The latest release in Polity book’s Theory Redux series is called The Second Coming, written by one of my favourite Italian philosophers, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. The series, edited by Laurent de Sutter, brings some of the world’s most radical thinkers together in an engaging series of books that explore the edges of contemporary philosophy and social theory in accessible and engaging ways.
Berardi teaches the social history of communication at the Accademia di bella Arti in Milan, and has a long pedigree in leftist politics and activism in Italy stretching back to the late 1960s. he has released a number of books over the past couple of years, most of which have circled around the impact of technology and capitalism on work and workers in the 21st Century.
Taking the theological concept of the apocalypse as a starting point, Berardi explores the chaos surrounding us-political folly, economic craziness, technological reconfigurations and ecological disasters. We live in times of dramatic change according to Berardi, but rather than seeing those changes as change for the better, every change seems to make matters worse, and worse than that, we seem incapable of believing that the world could be changed for the better. Nothing can save us, but that should not cause us despair, if the world is dead then space is opened up for a new world to emerge.
The Second Coming of the title is another theological notion Berardi employs, but it is not in service of the divine, but rather an argument for the second coming of Communism. A lifelong Marxist, it is not surprising that Berrardi would see something in that ideological world that offers hope for the current state of affairs, but he goes to great lengths to separate what he means by his version of Communism from the form that emerged a hundred years ago and took root in Russia. Berardi is aware of the challenge of using the word communism, noting its largely negative connotations in the minds of most, but rather than find a new term he seeks to redefine and re-contextualize not only the word but the ideas for the 21st century. His is not some nostalgic, zombie-Marxism, but something entirely different,
“The way out of the labyrinth is emancipation from the superstition of salaried labour, and I’m calling this emancipation ‘Communism’ : memes provoking a reset of our expectations. In my parlance, the word ‘communism’ is the trigger for a process of memetic disentanglement of the possibility that is inscribed in the network of the general intellect.
When I say ‘Communism’, I use this word to refer to the meme that has to be created, engineered and set in motion on the post-apocalyptic scene.”
Memes are important for Berardi, they represent a sign of our transition from the alphabetical world to immersion in the infosphere.
Beyond his own argument for the return of Communism, albeit in an entirely different form, the argument supporting this thesis is that we need to start thinking again, and that our lack of thinking is perhaps the reason we are in all this trouble in the first place. Interestingly he argues against political action and for a ‘reshuffling of the general intellect’,
“Capitalism is not a natural given; it is made insurmountable y our inability to imagine. We can’t imagine Communism, only because our imagination is trapped by cynicism.”
Regardless of one’s feelings about communism, this book will challenge conventional thinking about the current state of affairs, and if an apocalypse is coming, i’ll take Berardi’s advice any day over the status quo.