On the Brink of Disaster

Franco Berardi Bifo

August 2003, Rekombinant

Let’s take a snapshot of the situation before everything precipitates; let’s simply try to remind ourselves what has happened in the world during the preparatory period of a conflict with unpredictable consequences; let’s delineate scenarios of likely developments and imagine possibilities to act: let’s build a strategy for the aftermath of the war. In the days following S11 there was much talk of the need for the emergence of a third actor in the war between nazi-liberalism and the indentity-integralist front. On the 15th of February the third actor showed its face and now operates as a majority force at the international level. The action against the war must join the action against liberalist economic dictatorship. Thinking about a post-war scenario entails thinking –from now- about a way out of the capitalist domination on society.


Since the beginning of the 80’s, when the world was governed by a leading group of liberal aspiration, all social energies have been invested in the economy of profit. From Reagan’s America to Deng Hsiao Ping’s China the watchword ‘get rich’ became the only imperative and on this criteria a ruling class was selected, with no culture other than that of profit, no values other than those of robbery, no strategy other than that of domination and submission. In the name of the interests of the profit economy it was seen as legitimate to destroy all social defences, all rights, all forms of life and culture. Rekombinant technologies (computer and biotechnologies) have been used as an instrument of economic profit maximisation. The profit economy has deeply permeated the epistemic structures and the applications of rekombinant technologies. These technologies contain an unprecedented capacity to mould and mutate the human genetic make-up (at the physical, psychic and cognitive level). A real mutation began to modify the collective body, in accordance with a paradigm dominated by the criteria of economic profit. Few big institutions of world government, which nobody ever elected, have governed the globalisation process that the web technologies have frenetically accelerated. These institutions (IMF, WTO, WB…) have imposed in a brutal and blackmailing manner the interests of large global enterprises on the economic, social, political, technological and cultural development of each country of the world. This produced the reduction of social defences against the intrusiveness of profit, the privatisation of socially indispensable services, the reduction of public spending on health and education. The end result, largely visible today, is an increase in ignorance, a reduction of the average life span, a diffusion of epidemics, a devastation of the environment.

The alliance between capital and cognitive labour

During the 90’s the development of the economy was prodigious, not only in western countries. Globalisation gave birth to new productive classes in eastern countries and enormously expanded the purchasing power of the western minority integrated in the profit economy. New productive sectors (first of all those linked to the digitalisation of production and communication) sustained the demand for the whole decade and determined the formation of a mass capitalism to which a conspicuous part of the western population participated, through a huge diffusion of the social entrepreneurial function and a progressive identification of labour and enterprise, especially in the high tech productive sectors. Cognitive labour became the leading sector of global production, taking the shape of the economicist ideology and identifying itself with the entrepreneurial function, participating to the forefront of mass financial capitalism (dotcom-mania). In the meantime the length of the working day, which had been in decline up until the end of the ‘70s, began to increase again after the world victory of liberalism. The free time gained through a century of workers’ struggle was progressively subsumed to the rule of profit and transformed into fragmented and diffused labour. Social energies got progressively subsumed to economic competition. Those who didn’t run got run over. Society started running frantically and many broke down.

The breakdown

The competitive mobilisation of social energies rapidly brought about the break down of the social organism, a simultaneously nervous and economic break down (but the economy had already become a mental sphere). From the spring of 2000 the expansive cycle of the economy started breaking, as a result of various trends:

a) The demand for new technologies had progressively fallen; the fall of profit in innovative sectors had been precipitously accelerated. b) The perspective of an exhaustion of non-renewable energy sources had caused a ferocious competition. c) A crisis of overproduction had spread on innovative sectors. Huge quantities of semio-commodities lie unsold. This provoked a fall in the stock markets, followed by a crisis of trust in the future of mass capitalism. d)The investment of psychic energies into the competitive race provoked an effect of saturation of attention to the point of creating the conditions for a generalised break down.

Some global corporations entered a crisis. It became manifest that the ruling groups of new capitalism had violated all the rules of economic correctness, robbed collective resources and governed production without strategic competence, with their attention entirely focused on the achievement of maximum immediate profit. Faith in the ruling group of the world economy crumbled. Mass capitalism began to fall. Unemployment started rising, especially amongst the generation that was now entering the labour market, who grew up with a belief in the eternal continuity of economic development.

