Patrice Riemens on Tue, 7 Apr 2009 13:56:56 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Franco Berardi (aka Bifo): Communism or the Therapy of Singularization

Bifo gave that speech at a conference in London, last February
bwo the Bricolist/ Jaromil


(italian version is also available, on the rekombinant mailinglist)


Economists and politicians  are worried: they call it  crisis and they
hope  it is going  to unfold  like the  numerous previous  crisis that
stormed the Economy in the  past century and then passed away, leaving
Capitalism stronger.  I think this  time it is different.  This is not
a crisis,  but the  symptom of the  incompatibility of the  potency of
productive  forces (cognitive labour  in the  global network)  and the
paradigm of growth.  This is not  a crisis but the final collapse of a
system that has lasted for five hundred years.  Look at the landscape:
the   world's   great   powers   are  trying   to   rescue   financial
institutions. But  the financial collapse has  affected the industrial
system, the demand is falling, jobs are lost by the millions. In order
to rescue  the banks the State  is taking money from  the taxpayers of
tomorrow, and this  means that the demand is going  to fall further in
the next years.  Family  spending is plummeting, and consequently much
industrial production is going to be dismissed. It's not going to last
just one or two years, this  time is forever.  In an article published
by  the International Herald  Tribune the  moderate-conservative David
Brooks writes: "I worry that  we are operating far beyond our economic
knowledge." This is the point: the complexity of the global economy is
far  beyond any  knowledge and  governance. Presenting  Obama's rescue
plan, on  February 10 th 2009,  Timothy Geithner, the  US Secretary of
Treasure, said: "I want to be candid. This comprehensive strategy will
cost money, involve  risk and take time.  We will have  to adapt it as
conditions  change. We  will  have  to try  things  we've never  tried
before. We  will make  mistakes. We will  go through periods  in which
things  get worse and  progress is  uneven or  interrupted."  Although
these words  show Geithner's  intellectual honesty and  the impressive
difference of the new leading American class compared to the Bushites,
they also  point out the breakdown of  political self-confidence.  The
political  knowledge   we  have  inherited   from  Modern  Rationalist
philosophy is useless now.  Chaos  (i.e.  a degree of complexity which
is beyond the  ability of human understanding) is the  new king of the
world. The problems that the world is facing nowadays cannot be solved
by  the  way  of  adaptation  and  rationalization  of  Economy.   The
capitalist paradigm can  no longer be the universal  rule of the human
activity.  Let's face it: the history of modern capitalism is over. So


Let's  have  a retrospective  look  at the  rise  and  decline of  the
Neoliberal economy, the economy of the law of the strongest. There are
two faces,  in the post-modern economy  of the last  thirty years: one
face can  be labelled 'Net-Economy', the  other 'Criminal capitalism'.
The Net-economy is based on collaboration and sharing, on the creation
of  new   ways  of  managing  social  activity.   The  Net-economy  is
challenging the proprietary principle that has ruled Modern capitalist

In order  to reassess and  re-impose the proprietary  rule, Capitalism
has  reacted in a  criminal way:  the criminal  face of  capitalism is
based on the abandonment of every  legal rule in the pursuit of profit
and the  sanctification of competition. Criminal politics  has led the
global economy to  the present mess, but criminals  are still in power
in  every country,  although they  have failed  to govern  the chaotic
reality created by deregulation.  The Neo-liberal ideology has failed,
but those  who have  been thriving in  the shadow of  this neo-liberal
deceit cling to their power and prepare for the final show down.

A  contradiction is  growing  between the  general  intellect and  the
criminal ruling class. Who's going to win?

Obama's victory in  the US may be  the opening of a new  period in the
evolution of mankind. This event has injected new hope in the peaceful
army of  the general intellect all  over the world.  The new President
was voted in by cognitive labor,  and his victory is the defeat of the
criminal class represented by Cheney-Bush. But this victory marks only
the beginning  of the  fight, that will  be the fight  of intellectual
force against the brutal force of ignorance, violence and profit.

The criminal class, composed  the adventurers of finance, the managers
of big corporations, and  mafia-like lumpenbourgeosie has seized power
in two moves: first with  the Neoliberal declaration of the primacy of
competition on every ethical,  political or legal rule. Second through
the occupation of the system of production of the collective mind: the
media  system. Manufacturing  social expectations  and  the collective
imagination, the  media system has contrasted  and finally overwhelmed
the productive  cognitive class, and  subjugated the exploited  to the
bad dreams of the exploiters.

