Bifo: ‘Lesson of Insurrection’

21 Mar

by Franco Berardi Bifo. A call to revolt on a European scale.

I would like to talk about something that everybody knows, but that, so it seems, no one has the boldness to say. That is, that the time for indignation is over. Those who get indignant are already starting to bore us. Increasingly, they seem to us like the last guardians of a rotten system, a system without dignity, sustainability or credibility. We don’t have to get indignant anymore, we have to revolt.

Arise. In the dictionary, the word ‘Insurrection’ is described in different ways. But I stick to the etymology. To me, the word insurrection means to rise up, it means to take on ourselves our dignity as human beings, as workers, as citizens in an uncompromising way. But it also means something else. It means to fully unfold the potency of the body and of collective knowledge, of society, of the net, of intelligence. To entirely unfold what we are, in a collective way. This is the point. Those who say that insurrection is a utopia are sometimes cynics, sometimes just idiots. Those who say that it is not possible to revolt, don’t take into account the fact that, to us, almost everything is possible. Only, this ‘almost everything’ is subjugated by the miserable obsession for profit and accumulation. The obsession for profit and accumulation led our country and all European countries to the verge of a terrifying catastrophe, into which we are now sinking, and we should realize we are already quite far into it. It is the catastrophe of barbarism and ignorance.

In Italy, the reform of the Berlusconi government and of his crawlers has already taken 8 billion euros away from the school, university and the education system, and soon it will take away even more. Everyone knows what the consequences will be, and not only in Brera, which is still a privileged place within the Italian education system. I have also taught in 3 or 4 other schools in this country, and I know what are, for example, the consequences of the reform of the crawler-minister Gelmini for an evening school for adults in Bologna. The Gelmini reform meant that the available budget for that school has shrunk to one third of that of three years ago. In the face of this process of devastation and barbarization produced by this reform, we can’t continue complaining. We must say: first of all, you all have to go, then we will take care of it. They have to go, just like the citizens of Tunis and Cairo said. I don’t know how the revolutions and insurrections in the Arab countries will end. A lot is up to us, I believe: whether or not Europe will be able to open a secular and innovative perspective. I don’t know how it will end up, but I know that they revolted and they won. What did they do? They said: we won’t leave this place. We won’t leave this square, we won’t leave this station, we won’t leave this parliament. We won’t leave until the tyrant and his crawlers go. This is what we have to say, what we have to do. By the end of spring 2011, this is what has to happen in Italy. We will occupy the central train stations in Milan, in Bologna and we will hold them until the tyrant and his crawlers will go.

But the tyrant and his crawlers are not the real problem. The real problem is an obsession, embodied in financial power, in the power of banks and in the idea that the life of society, the pleasure, well-being and culture of society is worthless. The only worthy things are accounting books, the profits of a minuscule class of exploiters and murderers. From our point of view, at the moment, these two problems, that of the tyrant and of his crawlers and that of the European financial dictatorship are one single problem. But we must understand that it would be useless to get rid of the tyrant and of his crawlers, if their places were taken by the murderers, by people like D’Alema or Fini, who are just as responsible. The destruction of the Italian school did not start with the tyrant and his crawlers. From what I know, it started with the Rivola Law, of which few have memory. It was a law issued in 1995 by the Emilia Romagna region, and it was the first law to give private schools the right to receive public funding. That is, it opened the door to the destruction of the public school and the sanctification of private universities such as Cepu.

So, there is one immediate problem: to hold the country, the squares and stations until the tyrant and his crawlers will go. But at the same time we have to be aware that power, true power, is no longer held in Rome. The Minister of Economy, Tremonti, said this. In an interview that appeared in La Repubblica on 30 September 2011, Tremonti replied to a silly journalist, who was trying to criticize him and instead fell in his trap, saying: ‘Why are you so angry at the Berlusconi government? Listen, we don’t decide anything. Decisions are taken in Brussels.’ Well, we don’t know it very well – who should tell us? La Repubblica, maybe? – but since 1st January 2011 the economic, social and financial decisions over individual countries such as Italy, France, Portugal or Greece are no longer taken by national parliaments. They are taken by a financial committee, formally constituted at European level. This is the rule and the ferocious application of the neoliberal, monetarist principle, according to which the only worthy things are bank profits and nothing else. It is in the name of growth, of accumulation and profit at the European level, that you are forced to live a shit life. And your life will be more and more of a shit life, if you do not rebel today, tomorrow, immediately! Because with every passing day your life increasingly, inevitably becomes a shit life.

