Antonio Negri: Interpretation of the Class Situation Today: Methodological Aspects

From: Open Marxism vol. II. (Pluto press, 1992)
ISBN: 0 7453 0591 1
Pages 69-105

Introductory Note to Theses 1 to 3

These first three theses take up the conclusions of my previous works on the theory of value. In English see Revolution Retrieved (London, 1988) and Marx Beyond Marx (South Hadley, Mass., 1984). In Italian see La forma Stato (Milan, 1977) and Macchina tempo (Milan, 1982). These first three theses have methodological importance. Those who are not familiar with my previous works cited above may find them difficult. In this case, I would recommend reading the text beginning at thesis four and returning to these first three theses at the end. In the above-cited works I have continually sought to bring two traditional thematics: (1) the question of the validity of the law of value and (2) the development of the transition between socialism and communism—into contact with the new phase of political history: (3) the subsumption of the entire society in the process of capitalist accumulation and therefore (4) the end of the centrality of the factory working class as the site of the emergence of revolutionary subjectivity. In these first three theses I want to affirm the principle that the contemporary end of the economic function of the law of value, inasmuch as it is tied to a previous and outdated organization of labour and accumulation, does not diminish the centrality of the contradictions tied to social labour. The new subversive political subjectivity, then, is to be identified on this new terrain.

Thesis 1: By Constitution I Understand the Socio-Political Mechanism Determined by the Law of Value

The form of value is the material representation of the organisation of collective labour in a determinate society. When we say ‘representation’ we mean that the form of value is a conceptual product. But when we say ‘material’ representation we mean something different, namely that the value-form, in addition to being a representation of the social constitution, also corresponds to the social constitution; or, more precisely, it is inscribed on the structure of productive cooperation and of the system of distribution and reproduction of value produced in a determinate society. The ‘mode of production’, or the system of production of a society, resides, in a manner of speaking, at the ‘base’ of the form of value; the latter, instead, constitutes the socially effective and representative mediation of the labour processes, of the norms of consumption, of the models of regulation—it resides, in short, ‘above’ the mode of production. The mode of production is the form of value without the representation of the social constitution. The form of value is instead the transcendental material of a determinate society—it has, then, a higher ontological intensity than the simple mode of production.

The form of value is defined by the critique of labour. The critique of labour comprises two elements: firstly, the analysis of labour; secondly, the critique proper. Now, the analysis of labour is neither simply an analysis of political economy, nor simply an analysis of ideology, law and the state; it is an analysis of all this gathered under the category of the political. The analysis of labour is therefore an analysis of the politics, or more precisely of the constitution, of a determinate society. But the constitution is the mechanism of the labour of a multitude of subjects, and therefore the product of the determinate functioning of the law of labour-value. Here, consequently, the analysis of labour becomes the critique of labour. And where the analysis of labour shows that the development of social labour produces either a process of accumulation of value or a complex of norms of distribution, the critique of labour breaks this synthesis, unhinges this constitution and marks the singularity and the dynamism of the antagonisms which the form of value comprehends.

The rules of solution of the antagonisms which are fixed by a constitution are historically modifiable. The form of value is always the result of a relation which changes according to the historical movements of a society. But since the historical changes are determined by the development and the level of solution of the antagonisms, we can say that the form of value is a function of the antagonisms and a product of their solution. The form of value, as the material transcendental of the constitution of a multitude, is submitted to the alternatives which the social antagonisms determine: it can therefore alternatively tend either toward identifying itself with the ‘mode of production’ or, on the contrary, toward being critically lived through revolutionary practice.

In Marx’s Capital, volume 1, part 1, the form of value is presented to us as (1) a form of equivalence, and therefore as the form of a relation, (2) a relation whose constituent parts are historically determined, and then (3) as the dynamic of an exchange relation; which (4) moves toward a maximum of abstraction and (5) in this movement exposes a mystery (value as equivalence) which (6) hides the antagonistic character of the relation, of its form, of the corresponding mode of production. This first series of Marxian definitions of the form of value are synchronic, but in them a diachronic gash already begins to open: in points 2 and 4, for example, since it is clear that the historical determination of the antagonism and the definition of its dynamism demand an ontological indentification, a subjective ground, the materialisation of the tendency. It is perfectly logical, then, that in the third and fourth parts of volume 1 of Capital, Marx exclusively adopts the diachronic discourse: the analysis of the form of value here becomes historico-political discourse, in which historical modification integrates the theoretical definition and the materiality of the ontological fabric fixes the possibility of praxis.

The limit of Marx’s consideration consists in the fact of reducing the form of value to an objective measure. This forced him, against his own critical premises and against the wealth of his own analysis, to consider the historical development of capital according to linear tendencies of accumulation and, consequently, it prevented him from successfully showing the movements of class struggle in light of catastrophe and innovation. Historical materialism, even in prophetic texts such as the Grundrisse, runs the risk of constituting a natural history of the progressive subsumption of labour under capital and of illustrating the form of value in the progressive, albeit Utopian, deterministic process of perfecting its mechanisms.

Thesis 2: Even Though the Law of Value is in Crisis, Labour is the Basis of Every Constitution

When we say that there is a crisis of the law of value, we mean that today value cannot be reduced to an objective measure. But the incommensurability of value does not eliminate labour as its basis. This fact becomes clear when seen from a historical perspective.

When Marx speaks of a ‘mode of production’ he unfolds a history of the world which sees the passage from an Asiatic culture to a medieval mode of production to a bourgeois and capitalist mode of production. Within this last stage Marx defines the different phases of the history of the labouring process, from simple cooperation to manufacture to large-scale industry. It seems important here to assume this second series as an appropriate definition of the ‘mode of production’. Today, in effect, the ‘mode of production’ represented by large-scale industry and its development envelops, and makes a function of its own interests, not only the bourgeois capitalist mode of production, but also the socialist capitalist mode of production and every residue of the others. When the capitalist process of production has attained such a high level of development so as to comprehend every smallest fraction of social production, one can speak, in Marxian terms, of a ‘real subsumption’ of society in capital. The contemporary ‘mode of production’ is this ‘subsumption’.

What is the ‘form of value’ of the ‘mode of production’ which is called the ‘real subsumption’? It is a form in which there is an immediate translatability between the social forces of production and the relations of production themselves. In other words, the mode of production has become so flexible that it can be effectively confused with the movements of the productive forces, that is, with the movements of all the subjects which participate in production. It is the entirety of these relations which constitutes the form of value of the real subsumption. We can develop this concept affirming that this form of value is the very ‘communication’ which develops among productive forces.

If ‘communication’ constitutes the fabric of production and the substance of the form of value, if capital has become therefore so permeable that it can filter every relation through the material thicknesses of production, if the labouring processes extend equally as far as the social extends, what then are the consequences that we can draw with respect to the law of value?

The first and fundamental consequence is that there is no possibility of anchoring a theory of measure on something extraneous to the universality of exchange. The second consequence is that there is no longer any sense in a theory of measure with respect to the immeasurable quality of social accumulation. In the third place, even the space for the development of the labouring relations, the productive routes within society, the interactions among labouring subjects, all this is also—by definition—immeasurable.

But the immeasurability of the figures of value does not deny the fact that labour is at the basis of any constitution of society. In fact, it is not possible to imagine (let alone describe) production, wealth and civilisation if they cannot be traced back to an accumulation of labour. That this accumulation has no measure, nor (perhaps) rationality, does not diminish the fact that its content, its foundation, its functioning is labour. The intellectual and scientific forces which have gradually become central in production are none the less powers of labour. The growing immateriality does not eliminate the creative function of labour, but rather exalts it in its abstraction and its productivity. The substance of value is more important than the forms which this may assume, and it is posed beyond the very division (which is now being eclipsed) between manual labour and intellectual labour. The abstract is more true than the concrete. On the other hand, only the creativity of labour (living labour in the power of its expression) is commensurate with the dimension of value.

Thesis 3: Exploitation is the Production of the Time of Domination Against the Time of Liberation

If the law of value were to consist simply in the definition of the measure of labour, then its crisis would imply the crisis of the capitalist constitution of society. But since the law of value cannot be reduced to the definition of measure, and since it still affirms, even in its crisis, the valorising function of labour, and thus capital’s necessity to exploit it, we must therefore define what this exploitation consists of.

