up with the nation’s site policy: along with their sacrifices, they are supposed to adopt the offensive thrusts directed against the rest of the world.

1.

a) The people who own productive wealth and face the less well-endowed part of society in the role of employers, really treat their wageworking production factor — quite appropriately and without any deliberately evil intent — shabbily enough. In return for money that barely covers the expenses necessary for reproducing the required labor power, they appropriate their workers’ productivity. To compete for market shares, they lower unit labor costs, thereby arranging for more product measurable in money for less wage payment. The labor not saved still has to make the investments for such “labor-saving progress” profitable in the required proportion; otherwise it simply won’t take place any more. Furthermore, legions of finance capitalists help themselves to the profits brought about by labor; they conclude business deals for mutual enrichment with their commodity-producing colleagues, and blithely with one another, as if the sole source of the wealth they are out for, i.e., the sole source of their property, no longer mattered at all. Nonetheless, wage labor still has to vouch for all this, successfully and to everybody’s satisfaction in the finance business, in order to justify its further use and payment. Many workers become redundant in the process, while the others become constantly poorer compared to the wealth gotten from them. And when in the wake of this, the course of business as a whole has slipped into a crisis, it gets back on track at the expense of its so contemptuously treated source.

So life is miserable enough for the “labor factor,” which capitalist society compels the majority of its members to be — but wait! As if everything capital did to its wage-earning people in the normal course of business and its accompanying cyclical trends were nothing at all; as if the masses were still much too well off in the care of their employers; as if they were constantly jeopardizing the market economy commonwealth with their extravagant welfare; as if all this weren’t enough, the democratic state, the guardian of the common good and of an all-round, flourishing development of society, also proceeds vigorously in exactly the same way when it comes to wages — against wages. As if those “dependent on employment” didn’t create the wealth of society that then exists as their independent employers’ property, but conversely lived at the expense of their employers and would sap their property if the state didn’t keep sufficient watch, the nonpartisan authority presiding over a class society sides against the workers’ interest in securing a livelihood. Politicians argue so much against every single component of the wage; against overall exorbitant wage costs; and against an overall catastrophic paucity of exploitable workers ready, willing and able to work — in the few years between “graduation” and “early retirement” — that even the deepest wage cuts look halfhearted. Government polemics against the “welfare society” continue without pause, and policies against the proletariat’s “excessive standard of living” are similarly never enough. So that an unbiased observer might really ask himself what on earth actually bothers the state, too, about wage labor’s having a beginning, an end, limited capabilities and, incidentally, also a price.

b) The answer is being given at the moment under the economic policy code word, “globalization.” With all the majesty of a cosmic law, the “globalization of markets” or “global competition” supposedly makes it impossible to “just carry on as before,” with high labor costs, that is, and above all luxurious additional labor costs that make the “labor factor” impossibly expensive — what a trained eye sees at once by the high jobless rate that just won’t go down. Medical care and short-term disability benefits until sick people can function once again; unemployment benefits until the slim chances of reemployment are exhausted; a retirement benefit above the poverty level after forty years of average work: all this and much more is said to be “no longer viable” since capitalists have started competing globally with their commodities and critically comparing business conditions in all the four corners of the globe when making their investment decisions and taking advantage of only the best opportunities. There is even talk of national sovereigns becoming increasingly powerless, losing their power as a result of the free calculations of employers — a rumor intended to justify as irrefutably as possible that this sovereign state may by no means leave the exploitation and impoverishment of its wage-earning masses to the employers alone. Rather, to regain the initiative in economic and social policy, the state must fulfill in advance the competitive requirements of business for a reduced livelihood of their workforce — its power is definitely great enough to do that.[21] But for all their efforts to justify the objectives of national wage policy as a reaction to unavoidable, higher imperatives, “globalization” theorists do not attach any special importance to their thesis that the individual state is powerless, and that the best intentions for social policy appear to be inconsistent with some insurmountable, adverse circumstances. To be sure, some of them do want to create the impression that the rest of the world is frustrating their truly and profoundly pro-labor aspirations — as if the state that ensures orderly conditions for property and wage labor in its society ever cared about the working class being provided for properly and securely; as if any state would ever let external circumstances deflect it from projects it considers truly vital, and force it to pursue policies inconsistent with its major objectives; and as if the global constraints necessitated by the freedom of business competition would be in force without the states themselves making it a condition for their society’s existence. However, most of those who have discovered the “globalized” competition of capitalists and its necessary repercussions for national social and economic policies spare themselves such hypocrisy, leaving no doubt that they not only have no regrets at all about the “pressure to adapt” that they conjure up as being all-powerful, but rather approve of it without reservation. They proclaim that the policies forced — according to their theory — on governments are the only sensible economic policies, and whatever “globalization” makes impossible was never any good anyway. Their implication that up to now, without the constraints of global competition, states had been organizing an ever more comfortable life for their wage-earning citizens, comes along as criticism of the state for misconduct it should have long since given up and now quite rightly can’t keep up. According to this, what is at present allegedly being forced on nations is nothing but the common good correctly understood, to which the state is essentially committed anyway, and to which it should at long last devote itself more resolutely and, above all, more successfully than it has thus far.

