June 1, 2022

War/Spasm: Rereading Guattari’s Plan pour la planète

Franco “Bifo” Berardi


According to Freud, the unconscious is a production that is rooted in the past (the family’s intricacies; the infant’s experience; memories and the repression of past experiences). The essential move of Guattari consisted in reversing the unconscious toward the future. Desire in the place of memory:

The Freudian Unconscious is inseparable from a society attached to its past, to its phallocratic traditions, and its subjective invariants. Contemporary upheavals undoubtedly call for a modelization turned more towards the future and the emergence of new social and aesthetic practices. (1995)

Political imagination is not only the rational extrapolation of trends of transformation. It is also the interpretation of signs that emerge at the surface of the social unconscious, in the deliriums and phobias traversing and punctuating public discourse and collective behavior.

The political writings of Félix Guattari are generally attempts to draw a cartography of this kind of interpretation.

In Plan pour la planète (1980), Guattari investigates the twisting geopolitical scene from the point of view of the unconscious, the far-seeing energy of the imagination. Everybody in those years was focusing on Cold War polarization, on the race to develop new weapon systems, on the danger of a Third World War.

On the contrary, in this book Guattari focused on the growing integration of the world economy, dismissing the rhetoric of nuclear danger. The subtitle of Plan pour la planète is “le capitalism mondial intégré,” or “integrated global capitalism.” An apparently delirious stance, it has shown itself to be more and more farsighted in the decades since.

There will be no war between the US and the Soviet Union, Guattari said in this small book. On the contrary, there will be integration. Félix wrote this text at the beginning of the 1980s, a decade that ended with the collapse of the Soviet empire and marked a preamble to a process of globalization that reached its peak in the second decade of the new century.

Then collapsed.

Not war, but integration. Not the irreconcilability of US and Soviet economic projects, but a tendency toward convergence—a slow but steady integration. This political prognosis was based on an understanding of the economic integration of the socialist field into the changing capitalist mode of production, and on the idea that technological evolution was destined to smooth contradictions and to merge consumption and lifestyle. Guattari’s imagination of the future of the world is a projection of his rejection of the oedipal reduction of psychogenesis.

For Guattari, Freudian psychoanalysis individualizes the unconscious through the Oedipus complex and a family-based narrative. By contrast, schizoanalysis seeks to liberate libidinal drives so they can operate directly within the multiplicities and assemblages of enunciation that constitute our social environment.

The schizoanalytic version of the unconscious was the expression of the social subjectivity of those decades, linked to a highly educated new generation and to the emergence of new forms of cognitive labor. It is the philosophical effect of the worldwide movement of students and researchers, and of feminist and gay liberation culture.

Simultaneously, however, it is also a sort of prefiguration of the neoliberal transformation of the world, the unleashing of enormous forces of production and destruction, the acceleration that led the global mind to its present collapse.

On page 38 of the 1981 Italian edition of Plan pour la planète (there is no English translation as far as I know), we read:

Computers are conversing from one continent to another, dictating the rules to political and economic leaders. Automated informational production no longer receive its consistency from a human factor, but from a factor of machinic continuity that traverses, contains, spreads, miniaturizes, and retrieves all human functions and activities.

Thanks to this networkization of the planet, which is conceptualized through the metaphor of the rhizome, capitalism is turning into a globally integrated system. Writing in the year 1980, when the world’s attention was captured by the fear of nuclear war between the two super powers, Guattari asserted: “No reason to expect a nuclear Holocaust” (123).

No world war, despite all the conflicts around the planet, but instead a trend toward economic integration: “Integrated global capitalism is made of transformations and reciprocal adjustments between Western capitalism and various forms of state capitalism” (60).

According to Guattari, this global integration will not result in a peaceful world order of justice and democracy. Not at all. It will instead result in a new totalitarian order that will function in a rhizomatic (a-centralized and interconnected) way: “The new totalitarian order that the experts of the Trilateral Commission have managed to shape cannot be assimilated into the old national fascisms. This new order will be everywhere and nowhere” (68).

These words are a clear prefiguration of the networked globalization that we have experienced in the thirty years since Félix’s death. The totalitarian order that has been built during these years cannot be identified with the old regimes of fascism, where power was centralized, where hierarchical discipline was imposed from above, and where all kinds of opposition and dissidence were brutally eliminated. The new totalitarian order is not at the center. It is nowhere (purely virtual) and everywhere. It is deterritorialized and inscribed in every act of symbolic exchange.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, we are exiting the sphere of globalization and entering an age that we cannot yet clearly define. What we can say is that it will not be governed by a political hierarchy. It will instead be regulated by automatic procedures of technical governance. At the same time, however, the new totalitarianism that Guattari prefigured in 1980 will be punctuated by periodic explosions of chaos, which in turn will feed automation, in a double spiral of automation and chaos.

Since February 24 of this year, the world has witnessed in horror a war between two blocs that both belong to the schizo-dimension of capitalism, but that also belong to the paranoid dimension of the Nation—the Nation turning into an Empire. Some of the old features of fascism are reemerging in both blocs, even if it would be wrong to think that twentieth-century fascism is coming back.

The Russian bloc, which I provisionally label “Nazi souverainism,” is based on the aggressive projection of the cult of the homeland, national identity, and race. Democracy is replaced by the unity of the Nation.

The American bloc, which I provisionally label “Nazi liberalism,” is based on the absolute primacy of economic profit and the replacement of democratic decision by techno-financial and military automatisms.

There is a schizophrenic dimension to the present conflict, where both sides proclaim they are fighting against Nazism: each side is fighting the fascism of the other side and unleashing its own fascism.

There is also a paranoid dimension to the conflict, in each side’s self-identification with a transcendent Truth (Democracy, the Nation) and systematic identification of the other as Absolute Evil.

We can interpret the schizo-paranoid rhetoric of this war as a duplicity inscribed in globally integrated capitalism itself, which is in the process of disintegrating. On one side, souverainist culture (which is not the exclusive prerogative of Putin but is shared by half the social spectrum, from Trump to Modi to Salvini to Bolsonaro) refers to social dynamics based on the production of physical things (oil, gas, wheat, and tanks). On the other side, liberal culture refers to the social dynamics of semio-capitalism, which is based on the circulation of signs (financial and crypto-economy). Russians also produce signs of course, and Americans produce wheat and tanks. My point is that the economic imagination is oriented in two different directions.

The flight into abstraction—the basic instinct of semio-capitalism—is colliding with the return of concreteness, a rancorous, revengeful return of the physicality of things, of need, of fatigue, of suffering.

The chaotic energy of the virus has inaugurated this return of matter. Now the two economic regimes are colliding and diverging: the abstract machines and the concrete machines of capitalism are engaged in what Guattari called a “chaosmic spasm.”

Guattari formulated the concept of chaosmic spasm in his last book, Chaosmosis. He wrote this phrase only once in the book; it was only a powerful intuition that he did not have time to elaborate. Still, the phrase expresses the painful contraction that is provoked by chaos, leading to a transformation of the rhythmic relation between the organism and its environment.

It’s our task, now, to start from Félix’s last words in order to find a line of flight out of the coming bicephalous neo-totalitarianism. It’s our task to take part in the chaosmotic process in which the unconscious tunes in to the chaos, to interpret its signs.

Originally published at Chaosmosemedia.

War & Conflict, Capitalism, Psychology & Psychoanalysis
Russia, USA

Franco Berardi, aka “Bifo,” founder of the famous Radio Alice in Bologna and an important figure in the Italian Autonomia movement, is a writer, media theorist, and social activist.


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