Discussion with Franco Berardi Bifo about the Presidential Candidacy project

Bifo: You underline awareness as the "main word". Don't you think that impotent awareness is kind of masochistic? What's the use of awareness when conscious collective action seems impossible?

Florin Flueras: Probably the impossibility of conscious collective action is because too much unconscious collective action - too much production, agitation, too much immersion in the official perception of the reality, too much involvement in the consumerist-capitalist religion.
Maybe for a conscious collective action the first thing that we have to do is to make space by stoping the unconscious collective action. A moment of paralyzing awareness can be good - a total stop, a total silence, a zero moment.

You have announced your presidential candidacy for the next elections in Romania. What's your aim? What's your program? Do you want really to change the political course of Romania?

We are a group and we mainly come from performance/contemporary dance. At some point we couldn't avoid anymore to raise a fundamental question for our art. What is the point to do our performances in the theatre, what is the point to add another spectacle in this society of generalized spectacle? Based on this question we started what we call postspectacle practice, with the intention to go with our skills and knowledge as performers and makers on the main stages - mass media and politics.

The candidacy is a mean to enter in the official debate, to get on TV basically. We don't go on TV to announce an alternative or another program; we go to expose what is behind a program, how a program works, to expose and to play with the spectacle of power and with the power of spectacle.
We don't enter in the political life because we have a solution. We enter more to raise the avoided questions and to deconstruct the official solutions, to make space, to create the premises for collective intelligence to manifest.

We don't have a plan because planning implies a logic of authority that we want to question. We see every day the unhappy results of planning the lives of the people by the state or corporations. People have the capacity to organize themselves if they are allowed to (as the workers that occupied the factories in Argentina proved, and many other communities when a vacuum of power has occurred). So maybe we can say that our plan is to un-plan. As we said in our announce for the candidacy, we want the power in order to dissolute the power.

We are very aware that first of all we cannot win the elections, and if we do, it doesn't matter. You don't do politics in Bucharest these days. You can see constantly how IMF functions as a kind of super ego that regulates the entire political and economical life of the country. So the democratic game doesn't mater as long as policies are made in supra-democratic structures like IMF, World Trade Organization, World Economic Forum, etc. What they call politics in Romania is the following of the directives of the supra-democratic structures and a bit of a provincial mafia administration and fights for the leftovers. Basically they take their commissions by selling the politics and the economics of the country.

The power becomes more and more verticalized and globalized and the authority becomes more and more complex, integrating the means of discipline, control and management of perception (means of producing auto-control - the interiorized authority). There is not a passage from disciplinary society to society of control, to arbitrary power, it is an accumulation - all kind of coercion coexist and amplify each other, shaping a power that reaches the limits of the world and the core of the subjectivity (exploiting or make us to self-exploit our souls, how you very well point out).
It looks like we are definitely lost. No possible plan, no possible solution, no hope. There is nothing to do but something must be done. We give up hope and in the same time we can somehow (secretly) believe in an event, a miracle or at least an apocalypse.

Can you describe the current situation of the young generation in your country? What are the labour conditions? What the average salary of a young worker?

The average fee in Romania is around 360 euro/month. Better for the people that work in informatics (majority young) average 850/month.
It was just voted the new working legislations and they are proud about its flexibility. But basically it is a flexibility for corporations, for employers to dispose even more and easier of the time and life of the workers, to be able to fire them easily and to overwork them. Basically the rights of the workers are decimated.

Romania is a clear case of a Second World country situated somewhere between the first world where the power invests in some people’s capacities in order to harvest their productivity after, and the third world with its brutal exploitation, fordist production, etc. So you can find something close to the third world sweat shops but also the first world immaterial labour.

How large is the space of cognitive work in the Romanian economy? Can we speak of a precarious cognitariat? What is the salary of a school teacher?

They reduced a lot the salaries for education. The perception is that you are a kind of loser if you work in the pre-university education. So the people avoid teaching and the quality of education is going always down. The salary of school teachers are between 180 euro and 380 euro in pre-university education. In the Universities can go much higher, like 4000 euro/month in some cases (they were scandals on this issues).

I don't know statistics about how much cognitive work we have. But I can give you other statistics that I think can say something about this issue. Romania has the highest speed of internet in Europe and the first place for internet illegal activities too. Another curious thing is that Romania is the only country from Europe where the law that oblige internet providers to save personal information from people (emails, etc.) it was not approved.

We can speak about a generalized precarious life here. The people that have a job are afraid that they will lose it. And the others are improvising on the spot, each day, to survive. The official debate is allot around how to get rid of state employees, what is still possible to privatize and how to cut what we still have from education, healt care, pensions, etc. Like almost everywhere we assist at the killing of the social state.

What is the mind-scape of the young generation? Which kind of drugs (legal, illegal) are prevailing?