The  private   occupation  of   the  social  space   of  communication
(advertising, TV) has produced  an effect of alienated identification,
privatisation of  life, need  and consumption. Need  is not  a natural
impulse,  but the  product of  the  cultural action  of modelling  the
social  imagination  and  sensibility  monopolised  by  the  corporate
media-system.  The   privatization  of  life   has  pulverized  social
solidarity, and forced each person to think in isolation about his/her
own necessities. Take for instance the privatisation of mobility, as a
distortion  of  the  public   sphere.  An  irrational,  polluting  and
cumbersome  object,  the private  car  (three  tons  of iron  for  the
displacement of a body that weighs only eighty kilograms) has been the
central object of the industrial production in the 20th century.

Why do  cars have  to be  private? They could  be public  objects that
every person could  take and use for the time  needed, then leave open
in the street, ready for everyone else's transportation. They could be
substituted by much more comfortable public systems of transportation.
Why  has the  public system  of transportation  been sabotaged  by the
ruling  class, during the  last decades?  We know  why very  well. The
capitalist economy  creates scarcity in the  domain of transportation,
as in every  other domain. The creation of scarcity  is the premise of
accumulation, made possible by the privatization of need.

During the  90's the  rise of networked  production and the  spread of
libertarian  cyberculture  opened  the  way  to  an  alliance  between
financial capitalism and cognitive work. Under the flag of the dotcom,
young intellectuals  and scientists could  find money to  create their
own  enterprise, and  a process  of redistribution  of  revenue became
possible. But  this alliance was  broken when the criminal  class took
over the  new potency of technology  and subjected it to  the power of
war. The dotcom experience was captured by the neoliberal lure, and in
the  first decade  of the  new  century intellectual  labour was  made
precarious and  forced to accept  any kind of economic  blackmail. The
criminal   class   enslaved  the   cognitive   class:  knowledge   was
fractalised, revenue reduced, exploitation and stress grew and grew.

The  dotcom crash and  9/11 marked  the subjugation  of the  high tech
experience,  perverting  the  potency  of  technology  and  knowledge,
provoking countless  victims, and igniting hatred all  over the world.
The mass production of Fear,  fanaticism and ignorance were not enough
to  get western  people's consent  to the  war. Western  citizens were
invited  by president  Bush  to  go away  and  shop. Shopping  against
Terror, shopping  against psychic depression. But  this massive access
to  consumption   has  been  financed  with  a   boundless  Debt.  The
Euro-American population  has been  systematically pushed to  buy huge
amounts  of useless  things, mentally  intoxicated by  advertising and
forced  to identify  happiness  with consumption  and well-being  with
numbers of possessions.

The  privatization  of  need   and  the  reduction  of  well-being  to
acquisition  has destroyed  any sense  of dignity  and  self-love. The
social time of  attention has been occupied by  the flow of info-labor
and advertising. Language has been  absorbed by labour and deserted by
affection. Love, tenderness, sex,  affection, and care for others have
been transformed  in merchandise. Every  single person has  became the
owner of many  credit cards, a shopping machine,  obliged to work more
and more in order  to pay an ever growing debt. Debt  turned to be the
universal chain, and this created the perfect conditions for universal
collapse. At last the collapse did happen.

Growth will never be back, not  only because people will never be able
to pay  for the  Debt accumulated during  the past three  decades, but
also because the physical planetary resources are close to exhaustion,
and the nervous resources of  the social brain are close to breakdown.
So what next?


At  the  end  of  the  90s,  when the  process  of  globalisation  and
privatisation was beyond criticism  and its devastating potential well
hidden in the words of Neoliberal gurus, a movement of ethical protest
surfaced  from the  ranks of  cognitive labor  and from  the  ranks of
workers becoming conscious of the dangers of deregulation. At the very
end of  the capitalist century, in  the extreme West of  the West, the
city of Seattle, hundreds of  thousands people gathered and marched to
stop  the  WTO  summit  and  protest against  the  effects  of  global

It  was the  beginning  of  the Age  of  Ethical Demonstrations.  From
Seattle  to Genova,  from  Prague  to Bologna,  to  Cancun, crowds  of
precarious  and  cognitive workers  marched  together.  They were  the
Ethical Consciousness of the world, and of course they were met by the
aggression of the police, under the instigation of the criminal class.
Some were killed and many  were arrested because they were telling the
truth. They were  trying to warn the people of the  Earth that a great
danger was in sight. Now we know they were right. No-global protesters
were  giving us  a  warning of  the  coming catastrophe,  and now  the
catastrophe is here.