The concept of exploitation cannot be made transparent if it is defined in relation to the quantity of labour extorted: in fact, lacking a theory of measure, it is no longer possible to define these quantities. In addition, it is difficult to make the concept of exploitation transparent if we persist in separating, dividing, searching for transcendences or solid points internal to the circulation of social production, of communication as the pervasive mode of production.

The concept of exploitation can be defined only if it is counter-posed to the processes of subsumption in their totality. From this point of view, the concept and the reality of exploitation can be recognised within the nexus which links political constitution and social constitution. It is in fact the political constitution which overdetermines the organisation of social labour, imposing its reproduction according to lines of inequality and hierarchy. Exploitation is the production of political lines of the overdetermination of social production. This is not to say that the economic aspect of exploitation can be negated: on the contrary, exploitation is precisely the seizure, the centralisation and the expropriation of the form and the product of social cooperation, and therefore it is an economic determination in a very meaningful way—but its form is political.

In other terms, the concept of exploitation can be made transparent when it is considered that in mature capitalist society (be it bourgeois or socialist) a political extortion of the product and the form of social cooperation is determined. Exploitation is politically produced as a function of capitalist power from which descends a social hierarchy, that is, a system of matrixes and limits adequate to the reproduction of the system. Politics is presented as a mystification of the social process, and therefore as a mechanism which serves at times for use, at times for neutralisation and at times for blocking the processes of the socialisation of production and labour. In the period of the ‘real subsumption’, the political tends entirely to absorb the economic and to define it as separate only insofar as it fixes its rules of domination. Therefore, the separateness of the economic, and principally of exploitation, is a mystification of the political, that is, of who has power. [Editor’s note: For a clarification of the sense in which Negri, here and henceforward, uses ‘power’, see: M. Hardt, translator’s foreword to A. Negri The Savage Anomaly, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis/Oxford 1991, p. xi-xii, where power as ‘might’ (potestas) and as capacity (potentia) are distinguished.]

The law of value considers labour as time in which human creative energy is unfolded. In the political constitution of advanced capitalism, the fundamental function of power is that of stripping from the social process of productive cooperation the command over its own functioning—of closing social productive power within the griddings of the system of power. The time of power is, therefore, the exploitation of social time, in the sense that a machine is predisposed to emptying out the meaning of its liberatory goals. Exploitation is therefore the production of an armoury of instruments for the control of the time of social cooperation. The labour-time of full, whole social cooperation is here submitted to the law of the maintenance of domination. The time of liberation, which is the very time of the highest productivity, is therefore cancelled in the time of domination.

Introductory Note to Theses 4 to 10

In these theses I consider post-Fordism as the principal condition of the new social organisation of labour and the new model of accumulation, and post-modernism as the capitalist ideology adequate to this new mode of production. I call these two conditions together the real subsumption of society within capital. In these theses my task is to define the economico-political contradictions of post-Fordism and to demystify post-modernism. In Politics of Subversion (Cambridge, 1989) I tried to give a complete account of this development.

Thesis 4: The Periodisation of Capitalist Development Shows that We are at the Beginning of a New Epoch

Here we are interested in that period of the industrial revolution which, from the years around 1848, Marx describes as the period of ‘large-scale industry’. Marx also studies the preceding period of ‘manufacture’—the origins of which are based in the epoch of ‘primitive accumulation’ and the construction of the modern state—but his interest is focused specifically on the latter period. The arc of the development of ‘large-scale industry’, described by Marx in its origins in the central capitalist countries, stretches well beyond the horizon of his scientific experience—it lasts, in fact, for more than a century longer, up until the revolution of 1968.

We can here summarily describe this great period of the industrial revolution emphasising principally the fact that it is divided in two phases and that this division is situated around World War 1, 1914-1918.

The first phase of ‘large-scale industry’ extends, then, from 1848 to 1914. It can be characterised in the following ways. (1) From the point of view of labour processes: the worker is for the first time treated within the command of machinery and becomes an appendage of the machinery itself. The labour force, here attached to the productive cycle, is qualified (this is the period of the ‘professional worker’), with a clear knowledge of the labour cycles. With respect to the previous period, of ‘manufacture’, the technical composition of the working class is now profoundly changed because the artisan is thrown into the factory and the worker’s qualification, formerly independent, becomes here instead the prosthesis of machinery which is always more massified and complex. (2) From the point of view of the norm of consumption: this first phase is characterised by a continually greater affirmation of mass production regulated only by the capacity of capital to produce it and not commensurate with an adequate wage capacity, with a corresponding effective demand—therefore, it is regulated by the determination of a profound irregularity of the economic cycle with frequent, catastrophic falls. (3) From the point of view of models of regulation: the state is developed towards ever more rigid levels of institutional integration between the construction of financial capital, the consolidation of monopolies and imperialistic development. (4) From the point of view of the political composition of the proletariat: this phase witnesses the formation of workers’ parties, based on a dual organisation (with a mass component and an avant-garde component, a syndicalist and a political) and on a programme of workers’ management of industrial production and social organisation, according to a project of the socialist emancipation of the masses. Here, the technical composition of the professional worker finds an adequate translation in the political composition of socialist organisation. The values of labour and the capacity of productive factory labour to dominate and give meaning to every other activity and social stratification are assumed as fundamental.

The second phase of the period of ‘large-scale industry’ extends from World War 1 to the revolution of 1968. It can be characterised as follows. (1) From the point of view of labouring processes: there is a new technical composition of the proletariat, and that is a type of labour force made completely abstract with respect to the industrial activity to which it is attached and, as such, the labour force is reorganised by Taylorism. Great masses of workers, who are thus ‘dequalified’, are inserted in labour processes which are both extremely alienating and complex. The ‘mass worker’ loses the knowledge of the cycle. (2) From the point of view of the norms of consumption: this is the phase in which Fordism is constituted, namely a conception of the wage as an anticipation of the acquisition of goods produced by mass industry. (3) From the point of view of norms of regulation: little by little, encouraged by Keynesian politics (but also, in general, by the reflection on the cyclical crises of the preceding phase), the model of the interventionist state comes to be formed, to support productive activity through the maintenance of full employment and the guarantee of social assistance. (4) From the point of view of the political composition of the proletariat: while the experiences of the socialist workers’ organisations continue (it is principally the Soviet experience which perpetuates the bankrupt political hegemony of the old figures—the ‘professional worker’, now transformed into the stakhanovite Soviet superman!), new forms of organisation are configured, primarily in the USA and in the most advanced capitalist countries. In these forms of organisation of the ‘mass worker’ the avant-garde acts within the mass level, developing the great conceptual rallying points, such as ‘the refusal of work’ and ‘wage equality’, radically refusing every form of delegation and reappropriating power in mass and base forms.

Clearly, these two phases are made unified and distinct by the level of the continually increasing intensity of the domination of industrial capital over the entire society. The division of the first from the second phase of this period is marked by the passage to a higher phase of the abstraction of labour, or, more precisely, by the passage from the hegemony of the ‘professional worker’ to the ‘mass worker’. We are now at the beginning of a new epoch. The tendency toward an always greater abstraction of labour has in effect disappeared and new, original and radical perspectives of development have appeared.

The new epoch starts in the years immediately following 1968. It is characterised by the fact that: (1) the labouring processes are always more radically conditioned by the automatisation of the factories and by the computerisation of society. Immediately productive labour loses its centrality in the process of production, while the ‘social worker’ (and that is the complex of functions of labouring cooperation transported into the social productive networks) assumes a hegemonic position. (2) The norms of consumption are once again led back to the choices of the market, and from this point of view a new type of individualism (founded on the necessary presumption of the social organisation of production and communication) has the means to express itself. (3) The models of regulation are extended along multinational lines and the regulation passes through monetary dimensions which cover the world market to a continually greater extent. (4) The composition of the proletariat is social, as is also the territory where it resides; it is completely abstract, immaterial, intellectual, from the point of view of the substance of labour; it is mobile and polyvalent from the point of view of its form.

In summary, what does it mean to us that we are at the beginning of a new epoch, and no longer simply within the phase of the completion of the process of abstraction of labour? This observation means that, while in the period of ‘manufacture’, and more significantly in the two phases of the period of ‘large-scale industry’, the development of the abstraction of labour and the formation of the processes of social cooperation of the productive forces were consequences of the development of the industrial and political capitalist machine—now, cooperation is posed prior to the capitalist machine, as a condition independent of industry. The third period of the capitalist mode of production, after ‘manufacture’ and ‘large-scale industry’, after the phases of the ‘professional worker’ and of the ‘mass worker’, is presented as the period of the ‘social worker’—which vindicates the real mass autonomy, the real capacity of collective auto-valorisation with respect to capital. Is this a third industrial revolution or the time of the transition to communism?

