domenica 25 maggio 2014

Paolo Godani's Interview on Crowd, Power and Post-democracy in the 21st Century

Paolo Godani's interview on digital populism and recent European political phenomena, held on 24th January 2014 with the author of Obsolete Capitalism.

EDIT: We collected the Godani's interview in one PDF file that you can download or read online. All interviews on digital populism - in Italian language - are collected into a single file HERE.

Paolo Godani is an Italian, philosopher. He was a research fellow at the Department of Philosophy, University of Pisa, and Professor of Aesthetics. Currently, he is working as a researcher at the University of Macerata. His studies look at the following areas: aesthetics, contemporary and theoretical philosophy. Some of the authors he analyses are Heidegger, Nietzsche, Schmitt, Bergson and Deleuze. He published the following books, among others : Il tramonto dell’essere. Heidegger e il pensiero della finitezza (ETS, Pisa, 1999), Estasi e divenire. Un’estetica delle vie di scampo ( Mimesis, Milano, 2001), L’informale. Arte e politica ( ETS, Pisa, 2005), Bergson e la filosofia ( ETS, Pisa, 2008) Deleuze (Carocci, Roma, 2009). In collaboration with Delfo Cecchi he published Falsi raccordi. Cinema e filosofia in Deleuze ( ETS, Pisa, 2007); together with Dario Ferrari, he published La sartoria di Proust. Estetica e costruzione nella Recherche ( ETS, Pisa, 2010). He translated and edited: Jacques Rancière, Il disagio dell’estetica ( ETS, Pisa, 2009); Pierre Macherey, Da Canguilhem a Foucault. La forza delle norme ( ETS, Pisa, 2011). His forthcoming book will be released in May 2014 by Derive e Approdi: Senza Padri. Economia del desiderio e condizioni di libertà nel capitalismo contemporaneo.

Crowd, Power and Post-democracy in the 21st Century

'Rural fascism and city or neighborhood fascism, youth fascism and war veteran's fascism... fascism of the couple, family, school, and office. Only the micro-fascism can answer the global question: "why does desire long for its repression? how can it desires its very own repression?’
Gilles Deleuze, Fèlix Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus.)

  • On the micro-fascism
  • Obsolete Capitalism Let us start from the analysis Wu Ming set out in their brief essay “Grillismo: Yet another right-wing cult coming from Italy” and which interprets Grillo’s Five Star Movement as a new authoritarian right-wing faction. Why did the desire for change of much of the electorate long once again for its very repression? We seem to witness the re-affirmation of Wilhelm Reich’s thought: at a given moment in history the masses wanted fascism. The masses have not been deceived: they have understood very well the danger of authoritarianism; but they have voted it anyway. Even more worrying is that the authoritarian Berlusconi's Freedom People (PDL) and Grillo’s Five Star Movement (5SM) conquer more than half of the Italian electorate together. A very similar situation arose in the UK in May 2013, with the UKIP’s exploit in the latest local elections. Why and in what measure are the toxins of authoritarianism and micro-fascism present in contemporary European society?
Paolo Godani: I believe that macro political reflections, as Wu Ming’s one, and the micro political analysis should be carried out separately. They should be considered, at least theoretically, as different structures, each having its own categories and inner organization. Wu Ming’s thoughts and of others after them — ideas expressed for instance in a recent text by Alessandro Dal Lago, Clic. Grillo, Casaleggio e la demagogia elettronica (Cronopio 2013) — look at what is evident, therefore using the same categories of ordinary political debate; they reflect on the global and visible distribution of consent as it is emblematically reproduced by the general election. On the other hand, a micro political analysis ignores global tendencies, since it turns its attention to trends that are not visible straightaway, often they are unconscious, and they cut through the entire social field, giving a different insight to the one emerging from ordinary political discourse. For this reason, it is essential to identify those microfascist instances that are to be found across Italian society, precisely because they are found where they should not be, according to the macro-political analysis. I would answer the question on authoritarianism and the one on micro-fascism separately.
It is crucial to understand authoritarianism as a systemic factor, rather than as a local and contingent tendency. It is the government’s device of European countries, and not a single party or movement’s strategy; Austerity policies, privatisation, cuts to social and cultural spending and so forth are authoritarian, because were largely imposed by governments without popular legitimacy. Greece and Italy are symbolic examples, but even in France the situation is not much different. To be brief, traditional left and right political parties carry out the same kind of economic policies, which therefore stay the same despite the electoral alternation. In my opinion, this iswhy anti- system political movements emerged in Greece, Italy and France. A significant slice of these movements belongs to the far-right mainly for two reasons: firs the almost total lack of any reliable alternative system, and secondly in times of economic and psychic crisis —— the only way out relies on unconscious paranoid investments o, which result into reactionary or, at worst, suicidal outcomes.

