Sunday, November 29, 2009
Reportedly written by Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem, Rene Riesel and Mustapha Khayati and published under their comrade’s name, Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement recounts the events of May ’68 from the Situationists’ perspective. Besides being one of the most vivid and gripping narratives of those revolutionary days, Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement is especially relevant to our contemporary conjuncture because it carefully traces the evolution of the student occupation movement. The book makes evident how the Situationists have been incompletely understood, especially by their detached and contemplative academic interpreters. Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement does feature all the well-known Situationist preoccupations, such as their critiques of “the pseudo-abundance of commodities,” “the reduction of life to a spectacle,” and “repressive urbanism.” Yet rather than concluding with such critiques, the book demonstrates how the theoretical work the Situationists are most famous for was merely the starting point for practical experimentation with non-hierarchical, autonomous forms of organization. In the book, the authors are far less concerned with the functioning of the spectacle than with the reformist nature of both trade unions and Marxist-Leninist parties, the practical difficulties (impossibilities?) of general assemblies, and the need for direct democracy through councils. Student agitation in Berkeley in 1964 and the Situationist scandal in Strasbourg in 1966 were important predecessors of May ’68, but student unrest in Nanterre in 1967 and early 1968 marked the real beginning of the movement. “The agitation launched at Nanterre by four or five revolutionaries, who would later constitute the Enragés, was to lead in less than five months to the near liquidation of the state. . . . Never did an agitation by so few individuals lead in so short a time to such consequence.” Within the alienating walls of Nanterre’s modern buildings, the Enragés, a small group of unassimilated “campus bums,” “began a systematic assault on the unbearable order of things, beginning with the university.” The Enragés interrupted sociology courses and began publishing posters and tracts. On March 22nd, various leftist groups, ranging from liberals to anarchists to Maoists to Troskyists , “invaded the administration building and held a meeting in the university council room.” Although the Enragés left the meeting in protest against the Stalinists, covering the walls with slogans as they exited, the gathering became known as the March 22nd Movement, which the authors consider one of the first (though failed) attempts at direct democracy (the text compares the “leftist amalgam” to the American SDS). Excessive responses by the administration caused the student unrest that had been building to explode and spread to other campuses; as was the case across the globe, official repression directly contributed to the radicalization of the left. The dean closed the Nanterre campus initially for two days and then for an extended period, and he announced that a group of the student agitators would be brought before a disciplinary committee on May 6th. When the administration attempted to break up a student meeting in the courtyard of the Sorbonne on May 3rd, it “unleashed the accumulated strength of the movement and provoked it to cross the decisive threshold.” Police surrounded the few hundred students gathered in the courtyard and offered to let them disperse. Some students managed to leave, but as more students gathered outside the police began to arrest hundreds and carry them off to police vans. Direct clashes erupted between police and several thousand students, and over six hundred were arrested. During the demonstration that was called for May 6th, protests quickly turned into riots, and for the first time barricades were thrown up and cars turned over and burned. That conflict lasted only a few hours, partially because of recuperation by reformist pseudo-leaders that were singled out by the mass media. But the demonstration on May 10th fully unleashed student anger and exceeded the control of all would-be leaders. The barricading of an entire section of the Latin Quarter was a direct negation of the state and created an autonomous zone that lasted throughout the night. Until the next morning, police battled with protestors, the latter using Molotov cocktails and paving stones from the street in defense, while the radio broadcasted regular updates to the rest of the country. The next day, trade unions called for a strike on May 13th in solidarity “against the repression,” and the government reversed its tactics and promised to free convicted students and clear the police from the Sorbonne. The march of over a million on May 13th went peacefully, but a group of students took advantage of the “atmosphere of total freedom that reigned at the Sorbonne” and began an occupation of the campus, which was followed by a wave of other student