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Libera università metropolitana, "Do the right thing. 11 thesis on the conflict to come and the world to invent"

Do the right thing. 11 thesis on the conflict to come and the world to invent
Libera università metropolitana

1. «The world is all that is the case». Let’s start from Oakland.

On November 2nd a new era began for the #occupy movement and, more in general, for the indignados movement. The occupation of streets and squares –following the Spanish model and the example of Zuccotti Park – was accompanied by an extraordinarily powerful general strike. The port was blocked, public offices closed. Road transport and production came to a stop. Even the police folded their arms. Tens of thousands of people took to the squares, picketing the city, strengthening the paralysis of the port.

We look, with great admiration, to Oakland as to a prototype. It is no doubt an incomplete one, partially immature, yet capable of giving shape temporarily to much needed conflict, able to square with the new composition of labour and with the financial violence. Trade unions are not sufficient to organize a fragmented and widely precarious work force, immersed in the communication flow and forced to slavish job performances. If present day exploitation takes place on the grounds of financial accumulation, class struggle must involve social reproduction, life and extra-labour cooperation, entirely. However, as we feel part of the #occupy movement, we think that much more could be done. Its strength shows the crisis of liberal democracy before the arrogance of financial dictatorship, but does not yet indicate the way to “hurt the masters”, to hurt the bankers. It’s necessary to speak out and start “telling the truth to power”, but power must be sought in the net of metropolitan exploitation, in the theft of surplus value.

In this respect Oakland is a prototype, and in this sense we re-discover our republican inspiration with no shyness.

2. Liberal democracy in Europe has ended. The alternative grows beyond the cage of the crisis investing political representation.

A new Bonapartism, a straightforward “commissioner dictatorship” has entered the scene, with Monti and Papadimos, with “Merkozy” and the letters from the ECB. While we write, the future of the Euro is not at all certain. It appears clear however that the financial markets are using the sovereign debt crisis to provoke an acceleration without equals in the dismantlement of welfare (of which in Italy the President of the Republic himself has become the unauthorized inspirer and fervent warrantor), in the process of privatization; most of all, it’s evident how the financial markets are suspending state sovereignty, in the economic sphere and sometimes even in the composition of the executive power. The extension of functions within the ECB (the possibility to coin and to lend as a last resort) and the establishment of a “Eurobond” will be accompanied –as required by the Bundesbank- by a straightforward process of demolition of representative democracy. National parliaments are already completely deprived of authority, as governments are limited to execute the indications imposed by the hedge funds, and therefore by the ECB. Monti, a figure working within the transnational financial élite, part of the 1%, is turning Italy into a privileged laboratory for the Grosse Koalition, a downright model of governability (in its relationship to parliamentary representation) imposed by the new material constitution.

In this European context, and just secondly a national one, it is a mistake, besides plain naivety, to think that parliamentary political representation is where growth and empowerment of the alternative can take place. What is really missing, the only thing that can make the difference, is the conquest of a favourable relation of power with the financial capital and with its institutions, and only radical movements can contribute to creating it. We need to go beyond the traditional separation between social and political spheres: the full recognition of the not-democratic nature of the financial governance is the basis for a truly political and constituent thought within movements. Constituent movements are equipped with a programmatic intelligence and an institutional ability. It won’t be easy, but we know this is what’s necessary, it’s what we are willing to spend our energy, our imagination, all our strength on.

3. The new European governance imposes a re-thinking of the relationship between conflict and political institutions. The present-day Federalist is born.

Foucault and his courses on neo-liberalism come to our rescue. How else could we read the crisis of Europe and of the Euro? The German obsession with price stability and the “necessary inequality” remind us the genealogy of the neoliberal discourse minutely reconstructed by Foucault at the Collège de France. As in the case of the German Ordoliberals in 1948, the issue here is to build and legitimize the political space (the continental space) beginning with the market and currency requirements. In this sense the austerity imposed by the Bundesbank is a step forward compared to the fragile European governance known till now: a new “active governmenting” comes forth with the constitutionalisation of the balanced budget, with the cancellation, de facto, of the democratic constitutions, with the privatizations, with the sanctions against those countries spending too much on schools and hospitals, with the destruction of labor law. Against this, any discussion by the opposition risks going round in circles.