After all, the political message contained in the “globalization” ideology is definitely not that the state, out of sheer respect for free competition, should simply permit everything that capitalists do; nor that it has to let competition take its course because it’s really powerless. Quite the opposite: the dogmatic avowal of belief in global, free capitalist competition includes a political task for the state: that it correct the results of this competition for the nation — without, of course, contravening the principles by which these results have come about; instead, it is to use its political power to assert the interests of competing capitalists so effectively that they, with their successful business activities, can’t help but meet its standards. The dogma of globalized competition defines the good of the nation in terms of the world economy, i.e., in accordance with how well the country is received as a business location by internationally active firms, and requires the rulers to implement a site policy that satisfies this definition in practice. With this, the nation is to win its competition against other nations: this is the imperialistic imperative that state reformers are asserting when they inveigh against a “national mindset” that has become outmoded in the age of “globalization.”[22] The “globalized” marketplace is to be the battlefield where nations have to pass their all-deciding test; it is in this sense that the “globalized” market is “our destiny.”

The theorists and practitioners of modern site policy side with this imperialistic idea of destiny — proclaiming, not regretfully, but as a self-evident demand of national economic sense, the necessity for the state to act against wage interests. The fact that capitalists, on their very own, already create growing armies of unemployed all over the world, and force ever downward the standard of proletarian living, is proof that this doesn’t suffice by a long shot. For the sake of its own competitive success, a state that is challenged to promote its economic base must outdo and overtake the capitalists of the world in the struggle against the “good life” of its wage-earning citizens, so that the captains of industry feel better off on its territory than elsewhere.

These days, all nations — the successful activists of imperialism as much as the ones still striving to make it in the realm of economic freedom — declare their support for this conclusion that the necessities of life of their society’s labor power are incompatible with national success. If that’s the case, then the common good in the contemporary nation-state surely contains its very own political reasons of competition for treating the labor factor badly.

To wit:

2.

a) The state obtains the necessary means for its power from the capitalistic exploitation of labor.

It exists on the money its citizens earn; the abstract wealth they acquire is the fund it draws on. With this wealth, it commands the necessary and sufficient material means for all its needs and necessities: wealth in a materially tangible and yet abstract, universally usable form. The private and abstract nature of the wealth of society existing as property constitutes its immediately political usefulness.

And this wealth accumulates virtually on its own once a state has restricted its citizens to private property as the sole condition and general possibility of using anything, has tied them down to moneymaking as the exclusive means of obtaining anything useful. The members of society, by striving along these lines, by consequently separating into classes according to their respective means and serving property as employers or employees, act as a social money-producing machine and thus as an automatic source of capitalist as well as national wealth. The capitalistic nature of social production coincides with its usefulness for political power.

The state is therefore the beneficiary of its own deed of subjecting its citizens to property and making money the “real community”: making money the automatically acting command over social labor and the actual product of this labor. By giving its people the freedom to earn money, the state subsumes them under a system that makes them usable for its power. It goes without saying that it does everything it can to promote this system of capitalistically commanded gainful employment and the growth of its proceeds — just as it makes free and extensive use of the system’s particular techniques for obtaining funds.

b) The state contributes decisively and massively to the increase in the claims on the proceeds of capitalistically employed labor, claims which accumulate in the credit world.

It finances itself also with money it borrows from the business world at interest. It has no problem doing this because it offers its creditors the best possible guarantee: as the ‘bank of banks,’ it uses its ultimate authority to credit the debts the capitalists incur to get all their enterprises going, ensures the transformation of solemn promises of payment into genuine, namely lawful, means of payment, and in this sense vouches for its own debt obligations. In this manner, the state secures the creation of credit by finance capitalists, allows them to profit on its need for money, and participates in their business successes.

When the state finances itself this way by creating and guaranteeing its own credit, it assumes that it is not just merely increasing the volume of notes circulating in the banking sector, but also initiating more capitalist growth through continually improved business conditions; so that the credit it gives to finance capitalists and takes for itself generates real abstract wealth to be tallied in earned money. The task that the state imposes on its capitalist firms is to turn its debts into a competitive production, i.e., into accumulating capital and in general into “economic growth.” It imposes this task in the form of a self-created constraint: it supplies private money owners with a growing mass of interest-bearing bills, i.e., claims to money from its budget, which, just like any other credit instrument, grant the right to privately disposable wealth yet to be created. Together with all the other financial speculators of the nation, the state thus has the proceeds of the capitalist exploitation of labor at its disposal from the outset, even before this labor has actually been put to the test of whether it, with its technologically perfected productivity, can actually come up with the surplus long since distributed.

