The emergency brake on the temporality of late capitalism
“The "extreme centre" is on the rise, or already in power, and it's coming back in many countries, not only in Europe.”
He is one of the most passionate political activists in Europe and he loves revolution. In this interview, the co-founder of DiEM25 and philosopher, Srećko Horvat, discusses his new book (Poetry from the Future), the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the recent EU elections, and the Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.
Yorgos Boskos (YB): Your new book is called 'Poetry from the Future'. Noam Chomsky has said of it: 'A compelling vision, an urgent necessity, and not beyond reach'. In your book, you describe how dystopia has become a reality. How can we transform our mindset in order to bring about real change?
Srecko Horvat (SH): The answer is – sorry for waxing poetic – only through a poetry from the future. In fact, the title of the book comes from a quote by Marx from his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, where he says that "the social revolution can't take its poetry from the past, but only from the future". We need a revolution in temporality. While most of the revolutions are actually a "tiger's leap into the past", the new revolution has to make a leap into the "open air of history". Walter Benjamin reminds us how on the first day of the 1848 revolution, "it turned out that the clock-towers were shot at independently and simultaneously in several places in Paris". Today we live in the arcades of 24/7 capitalism, a sort of narcocapitalism that is based on acceleration and the total colonization of time itself. We need to break with this temporality of late capitalism. On the one hand, create temporalities that are not pre-programed and measured, while being commodified every second. On the other hand, given the climate crisis and extinction, we should be aiming at a different notion of time, unlike the one based on extractivism of time from the future.
Take the recent Chernobyl TV series. This catastrophe is obviously fascinating, but we shouldn't be deceived. It's not so much about the past. The reason why it became so popular across the world immediately after being released lies in the global apocalyptic Zeitgeist. Chernobyl is not so much about what has happened, it is much more about a catastrophe that is coming. Not necessarily an explosion of a nuclear plant or a nuclear attack. Are we aware that currently there are around 250,000 tons of nuclear waste in the world and it will remain radioactive for the next 100,000 years? In order to tackle these questions from the future, we should be drawing our poetry from the future. The solutions, literally, have to come from the future. Which doesn't mean forgetting the past or not taking part in the struggles of the present. Precisely from here a different temporality can – and must – be created.
YB: After the European elections, it appears that right-wing populism is still growing and has already established itself as a fixture on the political stage. Are you worried?
SH: I am more worried about the establishment itself which is, after the European elections, creating a sort of narrative that "everything is fine", we have got ourselves a so-called "green wave" and the liberals are happy. Europe is back on track.
This, of course, is just another soap bubble which will soon reveal its true political impotence, imminently during the next snap elections coming in Greece, Austria and other countries, where rightwing forces might triumph again. The "extreme centre" is on the rise, or already in power, and it's coming back in many countries, not only in Europe. The lesson, precisely of these European elections, is that the ruling classes do their best to support the right wing forces when it suits the "status quo" (or making business), another bubble ready to burst – take for instance Angela Merkel's recent speech about "rejecting nationalism" in Zagreb, when she and Manfred Weber ahead of the European elections actually supported the revisionist and conservative government of Croatia, not really known as a country "rejecting nationalism". This story happens repeatedly. And then you wonder where the monsters came from. They came from your own closet. You impose shock doctrine, austerity and a debt economy on the periphery of the EU for decades, and then you wonder why China is coming and building all those railways, why Russia, UAE and Turkey are investing across the Balkans, why Silicon Valley companies like Uber or Airbnb are taking over European cities?
YB: After a thriller finish in Greece, MeRA25, finally, lost its one seat in the European Parliament. However, the Greek prime minister has called for July snap elections. Do you think MeRA25 will enter the Greek parliament?
SH: Lacking only 350 votes, DiEM25's "electoral wing" in Greece didn't get a seat in the European Parliament: but it was the first rather successful test that the political party is ready to take part in national elections. Growing disillusionment with SYRIZA, which to many already became clear back in 2015 when the 62% of the OXI vote was turned into its opposite, means that there is an opening for left and disobedient forces who stay true to the "Greek spring", namely that historic moment when Greece could have taken another direction.
