Nate's blog

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1971 We must make sure “that the proletariat, as a revolutionary subject, is conceived in its relation to the determinacy of the capital relation.” (RR 129) “[T]he forms of production are increasingly moving from a state of contradiction with the social forces of production, into a state of antagonism.” (RR129) “[I]n the enterprise form of capitalist domination, violence has lost (…) all relation with any project that could be deemed progressive. The enterprise form of violence (…) is an irrational form within which exchange value is imposed on social relations in which the conditions of the exchange relation no longer exist.” Given that this is the case, “[t]he old perspectives (…) based on representing and constituting working class action within the cycle (…) must now be replaced by action aimed at drawing out every emergning instance of the proletariat against the key moments of capitalist repression which now take the form of the enterprise.” (RR 131) 1980 Negri distinguishes between labor power and working class (find reference) – the former is class-in-itself, the former is class-for-itself, we might think of this as subjected labor and labor as (self-constructed) subject. “In the old ‘workerist’ framework of analysis, centrality was accorded to the labour process – as distinct from the productive process as a whole.” (RR194) “Now analysis has to encompass the whole metropolis and class recomposition has to be (…) understood in terms of the total social working day, which – at the level of real, social subsumption of labour – is the same as life-time itself.” (RR197) 1982 “If it is true that the terms of exploitation are now relocated on the social terrain, and if, within this social terrain, it is no longer possible to reduce quantity and quality of exploitation, absolute surplus value and relative surplus value, to the time-measure of a ‘normal’ working day – then the proletarian subject is reborn in antagonistic terms, around a radical alternative, an alternative of life-time as against the time-measure of capital.” (RR219) “[W]hen the whole of life become production, capitalist time measures only that it directly commands. And socialized labour-power tends to unloose itself from command, insofar as it proposes a life-alternative – and thus projects a different time for its own existence, both in the present and in the future.” (RR220) “As real subsumption advances, so the social worker is brought into existence, as irresolvable antagonism.” (RR221) “[L]abour-power, at this level of subsumption of social labour by capital (…) now presents itself as a social subject” (RR223) “[T]he process of real subsumption brings about such a massive intensification of the composition of the working class, and such an extension of its potentiality, as to eliminate any dualism between being and consciousness, any isolation of single aspects within it. (…) Production and reproduction are, now in parallel and on equal terms, the spheres of action proper to and adequate to the reality of labour-power.” (RR226) “[A]ll has become productive” (TFR 44) In real subsumption, “production is only given as social productive circulation, productivity is systemic (…) There is only abstraction of surplus-value on the basis of the functional co-operation of all of social labour, there is only organization of exploitation as command that expresses itsel fover the whole of social labour.” (TFR 65) “The time of class struggle in itself contains the future and it continually attempts to shape it. The contemporaneity of the future and of the present at the level of real subsumption does not produce utopian confusion: it is the collective which constructs, the future that is brought back to the dimension of the collective, and it is subordinated to the enormous productive power that class composition (…) possesses.” (TFR 97) [What date?] “I have continually sought to bring two traditional thematics, the question of the validity of the law of value, and the development of the transition between socialism and communism, into contact with the new phase of political history: the subsumption of the entire society under capital in the process of capitalist accumulation, and therefore the end of the centrality of the factory working class as the site of the emergence of revolutionary subjectivity.” (20 Theses, 149) “The periodization of capitalist development shows that we are at the beginning of a new epoch.” (20 Theses, 154) In this new epoch, “[i]mmediately productive labor loses its centrality in the process of production, while the “social worker” assumes a hegemonic position.” (20 theses 156) “[P]roductive labor is no longer ‘that which directly produces capital,’ but that which reproduces society (…) production is ‘subsumed within circulation’, and vice versa, to a continually greater extent.” (20 Theses 157) In our era, “new technical conditions of proletarian independence are determined within the material passages of development, and therefore, for the first time, there is the possibility of a rupture in the restructuration [of capitalist social relations] which is not recuperable and which is independent of the maturation of class consciousness.” (20 Theses 165) “Today the revolutionary point of contradiction is the antagonism between social cooperation and productive command.” (20 Theses 165) “What differentiates the present from the previous phases of development of the capitalist mode of production is the fact that productive social cooperation, previously produced by capital, is now presupposed in all of its policies, or better it is a condition of its existence. (…) The social worker is the producer (…) prior to any commodity, of social cooperation itself.” (20 Theses 165)
There are important resources in the experiences and theory of operaismo and autonomia. Aspects of operaismo limit the usefulness of the work, specifically tendencies toward homogenizing as well as statist and vanguardist politics. The homogenizing theoretical moment is linked to a would-be hegemonizing political role that the groups which some of the operaisti were in wished to play. Disentangled from the above, what would remain of operaismo is a ‘bottom up’ mode of reading history, histories that themselves need to be read in search of weapons, and a set of practices which are somewhere between knowledge production and organizing. Workers’ inquiry would be, essentially, the production of knowledge useful for workers against work. Workers’ inquiry, then, would mean seeking to understand the moves that the class enemies are making, the moves our class is already making, and how to improve this process. This mode of workers’ inquiry or militant research suggests moving beyond figures (intellectual, teacher, militant, organizer), which should be retained only deliberately and when useful, and towards an emphasis upon practices, including but not limited to practices of knowledge. Knowledge is like labor, it can be living and dead. Dead knowledge is in books, it has use only when animated by the form giving fire of living labor. Living knowledge is practical (not just in the sense of ‘pragmatic’, but also in the sense of ‘in practice’, that is, it is in motion already, it is currently in a processing of enacting). There are several modes of living knowledge with regard to ‘politics’, which include producingad knowledge (books, flyers, etc), producing groups coming to knowledge of themselves and each other (workshops, discussions, reflections on individual and collective experience), and the production and improvement of new/increased powers in people (training – from something benign like music lessons to trainings [including role plays] on workplace organizing, organization building, strategic decision making, tactics, etc). Politically speaking, there is no neutral or nonpartisan position with regard to knowledge or knowledge production (in the sense of ‘political knowledge’). Practices of knowledge production are thus always in motion, even if we can not see the vectors at the time, and are bound up with decision making. Knowledge production does not occur in a vacuum but rather touches on all manner of other things: one leaves workshops and training with new friends, potential rivals and enemies, more or less confidence, a sense of hope or of despair. What remains of operaismo, or more directly, what I think should be done with operaismo, then is to approach knowledge production as being a mode of organization which is always contiguous with – and which simultaneously acts upon and is acted upon by – other modes. Knowledge production is organization (a class room organizes perceptions and experience, reinforces pyramidal social organizations and is a moment of the educational capital which owns the class room). Communist knowledge production is both knowledge of communist organization – like the communism of coin clippers, file sharers, and co-workers who stand up for each other – and production/improvement of organization, whether formal or informal. Communist practices of knowledge are not a matter of theory, or rather, are not simply a matter of theory as dead knowledge, but instead must be living knowledge. To remain living, communist knowledge productions must be flexible and pragmatic on the choice of idioms of speech: "theory" talk can be useful, but it can also cause blockages and breakdowns where other idioms may have succeeded. Idioms and the contents of ideas are not enough, of course, there is also the matter of affective connections: relationship building, of which idioms are a moment, but only a moment. The basic question is always "what is this producing, and for whom?"
