Communism is back but we should call it the therapy of singularisation

Franco Berardi

London, February 2009

1. Beyond our knowledge

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 what?

2. Net VS Crime

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 society.

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?

3. Ethical protest and war

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 exploitation.

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 life.

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.

4. Paying the moral debt

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.

5. Communism without Aufhebung

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 too.

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.

6. Singularities

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.

7. Unending process of therapy

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 population.

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 process.

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