sebastian on Fri, 5 May 2017 12:51:42 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The meaning of Macron (short answer: none)

> And as for dear Sebastian's bitter but welcome comments on this thread:
> Yes, of course politics is political theatre. It always has been, as
> thinkers from Machiavelli to Guy Debord have always been quick to point
> out. Jan Söderqvist and I even predicted in "The Netocrats" in 2000
> that soon the U.S. would likely elect a game-show host as president as
> a result of politics going ironic and increasingly powerless (therefore
> turning into a "celebrity democracy"). In 2016 we were proven right.
> So you could easily regard our comments in this thread as "nothing more
> than football babble", if it was not for the fact that politics still
> controls, deals with and directs trillions of dollars worth in jobs and
> wealth between the world's nations and populations. Your nihilism
> consequently adds nothing to address these complex issues. So what do
> you want to say besides attacking fellow Nettime debaters for the
> apparent fun of it? Or was that all?

You're right: nihilism would in fact add nothing. And it's tempting to add 
nothing, undoubtedly. However, I'd be much more in favor of reclaiming the 
notion of "pragmatist realism". I'm not against voting, just against what comes 
before and after. Not only in the U.S., elections have become a serious threat 
to democracy, and that's not because people might end up voting for the wrong 
guy, which they did. Trump's presidency must not make us forget the horror of 
2016: the neverending campaign, the indefinite suspension of democratic 
politics in the name of a democratic procedure. At the same time, last 
November, I would have voted for the Democratic candidate (more enthusastically 
than I would have opposed her in the primaries), given that her opponent was 
openly inciting violence against women, African Americans, religious minorities 
and countless others. But of course, I'm not a U.S. citizen, and if I was, I 
wouldn't live in a place where my vote would have made any difference.

What can the French do against Marine Le Pen, next Sunday? There's a trivial 
answer to that question. It's just that in my eyes, it provides Macron with no 
meaning whatsoever. If you vote for the candidate who is not Le Pen, it doesn't 
matter if he's a neoliberal, an ordoliberal, a social liberal, an heir of 
Obama, a twin of Trudeau, or a grand-grand-grandson of Napoleon. If you commit 
to fighting fascism by all means, then the ballot is clearly one of them. But 
if that's what's to be done, then we should admit we're in Merkelworld, 
Schäubleland: there is no alternative, and the elections will change nothing.

> For hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Somali migrants in Sweden and
> Germany at the moment, it makes a hell of a difference if these
> countries are run by social democrats or right-wing populists. And that
> is just the start.

In principle, I agree -- but as you say: that's just the start. Beyond that, it 
sometimes makes no difference at all. Germany, for example, is run by social 
democrats *and* right-wing populists. For a few weeks in 2015, the country was 
forced to temporarily adopt a more pragmatic and realistic approach to 
immigration. Who deserves credit for that? Social democrats? I must have missed 
something. In 2011, in another short and sudden display of pragmatic realism, 
the German government abandoned nuclear energy. Was the Green Party in power? I 
don't think so. The German welfare state was dismantled in 2004. Why didn't the
social democrats oppose it? For the same reason that the pacificst Greens 
didn't oppose bombing Yugoslavia in 1999: Because they were in government. The 
Green foreign minister's justification? Auschwitz must never repeat. (1) The 
social democrat defense minister's argument? In Serbia, they slice up pregnant 
women and roast the fetuses, they decapitate men and play football with their 
heads. (2) No right-wing populist would have politically survived such 
outrageous statements -- and for hundreds of thousands in former Yugoslavia, 
that would have made a hell of a difference.

What remains is your assertion regarding "the utter lack of corruption 
scandals" among social democrats, at least in the protestant North. Lets 
imagine the following scenario: In November 2020, Donald Trump, who has been 
pushing for the construction of a new Russian gas pipeline in the last year of 
his tenure, is voted out of office. Less than two months later, he receives a 
phone call from Vladimir Putin, and on the same day becomes the new chairman of 
the board of the Gazprom-owned pipeline consortium. Mike Pence, shortly 
thereafter, accepts the job of a political consultant for the largest competing 
pipeline project. I don't want to speculate too wildly about the public 
reaction to this imaginary scenario; in a polarized political climate, some 
might call it "treason", but I'm pretty certain that the term "corruption" 
would come up as well. And obviously, I'm only making this up because it's a 
true story: you just have to replace the the President of the United States and 
his Vice President with the last social democrat chancellor of Germany and his 
Green Party vice chancellor.

