Franco “Bifo” Berardi: The Precipice
It is high time for the living to get tough, for toughness is indispensable in the struggle to safeguard and develop the life-force; this will not detract from their goodness, as long as they stand courageously by the truth. There is ground for hope in the fact that among millions of decent, hard-working people there are only a few plague-ridden individuals, who do untold harm by appealing to the dark, dangerous drives of the armored average man and mobilizing him for political murder. There is but one antidote to the average man’s predisposition to plague: his own feelings for true life. The life force does not seek power but demands only to play its full and acknowledged part in human affairs. It manifests itself through love, work and knowledge.
Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man!
War reveals, unmasks, and thus for this reason it is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
The war in ukraine uncovers all that is morally grotesque in the species – one more occasion for revelation -, and as the lens is refined, the horror of modern warfare and those who would feed it are there for all to see: the many headed violence of our hatred for and fear of life is accompanied by menagerie of politicians of different strips and tenors, weapons and energy merchants, food speculators, holy men of gilded churches, medal stained military officers, academicians and court jesters of geopolitics … a more loathsome parade of humans is difficult to imagine.
And yet even here, in the midst of so much that is appalling, how many gestures of kindness, courage, solidarity, are not also on display?
Where then does our judgement fall? Are we finally intrinsically evil or good? The questions are of course misplaced, for we are capable of both. What is however obscene are those who would justify the horror by appeals to moral nobility.
The war in ukraine is not between tyranny and democracy – what meanings can such words have amidst generalised and hitherto unknown contemporary forms of tyranny -, but between those who would govern others by the sword and those who would govern themselves in freedom and equality. The latter is not reducible to a conflict between nation states (both russia and ukraine bear a sword, even if ukraine’s is more just today), though it may find voice or expression, dissonantly, in a nation’s struggle (ukraine’s today, palestine’s in the recent past, and so on). The latter pushes beyond national sovereignties and economies, as a living potentiality, as an unleashing of life.
The Precipice – Ukraine’s Inter-White War Is Just the Beginning: Welcome to the Geopolitics of Chaos
Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi
This is not the time of Your judgment, Francis punctuated, addressing God from the empty Square on Easter night 2020, but of our judgment: the time to choose what matter and what passes away, the time to separate what is necessary from what is not.
Marco Politi, Francesco, la peste, la rinascita
The internal enemy
The logic of war is horror.
In the semiotic of war, all horror news, even fake news, is effective because they produce hatred and fear. Why be outraged if the U.S. drops phosphorus bombs on Fallujah or the Russians kill unarmed prisoners in Bucha? Are we talking about war crimes? But war is a crime in itself, an automatic chain of crimes.
The question that needs to be answered is: who is responsible for this war? Who wanted, provoked, armed, and unleashed it?
Russian Nazi-Stalinism led by Putin, no doubt about it. But everyone can see that someone else strongly wanted this war and is actively feeding it.
If in February the European Union had convened an international conference to discuss Lavrov’s requests, the war machine could have been stopped. Instead, it was preferred to fan the flames. A Ukrainian delegate participating in the talks with the Russians candidly stated, ‘I am surprised. Why did NATO declare so early on that in case of war it would not intervene? In doing so, it invited Russia to escalate.’
Those who participate in war are unable to think. For neuro-cognitive reasons that are fairly easy to understand, those who wage war have no time to think, they must save their lives, they must kill those who might make an attempt on their lives.
And they must first silence the internal enemy.
The internal enemy is the sensitivity of being human: the conscience if you will. Freud talks about it in a text on war neuroses, written during the First World War: the internal enemy manifests itself as doubt, hesitation, fear, desertion. The internal enemy is the will to think.
Here, today, the entire media and political system is intent on defeating the internal enemy: Federico Rampini accuses the director of L’Avvenire of working for Putin, and the Pope’s words are censored by the entire Italian media system, and Francesco Merlo invites to linch the undecided.
