By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The latest book from the well- known German representative of the left, Sahra Wagenknecht “The self-righteous”– My counterprogram in defense of public spirit and solidarity” (Die Selbstgerechten. Mein Gegenprogramm- für Gemeinsinn und Zusammenhalt, Campus Verlag Frankfurt/ New York 2021) is a refreshing counterpoint to the unexciting and moralizing book from Greenie Chairman Robert Habeck (“From now on everything will be different!”) in which he outlines an expensive “reeducation” program in order to adapt German society to the “climate crisis.” Some days ago Habeck went as far as provocatively demanding the delivery of “defensive weapon systems” to the Ukraine- which stands in direct contrast to the government official position.
In her book Wagenknecht makes an analysis about the Left, among them the Green party, which is portrayed as a party of “self- righteous people” – the so called “liberal left”. They pay more attention to “life style” rather than thinking about their social responsibility for society. Her book outlines a series of measures for adequate social and economic methods in face of the global economic and financial crisis. Born in Jena (East Germany), Wagenknecht played an influential role in the German left (coming from the “PDS” as legal successor of the late PDS-SED Party after 1989, which existed mainly in the eastern new states until 2007), which was later called “Die Linke”. She was deputy in the European parliament as well as deputy of the German federal parliament since 2009. From 2010 till 2014 she was vice chairwoman of the party; from 2015 till 2019 the chairwoman of the faction “Die Linke” in the federal parliament. As a studied economist with a doctoral thesis, she has written several books- among them “Freedom instead of capitalism” (2012) as well “Wealth without greed” (2016/18).
It’s the simple people that have become losers
The author reveals a solid understanding concerning the social problems of present society. She calls for the implementation of the concept of the “Common Good”, which, as she hints in her book, has today totally disappeared from our day to day language. Wagenknecht’s specific criticism is directed against “left liberalism” which is neither left nor liberal. The typical left liberal is “intolerant” against anybody who does not share his opinion, i.e. she fights against those left liberals or rather “illiberals” in society, who are responsible for the “degradation” of our culture. She refers to an open letter that was published in summer 2020 by Noam Chomsky and K. Rowling who called for an open exchange of ideas and information, expressing concern about the growth of intolerance against people who think differently and who are stigmatized publically. They warned artists not to fear that they might deviate from the mainstream and not to “howl with the wolves.”
In the introduction of her book the author underlines that it’s the “simple people that have become losers as result of a globalized, unregulated capitalism.” The winners of our time are in the first place “owners” and “proprietors of huge financial assets.” Their wealth as well as economic and social- power has grown enormously during the last decades, which went in line with the growth of “the new academic middle class of big cities,” that has become the basis for today’s left liberalism. “Four decades of economic liberalism, social dismantling and globalization have divided Western societies,” Wagenknecht analyses. Social walls are separating children of poorer families who have difficulties to have access to decent education.
Cancel Culture and the obsession to moralize
Wagenknecht sheds light on the obsession to “moralize without empathy.” A typical example is the public campaign against the big food company “Unilever” and its product “Zigeunersauce” (“Gypsy Sauce” often used for cutlet dishes), which got “renamed” and is now labelled “Pepper Sauce- Hungarian Style” (since the word gypsy is an inacceptable discrimination of the “gypsy” people). “Cancel Culture” which was imported from the US, is a preferred means to shut up different opinions, Wagenknecht reports.
At the university of Berlin students blocked a seminar that was to discuss texts from the German philosopher Immanuel Kant and Jean Jacques Rousseau, because- as some Italian leftists had stated-, “Hegel was a sexist”(Sputiamo su Hegel.) There was, as Wagenknecht emphasizes, a time where the Left defended social justice and social security and had the aim to protect people from poverty, humiliation and exploitation and give them the opportunity for education and social rise. They believed in the “nation state” in form of a democratic state which is capable to correct its own market. The left was part of the fight against legal discrimination, as exemplified by the American “Civil Rights” movement of the Sixties – as well as fighting against the unequal distribution of finances.
The public life of the left today is rather dominated by “life style leftists”, since at the center of their policy there are “no more social and political and economic problems, but questions of life style, of consumer habits and of moral attitude that are being judged.” In its purest form the green parties embody this “left lifestyle-policy” and in most countries it has become an expression for the socialist and other left parties.