Thesis 5: Marx’s Theory of Value is Tied to the Origins of the Industrial Revolution

The definition of the form of value which we find in Karl Marx’s Capital is completely internal to what we have called the first phase of the second industrial revolution (the period 1848-1914). But the theory of value, formulated by Ricardo and developed by Marx, is in effect formed in the previous period, of ‘manufacture’, that is, in the first industrial revolution. This is the source of the theory’s great shortcomings, its ambiguities, its phenomenological holes and the limited plasticity of its concepts. Actually, the historical limits of this theory are also the limits of its validity— notwithstanding Marx’s efforts, at times extreme, to give the theory of value the vigour of a tendency.

To make our discussion more specific, let us note that already in the course of the second industrial revolution, and in particular when we find the passage from the ‘professional worker’ to the ‘mass worker’, essential characteristics of the theory of value begin to fade away. The distinction between ‘simple labour’ and ‘socially necessary labour’ loses every importance (except that of continually stimulating absurd arguments), showing the impossibility of defining the genealogy of ‘socially necessary labour’; and most importantly, the distinctions between ‘productive labour’ and ‘unproductive labour’, between ‘production’ and ‘circulation’, between ‘simple labour’ and ‘complex labour’ are all toppled. With regard to the first couple, already in the second phase of the second industrial revolution, but continually more so as we enter the third industrial revolution, we witness a complete dislocation of the concepts: in effect, ‘productive labour’ is no longer ‘that which directly produces capital’, but that which reproduces society—from this point of view, the separation from ‘unproductive labour’ is completely dislocated. With regard to the second couple, it is necessary to recognise that ‘production’ is ‘subsumed within circulation’, and vice versa, to a continually greater extent. The mode of production finds in circulation its own form. With regard to the third distinction, also in this case we witness a complete redefinition of the relationship between ‘simple labour’ and ‘complex labour’ (or qualified or specialised or theoretical or scientific labour). It does not become a linear relation which can be led back to a quantity but rather it is an interaction between completely original ontological stratifications.

Finally, the criteria of exploitation come to be placed under critique. Its concept can no longer be brought back within the category of quantity. Exploitation, instead, is the political sign of domination above and against the human valorisation of the historical/natural world, it is command above and against productive social cooperation. Now, even though this definition of exploitation is certainly contained within the intent of Marx’s philosophy, it is none the less not clearly expressed within the historical limits of his theory.

Thesis 6: The Laws Constitutive of the Form of Value are the Laws of its Deconstruction

The processes of the transformation of the form of value, the passages from one period of capitalist development to the next, follow the dynamic of the capitalist social relation and they are determined by the antagonistic relationship of exploitation. These processes are developed in the form of a rudimentary and effective dialectic: by exploiting the labouring forces, capital employs these forces within structures which coercively envelop them; but these structures are, in turn, either broken or remoulded by the social forces of production. The real process is the resultant of these particular tensions; the development has no logic, it is simply the precipitate of the conflict of collective wills.

(We must insist here on the fact that no teleology is given for this development. Every result is appreciable only a posteriori; nothing is preconceived. Historical materialism has nothing to do with dialectical materialism. When it does come about that certain presumed laws are verified— such as, for example, the law of the tendential fall of the rate of profit which, within the limits of the second industrial revolution, does effectively describe phenomena with are undoubtedly true—even in these cases, there is no a priori, no preceding intelligibility; there is only the a posteriori truth of what comes to pass.)

On these bases, it is obvious that scientific attention will have to be focused more on the discontinuities (be they ruptures or innovations) than on the continuities: in effect, the continuities are nothing other than discontinuities or ruptures which have been dominated. As for innovations, these too are nothing other than structures of domination, but more precarious ones, because the conflict, the struggle and the refusal to work have been, at their origin, stronger. These conflicts could not have been resolved if not be means of a leap forward, a paradigm shift, a qualitative transformation. Capital, however reformist it may be, never willingly passes to a subsequent or superior phase of the mode of production. In effect, capitalist innovation is always a product, a compromise or a response, in short a constraint which derives from workers’ antagonism. From this point of view, capital often experiences progress as decline.

And it is a decline, or, better, a deconstruction. Because the more radical the innovation is, the more profound and powerful were the antagonistic proletarian forces which had determined it, and therefore the more extreme was the force which capital had to put in motion to dominate them. Every innovation is a revolution which failed—but also one which was attempted. Every innovation is the secularisation of revolution. Consequently, within the processes of socialisation of the form of value which we have described, it becomes evident that the dialectical process, which modifies the capitalist ordering and determines the sense of its innovation, attacks capitalist power and its hegemony on the socio-political transformations of society to a continually greater degree. The growing complexity of society is the growing precariousness of domination. (The philosophers who have made of social complexity a labyrinth in which the revolutionary function of the proletariat gets lost, or the hermeneuticians who make of historical complexity a maze in which mice run indefinitely—all of these are only charlatans.) In effect, the more the laws of the transformation of the value form are realised, the more they demonstrate their efficacy as forces of the deconstruction, destruction, of power. The motor force which constitutes the form of value, the antagonistic expression of the productive force of living labour, is simultaneously the motor of the deconstruction of the form of value. As long as capital had the possibility to play its own game, as long as it had other territories where it could divert the moments of destabilisation which prepared the deconstruction, the situation could be sustained by capital and by the political forces in which it is always incarnated and identified. But now, in the phase of the total subsumption of society and the complete multi-nationalisation of the productive processes, what alternative does it have left? Directly, today, the innovative process destructures, deconstructs, capital. The revolution, momentarily blocked and stalled in a sequence of innovative moments, cannot be banalised. Everyone is waiting to see to what extent the malaise of capitalist civilisation is really and simply the anarchy of meaning and the emptiness of its soul.

Thesis 7: The Deconstruction of Value is the Matrix of Subjectivity and Vice Versa

Deconstruction is the broken line which leads across the transformations of the form of value. But who deconstructs whom? We know the object: deconstruction is the profound, implacable, irreversible deconstruction of domination; it unfolds at the same moment as the political and social form of exploitation is determined and as its innovations are manifested. But who acts within the dynamics of this antagonism? This actor is, first of all, the multitude: it is the innumerable multiplicity of powers and social knowledges, it is the web of meanings in everyday activity. We are not yet talking about a subject, because subjective characteristics cannot yet be attributed in this galaxy. Other critical passengers are probably necessary for identifying the condensation of subjectivity. Now, though, we still have a fine powder of energy particles before us, a real and true ontological fabric of the multiplicity which undergoes deconstruction. If no subjectivity is actually achieved here, there is none the less a process of the invention of subjectivity in motion, which we recognise as inherent, consubstantial with the activity of deconstruction—a genetic source of subjectivity. The phantasm of subjectivity is the potent and fundamental fabric of deconstruction.

In the orthodox Marxism of the nineteenth century, and in any case before 1968, the functions of destruction and reconstruction were separated from the act of insurrection. The immediate strategy of struggle had to articulate destabilisation and destructuration, moments of a war of movement and a war of position. However, this separation no longer works. Destruction and reconstruction live together in deconstruction. The fabric on which the antagonistic subjectivity is defined is not a tendency which looks toward a mythic future, toward a future hypostasis—on the contrary, the process of the construction of subjectivity is also a process of deconstruction. Auto-valorisation and sabotage are the double figure of one and the same object—or, better, they are the two faces of Janus, the gateway to the constitution of the subject.

This is how we understand that if deconstruction involves a phantasm and arrives at an element of subjectivity, subjectivity cannot live except by means of deconstruction. The very form of the antagonism is defined in this new, complex and articulated relationship between subjectivity and deconstruction. If, in effect, production is already completely communication, then the sense of the antagonism will have neither a place nor a time of foundation separate from communication itself. It is in the deconstruction of communication that the subject is constructed, and that the multitude finds its power.

Thesis 8: The synchronic and Diachronic Figures of the Transformation of Value Lead to Strategic Contradictions of Development

First of all I will define the terms.

