A contribution towards Europassignano2013 meeting

Toni Negri: "Building coalitions of the multitude in Europe"

Against the rule of financial capitalism, let's build democratic governance of the common

3 / 9 / 2013

(Draft translation by Ed Emery)

Forgive me if I take a long run-up to the question. First and foremost I want to ask myself what it actually means to ‘do politics today’, and then I shall return to the theme of Europe. Doing politics on the terrain of autonomy, in other words taking the point of view of the subversive subject and therefore analyzing the figures and the way of acting of the precarious-cognitive proletariat. In fact I find the needs and desires of this subject to be a central mechanism, virtually hegemonic, in the analysis of the movements of the multitude that is dominated and exploited in its struggle against the capitalist order.

There are two arguments, rather, two topoi that should be addressed in dealing with this question. The first is objective, in other words we have to ask what it means to pose ourselves within capitalist development in the critical phase of neoliberal hegemony. We could also probably begin to ask questions about ‘the limits of capitalism’  but first we would have to remove all catastrophist predictions, in whatever form they present themselves, and all the nostalgias of a tradition which for too long has rested on this illusion. The capitalist context is today characterized by the domination of finance capital which is consolidating its action after a long transition going back at least to the second half of the 1970s. We have analysed this evolution in broad detail, and have often anticipated it in our collective work, so let us go straight to the conclusions. Finance capital is hegemonic; it can no longer be defined as it was defined by Marx and Hilferding, because it has become a capital that is directly productive. Today it is seeking ways of stabilizing itself, engaging in extractive activities both as regards nature and its riches, and as regards the biopolitical-social (i.e. welfare). When we talk of the consolidation of the power of financial capital, we hypothesise (and this is a hypothesis which is coming increasingly close to a conclusive verification ) that the transformation of capitalism has led to (among other things – but the observation is limitative of the analysis, but also important for concentrating our analysis on the things that interest us)… has led to a very deep transformation of the territorial forms and the institutional structures within the overall make-up of states and nations in the ‘short century’. This transformation begins within the individual national markets where, in each of them, the capitalist production structure is reorganized after the first Great War (in response to the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution ), according to Keynesian contractual modalities. After World War II, and after the ‘reconstructions’, this form of social organisation and capitalist command begins to become fragile and sometimes it explodes under the pressure of the working class: it is then that the neoliberal revolution begins, starting from the end of the 1970s and then with an extraordinary acceleration at the start of the twenty-first century. First it reorganises the state, using fiscal procedures in management of the crisis and the governance of public debt. The march of globalisation which intervenes during that period and the global affirmation of the ‘financial markets’ shift the public authorities’ control of the debt possibilities of the state to structures that organize the private, a shift from equilibrium of the administration internal to the internal state to an equilibrium built under the dominion of the global ‘markets’.

It is at this point that a definitive break occurs between the new global capitalist order and the subjects who lived in the previous capitalist system of individual nation-states – in other words in that ‘reformist’ ordering of capital which, having brought the working class in movement into the social contract, in Keynesian spirit, then disciplied its behaviours according to so-called ‘democratic’ rules. Whereas in the fiscal state, which soon came to crisis, public debt had assumed that role of anticipation of spending which previously had been the role of inflation (in the opposite direction, as an instrument of devaluation of expenditure) and whereas soon fiscality was no longer sufficient to support the debt promoted by the state – in short, whereas the structure of debt changes and neo-liberalism, making markets the rule of development and making ‘markets’ the justice of the planet, and imposes the global privatisation of debt.... given all this, the capitalist crisis presents itself today inability to put into motion, within development itself, any element of mediation, any contractual structure, in short Keynesianism in all the different reformist meanings that it could possibly take. On the other hand, this development (if regarded from the point of view of the struggles of the subversive subject) restores to us a very solid model of the class struggle. On the one hand all those who can participate in ‘interest’ (i.e. the monetary profit – in participation in the global usury practices of private markets and/or semi-public markets) built on the financial market. On the other hand, all those who consider the exercise of their labour-power rendered socially useful by the fact of their ‘being together’ and thus by the necessity (need and desire) to be guaranteed in the course of their lives, and not by the continuing barbarity of private ownership but by the possible enjoyment of access to the common. And there is no ‘middle class’ between these two ethical realities.