Because, and insofar as, labor does not pull this off, the public debt devalues the business world’s state-credited credit instruments as a whole, and thus the legal tender itself that represents the value of the national stock of debts — after all, the public debt is not simply written off as a bad investment and struck from finance capital’s stock of assets, but remains valid right up to the extreme case of a monetary reform. Businessmen, with their freedom to set prices, shift the damage to that segment of society that does not make more money with the money they earn but rather has to pay the price of their subsistence. With this automatically acting tendency towards impoverishment, known by the keywords “inflation,” “currency depreciation” — or a bit closer to the matter — “rising prices,” the state makes its wage-earning masses pay for its freedom to supply itself with financial means, and to supply the financial world with means for doing business.

And the state by no means limits all these business practices to its own sovereign territory.

c) The state increases its fund of financial means through the money its capitalists earn abroad with their cross-border dealings. It therefore acts as an interested custodian of a competition that allows the use and payment of the labor factor only on condition that the produced commodity proves itself as a profitable business item worldwide.

Industrial capitalists do business all over the world. They make money abroad with commodities from their own home countries, thus confronting producers elsewhere with their production costs, competing globally for market shares with their unit wage costs, and thereby lowering market prices on a global scale. Conversely, they make use of the products of profitable labor elsewhere, thereby reducing their production costs, and forcing corresponding conditions of profitability on their suppliers. What they achieve by their competition across all national borders becomes the object of their own calculations: they expressly compare the average wages and standards of labor efficiency in the various capitalist countries and come to their investment decisions accordingly. By all these measures, industrialists make sure that all over the world, work only pays off, i.e., is only done, if it satisfies the highest standards for profitability in the world. They turn the achievements in one nation into a constraint on wage payments elsewhere, making the labor factor cheaper globally, and at the same time globalizing the capitalistic surplus population.

This internationalization of the capitalistic source of wealth is based on a determined employment of state power. A state that possesses the suitable means for nurturing its power in the system of private moneymaking and pushes the growth of capitalistic wealth forward with all possible means tolerates neither internal nor external restrictions on this growth. It takes an offensive stance toward the geographic limits placed on its national economy by the proximity of foreign sovereigns, and demands their functional abolition — in the presumptive certainty that the money at its disposal simply cannot fail to increase with the expansion of business activities.[23] Such worldwide trifling matters as the economic system, namely that every nation has to subject its society to property and to all the principles of its capitalistic growth, i.e., has to establish the freedom to earn money throughout the land — a trifle like this goes without saying as an elementary condition for business and is not enough by a long shot: for the capitalists operating out of its territory, the state demands from foreign powers the best conditions for success, regardless of what that means for the livelihood of the people there, who from now on have to work either in the service of the most successful employers or not at all. It shows the same lack of consideration for its own working population: it knows, and is nudged by its partners to remember, that cross-border competition is no “one-way street,” but requires sovereign looking after especially when this competition makes a whole lot of national labor unprofitable.

So the state by no means stands by idly watching cross-border business life. It pushes the internationalization of capitalist business life forward with a view to its own interest: to its gaining nationally disposable abstract wealth. To make this calculation work out, it makes far-reaching demands on labor, i.e., on its capitalistic use: it makes the use and payment of labor dependent on national success, the criteria for which being somewhat more complex than those for capitalist business success. And the fact that it is definitely beyond the competence of this paltry means of business to satisfy these criteria is absolutely no problem at all for the state.

d) The state subjects labor to the standard of success for foreign trade: stable money.

When carrying out the internationalization of capitalist competition, the state follows a rather particular competitive interest: that as much as possible of the money made in the capitalistic world be earned on its own soil. With this in mind, it maintains accounts of money flowing “in” and “out,” which, though based on the track records of firms active on its sovereign territory, in no way coincide with them. It brings additional points of views to bear in this matter.