To my understanding, micro level -fascisms are due precisely to paranoid–reactionary investments. This means something very simple: when facing an issue of the current state of affairs, a challenge involving a change in self habits, categories and established practices one does not play along, trying solutions or possible mediations but rather one withdraws into oneself feeling trapped. This paranoid attitude is a psychological, an economic and political action; in any case, it stands for a profound weakness. Two examples of this attitude are: the closure of borders to face migration, and the proposal of leaving the Euro to deal with the problems of the single currency’s imbalances and global competition; the latter resembles the “exit” from the world market which was advocated by fascist ideologies. It goes without saying that on a political level nationalism is a key ingredient of micro level fascisms.
Considering this as thecurrent state of affairs, it is easy to spot micro fascist instances at every corner, from the far-right to the far-left and passing through the hybrid movements, such as the Lega Nord and the 5SM, albeit thay are very different from each other.

  • 1919, 1933, 2013. On the crisis
  • OC In 2008 Slavoj Žižek said that when the normal run of things is traumatically interrupted, the field is open for a ‘discursive’ ideological competition. In Germany in the early 1930s Hitler won the competition to determine which narrative would explain the reasons for the crisis of the Weimar Republic — the Jewish conspiracy and the corruption of political parties. Žižek ends his reflection by stating that the expectations of the radical left to get scope for action and gain consent may be deceptive as populist or racist formations will prevail: the Greek Golden Dawn, the Hungarian Fidesz, the French Front National, the UK Independence Party are examples. Italy has had farcical groups such as the Lega Nord or the recent Five Star Movement, a bizarre rassemblement that seems to combine Reverend Jones People's Temple with Syriza, or ‘revolutionary boyscoutism’ with the disciplinarism of the societies of control. How can one escape the crisis? What discursive, possibly-winning narratives should be developed? Are the typically Anglo-Saxon neo-Keynesian politics an answer or, on the countrary, is it the new authoritarian populism that will prevail?

PG The current crisis refers to a variety of distinct phenomena. One is the global economic crisis that erupted in 2008, from which most of the developed countries recovered and that can be seen as one of the many cyclical crises involving the history of capitalism. Another phenomenon was defined correctly as a permanent crisis, a crisis that identify with a profound transformation of capitalism, which can be summarised by the formula ‘’become profit income’: in response to the tendency of profit rate to fall - due to partially different mechanisms from those analysed by Marx-, current capitalism performs a kind of valorization taking place outside the production processes, the financial turn. This leads to a self-governing capital, independent from social and political dynamics (such as the debates on thesurplus value production i.e. labor, and the institutional mediations), as well as to the establishment of a limited number of private interests, which are able to change the future of global economy.

Finally, a further phenomenon is the crisis affecting Europe, and perhaps within this crisis there is another one affecting Italy only. The latter was caused by a static society, nepotism and endemic tax evasion... ; this is the Italian typical situation and it doesn’t need to be discussed about. The European problem may be more interesting, since it is a political experiment that can’t be compared to any previous models, and the failure of such experiment could lead to catastrophic results. For example, if the European Union was born to prevent the return to the conditions that led to two World Wars, one could argue that its dissolution is likely to make those precise conditions happen again. Finally, I believe Europe to be a fertile territory for the fascist instances previously discussed. In short: newly born national movements in Europe are claiming the exit of their countries from Euro, because Europe is is surely determined by the neoliberal policies for cutting social spending, privatisation, precarious labour and life, low wages... Under this light, to oppose European economic policies is not a reactionary action. Moreover, in addition to this first element there is a second equally important aspect: the national strategy that the German economic policy is using to increase its supremacy in Europe.

