Bifo: “So far, the result of the collapse of neoliberal politics has been its consolidation”

The crisis:

The late-neoliberal ruling class states that if deregulation produced the systemic collapse, we need more deregulation. If lower taxation on high incomes led to a fall in demand, let’s lower high-income taxation. If hyper-exploitation resulted in the production of unsold and useless cars, let’s intensify car production. Are these people crazy?

The alternative:

The prospect of a revolution is not open to us. The concept of revolution no longer corresponds to anything, because it entails an exaggerated notion of the political will over the complexity of contemporary society. Our main prospect is to shift to a new paradigm not centered on product growth, profit, and accumulation, but on the full unfolding of the power of collective intelligence.

Interesting analysis of the evolving European tragedy, and the emerging alternative.

Excerpted from Franco Berardi Bifo:


“The European tragedy has been founded on a false representation of social reality, based on some assumptions that contradict daily experience, but are nevertheless delivered as absolute truth, as unquestionable dogma.

Platitude 1: Public spending must be drastically cut if European budgets are to be balanced. In fact, European states have been cutting their budgets over the last thirty years, and are now diverting financial resources from social infrastructure towards banks and corporations. This diversion has already produced extensive damage, and will produce more.

Platitude 2: The European economy must compete with the emerging economies of developing countries, and this can happen only by reducing labor costs. This means that in order to become competitive, in a strictly economical sense, European life should be impoverished. And this is what is happening: unemployment is rising, education is being privatized, and racism is spreading. Nobody has ever explained why the only criterion for evaluating wealth must be financial in nature.

Platitude 3: The European worker’s productivity must be increased while salaries must be reduced. This produces an effect of low demand, deflation, and depression, but also overproduction. 40 percent of cars produced in Europe will not find buyers (thank God). So why should carmakers seek to increase the productivity of their already hyper-exploited workers? Consumption declines because salaries shrink, but also because Europeans simply do not need any more cars.

Platitude 4: The age of retirement must be raised, as there will be too many young people and too few old people in the future. The retirement age has already been raised in every European country, and now in France as well. But the rationale does not make sense. The productivity of the average European worker has increased fivefold over the past fifty years, so when the time comes, fewer young people actually will be able to feed more old people. But in reality, raising the retirement age has nothing to do with any social concern whatsoever. Rather, it is a trick for reducing labor costs. Capitalists would much rather pay a poor, old worker a salary than a deserved pension, and leave the young to find their own way, accepting any kind of occupation, whether precarious or simply underpaid.

No European politician dares to question these fundamental platitudes.”


“The institutions of the welfare state have been under attack for thirty years: full employment, labor rights, social security, retirement, public schools, public transportation—all of these areas have been weakened, neglected, or destroyed. After thirty years of neoliberal obsession, we arrive at a collapse. What comes next? The ruling class answers coarsely: more of the same. Further reduction of public sector salaries, further raising of the age of retirement. No respect for society’s needs and the rights of workers.

Thatcher said thirty years ago that there is no such thing as society, and today this statement comes across as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Society is in fact dissolving, leaving space to a jungle where everyone fights against one another. Following the Greek crisis, the monetarist dogma has been strongly reinforced, as if more poison could act as an antidote. Reducing demand will lead to recession, and the only result will be to further concentrate capital in the hands of the financial class and further impoverish the working class.

Following the Greek financial crisis, emergency law was declared: a self-proclaimed Merkel-Sarkozy-Trichet directorate imposed a deflationary policy to be forced on the various national governments of European countries. In order to rescue the financial system, this self-proclaimed directorate diverts resources from society to the banks. And in order to revive the failed philosophy of neoliberalism, social spending is cut, salaries are lowered, the retirement age is raised, and the younger working generation is precarized. Those who do not acknowledge the great necessities of competition and growth will be cut out. Those who choose to play the game will have to accept any punishment, any renunciation, any suffering demanded by the great necessity. But who said that we must absolutely be part of this?

So far, the result of the collapse of neoliberal politics has been its confirmation and consolidation. When the American financial system collapsed, there was a general expectation that capital concentration would be abandoned or at least diminished, as a redistribution of wealth seemed necessary to rescue the economy. This has not taken place. The Keynesian way has not even been explored, and Paul Krugman has been left to repeat a series of perfectly reasonable options that no one is willing to consider.