occupations. “On May 14th, the Committee of the Enragés and the Situationist International was founded,” and the group immediately began to plaster the walls of the Sorbonne with posters. On the same day, the occupiers formed their first general assembly and elected an “Occupation Committee” as an “executive organ.” Also on the same day, workers at the Sud-Aviation plant occupied their factory and catalyzed a series of wildcat strikes in the country. The Sorbonne’s Occupation Committee managed to send a telegram of support to the Sud-Aviation workers, but managed little else at first because various leftist groups, many with reformist or careerist intentions, set up their own committees and by usurping space and supplies acted to undermine the power of the Occupation Committee. The authors conclude that this attempt at direct democracy “collapsed” because the most powerful groups on the left remained committed to hierarchical forms of organization and therefore opposed true “working-class autonomy.” By “May 20th, the strike and occupations became general,” with more than “six million strikers.” According to the authors, this strike was spontaneously brought about; workers acted autonomously and beyond the control of both the trade unions and Marxist-Leninist vanguard parties, all of whom were reformist and counterrevolutionary and desired to steer the strike toward their particular ends. In the days that followed, both students and workers violently fought with police, even burning police cars and sacking police stations. The book glowingly describes the atmosphere of this period: “[I]n the space of a week millions of people had cast off the weight of alienating conditions, the routine of survival, ideological falsifications, and the inverted world of the spectacle. For the first time since the Commune of 1871, and with a far more promising future, the real individual was absorbing the abstract citizen into his life, his work, and his individual relationships, becoming a ‘species-being’ and thereby recognizing his own powers as social powers. The festival finally gave true holidays to people who had known only work days and leaves of absence. The hierarchical pyramid had melted like a lump of sugar in the May sun. People conversed and were understood in half a word. There were no more intellectuals or workers, but simply revolutionaries engaged in dialogue. . . . In this context the word ‘comrade’ regained its authentic meaning, truly marking the end of separations.” By retaking spaces such as schools and factories, the revolutionaries had also re-conquered time: “Capitalized time stopped. Without any trains, metro, cars, or work the strikers recaptured the time so sadly lost in factories, on motorways, in front of the TV. People strolled, dreamed, learned how to live.” But by the end of May, de Gaulle and the bourgeoisie began to take back power and were greatly assisted by all of the reformist elements in the left. The authors claims that “The workers entered the struggle spontaneously, armed only with their subjectivity in revolt. The depth and violence of the revolt was their immediate reply to the unbearable dominant order. But in the last analysis the revolutionary mass did not have the time for an exact and real consciousness of what it was doing. And it is this inadequate relation between theory and practice which remains the fundamental trait of proletarian revolutions which fail.” Although the workers had temporarily broken the shackles of trade-unionism, they lacked the “autonomous form” of organization that would have allowed them to begin to restart production and distribution for communal purposes. “The accession of the working class to historical consciousness will be the task of the workers themselves, and that will be possible only through an autonomous organization. The form of the council remains the means and goal of total emancipation.” Not surprisingly, the Situationists and Enragés are praised for their relative success in achieving autonomy and creating a functioning council. The Situationists “had always made such an autonomy the prerequisite of any working relationship,” and their vitriolic attacks on Maoists and Troskyites were, in part, aimed at the corrosive effects of these groups’ lack of autonomy. The Council for the Maintenance of Occupations (CMDO) was formed on May 17th with the goal of the continuation and expansion of the occupation movement. The CMDO was composed of about 40 members, including around 10 Enragés and Situationists (including Debord, Risel, and Vaneigem). The CMDO published comic strips, posters, and theoretical texts (examples of all three are reproduced in Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement) until it was dissolved on June 15th. It would not be a stretch to claim that, for the authors, the organizational accomplishments of the CMDO were among the most important products of May ’68: “Throughout its existence the CMDO was a successful experiment in direct democracy, guaranteed by an equal participation of everyone in debates, and the decisions and their execution. It was essentially an uninterrupted general assembly, deliberating day and night. No faction or private meetings ever existed outside the common debate.”