(A) By synchronic figures of the form of value I understand those which Marx shows constituting themselves around ‘socially necessary labour’, around the illustration of its ontological consistency. It is primarily in volume II of Capital that we find this formulation, and principally through two concepts. The first is the the concept of the ‘mediation’ or the ‘equalisation’ of the values of the labour force precisely in the process which sees the social dimension of this constitution itself. Now, the trend of socialisation, in same moment that it constitutes collective individualities which are always more abstract and more productive, also defines them as antagonistic entities—with respect to the command which capital would like to exercise over the subjective consolidation of socially necessary labour The second concept which Marx amply dwells on here is that of the tendency toward the unity of production and circulation, which is realised by means of the progessive integration of the movement of value: in those days, this was accomplished through the transportation networks, today through the communication networks. Now this integrative dynamic is put in the service of the definition of the antagonism on the ontological terrain—it allows us to gather the multitude together in the antagonistic polarity.

(B) By diachronic figures of the form of value I understand those which were already described at some length in Thesis 4—later we will return to the ‘professional worker’, the ‘mass worker’ and the ’social worker’ to focus even more clearly on the material contradictions which the movement of their figures determines. Here, though, I want only to define the form of their movement, in order to specify, from the beginning, that this movement has nothing deterministic about it. Observing, in fact, the transformation of the forms of value and the introduction, by means of this transformation, of a process of the continually higher abstraction and integration of labour, we can imagine a type of motor or finalistic reason of development. But to claim this, even only in the form of a dialectical synthesis, would be to mask and hide the deepening of the process’s contradiction. Instead, nothing that we have experienced allows us to arrive at the rationality and the teleology of the transformations. On the contrary: in the historical development, in the succession and separation of epochs and phases of development, constantly we are presented with only the unpredictability of the mechanisms in action, with only the struggle which is always open between the unique polarities of power and knowledge. The fact that the historical development seems to follow a rhythm marked by the passage to higher forms of the socialisation of production and antagonism does not reveal any kind of destiny: it would not be correct to impose the rules of our reading on the immense variation of historical events. In fact, these processes are highly contingent, since they are swayed in the flux and marked by catastrophes, and since their tendency, which is progressive, is shown as a dissemination rather that as unilinearity. The diachronic processes of the form of value are like fireworks and, between pauses and growth, they extend on the horizon of always more complex figures. The indications which Marx gives with regard to the qualitative leaps in the diachrony of the form of values—and, in particular, in volume I of Capital, when he studies the formation of ‘large-scale industry’, and in volume III, when he analyses the recomposition of all the components of production and circulation in the constitution of the world market, or in the Grundrisse, when he analyses the genesis of the ‘universal collective individual’—should be taken up again and verified: so, well beyond the residues of logical determinism which are sometimes identifiable in Marx, we can verify the wealth of his historical intuition which extends the antagonism (and its movements and its tendency) over the entirety of the dimensions of development.

(C) By strategic contradictions I understand those effects which, associating themselves with the synchronic and diachronic figures of development, are determined on the limit of the emergence, or undoubtedly around the emergence, of adequate subjectivity.

To make the terms more clear, allow me to propose a few examples. In the first phase of the second industrial revolution, in the phase from 1848 up until World War I, the largest contradictions (synchronic contradictions, internal to the productive cycle) are those which open between the direct labouring processes and the capitalist process of production. The ‘professional worker’, situated right in the middle of the labouring process and completely in control of it, also wants control of production. The vindication of worker control and management of the labouring process and of the control of the productive cycle constitutes a strategic contradiction in this phase. And we can easily see why: it is because a subjectivity and a programme are born where the synchronic determinations and the diachronic rhythms, which generally define the period, come to maturity. Around the theme of worker control and management, the multitude of ‘professional workers’ constructs the matrix of a revolutionary subject and develops the communist project in an ‘appro-priative’ model.

In the second phase of the second industrial revolution, which extends from the end of World War I to the revolution of 1968, the strategic contradiction is located between productive processes and reproductive processes, or, rather, in the extreme socialisation of labour. In this case, too, we have a multitude of labouring subjects which is caught in an enormous contradiction, in the conspiracy of the synchronic figure of the form of value. In other words, here the contradiction between the massification of ‘dequalified’ and abstract labour, which the workers refuse, and the general rise in the level of cooperation, of the wage levels and of the quality of needs, becomes explosive. The ‘mass worker’ constructs, around the ‘refusal of work’ and the discovery of the extremely high socialisation of its labour, its own model of communism, in terms of an ‘alternative’ model.

Thus we reach the epoch which we are beginning to experience, the third industrial revolution. From the 1970s on, we have had the bad luck to live in the most cruel and stupid period of restructuration and repression. But in this same period we have grasped the determination of a new, extremely high, strategic contradiction—the contradiction opened by the radical productive socialisation which is in opposition to capitalist command (be it bourgeois or socialist). The key element of this passage is the dislocation of the synchronic contradictions in the form of the political, the dislocation of the objectivity of exploitation toward the structure of command. As a result, the contradiction immediately touches on the sphere of subjectivity. The contradiction itself is revealed in that particular form of subjectivity which is antagonism. A fundamental consequence derives from this: the strategic contradiction, and that is the precipitate of the synchronic and diachronic moments of the antagonism of development, are presented in a subjective, political form—communism is proposed according to the model of a ‘constituent power’. After the ‘appropriative’ model, after the ‘alternative’ model, we have the ‘constituent’ model, which envelops the others, carrying the strategic contradiction directly toward subjectivity. ‘Constituent power’ gives form to social production, it envelops the social and the economic in the political, its pulls together the organisation of production and political organisation in a radically constructive way. But we will come back to this later.

At this point, we can conclude our explanation, noting how the result we have come to is nothing other than a return to what we had maintained in Thesis 7: ‘the deconstruction of value is the matrix of subjectivity’. Now, we can verify that the strategic contradictions of development show, or, better, produce and institute, a new antagonistic subjectivity. All this does not come about in a deterministic way, but instead it is the fruit of a process dominated by the multitude—which exalts its own power in freedom. We can, then, conclude our demonstration in the following way.

Thesis 9: The Strategic Contradictions of Development Verify the Laws of Deconstruction

Thesis 10: The Constitutive Fabric of the Present Phase of Capitalist Development is an Enormous Node of Strategic Contradictions

The characteristics of the current period of capitalist development (the initial phase of the third industrial revolution) were constructed in the 1970s, and specifically between 1971 and 1982. On 17 August 1971 Nixon and Kissinger depart from the gold standard—this act launches a great signal of deregulation throughout the capitalist world. It is an attempt to break the pressure, the cumulative effect, which the workers’ struggles in the advanced capitalist countries and the liberation struggles in the Third World have produced in the 1960s (in the final offensive of the struggle of the mass worker). In the 1970s, the capitalist Trilateral imposes its own policies against the proletarian Tricontinental of the 1960s.

What is the project which capital imposes on this moment of development?

(A) It is, first of all, the destruction of the factory, and in particular the liquidation of the hegemony of the Taylorised process of labour. The analysis of labour is deepened and its organisation becomes progressively more decentralised spatially and instead it is focused on the expropriation of social knowledges, on the capitalisation of the social labouring networks: in short, it concentrates on the exploitation of a working figure which extends well beyond the bounds of the factory. We call this figure the ‘social worker’.

(B) The project also involves the computerisation of society, and in particular the productive use of communication and the transfer of the programme of control of society from the outside (the factory) to the inside (communication) of society itself. A mode of social production comes to be defined here and its fundamental characteristic is that of integrating society (that is, in Marxist terms, reproduction and circulation) in production. In the 1970s, we were able to see primarily the ugly face of this passage: the destruction of the Fordist model, of the guarantee of employment and welfare, the construction of marginalisation and the plural labour market, the intensification of the exploitation of the strata which were poorly protected, above all women and youth, and the furious mixing of different forms of exploitation, all of which had become compatible within the socialisation of productive fluxes.

(C) It is essentially relative to this mixing of exploitation, of its diverse strata, compositions, levels, that the new state-form constructs itself: it becomes a differentiated control of the productive social totality, an organic capacity-necessity of producing crises at any moment and any place. The capitalist state, in this phase of development, is a crisis-state—and only that: it is the state which plans the crisis.

(D) Finally, the capitalist project is the spread of this system of exploitation over the entire world. At this level, we witness a process of integration (vertical, between various strata of development, and horizontal, that is, universal) of all the forms of exploitation. Capitalist neo-imperialism runs through several stages in the 1970s: first a process of multinationalisation, which is continually more explicit; then, a phase of the displacement of Taylorism and Fordism toward the periphery and the installation of a crude but effective hierarchical system which is made to function on the world level; and finally, a world financial integration continually pushed forward. We must recognise here that monetarism, used within the frame of deregulation, has been forged into a fearful device of control and repression, both against the working class and against the social proletariat.