First and foremost, a state asserts its interest in having trade surpluses raise its stock of foreign currencies to a satisfactory level, which its central bank stockpiles and administers as ‘reserves’ and as a guarantee for the nation’s international purchasing power. The state needs and demands such an outcome in order to ensure that the means of payment it puts into circulation as the exclusively valid monetary token in its sovereign territory, and uses as means for financing its needs, is internationally recognized and valued as real, globally valid abstract wealth: as world money. After all, this is by no means yet settled with the resolve of world-trade partners to accept their respective local currencies as representatives of capitalistically produced value and as material for inter-national enrichment in principle, and to treat them as equivalent in their exchange. Rather, it is intended by the agreed-on convertibility of currencies that each particular national money prove itself in the practice of international capitalist business — as a means and a valid result of business, i.e., as the solid “embodiment” of abstract wealth, which both capitalists and states are ultimately after. A national currency, according to its economic nature, is after all nothing more than national credit elevated to a means of payment, with which business is supposed to be done successfully and money earned; it is therefore necessary that the currency be successfully used and converted into capital, and on a national scale at that, in order to really furnish the value it is intended to be regarded and accepted as; and this success has to be achieved in the world of international business to have international standing. The national money issued and used by the state as its means of financing requires confirmation in world trade; business activities that fashion an overall positive balance of payments for the nation, i.e., that bring in wealth for the nation from all over the world, have to justify the credit the state takes for itself, guarantees for the business world, and establishes as legal tender. The suitability of its national money as world money and thus also as an effective means of state financing — and vice versa — depends on the business success of internationally active firms added up nationally.[24]

Nowadays, however, nations in fact do not become insolvent when their balances turn out badly, even over a long period, and their money loses value, thus proving to be a questionable representative of global capitalistic wealth. In their greed for money to be acquired abroad, states declare their own and foreign money to be exchangeable, i.e., identical in a certain ratio, and have them also used in this way; in so doing, they credit each other’s currencies, i.e., attest with their credit money to the general creditworthiness of the financial means that a foreign government has elevated to the rank of legal tender within its own territory. By this, they allow each other all sorts of liberties for the twofold use of their money: as an inexhaustible instrument for state financing with credit on the one hand, and as world money and means for appropriating the abstract wealth of other nations on the other hand. This has the consequence, however, that a nation from now on has to justify this credit with its success in world trade, i.e., with a positive balance on the international transfer of national wealth: in order to maintain international credit for its credit money, it has to make good on the punctual servicing of this international credit, i.e., more or less undo with success in foreign trade the credit it has created and been able to create thanks to the crediting of its credit.

By virtue of the resolve of the world-trade partners, this constraint is executed by the capitalist credit business. By “determining” appropriate exchange rates between national credit moneys, it subjects them to a continual test as to their relative equality as world money;[25] and through the daily fluctuations, it has long since thoroughly distinguished between the many local moneys that are totally useless internationally and the few real world moneys, coming up with the interesting distinction between “strong” and “weak” currencies for the latter. Accordingly, “stable” moneys are those that, due to their considerable national success in the competition for appropriating world money, enjoy general recognition as a valid “embodiment” of abstract wealth, i.e., are utilized as a “reserve currency” by other nations and as a “store of value” by private money owners; for that reason, they can be readily used as a means of credit without their proliferation undermining their value. A “soft” currency, by contrast, finances unproductive public debt lacking justification by national success in trade; its estimation as an object of international enrichment is of a speculative nature and remains dependent on the credit of better currencies.[26]

For nations competing to appropriate capitalistic wealth produced all over the world, the possession of a “sound” currency is therefore the crucial proof of the success they strive for, and at the same time the criterion for their competing as well as its crucial means. For in “good” money, they possess the most solid speculative claims possible to the future proceeds of the capitalistically commanded and utilized labor of the entire world. For that reason, a unique kind of competition to possess or acquire a stable currency rages among the leading world-trade nations.

e) The state competes for its success as a location for capital by means of cheap national labor.

The state, out of concern for the stability of its money, from the outset takes up the stance of international competitiveness towards its economy. It does not calculate with wage labor and capital in its country as nationally limited moneymaking machinery that profits additionally from foreign business opportunities and investors from abroad, but as a mere part: as one component of global capitalism. Its claims to proceeds in world money at its own disposal and national balances that justify its creation of national credit money are anchored in internationalized business life; these claims are to be realized by capitalists from all over the world holding its national money in high regard and using it as means of business and solid embodiment of their property — and just by this turning it into a means of credit, stable in value.

This program of deriving the wealth of the nation from its success on the world market of course runs the risk of failure on the world market. But even in the event of such failure, contemporary states have no intention of retreating from world business, for instance by resorting to a strategy of national survival and assertion in which the sovereign power would assert its authority over social labor and impose a nationally useful labor service[27] in a different way. Instead, nations that only manage to achieve a rather restricted and ambition-crippling share in global wealth with their competitive efforts, like the economic powers that dominate world business, just reaffirm ever anew with remarkable one-sidedness the binding nature of the requirements and the exclusive validity of the criteria of free capitalist competition for their economic policy. They resolutely insist in all their sovereignty on their national wealth being dependent on the competition of capitalists, which they intend to serve as a national business location.