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
In The Economics of Global Turbulence, Robert Brenner offers an economic analysis of what he terms “the long downturn”: the decline in profitability that since the 1970s has generated disturbances and crises in the global economy. Brenner divides postwar economic history into two periods: “a period of prosperity from the later 1940s to 1973 and an era of slowed growth and increasing economic turbulence from 1973 onwards, marked by deeper recessions and the return of the devastating financial crises absent since the Great Depression.” Brenner’s analysis is guided by the empirical study of the “rate of profit,” which he considers a useful predictor of the rate of investment, the increase of employment and productivity, and of the overall potential for economic growth. He argues that whereas the postwar upturn demonstrated a high rate of profit, since 1965 the rate of profit has been relatively low because of increased international competition that has driven down prices without forcing firms to exit sectors of low profitability. To explain this transition from upswing to downturn, Brenner sets forth a theory of “uneven development” (this should be distinguished from the theories of imperialism of Lenin and others), which focuses on the interaction of older- and later-developing economic blocs. In the early postwar years, the U.S. economy expanded in a wave of investment and development, though this boom was more complicated than is often acknowledged (Brenner emphasizes the slowness of growth and threats of stagnation during the 1950s). Because the U.S. economy was domestically oriented and not yet highly dependent on overseas sales, the growth of German and Japanese productive capabilities had only a minimal impact on the rate of profit in the U.S. But between 1965 and 1973, Germany and Japan “combined relatively advanced techniques and relatively low wages to reduce costs sharply relative to those of their competitors; they dramatically seized increased shares of the world market and imposed on it their relatively reduced prices.” The U.S., during a period when its domestic economy was being opened to imports and its large corporations were becoming more oriented toward overseas trade, suddenly confronted increased international competition that brought “downward pressure on prices.” In comparison to the new firms entering into the market, U.S. firms found themselves with relatively high costs of production, resulting in a declining rate of profit. Because these firms had excessively invested in fixed capital and types of intangible assets, they had reason to stay within existing sectors of production despite the decline in the rate of profit. The “stereotypical process of adjustment – whereby firms suffering reduced profit rates cut back production and move into new lines, bringing supply and demand back into line and restoring average profitability – failed to take place.” Falling profitability soon spread to the other leading capitalist economies when the U.S. “government forced a major devaluation of the dollar.” This manipulation of exchange rates between 1971 and 1973 made U.S. firms more competitive (the lower dollar value made U.S. goods automatically cheaper) and therefore subjected German and Japanese firms to downward pressure on their profit rates. By dismantling the Bretton Woods system, the U.S. managed a partial recovery by passing on some of the crisis of profitability to its competitors. “In the space of a few short years, the US manufacturing sector secured by dollar devaluation the kind of turnaround in relative costs that it had been unable to achieve by way of productivity growth and wage restraint.” In response to the decline in the rate of profit, the advanced national economies over the next few decades made various attempts at cost reduction, neo-liberalization, and globalization, involving everything from brutal efforts to drive down labor costs to government austerity drives. Brenner claims that all of these efforts still “failed to prevent the performance of the advanced capitalist economies from worsening as time went on.” This was because the root problem remained: “Since there was rather little movement out of manufacturing to other lines, the underlying systemwide problem remained the same – an over-supply of manufacturing capacity and output resulting in downward pressure on product prices that lowered the rate of return on capital stock.” In other words, because of the “paradoxical long-term persistence of chronic over-capacity in international manufacturing,” a high rate of profit in manufacturing has never been recovered. Despite superficial bubbles and upswings, the long downturn has continued up to this day. According to Brenner, governments are partially responsible for the continuation of the downturn because they have created artificial conditions that have allowed firms to