by Sabine Nuss
The Deutsche Theater in Berlin recently celebrated the premiere of the play “Das Himbeerreich” (“The Raspberry Empire”). Director Andres Veiel interviewed over twenty prominent bankers in order to trace “the connecting threads between personal motives and social structures in the financial sector.” That’s a rare concern at a time in which the crisis is often reduced to the greed of managers and thus to individual bad behavior.
Admittedly, it’s easier to criticize people than “structures” or an abstract “system”. People have faces and addresses, they bear responsibility, fulfill tasks, and act. Structures, on the other hand; where are they tangible? Marx made social structures the point of departure for his analysis, which in turn explained individual behavior. According to him, it’s competition that forces the individual capitalist, by pain of ruin, to make the hunt for constantly increasing surplus-value the purpose of his activity.
With regard to the financial sector, it was this competition that was desired by the state in the recent past. For that reason, there were regulations intended to promote competition. These laws, referred to as “deregulation” arose, once again, from the pressures of competition: states vied with each other for the position of “attractive investment location for capital.”
So how’s the situation with regard to competition and individual behavior? Ultimately, social structures are nothing more than the result of millions of individual acts by millions of people equpped with different levels of power. For that reason, structures cannot easily be traced back to individual, exposed protagonists. We are all in competition with each other every day: when seeking work, when we try to sell our labor power in the most optimal way, so that we get the job and not others. In the workplace, if I work harder than others so that the next wave of dismissals won’t affect me. As a business person, if I try to sell more commodities than others. By constantly performing these everyday actions, we constantly reproduce the structure that distresses us, and from which none of us can extricate ourselves, unless one already has enough money to live. This is not to excuse excesses by bankers, or lousy character traits. However, the point is to reveal the contradiction that permeates everything under the reigning social conditions.
Veiel has depicted that in his play: the bankers stand around forlorn in a large space. They are victims. On the other hand, they created these spaces themselves. “It’s their empire, they bear the responsibility, even if they suffer from an inherent contradiction” says the director. A solution to the crisis inspired by the left must therefore place a new architecture of “the system” on the agenda – not just with regard to the financial sector and the activity of the state. Rolling back competition in favor of cooperation can be practiced at many levels. Self-managed housing projects, worker-owned businesses, or agricultural collectives are just a few examples. In a capitalist environment, they often fail, have to be maintained with great effort, and are always precarious and subject to ridicule. But they are the fragments of a space in which people would perhaps behave differently, because they are able to, and don’t have to fight with each other for raspberries.