Certainly, nations have always been locations for capital in the general sense that capitalist production and circulation always take place under the care of a sovereign authority, as its political economy, on the territory it occupies, with the means available and under the conditions prevailing there — this is normal in today’s free world and nations don’t make a fuss about it. When such a big deal is made out of it, and the nation’s fate is considered to hang on its suitability as a location for capital, then it is logically not about this triviality, but about an offensive position of the nation toward foreign countries and its corresponding internal alignment: about its definitive orientation toward the one and only purpose of conquering shares of the world market. States that strictly define themselves as locations for capital in this way demand this success from their domestic industry: it must prove itself as a means for conquering shares of the world market, against other nations and at their expense.[28] Taken by itself, as merely a somehow countable component of national business life, an industry is worthless; only through its victories over foreign competition does it contribute to the wealth of the nation. Regardless of whether domestically based firms put the corresponding pressure to succeed on themselves and emerge victorious, or whether already successful global firms set up shop on the national territory, only enterprises with this kind of success count as constituents of the national competitive machinery and can therefore also lay claim to public support; everything else, due to a lack of global competitiveness, is calculated as a burden on the national balances and counted among the items the national economy needs to “downsize” — as if the economy were on the whole nothing other than a large, capitalistic conglomerate.[29] For only in its world-record winning branches is a modern national economic base of any use to its state as an instrument for seizing bigger and more important shares of world money to be earned internationally, shares that are competitively decisive in the comparison between nations; and only thus is the economy a means for a “strong” currency.

From this ruthlessly instrumental point of view, the nation is inspected and rearranged as a collection of business conditions; with the clear objective of offering companies more favorable conditions, firstly overall and in general, and secondly particularly in regard to the price of labor, than they already establish themselves with their state-certified private power over the labor factor. However, the state program summed up by the keywords “globalization” and “national economic competitiveness” aims at more than just the modern struggle for stable money.

3.

Under the slogan of “globalization,” states are currently competing over the handling of a global crisis of capitalistic growth. The fact that they are carrying out this competition as “employment policy” in their own countries says everything there is to say about “employment” and the state’s interest in it.

a) Capitalist nations have been lamenting “employment problems” for some time. Even states that count among the leading powers of the world economy suffer from unemployment figures that clearly exceed those that used to be considered the highest to be tolerated, and that show no signs of sinking.

The problem they have with this in the first instance is a budgetary one: instead of regularly handing over the notorious half of their income to the taxman or social insurance system, more and more citizens with little or no income claim rights to support and livelihood that were granted in better times, and were never actually intended to be claimed on a massive scale. This sense of entitlement can certainly always be dealt with easily by social policy, but there still remains the revenue shortfall in public funds. The threats to the stability of national money that arise from this inevitably lead to the much graver, actual problem, i.e., for the national economy: the accumulation of abstract wealth, the course of capitalist business, which the state lives on, leaves something to be desired.

The fact that all the important global economic powers are plagued by such deficiency symptoms is indication enough of a worldwide crisis of economic growth: there is altogether less money being made than the business world and states have accumulated in claims to additional abstract wealth and require for their respective account balances — private proprietors for their speculative profits, states for the stability of their currencies. However, policymakers responsible for the economy perceive the “situation” somewhat differently, namely from the outset as stiffer competition: They note self-critically that employment, i.e., business, is stagnating or even declining in the territory they are responsible for, while money — not any better but anyway still money — is being earned elsewhere; on markets whose “globalization” should actually predestine them to be a source of income for one’s own nation — after all, this is the true and definitive meaning of the catchword “globalization.”

b) The solution agreed upon by national business site administrations round the world is remarkably one-sided: the battle over bigger shares of world business for one’s own nation is to be fought with cost relief for all profitable business activities in general, and the reduction of the nation’s customary price of labor in particular. Shabbier payment of the workforce pushed through by the state — after all, the modern welfare state has itself managed a large part of this sum for a long time anyway — is the method of choice for passing on the consequences of an unsatisfactory course of business to other nations.

With this, the ever-present demand for profitable labor is shortened to one side: lower wages are to make labor profitable — as if capitalistic accounting didn’t relate the costs of using labor to its effect on a company’s balance sheet; and as if the productivity of paid labor weren’t the decisive weapon in the struggle to reduce unit wage costs. Yet according to the crisis management program of those who would reform their national business base, this “aspect” falls entirely within the problem to be solved: the further enhancement of the effectiveness of employed labor is indeed still essential for the competition of capitalists; this — and its consequences for the employment situation — are therefore to be firmly reckoned with, and the state must do everything within its power to promote it for the sake of the world-market shares to be conquered for the nation; but implementing this archcapitalistic imperative admittedly won’t lead to “more jobs” in the foreseeable future; success in conquering world-market shares becomes a really relative success when total growth is decreasing. More capital investment may yet increase an individual company’s profit, but it doesn’t pay off for the wealth of the nation, i.e., for profit making as a whole: the strategists of “globalization” start from this assumption when they seek the salvation for their national business base through more business purely by reducing the price of labor, thus admitting that opportunities for profitable investment are altogether meager. The state, in its concern for its money, notes that further accumulation of capital is unproductive, i.e., its business world can no longer operate profitably on the whole; and it, as the ultimate source and guarantor of national credit, itself generalizes the business crisis whose effects it notices by restricting credit out of concern for its capitalistic quality. So obviously, the contradiction in the capitalist exploitation of the source of all property — less and less labor is supposed to serve an increasingly huge volume of claims on growing monetary wealth through ever greater rates of exploitation — has (once again) developed into the general predicament of shrinking national wealth alongside rising claims on the profitability of the labor still employed. And this is supposed to be undone by cheapening labor, since nothing else works.