They say: insurrection is a dangerous word. I repeat: arms are not implicit in the word insurrection, because arms are not our thing, for a number of reasons. First of all, because we don’t know where they are kept, secondly because we know that somebody has them, thirdly because we know that there are professional armies ready to kill, like they killed in Genova in 2001 and many other times. So, this is not the kind of confrontation we are looking for. We know that our weapons are those of intelligence and critique, but also the weapon of technology. For example, we learnt Wikileaks’ lesson, and we know that it is not only a lesson on sabotage and information; it is also a lesson about the infinite power of networked intelligence. This is where we will re-start. We know how to do it, how to enter your circuits, how to sabotage them, but we also know how those circuits – which are not yours, are ours – can be useful for our wealth, our pleasure, our well-being, our culture. This could be the use of those circuits that the collective intelligence produced and that capitalism stole, privatized, impoverished, that capitalism uses against us. This is the meaning of insurrection: to take possession of what is ours, to perform a necessary action of recognition of the collective body, which for too long has been paralyzed in front of a screen and needs to find itself again in a Tahrir Square.

An American journalist, Roger Cohen, wrote in a clever article: ‘Thank you Mubarak, because with your resistance you allowed the Egyptian people, who hadn’t talked to each others for years, to stay in that square for weeks and weeks.’ Like in wars, also during revolutions there are moments of boredom, and during those moments what is there to do? Talk to each other, touch each other, make love. Discovering the collective body, which has been paralyzed for too long. We will say ‘Tank you Berlusconi’, after weeks spent fighting on the streets of Italy. Afterwards, from the moment when the collective body will have awakened, the process of self-organization of the collective mind will begin. This is the insurrection I am calling you to. This is the insurrection that could even start from the Brera Academy, on a day in March 2011. Because the problem is that everyone knows what I just said. Maybe they don’t say it in such detail, but they know it. All that is necessary is to say: it is possible. There are millions of us, thinking this way. So, the next time 300,000 of us will take on the streets, let’s no go back home at the end of the day. Let’s go on the streets with our sleeping bags, knowing that on that night we won’t sleep in our beds. This is the first step, this is the step we need to take. It’s easy! Then, the rest is complicated…

I have almost finished my lecture. I just want to come back to this place. This initiative of mine was born within the situation you all know. Students, lecturers, technicians, precarious workers at the Brera Academy, like those in any other school or university in Italy or abroad, they all know well what is happening. They know that, beyond a complex dance made of ‘I’ll give it you / no I won’t give it to you / maybe I will / but not tomorrow’, beyond the smoke screen of incomprehensible baroquisms, the problem is that there is no more money. How is this possible? What happened? How come all that money disappeared? Brera used to be loaded. It’s all gone. One could say: but Europe is rich, how come all of a sudden there’s no money? Europe is rich, with millions of technicians, poets, doctors, inventors, specialized factory workers, nuclear engineers… How come we became so poor? What happened? Something very simple happened. The entire wealth that we produced was poured into the strongboxes of a minuscule minority of exploiters. This is what happened! The whole mechanism of the European financial crisis was finalized towards the most extraordinary movement of wealth that history has seen, from society towards the financial class, towards financial capitalism. This is what happened! So, what is now happening in Brera is just a small piece, one aspect of the immense movement of wealth, our wealth, the wealth of collective intelligence, which is now being counted inside the strongboxes of the banks.

Well, we decide to pay some attention to the banks. And I communicate to you that from this moment, I, as a professor at Brera, will hold my classes inside a bank. My next lecture will be held on 25th March just there, inside the building of the Credit Agricole. It will be held there. Behind this statue, of which we can now see the ass, on the other side of the square there is a bank where I ask to hold my next lecture, on 25th March, at 11.30am. I’m not doing this because I am a deranged individualist. Well, I might also be a deranged individualist… But the reason why I took this decision and I communicated it to you is that in Europe, it has now been constituted the Knowledge Liberation Front. Maybe these kids could have been a little less rhetorical… The Knowledge Liberation Front called a teach-in in 40 European cities, on March 25th. First of all in London, because, as you know, after many years, on March 26 there will be a general strike in the U.K. This is because the U.K. is now under an exceptionally strong storm of financial violence, and thus on March 26th they will strike and will take on the streets. The day before, the Knowledge Liberation Front will perform 40 teach-ins in 40 European cities. In London, but also in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, Madrid, Bologna, Milan and many other cities. We will do something very simple: we will dress smart, will go to the offices of a bank, will sit on the ground, will take out a banana, a cappuccino and a panini, just like civilized people do, and we will talk about molecular biology, about Goethe, we will read Faust, we will read poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, someone will talk about the poetics of Kandinsky and someone else about nuclear physics. This is what we will do on 25th March, in 40 European cities. Because the time has come for the society of Europe to become, once again, what it could have been in several moments of its history: purely and simply a civil society. Thank you.

Translation and subtitles: Federico Campagna, Anna Galkina, Manlio Poltronieri

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