Last time, it took him decades to be born. First it was the war, and then, once it was over, it was debt, and all the ties that came with it. It was the time of industrialization, the time of modernity, and everything came in a mass scale. Mass impoverishment, mass unemployment, hyper-inflation, hyper-populism. Nations were cracking under the weight of what Marxists used to call 'contradictions', while capitalists were clinging to the brim of their top-hats, all waiting for the sky to fall to earth. And when it fell, they threw themselves down after it, in the dozens, down from their skyscrapers and their office blocks. The air became electric, squares filled up, trees turned into banners and batons. It was the interwar period, and in the depth of the social body, Nazism was still hidden, liquid and growing, quiet like a fetus.This time, everything is happening almost exactly the same way as last time, just slightly out-of-sync, as happens with recurring dreams. Once again, the balance of power in the world is shifting. The old empire is sinking, melancholically, and new powers are rushing in the race to the top. Just like before, their athletic screams are the powerful ones of modernity. Growth! Growth! Growth! Their armies are powerful, their teeth shiny, their hopes murderous and pure. Old powers look at them in fear, listening to their incomprehensible languages like old people listen to young people's music.1
The Right to Insolvency and the Disentanglement of the General Intellect's Potency
Austerity in Europe
"The German worker does not want to pay the Greek fisherman's bills," the fanatics of economic fundamentalism are saying, while pitting workers against workers and leading Europe to the brink of civil war.
The entity that is "Europe" was conceived in the aftermath of the Second World War as a project to overcome modern nationalism and create a non-identitarian union based on principles of humanism, enlightenment, and social justice. What is left of this original project, after the recent financial collapse that has stormed the American economy and jeopardized the Eurozone? Since the beginning of the European Union, the constitutional profile of the European entity has been weakly defined, such that economic goals of prosperity and monetarist financial constraints have taken the place of a constitution. In the 1990s, the Maastricht Treaty marked a turning point in this process. It sanctioned the constitutionalization of monetarist rule and its economic implications: a decrease in social spending, cuts in labor costs and an increase in competition and productivity. The effects of a narrow application of the Maastricht rules became evident in 2010: overwhelming Greece and Ireland and endangering other countries, the financial crisis exposed the contradictions between the desires for economic growth, social stability, and monetarist rigidity. In this situation, the Maastricht rules have been shown to be dangerous, and the overall conception of the EU, based on the centrality of economic competition, has revealed its frailty.
If we are to compete with emerging economies where labor costs are lower than those in Europe, we must lower European wages. To compete with economies where the working day never ends and where labor conditions are unregulated - with poor safety, crippling shifts, and lack of job security - we must abolish the limits on the working week, make overtime mandatory and renounce safety at work in Europe, too. Thus the evolution of capitalism requires not only the abrogation of the principles that derive from socialism, but also the revocation of the Enlightenment tradition and the humanist legacy, up to and including the abolition of democracy, if this word still means anything.
Is this the Europe we want? Is this the image of itself that Europe has decided to accede to? Obviously, we are not dealing here with principles but with power relations. In the last few years, the financial class, a now dominant group in the world's economic government, has used globalizing technical powers to enormously augment the wealth that ends up in the pockets of a minority in the form of profit and financial rent. The working class and polymorphous cognitive labor could not resist the attack that followed globalization. This uneven wealth distribution is in conflict with the possibility of a further development of capitalism: the reduction of the global wage is bound to cause a decrease in demand. The result is an impoverishment that makes society more fragile and aggressive, and a deflation that makes it impossible to re-launch growth.
Financial Power and Capitalist Nihilism
The European leading class seems unable to think in terms of the future. They are panicking and, frightened by their own impotence, trying to reaffirm and reinforce measures that have already failed.
This European collapse is exposing the agony of capitalism. The flexibility of the system is over; no margins are left. If society is to pay the debt of the banks, demand has to be reduced, and if demand is reduced growth will not follow.
Nowadays, it's difficult to see a consistent project in the frantic action of the leading class. A culture of "No future" has taken hold of the capitalist brain. The origin of this capitalist nihilism is to be found in the effect of the deterritorialization that is inherent to global financial capitalism. The relation between capital and society is deterritorialized insofar as economic power is no longer based on the property of physical things. The bourgeoisie is dead, and the new financial class has a virtual existence: fragmented, dispersed, impersonal.
The bourgeoisie which was in control of the economic scene of modern Europe was a strongly territorialized class. Linked to material assets, it could not survive without a relationship to territory and community. The financial class which has taken the lead of the European political machine has no attachment to either territory or material production. Its power and wealth are founded on the perfect abstraction of digital finance. This digital-financial hyper-abstraction is liquidating the living body of the planet and the social body of the workers' community.
Can it last? Without consulting public opinion, the European directorate that emerged after the Greek crisis affirmed its monopoly over decisions regarding the economies of the different countries approaching default in 2011. It effectively divested parliaments of authority and replaced EU democracy with a business executive headed by the large banks. Can the BCE-FMI-EU directorate impose a system of automatisms that secures EU members' compliance with the process of public-sector wage reduction, lay-offs of a third of all teachers, and so on? This order of things cannot last indefinitely as the final collapse of the Union is the point of arrival of the spiral debt-deflation-recession-more debt that is already exposed in the Greek agony.
Society has been late to react, its collective intelligence deprived of its social body, and the social body itself completely subjugated and depressed. At the end of 2010, a wave of protests and riots exploded in the schools and universities. Now that wave is mounting everywhere. But protests, demonstrations and riots seem unable to force a change in the politics of the Union.
