Future as autonomous space: Bifo Berardi’s Post-futurism

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Author: David L
First Published: Newsletter 18/07/20
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The future of human society has always been the concern of Marxism, for if ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ then the future is one produced by the class struggle of the historical present. In Orthodox Marxism, it is an attempt to realise and put into action a new direction for humanity. Given the suffering, death & exploitation that form the base of capitalist society, forming a better future as socialists would be a given. But this conception finds within itself several problematic points that have to be reckoned with. The first is the teleology of class struggle assumed by earlier Marxists. By this I mean the assumption of inevitability of socialist overcoming of capitalism and society. Whilst capitalism will always create the social classes and categories where the greatest potential for its overthrow can be found, its overthrow cannot be assumed, for that can only come about through human action and organising leading into revolutionary struggle. The Communist Manifesto is guilty of this assumption. However this is not really a problem with most of Marx’s writings and those who succeed him, but it can be found within vulgar, selective interpretations.

Alongside this assumption, however, lies a second one that is far more widespread and subtly dangerous to socialism’s missions. For if there is an assumption of the inevitable victory of the proletariat, there is also an assumption of what form the future society will take. It is, as Rowland “Ena͞emaehkiw” Keshena Robinson points out, a core of eurocentricity, particularly in how Marxism perceives itself as a revolutionary science. This is not to dismiss arguments for it’s status as a science, but as Robinson takes issue with, it is a framework that validates itself through a western, eurocentric academia and epistemology.

The assumption therefore leading on from this, is that socialist and communist society will take the form of the seizing of productive powers and using them for common use and freedom. This assumes that what western Marxists want is what the rest of the world wants, and furthermore ignores that the wealth of western societies have come from the outsourcing of productive powers to poorer parts of the world such as Asia on top of its historical exploitation of Africa. Its forms of knowledge, Marxism included, have gained primacy at the expense of erasing ‘many local scientific traditions by declassifying them as primitive and folklore and substituting what was perceived as Southern superstition with Northern science’[1]. Indigenous forms of society are often seen as primitive tribal formations that civilization will rise out of naturally, which does nothing but confirm colonial perceptions of those societies. Western socialists assume that if revolution does happen, it will be the world becoming like the Global North, particularly the Western world in how it works. But indigenous groups in America, for example, do not want to take control of the USA’s productive forces. Rather, they want stolen land returned to them.

Frantz Fanon argues in the last chapter of The Wretched of the Earth that the Third World must create a new type of socialism, saying to his comrades in Algeria and elsewhere, ‘let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her’. I would argue that our mission, as Western Socialists in the core of colonial and imperialist development is very much the same. We must become unlike ourselves. It is here that I think, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi's Post Futurist Manifesto can provide some inspiration for current left wing movements and socialists to find alternative politics and forms of Marxism outside its traditional mode of coloniality.

Written in 2009, deliberately playing off and responding to Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto for the Italian group of avant garde artists (some of whom would eventually go on to support Mussolini) Berardi in his manifesto argues for quite the opposite of what one might expect from a Marxist, especially one who is known for being part of the Autonomist movement. In the third point of his manifesto, he writes:

Ideology and advertising have exalted the permanent mobilisation of the productive and nervous energies of humankind towards profit and war. We want to exalt tenderness, sleep and ecstasy, the frugality of needs and the pleasure of the senses.

Far from taking control of the fast paced productive rhythm of capitalism, Berardi argues we should find a space within but independent from the laws of motion of a society focused on the accumulation of commodities and capital. He praises the ‘beauty of autonomy. Each to her own rhythm; nobody must be constrained to march on a uniform pace’. It is a way of life where art and common, popular forms of communication, recognising the power employment has in reducing the workers spare time in order to produce it for the ruling class. He advocates these things, amongst other in his manifesto, because he understand what the logic of constant stimulation, and productivity has led to in the past:

We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries... We must look behind to remember the abyss of violence and horror that military aggressiveness and nationalist ignorance is capable of conjuring up at any moment in time. We have lived in the stagnant time of religion for too long. Omnipresent and eternal speed is already behind us, in the Internet, so we can forget its syncopated rhymes and find our singular rhythm.

Here Berardi’s view of the future is one that moves beyond the concept of the future entirely, because the future for him is one that is just a continuation of the current path. He declares ‘We will sing to the infinity of the present and abandon the illusion of a future’. The future is but a space created in autonomy and independence from the pace and rhythm of the social structures that seek to determine us.

We see here a possible link of solidarity with movements that also seek to create and continue the development of alternative ways of living to our current society, particularly those of indigenous movements. The Zapatistas, or the EZLN, created autonomous municipalities in the Chiapas region in response to the NAFTA agreement and now have common ownership over their land and lives. The Mapuche in Chile, have since before Pinochet was in power struggled and fought for an autonomous identity and political power within the country’s neoliberal system, and like the Zapatistas, desire control over their land. For the First Nations in the USA and Canada, whilst being composed of many different tribes and peoples, most if not all share a common cause in decolonizing America and having the stewardship of their land returned. Our situation is not the same, or even similar, but all of these struggles emphasise common ownership of land & public spaces as keystone of their movements. Perhaps we can learn from that. Now obviously we must be careful not to fetishize these movements, as these causes have been drawn up to match the demands and needs of these communities.

For Berardi, at the very least the many forms of expression must be returned to us, if not land, as it says in the manifesto: ‘We seek to abolish the separation between poetry and mass communication, to reclaim the power of media from the merchants and return it to the poets and the sages’. The divisions on space that private property creates, also divides us from the use of artistic expression, from the fruits of our labour through rent, but also from each other. The future is more the creation of spaces where we are free to express and interact with each other honestly and authentically, than it is some enlightenment transcendence to a higher stage of humanity. As Berardi himself states in the first line of the manifesto: ‘We want to sing of the danger of love, the daily creation of a sweet energy that is never dispersed’. Through this we can understand:

Beauty exists only in autonomy. No work that fails to express the intelligence of the possible can be a masterpiece. Poetry is a bridge cast over the abyss of nothingness to allow the sharing of different imaginations and to free singularities.

[1] Reiter, Bernd. 2018. “Introduction.” In Constructing the Pluriverse: The Geopolitics of Knowledge, edited by Bernd Reiter, p.3. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.