The second assumption is subjective. We have mentioned its ethical characteristics – now we have to study (here too summarising a work that has been done collectively) the ontology of its production. In it are recomposed therefore the changes that have taken place in the composition of the labouring class. This latter is no longer (as we have known for a long time) a “working class” in an exclusive sense, and it is not possible to define it as central in the processes of valorisation – the immaterial, intellectual and cooperative dimension, and the network (as a web of all productive activity) have become the central elements of productive valorisation. We see that labour-power has radically changed. No nostalgia for the old working class. Rather, a commitment, however, to re-find its stigmata in the continuum of ‘de-industrialisation’, brought about (not so much by financial capital as by) industrial automation and its expansion to the whole system of productive services (so that the factory worker too is now an immaterial worker). The radicality of this change is extreme. Elsewhere we have defined the ensemble of labour-power in its dimension as an exploited subject within the development of financial capital as a compound of individuals who are ‘indebted, mediatised, securitised and represented’. In this context, exploitation takes place by taking on society as a whole; it invests and subsumes the whole of society. It is an extractive exploitation. The extractive quality of the exploitation means that the ‘temporal’ analytical category (that of Marx, for example) of the figures and the quantities of surplus labor and surplus-value, need to be revised and analysed according to the new criteria. And it is here that finance capital can be seen as a powerful agent of a compact and massified “extortion” of surplus value, as a mystifier of every assemblage of cooperative labour and finally – in this way – as a force which is extractive of the common. Thus, in the concept of  ‘extraction’ there is a modification of the concept of ‘exploitation’. ‘Extraction’ means the appropriation of surplus value through a continuous skimming-off of social activity, the reduction of the singularities that cooperate in social production (and thus express a common) to a mass that has lost all control of itself and all self-determination, the transformation of capitalist entrepreneurship into a function that is henceforth incapable of organising labour, immersed as it is in the financial game and only attentive to stocks and shares. The Marxian  concept of exploitation seems so pathetically distant – in its insistence on the time of the working-day and the exploitation of the individual that can be measured within it. If it were not that the mass exists only in the logic of finance capital (as the people exist only in that of the sovereign ). Whereas exploited life is singular. From this point of view, therefore, the subjectivities involved in this development of capitalism, expropriated as a mass, exploited as singularities, tell us that the social fracture, or rather the splitting of the concept of capital, is by now an accomplished fact. At the point at which capitalist development was driven by neoliberal action, any mediation internal to capitalist development (even if imposed by the multitude of needful workers in need, in short, however this latter presents itself, regardless of the form in which the singularities are enclosed with in the expropriated mass) – all mediation, therefore, has been broken. We are witnessing a zeroing of the political, of the value of the political composition of the antagonistic subject: in this perspective ‘politics’ is only to be considered as a mediation – and this certainly cannot happen with the ‘excluded’.

Do we therefore have to conclude that the workerist dialectic which always assumed an antagonistic relationship between capitalist development and working-class struggle, and which imputed all development to that, has come to an end? In is possible; in all probability this is what has happened. In fact the relation of the singularities that constitute the multitude has become entirely “intransitive” in the capital relation. Neo-liberalism imposes this truth on us. Capitalist exploitation was born, in fact, from the fact that the multitude of singularities was reduced to mass – was rendered ‘transitive’ in regard of variable capital, but can no longer express itself as a class – not even within capital, as the ‘socialist’ dialectic required. To say this does not mean that the Marxian conception of development is obsolete, or that a workerist methodology has lost its usefulness; it simply means that method have to be renewed, that the ‘weapons of critique’ have to be adapted to the new overall situation, and that ‘doing politics today’ is a concept which can not be legitimized, for example, simply by the use of the “workers’ inquiry”  – modelled on the twin elements of technical composition and political composition – but that the issues of power and counter-power, of war and peace, of constituent power and insurrection – in short, of the programme of communism – have to be re-proposed, at the forefront of our thinking.