Is it possible to imagine a re-thinking of the relationship between movements and political institutions? Does the extra-parliamentary choice of action bring with it the eternal spiteful litany? No, we are certain of this. Instead of giving in to aphasia, we need to significantly extend our ability to negotiate, to combine the resistance with the creation of alternatives: only an independent and radical movement can bring with it the necessary strength to negotiate with the new institutions of the financial governance! It is also necessary to understand which institutional spaces are favorable to the expansion of movements and to their constituent intensity.

Aside from keeping a close eye on Europe, because the mach on material constitution is played on continental grounds, it is advisable to consider, with intelligence and open-mindedness, the political and administrative devices when these are capable of questioning the “political monopoly of the party machine”. We agree with Luciano Ferrari Bravo in still thinking that the party-government is the privileged political adversary for strong and not subordinate movement politics, and that a municipal federalism is the institutional field that can be questioned by determined action towards democratic reclaiming. There is another powerful source of inspiration aside from the republican one: the idea of federalism.

4. To avoid the sphere of political representation does not mean to sing the organ recital of the insurrectional break-up. Rather, it’s necessary to insist on the constituent nature of movements.

Insurgency has regained right to citizenship in a consistent portion of critical thought, while being continually re-launched (like a broken record) by the anarchist components of the movement. In the systemic crisis of the capital, following the emotional and political wave of the widespread uprisings within the Arab countries, it seems realistic to sing the praises of the insurrectional perspective, each time cars are set alight in the streets. Yet something is unsatisfactory in the insurrectional theory and practice. In the first place insurgency always presents itself – and we must turn our attention to the uprisings as they actually are, not as we would like them to be or, normatively, as they should be - with traits of a “destituting power” unable to produce new forms of life, new organization devices, and institutions which finally are not State bodies, nor a re-statement of refreshed lobbies that in sooth maintain legacies with financial and colonial powers.

In second place insurgency, especially in those subjects that ape it, reveals a strong mimicry of State logic, or better still, of police logic. In fact, for example, the abbreviation ACAB (All cops are bastards) has stopped being an obvious corollary of street revolts, but to the eyes of a few it appears as the heart of the political program. We are convinced that such line of reasoning is not up to the problems faced today by movements insisting on radical change of reality. No “assault on the sky” is capable of effectiveness, the only thing that matters is the institutional creativity of movements.

What is a non-stately institution (or a common institution), spreading power instead of concentrating it? No doubt the forms of organization whose action we are witnessing in the indignados movement, in Spain, in the movement for education, in Chile, and in the #occupy movement in the United States are non-stately institutions; movements fighting for the common good in Italy, from last summer’s referendum victory to the occupations of dismissed cinemas and abandoned theatres all over Italy; the many student and youth protests that are disseminating new organizational forms of teaching and research worldwide – we called it self-education years ago - from Europe to the Americas, and more in general a new way of living in universities and schools; non appeasing trade unions. These are incomplete experiences, ok, but even in their incompleteness these experiences exemplify the practices of non-stately institutions, of biopolitical institutions that, while triggering and fueling conflict, consolidate new forms of life, knowledge, language and means of communication.

5. We call tumult the form of conflict which is suited to the current predominance of financial governance.

We resort to a pre-modern and Machiavellian category with the clear intention of finding names that may account for the qualities of the struggles, where the supremacy of state sovereignty is depleted. We believe in fact that the category of Tumult, much more than the insurgency mirage, can account for the new practices of the movements, beginning with metropolitan riots, ambiguous phenomena no doubt, but non the less worthy of passionate political consideration. The nature of tumult, in its conformation and composition, is a varied one. It is not a purely destituting conflict, it is rather (or it aims at being) a conflict in which the constituent nature prevails. In this sense – and with a sincere republican spirit - we link the concept of tumult to that of the non-stately institutions: there is at the same time a co-extensive and recursive relationship between tumult and institutions.