Notes for another possible interview... In reading your work, I find myself wrestling with the term ‘biopolitics’ and ‘biopolitical’, which you lay out [find reference and quote] as power taking charge of life. As I understand you, the becoming biopolitical of production is what makes the new political project of the not-yet multitude possible. You are not alone in this, some friends from Spain and Argentina have taken up the term as well (reference Precarias and Franco Ingrassia), as part of both mapping the present and proposing new political projects. The understanding of project they lay out sees designated workplaces as contiguous with other spheres of life, and the politics proposed is characterized by a movement – and the attempt to build and exercise power – across these times and spaces. My initial response to term and the turn it is related to in theory and in political struggle is enthusiastic. On the other hand, I have become more ambivalent about the term. To say that biopolitics has to do with power taking charge of life seems to be vague, as all political power is power over instantiations or modalities of life. Paolo Virno has written that he has a friendly disagreement with you and Negri over biopolitics, because the very concept (and material existence) of labor power implies a taking charge of life (or, as Panzieri writes, planning the labor process means planning living bodies) [cite and quote both]. This would mean that capitalism is biopolitical from its inception. I assume you do not agree with Virno, or else you would not use the concept of biopolitics the way you do. Can you clarify your use of the term, and how it differs from what Virno claims about the term? In the book Guias, Negri distinguishes between biopower – as the set of techniques of managing populations – and biopolitics – as the production of subjectivity [cite, quote]. In this regard, biopower seems a very important historical development, and an important category for understanding the present and history. On the other hand, biopolitics as the production of subjectivity is harder for me to grasp the importance of. Perhaps I misunderstand the terms, but it seems to me that organizing and social struggle always involve the production of subjectivity. I can think from my own experiences with workplace organizing, there is a big change involved in becoming part of collective activity. It seems to me that all collective activity of resistance and refusal is a process of becoming-collective in a new way, becoming-resistant, which is a production of subjectivity. Or am I using the terms differently than you are? If so, how? On a related note, as part of the becoming-biopolitical of labor, I understand you and Negri to have laid out a picture in which capitalist production is not limited to remunerated worktime or designated workplaces, and that this (biopolitical?) condition, wherein work occurs across the social field, is part of the new political potentials found in our moment. I wonder about this, though, about what register this idea operates on, the idea that production doesn’t just happen in the factory – are you innovating Marxian categories, or diagnosing a change in the present world? Do you mean that what was once nonwork time has become worktime (in the sense of producing for capital, value production) such that there is now (a greater quantity of) unpaid work happening that did not happen before? Or do you mean that today, because of the arrangement of production today, we understand that capitalism has always involved unpaid work outside of designated workplaces? (I am thinking here of writers like Dalla Costa, Federici, and Fortunati, who argue that the wage has always commanded unwaged labor as well, so that housework by women has always been work for capital since capitalism began.) A similar question was asked of you the last time, when we did the interview by email for aut-op-sy, but the question wasn’t adequately clear. To try and ask this question more directly: do you and Negri see reproductive labor as having been productive of capital (and thus a site of struggle analogous to paid workplaces) since the beginning of capitalism, or do you see this a new phenomenon? If housewives work, for instance, have they worked since capitalism began, or beginning at some later point in time? In the last interview, in response to similar questions, you said (among other things) “Another way to approach this question would be with Deleuze and Guattari. In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, all is production. Think of desiring-production as a way of expanding what is considered labor.” When I hear you say ‘desiring production expands what is considered labor’, I am not sure how to hold onto a distinction that I think is important, namely, the difference between value production and other production, between work for the boss work for one’s self (at the office I work in - the work of data entry that I should have been doing vs the work of typing up these questions for you which I did instead). It seems to me that there are several ways to understand the phrase ‘expands what is considered labor’. One sense is the recognition of activity that is productive of capital but is not or has been recognized as such. (The labor of housewives, for instance, which Fortunati says has been able to be made productive for capital in large part due to the denial of the fact that it is productive for capital.) Another sense is that certain activities that were not productive of capital become integrated into the production of capital. I am thinking here of artistic production: people who play music, write, etc for their own enjoyment who then find themselves able to sell their creative work – work they would do anyway – to get paid enough money that they don’t have to do anything else, at least for a while. This seems to me to be something like a voluntary submission to enclosure at the cultural level, in return for payment. (Something which, perhaps despite the terms here, I have no problem with. I would love to be able to do such a thing!) With this last, it seems to me that nonwork activities become work, become value productive (analogous to the sense in which Marx says that factory work is not productive of value if the goods rot on the dock – value production is (productive of) a social relationship above all else. Similarly, when a band sells its record or a novelist sells her manuscript, activities are or become part of value production, become valorize – conversations had with friends, nightmares and daydreams, moments of emotional and physical intimacy. If the record or book is not sold, or is sold to a company but then does terribly in sales, then value is not realized and those activities are not valorized. Can you expand on your remarks on the relationship between value production (labor productive of capital) and desiring production, and the relationship of desiring production and the common? (In the above examples I tried to give about aesthetic production I kept thinking about the common – if a band sells its record then it is valorizing part of the common, producing the common as part of capital, if it doesn’t sell then those moments of the common are not valorized.) Insofar as I understand the terms, I understand the relationship of value production and desiring production as follows – value production and desiring production relate to each in a mobile and transverse fashion. Sometimes desiring production and value production are in line with each other, sometimes value production combats desiring production (the imposition of work, the dead time that the Situationists denounced) and sometimes desiring production ruptures or escapes from value production. In the last interview, in response to these questions you also said “I should note also that "productivity" might not always be the right way to think of this. (…) We need to think about what is productive of social relationships, of society itself.” This interesting, and reminds me of remarks (which I’m not sure I understand) by Jean-Luc Nancy, about being-with. But, in thinking about what is productive of society itself – this is a variation on earlier questions – how can we also think about the production of capitalist society, and the production of communism? We don’t live in society itself, society as such, we live in a capitalist society, a capitalist epoch of society that we want to exit from. And so, in the production of society itself, it’s important to think about … vectors, for lack a better term … trajectories that point back into the production of society as capitalist society, and trajectories that point beyond capital – productions of communism (building the new society inside the shell of the old, as the saying goes.) This is part of what is at stake in the questions about reproductive labor and so on: parts of the Marxist tradition have seen only industrial factory workers as being capable of pointing (producing social relationships) beyond capitalism, the industrial proletariat as bearer of (potential) communism. Part of what I like about your expansion of the concept of labor is that it can serve as a move in (and against) the Marxist tradition, expanding who is part of the production or bringing on of communism, and thus working against strategies which have subjugated different class sectors behind a hegemonic sector (and its official representatives). Do you have thoughts on any of this? You spoke at the Society for European Philosophy conference, on the theme of ‘resistance’, in London in [when?]. You began by commenting on the idea that power is prior to resistance, which had come up in some of the conference presentations. You laid out three different versions of this idea – Deleuzian, a philosophical and ontological conception wherein it is only resistance that has the power to act creatively; Trontian, in which the actual historical forms that capitalism takes on are produced by the working class; and a third identified with Subaltern Studies and British social history, a ‘bottom-up’ (re)reading of history showing that those assumed (by a certain reading of history) to be without agency, to be fully determined by power, were in fact active subjects. I wonder how you would place your idea of multitude, always-already multitude in this schema. I am partial to thinking that we can interpret ‘bottom-up’ history as historical research which shows that bodies presented as homogeneous were actually heterogeneous, that ‘bottom-up’ history is a history that shows the working class and others as being, in a fashion, always-already multitude. Virno argues that Marx’s depiction in the end of v1 of Capital [find reference] is a description of the working class as (becoming-)multitude. Can multitude be read back into history in this way, or is it only to be found in the present? If not, then how and why does your use of the term multitude differ from that of Virno, who does read it back into history? Along the same lines, you and Negri talk about moving beyond thinking which takes identity and difference as its central categories, categories which exist in opposition, in an either/or relationship. Instead, you propose the categories common and different, which exist in a both/and relationship. This is very interesting, and I can see how this, at a philosophical level, connects with both your understanding of the present and your political proposals. If you’ll pardon a poor intellectual joke, I think this relationship of common/different characterizes most of my questions for you, which I feel are all different variations of a common theme. I have another such question for you here: is the shift from identity/difference to common/different an innovation in philosophy, or a change in the present world? This leads to my next question, which is, does the change from identity/difference to common/different change how we read prior history? To make a political parallel, and to pose questions at a more clearly political register, you and others have claimed that the political task is not to seize power, to seize the state. The goal is to exercise power, rather than to seize power as I believe Marcos said, to change the world without taking power like in the title of John Holloway’s book. I wonder at how to interpret this politically, and I think this wondering is at the root of most of my other questions. It seems to me that there are two different understandings of saying “the goal is not to seize power but to constitute power”, which, if you will pardon what may be a sectarian turn of phrase, I think of as either a post-vanguardist/post-statist position or a non- or anti-vanguardist/-statist position. I admit that I am not entirely sure what current political importance rests on this distinction – both positions agree, after all, that the goal today is not seize power. But there does seem to be a difference with regard to the reading and understanding of earlier moments in the history of struggles. The post-statist view seems to say that the goal is not to seize power any longer. That is, the old political forms and strategies aimed at the state are exhausted. This implies a past efficacy – a past communist content, if you will – which is now lost today. This position implies a valorization of past hegemonic working class strategies in past historical moments. The anti-statist position here would be that the goal has never been to seize power, which implies that there was never a positive efficacy – a communist content – to the project of seizing power. This position implies a critique of past hegemonic working class strategies and perhaps identifying/sympathizing with currents which were not hegemonic within the class. Now, before I ask you what you think of this, I would like to say that I understand that, as my friend Keir says, it is possible to do almost any task with almost any tool. That is, I understand that people sometimes accomplish worthwhile outcomes with limited ideas (just as people with great ideas sometimes accomplish very little else) – the seizure of power, its attendant organizational forms, and the political imaginary bound up with it was an important moment of class struggle for a very long time. That is, I mean to say that the hegemony of statist/vanguardist ideas/strategies within the working class may have had some positive results, but this does not mean that other ideas/strategies may not have had similar or better results if they had become hegemonic. And so (if you can still remember what I was saying!), I would like to ask, when you and Negri advocate that movements act in ways which are not state centered, would you consider yourselves as articulating a post-statist position or a nonstatist position, with respect to the reading of history in light of the categories you deploy and elaborate in the present? Part of why I am hung up on this matter is due to experiences with people in vanguardist political organizations who acted in nontransparent and manipulative ways in antiwar and other political activities. I also ask because I have trouble understanding the role of newness in your work and elsewhere, politically speaking. For example, in Empire you and Negri call for new rights, based on the present arrangement of capitalism. You call for free movement, because of the role of migration. But migration and flight has been practiced for centuries. You call for the right to reappropriation – this has also been practiced for centuries, in a class struggle over what will be common and what will be enclosed. And you call for a general income – I would love to get paid simply for existing, but I don’t see how this is something which only now becomes a right. It seems like a variation on the old communist slogan ‘to each according to need’ – a universal income supplying to everyone what they require in order to meet these needs. To make sure I am being clear, I would be happy to see these rights instantiated. But when you offer arguments for these rights based on the characteristics of contemporary capitalism – characteristics which I understand you to be saying are unique to our era – I hear an implied position that prior to our era there was not a good argument for these rights, that is, that these have become rights or have become possible rights. Am I reading into your argument too much? Similarly, with regard to conversations around the issue of precarity today, positions are put forward calling for organizational forms which I agree with. My friend Franco wrote a short article calling for what he calls ‘biopolitical sindicalism’. But, as far as I can tell, much of this position involves ideas similar to ideas proposed in nonhegemonic sectors of working class movements for a very long time. (The same can be said of the position that we aim for something other than the seizure of state power.) The IWW has been thinking out and practicing alternative forms of worker organization for one hundred years. Today we call it ‘solidarity unionism’, as opposed to the ‘business unionism’ predominating in the official leadership of the official labor movement. I see much in common with what the IWW has been saying and what people are saying around precarity today, and with a certain reading of your work, but the difference is that I don’t see anyone in the IWW saying that this is a particularly new set of possibilities, it’s a set of possibilities that has been around since at least 1905. The main difference, in my mind (I don’t speak for the IWW of course), is that you and others (like the Precarias a la Deriva) seem to be saying that what the IWW wants – in terms of class strategies and movement organizational forms – is only now becoming possible. Is that a fair characterization, or have I misunderstood?
