“Capitalism is the most successful, but also the most destructive ideological-economic system”. An interview with Laibach
When in the early 2000s I was a BA student at the University of Essex and then an MPhil candidate at the University of Cambridge, I was surprised to find out how many scholars in sociology, media studies and political sciences were at that time actually acquainted with the Slovenian band Laibach. Given the originality of Laibach’s albums and its (often overlooked) influence on the European alternative cultural and political arena, I decided to pose a few questions to the band in the occasion of this last issue of WEA Commentaries.
The band formed in 1980. In the first decade of its career, Laibach contained a sharp critique towards the post-Titoist regime in former Yugoslavia. Despite being officially banned in the country from 1983 to 1987, the ensemble continued touring, delivering live performances and releasing provocative albums. Later on, during the 1990s and 2000s, Laibach directed its critique towards the late capitalist ideology and the systemic connections between the media industry, multinational corporations, and the military industry (as for instance in the album NATO released in 1994); or towards the risks inherent in the unregulated global capitalist system (WAT 2003), and raising social fragmentation, social divisions and tensions (Spectre 2014).
Q1 Some Laibach songs/reinterpretations in the “Kapital” album (1992) focus on the capitalist economy and on materialism. In one of the tracks you argue that the “economy is dead”.
A: In 1991, when we launched the slogan/title of the song ‘Wirtschaft ist tot’ (The economy is dead) – there was in fact a widespread economic collapse in all Eastern European countries, including Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, leading to the disintegration of the Eastern bloc and a radical reshaping of the political map of Europe. Economic collapses and financial recessions in large number soon followed around the world, including the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009. A series of severe and mutually reinforcing shocks — the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and resulting food and energy crises, surging inflation, debt tightening, as well as the climate emergency — battered the world economy again in 2022-23. There are now even some predictions of potentially new global financial downturns in the near future, for both developed and developing economies. These of course can produce more wars and military conflicts – always a ready solution for a new economic momentum. So there is something definitely wrong with economics, or rather with the economic logic. Or could it perhaps be that the crises drive an economy that cannot really function unless it is permanently and perpetually on the verge of collapse? Of course, it is never a collapse of the whole system, but only of a large part of the whole, so it is still a classic transfer of capital from one pocket to another. This profit from loss, namely the profit based on catastrophe, is just high enough to satisfy the needs of the political-economic elite and keep the rest of the world in poverty and in the constant battle for survival that drives the cynical, deadly machine of capitalism to its (and everbody’s) inevitable end.
Q2 In the early 1990s you were critically questioning Slovenia’s new pursuit of wealth… What is your position nowadays on these same themes and issues? How is your home country Slovenia performing both in economic and social terms nowadays?
A: There’s nothing of course wrong with striving for prosperity as wealth is in principle a tool of freedom. However, in practice the pursuit of wealth is often also the way to slavery. Arguably, real wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. A sustainable economy follows this logic; in its view more is definitely not more, less is more! This should also be a guiding principle for the economic aspirations of the Slovenian society and the state.
In economic and social terms Slovenia has now similar structural problems as the other post-transition countries in eastern Europe that have joined the EU. The fact that Slovenia was one of the most developed of all the new members when it joined the EU was not exploited well enough and today in some areas (public health care, public transport, mobility and infrastructure, digital administration, green energy, etc.) it is already lagging far behind the other member states. But nothing is lost yet. Slovenia is fortunate to be a small country and therefore potentially more manageable (despite also more vulnerable!). Moreover, it has an excellent geographical location which – at least in theory – allows it to be well connected to the rest of Europe, something that is not taking enough advantage of. The small size of the market and the total population, comparable to the population of one or two Tokyo’s suburbs, makes the country unattractive to aggressive capital and big investments, which certainly has, again, its advantages.
Therefore Slovenia is by definition forced to develop a boutique and largely environmentally friendly economy, and its weaknesses and underdevelopment in many areas, especially in the field of mass tourism, are potentially actually its strengths. Probably one of Slovenia’s biggest problems is its overly expanded and costly public administration and lengthy bureaucratic procedures, and especially its largely amateurish, ideologically divided political elite – not to mention the still active and ever-present systemic corruption. Moreover, the Slovenian national character, in which the complexes of superiority and inferiority are mixed in a strange way at the same time, does not help either. But, as said before, this country and its cultural space has great potentials and in theory nothing is irretrievably lost. Yet.
Q3 Turning back to a global perspective, you also look at economic aspects of society and deconstruct or provide references to economic ideologies in other albums: in some lyrics contained in the “NATO” album (1994) you unveil the interconnectedness between the military industry, modern corporations and the media. Has your perception about this relationship changed recently: Is it perhaps stronger than it was in the 1990s?
A: Our view of this matter has not changed. The Gulf wars, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and now the war in Ukraine as well as the renewed and growing conflict of the West versus Russia and China have reinforced our view. Ukraine, in particular, is a textbook example of this interconnectedness in the conflicting interests of the great powers, modern corporations, media and the army industry.
Q4 In the “WAT” album (2003) you seem to point to the unsustainability of the global economy by questioning its existence (e.g. “Das spiel ist aus”)… What would be your main critiques to the economic system and towards the global economy nowadays – 20 years after the release of WAT?
A: These are familiar problems. There is no point in listing and repeating them, but they are probably unsolvable in the context of a global capitalist economy that demands constant self-expansion, which it cannot sustain, obsessed with growth rates and profitability. Capitalism is the most successful and attractive, but also the most destructive and suicidal ideological-economic system. The main criticism of the existing system is that it actually behaves like a classic substance addict. It is aware that drugs are slowly killing it and harming everyone around, but it cannot help but continue to take them. It just wraps the drugs and the addiction in an ‘environmentally friendly’ packaging and pretends that this will solve the problem, even though it knows, of course, that it won’t work in reality. Capitalism will never change in principle, but if we do not want it to drag the whole thing into the abyss, we need to treat it as we treat a serious addict and – for our own benefit – help it to become less suicidal and force it to act in a socially responsible way whenever possible. Of course, this will not really save capitalism, nor us from it, but at least it will make us feel good.
Q5 In conclusion, how would Laibach comment on contemporary mainstream economic policies in Europe and in the so-called Western societies? What do policy makers have to learn from Laibach?
A: We can’t really give complex economic advice because we’re not economics experts or policy makers. Nevertheless, we recommend to everyone to go slow and pay attention to communication. In an age of speed and overload of information and communication distractions this would be the only method that makes some sense, probably also within the mainstream economic policies. Go slow and take your time.
From: pp.7-9 of WEA Commentaries 13(1), July 2023