remain in low-profit sectors. Keynesian government policies helped stave off deep recession during the 1970s and, “by subsidizing aggregate demand, slowed exit from over-supplied lines.” But record budget and account deficits led governments to turn in the late 1970s to tight monetarist policies that restricted credit. “Led by US Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, the advanced capitalist governments gave up on Keynesianism and turned instead to monetarist tight credit and so-called supply-side measures aimed at cutting costs. In a sense, the new macroeconomic austerity retracted the debt-based subsidy to demand that had been keeping the world economy turning over in the face of manufacturing over-capacity and over-production, and made renewed deep recession unavoidable.” Volcker’s monetary strictness was so severe that Reagan quickly returned to (record levels of) Keynesianism deficit spending in order to counteract the recession that occurred. Brenner admits that the Regan-Thatcher revolution managed to force some firms out of low-profit sectors. But more often, restricting credit “made it more difficult for producers to establish themselves in new lines” and low rates of profit in manufacturing sectors made them unattractive to investment. Instead, finance and speculation, rather than any real recovery of profitability in manufacturing, became increasingly important in sustaining the economy. The stock market bubble of the late 1990s, the growth of the information technology sector, and the housing bubble of the 2000s all appeared as signs of a new upturn, but Brenner concludes they all hid the continued failure to overcome the systemic causes of the long downturn. Because of such government interventions, “Rather than system-shaking crisis, we therefore witness the continuation, stretching over three decades, of persistently reduced rates of profit that made for ever-decreasing economic vitality on a global scale, along with ever more destructive asset price bubbles and financial implosions, and increasingly severe cyclical downturns.” In direct contrast to Brenner’s pessimistic economic history, both “business advocates and neoliberal politicians,” blinded by their faith in the power of “ever-freer markets and ever-deeper austerity,” have denied the existence of the long downturn. Brenner responds that neoliberalism simply hasn’t worked because it fails to address the root problem of the downturn: increased horizontal competition driving down profitability. Gutting the welfare state even more and subjecting labor to ever more inhuman conditions and rewards won’t turn the economy around. He wryly comments, “[I]f, after more than two decades of wage-cutting, tax-cutting, reductions in the growth of social expenditure, deregulation, and ‘sound finance’, the ever less fettered ‘free market’ economy is unable to perform half as well as in the 1960s, there might be some reason to question the dogma that the freer the market, the better the economic performance.” Interestingly, the proponents of neoliberalism share with leftist economists such as the French Regulation School a belief that the strength of labor in the postwar era put increased downward pressure on profit rates and interfered with the growth of the economy. Brenner claims that this “supply side” thesis holds that “the long downturn finds its roots in what might be loosely called the contradictions of Keynesianism.” Keynesian policies that created a “capital-labour accord” through the expansion of the welfare state, promotion of full employment, and agreements regarding wages and job security “had the long-term effect of skewing the balance of market and socio-political power in favour of labour and broadly speaking the citizenry, and against capital.” While this arrangement was fundamental to the postwar boom, there were economic limits that once reached would block further economic growth. Labor’s squeeze on profits and the expenses of the welfare state would eventually undermine the accumulation process. Those on the left who have adopted this supply-side thesis find themselves powerless in the face of neoliberal pressures to privatize, deregulate, and downsize. Brenner admits “that the power of labour, exercised either on the basis of its own institutions and norms or through the state, can skew the operation of the labour market in favour of workers – for given firms, industries, regions, or even national economies, for given periods of time.” But, “Labour cannot, as a rule, bring about a temporally extended, systemic downturn.” The strength of labor cannot explain “the universality of the long downturn,” “the simultaneity of [its] onset and various phases,” and “the length of the downturn.” There is simply no empirical evidence that can support the claim that the strength of labor caused an extended and international squeeze on profits. According to Brenner, the supply-side theorists have tended “to focus too exclusively upon the ‘vertical’ (market and socio-political) power relations between capitalists and workers. As a result, they have tended