The lumpen-bourgeoisie prepares for war

In the meantime a new political class, one that got rich through robbery and achieved consensus by means of full control over the media system and the growth of ignorance, went to govern different western countries. The collective brain for twenty years had been bombarded by symbols of consumerism and competitive and aggressive violence. A sort of lumpen-bourgeoisie was formed with the money of mafia, the robbery of public funding and the money coming from the mass shares and pension funds. This lumpen-bourgeoisie no longer respected any principle of legality nor did it possess the strategic qualities of the protestant capitalism of the past. It was a baroque and cynical class, ready to use any means to seize power. In Italy the new governing class emerged out of mafia money, the illegal seizure of an unbounded power on social communication and the corruption of judges. In the United States, for the first time in two hundred years, we witnessed a phenomenon that is comparable to a coup d’�tat. Since taking power, the new American president put forward an aggressively hegemonic policy. The first action of Bush’s presidency was to rip the Kyoto agreements whereby industrialised countries had established a progressive reduction of toxic emissions in order to limit pollution and the effects of environmental devastation. The new president represents the interests of the great oil and weapon producers, who had economically sustained his electoral campaign. He also represents the interests of the ruling group of companies, such as ENRON, which have fallen after robbing the pension funds in which masses of shareholders had invested. The whole group sustaining Bush is implicated in the massive failure of American capitalism. Bush’s seizure of power was also supported by the greatest monopoly of the high-tech industry. In exchange, the president promised Bill Gates impunity for the monopolistic policies of Microsoft corporation that had been damaging mass capitalism and weakening and robbing hundreds of small companies, thereby hitting on the trust in free enterprise and free market. Bush’s power is founded on an alliance between old oil and weapons economy, a failing and thieving lumpen-bourgeois class, and the private monopoly of information and communication. As soon as the economic break down begins to precipitate, as if by miracle, three planes fly in the skies of Washington and New York. Miraculously, capitalism on the verge of bankruptcy can now invest the energies of the whole society (that show signs of exhaustion) in the direction of war. The general mobilisation of these energies begins with a call to a Holy war of the West against the evils of the world. Here begins the great Manichean campaign of Good versus Evil. The Good is represented by a group of oil magnates who have notoriously robbed public funds and lead to the collapse of giant companies. Since the war on the Afghan population failed to produce any of the promised results, i.e. the arrest of the heads of the Al Qaida organisation accused of being responsible for the S11 attacks, the war must be relaunched. A new target is chosen.

The warmongers' bullshit

The motivations for a war on Iraq are ridiculous. ‘Saddam is an enemy of humanity’. Of course, he was one also when he acted on behalf of the American administration and occupied Iran, as are many of the American allies such as Sharon and the Saudi dynasty. ‘He used illegal weapons’. As he did in 1988 with the financial and political support of the USA. ‘He can make nuclear weapons’. Which is improbable. Anyway, the violations of the non-proliferation treaty are multiple, starting from Israel. ‘We need to bring democracy to the Middle East’. Nothing could be more hypocritical. Democracy in the Middle East would require the departure of Israeli forces from the occupied territories, the recognition of the political rights of the Kurdish people, and a reduction of the role of the large oil corporations that for fifty years have been robbing the resources of those countries whilst influencing their political life in a direct and authoritarian manner ever since they hanged Mossadeq for trying to nationalise the Iranian oil industry. ‘We need to protect the security of western citizens’. A wave of panic was rising. People died in New York and Chicago nightclubs because at the first suspect noise they ran and crashed one another. If the war broke out, terrorism would only expand. The ideology of security is the product of a paranoia fuelled by the media and geared to create an economic system of global security that can always feed on new paranoia. ‘We need to protect our quality of life’. This is the only sentence that corresponds to truth in the whole of the war propaganda. 20% of humanity does not wish to give up the consumption of 80% of the world resources, nor does it want to renounce driving to the tobacconist, but a generalised massacre is too high a price for such a stupid wish.

Possible scenarios of development and the emergence of a third actor

What are the possible scenarios if the war breaks out? One is that of a rapid victory for the aggressors, the capture of Baghdad’s criminal, the imposition of a relatively peaceful protectorate, the American democratisation of the Middle East, the progressive clearance of conflict zones, the imposition of a planetary military dictatorship for good purposes. But does anyone believe this to be possible? The more realistic scenario entails the possibility of a fall of the Pakistani regime with the gain of two hundred nuclear heads for the Islamic integralists who gained 20% at the last elections. It entails a war between Turks and Kurds for the gain of Kirkuk. It entails the fall of the Saudi regime and the rapid expansion of Al Qaeda, the explosion of a wave of suicidal murders that will terrify western cities. The most probable consequence of an aggression on Iraq is the explosion of Empire, the inauguration of the Empire of Chaos.

In the meantime, something came to change the whole scenario: in the framework of a paranoid clash between integralist and nationalist fanaticism and nazi-capitalist fanaticism, a THIRD ACTOR has finally emerged, that we have been waiting for since S11, which has been built with the stubborn labour of the global movement against corporations. The third actor came into action on February the 15th. It is the movement of global everyday life that rebels against war mongering dementia. What we have seen on F15 is a movement that is destined to expand and radicalise, if the war starts. But at that stage it will be a matter of working towards pushing the process of exiting the war to coincide with that of dissolving of the liberist domination of global capitalism, in order to repose the dynamic of anticapitalist conflict in society. Capitalism brings war as clouds bring storms, but in the course of the war the conditions for a re-dislocation of capitalism are created. There will be no re-edition of a revolutionary process of the kind of ‘900, but the question of subverting the forces that produced the war will emerge. Then it will not be sufficient to eliminate the criminal class that produced the war. It will be necessary to clarify that war is only the continuation of liberalist devastation by other means, hence, it will be necessary to cut the roots of the process that lead to catastrophe.


In the next few weeks and months we will need to turn the power that comes from the rebellion against the war into a generalised disobedience. Those who are being carried away by the war dementia have no longer any legitimacy to govern. None of their decisions must be respected. At the same time, we will need to create the conditions for a self organisation of alternative knowledges and production. F15 signalled the secession of the majority of society from war. We will soon have to face the task of organising the secession of society from capital. Let us start thinking about the aftermath of war.

Translated by Arianna Bove from the original and greatly missed mailing list Rekombinant

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