I repeat. For some time it has been theorized that ‘the one has divided into two’. This means that there is no longer a measure between capital and the exploited, antagonist  subject, that there is no longer any possible mediation. There can be only a forced mediation. This leads to crisis, inefficiencies, limits to the political form of capitalism which is dominant today, of the ‘democratic’ form in particular, and these are becoming more and more obvious. Whereas the political action of the very earliest and the first workers' movement (between 1800 and 1900) sought as an alternative for its action a reformist and / or insurrectional model and whereas if the second great epoch of the labour movement – that of the Fordist factory worker – consolidated its project in the form of (reformist) contract, today there is no longer anything in all this which can offer possible paths of action. Some writers have pointed out with great intelligence that neoliberal capitalism lost all democratic character from the moment that the institutions of democracy were no longer able to negotiate, and to have an influence on economic issues – in other words they made it possible for neoliberalism to remove them from the rules of democracy. This is another way of saying that ‘the one has divided into two’. Sovereignty was then removed to the nation-states and transferred to the global power of the ‘markets’. But this conclusion does not conclude anything; is itself implicated in the process of crisis and it extremises it rather than solving it. It is now repeated banally by all and sundry, and ends up by mystifying the impotence of the subjects and rendering vain the struggles against finance capital.

So far we have seen how the concept of the political composition of the working class has failed, and how it has been zeroed out by the new figure of financial and political movements of capital – and in any case it will not work (to put it in broad terms) ‘ontologically’ – in other words in a given historical reality. Because it is now devoid of all transitivity. So the question of ‘how to do politics today’ does not mean fiddling around between political and technical composition, but radically redefining what ‘politics’ is.  Shortly we shall see how is the fragility of the very concept of technical composition. So the classic methodology of operaismo no longer functions. We have to change it. And we have to do that while bearing in mind that our self-criticism does not mean that we can no longer call ourselves Marxists. Perhaps it means that we shall rather call ourselves post-workerists. Probably we shall call ourselves simply communists – in our own way, turning Marxism into a living dispositive, in order to adequate it to the critique of the world we live in. In order to begin, in other words, to get out of that condition of the zeroing of politics.

So now we should return to the question of the subjective, arming ourselves with a new methodology that works primarily on ways to help the new exploited social subjectivity to grow, independently of the capital relation (in other words, non-transitively). In it there will no longer be recognizable technical compositions or political compositions, one being consequent on the other. Rather a simplified composition and a real consistency which I shall try to define here, describing the action which it is possible, for this subjectivity, to produce.

First we have to remember that this separate subject, zeroed from the political point of view, is nonethless a subject that has re-appropriated fixed capital, in the whole phase of the transformation of capitalism, between the crisis of the fiscal state and the consolidation of the state of finance capital. What precisely do we mean by this reappropriation? It consists specifically in rendering, in making their own, in grasping, bodily and mental as well as linguistic and / or emotional prostheses, in other words, in reconducting to their own singularities some capabilities which previously were only recognized as belonging to the machines with which they worked, and in embodying these machinic characteristics, turning them into primary attitudes and behaviours of the activity of the labouring subjects. In the historical gap that had emerged between the objectivity of command (and of constant capital ) and the subjectivity of labour power (subject to variable capital) – there has taken place a recapture by the singularities, of fixed capital, an irreversible acquisition of machinic elements withdrawn from the valorising capability of capital – to put it bluntly, a continuous theft of machinic elements which enriches the subject with technical capabilities or rather, as I said, which the working subject incorporates. This reveals the extent to which immaterial labour os corporeal, of its ability to absorb quickly and with virtuosity machinic stimuli and potentialities.