Of course, you can argue that it's hard for anyone who leaves public office to 
not immediately get lost in a maze of revolving doors. The two most prominent 
German social democrats of the past twenty years even entered national politics 
through such a maze: They were both members of the board of the world's largest 
car manufacturer before they became chairmen of their party. You may insist 
that there are structural forces at work here, rather than outright corruption. 
But I can guarantee you that in the unlikely case that the German Left ever 
"regroups into a responsible but straight-forward welfare-state-defending 
basic-income-promoting, budget-keeping democratic Marxism", social democrats 
and Greens are going to have sleepless nights, because they know that the Left 
is never going to forgive them. Forget about Putin, or personal enrichment, or 
the "Agenda 2010"; lets say that neoliberalism was simply in the air, a global 
zeitgeist, and that the invisible hand of the market forced their hand in 
return. But when social democrats and Greens destroyed the German welfare 
state, they were free to delegate that job to, and name the result after, 
anyone of their choosing; they could have made an honest effort to at least put 
some lipstick on that pig. Instead, they had the chuzpe to pick the most 
emblematically corrupt unionist and human resources expert in the entire 
country, best known for "kickbacks to Volkswagen managers from bogus companies 
doing real estate business", "the use of prostitutes at the company's expense, 
sometimes in company-owned apartments and under the influence of Viagra, which 
had been prescribed by the company's medical service", "convicted to a prison 
term of 2 years, but set free on probation, and to a fine of €576000". (3)

So much about the absence of corruption. If the world came down to a final vote 
between Hartz and Hitler, I'd know what's to be done, but that's about it. And 
okay, Hitler never won a majority in a democratic election, but lets not 
digress. I'm not bringing up any of the above to suggest that the last two 
decades of social democracy were more disillusioning than the ones that 
preceded them, or that my examples from Germany were particularly scandalous. 
Anyone in France, in the UK or in the U.S. can tell you the same stories, or 
worse, and no-one in Italy even bothers anymore. (In fact, more than half of 
the 18- to 34-year old Europeans say that they would actively participate in a 
large-scale uprising -- 61% in France, 63% in Spain, 67% in Greece (4) -- and 
even though I don't trust these numbers, don't think that filling out a 
questionnaire and violently overthrowing a government are the same thing, and 
don't want to know what percentage of the pro-revolt respondents vote UKIP, Le 
Pen or AfD, my feeling is that this is not totally fake news either.)

The only purpose of my little sketch of a larger German Sittengemälde is to 
illustrate why I think that "hold your nose and vote" is a losing strategy, and 
that it can be useful not to vote, if only to make sure that certain parties 
that self-identify as center-left remain left of center: in opposition, rather 
than in government. At the same time, it is clear that even a strategic 
non-vote has its limits. Is the Front National more dangerous as an opposition 
party? Is it going to be enlightening to find out, and better to be proven 
right than wrong? Will Macron move to the right when under pressure from the 
Left? People are tired of politics as football, of coaching their favorite 
losers from a seat in front of a screen, or devising ten-dimensional chess 
moves according to which, for example, Trump and Le Pen must rise to power as 
early as possible, to demonstrate how useless, if not already impossible, it 
has become to govern, so that they're just out of office and politically 
discredited when the next financial bubble hits the fan.

All of that is just whistling in the dark. What makes living through 2016/17 
such a terrifying, often visceral political experience is not only the return 
of fascism in the West, but the fact that we are beginning to sense what an 
enormous upheaval the pragmatic-realist best-case scenario is going to be. 
Capitalism as we know it is finished, but here is what's eerie: die Spatzen 
pfeifen es bereits von den Dächern. (5)





(5) German proverb. "The birds are already singing the news from the rooftops", 
meaning: it is all over town. But this time, they literally do. Regimes of 
production come and go, empires rise and fall, wars start and end. Geological 
eras usually don't.

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