I have no answers to the question on “how to escape the crisis”.If it is true that populist and reactionary nationalisms are symptomatic of a widespread impotent attitude in front of the authoritarian policies enacted by European governments during the crisis — ( a consequence of the current transformation of capitalism which I mentioned before), then the only option we have is to fight it wherever possible; to try to open spaces to encourage participation and democratic decisions. Governs’ reactionary investments are defeated only by real changes.

Social-democratic policies based on redistribution of wealth have always been a sort of asymmetric mediation: they allowed to maintain the structural inequality of wealth and power between social classes, while nevertheless pretending that the lower classes would reach better living and working conditions. During the second half of the twentieth century, many social struggles made use of this very mediation. Even when they had radical ambitions, welfare was the territory in which to enact these struggles. What changed with the financial turn of the economy is that States are no longer able to govern the distribution of wealth. Therefore our challenge is to invent tools able to appropriate the wealth produced by social cooperation, but which at the moment is entirely absorbed by financial systems. If in twentieth-century capitalism the relation appropriation—distribution was largely controlled by the States - - and in fact it was possible to demand a more equal distribution which followed appropriate wealth (according to the slightly banal scheme elaborated by Carl Schmitt- - today the problem is to create a collective; a Non-State power to act directly and immediately on the appropriation of wealth, capable of re-socialise what finance privatized.

  • On the organisation
  • OC In his La Peste brune Daniel Guérin argues that the conquest of Hitler’s power in Germany in 1933 occurred primarily due to "micro-organizations giving him "an unequaled, irreplaceable ability to penetrate every cell of society." The movement of Mr. Grillo has branched into society thanks to the territorial formula of meet-ups borrowed directly from the American politician Howard Dean (see Wired). However the movement is even different from the meet-ups: is it possible to propose an analysis of its escalation as a new-energy carrier in swirling mutation (Félix Guattari would have called it "the absolute motion” of Grillo-machine)? What segments, threads, streams, leaps and heterodoxies make up Grillo’s abstract war machine?

PG I wouldn’t underestimate the 5SM phenomenon; however, it seems to be a catalyst that collected, concentrated and sped up reactions that were already happening, rather than a war machine. To a certain extent, Grillo doesn’t add anything new to the political debate — except some issues related to innovation in the green economy perhaps, which unsurprisingly didn’t determine their electoral success. For example, anti-caste instances have been largely considered by the ‘justicialist’[1] left propaganda over the last two decades. The opposition to the jus soli was and still is a strong point of Lega Nord’s programme, and generally of the Italian right. The opposition to European economic policies is shared by the entire political spectrum. The 5SM’s real innovation was to bring common people into the Parliament. I believe this to be a positive factor — especially at a time when democracy seems to be overly determined by economic “techniques”.

Also, I don’t see as relevant the innovations of the 5SM’s organization : their communication tools and modes can only appear to be new to a political class which grew up before the computer era. Finally, a charismatic leader such as Grillo doesn’t represent as a big news in an era when politicians are asked to be able to communicate in an immediate and affective way.

The comments in Grillo’s blog are different, and they manifest certainly a pure moral and social dissatisfaction: a paranoid and self-referential delirium found in many similar cases — Raffaele Donnarumma wrote about this issue in Le parole e le cose. Even this delirium is not surprising, because it is almost impossible to avoid it : the only antidote to these phenomena is a collective discussion, a shared vocabulary and a common project which would allow anger and despair to not be individual issues anymore.
To conclude, the 5SM shares two underlying limits with traditional political forces that prevent it from effectively undermining the aforementioned authoritarianism: a virtual organisation that produces mass demonstrations as one off events (a similar issue to that of anti-globalisation movements), and the obtuse or opportunistic faith in representative democracy.

