Barbara Dribbusch

We are all entrepreneurs!

A Berlin self-help group for prostitutes has published a book summarising their experience. In it, a prostitute defends her work thus: she listens to good music all day, gets to meet men, has lots of sex, and earns loads of dosh. 'It's a great job, actually,' she says. There is no trace of irony in the book. How far can things be reinterpreted, before we go crazy? This is an interesting question. It plays a certain part in prostitution, but has a far greater role in politics; especially Red-Green politics.

Red-Green politics is the politics of creeping re-interpretations. This has become apparent after two years of Red-Green government. Self-realisation, self-determination: two decades ago the radical left was still using these terms to invoke Utopia. Today you can have it all, and even (that hidden expectation) make money out of it. Do what you want! Become independent! Make your own decisions about your pension, your education, your money! Best of all: become your own employer! This has been the Leitmotiv in the two years since the Red-Greens came to power.
The new ideology of self-determination runs through the politics of work, pensions provision, and education. One requirement of 'an increasingly individualistic society,' expressed by Margareta Wolf, the Green Party's spokesperson on economics, is 'the adjustment of regulations [on working hours] to the needs of today's employees and employers, to open up possibilities for voluntary arrangements within businesses or directly with individuals.' She should try explaining this to shop assistants who are single parents, if shops are going to be open until ten at night - as requested by the Greens.

Working hours are determined by the demands of the economy. This new flexibility is nothing but an adaptation to fierce competition, but note the re-definition: economic adaptation turns into 'opening up possibilities for individual arrangements'.

Wolf raves about the new business culture in the IT sector: 'Hierarchy is going to be superseded by networking.' This new 'level hierarchy' has the appearance of the old Leftist dream of the self-determined collective, but in reality, those employees who don't adapt are quickly excluded, because complex group-dynamics require good management of one's emotions. Only, we don't hear much about the excluded these days.

Interviewing the long-term unemployed, it becomes noticeable that, in many cases, these people have common personality types: they are slow, eccentric, unconfident in social situations - in short, socially unattractive. In the past, 'anti-psychiatry' used to try and pin down some kind of causal link between society and its dropouts, whereas nowadays the market is flooded with books giving psychological advice on self-management.

'More responsibility for all': the demolition of the state pension scheme is made to look attractive with this slogan. In future, employers' contributions to the state scheme will hardly increase at all. Instead, employees will be required to put money aside themselves for their old age. In a document by Walter Riester (SPD Minister for Social Affairs), the drive to promote personal provision is dressed up by saying that 'the potentially higher yields' provided by the private money market, compared to those in the state funds, 'may be more useful'. As such he redefines his real message, which is: 'the state pension scheme is a bit of a loser, but luckily you can now invest your money in the private sector too'. Under the Red-Greens, the number of shareholders has nearly doubled.

'Today, personal skills and qualities and a person's self-realisation are the means by which cultural distinctions are determined and hierarchies set up,' believes culture critic Diedrich Diederichsen. Some are very good at self-management, whilst others fail constantly.

An example is the self-management of learning, which, simply put, means new ways of using one's experience. 'Learning should become a job, because professional knowledge is out of date after two or three years,' explains the independent Minister for Economics Werner Mueller. He says people should 'learn to learn.'

Sounds good so far. The freedom to pursue lifelong learning and development was a Leftist ideal in former times. There was no one more pitiable than the factory-worker suffering the same treadmill existence, day in, day out. But today, lifelong learning has turned into a neo-liberal imperative. Rejuvenate yourself - but in a profitable way!

But many people are definitely learning the wrong things or at least, hardly anything new. Learning about identity within ethnic subcultures, for example, has no economic value. And women who have no choice but to sit three times a week at the checkout in Woolworths as well as bring up their children, can't educate themselves in the same way as youngsters in businesses just starting up.

Yet today this new worshipping of self-determination triumphs over any ideology of solidarity: it's better to be self-reliant than to rely on the trade union! This sheds some light on the fact that, for a long time, the battle-fronts within the welfare state have been getting in each other's way; battle-fronts between young and old, employers and employees, employed and unemployed, rich and poor.

Anyone who proclaims a comprehensive ideology of 'a better life for all, through solidarity with each other,' then fights for the interests of certain groups, comes across as a liar. Such was transparently obvious in the trade unions' unconvincing protest against the reform of state pensions.

The more that trade unions appeal solely to people's insecurities, the more the have-it-all culture is reinforced by those advocates of the new-style 'self-management'. And the principle of 'having it all' is an unassailable ideological advantage. Even a report issued by the trade union IG Metall on the introduction of 'level hierarchy' has to acknowledge that 'many colleagues experience independent work as an exciting possibility for testing their own strength. A dynamic develops, taking hold of the whole person, which is hard to remove onesself from.'

So it's about the whole person, then; this person being someone who has the ability to see things from a different angle when required. This applies in prostitution. And, evidently, in politics.


Barbara Dribbusch was born in 1956 and read Sociology and American Studies, during which she specialised in power and media theories. After some time as a freelance local reporter in Berlin she joined the Tageszeitung broadsheet newspaper where she mainly writes on social issues. Her special interest is the question of how power structures affect not only society but also the lives of individuals.
Source: die tageszeitung, 27.10.2000