TEN YEARS AFTER SEATTLE: RETREAT TO SAFE HARBORS
By Franco Berardi
[This article published in the journal Luxemburg 1/12/2010 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.linksnet.de/de/artikel/25202.]
In November 1999, a political-ethical rebellion began, the protest of different groups from all over the world against the consequences of capitalist globalization. Social and ecological destruction crystallized at the WTO summit. In the next two years a global movement developed an effective criticism of neoliberal policies and encouraged hope for a radical change. Then a narrative was made up after the G8 summit in Genoa. War moved into the foreground. The movement slackened and its effect was reduced to almost zero. The movement lacked radiation in the daily routine of world society and failed to trigger a process of daily self-organization of techno-scientific workers.
Ten years after Seattle, we must develop a new strategy for the movement. Neoliberal policy destroys the idea of the public. It privatizes and instrumentalizes production, communication, language and emotions. Competition has taken the place of solidarity. The dominant form of economic relations has become criminal. War accompanies this criminal mutation of the capitalist mode of production. A systematic dilapidation of the physical and mental environment is the logical consequence of this mutation.
The election of Barack Obama opened a window of possibilities. However the present situation is immensely paradoxical. The US has lost its military hegemony after religious fanaticism, fundamentalism, nationalism and terror were promoted in vast parts of the world. Western hegemony on the ground is definitively over. In addition, the financial crisis brings the collapse of the US financial hegemony, leads to the proliferation of the crisis and produces unrest and mistrust even in western societies.
At the time of Bill Clinton's presidency, it was possible (even if never convincing) to speak of an American empire. The goal of "permanent" war began with George W. Bush's coup d'etat. Bush and his belligerent gang have lost their wars (the Iraq war is a complete failure, Afghanistan is an unending defeat and the war against Iran cannot be won). However they won their war to misappropriate oil profits and their war against peace and humanity. Now the American empire falls apart since a president with a genuine democratic culture occupies the White House. Chaos is the only ruler of the world.
What can be done in this situation? There is no hope in sight since the criminal turn of capitalism has irreversible effects in the culture and conduct of the planetary society. A third of humanity is threatened with death. Hunger spreads as never before. The energy crisis feeds aggressions and inflation. A third of humanity works under conditions near to slavery or are forced to accept precariousness and exploitation. A third of humanity is armed to the teeth to defend its living standard against a huger crowd of migrants. We should prepare for a long phase of barbarism or barbarization and violence.
We should create some safe harbors for a small minority of the world population to ensure the inheritance of a humanist civilization and the cosmopolitan intellect, which are in serious danger. The present age can certainly be compared with the European Middle Ages. Groups of monks saved the memory of the past and the seeds of a possible future while invaders roamed through the land and destroyed traces of ancient civilizations.
We do not know whether the approaching age of barbarism will last decades or centuries. We cannot say whether our physical environment will survive the devastations of criminal capitalism. But we do not have the weapons to oppose the destroyers. So we must save ourselves and the possibility of a future. One strategy is not enough when things are as unforeseeable as at present. We do not know ether the consequences of the decline and fall of American hegemony or the development and after-effects of wars from Pakistan to Gaza. We have no idea of the aftermath of low-intensity ethnic civil wars or what explosions will follow the crisis-laden devastations of the political economy of workers.
We anticipate a long period of monastic retreat and at the same time expect the possibility of the sudden shifting of the global political landscape. The following scenarios are absolutely realistic: the revolts of Chinese workers against national-communist capitalism, the inability of the US military to counter a new wave of terror and the collapse of eco-systems in substantial parts of the world. Such events could bring dramatic changes of the political attitudes of a majority of the world population. We must be ready to explain and take up such changes. We should develop positive life-affirming examples of another way of life not based on consumerism, growth and competition. One of the most important challenges is the redefinition of "good life," prosperity and happiness.
Our task will be to erect cloisters in which modest, frugal well-being is lived and tested - a living criticism of the naturalization of the necessity of growth. We should take steps for a cultural production of a new paradigm, away from obsessive growth to modesty, culture-intensive production, solidarity, esteem of laziness and rejection of competition. Capitalism equates good life with accumulation, happiness with consumerism and riches with destruction of nature. On the other hand, we should live out ways of life in which good life means modesty, happiness means generosity and riches include the enjoyment of time.
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