Boston, USA. 4 October 2016
“European Union is a dead man walking. It’s a sort of zombie, unable to decide the most important things” are the words of Franco Berardi during the meeting “In the European night. Will the union survive?”, hosted last 27th of September at Boston University. The event was organized by the Center for the Study of Europe of Boston University, as part of EU Futures, a series of conversations aimed at discussing the present and future of the European Union.
The Italian philosopher, media activist and cultural agitator Franco Berardi, also known as “Bifo”, has lived and experienced from a committed and engaged position the development of the European Union, from the vision and the birth, to the current crisis and disillusionment. What makes him now speak from such a dark and critical standpoint about the European Union is the current radicalization and emergence of right-wing movements, together with the incapacity of the Union to handle the migration flows. While the Southern European countries have to face the arrival of refugees and migrants from Syria and African countries, in France and other Eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary the anti-European and anti-refugee positions are gaining power in the political and social sphere.
“On a pragmatic level, many things must be saved. First of all the Erasmus, the cultural exchanges and the network of solidarity. When I say that the EU is a dead man walking, I don’t refer to the administrative reality, to the day-by-day reality of the Union. I speak in political and strategical terms” tells Franco Berardi during an interview after the conference. Franco Berardi has been part of the group of intellectuals and politicians close to anti-capitalist and anti-financial positions, who although being critical of the overriding financial form that the EU has acquired, have always thought that the Union had to be saved. However, his opinion has changed in the wake of the recent events. “In the last months I started understanding that we’re selling something that is no more existing, that is an illusion. The EU will never disappear. The label will stay there, and also many economic financial exchanges will stay for the bad and for the good. The problem is that the political, the cultural and the spiritual has vanished. It cannot be restored” he says.
In his opinion a moment of deep redefinition is needed in order to save the idea and the original project of the EU. This can not happen without a clear break at the political and symbolical level. He explains however that “many day-by-day experiences and possibilities and institutions have not to disappear. These are the conditions for the launch of the project itself. […] We need a real rupture, but we need a real continuity at the same time”. During the ‘60s Franco Berardi has been one of the leading voices of the Italian autonomist and anti-authoritarian social movements. In his opinion, his generation during the social movements of the ’68 was the first to experience, even if still unaware, an European dimension. At the same time, his generation has failed to convey successfully the European project. “May ‘68 is the first moment when you see in EU a movement fighting for the same project. But we’ve been unable to think explicitly in terms of a new dimension. […] In the ‘80s and ‘90s we start becoming the leading class of Europe, especially in France and Germany. And this is a bad thing. Because we’ve forgotten the experience of the real union, and we have reinvented our place” he says.
Even if the young generation is now facing the Euro-Mediterranean backlash and has to cope with cultural and psychological difficult conditions, he sees in this generation the starting point for a change, and the potential to develop the “new subjectivity” for the future that can trigger a change. He calls it the “collective generation”, which is made of people that has experienced the world through the computer screen. Franco Berardi has always been aware of the power of communication and of the media, since his participation in ’76 to the creation Radio Alice, one of the first free radio stations in Italy. The political activity with the radio caused him an arrest for an alleged collaboration with the Red Brigades (an autonomous left-wing paramilitary organization active in Italy during the so-called “Years of Lead”). Following the active protest organized by the radio, he was released after one month but he soon moved to France because facing charges for his political activity. In his books and last works he has reflected thoroughly about the role and potential of the new media and the global connections of our world. “It’s not just a problem of rethinking the EU, but a problem of rethinking the future for the collective generation” he says.
With this perspective in mind, he clearly states that the dark that has fallen on Europe is the same that has fallen on the US, and that these two worlds have never been so close as now. “We’re facing the same abyss, that is the abyss of fascism. Fascism is the danger of violence, racism and of depression. I see a strong connection between the white male depression and the resurfacing of racist violence. In the past racism was the effect of a sort of superiority complex. Now is the contrary. White people, especially in the US, are lost. Heroin is booming in the Mid West at an incredible level. It has increased fivefold in the last 10 years, essentially among white middle age middle class” he tells. His concern about the situation of US does not have only to do with the current political positions brought by the candidate Donald Trump. “I don’t know if Trump will win or not. I hope not! But anyway what Trump represents is here. It will not be canceled, the problem is here because is the problem of the white male depression” says Franco Berardi.
