This text, like the preceding one, belongs to Negri’s period in prison and was published, in the same anthology, Macchina Tempo, Feltrinelli, Milano 1982. The problematic of these essays is outlined in the introduction to the article above, ‘crisis of the Crisis-state’. The underlying theme is the need to redefine the class antagonism in advanced capitalism, at a level corresponding to the real, total subsumption of society, of social labour as a whole, to capitalist domination. This means, as Negri argues here – but also in earlier articles included in this volume – that the conception of the ‘working class’ has to be broadened and extended to contradiction and antagonism in the sphere of social reproduction as a whole – ie beyond direct production as such.
It follows that the analysis of the Italian workerists of the 1960s is in urgent need of being updated in the light of the structural crisis of labour power as such, the main motive force underlying the present permanent state of crisis. This change in class composition, the recomposition of class antagonism at a social level, is the major issue addressed in this essay. Here Negri traces the analysis and method of class composition from its early exponents, in the Italian workerism of the 1960s, to the new problems posed for analysis of the recomposition of the class movement today, the ‘remaking of the working class’ at the level of social antagonism which has now been reached.
For Negri, in contrast to the various theories of neo-functionalism and post-industrial sociology, the new movements of struggle in the social sphere represent a new level of class antagonism, which cannot be- reduced to a mere proliferation of new subjectivities around life-needs ‘signalling the end of any class relation based on the production of value and suplus-value.The crisis of the value form, seen as a class relation,is rather the starting point for a new level of class antagonism. And this analysis has to go beyond the narrow definitions of productive work, the ‘factoryist’ definitions of the working class that had dominated in orthodox Marxism for so long.
The emergence of this new social dimension of class struggle from the early-mid 1970s meant for Negri that the class analysis based on the concept of the ‘mass worker’, developed in the 1960s, had become too narrow to encompass the new level of antagonism, now extended beyond production to reproduction as a whole. Hence the references to the need for a critique of and surpass allof the ‘political economy of the mass worker’. It should be pointed out – and Negri makes this clear – that the old workerist analysis was never simply a ‘factoryist’ conception of the class. In Tronti, for instance, the extension of the factory, and of production relations, to society was central to his whole theory of class antagonism in advanced capitalism. And his definition of ‘refusal of work’ at the strategic direction of the class struggle was not subsequently abandoned; indeed, for Negri it remains key in his updated class analysis. What had changed was that this ‘social extension ‘ could now no longer be seen simply in terms of the extension of wage demands from factory struggles. Through restructuration and the regime of austerity, the ‘extensivity’ of the factory wage struggle had been cut off , by division and segmentation of the labour market, between ‘guaranteed’ and ‘non-guaranteed’ sectors by expansion of the casual, part-time and underground economy etc, in short by what in Italy is defined by the term ‘diffused factory’. This was one factor in requalifying the new social nature of the working class. The other was the social nature of the capitalist response to the crisis, which consisted in an attack on the social wage as a whole, through cuts in public spending, to bring back what Negri calls the ‘synchronisation’ between the independent reproduction of a fully socialized labour-power and the discipline of the wage/work relation.
Negri’s dynamic approach and analysis of the class antagonism today as that of fully socialised labour-power clearly puts him at variance with traditional, monolithic and corporation class definitions, restricted to waged workers in ‘direct’ production only. His emphasis on the growth of mobility, of part-time, casual and domestic work, the absence of job fixity, the diffusion of production in the informal’ economy, the unity of production, circulation and reproduction etc, in no way signals the ‘end of the working class’, but rather a higher level of socialization of the class antagonism over the whole social working day. The new social subjects of struggle are by no means ‘marginal’ – rather, their marginalisation is political.
This indeed was the key issue in the debate between the autonomists and the established Left in italy from the mid- 1970s onwards. Negri’s orthodox critics – particularly from PCI quarters, and including the erstwhile workerists of the old school – cast him in an ‘anti-worker’ role, a theme taken up by his prosecuting judges (see below). For the PCI, the new social struggles were defined as marginal movements of a new ‘dpetty-bourgeoisie’ or ‘lumpen proletariat’ etc, in other words in terms from the traditional Marxist vulgate for defining movements of the far Right! For the ex-workerist PCI spokesman Asor Rosa, the autonomists represented ‘non- privileged parasitic strata’; for Enrico Berlinguer, secretary of the PCI, nothing but ‘plague carriers’ and so on. For a major statement of the PCI positively supporting ‘democratic’ austerity at this time, see Enrico Berlinguer, Austerity, Occasione per Trasformare l’Italia (‘Austerity – An Opportunity for Transforming lta1y’), Ed. Riuniti, Rome 1977. It is sad to see that this official thesis of marginality (and the portrayal of Negri as ‘anti-workerist’) has been broadly accepted in the few reviews and comments on Negri that have appeared from English would-be critics of the PCI (for example, Alex Callinicos, Socialist Worker Review, July-August 1984; or Tobias Abse, Judging the PCI , New Left Review 153, 1985), For such commentators, the ‘marginals’ remain marginal, and the working class is a static, monolithic entity defined in narrow trade-union terms. As for how far Negri’s work ‘anticipates André Gorz’ (!) and represents ‘everyday anarchism’ (Callinicos), readers may judge for themselves.