to underplay not only the productive benefits, but also the economic contradictions, that arise from the ‘horizontal’ competition among firms that constitutes the capitalist system’s economic mainspring.” The Economics of Global Turbulence is an invaluable work of economic history, but its claims remain controversial. In Adam Smith in Beijing, Giovanni Arrighi uses his own method of historical sociology to critique Brenner’s (more purely) economic explanation of the long downturn. Arrighi takes issue with Brenner’s treatment of competitive pressure as the dominant factor in the decline in the rate of profitability. Drawing from Beverly Silver’s work, Arrighi argues that (vertical) labor-capital conflict interacted with (horizontal) competitive pressure in a far more complex manner than Brenner acknowledges. Though Brenner claims to take an international perspective, Arrighi argues that Brenner’s narrow focus on the U.S., Japan, and Germany ignores the economic importance of the majority of the world’s states. Brenner’s economic framework also causes him to omit a substantial discussion of U.S. Cold War policies and interests and of how the Vietnam War signaled to the globe the potential collapse of U.S. hegemony. Arrighi argues that Brenner is unable to recognize how the crisis of profitability had much to due with the “crisis of American hegemony” and how the “Reagan-Thatcher neo-liberal counterrevolution” was “not just, or even primarily, a response to the unsolved crisis of profitability but also – and especially – a response to the deepening crisis of hegemony.” Arrighi adds that Brenner mistakenly overemphasizes the importance of manufacturing by incorrectly identifying “capitalism with industrial capitalism.” The failure of firms to exit from low-profit manufacturing sectors and the diverting of investment into finance and speculation therefore appear to Brenner as deviations from capitalist rationality. For Arrighi, instead, “the overall reorienation of the US economy to take full advantage of financialization, both at home and in the world at large” has been an effort to maintain U.S. hegemony in the face of dwindling productive competitiveness, an effort that ultimately generates even more systemic chaos.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Storming Heaven is the most detailed study in English of Italian operaist/workerist and autonomist theory. The book traces operaism from the anti-Stalinism of the 1950s up to the crackdown on and dissolution of Autonomia at the end of the 1970s. Wright focuses his project on operaist ideas about “class composition.” Rather than making assumptions about the working class, the operaists set out to investigate the specific “technical and political composition” of the labor force. After the revelation of Stalinist brutalities in 1956, Italian Marxism turned toward social democracy. But the “collapse of the Soviet Union as a model and guide” also briefly opened up a space for critical debate about political organization. Most notably, Raniero Panzieri argued that the “Italian road to socialism . . . could not be confined to parliament” and that new institutions had to be created through the renovation of the labour movement. For Panzieri, “the collapse of Communist dogma made possible the reaffirmation – ‘in all its vigour’ – of ‘the principle of class action as the autonomy of the exploited and oppressed classes in struggle for their liberation.’” Like Tronti after him, Panzieri did not believe such worker autonomy rendered the party obsolete, and, at least for a short while, he remained concerned with rehabilitating the Italian Socialist Party (PSI). But his reevaluation of extra-parliamentary politics eventually put him at odds with the PSI’s “centre-left coalition” and led him further from the party. Panzieri helped found the journal Quaderni Rossi, whose first issue appeared in 1961. Wright claims, “If the first great theme which Quaderni Rossi appropriated from the dissident Marxism of the 1950s was that of autonomy, the second concerned the possible utility of ‘bourgeois’ sociology as a means to understand the reality of the modern working class.” Quaderni Rossi’s contributors set out to observe and interview the working class, attempting to succeed in their “co-research” by achieving “mutual trust between researchers and workers.” They discovered that “a profound ‘structural separateness’ . . . had come to divide the class from those bodies – parties and unions – that claimed to represent it.” Perhaps even more importantly, they realized “that working-class antagonism to the capitalist organization of labour, if often contradictory in form, was both permanent and universal.” The most substantial of Quaderni Rossi’s “workers’ enquiries” were those composed by Romano Alquati. Through interviews with FIAT and Olivetti workers, Alquati investigated the embedding of control in machinery such as the assembly line and the forms of “informal and often non-verbalised” resistance to and sabotage of factory productivity. Mario Tronti’s first contribution to Quaderni Rossi, “La