Referring to the role of US, he points out the central position of what he calls the “Global Silicon Valley”. With this term he does not refer to the factories, infrastructures and technologies, but to the millions of young people working inside the machine, that are connected throughout the world and that could be the subjectivity of the future. When asked about the future of US, he says that “US is the physical center of a process that is deployed worldwide. Here the distance between the new possible connecting subjectivity and the reality of racism is more evident”. He goes on explaining that probably the US is the place where the new vision will rise. “I believe in the future of North America, although I see it is in a deep danger. I believe because the multicultural reality is an irreversible fact, here much more than in Europe. You cannot say here that you can make a wall. It’s not a problem of a physical barrier! America doesn’t exist without the multiplicity of cultural forms. It’s going to be -and it’s already- a situation of civil war, but it’s going to oblige people to invite a new dimension of multiculturality, coexistence and reinvention. It’s not a problem of resistance. It’s a problem of forgetting identity. What is the way for a non-identitarian self-perception?” he wonders.
During the conference, he claims that is necessary to reactivate our realistic brain, and to connect it to the imagination of the possible. Despite he says that there is the possibility to imagine something realistic, and that he does not like to believe in utopias, at the end of his talk he has to field the questions coming from the audience asking which practical solutions he could propose. During his talk he had expressed clearly the problem of overproduction that concerns the entire word. Related to this, one of the practical solutions for starting a change is the introduction of basic income. In our world where production could mainly carried out just by machines and robots, he claims that there is finally the opportunity to reduce working time and cut the production, because we have already too much. Nevertheless, even if we do not need to work anymore, we look at this as a dark perspective. For this reason the process towards the basic income should be the focal point, together with the reactivation of social links, re-giving birth to what he calls “the erotic social meetings of people on the streets”. In this process the “cognitive class”, the intellectuals, play also an important role for a rupture with the current dark present. “We need a social movement, millions of people walking in the streets and reactivating their ability to vitalize the city and revitalize their social relations, and at the same time bring this social energy inside the online dimension” he explains.
Even if it could seem just visionary, the vision of Franco Berardi could at the same time be translated in a very clear and detailed project. “The next movement should be about basic income. […] What is salary? We have to question the modern superstition that says if you want to eat you have to work eight hours at my conditions. I understand for a period of human history have been necessary. We cannot think anymore in terms of salary, but in terms of right to life. Because it’s possible, not just right! And where you find the money? You print the money! The problem is steel, corn, oil, the physical and semiotic goods that we need and already have. What is blocked is our possibility to access these goods, because small class of criminals is forbidding the majority of the human kind to have what they deserve, because this is the only the way in which they can increase their profit”.
The general process of change, rebirth and rupture with the past would not be probably an easy and harmless one. In order to change the current trends he explains that also re-appropriation could be necessary. “We go to the supermarket and we take what we need! Organizing a huge movement of re-appropriation would mean violence probably, but violence will be the common ground of understanding in the next ten years. The next step, a peaceful or non-peaceful way has to be with the creation of a movement for social reappropiation. More than on violence, it’s based on solidarity. The real point is not to be strong, the problem is to be together, with many people, to gain the majority of society at this level” he says. “Those workers who are shifting towards racism position, they are not fascist in their heart. The majority of them are simply people who need basic income. The problem is not rejecting two millions of Africans and Syrians. What is two millions people in a continent of half billion people? Nothing! If you organize that process, with no fear. The problem is not there. It’s basic income”.
WATCH THE LECTURE BY FRANCO BIFO BERARDI, HOSTED AT BOSTON UNIVERSITY BY THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF EUROPE