Consciousness in Europe in the Crisis

Organized by Espaces Marx and transform! europe, the workshop entitled “Consciousness in Europe in the Crisis: Resignation and Rebelliousness faced with Capitalist Domination” gathered public-opinion specialists from Greece, Germany and France – as well as social scientists.

The objectives of this study day of reflection were to discuss the trends in the national opinions regarding capitalism and systemic alternatives, but also to go beyond particularisms by drawing out convergences across Europe. Here is the report of its first session.

Session 1:  The Relation of Capitalism to Opinion Polls

Aggressions against labour and life conditions have soared since the outbreak of the crisis in 2008, leading to a growing criticism of the system as a whole. However, the weakness of critical political forces remains sustainable – as one can see with the rather small political influence of the radical Left in the EU (European average of ca. 5%). Despite the diversity of the national political models within the EU, a contradiction is to be seen throughout the continent: a combination of resignation/acceptance and a willingness for resistance – as Patrice Cohen-Seat (President of Espaces Marx) put it.
The participants confronted the state of the popular consciousness and its relationship to the capitalist system in Greece, Germany and France. On the basis of opinion polls carried out in these three countries, the changes in the attitudes the populations have regarding the economic principles that dominate the present system were analyzed.
Christoforos Vernadakis, professor of political science in Athens, introduced a set of polls results showing how massive the mistrust of the Greek opinion towards its political class is: 90% of the respondents don’t trust the members of parliament, and 60% of them hold the government for responsible for the breakout of the crisis – while only 10% consider that the financialized capitalism is accountable. To put it differently, the excesses of a certain capitalism aren’t seen as the root of the problem. Moreover, the population is very sceptical about the possibility of an exit from the crisis. Although the mistrust is particularly spread towards the banks and the IMF (90%), it remains difficult to identify clearly the accountability of the finance and debt system in the deepening of the crisis – which could explain the difficulty for such sections of the opinion structured by resignation and resilience to face austerity.
According to Richard Detje, member of the German scientific association for the analysis of capitalism WISSENTransfer, Germany considers itself as a “paradise under threat”. The opinion polls reveal that, if the belief “we are not doing that bad” is widely spread, the consciousness of the fragility of the country’s rather good situation is combined with a fear of the difficulties faced by the rest of Europe: the threat comes from outside. In spite of the growing domestic social inequalities, the opinion tends to believe that – if the capitalism isn’t working everywhere- it has done well for Germany. The dominant narrative keep repeating that if the 2009 crisis is overcome, the situation remains fragile: the fear of the crisis is used as a permanent threat on wages. They have been the primary adjustment variable ever since the Agenda 2010 was implemented. As a conclusion, Richard Detje asserted that the Left should think of an alternative to the wage dependency – since in times of growing unemployment, the permanent fear of the crisis may paralyze protests for social justice.
To François Miquet-Marty, director of the polling institute Viavoice, the French opinion is one of the most critical towards capitalism in Europe: 70% of the respondents have indeed a negative image of capitalism. If it is often associated with the idea of a certain freedom (entrepreneurship, creation), almost half of the population sees it as a mere wealth accumulation or the exploitation of man by man. However, political forces pushing for social and economic change such as the radical Left have not benefited from these highly developed critical faculties of the system. For the majority of the opinion, an alternative project to capitalism remains a vague and rather frightening idea: the costs of an exit from the capitalist system are perceived as potentially very high. The collective social suffering is attributed to individuals – the greedy boss, the shameless speculator, etc. –, which tends to release capitalism from any liability for the crisis. One does not seem to know what is to blame and heap opprobrium on “the small ones next us” – the unemployed, the migrant, etc. – whose behaviour is seen as selfish and contrary to the common interest.