Draft under revision, please don't circulate. From my friend Franco Ingrassia. * In spanish at - 11 Precarias Ideas for a Biopolitical Sindicalism 00. Introduction To speak of precarious labor is to speak, to begin with, of half the workers in Argentina: those who work in the black economy. To continue, it is to speak of the multitudes of un- and undermployed who, despite working outside the wage relation, also produce a type of wealth which, in many cases, is directly linked to the survival of hundreds of millions of people. To those must be added those who work under the so-called “garbage contract”. Contracts for services, temporary, without recognition of minimum labor rights. Neither holidays nor vacations nor sick days. To those must be added, in addition, a multiple variety of [becarios - grantees?], [pasantes], ad-honorem [??] workers, volunteers, etc. This is the precariat. The workers not recognized as such by outmoded conceptions that assign the condition of worker based on a type of contractual relation that is increasingly exceptional. Workers invisible to the State which does not recognize their rights and also to the majority of the unions, which do not permit them to affiliate or participate for themselves. This is the precariat today: the vast majority of the class that lives from its labor. The precarization of labor, the permanent instability of the conditions of life profoundly alters the very notion of project of life in young workers. Our parents had project of life with contents distinct from those of our grand parents. The conditions of life for the one and for the other were distinct, but in both cases these conditions were relatively stable. For our generation it is not a matter of elaborating distinct contents but rather of reinventing the very notion of project of life. How to project when instability becomes a point of departure? In what way can singular and collective trajectories be constructed that avoid remaining subject to disperion and the aleatority of market flows? To reinvent the notion of project is a task that connects immediately with the task of reinventing the spaces of collective organization that allow us to materialize said projects. What is sindicalism or what could sindicalism be after precarity? What type of transformations in its organization, in its dynamic and its modes of action would tend to be introduced by a union that [plantee dejar de desconocer a - arose ceasing not to know?] the most significatn portion of the present workforce [note: the Spanish, fuerza de trabajo, can translate into English as both 'workforce' and 'labor power'. In English 'workforce' normally indicates an existing group of people in a specific workplace or labor market, while 'labor power' is a more abstract (which is not to say unimportant) marxian category. The use here is in the text is closer to 'workforce', but the term also includes 'labor power' in a linked set of meanings which it is difficult to express in English - tr.] This writing attempts to propose some precarious ideas, tools, and hypotheses that contribute to the labor of reinvention and relaunching that the worker organizations most committed to social change are attempting to carry forward. It is a matter above all else of a set of sketchs, fragments, or clues that will have value in as much as they are able to stimulate the collective process of debate and thought. 01. mobility The laboral instability proper to precarity produces a constant fluidification of the workforce. The individual itineraries of each worker begin to resemble a species of laboral dispersion in which one passes from one job to the next, from manual tasks to intellectual tasks, from complex labors and intense hours to periods of under- or unemployment. Is there an alternative to this which would not be simply reactive, that is to say, the attempt to rigidify the labor market? Perhaps the key is identifying this mobility as a characteristic common to an increasingly broad sector of the class and to being to intervene upon this mobility, in order to change it, in certain conditions, into a militant practice. To migrate from one center of labor to another permits constituting relationships with dissimilar compañeros. It also permits knowledge of some situations to resurge in other parts. Additionally, mobility as a central characteristic supposes the reformulation of the union organization which, until know, that thought of itself following schema of permanence. The forms of organization that continue separating workers by branch or by center of work continue losing, in a tendential form, their relevance to the degree that the workforce makes itself more and more flexible. 02. intermittence In the everyday life of the precariat the periods of employment are found to alternate with periods of unemployment and/or underemployment. Waged labor, previously a full presence, is an intermittence in the life of the precarious worker. As such, the categories of employed worker and unemployed worker are increasingly fluid. A biopolitical sindicalism, a sindicalism that wants to empower (potenciar) the antagonistic capacities of the precariat, can not think itself in the same way, then, as a space of organization exclusive to employed workers. The biopolitical union presents its first hybrid figure: the crossing of organizational forms and modalities of collective action of the mass union and of the movement of unemployed workers. That is to say, the question remains open, what type of union organization could group together the precarious worker, that is to say, the intermittent worker? 03. autonomous cooperation Precarious workers, subjected to instability as a permanent condition, only survive through the permanent generation of relationships, of networks of contacts in distinct instances of the productive territory. This capacity, in the light of discontinuity in incomes which intermittence produces, can bring us to conceive the idea of a new type of sindicalism, which would be able to organize these capacities for the configuration of forms, these capacities for cooperation, orienting them toward the productionof more or less autonomous forms of existence of the workforce, beyond the wage relation. With that, the biopolitical union presents its second hybrid figure: the crossing of the union with the productive experiences of the cooperative workers. 04. recombination: militant task in dispersion Intermittence, mobility, discontinuity of incomes and laboral instablity have changed the social existence of the precariat into an experience very distinct from the pre-existing forms of the workforce. Since 30 years ago, against the permanent and [inconsulta] structuration of laboral activity brought forward by the boss. This structuraction extended to the disciplining of the rest of social life, from the time of nonwork. This industrial worker struggled against domination understood as fixation of the body to one place and to one task. For its part, the precarious worker sturggles against a very distinct form of domination: instability. This laboral instability has an extralaboral correlate: social dispersion. In conditions of stable structuration the militant tasks are to break, negate, subvert the rules. In conditions of social dispersion, the militant tasks are to invent autonomous modes of cohesion and recombination of resources and of human bonds that always threaten to escape, to disperes. In a certain sense, the present militant task of those that concentrate in intervenint inside the precariat could be considered as the slow and intricate process of subjective reconstruction of the working class, taking the objective conditions of generalized dispersion as point of departure. 05. heterogeneization Contemporary capitalism produces fragmentation and introduces heterogeneity (in assigned tasks, forms of contractual relations, incomes, continuity/discontinuity in the job, etc) and the individualization of the precariat. It is necessary to produce new forms of action that take advantage of this multiplicity. If the mass union constituted its power (potencia) on the basis of the growing homogeneity of the life of workers, biopolitical sindicalism should find its force in the wealth of differences, in the capacity to politically articulate the contemporary heterogeneity, in the will to carry this process of hetereogeneization beyond the logic and the projects of capital. 06. confluences Biopolitical sindicalism has to propose producing horizons of confluence of living labor in its multiple current forms of existence: stable work, precarious work, long term unemployment, etc. The project of construction of a non-state public sphere as much as the general income (or minimum guaranteed income) could become collective projects. Beyond the visibility of immediate implentation of proposals like the basic income, it is a matter of producting common horizons, territories of cooperation in which the different forms of existence of precarious work can recognize, recombine, and articulate themselves. 07. instability and self-organization Instability, mobility, and heterogeneization define the characteristics of a fluctuating class composition. The conditions of life of the precariat are in constant change. A biopolitical sindicalism would be able to construct flexible organizational dispositifs capable of accompanying this mobility constitutive of precarization. The models of organziation that base themselves on fixed structures reveal their limits. The union should function as a permanent space of self-organization and recombination for the workers that move in a productive and labor context in constant change. The capacity of organizational innovation becomes fundamental in order to be able to respond to the variable problematics that arise in struggles at each moment. 08. new topologies of conflict In conditions of laboral instability, the same economic dynamic situated the place of antagonism and of struggles inside the factory. The analysis of the productive cycle specific to each productive unit permitted discovering which were the key points, the seccions that, by being halted, had the capacity to paralyze the whole set of production. In conditions of precarious work, this is never defined beforehand. In passing from a logic of structures, that is to say of fixed places and relations, to a logic of processes, where there are flows of capital, information, and resistance that redefine themselves at each pass through places, productive relations, and their occupants, [de lo que - such that?] it is a matter alway, in the first instance, of being able to produce, construct the conditions for the localization of the conflict. Inside or outside the productive space? In the street or in the media? In the places of production, in the avenues of distribution or in the spaces of consumption? A biopolitical union would have to be able to have the tools of analysis to be able to situate, in each concrete case, in each concrete struggle, where it would be best to localize and deepen collective conflictivity and action. Many times a creative and innovative approach to the problem of the localization of the conflict is defined in large part by the type of prior struggle. 09. networks If the strucutre was a system of fixed relations, proper to contexts of stability, the organizational form that will be most effective in situations of instability is the network. Without predetermined relations, open to the permanent incorporation of new elements, without a centralized command structure, the network permits a collective to be able to reconfigure itself successively following the changes of its environment, in order to always be able to act with the greatest transformative capacity. Unions up until now adopted structural organizational forms, in consonance with the structural organization of production proper to the industrial era. Presently the productive spaces, in agreement with the postfordist and toyotist theories, have initiated processes of transformation of structures into productive networks. A union that has the capacity to act taking into account the new forms of labor would be a network-union, an organization with the capacity to transform the characteristics that constitute the precariat (mobility, intermittence, heterogeneity, etc) and change them into tools for struggle, into mechanisms of political aggregation. 10. research Since the workers inquiry by Marx for the International Workingmens Association, there have existed numerous experiences of appropriation of diverse tools of research on the part of the worker movement. Today the fluid characteristics of precarity lead us to intensify these practices, proposing a labor of permant self-inquiry. The biopolitical union would also be the dispositif starting from which the working class could investigate its own technical and political composition: the characteristics that define it, the tendencies and countertendencies that pass through it, the everyday resistances susceptible to recombining themselves into an antagonistic project. Biopolitical sindicalism as process of though, of collective elaboration of knowing about own conditions and potentialities. It is a matter of producing the passage from action-research to participative union research. 11. mixed models The biopolitical union is a diffuse project today, a set of hypotheses on how there can be thought a union organization inside precarization. The term "biopolitical" indicates to us that it is a matter of being able to respond to a type of capitalism that is misunderstood [se dentiende - should this be 'misunderstands'?] [de] the problem of reproduction of the work force (as the dramatic closeness of the average wage in our country to the line of indigence defined by the INDEC [??]). It is a matter of being able to think how to collectively construct conditions of life, cooperation, resistance, and social invention. In the present conjuncture, biopolitical sindicalism could be thought following a mixed model, which can recombine in a dynamic form elements stemming from the three great dispositifs of organization created by the worker movement: the union, the cooperative, and the worker party. Economic struggle, autonomous organization of productive capacities and political struggle will function as articulated dimensions of the biopolitical labor of a new sindicalism able to confront the challenges of the new contemporary forms of exploitation. And to transform them. Franco Ingrassia.