Thus we reach 1982—the year, that is, in which the crisis of the Mexican debt (the first among many) marked the end of the ‘heroic’ period of the world-wide extension of new forms of deregulation and new accumulation. With the crisis of 1982 we could see the fact that, if the deregulation had functioned ferociously against the central worker, it had only partially struck the peripheral worker—rather, the world-wide spread of the mode of production opened passageways through which the effects of decentring appeared as perverse, sometimes rebounding against capital. The thrust of the major contradictions toward the periphery of the system brought to light a series of focal points for revolt and some possibilities for revolution, in themselves perhaps irrelevant, but capable of determining shock waves, travelling through toward the centre of the system; no longer weak rings, but weak networks. Actually, the fabric of the present is an enormous node of strategic contradictions—it is like a boiling volcano, which multiplies the explosions and fluxes. The year 1982 consolidates the crisis as a permanent form of the cycle we are now entering.

Introductory Note to Theses 11 to 15

One of the fundamental problems and insoluble difficulties of the Marxist conception of the working class derives from the fact that the relationship between workers’ struggles and capitalist restructuration has a dialectical development: the struggles contribute to the development, they determine it, and they can break it only when political consciousness intervenes. The workers’ struggle, therefore, is always ‘within’ even when it is ‘against’ capital. In this group of theses I put forth the hypothesis that, in the current stage of the development of class struggle (of the social worker in the real subsumption), new technical conditions of proletarian independence are determined within the material passages of the development and therefore, for the first time, there is the possibility of a rupture in the restructuration which is not recuperable and which is independent of the maturation of class-consciousness. My attempt to define ontological categories of subversive subjectivity against the dialectical categories of the relationship struggles-restructuration was systematically developed in The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics (Minnesota, 1991; first published Milan, 1981) and principally in Fabbriche del soggetto (Livorno).

Thesis 11: Today the Revolutionary Point of Contradiction is the Antagonism between Social Cooperation and Productive Command

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. From this point of view, the synchronic and diachronic contradictions do not result in strategic contradictions, but they are reopened by them. Consequently, the crisis does not reveal itself as a difficulty, an accident: the crisis is the very substance of the capitalist process. It follows, then, that capital can only show itself as a political subject, as a state, as power. In opposition, the social worker is the producer—the producer, prior to any commodity, of social cooperation itself.

We should explain ourselves in greater depth. In every moment of the development of the capitalist mode of production, capital has always proposed the form of cooperation. This form had to be functional with the form of exploitation, when it did not actually inhere within it. It was only on this basis that labour became productive. Likewise, in the period of primitive accumulation, when capital enveloped and constricted pre-existent labour forms to its own valorisation, it was capital which posed the form of cooperation— and this consisted in the emptying of the pre-constituted connections of the traditional labouring subjects. Now, instead, the situation has changed completely. Capital has become a hypnotising, bewitching force, a phantasm, an idol: around it revolve the radically autonomous processes of auto-valorisation, and only political power can succeed in forcing them, with the carrot or with the stick, to begin to be moulded into capitalist form. The transfer of the economic into the political, which comes about here, and in global dimensions with respect to the productive social life, is accomplished not because the economic has become a less essential determinant, but because only the political can tear the economic away from the tendency which leads it to mix with the social and realise itself in auto-valorisation. The political is forced to be the value-form of our society because the new labouring processes are founded on the refusal to work and the form of production is its crisis. The social worker’s productive cooperation is the consolidation of the refusal to work, it is the social trench where the producers defend themselves from exploitation. In opposition, the political, as a form of value, contains only mystification and extreme violence.

And the frame is not significantly changed by the very high intensity of the composition of capital which is inverted onto the social in order to control it—because, actually, the more the instrumentation of production becomes abstract, going beyond the figure of mechanisation and becoming immaterial, the more this itself is implicated in the struggle which traverses the social. Auto-matisation participates still, in part, in the old political economy of control by means of machinery: but computers are already beyond this horizon and offer very high potentials for possible ruptures. In communication, the immateriality is total, the commodity is transparent—here the possibilities for the struggle are very great and they are ruled only by an external power. These brief examples serve only to indicate how already, also and principally on the terrain of technological advancement, and as a direct result of technology’s process of perfecting itself, there exist sectors which are vulnerable, always more vulnerable, to the autonomy of social cooperation and the auto-valorisation of proleterian subjects, to the exaltation of the individual and collective micro-physics.

All this serves as proof for our thesis that the antagonism between the social cooperation of the proletariat and the political command of capital, while being given within production, is founded outside of itself, in the real movement of the social. Social cooperation not only dialectically anticipates the political and economic movement, but it pre-exists them: it announces itself as autonomous.

Thesis 12: The Struggles Precede and Prefigure Social Production and Reproduction

Here we will investigate our proposal in Thesis 11 in the particular case (that the reappropriation of cooperation, by the social proletariat, determins a series of effects on the structure of the capitalist system) is valid in general. The rhythm of the passage from one epoch of capitalist development to another is marked by the proletarian struggles. This old truth of historical materialism has been continually confirmed by the implacable movement of history and constitutes the only rational nucleus of political science. The transformations of the machinery, the restructuration, the new norms of the customs and the new arrangement of the institutions, all follow where the struggle has been—where, that is, living associative labour has been freed and has thrust forward its own autonomous project. There would be no development if the proletarian struggle, the living associative labour, were not to succeed in giving these hammering blows, that history has witnessed, against the rigidity of the world of command, against the domination of dead labour. But the proletarian workers’ struggle does not function only as a pulse of energy which brings dead and accumulated labour back to life: it is also the real entrepreneur of history, because industry, nature and civilisation are constrained to modify themselves in a way which is complementary, functional, organic to the contents, to the needs, to the tendencies, to the forms of organisation of the proletarian struggles. This is the boss’s curse: those who learn most from the class struggle get ahead. This paradox is the shame of the boss—the perennial spy, who borrows and represses. The proletarian struggle, the workers’ struggles and now the thousands of figures of the everyday revolt of social labour have—within the order—dominated (that is, put in motion, formed, prefigured, anticipated) the epochs and the phases of capitalist civilisation, of the industrial civilisation, which we know.

Without 1848, without, that is, the ‘damned days of June’, when the Parisian proletarians and the artisan population came to the centre and showed the limits of bourgeois liberty, the entrance to the historic period which we call the second industrial revolution would have been unimaginable. Without 1917-1919, and, that is, once again, the workers’ revolt, incarnate in the Soviet dictatorship of the professional worker and the insurrection which spread to all countries which were even slightly marked by the capitalist mode of production, the opening of the subsequent phase (which we have seen dominated by the mass worker) would have been inconceivable. It is within this process, of leaps, of great contradictions and great explosions, that the mystery of the class struggle and history itself unfold: a mystery, we mean, for those who are constrained to suffer it—in their salons and in newspapers, always defined by a deficit of politics: not certainly for the proletariat, because it holds the effective-key of the determinations, of the leaps, of the advances and retreats.

Thus we arrive at the origins of the third industrial revolution. Here too a revolution marks its beginning, 1968; but it is a strange revolution, and even it does not become immediately comprehensible. In this revolution we have an intellectual subject, an actor of social communication: but why does it have to rebel? In fact, this intellectual substance, this activity of social communication, even though it is masked by workers’ labour, is nothing other than living abstract labour. This is a new figure of the proletariat. The years following 1968 have allowed us to reach the full understanding of these metamorphoses of labour and the labour force—consequently to understand why and how the orderings of capitalist power so quickly and decisively changed themselves. Once again, capital has followed this revolutionary force, it has repressed it, it has sought to close it off in new technical dimensions of production and command. To this end, capital has radically transformed the structure of the state. It has then intervened in the urban structures, in public expenditures, in the ecological, moral and cultural dimensions of life, etc.—always following and mystifying the historical passage of humanity. In any case, notwithstanding the process of perfecting capitalist domination, we still cannot see where the potential of the struggles which were constructed in the passage of 1968 will finally end up.