YB: According to one recent poll, Germany's Greens have overtaken Merkel's conservatives. How did they manage to take on the CDU and the far right to become a major political force?
SH: It's not so much their own accomplishment, because the "green wave" wasn't created by the Greens themselves, but rather Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion and all the movements so active in Germany during recent years. Add to this the crisis of the centre and the impotence of the Left when it came to offering a coherent program which wouldn't be the standard flirtation with left wing nationalism, and then you have a recipe for the rise of the Greens. Unfortunately, insisting on lifestyle changes, a bit of recycling here and there, exporting diesel cars to the periphery of the EU while keeping track with ordoliberalism, isn't really a "green wave", is it? A Green New Deal can only succeed if at the same time it is internationalist, and already preparing for the post-capitalist future. There is no Green New Deal in one country. The answer is not welfare cuts, as the Greens attempted at the behest of Joschka Fischer.
YB: How do you regard the political situation in the United Kingdom? Do you think that Brexit will be delivered in the end?
SH: Brexit is perhaps the best contemporary embodiment of what Hegel meant by "bad infinity". Namely, an infinity which is actually a finite infinite that is constantly delaying the final moment of its finitude. In the meantime, you have the rise of monsters. From Nigel Farage to Donald Trump in the UK.
YB: You have recently stated that ‘the current system is more violent than any revolution’. Could you elaborate on that?
SH: My point is that we should always examine the structural violence that is everywhere. From your workplace, from patriarchy and misogyny, to the ongoing extractivism of harmful resources that end up in the never-ending spiral of self-destruction. The existential threat to human civilisation – and other species as well – is not science-fiction any more. Because of climate crisis and rising sea levels – even leading world institutions like the World Bank issue warnings about it – we will already, almost certainly, be faced by hundreds of millions of climate refugees mainly from the Global South in the coming decades. Instead of the Anthropocene we should be speaking about the Capitalocene. Environmental breakdown and extinction are consequences of the structural violence of a system based on extraction, exploitation and commodification of everything, including nature. Perhaps the revolution isn't, as Marx believed, the locomotive of world history, but it is rather – as Benjamin would have said – the emergency brake.
YB: DiEM25 gathered more than 1.4 million votes in the last EU election. What is next?
SH: We move on. It was a great success. For instance, in Germany we gathered 130,000 votes, and we founded the political party only last year without proper funding. We didn't succeed in getting a seat in the European parliament, but we succeeded in growing our membership and the movement is now more visible in Germany than ever.
DiEM25 was never just an electoral experiment, but a movement that is simultaneously working on many levels. You can say that we attempted to "hack" the European elections, and to a certain degree we succeeded, at least by using the elections for imposing a true transnational campaign, by using the elections in order to grow and build the needed infrastructure for the future. While the Greek party is competing in Greek elections, the movement itself is growing rapidly across Europe, we are continuing to work on the Green New Deal campaign, while at the same time, after the summer, we will reveal new steps for the Progressive International. Transnational cooperation is more important than ever. And US elections are coming soon.
YB: Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, is on DiEM25’s advisory panel. He has recently failed to appear in a UK court, since his health continues to deteriorate behind bars in Belmarsh prison. Do you think his extradition to the US is unavoidable?
SH: Nothing is unavoidable. But given all the signs of how the UK has handled this case so far, I am afraid that it isn't just a mere matter of the law – it is, and always has been a highly political matter that becomes clearer by the day, even to those who didn't believe it or fell for the character assassination of the messenger, while Julian Assange himself ended up in Belmarsh prison. When you have the UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt praising Julian's imprisonment, while the UN is warning that Assange's situation can be described as "psychological torture", how can you trust the current UK government or its courts? When Jeremy Hunt meets with John Bolton, who is so happy with their meeting that he concludes "there is no end to US-UK cooperation on global challenges", how can you not be opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange to Trump’s United States? Julian Assange is a political prisoner – if we lose him, we will lose not only the freedom of the press but democracy itself. This is not happening in China or Russia – this is happening in the heart of Europe.
YB: What else are you doing at the moment, aside from DiEM25?
SH: Writing a book about the Apocalypse. Hopefully a hopeful book.
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