I’ve been thinking about the history that gets told of changing class compositions, with different technical compositions and corresponding political compositions of the working class. In my understanding, this is a story of hegemonic class figures who act in/on/based on a given technical composition. The technical composition is modified by the bosses in order to decompose (undercut the efficacy of) the political composition. In a new technical composition the challenge is to effect political recomposition adequate to the technical composition. The story goes professional worker then mass worker then (for some) socialized worker then multitude, with each ‘then’ indicating the breakdown of the at-the-time hegemonic figure and the construction of the new hegemonic figure. I find this story convincing, though less than I used to. I’ve started to wonder what gets left out in this story. In this regard I’ve been thinking about hegemony. If the mass worker was hegemonic in the working class, then it’s safe to assume from the concept of hegemony alone (in as much as I understand it), a three place relationship within the class: the hegemonic figure, those upon whom the hegemonic figure was hegemonic (that is, those who were not part of the figure but were part of its hegemony - people who ‘enlisted in’ or were convinced – fellow travelers, so to speak, traveling in the wake or line of force defined by the hegemonic figure), and those whom hegemony was exercised against (those excluded by the field of force of hegemony, those dissident from the hegemony, or subjugated by it). I’m thinking here more concretely of women, gays and lesbians, and other subaltern groups within the class… the history of workers movements is littered with ‘wait till later’ and denunciations of groups who didn’t want to wait. Feminism exploded the New Left in much of the world, in part because the organizational forms were predicated on a gendered division of labor that broke down when women started refusing their prescribed roles. This seems to get left out of the story of shifting hegemonic class figures. That is, it seems to be left out that hegemony within working class movements is a relation of power, exercised by some class sector(s) on others. The hegemony of the mass worker sometimes gets spoken of more as a homogeneity of the class, in crudest form as if during that time there were only mass workers, or as if the class was homogeneous in being united behind and under the mass worker. It also sounds to me like sometimes there is an assumption of automaticity in the becoming-hegemonic of one class figure, that one class figure was best suited to the era (as in the phrasing of a political composition ‘adequate’ – or ‘giving adequate expression’ – to the technical composition. As if the hegemonic figure became hegemonic because it was most effective, most in the ‘interest’ the ‘class as a whole’. Perhaps. But perhaps instead hegemony is due to intra-class power (power over other class sectors, ability to win in conflict with other class sectors) rather than necessarily being a priori the most effective sector for the disruption of capital. That is, just because a figure becomes hegemonic inside the class does not mean necessarily that it will be the figure most suited to conflict with the capitalist class. (And in any case, this formulation seems to imply a representational moment – struggling on behalf of others, subordinating other class sectors to the dominant sector.) There’s another sense of hegemony that Negri deploys, when he says that ‘immaterial labor has become hegemonic in production’. This is a technical hegemony. I’m not sure I understand the point, or the relationship between this and political hegemony. Negri says that the importance of immaterial labor in production does not guarantee political hegemony, but I think it’s very clear that Negri is for the hegemony of immaterial laborers politically, in his use of the term multitude. Of course, the argument goes that all labor is becoming immaterial, so it could be read as a dissolution of hegemony or the position of hegemonic class figure as such. I like that idea, except for the ‘dissolution’ part. It seems to me that there is an important difference between the politics of hegemony (the strategy of gaining hegemony both within the class and between classes) being ‘over’ and articulating a critique of the politics of hegemony. What I don’t like about the idea, where my reservations are, is that ‘over’ seems to say that people in prior moments, times before the ‘end’, who contested the hegemony of the dominant class figure were wrong and were doomed, that they could only fail, and that, perhaps, it’s best that they did. (Benjamin says somewhere, the theses on the philosophy of history I believe, that the historian sympathizes with the victors – that’s what this history sounds like to me, a history of victors within the class movement. Not only that or simply that – I am still keen on some aspects of this history, and the critique of aspects of the worker movement doesn’t vitiate the whole movement [just the so-called leadership!] - but I think there’s a moment of this victor’s history in the periodization of class figures...) I keep getting hung up on this, and I’m not sure what hangs on it, other than the reading of history. Perhaps I’m a sectarian, an anarcho-cliché harping on about Kronstadt? Anyway, because of all this thinking on hegemony and suchlike, I’ve culled some Gramsci quotes off the internet and pasted them here for future use. Antonio Gramsci Reader: VI Hegemony, Relations of Force, Historical Bloc - 12 Observations on Certain Aspects of the Structure of Political Parties in Periods of Organic Crisis SPN, 210-11; 167-8 (Q13§23), 1932-34 (To be connected to the notes on situations and relations of force.) At a certain point in their historical lives, social groups become detached from their traditional parties. In other words, the traditional parties in that particular organizational form, with the particular men who constitute, represent, and lead them, are no longer recognized by their class (or fraction of a class) as its expression. (…) These situations of conflict between ‘represented and representatives’ reverberate out from the terrain of the parties (the party organizations properly speaking, the parliamentary-electoral field, newspaper organization) throughout the state organism, reinforcing the relative power of the bureaucracy (civil and military), of high finance, of the Church, and generally of all bodies relatively independent of the fluctuations of public opinion. How are they created in the first place? In every country the process is different, although the content is the same. And the content is the crisis of the ruling class’s hegemony, which occurs either because the ruling class has failed in some major political undertaking for which it has requested, or forcibly extracted, the consent of the broad masses (war, for example), or because huge masses (especially of peasants and petty-bourgeois intellectuals) have passed suddenly from a state of political passivity to a certain activity, and put forward demands which taken together, albeit not organically formulated, add up to a revolution. A ‘crisis of authority’ is spoken of: this is precisely the crisis of hegemony, or crisis of the state as a whole. (…) This order of phenomena is connected to one of the most important questions concerning the political party — namely the party’s capacity to react against force of habit, against the tendency to become mummified and anachronistic. Parties come into existence, and constitute themselves as organizations, in order to influence the situation at moments which are historically vital for their class; but they are not always capable of adapting themselves to new tasks and to new epochs, nor of evolving pari passu with the overall relations of force (and hence the relative position of their class) in the country in question, or in the international field. In analysing the development of parties, it is necessary to distinguish: their social group; their mass membership; their bureaucracy and general staff. The bureaucracy is the most dangerously hidebound and conservative force; if it ends up by constituting a compact body, which stands on it own and feels itself independent of the mass of members, the party ends up by becoming anachronistic and at moments of acute crisis it is voided of its social content and left as though suspended in mid-air. One can see what has happened to a number of German parties as a result of the expansion of Hitlerism. French parties are a rich field for such research: they are all mummified and anachronistic historico-political documents of the various phases of past French history, whose outdated terminology they continue to repeat; their crisis could become even more catastrophic than that of the German parties. [...] One point which should be added to the note on economism, as an example of the so-called intransigence theories, is the rigid aversion on principle to what are termed compromises — and the derivative of this, which can be termed ‘fears of dangers’. It is clear that this aversion on principle to compromise is closely linked to economism. For the conception upon which the aversion is based can only be the iron conviction that there exist objective laws of historical development similar in kind to natural laws, together with a belief in a predetermined teleology like that of a religion: since favourable conditions are inevitably going to appear, and since these, in a rather mysterious way, will bring about palingenetic events, it is evident that any deliberate initiative tending to predispose and plan these conditions is not only useless but even harmful. Side by side with these fatalistic beliefs however, there exists the tendency ‘thereafter’ to rely blindly and indiscriminately on the regulatory properties of armed conflict. Yet this too is not entirely without its logic and its consistency, since it goes with a belief that the intervention of will is useful for destruction but not for reconstruction (already under way in the very moment of destruction). Destruction is conceived of mechanically, not as destruction/reconstruction. In such modes of thinking, no account is taken of the ‘time’ factor, nor in the last analysis even of ‘economics’. For there is no understanding of the fact that mass ideological factors always lag behind mass economic phenomena, and that therefore, at certain moments, the automatic thrust due to the economic factor is slowed down, obstructed or even momentarily broken by traditional ideological elements — hence that there must be a conscious, planned struggle to ensure that the exigencies of the economic position of the masses, which may conflict with the traditional leadership’s policies, are understood. An appropriate political initiative is always necessary to liberate the economic thrust from the dead weight of traditional policies — i.e. to change the political direction of certain forces which have to be absorbed if a new, homogeneous politico-economic historical bloc, without internal contradictions, is to be successfully formed. And, since two ‘similar’ forces can only be welded into a new organism either through a series of compromises or by force of arms, either by binding them to each other as allies or by forcibly subordinating one to the other, the question is whether one has the necessary force, and whether it is ,productive’ to use it. If the union of two forces is necessary in order to defeat a third, a recourse to arms and coercion (even supposing that these are available) can be nothing more than a methodological hypothesis; the only concrete possibility is compromise. Force can be employed against enemies, but not against a part of one’s own side which one wishes rapidly to assimilate, and whose ‘good will’ and enthusiasm one needs. * Antonio Gramsci - The Modern Prince: Some Theoretical and Practical Aspects of "Economism" (…) though hegemony is ethical-political, it must also be economic, must necessarily be based on the decisive function exercised by the leading group in the decisive nucleus of economic activity. (…) An Antonio Gramsci Reader: VIII. Passive Revolution, Caesarism, Fascism 1 The Problem of Political Leadership in the Formation and Development of the Modern State in Italy SPN, 55-85 (Q19§24) (…) The methodological criterion on which our own study must be based is the following: that the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as ‘domination’ [dominio] and as ‘intellectual and moral leadership’ [direzione]. A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to ‘liquidate’, or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups. A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise ‘leadership’ before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to ‘lead’ as well. (…) * Antonio Gramsci - The Modern Prince: Spontaneity and Conscious Leadership (…) "pure" spontaneity does not exist in history: it would come to the same thing as "pure" mechanicity. In the "most spontaneous" movement it is simply the case that the elements of "conscious leadership" cannot be checked, have left no reliable document. It may be said that spontaneity is therefore characteristic of the "history of the subaltern classes", and indeed of their most marginal and peripheral elements; these have not achieved any consciousness of the class "for itself", and consequently it never occurs to them that their history might have some possible importance, that there might be some value in leaving documentary evidence of it. Hence in such movements there exist multiple elements of "conscious leadership", but no one of them is predominant or transcends the level of a given social stratum's "popular science" — its "common sense" or traditional conception of the world. (…) The fact that every "spontaneous" movement contains rudimentary elements of conscious leadership, of discipline, is indirectly demonstrated by the fact that there exist tendencies and groups who extol spontaneity as a method. Here one must distinguish between the realm of pure "ideology" and that of practical action, between scholars who argue that spontaneity is the immanent and objective "method" of the historical process, and political adventurers who argue for it as a "political" method. With the former it is a question of