  • On tidal waves
  • OC Franco Berardi wrote on that the defeat of “liberist” anti-Europe begins in Italy with the last general election. According to him Italians would have said: “We will not pay the debt”. Insolvence. According to your point of view, what happened in Italy on February 24th, 2013? Gianluca Passarelli conducted an electoral study for Istituto Cattaneo that showed how the Five Star Movement electoral datum was the most homogeneous in terms of votes on the whole national territory. The “party nationalization”, defined as the extent to which parties compete with similar strength across sub-national geographic units, obtained a score of 0.9 out of 1, more than the PDL (0.889) and the left-wing Democratic Party (PD) (0.881). How could a newly-born movement not only compete with, but even beat well-established voting machines such as the ones of Mr. Berlusconi and of the organized Left?

PG I am not convinced by Bifo’s hope in the coming defeat of neo-liberal Europe. Almost a year after the general election, it is now clear that the unexpected and confusing success of the 5SM has turned into a conservative coalition.
A key moment in the recent Italian political history was the election of the President of the Italian Republic. Not only because the re-election of a very old president highlights the worsening of the Italian situation, but also because Napolitano was chosen to be the president as a sort of defense against Stefano Rodotà’s nomination. Albeit the on-line voting system of the 5SM was a fake representative method, it is significant that most preferences fell on a politician and an intellectual (Stefano Rodotà) who had nothing to do with the populism, demagogy and justicialism that seemingly characterised the movement. One could argue that this was one of Grillo’s smart moves; yet it was not his idea, and as it happened with Romano Prodi, Rodotà’s nomination shed light on the possible contrasts inside the Democratic Party. This nomination was welcomed also by other areas, hence its failure caused profound bitterness. Finally, I don’t think that the 5SM’s electoral success is particularly striking. At the end of the day, it was the movement who better embodied a position of the new political landscape: that is, the opposition to authoritarian policies of austerity, and the rejection of conservative politics.

  • On the missing people
  • OC Mario Tronti states that ‘there is populism because there is no people.’ That of the people is an enduring theme which Tronti disclaims in a very Italian way: ‘the great political forces use to stand firmly on the popular components of the social history: the Catholic populism, the socialist tradition, the diversity in communism. Since there was the people, there was no populism.’ Paul Klee often complained that even in historical artistic avant-gardes ‘it was people who were lacking.’ However the radical critique to populism has led to important results: the birth of a mature democracy in America; the rise of the theory and the practice of revolution in the Tsarist Empire, a country plagued by the contradictions of a capitalist development in an underdeveloped territory (Lenin and bolshevism). Tronti carries on in his tranchant analysis of the Italian and European backgrounds: ‘In today's populism, there is no people and there is no prince. It is necessary to beat populism because it obscures the relations of power.’ Through its economic-mediatic-judicial apparatuses, neopopulism constantly shapes “trust-worthy people” similar to the "customers portfolio" of the branded world of neoliberal economy: Berlusconi’s “people” have been following the deeds of Arcore’s Sultan for twenty years; Grillo’s followers are adopting similar all-encompassing identifying processes, giving birth to the more confused impulses of the Italian social strata. With institutional fragility, fluctuating sovereignties and the oblivion of left-wing dogmas (class, status, conflict, solidarity, equality) how can we form people today? Is it possible to reinvent an anti-authoritarian people? Is it only the people or also politics itself that is lacking?

PG I dislike the term “populism”. I fully agree with Jacques Rancière when, in an article published on Libération, he showed how the notion of populism is a device for constructing a certain image of “the people", namely the image of ignorant masses, who follow their own basic instincts and are carried away by the most demagogic figures. Whoever uses the term populism should be affirm the necessity of an anti-democratic government of élites. Nobody claims this to be a political principle, since it would be “wrong"; however, this is what happens in our representative oligarchies. There is only one kind of anti-populist rhetoric: a total subjection to the government of élites, since only those can prevent the totalitarian drift of any anarchic situation.

Obviously “the people” are neither good nor bad, for, as Rancière argues, “the people” do not exist. “The people” as a single entity or as a mass unified by some sort of principle or tendency do not exist; however “many people ” do exist in one population, and besides there are many pictures of what “people” might be. As a consequence, the term "people" must be abandoned and must be replaced by "multitude". Whatever political jargon one may use, the concept of populism has its precise governmental function in creating the image of people unified by their most brutal tendencies, thus to subject them to the rationality of economics and political representation. Accepting the consequences of this concept of populism diminishes the chances of real democratic policies, if not of a revolt or a revolution.