According to Wagenknecht, the “life style left” is concerned about climate and in favor of emancipation, migration and sexual minorities. Its main belief is that “the nation state” is an “obsolete model.” It appreciates “autonomy and self -realization” more than tradition and community values as such. Everything “is defined by symbolism and language.” (!) They care about words, hence they look for words that might be “discriminatory” -words like “migrant, mother or father” and they add dubious “gender stars – whose rules only the inner circle knows.” Another attitude which can be observed is that they avoid the use of words that may sound harmless but could trigger a “traumatic reaction.” For example words like “home”, “people” or “migrants” are taboo. You can’t use the German word ”Zuwanderer” (migrant), Wagenknecht reports in reference to a Berlin Senate decision from autumn 2020, which prohibits to say “people with migration background” but instead demands as correct expression “people with international history.” Instead of “foreigner” one should say “inhabitant without German citizenship”; or instead of “illegal immigrants” one should speak about “un-documented migrants.”
The typical life style leftie lives in a big city, at least in a university city, not in industrial cities like the North Rhine Westphalian industrial city Gelsenkirchen etc. He has studied, got a diploma and good language skills; he pleads for a “post growth” economy and pays attention to biologically “proper food.” These life style lefties are “complacent” and “arrogant” and look down on the needs and language of those people who didn’t visit university, who eat barbecue and go shopping at cheap supermarkets like ALDI.
The author points to the remarkable “paradigm shift” that occurred during the past years: while in the 1950/60 and 70ies there was in Germany a “rise” of the working class families, where houses and apartments got built; this was followed by the “age of deindustrialization”, continued by “globalization” in the 1980ies, when production got increasingly “outsourced” and when the neck of the trade unions was broken. What began was the focus on “service sector economy”, which went along with the “deregulation” of the financial sector that in turn made the speculative financial business possible. What dominated the scene were “high frequency dealers” and fund managers, advertisement and marketing. There was hence a demand for urban academicians and with it a wave of life style began, based on sustainable seals, vegan food etc. Especially the Greenies in most countries are the party of the academic middle class, which is elected by officials like soft- ware programmers, marketing experts, and journalists as well as higher officials.
The author reports that in March 2020, according to a poll made by “Spiegel” magazine, for 3 Germans out of 4, the gap between rich and poor was perceived as being too big. 73% of those questioned wanted to see a tax increase for the top earners and reintroduce the property tax. 49 % wanted a minimum wage at the level of 12 Euro per hour. Also 4 out of 5 wanted a better pension and health insurance. 74% were in favor of a “stronger role of the state” in the economic and social policy, given the dangers that arise from globalization and digitalization.
Many citizens react allergically when they realize that “climate change” is used as an alibi, to make oil, electricity and petrol more expensive. They are frustrated to see that they are brandished because they use Diesel fuel or eat cutlets from ALDI. The left liberal main stream has transformed the climate debate into a “life style debate” and they put the demand for a CO2 tax at the center of their demands.
The fight for “Common Good” and economic growth
Wagenknecht instead pleads for a policy that is focused on the idea of the “Common Good”, which “is based on the Catholic social teaching as well as on ideas of the Social democracy.” “Community spirit, public spirit and co- responsibility, these were values very much appreciated in society and it was considered immoral to act against this.”
Conservative left values such as “public spirit” (community spirit) means that the individual has the responsibility for the whole,” as John F. Kennedy would say: “Don’t ask what the country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
In chapter 9 of her book she makes a strong plea for the “Nation State”- in contrast the concept of a “one world government” that is on the agenda of people like Klaus Schwab from the Davos Economic Forum, who as Wagenknecht reports, in 2010 presented his concept of “Global Redesign Initiative”. Along this idea there shouldn’t be any more nation states, but “multi stakeholder -groups- i.e. worldwide active corporations”. The state as an enemy image of the neoliberal narrative is labeled “greedy.” This narrative, according to Wagenknecht, makes reference to the “Social State”, that is too expensive for the economic elite and should be destroyed, while its public services should get privatized and public administrations financially starved. i.e. the state as a representative of majority interests should be eliminated. According to Wagenknecht the “left-liberal left” sings the anti- nation state tune. The banking crisis and the Corona pandemics have shown however that those nation states were the ones that offered economic safety packages.
In addition she demands a “digital European strategy,” that makes us independent from the US giants (Amazon, Google etc.) and demands a European payments and settlement system that enable Europe “to act in a sovereign way against Washington’s sanction threats.” “We need a reindustrialization of Europe that generates jobs and prosperity.”
Instead of imposing harsh financial CO2 taxes and other financial restrictions as a means to fight climate change, Wagenknecht puts emphasis on the need for “real economic growth”. The key for environmental economy is not to “renounce”, but to have economic innovation. That is why “nuclear energy” could be a major “game changer”.