Now, every reappropriation is a stripping of capitalist command. This process of appropriation by immaterial workers is in fact very strong, and efficacious in its development – it brings about crisis. But there would not be crisis if we were to consider that it arises spontaneously from the processes of re-appropriation and removal. That s not the way it is.  The crisis needs a confrontation, a political reality that moves for the destruction no longer merely of the relationship of exploitation but of the forced condition that supports it. In fact when we speak of re-appropriation by the antagonistic subject, we are not talking simply of changes in the quality of labour power (which derives from the absorption of portions of fixed capital), we are speaking essentially of the reappropriation of that cooperation which in the capitalist restructuring of production had been incentivated and then expropriated – and which represents the essential drama of this critical phase. When we speak of a recuperation of fixed capital, of reappropriation – far from this being an expression in terms stained with economism – the analysis enters rather onto that terrain of cooperation which today is regulated in biopolitical terms by capital: stripping capital of this function means recuperating for labour-power autonomous capacities of cooperation. But since civil society and productive cooperation are today dominated by monetary functions – and the monetary functions are directly headed by finance capital – reappropriation of fixed capital and stripping of capitalist command over cooperation lead us immediately within what is now the most decisive element in the structure of capitalist command: the monetary sphere. If signifiers were given here, they would be signifiers that reveal the common. Money encounters and clashes with the common characteristics of cooperation. And then resistance, struggle and the self-determination of the labouring subject here immediately take on political characteristics, because they clash with the financial (monetary) dimensions of social control. Welfare is the privileged terrain of this confrontation.

Second, in addition to stripping command over cooperation, and in addition to incorporating parts of fixed capital, the new labour power, namely that antagonistic political class, socially recomposed in cooperation, finds itself constructing common places. Maybe it desires them; ay any rate it wants to build them. What do we mean by common places? In immediate terms, a sense of orientation precisely in the context of the mobility and flexibility incorporated in the (cooperating) labour power. And, secondly, what then are the common places, or rather the institutional ensembles within which the antagonist subject seeks to recognise itself? We are talking essentially of structural levels of the organisation of being together, often the social context of the city, or rather the metropolis – as a place of meeting and for the common construction of languages and affects, as full virtuality of productive associations. The metropolis is in fact becoming more and more, the place where resistance to capitalist extraction of surplus value from the common activity, and to the exploitation of multitudinous singularities, has become possible – perhaps a place of desire. The metropolis has certainly became central in accumulation capitalist because there, in the metropolis, the intransitivity of the capitalist relation has reached its highest level of realisation and expression, and as such should be governed by capital. But on the other hand, the metropolis has become eminently a place of encounters and proletarian reappropriations. Each instance of counter-power cannot be separated from the places and spaces in which it is to develop, establish and sustain itself. If in the first moment that we have considered (that of the re-appropriation of fixed capital), the singularity was at the same time recognizing itself in the common – and the common (in this instance the ensemble of welfare services) became the object of its instances of re-appropriation – if this happens in the metropolis, in other words starting from the multitudes who are recomposing themselves and taking shape in common places – then the confrontation defines itself immediately as a struggle of the multitudinous proletariat against financial capital. Here multitudinous action, seeking to defend, to rebuild, to take possession of welfare, pivots on the rediscovery of active subjectivities, of those singularities which constitute the multitude – for this reason it expresses itself in the demand for a right to citizenship – which is politically the ‘right to the city’. A right, , in other words a guarantee of enjoyment of the city, of co-operation in the city, of governance of the city, of working in the city. 

The question of the guaranteed income of every citizen thus becomes an element that integrates this construction of the political. And while the demand for income recognizes the productive function of every citizen, this is not the most fundamental thing: what is fundamental is that every singularity (i.e. every worker and every citizen) finds and fixes in their subjective claim for income a demand for political power adequately matched to the construction of the multitude. Guaranteed income and the right to the city are one single political objective. If in the common place that we have built, the multitudinous singularity realised itself in the common (in the governance of welfare), here the common is multitudinous and expresses itself  through the singularities (in the subjective right to the city, to access to the common) – and herein is affirmed the new way of doing politics today.