6. The present day relevance of revolution is to be re-considered beginning with the concept of tumult, opposed to an insurrectional hypothesis.

The constituent nature of movements imposes a compelling consideration of the issue of radical transformation, or, with no diplomacy, of revolution. In times of governance, when the legal system is broken up and the exertion of power assumes a reticular shape, stretching along the plurality of administrative procedures, revolution, as intended in modern times, says too much, and at the same time not enough. Too much because it continues to bring forth the homogeneous and unitary trait of the antagonistic subject. In these years we have learnt that the hegemony of cognitive labour, on the grounds of technical class composition, does not make the cognitive workers the proper subject to summarize in itself, in both extensive and intensive terms, the fight between capital and labour. Cognitive capitalism, the new paradigm of the subsumption of society to capital, means ontological irreducible multiplicity. This multiplicity determines the impossibility of homogeneity between the proletarian figure and the antagonistic subject. For the same reasons why it says too much, the category of revolution says too little: if the capital, in its schizophrenic and corrupted financial development, places exploitation and command on the entire bios, resistance and desire for freedom cannot but spread beyond the labour subjects, involving processes of intelligent cooperation, behaviour, the ethical density of social relations, imagination and linguistic creativity. Has this already been said in the past? Perhaps, but today old words carry new meaning.

Lets try to think revolution beginning with the concept of tumult. If the challenge is seriously taken a series of evident facts come to light: revolution (re)presents itself as a permanent process, losing the traits of an assault on the sky, and is qualified through the logic of the alternative; revolution can only be molecular, articulated along heterogeneous levels, may they be spatial, temporal, subjective; revolution can only but productively conjugate exit dynamics (those of an exodus, of “resourceful subtraction”) to voice dynamics (of protest, of “molar” conflict).

7. Tumult is the only salvation for those living in times of violence.

We don’t need a meteorologist to know that we live in times of violence. The era of Land grabbing (the raid of land by agricultural and food multinationals as a new form of colonialism), the era in which state violence intervenes in defence of the market, banks and currencies, the era of permanent global war, started by Bush and never interrupted by Obama, the era of silence civil wars. The era in which “original accumulation”, with its bloody violence, has become the standard, a permanent process. How else can we read the savage exploitation of workers in India and tens of suicides in China the expropriation of collective intelligence through copyright, of life through patents, of knowledge through rankings? Violence which becomes a “low intensity war” in metropolitan areas, when the multitude rebels, when indignations sieges the headquarters of power. The violence of Marchionne and of his blackmail, of banks, too big to fail.

What is the only antidote to contemporary violence? Tumult. Indeed, if thought of seriously, tumult imposes a consideration of violence. Also: is it possible to think the republican institutions without dealing with the question of tumult and therefore of violence? We think the answer is no. Does this mean that we choose to build a force symmetric to State power or to the violence of financial governance? In this case as well the straightforward answer is: no. Tumult laughs in the face of measures, all kind of measures: neighed violent nor non-violent, if anything both the things together (both violent and non-violent); in one word, constituent. Let’s try to better understand what constitutes tumult and resistance to the police brutality, opposed to an imposing violence that in an organized form is obsessed with symbolic representation, competition between groups, and bobò (bourgeois-bohemian) nihilism.

