From Auschwitz to Brexit and beyond


The United Kingdom is once again called upon to be the stage for the recurring challenge of being avant-garde and having eyes and minds focused on the almost unbearable memory of its own human, white, sexist and imperial past.

By Gilson Schwartz*

 “Ideas are substitutes for suffering” (Marcel Proust, Time Rediscovered, published posthumously in 1927).

“Wouldn’t indigestion be richer in ideas than a parade of concepts?” (EM Cioran, in Breviary of Decomposition.

“I would like to make it public that I was never able to dislike Hitler. Since he came to power – until then, like most everyone else, I had deluded myself into thinking he was irrelevant – I consider that I would certainly kill him if I could get close enough to him, but that I still feel no personal animosity. Now that we're fighting the man (…) best not to underestimate his emotional appeal”. (George Orwell, Review of Mein Kampf, New English Weekly, March 21, 1940).

“This Parliament is a dead Parliament!” (Geoffrey Cox, Attorney General of England and Conservative-aligned Member of Parliament, according to John Bercow's account of the dramatic moments that led to the calling of elections that in December 2019 led Boris Johnson to consolidate the Conservative victory for the immediate implementation of Brexit (

The suffering that is translated into ideas loses something of its deadly emotional effectiveness and even the first instant of this transformation itself becomes the trigger of a feeling of euphoria, detailed the investigator of lost time. Cioran, resuming the existentialist thread at the time of the industrialized genocide, insists on the sterility of conceptualization that is purely abstract, the result of thought and abstraction alone. Instead of “I think, therefore I am”, “my body suffers, therefore I think”.

Only a body that is sick or stressed to the point of doubting its own existence can produce living ideas. The intellectual who prostrates himself investigating the stars waiting for a redeeming idea is not worth half a poet. And every thinker is in reality a merchant of second-hand products, because an idea before being a concept is pain.

The celebration of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army 75 years ago gives surprising vitality to such living concepts of Proust, Cioran and Orwell. From the industrialization of death in Auschwitz to social mortification in Brexit, there is a reverberation that is also reminiscent of the famous image of Klee's angel that is immortalized in the visual metaphor coined by Walter Benjamin to represent “progress”.

An angel who forges the future while contemplating the always primitive and renewed accumulation of corpses, victims of wars, floods and landslides, recessions and terrorist attacks, neocolonial invasions and epidemics, arson and other ills widely distributed among the poorest.

Among the countless and complex evaluations of each capitalist crisis (from 1929 to the Holocaust, from 2008 to Brexit), by far the most convincing (if not just obvious) is the association between paralysis of the machine to produce and concentrate wealth and the immediate application of the avant-garde technology in violent processes of mass destruction of material and immaterial resources.

It is not just about fiscal “austerity” (which deepens the destruction and decomposition of materials, bodies and minds) but about “productive” conversion of the technological frontier for “necropolitical” ends.

In both cases, a necropolitical economy vibrates in which the power of ideas is directly proportional to the intensity of civic or social death provoked by the most advanced forms of technological innovation: the Fordist industry at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, iconomic mediatization at the beginning of the XNUMXst century.

The main battlefield is the result of the commodification of bodies whose value is determined by industrialized individuation, an advanced process that was prepared by technical rationalization (mapped by Max Weber), by the massification of consumption without self-care (a biopolitical emergency diagnosed by Michel Foucault). which culminates in the holy war for the culture of hope in an age without spirit (contemporarily denounced by philosophers such as Bernard Stiegler).

Both in the cycle that led to the Second World War and in Brexit, the conservative turn was the result of a relatively long preparation that began with the financial and industrial crisis that was projected internationally, leading to the reaffirmation of nationalism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The biggest mistake of British Labor was the mimetic approach of the most extreme left to conservative values ​​(despite all the rhetoric against austerity and for the socialization of health and telecommunications, Corbyn's British Labor came dangerously close to accepting Brexit itself).

It is also worth remembering that the referendum on Brexit was called by David Cameron, a conservative, but already in 2016 the labor leader Corbyn adopted an ambiguous speech on Brexit in the face of the loss of more than a third of his electorate in the most deindustrialized areas of the country. . After all, Corbyn has always been anti-EU, anti-US, anti-Israel. Tony Blair validated the Iraq war. The conquest of party control by a leftist wing that in practice tactically endorsed conservative positions undermined its potency.

In practice, both conservatives and labor came forward to present ideas that seem to be firmly anchored in the feeling of pain, loss and fear of loss of identity that has taken over the bodies of individuals and the very social materiality of an economy in crisis.

Holocaust at the Imperial War Museum


From Brexit I return, in a multimedia dive, to Auschwitz. The model is mounted in white, in the most emotional moment of the exhibition about the Holocaust on display at the Imperial War Museum London.

Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets, Bergen-Belsen by the British.

The experience of looking is dissected by the curators of the Imperial war museum, which offers a VR (Virtual Reality) experience of the icons of Nazi barbarism.

The visit to the exhibition has the option with a guide. It's ninety minutes of learning even for someone, like me, who has heard and read stories of the Holocaust since childhood. And of sheer emotion: between crying, retching, being baffled, ashamed of being human, dumbfounded at the visual banality of evil, begging for hope in the simple indisputable fact that all this was buried under millions of corpses in the past, there are almost a century...