c) It is without a doubt an absurd calculation that lowering the national price of labor could manage to resolve a contradiction of capitalistic money accumulation that has blossomed into a crisis. National labor power, which has long since been cheapened anyway, cannot possibly be made so cheap that with the resulting improved profit margins, the volume of nationally earned money would grow again to the desired order of magnitude and eliminate the consequences of the crisis for the continuation of business. Rather, this competitive strategy for passing on the drawbacks of capitalist progress to other national business locations just redoubles in international comparison the practice of capitalists competing for profit: economizing on one’s own people while laying claim to those of other nations as a “market” in the banal sense of skimming off purchasing power. In fact, each nation, through its fanaticism of profit production, in this way restricts the mass purchasing power the others bet on for realizing their profits.

However, this contradiction by no means results in aborting the attempt. The managers of crisis competition between states draw two quite different conclusions: they mustn’t discontinue their antiwage policy any time soon, and nobody should entertain “false hopes” that the national situation will improve perceptibly for those affected. So to go with the mass unemployment produced by capitalist employers in the course of their competition for shares of the world market, they organize the general impoverishment of the national workforce, workers still employed as well as those made redundant; and, to go with the prospect of poverty with no alternative, they offer their citizens only the one promise: that this is the only way the nation has a chance in the global competition between national business locations.

Over and above that, they try as election-eligible democrats to encourage their vote-entitled people with some crisis ideology. Only they can’t come up with much. In Germany, for instance, the memory of the legendary Trümmerfrauen, the women who cleaned up the rubble in the postwar period, doesn’t fit well with capital leaving labor fallow on a massive scale with its demands for profitability. “We all have to roll up our sleeves” is for the same reason no rousing slogan. “We have to tighten our belts” surely goes better with a policy that turns more poverty into a means for national competition; the snag is that a people ready to make sacrifices would like to have the national gain and a defeated competitor pointed out — instead, in the European Union countries, they get a warm recommendation for Europe, of all things! Alongside that, but only with all kinds of reservations, there is reference made to immigrants from even more wretched regions of the world, who surely get to feel something of the patriotic sense of justice, but don’t exactly make for a spirit of national optimism. This spirit therefore exists for the moment merely in politicians methodically admonishing their people to kindly get it — and in the opposition’s complaining in the name of the people that the government is doing nothing to promote it … At least, the reigning advocates of global capitalism cannot be accused of deceiving their citizens with false promises.

Notes

[21] The ideology of “globalization,” with its diagnosis that treats the internationalization of capital as equivalent to the deprivation of the national state of power, corresponds to the fascists’ view of things remarkably well, only as a mirror image, with a plus sign instead of a minus. Fascists see internationally active capitalists plundering, weakening and — unless Providence sends a fuehrer right away — driving their highest good, the nation, to its downfall, and illustrate their patriotic disaster scenario with the poverty that the faithful masses are plunged into, not for instance by capitalism, but by its internationalism. The admirers of a global market economy, on the other hand, are pleased to see the well-deserved end of national “isolation,” which, for them, includes in particular the past “high wages” and “welfare” functions of the social state secured by national protectionism — as if they would expressly agree with the fascists’ identification of nationalism and “socialism.” The way they think is in fact not one bit less nationalistic or imperialistic than that of their fascist antipodes: they, too, want to put their own nation back on its feet to meet the relentlessly prevailing conditions for national success — albeit on the civilian battlefield of capitalistic competition — so that it can hold its ground and achieve victory in the now global “economic war”; more about this below. What is outright embarrassing is that left-wing theorists, of all people, feel challenged by the triumphal march of “globalization” ideology to retrospectively give good marks overall to the previous work of the national state, even quoting Karl Marx for the purpose. This begins with an avowed critic of the state such as German social philosopher Oskar Negt speaking of the “state’s loss of sovereignty and functioning,” when in fact what he is seeing is nothing but the presently required use of state power being put into practice: because he disapproves of this use of power, politics as a whole is supposedly in contradiction to the true nature of national sovereignty. Leftist state theorists just won’t give up their tradition-rich mistake of criticizing every practice of the democratic class state, no matter how unmistakable its purpose may be, by upholding its “real” principles as the promise of, or at least as the tendency toward, a better, anti-capitalistic future. Not that they really intend to arouse hopes for a nicer future with their wrong thinking. Rather, they insist on the view that “however repressive the state might have been, at least it was always a lever for regulating society” and “domesticating the free effectiveness of the logic of market and capital.” They think highly of the bourgeois state for always having had its own points of view and enforcing them — which viewpoints, and whether they might have had something to do above all with its concerns about its power to rule, play no role at all. As state idealists, they call for the nation to regain its sovereignty against the “dictates” of global capitalism, suggesting that life under capitalistic conditions would not be that bad if only the state had the upper hand.