As Deleuze repeats after Klee, the fact that the concept of “the people” is missing means that every political invention, together with every artistic one, addresses “the people to come”. In other words, it demands the creation of new concept of people. Perhaps, to oppose the use of the notion of populism means to refer to a new image of “the people”.

  • On Control
  • OC In Postscript on the Societies of Control, published in 1990, Gilles Deleuze states that, thanks to the illuminating analyses of Michel Foucault, a new diagnosis of contemporary Western society has emerged. Deleuze's analysis is as follows: control societies have replaced disciplinary societies at the beginning of the twentieth century. He writes that ‘marketing is now the instrument of social control and it forms the impudent breed of our masters.’ Let us evaluate who stands beyond two very successful electoral adventures such as Forza Italia (Berlusconi’s first party) and M5S: respectively Publitalia 80 owned by Marcello Dell'Utri, and Casaleggio Asssociati owned by Gianroberto Casaleggio. The incontrovertible fact that two marketing companies stand behind these political projects reinforces Deleuze’s analysis. Mechanisms of control, media events such as exit polls and infinite surveys, im/penetrable databases, data as commodities, continuous spin doctoring, influencers that lead consensus on the net, opaque bots, digital squads, dominant echo-chambering. Evil media. These are the determinations of post-ideological (post-democratic?) neoliberalism. The misery of the new control techniques competes only with that of the glass house of transparency (web-control, of course). Jacques Ranciere says we live in the epoch of post- politics: how can we get out of the neo-liberal cage and free ourselves from the ideological consensus of its electoral products? What will the reconfiguration of left-wing politics be after the exhaustion of Marxist hegemony?

PG It is obvious that marketing plays a central role in contemporary society: it directs and produces social practices and lifestyles. The links of current power are much more complicated than they were at the time of industrial capitalism and disciplinary society. However, the principle of political domain as never entirely master of its means still holds true: to consider the control apparatus as omnipotent certainly leads to impotence, and it doesn’t encourage escape routes or new weapons for the revolt.

When Rancière refers to the end of politics, he is not appropriating this diagnosis: he is saying that there is a dominant discursive regime that aims at getting rid of politics, and it is made of radical dissent, social conflict, egalitarian utopia and the idea of a​new common life; furthermore, this discursive regime cannot be separated from pure technical politics that is ordinary and rational management separated from the toxic ideas of those who sees politics as a rupture of the establishment and dissent. In particular, the latter has a partial quality: in a specific time and space a novel political entity emerges to organise the revolt. Like all events, the political ones have a great margin of uncertainty: it is almost impossible to produce them in a voluntary way. Yet it possible to carefully look for those very small displacements, anxieties and micro-fractures that occur constantly and that could come together following uncertain reasons.

In the Deleuze’s text you mentioned, modern-day capitalism is said to no longer depend on production but rather on the product, on sales and on the market; moreover, the subaltern subject is said to no longer be the neither the confined man nor the exploited worker, but the indebted man. Such analyses follow the same direction as rent of profit we discussed above. It is the same process of transformation of capitalism, which corresponds with the transformation of work and production — growth of social cooperation, immaterial production, harassing life, affections and so on — and which corresponds with a transformation of the political strategies of conflict.

We need to go a step forward. It is not about extending the logic of a collision between power and counter-powers, nor about reversing a model suggesting, as some Italian post-workmen theorists do, that capitalist restorations respond to those innovations brought by social cooperation and class conflict. It is about acknowledging, as Marx did, that capitalist development awoke social, technological, productive and inventive forces that no other social movement had produced. As well as it is necessary to understand that the very same capitalist development enhancing those powers does everything possible to hold them back, subject them to a short-sighted, destructive logic, producing an immense wealth alongside an immense misery. This double step is needed to escape the neoliberal trap: to be fully contemporary to our time and welcome capitalist modernity while understanding that the current phase of capitalism may be the basis for the emergence of a post-capitalist society. One must be able to be on top of her/his time to be able to overcome it. In this spirit, I completely agree with what Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams wrote in their Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics.

(Translated by Giulia Damiani, Francesco Tacchini and Letizia Rustichelli)

Painting by Stelios Faitakis: The Happy Slave, 2014