Let's try to understand why, and also let's try to look for a new methodology of action, and a new political strategy for the movement.
A Movement for the Reactivation of the Social Body
The movement of protest has proliferated during the last year. From London to Rome, from Athens to New York, not to mention the North African precarious workers who have been part of the recent upheaval changing (for the good or the bad) the Arab world, this movement is targeting financial power and trying to oppose the effects of the financial assault on society. The problem is that pacific demonstrations and protests have not been able to change the agenda of the European Central Bank, as the national Parliaments of the European countries are hostages of the Maastricht rules, financial automatisms working as the material constitution of the Union. Peaceful demonstrations are effective in the frame of democracy, but democracy is over as techno-financial automatisms have taken the place of political decisions.
Violence is erupting here and there. The four nights of rage in the English suburbs, as well as the violent riots of Rome and Athens, have shown the possibility for social protest to turn aggressive. But violence, too, is unfit to change the course of things. Burning a bank is totally useless, as financial power is not in the physical buildings, but in the abstract connection between numbers, algorithms, and information. Therefore, if we want forms of action able to confront the present form of power, we have to start from the consciousness that cognitive labor is the main productive force creating the techno-linguistic automatisms which enable financial speculation. Following the Wikileaks example, we must organize a long-lasting process of dismantling and rewriting the techno-linguistic automatons enslaving all of us.
In the face of the financial assault, social subjectivity seems weak and fragmented. Thirty years of precarization of labor and competition have jeopardized the very fabric of social solidarity and weakened the psychic ability to share time, goods and breath. The virtualization of social communication has eroded the empathy between human bodies.
The problem of solidarity has always been crucial in every process of struggle, and social change. Autonomy is based on the ability to share daily life and to recognize that what is good for me is good for you and what is bad for you is bad for me. Solidarity is difficult to build as labor has been turned into a sprawl of recombinant time-cells, and consequently the process of subjectivation has become fragmentary, un-empathic and frail. Solidarity has nothing to do with an altruistic self denial. In materialistic terms, solidarity is not about you; it is about me. Like love, it is not about altruism, it is about the pleasure of sharing the breath and the space of the other. Love is the ability to enjoy myself thanks to your presence, thanks to your eyes. This is solidarity. As solidarity is based on the territorial proximity of social bodies, you cannot build solidarity between fragments of time.
I think that the English riots and the Italian revolts and the Spanish acampada should not be seen as consequential forms of revolution, as they are unable to really hit the heart of power. They have to be understood as a form of psycho-affective re-activation of the social body. They have to be seen as an attempt to activate a living relation between the social body and the general intellect. Only when the general intellect will have been able to reconnect with the social body will we be able to start a process of real autonomization from the grip of financial capitalism.
Right to Insolvency
A new concept is coming out from the fogs of the present situation: a right to insolvency. We'll not pay the debt.
The European countries have been obliged to accept the blackmail of debt, but people are refusing the concept that we have to pay for a debt that we have not taken. Anthropologist David Graeber, in his book Debt the first 5000 years, (Melville House, 2011), and philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato, in La fabrique de l'homme endetté (editions Amsterdam, 2011), have started an interesting reflection on the cultural origin of the notion of debt, and the psychic implications of the sense of guilt that the notion of debt brings in itself. And, in his essay, Recurring Dreams The Red Heart of Fascism, the Anglo-Italian young thinker Federico Campagna locates the analogy between the post Versailles Congress years and the present in the debt-obsession:
The burden of debt is haunting the European imagination of the future, and the Union, which used to be a promise of prosperity and peace is turning into a kind of blackmail and threat.
In response the movement has launched the slogan: We'll not pay the debt. These words are deceiving at the moment, as actually we are already paying for the debt: the educational system is already de-financed, and privatized, jobs are cancelled, and so on. But these words are meant to change the social perception of the debt, creating a consciousness of its arbitrariness and moral illegitimacy.
A right to insolvency is emerging as a new keyword and a new concept loaded with philosophical implications. The concept of insolvency implies not only the refusal to pay the financial debt, but also, in a subtle way, the refusal to submit the living potency of the social forces to the formal domination of the economic code.
Reclaiming the right to insolvency implies a radical questioning of the relation between the capitalist form (Gestalt) and the concrete productive potency of social forces, particularly the potency of the general intellect. The capitalist form is not only an economic set of rules and functions; it is also the internalization of a certain set of limitations, of psychic automatism, of rules for compliance.
Try to think for a second that the whole financial semiotization of European life disappears. Try to imagine that all of a sudden we stop organizing daily life in terms of money and debt. Nothing would change in the concrete useful potentiality of society, in the contents of our knowledge, in our skills and ability to produce. We should imagine (and consequently organize) the disentanglement of the living potentiality of the general intellect from the capitalist Gestalt - intended first of all as a psychic automatism governing daily life.
Insolvency means disclaiming the economic code of capitalism as transliteration of real life, as semiotization of social potency and richness. The concrete useful productive ability of the social body is forced to accept impoverishment in exchange for nothing. The concrete force of productive labor is submitted to the unproductive and actually destructive task of refinancing the failed financial system. If we may paradoxically cancel every mark of the financial semiotization, nothing would change in the social machinery, nothing in the intellectual ability to conceive and perform. Communism does not need to be called out from the womb of the future; it is here, in our being, in the immanent life of common knowledge.
But the present situation is paradoxical - simultaneously exciting and despairing. Capitalism has never been so close to the final collapse, but social solidarity has never been so far from our daily experience. We must start from this paradox in order to build a post-political and post-revolutionary process of disentanglement of the possible from the existent.