The histrionic debate over nationalization and forcible expropriation in Germany distracts from a more urgent conversation
In early May, Kevin Kühnert, who heads the left-wing SPD youth organization – the Jusos – sparked national and even international discussion. In an interview with the weekly “Die Zeit”, asked whether he favored the collectivization of the automaker BMW, he answered: “In a democratic way, yes.”
Is it possible that today, roughly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, serious thought is being given to communism in Germany?
Maintain democratic control over work
To be sure, Kühnert made it very easy for his opponents to launch their counterattack, especially thanks to his use of the word “collectivization,” a GDR-era term that carries a heavy load of historical baggage. Indeed, Kühnert’s statements prompted an almost automatic conservative backlash, including the popular go-to slogan “freedom, not socialism.”
However, what was completely overlooked in the process was the fundamental question Kühnert had actually thrown into the ring, namely “How do we work and what do we produce?” – and “How can we maintain and/or recapture democratic control over work and production?”
Given the enormous imbalance between the power held by global corporations – for example, in the financial and digital areas – and the growing powerlessness of large parts of the population, it is urgent that we ask these very questions.
And there’s another question, too, one that recalls the 50-year-old dictum uttered by former SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt: “We want to dare more democracy.”
Relationship between private profits and the common good
Throughout the entire tradition of the Social Democratic party, the concept of democratization has been applied to all areas of society, not least to the economy. This is what Kühnert was talking about – that is, the old issue of economic democracy, social participation and the relationship between private profits and the common good.
This century’s biggest currency: our data
In the face of rising digitalization and globalization, this question has lost none of its currency; on the contrary, we just need to imagine the not-so-unlikely scenario in which one of the current internet giants on the already rigidly carved-up global market becomes a digital monopolist and thus master of all our data. The excessive power of such a data monopolist would be utterly incompatible with the idea of a free market economy, and thus with democracy as well.
This is why the EU is now – finally, and unfortunately much too late – starting to think about whether they might themselves need an international platform to be able to stand up to the US giants, rather than continuing to provide them with more and more of this century’s biggest currency: our data.
Read the whole text on The German Times website
Albrecht von Lucke is a lawyer, political scientist, an editor at the monthly political magazine Journal for German and International Politics and author of numerous books on today’s Germany.