In neoliberalism, in the consolidated State of the transformation of the command of capital, the fabric of the common is organized by money and is expropriated by the Bank. It is for this reason that, starting from the bottom, what is proposed for us and for our struggles for social emancipation and freedom, the theme of Europe. Rebuilding the European horizon, therefore, means to fight for the re-appropriation of welfare and for obtaining a citizenship income, equal for all and more than decent, and recognising that the European Central Bank is the enemy to be fought, the power to be dispossessed. And here is provided, in the face of the attacks by ‘markets’ (what happened in the crisis has shown this to us) a unique opportunity to shift the political discourse from the suffocating conditions of debate within individual nation-states to a revolutionary perspective. But more – precisely if you cannot go back (and the crisis has proved this, and its resolution will show it even more harshly) Europe is a revolutionary opportunity. If you cannot go back, then you have to go on – and to go on there is only one way: to struggle, insisting on welfare and citizenship income, in order to re-establish that democratic instance of the common that has been torn away by the current European governance, hegemonised by neoliberalism. The theme of Europe arises therefore directly against the Bank, recognizing that the multitudinous struggle, the struggle of the social proletariat against the Bank, does not deny the process of European unification and the results achieved (including the euro) but rather poses the object of the governance of money, of the construction of the money of the common. This however is only a premise, almost an ideological anticipation of a communist action to be reprogrammed.

So once again we ask ourselves: why Europe? Why are we ‘ Europeans ‘ even after we have directly suffered the fierce repression of neo-liberalism, and the horrible austerity, and we have made it the object of our hatred? And after we have implicitly recognized that Europe represents in the present institutional framework the most complete example of consolidation of the neoliberal State? Inside the ‘left’ many people, the majority of those who do not adhere to social democracy, now (after long fought against the process of European unification, having been taught a hard lesson by the economic crisis and having learned that there is no going back ) – now therefore think that the only way to rebuild Europe requires the reformulation of the constitutive contract by the European nation-states, in other words that these States rebuild themselves as sovereign subjects of bargaining. This would require returning (temporarily?) to nation-states, to restore a national sovereignty (protected by Europe within and against globalisation?), and thus to re-acquire power over money. And then... then we'll see. Sovereignism takes a long time dying, and ever since 1914 there have always been socialists available to repeat their defence of national sovereignty beyond all shameful limit! Subordinately, in a more subdued manner, there exists the possibility of reopening a relationship – almost contractual – between the various European states, quasi-sovereign, after they have regained a greater sovereign autonomy – the ones that the fiscal compact and the other diabolical monetary accords have eliminated: in short, to rebuild Europe in two stages.  One, cancellation of the agreements on the European Central Bank; and two, recomposition around a Bretton Woods-style agreement, where command is via an independent ‘Bancor’ – a conventional money that flexibly natches the diversity of European situations and guides the movements of adjustment of balances and budgets within countries and among them all. Pathetic projects. However, they concern us only partially, as a way of defining a backdrop. For us the problem is not solved by going backwards: we think that Europe is the minimum container for a political revolutionary action that is located within globalisation. Space (precisely following on globalisation) has returned to being an essential, primary political dimension . It is only by building and consolidating the strength of an ordering in a given space between subjects who are cooperating, that (sovereign, of course, but also revolutionary) legitimacy is affirmed. There is no alternative. Europe is this space – where the multitudinous proletariat in which we recognize ourselves may arise, transforming not space (although perhaps also that… others will talk about this) but the structures of power that order it. Europe and the European currency constitute an environment of virtual autonomy within the framework of globalisation. Without Europe, there is no possibility of governing, limiting the enormous pressure of global markets and of the powers of corporations. Europe is the spatial dimension that represents a chance for political survival and for autonomous action of the Europe multitudes, in the face of the pressure of the sovereign forces, already settled on global dimensions – shaping itself now as continental sections of global power.

What has happened on the global chessboard in the last thirty years, from the end of the Cold War, should be strongly emphasized in order to clarify that the proposal of a struggle that proposes a project of radical democracy in Europe is far from being a dream. While  is true that the power of markets is enormous, it is equally true that the weight and the conditionings of the Atlantic alliance and subordination has become, continuously, increasingly fragile and unstable in perspective. 