fabbrica e la societa,” conceptually transformed the working class into the “truly active side of capital” and examined the class’s decomposition and recomposition. Tronti claimed, “the pressure of labour-power is capable of forcing capital to modify its own internal composition, intervening within capital as essential component of capitalist development.” Capital’s response to labour’s threat merely “displaced the class antagonism to a higher, more socialized level.” Tronti argued, “At the highest level of capitalist development, the social relation becomes a moment of the relation of production, the whole of society becomes an articulation of production; in other words, the whole of society exists as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination over the whole of society.” He concluded, “When all of society is reduced to a factory, the factory – as such – seems to disappear.” But despite his talk of the “social factory,” Tronti – like most of the other operaists of the 1960s – continued to focus on workers in large factories and rarely glimpsed “the world outside the immediate process of production.” Tronti’s theories, which first appeared in Quaderni Rossi, were further developed in his newer journal Class Operaia. According to Wright, Tronti “could not conceive of the unification of the working class as a force against capital – what the workerists now began to call political recomposition – outside of a party-form.” Rather than rejecting the PCI for its evident reformist failures, Tronti argued that the party could be politically instrumentalized. This led Tronti to a rather Leninist conclusion: “The working class possesses a spontaneous strategy of its own motions and development: the party must observe it, express it and organize it.” Tronti’s pieces for Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia were reprinted in 1966 in Operai e capitale (why is there not an English language edition of this book?) with the addition of the essay “Marx, labour-power, working class.” Commenting on this last text, Wright notes: “Written in the same year as Lire le Capital, the piece was also, in its own way, a symptomatic reading of the critique of political economy.” Tronti wrote, “Labour is the measure of value because the working class is the condition of capital.” The working class “has only to combat itself in order to destroy capital. It must recognize itself as political power, and negate itself as productive force.” Worker “passivity” was therefore not laziness but political resistance, though Wright expresses skepticism toward the abstract framework through which Tronti analyzed such actions. At the end of the 1960s, the operaists developed a concept of the “mass worker,” which “possessed three decisive attributes: it was massified, it performed simple labour, and it was located at the heart of the immediate process of production. Individually interchangeable but collectively indispensable, lacking the bonds which had tied skilled workers to production, the mass worker personified the subsumption of concrete to abstract labour characteristic of modern capitalist society.” In Italy, the global uprisings of May 1968 took the form of a “creeping May” that truly hit home only in the “Hot Autumn” of 1969. At this time, the Moviemento Studentesco (Student Movement) (MS) blossomed and the political unrest of technicians grew, confronting operaism’s understanding of class composition with new social strata. The operaists were slow in recognizing the importance of the student movement, and they perhaps were marginalized in the first wave of antiauthoritarian actions as a result. The new group Il Potere Operaio did address the “location of students within capital’s total circuit of reproduction,” yet continued to privilege productive labor in the factory. The events in France in May ’68 demonstrated to the operaists the futility of attempting to “use” the PCI for political ends and pushed the tendency toward greater autonomy. The FIAT labor conflicts in 1968 brought the factory workers into closer contact with organized struggle and the student movement. In his book We Want Everything, Natella recalled, “We discovered that we all had the same needs, the same necessities, and that it was these that made us all equal in struggle.” But in 1969 the Italian Student Movement (MS) “disintegrated, replaced by a new force, the ‘extra-parliamentary left,’” whose major organizations were Potere Operaio, Lotta Continua, Manifesto, Avanguardia Operaia. Suspicious of the unions, groups such as Potere Operaio remained distant from the resurgence of unions after 1970. As a result, they alienated many workers and committed themselves to an “all-or-nothing gamble of ‘militarising’ the new revolutionary movement.” Searching for new political agents, the operaists discussed Black Nationalism in the U.S. and the growth of autonomous feminism (most famously discussed in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community). Potere Operaio began to downplay the importance of factory workers while searching for a more general