Catastrophe  means, in  Greek, a  change of  position that  allows the
viewer to see things that s/he could not see before. Catastrophe opens
new spaces  of visibility, and  therefore of possibility, but  it also
demands a change of  paradigm. The ethical demonstrators were defeated
after the world-wide march against the war on February 15th, 2003. One
hundred million  people marched against the  war in Iraq  on that day.
President Bush answered that he  did not need the people's advice, and
he started the war.

The  criminal class  of  ignorance  won against  the  movement of  the
General Intellect. That is why the world is collapsing now.

Fter  that, violence  was opposed  with violence  and  fanatics fought
against fanatics. From  Afghanistan to Iraq, from Pakistan  to Iran to
Georgia, the  US power was  defeated everywhere, and isolated.  And at
the end of the day, this financial collapse is not without relation to
the geopolitical  defeat. While  the period of  ethical demonstrations
was  fading  out,  a  new  cycle  of  insurrection  started  exploding
somewhere in  the West.  The riots in  the Paris banlieux  in November
2005,  the  insurrection  of  the  teachers of  Oaxaca  in  2006,  the
explosion of a general rebellion  in Greece in December 2008 have been
the harbingers of an insurrectional wave that will storm many parts of
the  world in  the coming  years, while  the Recession  ravages social

Scattered insurrections  will take place  in the coming years,  but we
should not expect much from them.  They'll be unable to touch the real
centres of power because  of the militarisation of metropolitan space,
and they will not be able to  gain much in terms of material wealth or
political power.  As the long  wave of no-global moral  protests could
not destroy  Neoliberal power,  so the insurrections  will not  find a
solution,  not  unless  a  new  consciousness and  a  new  sensibility
surfaces  and  spreads,  changing  everyday  life,  and  creating  NON
temporary autonomous zones rooted  in the culture and consciousness of
the global network.

Full employment is over. The world does not need so much labour and so
much exploitation.  A radical  reduction of labour-time  is necessary.
Basic income has to be affirmed  as a right to life independent of the
employment and disjoined from  the lending of labour-time. Competence,
knowledge, and skills  have to be separated from  the economic context
of exchange value, and rethought in terms of free social activity.


We should not look at the  current recession from an economic point of
view. We must see it as an anthropological turning point that is going
to change the distribution of  world resources and world power. Europe
is doomed to lose its  economic privilege, as 500 years of colonialism
are ending. The Debt that  Western people have accumulated is not only
economic but also moral: the debt of oppression, violence and genocide
has to be paid now, and it's not going to be easy. A large part of the
European population  is not prepared  to accept the  redistribution of
wealth that  the recession  will impose. Europe,  stormed by  waves of
migration, is going  to face a growing racist  threat. Ethnic war will
be difficult to avoid. In the US, the victory of Barak Obama marks the
beginning of the end of the Western domination that was the premise of
the modern  capitalist system. A  wave of non  identitarian indigenous
Renaissance is rising, especially in Latin America.

The struggle between  labour and capital has reached  a new phase, one
that  may have  unpredictable outcomes.   We cannot  say what  the new
American  Administration is  really going  to  do.  The  words of  Tim
Geithner  that I  quoted  above show  that  Obama's Administration  is
finding its way by trial and error. This is the meaning of the concept
of post-partisan pragmatism: the old ideological solutions that worked
in  the  20th  century are  now  out  of  order. Both  liberalism  and
socialism seem today out of  touch with reality.  The ruling class and
the economists are proposing old ways to face the recession, using old
maps  for a  new territory.  Everybody says  "protectionism has  to be
avoided" while in fact each  State is protecting its national economy.
Neoliberals say that the State  should rescue the banks, pay the debts
and restore  credit, then let private owners  manage their enterprises
as usual.  Socialists, on their side,  say that the  State should take
over the  banks and nationalize the factories.   What difference would
it make if the nationalized factories go on producing the same stuff?

The alternative between  public and private ownership is  a false one.
The solution is no longer in the  realm of the Economy, but in that of
social culture. The  model of Growth has been  deeply interiorised: it
pervades  daily  life,  perception,  needs,  and  consumption  styles.
Cultural action must free society from this model.


