Notes for the seminar “Class Composition and the Organization of the Common”
The horizon: cognitive capitalism. This analysis necessarily assumes cognitive capitalism as its backdrop. The thoroughly elaborated hypothesis is that we are inside a productive system characterized by the centrality of knowledge and the cognitive competences of the labor force in the process of value extraction. The process of control, management and exploitation of a labor force that is extremely mobile in nature, characterized by a continuous production of languages, social cooperation and innovative capacity, extend over this continual production and transformation of subjectivity with the same characteristic of mobility. Exploitation assumes the aspect of a continual effort to capture this transformational capacity: here, the necessary governing of the inequalities that characterize neoliberalism – a governance, on one hand, strongly hierarchical and, on the other, necessarily limited by never being able to wholly subsume the production of subjectivity. The irreducible multiplicity and transformative and cooperative capacity of the labor force are absolutely necessary for the functioning of cognitive capitalism itself; it can only favor the mobility of subjectivity on one hand while, on the other, continually trying to re-territorialize it and block it through proprietary dispositives to capture social cooperation and control mechanisms that impede this necessary mobility from changing into a real and threatening autonomous production. Therefore: assuming cognitive capitalism as a horizon of analysis means assuming both a greater (potential) mobility of cognitive class composition and social cooperation’s greater capacity of self-organization. However, in no way does this mean negating the exploitation of the cognitive labor force or the perpetual capitalist appropriation of value produced by social cooperation. Rather, it means assuming a different degree of differentiation of control and exploitation dispositives and a decisive prevalence of the subjective elements in the body of living labor on which cognitive capitalism exercises its hold.
The “centrality” of the cognitive precariat. Assuming the horizon of analysis and orientation offered by the thesis of cognitive capitalism means, in the same way, assuming the centrality of the cognitive precariat in any analysis of class composition. However, in no way does “centrality” mean finding a sociologically identifiable group as the central element in the productive system. The centrality of the cognitive precatiat doesn’t indicate a privileged subject in class composition: rather, it demonstrates a natural tendency in the entire labor force: cognitive for the centrality of its relational, linguistic, cooperative capacities and precarious for the type of governance that can guarantee value extraction. In brief, the problem of class composition in cognitive capitalism is that precisely the clarity with which it is possible to identify the centrality of the cognitive precariat impedes resorting to any “geometric” representation around a presumed stable center of class composition. The certainty with which the cognitive precariat can be identified as the characterizing element of this productive system requires assuming – with just as much certainty – the inevitable fluidity, mobility, continual transformation and intersecting of each social figure. The “technical composition” of class appears with these extremely mobile, heterogeneous and decentralized characteristics. At the same time, the elements of subjectivity, central in the cognitive labor force, define living labor in a crucial way, such that no analysis of technical composition can do without the continual intersection of class and gender lines, nor can it do without the dispositives of culturalization and racialization. The processes – open, cadenced and driven by the struggles over the last ten years – of labor cognitivization and exploitation, the tendency of life and labor to overlap, the explosion of the factory-form, the network and the metropolis as new spatial-temporal coordinates of production, the fully transnational and heterogeneous character of living labor, constitutively precarious and mobile, continually blur technical and political composition, overlapping them and distancing them at the same time. Consequently: the relationship between technical and political composition cannot be re-proposed in the same terms as in the 1960s. Yet, when we say that the relationship between technical and political composition has definitively broken down in its original form, because both terms have radically changed, we are also saying that that broken relationship is still a political problem, i.e. the node of activist inquiry or co-research. This because posing the problem of that relationship means definitively breaking with the idea of the socialist tradition of a mirrored and symmetrical relationship between productive hierarchy and the hierarchy of social struggles; at the same time, this allows for going beyond a deterministic image of class unity, to identify the internal processes of conflict and even constituent separation. This is the political method that we have to start with. In this framework, can December 14th be suggestively defined as the Piazza Statuto of the cognitive precariat? Maybe, as long as we avoid a double risk. On one hand, disincarnating the event from the process, blinded by a theological vision of a miracle, which is nothing other than a mirrored counterpoint of the incapacity of recognizing the multitude’s autonomy and the potency. So, the problem is interpreting the event through its internal connections, i.e. the university mobilizations and their relation to the Pomigliano workers’ refusal and the struggles of migrant workers. These connections constitute the level of class composition. To use a formula: there is no class composition without subjectivation, and there is no subjectivation without organizational processes. On the other hand, the complementary risk is the idea of a linear and progressive development of organization, i.e. the homogeneous and empty image of the temporality of private processes of class composition that form through tendencies, sedimentations, conflicts, ruptures and leaps. Therefore, it concerns radically questioning the aesthetics of an event without organization and an organization without events. That is to say that it concerns rethinking and reinventing what came before and after “Piazza Statuto”, i.e. co-research.
Crisis and subjectivity. The crisis, grafted on this mobile and dynamic social geography, doesn’t assume the cyclic appearance of necessary repetition. Nothing lets us suppose that overcoming the crisis will necessarily coincide with a restructuration of the neoliberal governance dispositives as other interpretations understand, evidently animated by the sad passion for “nothing new under the sun” and by the miscomprehension of the now structurally “critical” and fibrillating character of contemporary capitalist social relationships. Neither a transitional passage, simply destined to an overall restructuration, nor – obviously – a definitive collapse of the system as in the well-known “doom” mythologies, the crisis is rather the intimate fragility of contemporary forms of accumulation founded on financialization and capture of social cooperation. Cognitive capitalism means crisis as a permanent condition and an insuperable horizon of its development.