Thesis 13: The Clandestine Life of the Masses is Ontologically Creative

There are two ways to nullify the power of historical materialism. The first consists of reducing the class struggle to a natural history of production— this was the principal avenue of social democrats and the specific ideology of the ‘appropriative phase’ of the proletarian movement (1848-1914). This becomes clear when we consider that the Bolsheviks made this ideology their own, and while they were certainly not social democrats, they were profoundly tied (given the levels of Russian development) to the first phase of the second industrial revolution. The second way is that of absorbing the class struggle in the dialectical movement of capital—this was the avenue of modern reformism and the specific ideology of the ‘alternative phase’ of the revolutionary movement (1917-1968). Now, both these avenues nullify the power of living labour in such a way as to lead to a synthesis, which is either vulgarly materialistic or dialectical. Meanwhile, it is only the consideration of the power of living labour, and the irreducible autonomy of its fundament, that gives us an understanding of the fact that history is a living reality and that innovation is its permanent motor. The more the theory of value, or rather the measure of exploitation, becomes old and useless, the more living labour becomes a hegemonic presence and the orienting criteria of its development. It is an ineluctable movement, which continually breaks the limits of domination and pushes forward the configurations of reality.

One might object: where has this movement gone? For decades this creative force had not made an appearance. But this is not true. Really, only those who do not want to see are blind to it—and blind mice do not always make us feel pity. Instead, we must consider the subterranean, clandestine life of the modern proletariat: this is where living labour comes from, with the cooperative, communicative and innovative characteristics which today we recognise as pertaining to labour; thousands of routes of a vast, plural, extremely mobile phenomenology. The very movement and organisation which capital decrees for society, even these arc produced, inasmuch as they are disfigured, by the secret life of the masses—capital gives us a police artist’s rendering of the infamous masses, but scientific deconstruction has taught us to decompose this image and discover the fertile terrain of life. Living labour, then, even and primarily in its clandestine existence, accumulates and assimilates to its own being the needs of liberation of the exploited masses and makes this new being a power which is constantly more productive. Productivity is the positive transfiguration of liberation. Therefore, this long process which is cutting away at capital must come to an end: cutting away at it, just as the refusal to work has already cut from capital the power to measure the time of labour; as proletarian association has already emptied out the capitalist vocation of fixing the forms of productive cooperation; as labour, which has become intelligent through abstraction, has already torn reason away from capital. The ontology of living labour is an ontology of liberation. The efficacy of historical materialism as a theory of freedom is based on this creative materiality.

Thesis 14: The Sequences of Proletarian Power are Asymmetrical with Respect to the Sequences of Capitalist Development

The Sequences of Proletarian power not only do not correspond to capitalist development but neither are they, in the negative sense, the inverse of capitalist development. This asymmetry is an indication of the profound autonomy of the real movement from capitalist movement. The movement is free, on the side of the proletariat. So free, in fact, that it is difficult, and often impossible, to determine the behavioural laws of proletarian power. In any case it is certainly impossible to determine (not only) laws (but even uniformity) which would have a general validity, that is, beyond the limits of the single phases which we have carved out from the flow of the epochs of development. We can certainly identify uniformities, for example, like those which are verifiable in the first phase (1848-1914) of the second industrial revolution, long periods of stasis of relations between the classes, which are translated into long and bitter depressions, often exacerbated by ruinous crises. But already at this point, identifying these uniformities does not mean constructing a theory of the crisis. In fact, if we look at the second phase of the second industrial revolution (1917-1968), here the duration of the crises is reduced to a minimum (even though they are catastrophic) and the dynamism of the mass worker, different from that of the professional worker, is extremely strong. Now, we have a new period, a new experience: what is the experience of the social worker in the crisis? The only strong uniformity and tendency has been the co-presence of crisis and development, of repression and innovation—in other words, the co-presence of opposites. This derives in effect from the final result of the preceding history: the independence of the two forces in play, of proletarian power and capitalist power.

But this, one might object, proves only the independence, not the asymmetry, of the movements. I do not believe so: in the development of the struggles there is more than the simple independence of the movements—there is, on the proletarian side, the creativity of living labour, the unpredictability of the nodes of contradiction, there is the accumulation of unmanageable ontological masses, there is the double helix which unites the deconstruction of the adversary and the construction of subjectivity. And there is much more: the ideology, organisation, armament, finance, models of production and reproduction, centralisation and democratisation, the use of legality and violence, etc. There is, finally, and this is decisive, the autonomy in the construction of the cooperative dimension of the proletariat. It seems to me that it is always possible to read the asymmetry of the sequence of proletarian power and those of capitalist development and power; but even if, in some cases, in the past epochs this condition was not given, it certainly is in the period we are now entering.

The concept of asymmetry carries with it still other effects. In the first place, it means that the autonomy of class is not recognisable if one looks for it through the categories of capital. This is obvious: a pure and simple corollary, which was already evident in the epoch of the mass worker and in the frame of the development of the alternative organisational model—and yet, it is important to emphasise this because this obvious determination takes away any last sign of scientificity from the political economy of capital. Second corollary: the history of development, of power, of capital can be described only starting from the schizophrenia which characterises it—in opposition to workers’ autonomy. Within this radical asymmetry, the history of capital is recognisable as a depotentialised ontological process— leading to formalism, leading to illusionism—or maybe now only a pathology.

Thesis 15: The Capitalist Structuration of the Social is Destructive, the Proletarian Structuration is Creative

This thesis follows and completes the preceding ones projecting them forward as a tendency. Therefore, the thesis illustrated here will seem more practical than theoretical, and this tendency will be ethical. The ‘inversion of praxis’ here moves through ethics; the web of meaning is constructed by ethically oriented action. Thus, the analysis is put back on its feet. Ethics is the terrain of possibility, of action, of hope. It is the site where the sense of being originates. Up until here we have excavated in the system of dead labour, of capital, of power, and we have seen how, wedged into that system, there was a clandestine, subterranean, hidden motor pulsing with life—and with such efficiency! We have, in a manner of speaking, rediscovered the Marxian affirmation of living labour in today’s world, when living labour is already completely separated, autonomous and positioned against every naturalistic rigidification of being. It is equally against every dialectic, even a materialistic one, even Luxemburg’s conception (though it is an honest one) which proposes the contradiction of living labour in the system of capital only on the extreme ‘margins’ of the system. But the affirmation of living labour is not sufficient if there does not open around this the point of view of action, of construction, of decision-making. The concept of living labour in Marx is the watershed between the critique of political economy and the construction of the party—assuming living labour in this second perspective, we call it creative activity. It is a creative activity, then, which is seperate from the perspective of capital, from its science and even from the critique of its science. The science of the rational organisation of the extraction of surplus value and the construction of profit, of the optimal allocation of resources, of planning and the reduction of the universe to a balance-sheet, all this is no longer of any interest—here living labour does not serve as a critique of this, but as a source of the auto-valorisation of subjects and groups, as the creation of social cooperation and with this, through this, of the maximum of wealth and happiness. It is a radical science, because its roots are firmly planted in activity and in the evacuation of every hypocritical protest of realism.

Introductory Note to Theses 16 to 20

In these theses I attempt to go beyond the contradictions of the dialectical theory of ‘within-against’ and to arrive at a ‘completely new’ definition of proletarian subjectivity. I mean to show that the concept of revolutionary organization can be expressed in class-consciousness only if class-consciousness is radically, ontologically, autonomous. This passage identifies the theme of a new determination of the category of the possible. I do not see the possibility of communism except in terms of a radical constitution. It is clear that my debt to the constitutionalists, from the founding fathers of the bourgeois constitutions to Hannah Arendt, is only nominal. Traditional constitutionalism is in effect a school of juridical regulation, a theory of checks and balances, or, even better, of pluralism and of the equilibrium between the classes and its reproduction. Much more important here is instead my reference to the theory and practice of communist democracy and its tradition—from the Communards to the Soviets, from the International Workers of the World to the European autonomists in the 1970s. I am convinced that Lenin is not far from these positions and I sought to demonstrate this fact in Trentatrč lezioni su’Lenin, La fabbrica della strategia (Padua, Milan, 1976).

Thesis 16: The Passage from the Structure to the Subject is Ontological and it Excludes Formalistic or Dialectical Solutions

The formal possibility of the passage from the structure to the subject does not solve the difficulties of the historical construction of the subject; but none the less, it clarifies them. From a formal point of view, the passage from the structure to the subject, that is, the installation of the problem of organisation for proletarian liberation, seems to follow a straight line. In fact, if inventive labour had expanded to occupy all of society (this is the true definition of modernity), then—since this labour is principally creative—it reconstructs society itself, revolutionising it through a process of subjectivisation. This process should present us with no serious problems. Still, from the formal point of view, we are dealing here with an inversion of the path which has led from labour to capital. In the same space where capital has expanded to occupy all of society, we must try to recognise how living labour precedes in unravelling capital, deconstructing it, occupying its territory and constructing in its place a creative hegemony. The subject, from this point of view, is auto-valorisation.