The privatization  of basic needs (housing,  transportation, food) and
social services is based on  the cultural identification of wealth and
well-being  with  the  amount   of  private  property  owned.  In  the
anthropology  of modern  capitalism well-being  has been  equated with
acquisition, never with enjoyment. In the course of the social turmoil
we are going  to live through in the  coming years, the identification
of well-being  with property  has to be  questioned. It's  a political
task, but above all it is a cultural task, and a psychotherapeutic one

The theoretical  justification of the institution  of private property
(in  the  writings  of John  Locke,  for  instance)  is based  on  the
necessity to ensure the exclusive  enjoyment of a thing that cannot be
shared: an apple  cannot be shared, if  I eat it you will  not eat it.
But in  the digital  age the status  of goods has  changed: immaterial
goods are semiotic stuff that is not annihilated by use. When it comes
to semiotic products private  property becomes irrelevant, and in fact
it is  more and  more difficult to  enforce it. The  campaigns against
piracy are  paradoxical because the real pirates  are the corporations
that are desperately trying to privatize the product of the collective
intelligence, and artificially trying to impose a tax on the community
of producers.  The products  of collective intelligence are immanently
common  because  knowledge can  neither  be  fragmented nor  privately
owned.   A new  brand  of  communism was  already  springing from  the
technological transformations  of Digital Networks,  when the collapse
of the  financial markets and Neoliberal Ideology  exposed the frailty
of the foundations of hyper-capitalism.  Now we can predict a new wave
of transformation from the current collapse of Growth and Debt, and of
private  consumption as  well-being.  Because  of these  three forces:
commonality  of knowledge,  ideological crisis  of  private ownership,
mandatory communalisation of Need - a new horizon is visible and a new
landscape is going to surface. Communism is coming back.

The old  face of Communism,  based on the  Will and voluntarism  of an
avant garde,  and on the paranoid  expectations of a  New Totality was
defeated at  the end of the  20th century and will  never resurrect. A
totally  new brand  of communism  is  going to  surface as  a form  of
necessity,  the  inevitable outcome  of  the  stormy  collapse of  the
capitalist system. The communism  of capital is a barbarian necessity.
We  must put  freedom  in this  necessity,  we need  to  make of  this
necessity a conscious organised choice.

Communism is  back, but we should  name it in a  different way because
historical   memory  identified   this  particular   form   of  social
organization with the political  tyranny of a Religion. The historical
communism of the 20th century was  based on the idea of the primacy of
Totality over Singularity. But  the dialectical framework that defined
the  Communist  movement  of  the  20th century  has  been  completely
abandoned and nobody will ever be able to resurrect it.

The Hegelian ascendance  played a major role in  the formation of that
kind  of  religious  belief   that  was  labelled  'historicism'.  The
Aufhebung (abolition  of the real in  favor of the  realization of the
Idea)  is the paranoid  background of  the whole  conceptualization of
communism. Inside  that dialectical framework Communism  was viewed as
an  all  encompassing totality  expected  to  abolish  and follow  the
capitalist all encompassing totality. The subject (the will and action
of the working  class) was viewed as the  instrument for the abolition
of the old and the instauration of the New.


The  industrial working  class, being  external to  the  production of
concepts,  could only  identify with  the mythology  of  Abolition and
Totalization, but  the general intellect  cannot do that.  The general
intellect  is  like   the  fish  of  Iggy  Pop:   "The  fish  is  mute
expressionless, because the fish knows. Everything."

The general  intellect does not  need an expressive subject,  like the
Leninist Party  was in the  20th century. The political  expression of
the General Intellect is at  one with its action of knowing, creating,
and producing  signs. We  have abandoned the  ground of  Dialectics in
favour of the plural grounds of the Dynamic of singularization and the
multilayered co-evolution of singularities. Capitalism is over, but it
is not  going to disappear.  The creation of Non  Temporary Autonomous
Zones is not going to give birth to any totalization. We are not going
to witness a  cathartic event of Revolution, we'll  not see the sudden
breakdown  of State  power. During  the  next months  and years  we'll
witness  a  sort  of  Revolution   without  a  Subject.  In  order  to
subjectivate  this revolution  we have  to  proliferate singularities.
This, in my humble opinion, is our cultural and political task.

After  abandoning  the  field  of  the  Dialectics  of  Abolition  and
Totalization, we are  now trying to build a Theory  of the Dynamics of
recombination  and singularization,  a concept  that is  clearly drawn
from the  works of  Felix Guattari, particularly  from his  last book,
Chaosmose .  Singularity does not  mean "individual", because  you can
have  collective singularities.  By the  world singularity  I  mean an
agency that does not follow any rule of conformity and repetition, and
is not  framed in any  historical necessity. Singularity is  a process
that is not  necessary, because it is implied  in the consequentiality
of history neither logically nor materially.