In the first place tumult binds movements, it doesn’t tear them apart. Tumult has no shape, but produces different forms from time to time (a peaceful an obstinate mass sit-in has as much value as the rage exploded in the riot on December 14th). It is not measured by the degree of violence, but it is not obsequious to the moral imperative of non-violence. Tumult is an “awaited and unexpected event”, that even in advancing like an atom casually deviating from the chosen path, is always the mature outcome of much accumulated past experience. Let it be clear, there is no dialectic progression, we do not have in mind the Preface of the Phenomenology of Spirit: tumult is a quantum leap, a creative act, an affective transition, a fact (the world, indeed, is all that is the case). Nevertheless it is never separate from the conditions of its possibility, which show all their strength and clarity only when the conditioned subject, tumult, expresses itself. There is a Kant we like, it is the one of the third Critique: tumult is sublime and helps us to deal seriously with the organizational plot we have hatched, with the political intelligence we have developed, with the common names that work and with those going round in circles. Tumult is not an event and does not demand “loyalty” like an event does. On the other hand, there are at least two theories of the event, theories so much in vogue in these past years: the first one confuses the event with the happening, the second one knows that the event is the meaning (or the power) of a happening and knows that the meaning is the result of a patient and collective construction. Caute!, as Spinoza would say. The meaning of tumult does not demand loyalty, it sets the horizon of collective organization, of the hard work, filled with love, that is necessary to build new institutions.

In one word: tumult is hostile to purity. It is unfaithful. It is immoral.

8. The constituent nature of the movement expresses itself in the ability to invent new institutions, as much as in the democratic re-appropriation of the welfare institutions being dismissed.

A greater clarity is needed concerning the issue of institutions of the common (already outlined in thesis 4). A French republican, Saint-Just, said that “many institutions and few laws” where necessary to protect the Republic (and the revolution). An institution is a “positive model of action”: contrarily to a law, which denies reality in ordering it, an institution organizes reality, developing multiplicity. What is social is always institutional (this is we believe a good, not esoteric, bio political concept). It is rather the sovereign transcendence that continually attempts, to brake the constitutive political nature of social life through the negative and disintegrating force of law. The disintegrating force of law, on the other hand, is what supported the enclosures in the 16th and 17th centuries, the process (factual and prescriptive) that in an admirable chapter of the Capital Marx defined as the “original accumulation”.

Therefore, when we say institution we do not mean State, we do not have the law at heart, we are not hinting at social democracy. This may be an unnecessary clarification: but in times when purity is considered a value, once more, we need to be cautious, towards those always ready to grasp a pen and take an applause, whatever kind it may be.

Yet when we think of non stately institutions we have in mind Occupy Wall Street, as well as the Teatro Valle occupied in Rome, university movements for self- reform, the self-managed hospitals in Catalonia and schools in Chile. What do these experiences tell us? They talk of democratic re-appropriation of welfare institutions, the same institutions being dismissed by political measures of austerity, helpless preys to financial ransacking. The challenge of the institution of the common is not that of separateness: while supporting the invention and the growth of institutions with a new nature, it is also crucial to take back the existing institutions and make them work in a radically new way. In this sense the point at issue is the service relation (or the “anthropogenetic” production model): the combination between the supply of a service –be it cultural or medical- and its use, or better, the forms of productive cooperation and the statue of professional skills, become the object of political practice itself. Care work, a reproductive dimension put to work, loses its irenical trait, and gains the trait of conflict, unavailable to subsidiary logics (from Cameron’s Big Society downwards). The point is to re-think welfare beyond the horizon of social security, putting at the centre care and relations as polemic processes generating new forms of life.

In many cases the “practice of the common good” cannot be distinguished any more from the defence and the redevelopment of the public good, be it universities or hospitals. The refined palate of bobò thinkers is caught by horror before this statement. Luckily, proletarians are clear minded.

9. The invention of new forms of struggle bring out today new useful elements for the political program of the alternative.

How is the political program built today? Here we find ourselves in a sphere yet to be explored. To try to convince others, or at least ourselves, that if adequately articulated the program is what changes the nature of the movement’s future is equivalent to a clumsy trick not turned out.

