Suicide Note (Reprint)

October 22, 2008 at 12:26 am (Uncategorized)

This article is reprinted from the Internationalist Perspective blog

Recently, there was an uproar in Germany about the death of Bettina Schardt. It was not the fact that she died which provoked strong feelings, but the way in which she died. The 79 year old woman, a retired X-ray technician from the Bavarian city of Würzburg, chose to end her life through assisted suicide. She was neither sick nor dying, but she was old and worn out; she needed help. She had no alternative but to sell her home and move to a nursing home. No alternative but death. Death seemed far preferable to Bettina than to be institutionalized in a warehouse for the dying.

How many millions of people in the world are in exactly the same situation as Bettina? How fast are their numbers growing? All around the world, governments are cutting budgets for social programs. Everywhere, the wages of the nursing home personnel are being squeezed. Everywhere, they are forced to take care of more patients with fewer people. There are surely many dedicated people amongst those caregivers, but they are powerless to resist the squeeze, the urge of capital to get rid of unproductive costs to protect the nation’s profitability, which translates in the life of nursing home patients to more misery.

Meanwhile, the world has close to 2 billion unemployed people. Could it be that amongst them, there are many who would gladly spend their days making the lives of old people happier? When I visited a nursing home in Belgium a couple of years ago, I met several refugees who worked there and were much beloved by the patients. While waiting for their cases to be handled, they were not allowed to work for money. Rather than watching daytime TV, they worked for free in the nursing home. Doing nothing is not what most unemployed prefer to do. Most of them would like to do something useful and creative, and it just so happens that there is so much useful and creative work to do: So many needs which could be met; so much pain which could be avoided or erased. If only we stop letting value and profit dictate what we do and what we don’t. If only we understand the obvious: that we should employ our resources directly to meet human needs. We may think that we do so already but the means – production for profit, the market, the accumulation of capital- has become its own end which employs humans as its means. If you are of no use for the accumulation of capital, you have no job, you are nothing.

What unites all forms of bourgeois thought is the idea that capitalism is a given. That it is part of the unmovable forces that condition our lives, like the forces of nature which we must accept and make the best of it. That is the essence of their message. Capitalism must be accepted. Whether they are from the left or the right, their disagreements are minor compared to this common point of departure.

The reactions of the right and the left to Bettina’s suicide illustrate this point. Predictably, Germany’s conservative chancellor Angela Merkel condemned all forms of assisted suicide as “inhumane,” and the rest of the right agreed, all in the name of “the sanctity of life”, which in no way prevents them from imposing austerity measures which make life unbearable for so many, nor from waging war in Afghanistan or selling weapons around the world. Roger Kusch, the promoter of assisted suicide who helped Bettina to kill herself, received praise from the left side of the political spectrum. They defended his practice in the name of “the right to die in dignity”.

What about the right to live in dignity? The implicit assumption of Kusch’s defenders is that people like Bettina don’t have such a right; that the loneliness, alienation and poverty that is increasingly the fate of people who are unproductive for capital is unavoidable, so that the best that can be done for them is to assist them in making themselves disappear.
‘Assisted suicide’ is an apt metaphor for the role of the left as a whole at a moment in which global capitalism, compelled by its contradictions becomes increasingly destructive. There is too much capital that cannot be profitably invested and that includes ‘variable capital’, people. From the point of view of the needs of the accumulation process, it needs to be discarded. Capital needs the superfluous to commit suicide and the left stands ready to assist them so that they can destroy themselves “with dignity”. Capitalism’s crisis provokes massive unemployment which the bourgeois left accepts as unavoidable, but it wants the layoffs to occur “with dignity”. It accepts wars as unavoidable, but it wants them to be waged “with dignity”. And so on. The left is the proletariat’s suicide assistant.

Sander

Post-script: Two days after the article that inspired the lines above, The New York Times had more ‘suicide news’ on its front page: “Despair Drives Suicide Attacks By Iraq Women” (July 5). To say that in this case too the suicides are assisted, is an understatement. Here the role is carried out by Islamists, who promise Heaven to an exhausted depressed woman who means nothing to them. She is just one more cheap commodity to be consumed in the struggle for Islamic power. That is a struggle of a capital to make room for itself in a world already crowded with capitals and whose inner dynamic leads to an ever greater concentration of capital. The more the system’s tendency to breakdown becomes pronounced, the more cracks appear in the global order and the more sensible an investment violence becomes. While chasing only their narrow capitalistic power dream, the Islamic suicide assistants are loyal agents of capital as a whole which is bent on destruction to make room for itself.

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