figure for revolutionary subjectivity. Negri’s interpretation of Marx on “abstract labour” reflected this shift, which replaced the ideal of labour freed from capital with “an ethic of consumption unfettered by the dictates of accumulation.” But the “resurgence in 1972 of factory-based conflicts over industry contracts . . . would return the workers of the large firms to their former privileged position within the workerist credo.” Wright discusses Potere Operaio’s fascination with violent insurrection. Although many groups on the left supported the idea of armed struggle, Potere Operaio was distinguished by “its conception of insurrection as a pressing, imminent necessity. Crash or crash through was the message Potere Operaio broadcast to other revolutionaries after 1970.” Not surprisingly, this led to “a return to the Leninist problematic of insurrection” and an armed party, though Potere Operaio’s “theory of the offensive” pushed this problematic into new terrain. Unfortunately, the preoccupation with armed struggle aimed at the state often led the question of class composition to be neglected, an omission that do doubt contributed to Potere Operaio’s failure to acquire a wider body of supporters. “Deeply divided as to the significance of class behaviour and the function of political organization, Potere Operaio collapsed in all but name by the middle of 1973.” Negri and his “compatriots moved off to embrace the nascent ‘Area of Autonomy,’” a disparate collection of “autonomist organizations and collectives.” At this point, the tendency Autonomia Operaia coalesced and Negri’s hypothesis of the “socialized worker” came to the theoretical forefront of operaism. Wright accuses Autonomia of adopting a “heavy-handed” “brand of Leninism which, if often harshly critical of the armed groups’ understanding of tactics, none the less sanctified armed struggle as the pinnacle of class struggle.” Although Autonomia introduced many innovations into the Italian left, it too often “grafted” new insights onto “the existing Marxist-Leninist corpus,” and therefore doomed itself to repeat the errors of those it criticized. Negri replaced the narrower concept of the mass worker with that of the socialized worker, who instead of being limited to one section of production “was the whole proletariat, subject qua abstract labour, constituted throughout the arc of the valorization process.” Within the left of the period, Negri’s new figure was attacked for its abstraction, with some arguing that Negri had projected the traits of one narrow, and arguably elite, group onto the whole working class. During 1974, high school students began to demonstrate, there were numerous housing occupations, and the practice of “self-reduction of prices” spread across Northern Italy. But conflict dramatically increased in 1977, which saw a series of struggles that led Autonomia - and operaism in general - into crisis and, eventually, defeat. Early in the year, students protesting a proposed education reform occupied the University of Rome for a fortnight. Wright claims, “if most [of those involved in such actions] preferred risate rosse (‘red laughter’) to the Brigate Rosse, the use of force was not alien to consistent sectors of the new movement.” Riot police eventually cleared out the occupiers, but rioting soon appeared at the University of Bologna in response to the police killing of a militant. Perhaps in revenge, a policeman was shot dead, leading groups on the left to quickly rethink and clarify their positions on violence. Examining the recent events in his essay “The Tribe of Moles,” Sergio Bologna claimed: “[T]he best way to distort these University struggles is to pretend that they are only about the University reforms, and therefore only of interest to University workers and students. This is false – because we have seen an entire class composition coming together around the Universities.” As turmoil continued throughout the year, state repression grew. Because of the autonomous movement’s avoidance of political institutions and participation, such state repression encouraged even more violent militancy as a response. Questions of class composition and autonomy often were set aside as radicals imagined themselves in direct combat with the state. The Brigate Rosse, which existed outside of operaism, reached a new extreme with its kidnapping of Moro in 1978, an act that most autonomous groups condemned. Though he regularly attacked those on the left who, desiring to remain pure, rejected all questions of violence, Negri argued that the “terrorists and their sympathizers . . . were so obsessed with destabilisation that they had become oblivious to the significance of the new mass subjectivity.” The political and social chaos of the end of the 1970s signalled the defeat of operaism and autonomia. By the early 1980s, operaism’s theoretical apparatus had fragmented, its political force had been lost, and Italy overall had shifted away from the left.