a mistaken conception, whereas with the latter what is involved is an immediate and vulgar contradiction which betrays its manifest practical origin — i.e. the immediate practical desire to replace a given leadership by a different one. (…) At this point, a fundamental theoretical question is raised: can modern theory be in opposition to the "spontaneous" feelings of the masses? ("Spontaneous" in the sense that they are not the result of any systematic educational activity on the part of an already conscious leading group, but have been formed through everyday experience illuminated by "common sense", i.e. by the traditional popular conception of the world — what is unimaginatively called "instinct", although it too is in fact a primitive and elementary historical acquisition.) It cannot be in opposition to them. Between the two there is a "quantitative" difference of degree, not one of quality. A reciprocal "reduction" so to speak, a passage from one to the other and vice versa, must be possible. (Recall that Immanuel Kant believed it important for his philosophical theories to agree with common sense; the same position cam be found in Croce. Recall too Marx's assertion in The Holy Family that the political formulae of the French Revolution can be reduced to the principles of classical German philosophy.)80 Neglecting, or worse still despising, so-called "spontaneous" movements, i.e. failing to give them a conscious leadership or to raise them to a higher plane by inserting them into politics, may often have extremely serious consequences. There exists a scholastic and academic historico-political outlook which sees as real and worthwhile only such movements of revolt as are one hundred per cent conscious, i.e. movements that are governed by plans worked out in advance to the last detail or in line with abstract theory (which comes to the same thing). But reality produces a wealth of the most bizarre combinations. It is up to the theoretician to unravel these in order to discover fresh proof of his theory, to "translate" into theoretical language the elements of historical life. It is not reality which should be expected to conform to the abstract schema. This will never happen, and hence this conception is nothing but an expression of passivity. (…) * Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci - The Intellectuals First Published: Gramsci, Antonio. 1949. Gli intellettuali e l'organizzazione della cultura, Edited by F. Platone. Turin: Nuovo Universale Einaudi; Source: Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. “The Intellectuals”, in Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Translated and Edited by Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers, page 3-23; I - The Formation of the Intellectuals (…) 1. Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata[1] of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields. The capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organisers of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc. It should be noted that the entrepreneur himself represents a higher level of social elaboration, already characterised by a certain directive [dirigente][2] and technical (i.e. intellectual) capacity: he must have a certain technical capacity, not only in the limited sphere of his activity and initiative but in other spheres as well, at least in those which are closest to economic production. He must be an organiser of masses of men; he must be an organiser of the “confidence” of investors in his business, of the customers for his product, etc. If not all entrepreneurs, at least an élite amongst them must have the capacity to be an organiser of society in general, including all its complex organism of services, right up to the state organism, because of the need to create the conditions most favourable to the expansion of their own class; or at the least they must possess the capacity to choose the deputies (specialised employees) to whom to entrust this activity of organising the general system of relationships external to the business itself. It can be observed that the “organic” intellectuals which every new class creates alongside itself and elaborates in the course of its development, are for the most part “specialisations” of partial aspects of the primitive activity of the new social type which the new class has brought into prominence.[A] (…) What are the “maximum” limits of acceptance of the term “intellectual"? Can one find a unitary criterion to characterise equally all the diverse and disparate activities of intellectuals and to distinguish these at the same time and in an essential way from the activities of other social groupings? The most widespread error of method seems to me that of having looked for this criterion of distinction in the intrinsic nature of intellectual activities, rather than in the ensemble of the system of relations in which these activities (and therefore the intellectual groups who personify them) have their place within the general complex of social relations. Indeed the worker or proletarian, for example, is not specifically characterised by his manual or instrumental work, but by performing this work in specific conditions and in specific social relations (apart from the consideration that purely physical labour does not exist and that even Taylor’s phrase of “trained gorilla"[6] is a metaphor to indicate a limit in a certain direction: in any physical work, even the most degraded and mechanical, there exists a minimum of technical qualification, that is, a minimum of creative intellectual activity.) And we have already observed that the entrepreneur, by virtue of his very function, must have to some degree a certain number of qualifications of an intellectual nature although his part in society is determined not by these, but by the general social relations which specifically characterise the position of the entrepreneur within industry. All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.[D] When one distinguishes between intellectuals and non-intellectuals, one is referring in reality only to the immediate social function of the professional category of the intellectuals, that is, one has in mind the direction in which their specific professional activity is weighted, whether towards intellectual elaboration or towards muscular-nervous effort. This means that, although one can speak of intellectuals, one cannot speak of non-intellectuals, because non-intellectuals do not exist. But even the relationship between efforts of intellectual-cerebral elaboration and muscular-nervous effort is not always the same, so that there are varying degrees of specific intellectual activity. There is no human activity from which every form of intellectual participation can be excluded: homo faber cannot be separated from homo sapiens.[7] Each man, finally, outside his professional activity, carries on some form of intellectual activity, that is, he is a “philosopher”, an artist, a man of taste, he participates in a particular conception of the world, has a conscious line of moral conduct, and therefore contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought. (…) The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, “permanent persuader” and not just a simple orator (but superior at the same time to the abstract mathematical spirit); from technique-as-work one proceeds to technique-as-science and to the humanistic conception of history, without which one remains “specialised” and does not become “directive"[9] (specialised and political). (…) What we can do, for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural “levels": the one that can be called “civil society”, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called “private”, and that of “political society” or “the State”. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of “hegemony” which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of “direct domination” or command exercised through the State and “juridical” government. The functions in question are precisely organisational and connective. The intellectuals are the dominant group’s “deputies” exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government. These comprise: 1. The “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production. 2. The apparatus of state coercive power which “legally” enforces discipline on those groups who do not “consent” either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed. (…) The political party, for all groups, is precisely the mechanism which carries out in civil society the same function as the State carries out, more synthetically and over a larger scale, in political society. In other words it is responsible for welding together the organic intellectuals of a given group — the dominant one — and the traditional intellectuals.[14] The party carries out this function in strict dependence on its basic function, which is that of elaborating its own component parts — those elements of a social group which has been born and developed as an “economic” group — and of turning them into qualified political intellectuals, leaders [dirigenti] and organisers of all the activities and functions inherent in the organic development of an integral society, both civil and political. Indeed it can be said that within its field the political party accomplishes its function more completely and organically than the State does within its admittedly far larger field. An intellectual who joins the political party of a particular social group is merged with the organic intellectuals of the group itself and is linked tightly with the group. This takes place through participation in the life of the State only to a limited degree and often not at all. Indeed it happens that many intellectuals think that they are the State, a belief which, given the magnitude of the category, occasionally has important consequences and leads to unpleasant complications for the fundamental economic group which really is the State.[G] That all members of a political party should be regarded as intellectuals is an affirmation that can easily lend itself to mockery and caricature. But if one thinks about it nothing could be more exact. There are of course distinctions of level to be made. A party might have a greater or lesser proportion of members in the higher grades or in the lower, but this is not the point. What matters is the function, which is directive and organisational, i.e. educative, i.e. intellectual. A tradesman does not join a political party in order to do business, nor an industrialist in order to produce more at lower cost, nor a peasant to learn new methods of cultivation, even if some aspects of these demands of the tradesman, the industrialist or the peasant can find satisfaction in the party. (…) *
[The following is a rambling loose reflection, in part, on some of the effects of certain types of work on speech and relationships. It’s part of my own trying to understand some of the claims made about immaterial labor, and the differences between different types of this labor, and its effects on those of us who do it for a living…] “For too long some of the most influential disciplines in the humanities - disciplines such as politics and economics, which determine the course of nations and the human possibilities of millions – have shared more with the enterprise of "Newspeak" in which the boundaries of the thinkable perpetually contract and ossify. As Orwell implicitly understood, this is a serious political danger, both for the practice of democracy and the enterprise of policy. It reduces knowledge to an instrumental tool, a political commodity, and mouths an arrogant rebuke to the liberal premises of the university as a free space of intellectual inquiry. Yes, knowledge needs structure and logic, but it also needs freedom and surprise, sudden disjunctions and conjunctions, caution and daring at once. Theory needs to be constantly challenged, both on its own epistemological terrain and at the crossroads of its intersection with history and practice. Theory needs to find itself surprised by events, even as it breaks up their structure of obviousness and commonsense.” Borderlands is a fine entity. I pasted in this quote from their manifesto mainly because I like it. The quote also resonates with some conversations my partner and I have been having lately. Recently on a long car trip we started talking about speech. The conversation started off talking about when we lived in the UK, about different phrases that have different meanings in the UK vs the US. Then we start talking about the circle of friends we had there, which included a number of exchange students who were not native English speakers. In order to converse with some of those friends we had to monitor our speech, avoid colloquialisms and certain metaphors, including ones that we didn’t recognize as metaphors (“take a right on Dalkeith then head south”, “I’ll fix you a cup of tea”, etc). I quite enjoyed aspects of this, being deliberate about word choice and so on. For years I have periodically decided upon new terms and phrases to introduce into my regular parlance. (My most recent favorite is “interweb”.) I used to do this in high school, train myself to use new terms and phrases until they became habitual, then I would see if my friends would pick up on them, and I would then decide whether or not I wanted to keep using the term. (I started saying “swingin’!” in high school, in place of “cool!”