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Interview “Blaming the Banks is not our Business”

Translation of: “Banken-Bashing ist nicht unser Ziel”

Leftist groups from various European countries are planning a Europe-wide, anti-capitalist day of action on March 31st. The German »…ums Ganze!« network is part of the »M31« alliance that currently coordinates German and international protests. Jungle World asked for the motivations behind their call for action.

Interview: Peter Nowak

How did the idea for a European day of action come up?

Since the beginning of the crisis, the question of how to react has been widely discussed in the anti-capitalist left. Over the last couple of years, groups from the »…ums Ganze!« network took part in many regional initiatives. At the same time we were able to establish an international network of contacts. In September 2011, we gave a talk in Thessaloniki, and had discussions with Greek activists. At that time, we decided to cooperate more closely. Other groups from the »M31« alliance, such as the FAU, have long been organized on an international level; they are part of the »International Workers’ Association« (IWA).

How do you deal with the fact that in some EU countries there’s considerable social resistance, whereas in Germany virtually noone is taking to the streets?

The »M31« alliance tries to take these differences into account: our focus is a critique of capitalism, not a personalizing critique of bankers and politicians. We are an international alliance with an anti-national perspective. We rally against the division along national boundaries and we won’t waste our solidarity on nation states. Instead, we want to organize solidarity with those who struggle for a better life for all. The aim of our alliance is to connect these struggles not through abstract declarations but in practice. That’s why there will be simultaneous interventions in different European cities, reflecting different local conflicts. To us, it is important that March 31st will only mark the beginning of a long-term exchange between different leftist groups in Europe, on a programmatic as well as on a practical level.

What countries and groups are part of the network?

In Germany, the initiative evolved primarily out of the regional Crisis Alliance in Frankfurt and the two nationwide networks »…ums Ganze!« and FAU. Since then, the »M31« alliance has grown and several groups have declared their support. Our aim is a call for action that deals with political differences in a constructive way. On the European level, so far mostly syndicalist unions, anti-authoritarian and anti-national groups from Greece, Poland and Spain (CNT) have joined in, as well as antifascist groups from Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium. Groups in France, Italy and the UK are currently discussing if and how they will take part. We will see throughout the next weeks how comprehensive the protests in those countries will be. One very positive aspect is that our joint call for action is being discussed in many countries and across a wide political spectrum.

Is Germany’s European policy an issue in those debates?

Germany’s low-wage-policy along with its enormous productivity have led countries with less productive industries such as Greece or Spain to the brink of national bankruptcy. In the context of the current so-called Euro crisis, Germany is trying to impose new austerity measures upon those states of the European periphery. If they dissent in any way, Germany threatens to cancel the financial aid. This particular role Germany plays will of course be a focus of our call for action. After all, most relevant financial and economic policies of the EU are currently hammered out in Berlin and Paris. Germany’s current commitment to the EU and the Euro is not a generous renunciation of its national interests. On the contrary, Germany benefits from the EU not only as a quasi-domestic market, but also as an economic bloc to oppose the USA, Japan, Russia and especially China on a global level.

Why did you choose the city of Frankfurt for the German day of action?

The Crisis Alliance in Frankfurt was one of the initiators of »M31«. More importantly, though, the European Central Bank (ECB) and, hence, a major instutution executing austerity measures in the European periphery has its headquarters in Frankfurt. Crisis policy is also financial and monetary policy. But the anti-capitalist call for action will not be limited to the ECB and the role of the common commercial banks. Capitalism is an extensive structure of social domination, affecting the whole of society. We will make our voices heard in various locations around the city, such as the job centers, temporary employment companies or in recently gentrified areas.

Haven’t there been any concerns that focusing protests on the financial capital of Germany may be misleading, in terms of a very limited critique of the financial sector only?

Well, these concerns can be dispelled quite easily: the ECB is not a regular commercial bank like most of the banks we know, it is a political institution. Our protest is explicitly focusing the political and ideological character of the current anti-crisis measures. Blaming the banks is not our business. Essentially, our critique aims at capitalism as a systemic condition. It’s not bad because of greed and manipulation, but because of its structural, unending imperative to compete for private profit, with its broader ramifications such as the crisis. This is why we disagree with the ideological blame game, where an allegedly »greedy financial sector« is contrasted to what is often considered a »sound real economy«. Such a division is not only ignorant but dangerously misleading.

It has been objected that the ECB is the wrong target, because concerning monetary policy, there’s a deep division between the German government and the European Central Bank.

The ECB is formally independent in its decisions. But with its legal competences in the field of monetary policy, it shares responsibility for economic growth and stability in the Euro-Zone. The level of its prime rate, for instance, influences how much fresh money the commercial banks will get. Consequently, the ECB is a big player in the crisis. The debates between European national governments and the ECB are crucial for crisis policy.Only time will tell whether a certain monetary strategy has been successful. But basically, the goal is always the same: to keep the Euro-Zone strong on the global market or, in more general terms, to ensure the accumulation of capital. We are opposed to this and want to reinvigorate a discussion about alternatives to capitalism.

How does the M31 day of action relate to the »Occupy«-movement, which also has its stronghold in Frankfurt?

In Frankfurt, we have already cooperated with certain groups in the »Occupy«-movement. Internationally, that movement is very heterogeneous and in many cases a mix of very diverse political views. In the US, »Occupy« has sent important impulses for an anticapitalist debate, whereas in Greece it has no role in the protests at all.

There is another initiative for an anti-capitalist protest, in May. The alliance »Interventionistische Linke« (IL) is amongst its organizers, and they plan to integrate the »Occupy«-movement into this project. Is a cooperation with »M31« conceivable?

Certainly. We’re already in contact with IL concerning their initiative in May. We will promote their actions as soon as they go public. The anti-crisis protests should be seen as a common effort. Obviously, there are differences in terms of analysis but we are trying to find a pragmatic way of dealing with these.

March 31st is supposed to be a point of departure for future protests. What are you going to do to make this happen?

Concerning the day of action itself: the aim of our demonstration in Frankfurt is connecting different political issues and practices. For that, working groups are already coordinating. And we will prepare some surprises as well. Later on, there will be other projects such as that of IL. After March 31st we will join in and use our international contacts for further cooperation. Generally speaking, it is important to remain sensitive towards diverse political debates in other countries. Feedback on our joint call for action has thus far been very encouraging. But we need to prepare for a continued struggle.