It is by the decline of American power that the beginning of the twenty-first century was characterised – with two major consequences. The first is the latent conflict between the U.S. and China – this is maturing, and has a first result that interests us: the fact of having alienated American power from Europe, and of having recorded the sharp weakening (not to be underestimated) of American power, not only in Europe but on the whole Mediterranean dimension. The US has never wanted a united Europe, except as an ally during the Cold War. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall they have continually opposed the unification and Britain has always been the Trojan horse of this sabotage. Now the situation has changed dramatically, and the weakening of leadership is accompanied by the necessity for the White House more effectively to support US interests in the Pacific and to build there a strategic front for hegemony in Asia. As we see, the ‘provincialisation of Europe’ brings not only trouble! The second consequence is far more important: it relates to the development of the Arab Springs along the Mediterranean and in the Middle East (a real 1848). For now it seems impossible to identify a political solution to the conflict between the Arab masses and the authoritarian structures (military and/or plutocratic) that control and keep them in a cage of medieval poverty and ignorance . In that situation, the class struggle is recovering its rights – naturally, if you talk of class struggle in the terms in which we have spoken thus far, as struggles of multitudes of singularities, as struggles that are an ensemble of emancipation from poverty and liberation of subjects. The theme of a united Europe as a project of radical-communist  democracy finds in the movement on the other side of the Mediterranean over a possible base of support – the converse is also to be built.

Third – or rather, this is the third assumption that underlies the thinking about subjectivity that I began to develop at the beginning of this paper (a long time ago!) –  what is important is that we begin to consolidate into institutions the movements that I have described above. It is not just a matter of building diffuse counterpowers, but also of creating coalitions of them in order to produce constituent power. It is a matter of rebuilding the totality of plural forces that are struggling for income and for the defence/expansion of welfare, around a telos, around a common goal. It seems to us that when we witnessed the long history of the Arab Spring and the Occupy uprisings (and the tragedies that are marking the – albeit indomitable, sometimes open, sometimes underground – continuity of the former and the stagnation – albeit sometimes powerfully reflexive – that is affecting the latter) – well, you cannot avoid thinking – if you still have a minimum of theoretical responsibility, even before political responsibility – the need for a job of constitution of a force that will be capable – all together – of confronting the enemy. 

The awareness of a strategic transition has probably been achieved. It will now be necessary to build platforms that can organize the continuity of the struggles and their progress. Turning struggles into institution means impart a telos to them, which can become incorporated into every moment of organisation. It should be clear that in saying this I am not referring to ‘re-foundations’ of the ‘Left’ (‘re-foundation’ and ‘left’ have been reduced to mere shit words), nor am I referring to possible relations with the parliamentary forces of the old Left. We are communists, we have nothing to do with social democracy, which we see as an ideological variant of capitalist domination. We are something other, and we define ourselves as being beyond socialism. So for the time being let us begin to develop, in Europe, coalitions of forces in struggle, within Europe, against its Constitution and against the policies of the Central Bank and let us try to give them institutional form. As we used to say in the old days, ‘anyone who has not done inquiry [inchiesta] doesn’t get to talk’. Now let us begin to say: ‘anyone who has not created a coalition, doesn’t get to talk in Europe’. This is probably a way of ensuring that a tendency develops, in Europe, of those new forms which the multitude is teaching us, to build and occupy free spaces – because multitude is a multitude of subjectivities that are finding themselves in a common space. I believe, however, that in order to qualify coalition-building, at this stage, it is sufficient to affirm just one point: a determination to destroy private property, to dissolve in the common both public ownership and the sovereignty that colours it, and build and to manage democratically the governance of the common.

So, the European space is, perhaps, a privileged territory for multitudinous experimentation in the construction of institutions of the common. I say this very cautiously but also with much hope, because yes, it is true that Europe has been provincialised, and that the European proletariat has lost the battle for emancipation which for several centuries it has conducted against capital’s neo-liberal empire.... and yet we have given so much to this, and we still have strength to give.

(Notice by Ed Emery, 2 September 2013: "Feel free to circulate it, but beware… It is a rough and hasty draft translation… ")

Bookmark and Share