We are already far ahead in the process of militarization of the public discourse and the Italian political and journalistic class is obediently entering the brain into a nationalist cluster. In that cluster it becomes difficult to distinguish the voices of extreme right journalists and those of intellectuals with a Trotskyist or Lotta Continua background.
The media system has undergone a striking mutation in the past two years. During the pandemic, it was constantly mobilized for health purposes. Twenty-four hours a day, we were shown ambulances, green aprons, ventilation equipment, and from a certain point moment on injections, syringes, and more injections and more syringes, in an anxiety-inducing and intimidating, uninterrupted stream. Someone predicted that this health media siege was the preamble to a definitive media mutation. Now for twenty-four hours a day, we see terrifying spectacles, mutilated bodies, the desperate and painful flight of mothers and children. For twenty-four hours a day, we witness the vociferous crowding of commentators, of pundits, of generals calling for war, and silencing the internal enemy.
What I would do if I lived in Kiev
I too wondered: what would I do if I lived in Kiev? For days this question tormented me. My father participated in the Italian Resistance against fascism, I said to myself; so wouldn’t it be my duty to support the resistance of the Ukrainian people? Shouldn’t I fight for the values that Russian aggression puts in danger?
Then I remembered that my father was not an anti-fascist when he had to escape from the barracks in Padua where he was a private. He had never considered the problem, fascism was an obvious natural condition for him, as it was for the vast majority of Italians. When the Italian army melted after September 8th, he escaped like many others, he went to visit his family in Bologna but his parents had fled the city because they feared the bombings. So, with his brother, he decided to flee to the Marche region, who knows why. They found a group of other evacuees, met some partisans and joined them. To defend his life he became a partisan. Talking with the partisans it seemed to him that the most prepared and generous were communists, and he understood that the communists had an explanation for the past and a plan for the future: so he became a communist.
If I lived in Kiev and there was someone who explained to me that I had to defend the Free World, Democracy, the Values of the West, all words with a capital letter, I would defect. But maybe I would decide to join the resistance to defend my home, my brothers: all words with a lower case letter.
So I don’t know how to answer the questions I ask myself: whether I would participate in the Ukrainian resistance, whether I would shoot Russian soldiers or not. What I do know for sure is that the capital reasons why the Free World calls Ukrainians to resistance are false. And false is the rhetoric of the Europeans inciting to continue the show.
Nazism is an evolution of humiliation
An orgy of horror is unleashed in Europe, as it has been unleashed for a couple of decades in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen. But those were distant places, inhabited by people different from us; or rather, to be precise: inhabited by people we hate and consider inferior.
Vladimir Putin, who never hid his imperial vocation and his Stalinist methods when our presidents, businessmen, and journalists courted him, started this war because the majority of the Russian people reacted to the humiliation of the last thirty years in the same way the Germans reacted to the humiliation of Versailles in the 1930s.
Nazism is an evolution of humiliation, it is a promise of aggressive redemption against humiliation. And anyone who wants to know the depth of humiliation suffered by Russians since the 1990s should read Svetlana Aleksievic’s Secondhand Time.
But, as the well-composed Xi says, ‘a hand alone makes no noise.’ Putin’s hand is not enough. The other hand is that of Joe Biden, who pushed the Russians and Ukrainians to war so he could cash in on four results: politically destroy the European Union, prevent the construction of Nord Stream 2, rise in the electoral polls in his country, and defeat the Russian enemy.
The first two objectives have been achieved perfectly. The Nord Stream 2 project has been canceled by the German government, so now Europe has to get its supplies from the American market, where the fuel costs a bit more, and in any case, will not even be remotely enough to replace Russian gas.
Politically, the European Union has been subjected to the will of NATO and forced to identify itself as a nation, which is exactly the opposite of what the founders of the Union had intended.
The European Union was born to escape the nationalist obsession of the twentieth century, but in early 2022 NATO turned it into a nation. And now the Europe-Nation is going to the baptism of fire of war like any self-respecting nation.
