True and False Causes of the Financial Crisis

Englische Übersetzung der Rede von Lothar Galow-Bergemann zum Neujahrsempfang der Aktion 3. Welt Saar am 23. Januar 2009, erschienen am 27. Juli 2010 auf der Seite von Baltimore IMC

The jubilant singing about free enterprise as the supposedly best of all worlds sounds much quieter than at the beginning of the 90s. Capitalism produces crises, wars and catastrophes. We urgently need alternatives. This is now a matter of survival.


By Lothar Galow-Bergemann

[This address published on 1/30/2009 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

I hope you will not regret you invited me because I will lash out with strong criticism. Saarlanders are undoubtedly good people who only deserve the best… Your 3rd world Saar-campaign should be supported by all Germany.

The 3rd world Saar-campaign is a real jewel in the alternative and social critical movement which should be a nationwide movement. Therefore I am very happy to be here today.

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall will be celebrated this year. No rational person would mourn a system that started with the promise of a better alternative to capitalism and discredited itself in the course of its history so it had to ignominiously leave the world stage. However this time the jubilant singing about free enterprise as the supposedly best of all worlds sounds much quieter than at the beginning of the 1990s. Capitalism produces crises, wars and catastrophes. This is particularly clear in this twentieth year of its supposed worldwide triumph.

If there were only one crisis that this globalized economic system gives humanity, we could almost be happy. But there are at least five – the hunger and food crisis – the energy crisis – the environmental and climate crisis – the state disintegration crisis in large parts of the world – and the current financial and economic crisis. All these crises are interwoven and form a kind of global hyper-crisis that could be waged as humanity destroys itself and a large part of nature. This is unfortunately not an exaggeration. Only one who runs about with ideological blinders can close his eyes to this.

We urgently need alternatives. This is now a matter of survival. However since alternatives is a complicated matter, we should first try to understand the world as it is. Unfortunately this is not so simple. Take the current crisis for example, which is now growing into the greatest worldwide economic crisis in 80 years. This crisis seems to have arisen in the financial sphere: gigantic misguided speculations – greedy managers – financial bubbles that burst – bank breakdowns – huge state bailout packages of which no one really knows how this can be financed. Wasn’t this the real cause of the crisis?

Many believe on one side there is a “rational” economy in which everything needed for daily life can be produced with “moderate” profits. On the other side, there is a financial management completely independent of daily life in which greedy managers and speculators roam around and bring disaster to everyone because they cannot get enough.

If only it were so simple! Then the crisis could be easily de-activated. The matter would end with a few sharp laws sending one or several managers into the slammer. But what would be gained if Josef Ackermann, head of Deutsche Bank, were arrested? Life is not so simple. What seemingly began with bank breakdowns really started much earlier. The causes lie in the so-called real economy itself.


The first is that it can only function if it can grow forever. Every child knows something must go wrong. Perpetual economic growth is the sacred cow of this society. If growth falters or declines, business associations, unions, local politicians and newspaper commentators explain in unison, profits, jobs, tax revenues, in short the foundations of the economy and the state, are inevitably affected.

The second is that this growth only functions if the highest possible profits are made. Investment in the next cycle of capital exploitation is necessary so the highest possible profits are gained. The capital that makes too little profit dries out in the merciless competition. Capital does not merely strive for profit. Capital strives for maximum profit – on penalty of its ruin. This is something very different. We speak here about the very basal problems of the market economy and vulgar capitalism, not about the sphere of finance capital.

The third is that profit can only be drawn from the exploitation of human labor power because only this labor power can produce more value than it has. The employee dependent on selling his or her labor power must add profit in this cycle of perpetual growth and maximum profit. If he does not do this, he is not profitable in this system. On principle he has no right to exist. For a long time fewer and fewer people were needed to produce the constantly increasing mass of goods. That fewer and fewer workers are needed is a consequence of micro-electronics and general “computerization” since the middle of the 1970s.

Fewer and fewer “exploitable” persons face more and more cheaply produced goods. Capital often realizes unsatisfactory profit on account of this “over-production” in the so-called real economy. As a reaction, money increasingly flows into the financial realm where fatter profits beckon. So the hamster wheel of the exploitation cycle continues turning. These profits are on a very shaky foundation. All credits, shares, funds, derivatives etc. are ultimately based only on the hope of future profits realized in the real economy. If these prospects evaporate and a part of the chain loses its credibility, the famous domino-effect occurs with one falling down after another. This is what we are witnessing.

The crisis with its foundations in the real economy broke out first in the financial realm and strikes back on the real economy. Now the credit flow comes to a standstill. Who knows whether or not the credits are toxic or whether he can still pay them back? Without credits, there are no investments. Without investments, the growth- and profit cycle does not function any more. Downswing, recession, growing unemployment, declining state revenues and more social cuts are the consequences.

