Eva von Redecker is certain that green capitalism is far from treating living spaces in a way that is friendly to people and planets. With Marx and Hannah Arendt in her luggage, she explains what the loss of the world has to do with the question of property.
Friday: Ms. von Redecker, you grew up on one of the first organic farms in Schleswig-Holstein. When we agreed to meet for the interview, you said that you actually grew up in green capitalism. That irritated me a bit, I first think of Tesla. How did you experience growing up in green capitalism?
Eva von Redecker: Indeed, as very torn between the two poles. There was the closeness to nature and this wealth of experience, as a younger child, for example, I always believed that we were very rich, which was really not the case. I thought there were all the animals and plants and all that poor other people didn’t have. They might have two cars, but we three tractors! But the opposite pole was quickly present, an increased struggle for survival, precisely because it has to pay off. With the drastic fact that one is exposed to the forces of nature at the same time. A bad harvest means a slump in income and, in the worst case, that you have to give up.
In other words, you had the social question of green capitalism in mind early on?
I’ve seen my parents’ excessive workload. In a courtyard, the interrelationships are perhaps understandable even in childhood, because they not only depend on abstract stock exchange prices and the market is not completely elsewhere, but really in the pedestrian zone. You immediately feel the pressure to exist when you can’t deliver enough or when people complain because the strawberries at Aldi are bigger.
From the organic farm to the green hydrogen, which is celebrated as a savior from the climate catastrophe, the journey is a long one.
Sure (laughs). This is of course a completely different standard, but don’t underestimate it, technical innovation also plays an important role on the organic farm.
How big is your technology optimism?
It’s bigger than my optimism about capitalism. We live in a grotesque hybrid of fossil capitalism and speculative financial market capitalism, and this cocktail is actively murderous and ecocidal. I’d be happy to see a Green New Deal innovation surge instead. But in the face of global warming, species extinction and loss of habitat, attempts to find technical solutions compatible with capitalism are more like old wives’ tales. The activists of Fridays for Future are right to criticize politics when they say that this is an attempt to calm us down with still completely immature technologies. In any case, looking at the technical solution seems to me to obscure the extent of the problem.
Eva von Redecker, born 1982, is a philosopher. Her work lies at the interface between critical theory and feminist philosophy. Most recently she appeared: Revolution for life. Philosophy of the new forms of protest, Fischer Verlag 2020, 320 pages, 23 euros
In what way?
It is important to me not to understand climate policy as if it were about a future catastrophe that may still have to be averted. The disaster set in long ago. Technology does not take away from us the problem of the future direction of work.
What do you mean by that?
We live in such a created fear that we will run out of work because of the fixation on production work and also because of a relatively shallow understanding of digitization or technical innovation. But if you really take seriously the drastic change and destruction we will have to deal with, then the amount of regeneration work required is immense. Even if, what it doesn’t look like at all, we stopped emitting so much. Capitalist production not only creates profitable goods, but also exhaust gases, heavy metals and packaging waste. Recovery negligently divides nature.
It’s about who gets the plastic out of the ocean?
Exactly. Another example would be the fire brigade.
The fire department?
Yes, it is in constant use during floods or forest fires and its work is based on the large number of volunteers in many places. This takes time, it is mostly not wage labor. How should you do that? Will we soon have private fire departments like the Blackwater Private Army? And then they can blackmail states, whether they delete or not? Of course, parts of repair work can be marketed, but if we leave that to the free play of numbers, we really immediately live in dystopia. And that is not necessary if we manage to divert part or even all – if it were up to me – of human working hours into regenerative, need-oriented, world-protecting work.
Capitalism is often said to have the ability to learn, to take up criticism directed against it and to process it.
Yes, but he messes her up in the process. Neoliberalism really brought about the opposite of the leisure and autonomy that the 68ers dreamed of. If it paints itself a green paint now, it will remain a long way from treating habitats in a way that is truly human and planet friendly.
But the ecological balance of the real existing socialism was also miserable.
This was partly due to the systemic competition, to the magnetism of the consumer societies in the West. But the poor ecological balance of actually existing socialism was for me – in addition to the political demands of the current social movements – a source of inspiration for not leaving my book Revolution for Life with a very classic Marxist analysis of capitalism. I add the relationship to the world shaped by property. For me, it’s not just about who owns what, but what it means that something belongs to you. What I call physical rule, i.e. the idea that an owner and, more broadly, we as human beings are free to deal with objects at will – including abuse and the right to destroy – moves the question of destructive violence into the center of the analysis. And this reified world relationship of physical rule over nature has not been broken by actually existing socialism, it has only been transferred more strongly to the state as owner.
They also often refer to Hannah Arendt’s theory of political action.
Yes, for example on your concept of the loss of the world. As a lost world, Arendt describes a world in which there is no longer any interpersonal ability to act. I am modifying the term because we need a vocabulary to understand how complex and asynchronous ecological destruction is taking place. We lose time for change. And because nature is not a reservoir of things or resources, but an ensemble of tides, we lose natural cycles in which life regenerates. The earth will survive, there will also be a nature, but there will be a radically worse one for us. Our freedom of development is losing many of its foundations. But even in the event of a catastrophe, the question remains: How do you deal with it? So with Arendt the question of political action.
How do you rate this new phenomenon in which climate policy reforms are being opposed in the name of freedom?
This is a sibling of neo-fascism with a liberally narrowed, unqualified concept of freedom of choice. I can do what I want on my marked plot until there is nothing left of the world. Anyone who disturbs me or reminds me of consequences reduces my freedom. That would be true if all these parcels weren’t under the same atmosphere on the same planet.
The outrage over Veggie Day is an election campaign classic.
This shows a real deficit in these political maneuvers, because they only target individuals and often only as consumers. What we need is a ban on factory farming and not a Veggie Day. But this threatening warning of bans on the part of the bourgeois-liberal is completely ridiculous in a modern democratic framework that functions as a legal order. There is no legislative power that is not in some way connected with prohibitions. If you take that seriously, it would be a rejection of any form of political power.
Are you currently perceiving anything revolutionary?
I believe that some kind of doom acceptance is still the more widespread mood than the hope of revolution. I find it remarkable how radical feminist currents, Black Lives Matter and the global climate justice movement are seriously struggling to ensure that we can continue to live fairly and freely with one another on the planet.
And how would one sense the spirit of revolution?
The current balance of power does not look like a revolution. What is there, however, is a tense relationship between different political attitudes. What you always need for radical change to be in the air is a real incommensurability or something like a complete lack of understanding on the part of one side for the other.
When it comes to feminism, racism or the climate, the mood is pretty explosive, at least on social media.
There is this beautiful idea from Marx that capitalism creates certain needs that it cannot possibly meet all by itself. It’s crazy that right now the need for collective survival is one of them. But also needs for leisurelyness, tenderness, meaning, for a wealth of experiments and ideas seem poorly served. And yet they exist. The dissatisfaction in social media is also fed by a serious search for what actually withstands, what would be resilient, what is halfway decent. Sure, you can call it cancel culture. But one can also say that this is utopia because someone does not want to be satisfied with the absence of freedom for everyone.