Present Tense, Future Conditional
When work on this issue began, tracking down the author of a quote turned out to be more difficult than we thought. You may have heard it too: ‘today it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’. Everyone knew it, but had seen it attributed to someone else. Someone even thought they’d been around the time it was first uttered, by somebody at a meeting a few years ago. Further research proved inconclusive: like the story about the man who woke up in a bathtub full of ice without his kidney, it was everywhere, but came from nowhere in particular. Yet, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, this omnipresence seemed to count as its own confirmation. Everyone’s saying it, so it must be true…
Today, it’s the very act of thinking about the future that has become a problem. What both capitalism and really existing socialism had in common was the belief in a future where infinite happiness would spring from the infinite expansion of production. From Lenin’s ‘communism = soviet power + electrification’ to capital’s ‘trickle down effect’, the sacrifices made in the present were always justified in terms of a brighter future. And now? The socialist future has been dead since the fall of the Berlin wall. After that we seemed to live in a world where only the capitalist future existed (even when it was under attack). But now this future, too, is having its obituaries composed. Impending doom, be it ecological, financial, or the result of soaring commodity prices, is the talk of the town. The ‘crisis of the future’ – that is, of our capacity to think about the future – is born out of these twin deaths.
For anti-capitalists, socialism offered two articles of faith. First, a teleological view of history as something that would eventually, and inevitably, take us to communism. Second, a belief in a historical subject – a working class, personified in ‘The Party’, which would become conscious of its historical role and accomplish it. Both these dogmas lie shattered. It’s impossible now to imagine that infinitely expanding production will ever be able to deliver us the good life. And it’s impossible to picture, in any simple way, a subject of social change for whom history is just the inert matter it can transform at will. That’s precisely why it’s easier to visualise catastrophe than transformation – as if capital is the only existing revolutionary force, and its end can only come as the (unwanted, but necessary; conscious, but inevitable) outcome of its own actions.
So as work on this issue drew to a close, we stumbled across another quote we liked (and this time we even know who said it: Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi): “The future now seems imaginable only as the intersection of catastrophic tendencies. Paradoxically, only from the interference between the various planes of catastrophe does it seem possible to imagine a salvation.” How can we think a path between these two poles, between salvation – the idea that religion or science will save us – and catastrophe? Can we still imagine a future?
Read on: Today I See the Future