Thanks to the crisis, American society has been robbed by big finance, and now Europe is following with its own mathematical ferocity. Is there any chance of stopping this insane race? A social explosion is possible, as it is apparent that living conditions will soon become unbearable. But precarious labor and the decomposition of social solidarity may open the way to a frightening outcome: ethnic civil war on continental scale, and the dismantling of the Union, which would unleash the worst instincts of nations.

In Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome, and Athens, massive demonstrations have erupted to protest the restrictive measures, but this movement is not going to stop the catastrophic aggression against social life, because the European Union is not a democracy, but a financial dictatorship whose politics are the result of unquestioned decision-making processes.

Peaceful demonstrations will not suffice to change the course of things and violent explosions will be too easily exploited by racists and criminals. A deep change in social perception and social lifestyle will compel a growing part of society to withdraw from the economic field, from the game of work and consumption. These people will abandon individual consumption to create new, enhanced forms of co-habitation, a village economy within the metropolis.”


“We must give something up, but what exactly? Certainly we must give up the hyper-consumption imposed on us by large corporations, but not the tradition of humanism, enlightenment, and socialism—not freedom, rights, and welfare. And this is not because we are attached to old principles of the past, but because it is these principles that make it possible to live decently.

The prospect of a revolution is not open to us. The concept of revolution no longer corresponds to anything, because it entails an exaggerated notion of the political will over the complexity of contemporary society. Our main prospect is to shift to a new paradigm not centered on product growth, profit, and accumulation, but on the full unfolding of the power of collective intelligence.

4 Comments Bifo: “So far, the result of the collapse of neoliberal politics has been its consolidation”

  1. AvatarJeff

    Reminds me of an interesting talk I heard not long ago by Karl Sigmund, a leader in game theoretic research. He was observing the behavior of systems based on iterated prisoners dilema. In the basic game he noted that once defectors start taking over the system, there is no escape from that basin of attraction.

    He then adds another option to the game called “nonparticipants”, who basically refuse to play. They go pick pick mushrooms in the forest, as he put it. Now when the defectors take over, players begin to opt-out, and the defectors starve. The system now oscillates between the various basins of attraction, but never gets permanently stuck in any one of them.

    These results are summarized in a June 2007 article in Science called “Via Freedom to Coercion: The Emergence of Costly Punishment”.

  2. AvatarArasmus

    Thank you for this blog entry. I’d like to add a thought. At this stage in our discourse I think that many reasonable people, and certainly those inclined to P2P projects, find themselves nodding their heads in agreement at the overall analysis, though obviously not without reservations to various parts here and there. But now what? The above commentary ends with a pointer in the direction of “unfolding the power of collective intelligence.” Now, imagine standing outside the unemployment office and saying that. I don’t mean to be flippant, but rather to underline the ultimate test with a degree of dramatic effect. What P2P projects can be started now to provide a decent living to the ordinary citizen? How can we use P2P to provide homes, food, electricity (the base of Maslow’s pyramid rather than the apex) and jobs to people? It is irrational to expect a human being to walkout on an economic methodology that provides for a meagre existence for the sake of one that provides for none. Some in the P2P community know about these projects – intentional housing, kit houses, open ecology, Mondragon, shared workshops etc. But why are they not our focus? Why in fact are we not devoting our time to bringing them all together into a manual, and a culture. I think we will move forward more in the direction of “unfolding the power of collective intelligence” more persuasively if we speak at the level of specificity that we see in say MAKE magazine for example – practical step-by-step tried-and-tested methodologies. As always Michel, I will be interested to heer your thoughts.

  3. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Dear Arasmus,

    I think it is best to see the overall change effort as an ecology of complementary efforts. At the P2P Foundation, we are observers of currenct concepts and practices, look at what works and not, bring the debates in the open, and try to create various bridges and connections that did not exist before, for example through the 7 conferences we co-organized in the past. Our aim is to increase understanding and mutual alignment. But many of our members are already active in their own projects, many of them practical in the sense you suggest. And through the creation of our own P2P Cooperative, we aim to apply our understandings in the concrete world. Even the construction of the p2p knowledge itself, is actually a peer production of knowledge, so we practice, and this our practice. Can we do more, certainly, but that also depends on the ability to draw in more support, it happens, but organically and slowly … Now, all the things you mention, are covered in our wiki, we have a section on ecology, agriculture and food, cooperatives, making and manufacturing, so that anyone who wants to concretely act, can find out what is already happening, and this may inform their own actions. Of course, this is not enough, but we are not alone and many in the p2p and commons movement are acting and creating as well. The new world however, is also constructed through new cultures and perspectives which inform action, and this I would say, is ‘our’ specific approach.

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