Only not. After ninety minutes of bodily, visual, intellectual, political and ideological immersion on the Holocaust, upon exiting that most disgusting historical and spiritual labyrinth, the visitor comes face to face with the Little Boy, the atomic bomb. And just ahead, vertiginously occupying the main hall, a V2 bomb. Further on, a vehicle carrying journalists when it was attacked in the Iraq War. The spectacle of the imperial war and its deadly artifacts put the brain of the visitor who comes from the Colony in a state of amazement, the spirit in spasm.

The physical, mental and emotional contraction provoked by the experience of imperial war throughout human history places the individual in a perspective which seems to lack concept, as it is the solution through recurrent violence of all human challenges despite successive technological, cultural and spiritual revolutions. . The future is happening, but with each cycle the most disturbing atavisms, the sickest emotions and the most violent threats seem to return as signs that there are no ideas without suffering and that GDP growth can only be the result of unfathomable sacrifices in the square from the market. That they are human sacrifices that become progressively more inhumane is another characteristic of these moments when the advance of technology ends up serving the most perverse and authoritarian selection of who can live, who should be sent to the gas chambers and crematorium.

Santo de Casa Doesn't Make a Miracle

The crisis in the national health system (NHS) that has dragged on for years as an indisputable result of budget cuts, outsourcing of services and containment of spending on human resources is just the tip of the iceberg.

The transformation of restrooms into solitary confines to punish students for performance or “off the curve” behavior is just a symptom of the increasing mobilization of children and adolescents to act in the county lines distribution of drugs throughout the British territory. There are hundreds of “little planes” recruited in the educational incarceration system that in recent years, in England, has become a veritable public network of crime schools. The record number of stabbing deaths in London is frightening.

The liberal rhetoric and idolization of market forces, so much to the taste of the portentous financial houses established in the “City”, shows its true and naked face in the scandal of investments in the “bullet train” in England. It is something to leave the “mensalão” and “petrolão” as footnotes in the history of the incestuous relations between capital, State and political parties. For the time being, the simple threat of an immediate cut in expenses with the bullet train project puts a loss of 12 billion pounds (more than R$ 70 billion) to public coffers. There are thousands of companies in virtually every sector threatened by the cut (if Brexit could rely on “austerity” programs to make itself credible).

In practice, financial deregulation associated with the strategic use of government purchases and large projects (from infrastructure to the creative economy) has become a logic of reproduction of the British economy, which simply cannot bend to traditional (orthodox) requirements. generating confidence in more employment, investment and income.

The mercantile altar where the graces of heaven are invoked to validate a new autonomy vis-à-vis European markets via Brexit would only be viable by provoking social, human and physical destruction comparable to the combination of Auschwitz with Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Believing that the creation of barriers to the creation of jobs abroad is the solution to avoid deindustrialization with the accelerated loss of domestic jobs is to underestimate the size of the contradiction in which the conservative elite and its extreme right militias have found themselves.

It is up to the collective intelligence of social and democratic coalitions to prepare for the day after of this suicidal hecatomb of racist neoconservatism that will again give rise to a new cycle of recomposition of partnerships where destruction, when inevitable, is creative and generates authentic horizons of human emancipation in harmony with the beings and things of this planet. The cracks in the most extreme pacts of human conservatism, such as Auschwitz in the past and Brexit in the present, are the result of living contradictions, produced by bodies in confrontation, not by ideas or parades of ideas, with more or less academic, political or cultural fanfare. cultural.

The need for accelerated advances towards the new wave of telecommunications, the cost of which will only be lower if the Chinese productive machine is integrated into global networks, the autonomist and complementary effects of cultural forms of resistance to consumerism and the resumption of care for oneself, the Other and the environment, the dramatic reality of anthropocenic events of metanational magnitude such as fires, epidemics, radioactivity pollution and the mortification of employment due to the precariousness of occupation in the name of a supposedly spontaneous activation of entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation… all of this is too intense, complex and urgent for the smoke screens usually created by those who only have “ideas”, but not the organic intellectual capacity to produce new pacts for life, freedom and social emancipation to work.

By living in the body of individuals and society the radical character of the contradictions between nationalism, racism, economic liberalism and the more dynamic forces of capitalism itself, global society and digital culture, the UK is once again called to to be the stage for the recurrent challenge to be avant-garde and to have eyes and minds focused on the almost-unbearable memory of the human, white, sexist and imperial past itself.

As in Paul Klee's angel, as in George Orwell's warning or in the philosophical memoirs of Proust and Cioran, it is necessary to go beyond Auschwitz, beyond Brexit without giving up the democratic discernment of Good and Evil. Emotional appeals explore the human need to transform pain into a concept, suffering into learning, knowledge and hope. They explore, but only produce an ideology that mirrors the contradictions of an exploration of the opportunity of affections, an emotional added value.

It is inevitable that the logic of the icons only confirms the relationship between body and concept that in fact leads to overcoming pain and a new euphoria, even if provisional and fragile as always. The memory of authoritarian spasms is also the empirical demonstration that murderers always lose to poets.

*Gilson Schwartz is a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London, professor at ECA-USP and author, among others, of Iconomics, Introduction to the Digital Critique of the Industrial and Financial Economy (Editora da UFBA), available at

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