The main drugs, like everywhere in Capitalism, are coffee and allot of alcohol. Coffee to push the productivity, alcohol to kill the little free time and any possibility of a scary moment of lucidity. For the marginal people there is heroin, and for the very marginal the aurolac (a cheap paint inhaled from a plastic bag). I heard allot about people that take Xanax (anti-panic and anti-anxiety pills) and anti-depressives, but I don't know statistics. But I know a statistic that says that generally Romanians administrate themselves legal drugs when they are sick, without consulting a doctor (too expensive).
In general the mindscape is more and more shaped towards right wing, neocons directions, by money and propaganda that gives astonishing results. There is a very toxic mixture of nationalism combined with orthodox religion, racism, homophobia, etc. And this is growing and growing.

The other big tendency is a more centric one, perfectly represented by people from the creative industries. People that are cynical, not interested in politics, "against any ideology" and activism. They are into a life style copying the kind of Berlin atmosphere, parties, drugs, etc. But in practice they are not apolitical at all, they actually are working in creative industries like publicity, etc. - at the core of neoliberalism. And behind the attempts of cool, fashionable, original appearances, the majority shares a very conventional, mainstream and political ignorant perception. They use social networks mostly just for self expression and party events. This category consumes, besides the coffee-alcohol, also ecstasy, cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, etc.

The people invested so much in the Capitalism dream during the dictatorship, that now the confrontation with the real is totally overwhelming. The delusion is too big. No more revolutionary energy. It was consumed, discharged in 89. Now it is apathy and depression.
But there are good sides too. From many points of view seems to be more potential, the capital is not so well organized, there are gaps, the reality and capitalism not totally coincide like in the west. And there is a special understanding in some people, because a change in political systems and official discourses like we had after the revolution can create awareness and a distance from any political system - skepticism towards the power and its solutions in general.

Some months ago we heard voices of a student's movement in Bucharest. How did it evolve? What is the condition of school, and of the university in your country? What the effects of neoliberal politics on the educational system? Do you see any sign of student's consciousness and self-organization?

What you heard was the protests of workers and pensioners, when the government cut 25% of salaries of state workers and 15% from pensions. Is an atypical situation, the most revolutionary generation here are the pensioners, they continued the protests for many days. From this point of view the students appear more conventional and conservative than police - while everywhere in Europe students were beaten by police, here one of the most radical action it was the police protest and strike.
The leaders of the student unions are part of a very corrupt system, similar to the leaders of working syndicates, they are in close dubious relations with the political parties and usually they enter in one of the parties structures after they finish school.
There is no sign of political consciousness and self-organization... It seems that the school works perfectly in creating conventional thinking and obedience. The recent neoliberal policies will complete what is already a disaster. A school in which study and education is not possible, only a dressage for interiorizing the authority and a preparation for exploitation.

How can artistic action interfere with the social process? How can an artist or a poet produce changing effects on the social sphere?

After the capitalism expansion reached all the populations, all the resources and the limits of the earth, now the fight is for the most intimate human "resources", capacities, sensibility - we can say that the ultimate battle is in the art domain. So I don't see so much art as a weapon for fighting Capitalism but more as a battlefield. A battlefield that unfortunately is alredy almost entirely occupied by the enemy, the economic logics. The power domesticated and almost entirely integrated the art and the artist.
In Romania during the Communism period functioned what they called "the resistance through culture". In the sense that some artists, writers, didn't compromised to praise the dictator, but at the same time they didn't take any risk, they went with the regime doing their art and now they pretend that they were dissidents. They are very badly judged. They are called 'collaborators'.

But now is it not the artists that legitimize Capitalism? The artist is in a chain of economic-political power relations. He's the subject of a pressure from above - curators, programmers, which are the subject of a pressure from politicians or banks/corporations (a soft invisible pressure via access to funds). From this point of view the artist is a link between officials and subjectivities and their knowledge and sensibility is preferable to work for power than against.

If we really want to do something, it would be a bit less comfortable, less safe - we have to assume the risks of loosing the artistic privileges and to be exiled from the official art, from the court of the Capital. If we want to produce change in the social sphere first of all we have to go out or against the institutionalized art bubble. To interrupt the flow of spectacle, the institutional chain of passing the cultural agenda. To not listen and even to sabotage the administrative protocols in art - from artists to become cultural terrorists.

"Terrorist" is a label that points towards any enemy, potential danger to the establishment. The terrorist and the little brothers, pirate and hacker are the only ones that are not assimilated and integrated in our society. Maybe now, in the crisis is an opportunity for us to go out from the assigned art bubbles and to use our time, skills and knowledge to intervene on the biggest stages (mass media, politics). Maybe is time for art to go where things happen.

Another possible alternative is for us to become saints, prophets, mystics. What I want to say with this is to radically work and experiment with subjectivity. Not just to play safe in representation with creativity and fantasy but to experiment with essential human behaviours, values, perceptions, attitudes, states of mind, sensibility - so radical that it become religious. If we really want something to change I think we have to go a bit beyond our comfort and to alter the core of our identities. If we are Capitalism, the exploitation, the extinction of species, the climate changes, at least some parts of us have to transform radically or even die. In this sense, maybe we have to embrace a bit of (artistic) apocalypse.