But when we assume the inversion of praxis no longer only from the formal point of view but as a real possibility, that is, when we adopt the point of view of action and history, the enormous difficulties arise. The inversion of praxis is condemned to meet up with intransigent resistances. Its autonomy is not consumed, unfortunately, in the spontaneity, in the happiness, in the Utopia of the assault on the heavens. The obstacles and the limits that it encounters are enormous. Faced with this difficulty of movement, then, the inversion of praxis often ends up badly—rigidified, blocked. The transformative intentionality (which is the dignity of the proletariat) is frustrated and tends to fold back on itself, to the exasperation of subjective power, becoming blind voluntarism: terror, reaction, the instrumental use of the old forms of repression adopted from the enemy. To construct something new? Within a revolutionary mechanism? This is merely illusion and tragedy! Certainly, all of this has happened and will happen again. From Robespierre to Stalin, from the revolts of the 1920s to those of the 1970s, we have often witnessed the desire for transformation resulting in terrorism—victorious or vanquished, conducted by the state or by small groups, it really makes no difference: in every case, it signals the blockage of revolutionary action, and it is always in the figure of a retreat, perhaps a resentiment, the symptom of a defeat, the desperate resistance against an adversary which is felt to be stronger. We do not want any of this. Consequently, social democracy is posed as a means of avoiding this tragedy. But we do not want this either. In effect, we think that these defeats were not inevitable—and we will try again. Our task, then, is to recognise defeat and yet not be defeated. Pessimism of the will, optimism of the intellect: this shows once again just how far we have come from the Second International.

How, then, can we propose and manage an inversion of praxis which avoids both terroristic overflowings and Stalinist paranoia? How can we propose a praxis which, on the other hand, refuses the social democratic temptation? How can we generate a revolutionary process from the bottom, constituting its movement in society? This is clearly the fundamental point. But, once again, two equally impotent lines conflict here: one is the line of those who, with extreme subjectivism, hope to make themselves masters of the social dialectic; the other is the line of those who, immersed in the masses and the cults of spontaneity, respect the social dialectic to such a degree that they become incapable of rupture and refoundation. For the first group, the decision over reality becomes mixed with violent gestures while the second group is ruled by repetitiousness and hypocrisy. In opposition, to be effective, the inversion of praxis must realistically assume reality, in all of its complexity, refusing to cede either to the ‘prometheanism’ of the bosses’ dialectic or to the ‘narcissism’ of the aesthetic of spontaneity. But the critique of Machiavellism or the critique of the utopia, the refusal of Stalinism or of contractualism, does not situate us in a self-sufficient position: instead, on the contrary, the critique is damaging when it does not succeed in maintaining the problems, their consistency, even while having emptied the unilateral and mystified solutions.

Well, the passage from the structure to the subject is possible only when all the elements which had been excluded (for being partial or unilateral or mystifying) have been now recomposed together. The passage which interests us, that by which the organisation of the proletariat for liberation is constructed, will be itself a structure: a structure in which all the real elements which constitute the struggle, the organisaton and the revolutionary life of the masses will be situated—utopia as discipline, authority as the moments of the construction of consensus, mass labour and the labour of the avant-garde, auto-valorisation and auto-organisation, the destabilisation and destructuration of the enemy, the deconstruction of the adversary and the construction of autonomous institutions of countervailing powers, the long experience of the historical alternative and the passion of insurrection.

And all this comes about on the terrain of ontology—in other words, outside of every dialectical or formalistic metaphysics; in still other words, by means of an operation of accumulation of the complex of the activity of transformation which the subject operates on itself.

Thesis 17: The Theory of the Workers’ Party Presupposed the Separation of the Political from the Social

The problem of the political organisation of the proletariat can in no way be resolved either in the organisation of a delegated representation or in the expression of an avant-garde, even if this avant-garde tries to incorporate mass dimensions. Both of these solutions have traversed the history of the workers’ movement (and also the revolutionary history of the bourgeoisie) often contradicting each other, but always weaving together. This is for a good reason: both of these models, that of delegation and that of the avant-garde, presuppose the same, common, transcendental dimension, as mediation of historical plurality. Delegated representation and the avant-garde are mechanisms of mediation. It may be the mediation of the nation, or of the bureaucratic corporation, or of the working class—in every case it is the hypostasis of a unity over the process which separates the multiplicity from the unity, society from the state. And even when the dictatorship was presented as the goal of party activity, even then representation (of the avant-garde, in this case) was a conceptual function of mediation: in the old theory, the dictatorship was nothing other than overdetermined representation.

At this point, none the less, we must go to the heart of the problem, and emphasise how the true foundation of the traditional theory of representation is not so much the ‘necessary’ mediation of the social, but rather the ‘arbitrary’ separation of the political from the social. I mean that the specific nucleus of the concept of delegation, and in general of political representation, coincides with that of the separation between what pertains to society and what pertains to the state, between the economic and the political, between trade union activity and party activity.

Without embarking on a historical critique, permit us to note here that this theory of representation, and therefore of the separation between society and the state, does not correspond in any way to the current reality of the class struggle, to the current form of value and the contemporary constitution of society. At best, that theory is the passive legacy of an epoch which has passed by. Specifically, delegated representation, through the division between the trade union and the party, was theorised and practised in the period of the Second International (which corresponds to the first phase of the second industrial revolution). Its concept is adequate to the figure and the ideological horizon of the professional worker, to its project of the external avant-garde and the emancipative, progressive and orderly teleology of labour. The theory of the mass avant-garde, of the popular and mass party, corresponds instead to the next period, of the mass worker and the second phase of the second industrial revolution. The organisational model and the model of representation are based on the alternative project—still a form for justifying the separation of the social from the political, of the trade union from the party.

Today, the elimination of these figures of representation has become evident, because we cannot in any way define a line of division between the social and the political, let alone a line of mediation which tries to transcend the material processes which run throughout reality. This disappearance of the lines of demarcation between the social and the political, between the individual and the universal, is the fundamental characteristic of the third industrial revolution; and its consequence is the elimination of traditional representation. There is only one terrain for the expression of political will— it is immediately general, abstract and universal. Clearly, our critique is not so much in opposition to delegation (even though the communist and anarcho-syndicalist traditions, in perfect agreement here, are very sympathetic to this line), but rather it addresses the question of the ontological conditions of representation. It is, in fact, on the ontological terrain that the problem of the workers’ party and democracy must be posed—with respect to an ontology which has definitively left behind every difference between the social and the political.

Thesis 18: Today the Political Invests and Radically Constitutes the Social

Power and the political are dimensions of the social. Today there is no way to see the political as autonomous and separate. However, even though it has been led back to the social, it still does not lose the characteristics which distinguish it as a legitimating and legitimated force. Finding the political in the social is not the identification of a Utopian site—on the contrary, it produces a new, powerful definition of the social. It is paradoxical and instructive to note how so many years of polemics about the ‘social state’ have produced an incredible deepening of the social definition of the state. Social plurality is today a plural fabric of counter-powers of counter-knowledges and counter-cultures—therefore, in addition, it is also a dissemination of rationales of legitimation and the inscription of adequate relationships of force. The inversion of praxis, in the frame of the current form of value, must also therefore be exercised completely throughout the continuity of the social and the political.

There is no mythical, political point toward which the stragglers must be concentrated in order to make history explode. The explosions must be given in the everyday—however they will not because of this be any less explosive. The discourse on communism crosses planes of plural immanentism, extremely rich tensions; from this point of view, the political investment of the social reality constitutes new horizons of experience, of language and struggle. At one time, the discourse on emancipation was pointed towards a Utopian objective, according to a technique of the progressive overdetermi-nation of the development, from the social to the political, so as to be able to spill over from there back onto the social: now, this discourse, having gradually become the mystified conglomerate of every hypothesis of measure and hierarchy, founded on the separation of the political from the social, has been exhausted, leaving room for the practices of liberation.