As for the other two results, the matter is more complicated, because 55% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s foreign policy (it never happened before, not even in the days of Vietnam, not even in the days of Iraq, that the majority disapproves of the President’s war). Electoral preferences, according to polls, are not positive: Biden has climbed back up from 36% to 44%, but that’s not enough. It is likely that the Democrats will lose the November election, and later a Republican (we’ll see which one, but I wouldn’t rule out Donald Trump) will win the presidential election.
As for the last result that Biden wanted to achieve, the defeat of Russia, things are even more complicated. Despite the fierce resistance of the Ukrainian people, Russia is achieving what it set out to do, namely the destruction of the Ukrainian military apparatus, and control over the southeastern territories and Crimea. Russian soldiers die by the thousands and even Russian generals fall during the fighting, a fact Putin cares less than zero about. Sacrifice is the soul of Russian nationalist mystique, as anyone who has read Tolstoy, Isaak Babel and Aleksandr Blok knows.
Thereafter, it is foreseeable that the conflict will become endemic on Ukrainian territory and Russia will enter a phase of economic and social catastrophe. In this case, however, we must be aware that an internal war in a country with 6,000 nuclear warheads is bearing some unprecedented risks.
Life is a paradise
According to some polls, 83% of Russians support the war. I don’t believe it, I think the polls coming from Moscow are not reliable. But it is likely that aggression enjoys majority support.
A growing minority of young Russians is also turning to the ideas of the ultra-nationalists for whom the war in Ukraine is a self-purification of the Russian soul as a prelude to broader adventures. ‘Thanks to you, Ukraine, who taught us to be Russians again!’ declares in lyrical tones an idiot named Ivan Okhlobystin.
There is a long tradition of martyrology that descends from orthodox spiritualism, that passes through Dostojevski, and crosses the twentieth century, reappearing in Vasily Grossman and in Aleksandr Solzenicyn himself. This mystical victimhood is summed up in the words of the dying brother of the monk Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov: ‘Mother, do not weep, life is a paradise, and we are all in paradise, but we do not want to recognize it, for if we had the will to recognize it, tomorrow paradise would be established throughout the entire world.’
The paradise Dostojevski talks about is pain, cold, misery, torture, in short: the cross. Russian Orthodox nationalism loves pain as proof of closeness to Christ on the cross, and loves the people as much as it hates concrete women and men: ‘How repugnant men are,’ says Raskol’nikov before committing the senseless crime that precisely because of its senselessness must be carried out.
American ignorance is faced with Russian delirium and it is not an easy encounter. Americans (I am of course speaking of the class that holds political and media power in that country) have never been able to understand cultural differences, except as backwardness and inferiority to be exploited, subjugated, or corrected by slaps. But the Russian cultural difference remains, irreducible in its mixture of redeeming universalism and a cult of suffering that is both endured and inflicted.
Russian madness and American ignorance have dragged Europe into a precipice, from which, by now, it seems difficult to slow down.
The leading country in the Free World
In the country that leads the Free World (with a capital letter, mind you), police routinely kill three people a day, usually black.
In 2020, after the Black Lives Matter uprising when it came to getting the black and the left vote, the American Democratic Party pledged to reduce funding for police and to invest heavily in improving social conditions. Of course, these promises were not kept: no cancellation of student debt and so on. But especially no reduction in funding for the police. On the contrary, funding increases.
At the Mexican border, the rejection of migrants has reached levels that will make one regret the days of Donald Trump (which will soon return, however).
For one reason or another, support for Biden fell to its lowest levels. After August in Kabul, Biden had to prove that even though America had lost the war against the world’s shakiest country, it could win it against Russia. So he couldn’t consider the repeated requests of Sergei Lavrov, who constantly repeated that Russia wanted to discuss its security, its borders, and thus the expansion that NATO has pursued for the last twenty-five years.
As old men who rebel against their own painful impotence often do, Biden decided to confront the Russians head-on, preparing for high noon with Putin. But when it came time to pull out the gun, the Ukrainians were left alone in front of the Kremlin’s Stalin-Tsarist criminal.
Euro-American sponsors of the Ukrainian resistance have provided weapons and media support. But it is Ukrainians who are dying, whose long history of oppression has, understandably, pushed them toward ultra-nationalist positions.
