The short 20th century (as opposed to the long 19th century), says Eric Hobsbawm, began with the First World War. It is not the only hypothesis that can be sustained and, in fact, Giovanni Arrighi proposes a long 20th century, which begins before and ends much later.
On February 20, 1909, he appeared in “Le Figaro”, the “Futurist Manifesto”, promoted by Filippo Tomasso Marinetti. As is known, this intellectual vanguard would find in fascism an unsurprising path of development, if one remembers that in its article 9 the “Manifesto” already proclaimed: “We want to glorify war – the only hygiene of the world -, militarism, patriotism , the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas that kill, and the contempt for women”.
That same futuristic intelligence gave itself up, before fascism, to war games. The number of volunteers who signed up to fight in the Great War (on both sides) is still surprising today: half of the writers of that time signed up and a few even suffered the resentment of not having been able to participate in the fight for different reasons (Francis Scott Fitzgerald always complained about not having reached the battlefield; Kafka wanted to enlist, and they did not accept it).
Like so many others, Guillaume Apollinaire (the inventor of surrealism, the most sensitive radar for the decomposition of the world) died upon returning from the front. It wasn’t really the War that took him, but the Spanish Flu, which killed more people than armies (fifty million people worldwide).
American intelligence had already foreseen this flu pandemic very early. On April 5, 1909, Rubén Darío published in “La Nación”, in Buenos Aires, a radical criticism of the “Manifesto”, which pointed out, among other things, the avant-garde aporia of “regulated destruction” (what sense does a set of rules have? to destroy the rules?) and then he wondered: War as Hygiene? Do not be childish: the Plague wins.
To those who claimed that the War was the hygiene of the world (to those who went to war believing that it was going to put an end to Plutocracy and Imperialism) Darío warns them: the Plague is much more hygienic. Contagion is much more effective than the imperial-nationalitarian dialectic.
War and Plague, then, at the beginning of the century, prefigured in 1909 by two imaginations that do not seem to share the same hopes (not to mention the distance from women, whom Darío indoctrinates with his “Feminist Sonatina”).
All of this, that the 21st century wanted to forget together with communism, returned very condensed in 2020-2022 to tell us that War, Fascism, the Crisis and the Plague are still there (especially as names), and they force us to think about the ways of overcoming a regime of senseless accumulation and hostile to the living, because Plague, War and Crisis are the consequence of this regime.
You don’t have to be a poet or a historian to evaluate everything that was written in the blood and smoke of corpses in the very heart of the 20th century (which is not only “In Search of Lost Time”, but also the implementation of the most atrocious extermination fantasies).
And yet, today the whole world semblances and no one dares to raise their voices against the war too much. Politicians weave agreements: I vote for this sentence if you give me a handful of dollars; I refrain from calling the “conflict” in Ukraine a “war” so as not to irritate “friendly” countries or we weigh NATO’s aggressive expansionism to justify the unjustifiable. The folly is capital and it is as if we once again wanted to surrender to the thirst for war. “Finally a God!” Rilke exclaimed when the Great War broke out. The fact that someone tries to perceive in these processes of “purification” or “hygiene” some hope for a humanity overwhelmed by the regime of capitalist accumulation (liberal or authoritarian) takes us back to the most tragic moments of the last century. Today it is possible to hear voices that perceive themselves to be on the left justifying Russian aggression today and tomorrow, why not? Chinese aggression.
Meanwhile, Meta laid off 11,000 employees, Twitter half its plant, Amazon plans to lay off 10,000 workers.
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