Thesis 19: The Power of the Proletariat is a Constituent Power

The two processes, non-symmetrical but historically complementary, of the political deficit of capitalist control (or, more precisely, of the emptiness of the rationality of its action) and the proletarian displacement of the political throughout the social arrive at a moment of truth in the crisis, when the social and juridical order is clearly incapable of showing its own validity. Only one of the two parts is still capable of innovation; only proletarian power can be a constituent power.

Constituent power has always been defined as an ‘extraordinary’ power with respect to the ordinary legitimacy of the constitution. This extraordinary quality consists in the fact that, in contrast to the normal situation, constituent power is able to act in ontological terms—constituent power is a legislative power which orders reality in a new way, creating institutions and normative logics. Constituent power constructs society, carrying (in the tradition) the political into the social—even if only in an extraordinary manner. This is the source of the enormous wealth of the appearance of constituent power in constitutional history: it breaks with the institutional routine, putting society and the state in communion, inventing society. But, from the humanistic and Renaissance revolution to the English Revolution, from the American Revolution to the French and the Russian, and to all the other revolutions of the twentieth century, once the extraordinary moment of innovation has ended, the constituent power has exhausted its effects. Now, this exhaustion is symptomatic of a fact, which is fundamental in the mystification that bourgeois political theory and constitutionalism have operated on the concept of constituent power: the real problem has never been that of the truth of the transition, but rather of the modality of its Thermidor. The investment which the political made in the social had to have an end: this end was the limit offered by the necessity of the production and reproduction of the victorious form of value. This is taken so far that, playing on the ‘extraordinary quality’, the juridical dogmatic has assumed the Thermidor in the very definition of constituent power. In short, constituent power is subjected to the same destiny as the concept of representation: where the power of representation is subjected to limits of space, and is forced to empty itself, deterritorialise itself, constituent power is subjected to temporal limits, restricted by the extraordinary quality which is the fragility of the project and its execution.

But now the conditions of the revolution of the mode of production and the perspectives which open from the inversion of existing praxis lend a strong concept of constituent power to the formation. It gives us a constituent power which is not closed, which is not limited to exceptional periods of its effects, which acts always and everywhere within the world of the institutions— which therefore also is approximated by the life world. This continuity of constituent power has actually been implicated in every constituent experience, but as a regulative idea: the Machiavellian idea of the ‘return to principles’, the tables of fundamental rights, permanent revolution, cultural revolution, etc.—these implicit elements have never been made reality. But today everything is different. In the new conditions of the mode of production, just as in those of the form of value, we can glimpse a repetition of experience which, without being formally a constituent power, move as if they were, with a maximum of plasticity and continuity. Constituent power is becoming an element of the life world. Through its appearance in the everyday, it loses the monstrous aspect which the bourgeoisie has given it: the indeceny of a submergence in reality, of overflowing the institutions—in other words, it escapes the necessity that it be an ‘extraordinary’ power. It assumes instead an entrepreneurial figure—clearly a political, public, collective function, but one which is animated by an uncontainable projectivity and an absolute plasticity.

It is important to emphasise this relationship which constituent power discovers with this entrepreneurial function. On one hand, this nexus attributes juridical power with those formal characterisitics which belong to the social and economic experience—mobility, dynamics and inventiveness; on the other hand, this nexus shows that today, principally at the level of constituent power, it is impossible to make any separation between the political and the economic, any duplication of the functions, and it makes clear that today the political constitution can exist only as an investment of the social. Constituent power must give the political the pregnancy of the economic, and the economic the universality of the political. Communism transforms the general management of society through the everyday activity which the multitude exercises: constituent power continually forms and reforms the fabric of these new relations of production—a political, economic, social production.

If we ever want to speak of a party again, in the third industrial revolution, it is obvious that we can do so only in terms of constituent power.

Thesis 20: Today the Constitution of Communism is Mature

When we consider the investment which the political makes of the social, so that the one cannot be said without the other, we are renouncing Max Weber’s and Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s use of the sociology of power. In effect, the isolation of power is no longer possible. But neither is it possible to deduce from this that society considers itself a sufficient communicative exchange. The political, while it diffuses its form over the social, is filled by the social with its content; consequently, through the political this content is raised to a constitutive form. Social exchange is primary only in this sense, in the play of the conditions which today form the political: precisely in the sense which this alludes to power, it assumes power as a condition, it is disposed in that direction. Because this is the case, a series of material conditions must be given—material conditions which allow that the political form and the social content coincide. This can come about only if the political imposes on the social the form of the most absolute equality. If there is not equality, absolute equality in the conditions of social exchange, there is not the possibility of putting power at the service of the multitude, and, that is, unifying the form of the political and the contents of the social.

Today this possibility is available to the proletariat—and only to the proletariat, because it is clear that such a relation between the form of the political and the social contents in itself eliminates, through the machine of production and reproduction of equality, the very definition of capital, be it that of the capitalist market or that of social planning. On the other hand, it is obvious that all the conditions of the current mode of production push toward the complete socialisation of political power and, conversely, toward the complete politicisation of the social. Now, these tendencies can find a way out of the mystifications, where they are now held captive, only by developing communism. Communism is today the only possible constitution in relation to the development of the mode of production and in the necessity of its unveiling. Outside of communist constitution there is no other form of value, but only disvalue and death.

Appendix on Some of the Theoretical Sources of These Theses

I would like here to point out some of the scientific positions, both philosophical and economic, which I have had contact with in recent years and in relation to which my opinions have developed. I refer first of all to the school of regulation. When this still constituted a militant school of thought in the 1970s, my relationship was that of an amicable exchange. From this point of view, the schemata used in Thesis 4 are themselves a fruit of this cultural exchange. The modulation of the theme ‘workers struggles-capitalist development’ and its structural development around the categories of the ‘technical development’ and the ‘political composition’ of the working class were initially elaborated by Mario Tronti in Operai e capitale (Turin, 1966) and by Romano Alquati in Sulla Fiat ed altri scritti (Milan, 1975); only later were these themes adopted by the French (Boyer, Lipietz, Coriat). In recent years the positions of the school of regulation have changed dramatically: it has become an academic school and it has attempted, with great clarity, to change the schema which workerist Marxism considered a chapter of the critique of political economy into functionalist and programmatic schemata. This does not mean that the regulation school is no longer socialist: rather, the school is defined, from the economic point of view, as an explicit reformism—while, from the philosophical point of view, it gives greater and greater prominence to voluntaristic and evaluative options—which, in my opinion, the regulation school derives from its reading of the political neo-Kantianism of André Gorz. Classical workerism is thus pushed toward the economic objectivism of the ‘process without a subject’ and blessed with the holy water of socialist (and. today, increasingly, ecologist) good intentions. In the second place, I keep in mind above all in these theses the philosophical positions expressed in post-Sartrian French thought (Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari). Whatever the differences among these authors may be, it is clear that the critique of power (potere) constructed by them touches the law of value and tries to inscribe, in its crisis, the beyond of the dialectic between movements and restructuration, as a unitary mechanism, as the pressing demand to take away every truth value from the enunciations of power. In these French theories, ontology is posed against the dialectic and the possibility of ruling the relationship between social struggles and capitalist (social, productive, state) restructuration is taken away from power. The limitation of these theories consists in the fact that they pose the critique of power as a line of flight, as the splendour of the event and of the multitude, and they refuse to identify a constitutive power which would be the organ of the subversive minority. There are none the less indications that this thought can go beyond its current limits. Specifically, Foucault elaborated (and Deleuze developed) the evolution of three great paradigms of power: that of sovereignty, which in our language (see Thesis 4) he would present as the period from primitive accumulation to the first industrial revolution; then, the disciplinary paradigm (in our terms: the second industrial revolution); and, finally, the paradigm of communication—which, in our terminology, we situate after 1968 as the pre-eminent definition of the age of post-Fordism. According to Foucault and Deleuze, around this final paradigm there is determined a qualitative leap which allows thinking a new, radically new, order of possibility: communism. If in the society of sovereignty democracy is republican, if in the disciplinary society democracy is socialist, then in the society of communication democracy cannot but be communist. Historically, the passage which is determined between disciplinary society and the society of communication is the final possible dialectical passage. Afterwards, the ontological constitution cannot but be the product of the multitude of free individuals—this condition is possible on the basis of an adequate material structure and a process of liberation which courses throughout all of society. This group of propositions which leads the experiences of the militancy of the 1960s and 1970s to the level of highest philosophical abstraction seems to me to represent a useful and productive element of dialogue.

Hosted by