Rather than a  swift change in the social  landscape, we should expect
the slow surfacing of new trends: communities abandoning the field the
crumbling ruling economies, more  and more individuals giving up their
search for a job and creating their own networks of services.

The dismantling of  the industry is unstoppable for  the simple reason
that social life does not  need industrial labour anymore. The myth of
Growth is going to be abandoned  and people will look for new modes of
wealth  distribution.  Singular communities  will  transform the  very
perception  of well-being  and wealth  in the  sense of  frugality and
freedom. The cultural revolution that we need in this transition leads
from the  perception of wealth as  the private ownership  of a growing
amount  of  goods  that  we  cannot  enjoy because  we  are  too  busy
purchasing  the money  needed for  acquisition, to  the  perception of
wealth as the  enjoyment of an essential amount of  things that we can
share with other people.

The de-privatization  of services and  goods will be made  possible by
this  much needed  cultural  revolution.  This will  not  happen in  a
planned  and uniformed  way, this  will rather  be the  effect  of the
withdrawal of singular individuals  and communities, and the result of
the creation of an economy of  shared use of common goods and services
and the liberation of time  for culture, pleasure and affection. While
this process  expands at  the margins of  society, the  criminal class
will  hang  on to  its  power and  enforce  more  and more  repressive
legislation, the  majority of  people will be  increasingly aggressive
and desperate. Ethnic civil war  will spread all over Europe, wrecking
the very fabric of civil life.

The proliferation of singularities (the withdrawal and building of non
temporary  autonomous  zones)  will  be  a pacific  process,  but  the
conformist  majority  will  react   violently,  and  this  is  already
happening. The  conformist majority is frightened by  the fleeing away
of intelligent  energy and simultaneously is  attacking the expression
of intelligent  activity. The  situation can be  described as  a fight
between the  Mass Ignorance produced by  Media-totalitarianism and the
shared Intelligence of the General Intellect.

We cannot predict  what the outcome of this process  will be. Our task
is to extend  and protect the field of autonomy, and  to avoid as much
as  possible any  violent contact  with the  field of  aggressive mass
Ignorance. This  strategy of  non confrontational withdrawal  will not
always  succeed. Sometimes  confrontation will  be made  inevitable by
racism  and fascism.   What has  to be  done in  the case  of unwanted
conflict is  not foreseeable.  Non  violent reaction is  obviously the
best choice, but it will not always be possible. The identification of
well-being  with   private  property  is  so  deeply   rooted  that  a
barbarization of the human environment cannot be completely ruled out.
But the  task of the general  intellect is exactly  this: fleeing from
paranoia, creating zones of human resistance, experimenting autonomous
forms of  production based on  high-tech-low-energy production: whilst
avoiding  confrontation with  the  criminal class  and the  conformist

Politics and therapy  will be one and the same  activity in the coming
time. People  will feel hopeless and depressed  and panicking, because
they are unable to deal with the post-growth economy, and because they
will miss  the dissolving modern  identity. Our cultural task  will be
attending to those  people and taking care of  their insanity, showing
them  the way of  a happy  adaptation at  hand. Our  task will  be the
creation of  social zones of human  resistance that act  like zones of
therapeutic  contagion. The process  of autonomisation  has not  to be
seen  as a  Aufhebung  ,  but as  Therapy.  In this  sense  it is  not
totalizing  and  intended  to  destroy  and  abolish  the  past.  Like
psychoanalytic therapy  it is rather  to be considered as  an unending

Castoriadis and  his friends  published in the  '60 a  magazine titled
Socialisme ou barbarie.

But in Rhyzome they say that the disjunctive logic is the obsession of
the  Western  metaphysics.  We  should  stop  to  think  in  terms  of
"or...or....ore",  and  we  should  begin  in  terms  of  conjunction:

In  our  future I  don't  see Socialisme  ou  barbarie,  rather I  see
Socialisme et barbarie.  The problem is how large will be the field of
barbarianism, and how large will  be space of friendship.  In a letter
to his master Freud, the young psychoanalist Fliess asked: when should
I think that a therapy is ended?  When can I think that my patient has
recovered?  Freud,  who was not  stupid, answered: you can  think that
the therapy is over when the person understands that psychoanalysis is
an unending process.

London, February 2009

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