. It took two or three weeks before I stopped being embarrassed and before it stopped being forced. After another 2 weeks most of my friends had picked it up, and in another month the phrase had entered the vocabularies of people from entirely different subcultural units.) This conversation turned into a conversation about friends and family. We both are at the higher end of the formal education spectrum for our families. We have some friends who are grad students and professors, and many who are not. We have both had the experience of using terms that others didn’t understand. When we first starting reading Marx we would have annoying go-rounds with people where we’d be trying to make points about, you know, The Man, and people wouldn’t get what we meant. “Estrangement? Externalization?” Being honest, it was sometimes a type of maneuver – a powerplay within the language game. Certain modes of speech can serve to place one on a hierarchy. (Of course, this hierarchy is somewhat relative – some people are wowed by polysyllabic phraseology, others are dismissive and unimpressed.) In my experience this has occurred most frequently around lefties – big words and name- dropping can be a way to win an argument. On the other hand, it can be particularly frustrating to try and talk to someone and to accidentally make a conversational move that is interpreted as a powerplay. This can happen with theory/philosophy and politics, and in my circles of friends used to happen with indie music. (Luckily we’re mostly all grown out of deliberately trying to score points by knowing obscure bands’ discographies and changing member line ups.) Someone would be talking about a band they’ve become very excited about, and someone else would think they were trying to impress people, to be an expert on indie music. It’s certainly happened with me and members of my family. People have asked me what I like to read, or what I was studying when I was in university. I would explain in the terms given in the books and courses. Afterward what I had created was not clarity over my interests, but a communicative misfire (ie, they didn’t understand me and I felt frustrated either at their inability to get it or at my inability to explain). Of course, misfires are themselves productive of other effects – they can be performative actions to place at a position on a hierarchy. (“You don’t understand me because I am smarter, better read, more sophisticated.”) There’s a great essay by HP Grice called “Logic and Conversation”, argues that conversation is basically structured around a pragmatic principle of agreement. At the very least, an agreement to converse, which, more fully fleshed out , includes agreements or rules like ‘be relevant’ (don’t make non sequiturs), ‘be clear’, and so on. These rules can be violated sometimes in the spirit of agreement – non sequiturs can be a form of humor, for instance. Grice doesn’t address that the rules can also be violated in order to produce other effects, like jockeying for position. What’s particularly frustrating is when one does this by accident, when one is genuinely not trying to jockey for position but has mistakenly violated a rule (since clarity is relative) so that the other person thinks that one is playing a game of one-upsmanship. When I first went through organizer training at the AFL people would make this mistake – lefty studenty types like myself, using phrases like “this exploitive situation can be rectified if you and your colleagues act collectively”. This type of misfire can be a big problem during a home visit, when one is trying to establish initial rapport with someone. If people don’t learn to stop doing this, they don’t last long on the job. On rapport building… My partner works as a nanny. I have worked in a variety of ‘nonprofit’ organizations, as an organizer, canvasser, etc. Both of these involve linguistic labor: rapport building (with the child and with the parents; with workers and with union bosses), asserting authority (over the child; to the workers to establish oneself as an expert who should be obeyed when necessary), and establishing competency (to the parents with regard to one’s ability to understand and care for the child, and to hand emergencies; to the union bosses as a ‘loyal soldier’, as someone who can both build rapport with workers and who can assert authority over them as needed, and as someone who can strategize). Each of these areas has its own competencies. It’s useful to think of each of these areas as a set of goals and techniques for maneuvering oneself into a position on a conversational hierarchy. Rapport building for a nanny and an organizer, to be successful, requires establishing a horizontal relationship, a relationship between relative equals who can plan and converse together in a situation of trust, confidence, and ease. Typically when dealing with children and workers rapport building is an operation of climbing down a hierarchy, one starts from a position of perceived superiority and asserts that one is not (or does not think oneself to be) so much above the other after all. In some settings, though, depending on the child or the worker, there may be an initial assumption on the other’s part that one is inferior in some fashion (not cool, too old; overeducated, too young, too white, etc). This rapport building, when successful, places one in a horizontal relationship with an option upward: one is not just an equal, but an equal who can be superior. That is, one occupies a position of equality on a hierarchy with the flexibility to rise to a higher point as needed (ie, one can, as needed, assert authority/expertise in order to be listened to). When dealing with one’s employers, rapport building is a matter of establishing an inverse horizontality: an equality that recognizes it is an equality as the behest of the employer. One ascends to this equality, but does not assert without tacit approval. That is, the boss is still the boss. Asserting authority is the placing of oneself in a superior position on a hierarchy. In dealing with children and workers this is an authority which allows one to give orders, to be listened, to dictate strategies and behaviors. One uses different terms, different body language, and different tones of voice to do this. One speaks differently when disciplining a child and explaining behavioral expectations (asserting oneself as in charge and to be listened to) than when one is praising or simply chatting or playing. One speaks differently to workers and tenants when one is explaining legal knowledge or campaign strategy (and such explanation is often as much a performative expression of one’s right to explain and to dictate strategy, that is, an assertion of oneself as an expert to be listened to) than when one is chatting, getting to know someone, learning their concerns and grievances, etc. In dealing with employers, one also asserts oneself as an authority, but this is not the ability to make decisions. Rather, it is the ability to make decisions as authorized by the employer (the boss is still the boss). The authority is a form of expertise, not command. It is the establishment of competency. At times, this competency or expertise may be greater than that of the employer or lesser than that of the employer (it may be genuinely greater or lesser, or perceived as greater or lesser). This can vary depending on the situation and the employer – some want to be the greater expert, others want the employee to have a greater expertise. Both of these jobs involves not only being good at the competencies of the specific areas above but also at being able to move from one type of linguistic labor to another fluidly. My partner works as a nanny for people who are relatively educated and who have enough money to afford a nanny. She has to be able to converse with them, in a way different from how she converses with the children. The ability to change between these types of conversations is an element of her success in the work. The speech used to converse with the child is very important, but she will not be allowed to use it for long if she does not have a different, preferred mode of speech when dealing with the parents. It’s the same with my experience in union and community organizing. One must be able to talk to workers and residents. One must also be able to talk to the bosses about those conversations, in a mode of speech that is sometimes taken to be superior to - but always held to be inappropriate for – the way one talks with workers and residents. And of course, there are different aged children with different backgrounds and parents with different backgrounds and temperaments. There are residents and job classes with different educational and other backgrounds. One can’t talk to each of them in exactly the same way, or rather, one will be less successful in the work if one does so. So, a large portion of the work (of being perceived as competent in the work, which is what determines one’s degree of success) involves a pragmatic flexibility: the ability to shift between idiolects in order to be able to converse with many different – and different types of - people (and, of course, to accomplish required tasks in/when using a given idiolect, ie, one mush be able to converse successfully with different types of people, successful as defined by the ends of the job [and just to make sure I’m clear, by ‘idiolect’ I mean something like ‘idiosyncratic dialect’, basically the individual and relatively unique way that each person talks, which includes word choice, sentence structure, body language, tones of voice, and which people usually vary from setting to setting]). Success in each work related idiolect has a set of skills and techniques that must be acquired (we used to roleplay home visits, in order to be able to be more successful at them). Flexibility in changing between idiolects is also a skill, and one for which, in my experience, there is less pedagogical technique developed. That is, there was less – certainly less deliberate and recognized – training in shifting gears between modes of conversation, than there was in certain specific modes of conversation. (Personal aside: I have found this flexibility of idiolect tremendously useful in my social and familial life. Misfires happen much less often, and much less often by accident. I have also found the techniques of rapport building very useful – In some settings and moods I tend to be reclusive, nervous, and shy, particularly when meeting and getting to know new people and in large group settings. From my work experience, however, I have gotten practiced at asking a set of questions to show interest in someone, and to get them talking about themselves or some subject of interest to them. I have also gotten practiced, though this skill is harder to maintain, at pay attention to cues – body language, tone of voice and diction, as well as conversational content – which indicate where to ask follow up questions, to get someone to speak further and to elaborate on some topic. ) Among our friends who are professors and students it strikes me that sometimes they have less flexibility of idiolect. My hunch is that this is because the labor of professing and studying involves less rapport building, and certainly less rapport building downward. That is, professors (like doctors, lawyers, other teachers, other experts) work in a setting where part of the work is establishing and maintaining oneself in a superior position on a hierarchy, both superior to those one works on (students, patients, clients) and superior to those outside the realm of that work (ie, smarter than those outside the academy, more in touch with health than the rest of the popular, etc. I suspect there’s much in common here with clergy – a relation between clergy and laiety, in which laypeople are defined in part by the clergy’s access to/use of certain language and texts.) The rapport building that does exist is less of the rapport with those who are below one, like rapport with children and workers for the nanny and organizer, rapport with an upward option (though perhaps this is overstated, and perhaps it changes with trends in pedagogy and customer service – trying to get know one’s students, having a good bedside manner, etc) and more rapport with colleagues – fellow professors, doctors, and lawyers, where one must define oneself (and one’s discipline/area of expertise) as equally (or better yet, more) competent and worthwhile compared to others, rapport that is also (is predicated on) establishing competency, rapport that resists any downward motion, the nonvoluntary placement of oneself at a lower place in a hierarchy. I think the linguistic labor of students mirrors this, but I’m not entirely sure. What is most interesting to me in all of this, and which I haven’t really touched on, is the relationship of work and nonwork here, and some of the occupational hazards of immaterial labor (and, given that there are different sorts of linguistic and relational work, claims about the political possibilities of immaterial labor must be further qualified, as some of the relationships produced by immaterial labor are not of they type that one wants to see continue). The work on the clock certainly impacts the time and life off the clock (and some of the time off the clock is unremunerated work – reading and writing for students and teachers, for example, not to mention the effects of stress etc.) When I worked as an organizer I became decidedly unsocial in my personal life – spending my time building and maintaining relationships for a living for me meant that I had less energy and interest (and given the god awful work hours, very little time) to spend my little free time on similar pursuits off the clock. My partner leaves work hungry for adult conversation and to be on the receiving end of caring attention, rather than the giving end. It strikes me that one effect of graduate student and perhaps of professorial and other expert labor (an occupational hazard, so to speak) is a rigidity of idiolect, with regard to the terms, style of speech, and contents of one’s conversations. This is why I include the Borderlands quote – the mention of ossified language, and the dangers it poses to thought and democracy. I’m not sure about the thought and democracy part in this particular case, but I have seen this rigidity cause tension in relationships (friendship, familial, and romantic). Partly there is a disconnect – a tendency toward unintended misfires. These misfires can sometimes be taken as attempts at powerplays, at jockeying for position on hierarchies. And sometimes they are powerplays – the operation of producing oneself in the position of an expert can become habit, and can be corrosive to horizontal relationships in the rest of one’s life. (Of course, this is not to say that these particular damaging effects of work are worse than others, but there is perhaps a different wrinkle… being too tired or too stressed to go out because of work can be damaging to relationships too, but it is recognizably linked to work. Habits that one has because of work, habits of interaction, can be taken at times as being less as work related behaviors than as character or personality traits, as part of ‘who one is’, and so can perhaps be a different sort of challenge to deal with.)
Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses:“the adjective ‘material’ … must be affected by different modalities: the materialities of a displacement for going to mass, of kneeling down, of the gesture of the sign of the cross, or of the mea culpa, of a sentence, of a prayer, of an act of contrition, of a penitence, of a gaze, of a hand-shake, of an external verbal discourse or an 'internal' verbal discourse (consciousness), are not one and the same materiality. I shall leave on one side the problem of a theory of the differences between the modalities of materiality.” The same must be said in discussions of biopolitics/biopower, in which ‘power takes hold of life’: life is instantiated in different modalities (one could say the same of ‘immaterial labor’ in which ‘language is put to work’). To say otherwise means the position becomes laughable: what is power taking hold of previously, are pre-biopolitical powers taking hold of humans who are not alive? Does capitalism pre- the biopolitical production of postfordism involve nonliving workers and consumers? Of course not, and this misses the point of what is at stake in issues of biopolitics. Biopolitics is a matter of managing the modes in which life takes on modalities. How has any relation of power not been biopolitical, though, how has any power not sought to manage the modalities life takes on? To some extent, this the definition of power relations. Millenarian peasant uprisings were contests over which modalities of life would be instantiated. Ford was invested in the management of ‘his’ workers’ lives when they were out of the plant. As Dalla Costa notes, the wage in the factory has always commanded more than just the labor and the time in the plant. Following Virno, labor power is biopolitical from the beginning as it involves the management of bodies, or to paraphrase Panzieri, to plan the labor process means to plan workers. Or in Federici's recent work, primitive accumulation is a biopolitical process. The conceit of production ‘becoming biopolitical’ is founded on a notion of prior arrangements of production being not biopolitical. More perniciously, the conceit of reproduction becoming productive is founded on a notion that reproduction was not productive previously. Women’s work prior to postfordism is the constitutive exclusion of the more messianic claims made in alongside the term multitude. By falsifying prior history a rhetorical halo around the present is created, but this a light that dazzles rather than illuminates. This halo effect is a rhetorical device that is part of a tendency neatly summarized by Jacques Rancires: "It is always in the heart of the worker aristocracy that a hegemonic fraction forms, presenting itself as THE proletariat and affirming the proletarian capacity to organize another social order, starting with the skills and values formed in its work and its struggle." [Ranciere, "Les maillon de la chaine (proletaires et dictatures)",Les Revoltes Logiques #2, Spring-Summer 1976, 5, quoted in the translator's introduction to Ranciere's _Nights of Labor_.] I can't help but hear this quote echoing in my head as I read some of the pieces in the issue of Ephemera dedicated to the Theory of the Multitude. This is not to say that there is nothing new under the sun. Rather, what is new is a new arrangement of forces within the management of the modalities that life takes on, not the contest itself over the modalities of life. Similarly, what is new with regard to reproduction and production is how the cycles and circuits of accumulation are arranged spatially and temporally. This 'how' needs investigation (with the point of departure being the breakdown and overrun of accumulation processes, not their presumed neat and normal functioning), but it certainly not the case that now reproduction is implicated in production. Life, materiality, command, resistance these terms are the worlds within which changes occur. The worlds themselves are not new as places wherein action happens. (see Rabinow and Rose, Changing gears, but along the same lines of papering over differences of modality (which are at the same time a species of commonality) by declaring more absolute kinds of differences: Negri writes in "Twenty Theses On Marx" (In Casarino et al, eds, _Marxism Beyond Marxism_) that his theoretical work has always attempted to address the 'new phase of political history', in which all of society is subsumed under capitalist accumulation, which brings about 'the end of the centrality of the factory working class as the site of the emergence of revolutionary subjectivity'. (p149) This quote demonstrates important points about Negri's work. Negri believes that we are in or are entering a qualitatively new moment in history. One salient trait of this new era for Negri is that the prior centrality of the industrial proletariat no longer holds. Negri leaves unaddressed the nature of this 'centrality' that has apparently ended. I think that Negri's work is most useful when read against Negri. I think one should take Negri as reinterpreting Marxian categories in synchronic fashion, addressing definitions of terms relative to the entirety of the history of capitalism taken as one historical period. Negri is insistent, of course, that his work is diachronic, that it charts and derives from changes in the shifting history of periods and stages within capitalism. I think that Negri's work is less useful read in this fashion. The best way to read Negri, in my opinion, is to take the theoretical points he lays out as true of the present and read them back in to earlier history. Negri writes that today "the laboring processes extend equally as far as the social extends" (p152), which is a useful insight. This means that every point in the space and time and society is subject (at least potentially) to an attempt at management, as well as a site of possible elaborations of disruptions of the order of things and of alternative forms of life antithetical to the prevailing norm. Once again, however, this has always been true, though Negri's work implies otherwise. (It is also worth noting that the coterminousness of labor and society is derived, for Negri, from communication, from the processes of 'immaterialization' of labor, which is quite different from positing that capital by nature needs to command and manage life both in an outside of designated workplaces.) Negri writes (in a section titled "The Periodization of Capitalist Development Shows That We Are At The Beginning of a New Epoch") that he considers "post-Fordism as the principal condition of the new social organization of labor and as the new model of accumulation, and post-Modernism as the capitalist ideology adequate to this new mode of production." Negri terms the unity of "these two conditions together the real subsumption of society within cpaital." (154) There are, of course, many changes afoot in the world. But does Negri's periodizing impulse make the present moment any clearer? One effect of Negri's enunciation of the new is a hiding of the commonality between the present and the past, and an over-emphasis of the differences embodied in the present. (For example, if one believe that there has always been a potential for autonomous production of sociality, and that reproduction has always been value productive, then it is not so striking to say that today there is a potential for the autonomous production of sociality, and that reproduction today is value productive. These are some of the constitutive exclusions which allow the production of the rhetorical flash of newness that Negri accomplishes. Negri traces a history of hegemonic class figures (p154-156), from the professional to the mass worker and announces that the passage from one hegemonic class figure to another inaugurates a change of epoch, in which "new, original, and radical perspectives of development have appeared." (p156) Negri announces that there is a new epoch, that of the 'social worker' (which will later in Negri's work become the multitude), characterized by "computerization of society", which Negri later recasts as 'immaterialization'. In this era "[t]he political composition of the proletariat is social (...) it is completely abstract, immaterial, and intellectual, in terms of the substance of labor; it is mobile and polyvalent in terms of its form." (p156) It is important to note that at this stage Negri has not yet undertaken the revision of immaterial and intellectual labor that he later takes up with his work with Hardt, in which there is an attempt to include affective labor within this type of work. Clearly here Negri is identifying a potentially hegemonic class fraction, a possible class vanguard. Midnight Notes Collective write: "Working class strategies of the twentieth century typically had at their core, as leading subject, a particular class sector. For example, in the wage strategy and social democratic deal, the mass worker of the industrial factory acted as the "vanguard" of the class as a whole. ("Vanguard" here indicates who, within the whole class, is most effective against the capitalists; it does not equate to "vanguard party," nor to "class consciousness.") That sector could provide the power to launch a potentially revolutionary assault on capital by blocking accumulation based on particular structures and processes which themselves rested on this sector. A class vanguard also acts to gather the rest of the class around it as a focus of demands and struggles." This is the hegemonic class figure that many operaists sought to identify and influence. "[W]e must question whether the apparent vanguards were as they appeared. Again within the Keynesian-Fordist deals, a focus on the apparent vanguard ignored too many powerful aspects of the class and its struggles, most particularly the struggles of women against reproducing labor power for capital. The notion of a vanguard of the class -- a sector of the class, not a self-proclaimed organizational vanguard, e.g., a party -- is thus problematic even where seemingly most clear." "Vanguardism tends to ignore the complexity of divisions within the class or to attempt to overcome those divisions by asserting the primacy of some sectors. The conception of the vanguard is that the privileged sectors can impose a unity on other sectors through an assault on capital. The problem (...) is that this unity papers over contradictions that actually prevent the unity from withstanding capital's counterattacks." "Ignoring the complexity of the division of labor also induces an overestimation of the structural power of the vanguard sector, not so much in its ability to provoke a crisis of capital, but in its ability to resolve the crisis in favor of the working class. The capitalist division of labor fragments the class, producing within each sector a partialness that renders the sector inadequate as a basis for constructing a new society." (These quotes taken from here - Given that for Negri a new epoch means a corresponding new hegemonic class fraction, when he announces that we are on the threshold of a new epoch then he is also saying that a new hegemonic sector is present or is forming. There are two questions here for me. One is what is the function or effect of Negri's epochalization. The second is what would Negri's work look like shorn of this epochalization. Regarding the first, one effect is a body of work that is initially quite exhilarating to read. One gets the sense that we are on the cusp of something (of a new epoch, obviously). Aside from that, however, it seems that Negri's search for the new epoch and its corresponding class figure (in which the technical composition will find "an adequate translation in the political composition" [p155]) is linked to his turn toward representational modes of politics, such as a call for rights, for intervening in the EU constitution, calls for a new New Deal, a new Magna Charta, and so on. Sergio Bologna writes: "Conflict as the moment of identity, as ‘the’ moment of constitution, of politics, of class constitution … this for me is a forced understanding. Amongst other things, this conception still attributes great value to visibility. The ‘other’, in order to be such, must be visible, manifest, and the more clamorous the conflict, the greater the identity it confers … This is the back door through which the traditional logic of politics is returned to play. I prefer the image of beams eaten from within by termites, I prefer a non-visible, non-spectacular path, the idea of the silent growth of a body that is foreign to the sort of visibility that leaves you hostage to the universe of mediation." (Quoted in Steve Wright, Children of a Lesser Marxism, here One mode of reading Negri in way that shears his project from the hegemony of a given class fraction (capable, as noted in the Midnight Notes quote above, of imposing crisis but not necessarily of resolving the crisis in favor of the working class) would be start with a critique of hegemony and hierarchy inside the working class, and at the same time with an understanding of the nature of capital like that developed by Dalla Costa, Federici, Fortunati, and others, that is, a view of capital as always-already involving a complex of both waged and unwaged labor subjected to command via the wage, the state, and other mechanisms. As far as I can think it out, this would entail re-reading the history of working class movements in way that analyzes the processes of construction of a single hegemonic figure, as well as articulating the figures and possibilities excluded or suppressed by this process. It would also entail elaborating new non- or anti-hegemonic politics, perhaps using resources found in the various minor histories of the class. Sergio Bologna: "[T]he thought of Organised Autonomy, in particular the thought of Toni Negri, is a system of thought which in a certain sense has theorised ambiguity. Exactly on this point: the relationship between political elites, ideology and movement. This attempt to refuse Leninism, to say essentially that the political forms of today are dynamic political forms which open (and) close, which are not permanent. Obviously, it was a way of hiding, shall we say, the dialectic between political elite and movement (Cuninghame 2001).