[22] The thesis of the “powerlessness of the nation-state” therefore means quite simply the deprivation of power of other states — preferably voluntarily.

It is not without irony, but anyway revealing, that the thesis in question appeals to well-meaning citizens concerned about ecology and peace, of all people, who claim to have discovered that “the real problems” have not “stopped at the nation’s borders” for a long time now. Criticism of state borders without criticism of state power — which takes care of demarcation and exclusion as it sees fit and also creates the problems whose cross-border effects bring about nothing but justifications for unchecked interference in foreign jurisdictions — invariably boils down to the realization, uniting people and leaders, of the necessity that one’s own nation must succeed in the competition of national powers in order to be able to effectively dictate to foreign sovereigns.

[23] This is the only substantial reason for a capitalist nation to play an active role in world trade, even where, as in Germany for instance, the population has been made familiar from childhood with the complaint about the country’s “shortage of raw materials,” and been paid the compliment of their “industriousness” being the most important national “resource.” Especially in those countries, a people is not called upon to exert itself for any such modest purpose as paying the nation’s petroleum and banana bill, which is no more than one item in the sum of expenses that accrue when the country is being expediently groomed as an “export nation.” With cross-border trade in raw materials, it is generally the case that the importing nation is not impoverished by it, nor does the exporting nation get rich: the real business always takes place where the “gifts of nature” are used productively as a means of business, i.e., for producing growing property. There, all the same, it may be of some advantage if the most important sources of raw materials are located in one’s own country: not because this saves on imports, but because such a quirk of nature expands the freedom of merchant capital to compare costs and exploit differences.

[24] Nations, with their foreign trade, repudiate in practice the economist’s ridiculous definition of money as “anything that functions as money.” They tangibly refute the notion that money is nothing but a conventional token, i.e., for commodities, which are more easily exchanged for one another with its help, by their greed for money to be earned abroad, money that precisely for that reason must be more than a mere, “conventional,” legally ordained means of exchange. What a nation is out to get hold of is the other nation’s wealth; not a wealth of nice things, but in the abstract form that the conventional monetary token merely points to as to its actual economic content: property’s quantified power of command existing as an economic object.

That is why even with today’s most sophisticated financial products, gold has not yet seen its last days as the embodiment, the material existence of abstract wealth in the flesh. In gold, nations have disposal over abstract wealth in an especially stabile form, unaffected, that is, by the state’s arbitrary creation of credit, but of course for the same reason also without any interest payment guarantees.

Capitalist nations, by the way, in their high regard for gold as “substantial” money, retain a certain inkling of the economic nature of money that they otherwise have no interest in knowing about — why should they?! — namely, that in gold, a select product of human labor not only represents, but in practice embodies labor’s capitalistic determination of creating property to the degree of its exertion. Admittedly, the precious metal with the high atomic number only “embodies” this economic “attribute” because state force determines that property takes precedence over all use, that the use-value of goods takes a back seat to their exchange value as commodities, and that gold should primarily have the social use-value of “embodying” exchange value as such. Gold bars are not to blame for this fetishism of attributing to a thing the “attribute” of conferring a private power of command on its owner.

[25] For more on this topic see the GegenStandpunkt article, “Currency and its value: the competition of nations for the wealth of the world.”

[26] Stability of a currency is thus not the same thing as high valuation, instability not the same as a low exchange rate; not even an upward- or downward-heading rate trend clearly coincides with “strength” or “weakness.” What is crucial is whether an extensive and long-term utilization of the currency in question by the international business world, including central banks, establishes such a demand for it that speculative fluctuations in demand are of no consequence — and therefore are not instigated in the first place — or whether the currency is at the mercy of “mere” speculation, to which the responsible state, lacking sound balances, cannot give reliable monetary guidelines, but has to address with costly and, for that reason, questionable and short-lived investment incentives. Whether the exchange rates of a currency, which come about in one way or another, turn out to be (too) high or (too) low is another question, which tends to be answered in conflicting ways depending on the intended use of the currency — exporters calculate differently than do importers, and investors go by where they think speculation is heading.