The rigidly cyclical or doom interpretations of the crisis, all in all depressed and demotivational interpretations, condition the analysis of the transformations of subjectivity inside the crisis in a politically decisive way. Understanding the crisis as a momentary transition which will be exclusively overcome through the repositioning and reinforcing of neoliberal exploitation leads to understanding the dynamics of subjectivation, even though they continue inside the crisis, as exclusively passive and defensive dynamics. The subjects of the crisis can’t delude themselves into giving way to active and autonomously productive processes of subjectivation: rather, autonomy itself becomes a dangerous subjective illusion when the crisis is interpreted as a deterministic space destined to “consume” subjectivity. In the crisis, this interpretation would exclude any subjective capacity to develop struggles that are not merely defensive and able to produce autonomy. The political consequence of this interpretation: the only sober and tactically advantageous way to face the crisis consists in quickly freeing ourselves from any illusion of the transformative potential inside the crisis and in settling for working more “realistically” on the construction of defensive alliances that allow for a kind of damage control. It is evident that here, in parallel to mystifying interpretations of the crisis as a mere transition and not as a fundamental condition of contemporary capitalist development, another profound and culpable misunderstanding of the nature of the production of subjectivity in the crisis is generated. Clearly, the aforementioned mobility and extreme transformability that characterizes the figures of class composition are confused with a kind of intrinsic weakness of those subjectivities. Now, the mobility and extreme fluidity of the figures that compose the labor force is undeniable: students are immediately workers, more precisely precarious workers and, at the same time, the condition of workers is remolded by the processes of cognitivization and financialization. But the crisis of the law of value also means the lack of measure of social struggles and power relationships, i.e. the explosion of the wage-form. This clearly has an extremely problematic side to it: cognitive workers (for example the recent mobilization of researchers) tend to no longer recognize wages as a terrain of conflict for the construction of power relationships, or they even completely lose the identification of a counterpart in that they refuse their condition as being collective and as workers. Among university researchers, for example, there is often an implicit internalization of Marchionne’s blackmail without it being publically formulated: there is no need for a referendum to verify the identification between workers and business, to accept intolerable precarious times and conditions in exchange for the status of being “creative”. Nevertheless, it is precisely the explosion of the wage-form, the immeasurability of social struggles that raise the stakes. The extreme mobility of social composition doesn’t close off the prospective of revolt and building autonomy due to the excessive weakness of subjectivities but rather spurs the possibility for the construction of the common if it is understood as a dynamic process of the common construction of subjectivity. Mobility and continual reciprocal intersection of subjectivies (students, workers, gender, class, migrants…) can appear as a weakness and “desubjectification” with a relative destiny of political incapacity only to those who sadly position themselves from the point of view of static identities (and cyclic crises). But for those who see the crisis as the permanent moment of the crisis of measure and of value, also interprets the wealth of a production of subjectivity able to invent new transformations and new constructions of autonomy in that mobility. In the crisis, the fluidity of the figure of the labor force is transformed into exceeding subjectivity and the space of conflict is posed on an immediately constituent level: the reappropriation of social wealth cannot be understood outside of production and the organization of the common. And vice versa. The subjectivity of contemporary figures of class composition is therefore formed in the tension between production and capture of the common.
Class composition and organization. Interpreting the crisis in terms of necessary “implosion” of subjectivities thus results in an abstract idea of political recomposition. We could say: a static and passive conception of class composition can only correspond with an out-of-date revival of the traditional idea of “top-down” organization, recomposing around the “given” traditional figures in the panorama of unions and political parties. Subjectivities interpreted as blocked by the crisis correspond to the idea of an abstractly and completely transcendent political (and consequently organizational) decision in respect to these subjectivities. The interpretation of social struggles, that do not only continue but increase their ability to cross and join the lines of class exploitation, racial violence and gender repression in the crisis, instead demonstrates that inside the crisis, precisely because it is not a transitional and/or cyclical passage but an open field where its permanent condition of fragility, instability and the reproduction of the violence of original appropriation is manifested, is the space where singularities of gender, class and race can produce chain reactions that amplify its potential to construct resistance and liberation. The extreme mobility of social composition, that is revealed in the labor force that the crisis continually tries to control and exploit through dispositives of precariousness and “governance of inequalities”, speaks of a subjectivity that is not at all blocked in the crisis but rather equipped with a potential for transformation and reciprocal agency. Certainly, none of the processes of political composition can spontaneously come about: but the processes of organization and self-organization – that don’t stop in the crisis but are rather more and more frequent – are profoundly incarnated inside the movements of subjective transformation, follow the complex mobility of intersecting lines of class exploitation, gender repression, racial hierarchies and stress the impossibility of being reduced to existent unions and political parties.
The question of organization remains the central point, a totally political point. But its political character should be located in the immanence of the processes of constitution that mark the production of subjectivity. In synthesis: there is no autonomy of the revolt from the process of political organization, nor is there any political autonomy that, after the revolt, gives form to and represents this process. Organization is either immanent to class composition or it simply doesn’t exist. The common therefore become the element through which to rethink class composition and the relationship between what – only for convenience and assuming the impossibility of reproposing it – we call technical composition and political composition. “Returning” to the theme of class composition then means building something new, lining up the problems, proposing new paths and risking new, forward thinking hypotheses, beginning with the political method that is called co-research and that today – in the intersection of intellectual elaboration and activism inside the transformations of labor and its figures – assumes an immediately constituent character.