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Fox defines the “cold world” as “the world voided of both human warmth and metaphysical comfort. This cold world is the world made strange, a world that has ceased to be the ‘lifeworld’ in which we are usually immersed.” In such a situation, “the present world is impossible: its very appearance is a kind of ontological mishap, a disorder in the real.” He rather firmly divides the two possible responses to such a sense of desolation: “artistic, when the world made strange by our own detachment and dissociation presents itself as an object of fascination; political when the difficulty of going on living in such a world begins to reveal its causes in the impersonal circumstances of our personal sorrows.” The first half of the book considers “the aesthetics of dejection,” and begins with a reading of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ series of “terrible sonnets” before turning to Coleridge’s oeuvre, in particular “Dejection: An Ode.” Fox’s decision to indulge in literary criticism allows him to gather some rather choice lines and phrases from these poets to illustrate “the aesthetics of dejection,” but I wish he would have forgone the hermeneutic route and used the space to freely develop his conception of dejection more or jettisoned the section altogether. That space might also have been used to distinguish his argument from psychoanalytic theories of melancholy such as Julia Kristeva’s Black Sun, which, as its title indicates, is filled with case studies of cold worlds. The book’s more interesting last half turns to the “politics of militant dysphoria,” by which Fox means less militants who begin to despair than dysphoria's capability to generate militant commitment. Fox claims the militant separates herself “from the satisfactions of everyday life. . . . She is someone who has decisively rejected every source of consolation, every hope that tomorrow will of its own accord come bearing some respite, some unanticipated good news.” In other words, “The militant does not live in the same world as everyone else.” Adolescent rebellion, the moody displeasure of the teenager, is not far removed from such militant dysphoria. Fox even claims that the “adolescent in revolt” is “a militant in prototype.” Fox examines the misanthropic despair of the black metal musician Xasthur to explore the “depressive thinking” that reaches but doesn’t cross the threshold into militant dysphoria. The early 1990s Norwegian black metal scene’s sociopathic tendencies and quest for non-conformist authenticity culminated in the murder of one black metal musician by another. “Ultimately the only way to validate the ‘true’ black metal was to make the transition from aesthetic iconoclasm to active criminal violence – from performing menacing stage acts with impaled pigs’ heads and upside-down crosses to burning churches and ruthlessly murdering one’s rivals.” Fox compares this transformation to Ulrike Meinhof and the German Red Army Faction’s willingness to move from mere “protest” to violent “resistance.” Newer black metal musicians such as Xasthur have retreated, taking part in the “re-aestheticizing of a radically anti-aesthetic moment.” Yet Xasthur also “radicalizes the misanthropy of early black metal” in a way that represents the severing of attachments to the world and that might open a space for “new worldly commitments. The vertiginous dysphoria of Xasthur’s sound-world is not yet the focused displeasure of the militant, but a simulacrum – a spiritualisation – of malcontent. It embodies a will that that which is should not be, but not a will that that which is should be otherwise.” Miltant dysphoria appears in full force in the final chapter, “The Brain of Ulrike Meinhof.” Fox claims that “the world, and especially the world of middle-class West German citizens in 1968, provides many opportunities for cathexis, the connection of a drive-stimulus with some object that has the power to relieve it, to draw off its energies and dissipate them elsewhere.” But the "world of the ‘urban guerrilla’ is a world in which such opportunities for cathexis are held at bay; where the governing principles of love and work are replaced by a single alternative principle: that of combat.” Fox strongly attacks Meinhof and the RAF, arguing that this mentality cannot think the contingency of the world, that is, cannot imagine that the librarian Linke would attempt to flee during the RAF’s freeing of Baader and get killed. The revolutionary vanguard tends “to regard themselves as the only true agents in a situation.” The urban guerrilla’s secession from the state involves “the freezing of the state, fixing it to a single figure guilty of a defining outrage for which it is eternally responsible,” and the “refusal of all palliatives, in particular those which assist in the sublimation of anger and the relief of dissatisfaction.” The RAF’s “aim was quite simply to punch a hole through the consensus reality of their society. But in order to conceive of doing this, they had to radically simplify their vision of how that society worked, treating every manifestation of power or authority as an emanation from the same dark star.”