The trillions in bailout packages for the banks that were and are bestowed are a scandal in view of unemployment, Hartz IV and worldwide hunger. They have their own inner capitalist logic. However they cannot really solve the problem. The states will inevitably become more indebted. Economic programs are now produced worldwide out of thin air. The result will be a gigantic inflation of the financial- and debt bubble. The next crisis is pre-programmed. The specter of state bankruptcy signals on the horizon.

The real problems are not a few greedy managers and speculators. They sit in the right places and make their personal deals. Ultimately they do exactly what the economic cycle demands – realize the highest possible profit for an endless growth. The real problems are the foundations of the capitalist economy.

Unfortunately this connection is hardly thematicized. As it was taboo to doubt the rule of the church in the Middle Ages, the thought prohibition on questioning the foundations of the market economy is in effect today. In the everyday consciousness, villains are supposedly responsible for everything. We do not only think of the picture of the Anglo-American “grasshoppers” who attack our honest working German factories, suck them dry and search for the next victims. This picture quickly became a Germany-wide explanation when Franz Muntefering was the SPD chairperson. Hedge funds and Private Equity funds were symbolized. Often their top managers were personally stylized as unappealing insects. For example, a brochure was printed by my ver.di union teeming with these terrible beasts responsible for everything. Most recently talk about “grasshoppers” has become incredibly quiet. Many of them went bankrupt in the course of the financial crisis. Perpetrators quickly became victims of the capitalist crisis. Emphasizing grasshoppers as causal agents of evil was ridiculed in no time. But reflection on the deeper causes of the crisis is still in the future. Former SPD chairperson Oscar Lafontaine shines. He now calls “irresponsible speculators” who “play with our money” the real causal agents of the crisis. Like his analysis, his prescriptions are fascinating…


On the global hyper-crisis, personalized and regressive ideological crisis management promotes resentment and the danger that extreme inhuman and reactionary movements could arise that fantasize together on overcoming the crisis by destroying villains. This delusion then intensifies the potential crises and the situation becomes even more explosive.

The crisis of 1929, remembering its connection with the current crises, produced mass unemployment and misery for millions. That crisis gave birth to the most criminal regime in humanity’s history, German National Socialism. Today we see with horror the growing influence of Nazi ideology. We also have to face the worldwide rise of religious fundamentalism. Islamism is its most powerful, most extreme and most dangerous variant, its spearhead as it were. Unfortunately many have not understood its character and its danger. The president of the Islamic state of God in Iran explained the crisis to the UN General Assembly in September 2009. He fantasized “a little cunning and deceitful group of people called “Zionists”: “Although they are an insignificant minority, they control an important part of the financial centers and centers of political decision-making of some European countries and the US in a treacherous, complex and surreptitious way.”

Tell me your crisis analysis and I will tell you who you are. This kind of “crisis analysis” lives in the same conceptual world which also inspires the NS-ideology. It is deeply anti-Semitic and speaks only of Zionists instead of Jews. Both ideologies are driven by anti-Semitic destructive mania. It is no accident that the Iranian president denies the holocaust and wants to wipe out the state of Israel. In this perverse logic, “the evil Jewish” must be destroyed so life can go well for “us.”

Muntefering, Lafontaine and others who use this metaphor of grasshoppers are not anti-Semitic. Still a superficial and false capitalism criticism can be a cover for anti-Semitic resentment. Superficial criticism can promote the revival of reactionary mass movements through their abridged and simplified view of things – even if involuntary – and contribute to establishing a criminal regime in the worst case.

The most important question must still be answered: What would a real alternative to capitalism look like? Obviously I do not have a complete answer in my pocket that I could present to you in a very detailed way. But you are lucky because my speaking time is nearly over and I have only 15 minutes. Obviously no one has a prescription and nothing would be more counter-productive than to write new “textbooks” according to the style of faded command socialism. People who want to change the world must begin with practical steps and learn from experiences. However some characteristics of a better world can be named. If I have not provoked you enough, hopefully I will succeed now.

If more can be produced with less labor today, people may not become superfluou9s as is the case in capitalism. Rather – thanks be to God – work that finally becomes unnecessary must be transformed into massively reduced working hours for all. Serious people have calculated we could manage and live well today with five hours work time per person and week without the pressure to profit maximization and growth mania.

If projects, ideas and software can be developed in free cooperation in a global network without the participants charging each other, the question is raised whether money and the exploitation cycle still have a future.

If we can produce enough for all in superfluity with essentially less work than in the past – and we are already technically in this position – then why must the whole enormous social wealth still be squeezed through the needle of buying and selling, money, profit and growth? Money only functions when it is scarce. Where goods exist in abundance and there is enough for everyone, the money economy itself is up for debate.

Let us be realists and demand the impossible.

The 3rd world action is for the rest of the German republic and not only for Saar.

Our children and grandchildren also deserve something better than the capitalist crisis economy.