An inter-white war precipitates the new geopolitics of chaos
Besides the psychopathology of senile dementia, which plays an essential role in the psychotic collapse of the white (Russian-European-American) race, what is the strategic motivation of this war? Biden is categorical: it is necessary to defend the free world, meaning the West, of which he has decided to be leader again. Defending the West after five centuries of colonization, violence, systematic robbery and racism has become difficult. As we will soon see, the Russian-American choice to go to inter-white war has precipitated white decline, turning it into collapse.
What began on February 24 is an inter-white war, where the white race fights against the white race: but from this war will emerge – or indeed is already emerging – new post-global geopolitics.
When in 1989 the free world defeated the socialist sphere, opening the way to the privatization of the world and to the financial imposition of neoliberalism, ideologists wondered if this new order was irrevocable and eternal, and therefore if history was over, with all its conflicts, revolts and wars. Francis Fukuyama pronounced a bit hastily in this sense, and liberal-democrats strutted: democracy and market were an unbeatable pair.
Coupled with the iron law of the market, the word democracy soon revealed itself to be meaningless: every four or five years, the citizens of the free world could choose their representatives; but their representatives could do no more than apply the laws of the market, whose automatic logic could not be undermined by political will.
This scam could not last, and from 2016 on, democracy is reduced to a joke.
Someone, a little less dumb than Fukuyama, wrote a book to explain that an era of conflict between civilizations had begun. In The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order Samuel Huntington described in broad terms the geopolitics of this clash, which in his opinion, should have opposed a number (seven, perhaps, more or less) of civilizational blocs against each other.
In some ways, Huntington’s theory described identity (ethnic, religious, cultural) as the dividing line between conflicting forces, and it anticipated the American wars against Islamic countries, and the coming clash between the West and the Chinese world. Huntington was not as dramatically wrong as Fukuyama, but his theory trivializes a much more complex process.
The triumph of liberal democracy coincided with the general privatization of the social sphere and the general ‘precarization’ of labor activity. Its effect was the violent collapse of ‘social civilization’, a form of civilization in which the interests of the majority are protected by political regulation and, above all, by education that allows for the suspension of the natural law of the jungle.
Along with many other things, capitalist totalitarianism destroyed public schools. The educational processes that in the second half of the twentieth century motivated human life in an ethical and solidarity sense, promoting humanism and egalitarianism, have been replaced by dehumanizing educational processes: pervasive, pounding, inescapable advertising, digitization dominated by large global corporations that innervate themselves in the cognitive activity of linked humans.
And so the most fantastic effect of conformism ever known was produced: ignorance and advertising superstition eliminated every political rule and every cultural form that did not coincide with the imposition of profit.
The complete financialization of the economy, made possible by digital technologies, has achieved the definitive domination of the abstract over the concrete.
Financial capitalism appeared as an automated system with no alternatives, precarious labor proved incapable of solidarity, and the future appeared definitively encapsulated in the automated present.
In this sense Fukuyama was right: history was over, psychic misery was spreading like a raging forest fire, and subjectivity was subjected to mass psycho-pharmacological dictatorship and pervasive digital approval.
Then came the Catastrophe. After the global-scale convulsions of fall 2019 (the global estallido of Hong Kong, Santiago, Quito, Tehran…) along came the virus.
And the virus created the conditions for the psychic collapse that is now disrupting the world stage.
The chaos blocked the circulation of goods and the continuity of work in a large part of the world, but now the threat of war upsets the concrete chain of production-distribution-consumption and the atomic threat disrupts the depressed imaginary, like a bad dream from which one wakes up only to discover that the bad dream is reality.
The inter-white war paradoxically causes the world to divide along unseen lines that have little to do with ideology or geopolitics, and have much to do with the history of colonization and racial exploitation.
When the proposal to condemn the Russian invasion was presented to the UN, the most populous countries—India, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa—abstained along with China. For the first time, a geopolitical scenario is emerging that runs along the colonial fracture line. The white empires of the past clash or join forces, while the non-white world emerges on the horizon.