[Quoted in Wright, The Party Of Autonomy,] This point is I think one of the linchpins which holds up the effect in Negri's work that I don't like: "in the period of manufacture, and (...) in the two phases of the period of large-scale industry (...) processes of social cooperation of the productive forces were consequences of the development of the industrial and political capitalist machine. Now, however, cooperation is posed prior to the capitalist machine, as a condition independent of industry." (p156) This only makes sense a criterion by which distinguish the present from the past if one fails to see a larger backdrop of social cooperation prior to (logically and historically, ie, the commons) capitalist production, and if one fails to see the continued presence of forms of intervention into labor cooperation in the world today. [Notes to self: translate and insert Mezzadra's comments on class composition analysis and homogenization in the dialog b/w him and the CS. Also, dig up quotes and compare Agamben, Virno, and Negri on 'general intellect'. I like the term as a philosophical anthropology (one which would hold true for the entirety of the history of capitalism) - as the point of departure for analysis and articulation of class subjectivity, of modes of subjectification. I don't like the term as a conclusion into a purported analyis of the present, that now there is general intellect, as if this philosophical anthropology becomes true.]
here is a chunk of a text that a friend and I are translating, a short article called "On the feminization of labor": "if biopolitical capitalist production bases itself above all on a strategic coordination of the multiplicity of networks and of social relations directed at maximizing profit and assure capitalist domination, then resistances no longer appear as marginal phenomena but rather as active elemetns in the center of a society that opens itself in networks. But there is a second motive for not giving credence to the idea of a "total" capital: if the function of capital is to penetrate, traverse, coordinate, and to direct the social toward the extraction of surplus value and toward accumulation, then, capital can not be the source of riches and of power. From the very moment in which is functions in this way, that is to say, from the very moment in which capitalist production becomes biopolitical, it implicitly recognizes that neither wealth nor power emanate from it. Beginning from here, there opens the possibility of thinking a biopolitics "from below" and this brings us anew to affective and relational labor: in contrast to what happenend with other forms of labor, in all work with a strong affective, relational, and communicative component, neither cooperation nor the capacity for the production of life-worlds and of social relations is imposed or organized from the exterior, but rather they are completely immanent to the labor itself and to the context in which it inserts itself. That is to say, it is not a matter of a force activated and made coherent by capital, but rather that its potential for cooperation permits it to valorize itelf. It does not need capital nor capital's capacity to orchestrate production. Thus, affective labor, despite constituting today a necessary foundation for capitalist accumulation, can translate itself into the creation of subjectivities, communities, and forms of life beyond capital. It can convert itself into production, not of surplus value, but rather of autonomous circuits of valorization and, perhaps, of liberation. Here, the most recent struggles and forms of self-organization protagonized by women - from the nurses' committees (France, 1995) and Women in Black (Belgrade) to the movements of women against the patenting of seeds (India) - can give us a clue." Do others think this perspective seems to be roughly in line with that of Hardt and Negri? I do. It seems to me that this periodizing perspective, announcing the new epoch as Angela has noted, is premised less on the present - despite trumpeting changes in the present - than it is on a certain picture of that past. This view produces a picture of that past in contrast with the present. This picture strikes me as highly questionable, at best. First, the labor of reproduction has always been relational and affective, and has always been bound up with the circuits of accumulation since the beginning of capital. Second, read uncharitably, this perspective implies a shift from a 'total' capital to a newly non-'total' capital. I think one of the central issues here is the understanding of the central subject or figure of labor relative to a given class composition -- the mass worker, for instance, was a 'hegemonic' figure. The hegemony of the mass worker inside the class, according to the perspective above, seems to be an automatic process, a necessary and accomplished result, rather than itself being a fraught and contested process. Basically, I can't understand how the traits ascribed to labor now, and spoken of as new traits, could possibly be new. To my mind these are possibilities that reach far back, certainly they've existed since the beginning of capital. I saw Hardt speak at the society for european philosophy conference in London a year or two ago. He remarked on the idea that resistance is prior to power, and sketched three senses of this: 1. Deleuzian, ontological - only resistance/labor has the power to create 2. Trontian, socio-political, in history (my term, not his) - resistance/labor creates the actual forms that capital adopts as it is forced to change by blockages in accumulation (the capitalization of resistance that Angela has commented on) 3. E.P. Thompson and subaltern studies, historical research - researching and narrating histories to uncover and lay out the agency of folks who were/are typically thought of as without agency It strikes me that the perspective laid out in the chunk of translation here, which I think is basically Hardt/Negri's perspective, is in contract with at least the third point above. The 'labor becomes biopolitical' perspective implies a history of non-agency prior to postfordism/real subsumption, with agency arising as a possibility of labor nowadays. It's as if at a certain point in history resistance _became_ prior to power. Like I tried to say above, I think the traits ascribed to labor today in the 'biopolitical labor' stuff only make sense as revisions of marxian categories, changing the understanding of what labor is throughout the history of capital. I wonder if perhaps some of this is related to the Deleuzian periodization of control societies vs disciplinary societies? Not solely due to that, of course, but perhaps a resonance between that Deleuzian idea and a pre-existing tendency toward periodization (and a corresponding vanguardism, however heterodox, which seeks a vanguard figure to achieve and exert intra-class hegemony in a fashion adequate to the new hisorical moment)? More for the need to read list - Gramsci on conjunctures and hegemony, as something to contrast with. Also, I need to dig out the remarks by the Situaciones group on both conjunctural thinking and hegemony as a mode of thinking and acting politically, both of which, I think, in the view of Situaciones imply belief in a certain social automaticity.
On lunch break yesterday I encountered two people canvassing for Illinois PIRG. I've also seen many a flyer advertising "summer jobs to save the environment!", so they must be hard up for bodies. PIRG raises money for environmental causes. They also raise money for Save The Children (you can tell who they're fundraising for based on the jackets they're wearing at the time). Last I knew, PIRG pays their canvassers $35 a day, with a small commission on money raised above a certain amount. Turnover is astronomical, because they fire people who don't meet quota and because the pay is close to minimum wage ($6.50 an hour in Illinois) for standing up all day on concrete, and talking to many, many people. Friends of mine who worked for them on the east coast were trying unionize in two cities and ultimately gave up because they couldn't live on it. The company has allegedly busting other staff unionization attempts. The canvassing group ACORN has done the same (for details go to and put "acorn" into the search function). They pay $14K a year (they're a social justice group, like PIRG, any price for the cause, I suppose). When I canvassed for Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated (the for profit group to which the Democratic Party contracted out a chunk of the fundraising for the Kerry campaign, and who, it seems, no longer have a website) we got paid $60 a day if we made quota, which worked out to approximately $7 an hour, with percentage bonuses for bringing in large amounts over quota. A number of things occurred that may have been wage and hour violations (a friend who worked at America Coming Together alleges similar stuff, which boils down to unpaid forced worktime), but we never pressed charges. They closed the office and laid us off with a 12 hour notice. So what, so nonprofits and progressives are still bosses, big deal. Who does this surprise? No one with any sense or who has had a job. What I wonder about really, though, and don't have time to get into just now, is all of this in the context of the idea in some aut circles, that work is no longer generative of subjectivities. All the above jobs have attendant subjectivities and lifestyles - it's part of how the places operate. The same goes for the bike messenger industry, which has an enormous social scene and informal networks across shops. And then there's more white collar kinds of nonprofit work, employees of unions, (basically anyone working for the social justice industry, the mendicant orders of empire). There are some remarks tangential to this in the Precarious Lexicon of precarias a la deriva, about a typology of different sorts of precarity. Eventually I'll get that translated. It seems to me that a lot of the social justice industry, and some other precariou work (like bike messengers) still has attendant forms of subjectivity but ... I'm not sure how to articulate it. I think it's like this: (the story goes that) the factory used to be THE site of subjectification for workers. In a way it's like the workplace contained subjectification, like concentric circles. (That probably was never totally accurate, but certainly today) it seems to me with these precarious work situations the relationship is flipped - subjectivities are the outer of the concentric circle, at least in canvassing work, bike messengers etc. Those subjectivities are employed, mobilized, and certainly molded, by the bosses. Speaking of bosses, I have to run.
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