Lets talk about a concrete example. The issue of guaranteed income has been for a long time the flag of critical thought and of independent movements. With the deepening of the crisis this claim becomes absolutely decisive, overriding: to win guaranteed income means to draw resources from financial income, to establish a social pension, adjusted to the transformations of the labour market and to the quality of processes involving production and the extraction of value. Everything is crystal clear, yet this point of the program struggles to come forth as an element of re-composition of social conflict. Do we think this point is unrelated to the Spanish indignados, #occupy student debt or to the occupation of the Teatro Valle? Perhaps. Rather, it is the #occupy movement itself, when it concerns the spheres of production and of services, that, more than others, demands guaranteed income and health, and forces some important parts of it, not solving ones, but important.

So lets go back to the program. Only the invention of concrete forms of struggle and of re-appropriation can guarantee the definition of a mature anti-capitalistic program, where political imagination finds an adequate expression and an unforgiving test. Logic becomes inductive more than ever, more than ever singularity and circumstance organize a common language.

10. It is crucial to create new organizational devices, that are able to conjugate the #occupy movement with the general strike. That one hundred Oakland may flourish!

Lets try to imagine the Oakland prototype in Europe. Surely Puerta del Sol in Madrid, surely the Teatro Valle or the Cinema Palazzo in Rome, surely the English or Italian student tumults. And still, perhaps, we need to go further, we need to build places for re-composition, metropolitan devices able to conjugate #occupy to the general strike.

About ten years ago, before Genoa 2001, the IWW (Immaterial Workers of the World) proposed the “chambers of work and non-work”. The intuition was correct, but the times weren’t right, subjectivity immature. Ten years after Genoa, after the explosion of the sovereign debt crisis in the whole of Europe, and simultaneously, of youth and student movements fighting against austerity, the proposal gains strength again. If the name is not appropriate, another one can be found, what matters is the concept: places for horizontal and common organization of precarious labour not regulated by unions and scattered across the territory, and for those trade unions, or parts of them, that are non-concerting and conflictual.

It’s not about creating a new trade union, or celebrating a new political subject: the issue is rather to adopt the bio-political trait of the metropolitan productive structure and consequently its organization, through disputes and mutualism, communication and independence. Chambers of labour, universities, social centres and squats, are not enough to achieve this: we need to build links between these fields, federative lines that may give life to stable forms of political cooperation.

In the face of complete deregulation of the labour market, the endless squeeze on revenue and income, the wild privatization of services, the blackmail of debt, the mass unemployment, the only chance European new poors have is to radically re-think the organizational forms of life and labour, assuming there is no distinction between the two terms anymore.

11. Taking leave from moderatism, thinking democracy of the common as a creative and conflictual process.

To take leave from moderatism and to reduce it to peaces is the duty lying before European radical movements wanting to change the currents state of affairs. Moderatism today comes in the guise of national unity governments or of the Grosse Koalition. Its slogan is the guilt for the debt, together with the “sober” and “responsible” choice of demanding sacrifices to the poor in order to give to the rich, to banks, to hedge funds. Moderate is also the choice of those political left-wing forces (all) that think they can tell fairytales and combine the diktat coming from the ECB with general wellbeing.

Reformism is undoubtedly short of breath, there is no organized relationship between capital and work-force (the fields of life and language), least of all any possible mediation. In the era when liberal democracy disappears, democracy as a process connecting tumults and institutions is the material horizon of anti-capitalism. A process and not a form of government, a singular production of common space, space regained from private property and State logic. Only the equalitarian demand stands against neo-liberal politics: only this claim makes democracy the most fierce opponent of political moderatism, the antidote to the “soberness” of injustice. The democracy of the common, the democracy of the new poor, the only ones capable of creating something new. To say it in the words of Walter Benjamin: “Among the great creators there were always the inexorable, who wanted to clear the table. They wanted to have clear drawing table, construction was their field.”