Russia is the wild card, the madman, the internal element that works as a way to disarticulate the white world.
Another element gone mad could be Pakistan, squeezed between American pressure and now predominant Chinese influence. Prime Minister Imran Khan has used extreme tones to denounce American interference, and Nawaz Sharif has managed to oust him from the country’s government. But the battle in Pakistan has only begun and could soon escalate.
Other elements gone mad can be seen around, no need to even name them.
Others will go mad.
The inter-white war of Ukraine is the catalyst for a fracture process between the South and the North of which we are only seeing the first movements.
Sometimes I am reminded of Chairman Mao, of whom I have never been a follower, but who said interesting things. I remember that in the 1960s Mao theorized that soon the suburbs would strangle the metropolis.
The theory was particularly advocated by his trusted squire Lin Piao (who was later eliminated while flying in an airplane a few years later, in 1971), but the vision of the Great Helmsman should be understood as a strategic alliance between the workers of the industrialized world and the proletarian or peasant population of the peripheral countries. The slogan of the Communist International, ‘Proletarians of the whole world unite!’ was reformulated by the Maoists into ‘Proletarians and oppressed peoples unite!’
In those years colonialism seemed to recede, the liberation movements repelled the imperialists, and in 1975 the defeat of the Americans in Vietnam seemed the culminating moment of a process of emancipation.
But things did not go exactly as we had hoped: the defeated colonialism resurrected in new forms, as economic domination, as extractivism, as cultural colonization.
The formula ‘the countryside will strangle the cities’ can be viewed retrospectively as a strategic alternative to the alliance between industrial workers and peoples impoverished by colonialism. If all goes well, Mao said, there will be an alliance between northern workers and southern peasants. If something goes wrong and the northern workers are defeated, then it will be the oppressed peoples who will strangle imperialist capitalism.
I hope you’ll forgive the caricatured simplification, but Mao wasn’t joking. The Long March had been just that: the countryside had surrounded the cities until it took over in a predominantly peasant country.
The Chinese cherish the memory of the humiliation inflicted in the mid-nineteenth century by the rising Western powers on the Celestial Empire, peripheralizing it for one hundred and fifty years. And so in the 21st century the peoples impoverished by colonialism, subjected for two centuries to exploitation and humiliation, have begun to strangle the white metropolis in many ways: migration, nationalist tribalism, the tendency to break down the role of the dollar as the dominant monetary function at a global level.
The ‘good’ strategic perspective has failed because the communism of the industrial workers has been defeated by neoliberal global capitalism. Therefore, only the second, more evil one remains: resurgent nationalism, revenge.
For now, revenge is being carried out within the white world, with the conflict between Russia and the ‘free world.’ But the next chapter is the aggressive re-emergence of the powers subjugated in past centuries.
Can the West survive this double attack that adds to the persistence of Islamist hostility, ready to re-explode in the Middle East, but also in the banlieues of Europe?
Only the internationalism of the working class could have prevented the showdown with the past and present colonialism from resulting in a planetary bloodbath: workers of the industrial West and proletarians of the peoples oppressed by colonialism recognized themselves in the same communist program. But communism has been defeated, and now we must face a free-for-all war in the name of nothing.
In this general precipice, we must try to imagine the evolution of the European precipice. How will the process of social disintegration agglutinate when the economy is disrupted and society impoverished in a way unthinkable until yesterday? Who will lead the probable European revolts?
At the moment it seems certain that the prevailing forces will be nationalistic and psychotic, and we are reminded of the prediction of Sandor Ferenczi, who in a 1918 paper ruled out that a mass psychosis would be curable.
This is the challenge of today: how do you treat a psychosis that has moved out of its individual limits, and has affected the sphere of the collective mind?
These questions cannot be answered consistently today, yet these questions must be asked urgently, because social subjectivity oscillates between depressive epidemic and aggressive mass psychosis, and only effective treatment for this pathological framework can avoid the terminal Holocaust.
Finding an effective cure is the task of a thought that measures up with the present.