Once currencies have separated themselves thoroughly enough into “strong” and “weak,” the individual items in a nation’s balance of payments accounts, though posted according to the same rules everywhere, stand for quite different economic situations. This is especially true of the capital account: in one case, a negative balance can signal a triumphal advance of the national money as a means of business, reserve currency, and object of private investment; in another case, it stands for a “flight of capital” that confronts the state with the necessity of buying up vast amounts of its own worthless credit money with foreign currency it doesn’t have. Which case applies is of course only revealed by the result, which is seldom unambiguous and always subject to change.

[27] Such an alternative is always part of the repertoire of policies of a class state: in case of genuine national emergency, bourgeois politicians ultimately know of no other “solution” than the forcible mobilization of the people for a national service that admittedly goes well beyond the mere procurement of money, that aims instead — according to the size of a nation and its imperialistic ambitions — at violently correcting the international balance of power, on which globally valid business conditions ultimately really depend. The most consistent, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, advocates of this alternative to go down in history were the fascists, above all the German National Socialists (Nazis): they didn’t abolish capitalism, but used non-economic, i.e., military means to overturn a global balance of power under which it was inconceivable that their nation would ever rise (again) using the weapons of capitalist competition and national credit alone. In lieu of “the market,” they defined the decisive imperialistic test for their nation to be “the battlefield” and as a corresponding encouragement offered their people, instead of a racism of hard money, the ideology of national ethnic combat virtues that would set everything right again in the world economy, too. This offer, always convincing to ruling or ruled patriots alike, is out of style at the moment simply because these days, control of the global balance of power and the relatively greatest benefit from the world economy coincide in the main for the most important states: the nations that could at all realistically consider revising the imperialist order would have the least to win and rather more to lose.

[28] Now that the market economy has won its final victory around the globe, it has become normal for all states do the same thing in this regard; and nowadays nothing else matters to them. Just as normal, though, are therefore the differences between nations resulting from pre-existing conditions and means with which they enter global competition.

Germany, for instance, has a lot to defend in the competition for world-market shares. Previous success in exports has allowed the nation to expand its credit to the point of becoming a major component of international finance, and turned its currency into a globally used financing instrument and store of value. The inflated national credit and the enormous extent of the use of the German currency as a means of credit now require justification by global economic success that turns the further accumulating debt into real accumulation of capital and thus sees to the continued durability of German world money; all the more so as the ambitious goal of proving the subsumption of the former East Germany worthwhile in world-market competition has led far more to budget deficits than to positive contributions to the national balances from successful business dealings.

There are other nations — such as the so-called “Little Tigers” of East Asia and, in its own way, also the new “Big Tiger,” the People’s Republic of China — whose entire national capitalism consists in nothing but a few successful world-market businesses that have established themselves in their territory or gotten their start there with plenty of state aid. These states pursue the development ideal of extending their rather spotty successes on the world market to such a degree that a growing business life gradually comes to make capitalistic use of the entire society and thoroughly transforms it. In the meantime at least, they are at least busy defending their domiciled islands of capitalistic accumulation from each other.

Finally, the former East Bloc states — just to mention this special case — have completely submitted to the competition for world-market shares as the new basis for their national economies. But in their urgent petitions for capitalistic development from abroad, they even expressly admit to being incapable on their own of gaining a foothold in this competition, let alone making a successful stand. That is why their transition to a new national basis for business has turned out for the time being to be nothing but a huge demolition project that never goes far enough by the strict standards that foreign lenders unrelentingly insist on: that the entire national economy be reconstructed so as to take part successfully in global competition. At any event, what has been successful is the destruction of previous national economies that were organized down to the last detail according to the Real Socialist brand of division of labor; the outlook for its replacement by a comprehensive capitalistic production doesn’t look any better than the prospects for development of the so-called “emerging markets.”

So the various nations all see different “problems” to cope with when they seek to maintain themselves in a competition over national business locations that has finally become global — but to “solve” them they all bet on one and the same means in the end: that the most effective labor is to be had for the cheapest price on their territory.

[29] This standpoint is without doubt just as narrow-minded as any previously practiced protectionism. Often enough, it ignores the simple context that the only reason why some branches of business can be unbeatably profitable on a global scale is that alongside them — in a less world-record-like way but also with capitalistically and profitably utilized labor — money is earned, opportunities offered for making money, and credit converted into capital. That is why many a bold plan for trimming down a comprehensive capitalism to those business sectors that operate successfully on a world scale does not automatically become the indisputably prevailing national purpose and policy. Nevertheless, politicians keen on reforming and even “revolutionizing” manage to achieve some definite “slimming down” of their national economies with their “economy measures” — and they see their path to success confirmed in the parallel trends of rising unemployment figures and/or lousy makeshift jobs, and of the most important national stock prices.