Negri himself answered the criticism that he denied the ‘centrality of the working class’ in a lengthy interview in 1978 ‘From the Mass Worker to the Social Worker’, cited above). He also drew attention to his emphasis on the word ‘worker’ in the term he uses to define the composition of the new class subjects. This analysis of class recomposition, of the multiple subjectivities and movements for communism today, has continued to be the major focus of Negri’s work, in dialogue with French collaborators, since his exile in France post- 1983: see Negri and Guattari, New Lines of Alliance, Semiotextte), Foreign Agents Series, New York 1986. For those who read French, the issues of contemporary class analysis in Italy are discussed further by Negri and others in a recent anthology: Italic, le Philosophy et le Gendarme, VLB Editeur, Montreal 1986. (European distribution: Réplique Diffusion, 66 rue René Boulanger, 75010 Paris, France.) The questions raised in this article are further developed in Negri’s recent work Fin de Siecle; forthcoming English edition entitled Politics of Subversion, Polity Press, Cambridge 1989; and in Fabbriche del Sozgetto, XXI Secolo, Livorno 1987.
Archaeology and Project: The Mass Worker and the Social Worker
1. Functions and Limitations of the Concept of the Mass Worker
In the wake of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, the critique of Stalinism which developed within the Italian labour movement above all put into question the traditional conception of the trade union. This had become an area of key concern. In 1953, there had been a resounding defeat of the Communist union at FIAT; in the years that followed, there were equally resounding defeats in line for the farm workers’ unions and the public sector unions (railway workers, postal workers etc). The fading (or downright disappearance) of any immediate prospect of a seizure of power, and a series of confusions at the ideological level, meant that the trade unions were being undermined as the transmission belt of the system; both their organizational form and their ideological basis were thrown into crisis.
But this crisis did not affect the radicalism of the working class. There began to appear a mass form of behaviour which was spontaneous, multiform, violent, mobile and disorderly -but which, nonetheless, was able to compensate for the lack of trade union leadership in ways that were both original and powerful – and while the union leaderships stuck to a repetition of the old forms, the working class reacted in ways that were autonomous. The union would call strike action and the entire workforce would go in to work – but then, after a week, a month, maybe a year, that same working class would explode in spontaneous demonstrations. The farm workers of the South also began spontaneous struggles. However, they had been defeated in the movement to take over agricultural land; they had been sold out by the government’s agrarian reforms which condemned them to the poverty of having to work small holdings. As a result, the rural vanguards chose the path of large-scale emigration. This was a mass phenomenon – its causes and effects were complex, certainly, but its quality was political. Then things began to move: Milan in 1959, Genova in 1960, Turin in 1962, and Porto Marghera in 1963- a series of struggles which pushed to the forefront of the political scene. This succession of labour struggles involved every major sector of industry and all the major urban concentrations. They were all more or less spontaneous, mass events, and revealed a degree of general circulation of modes of struggle that had not previously been experienced, One might well ask for a definition of the spontaneity of the struggles. Because, while it is true that the struggles were in large part independent of the control and the command of the trade unions (and the unions were, sometimes, not even aware of them), at the same time, they appeared – and were – strongly structured. They revealed the existence of new working-class leaderships which were – as we used to say – ‘invisible’. In part because many people simply didn’t want to see them, But also (and mainly) because of their mass character’, because of the new mechanisms of cooperation that were coming into play in the formation of workers’ political understanding’, because of the extraordinary Ability of these new forms of struggle to circulate’, and because of the degree of understanding (understanding of the productive process) that they revealed. And whilst these new forms of struggle were at first seen by most people as ‘irrational’ in the course of their development they gradually began to reveal a coherent project and a tactical intelligence which finally began to problematise the very concept of working-class rationality – economic rationality? Socialist rationality? Rationality of the law of value? Rationality of trade union control? Rationality of law and order? Etc, etc. In effect, we could identify elements in the form that was taken by these struggles which were directly contradictory with the whole structure of trade unionist/ socialist ideology. The wage demands, and the extremes to which they went, contradicted the way in which, in traditional trade union practice, the wage had been used as a political instrument, as a means of mediation. The partisan nature (egotism) of the struggles ran heavily counter to the socialist ideology of the homogeneity of working-class interests which had prevailed up till then. The immediacy and the autonomous nature of struggles ranging from wildcat strikes to mass sabotage, their powerful negative effect on the structures of the cycle of production, ran counter to the traditional view that fixed capital is sacrosanct, and also counter to the ideology of liberation of (through) work – in which work was the subject of liberation, and Stakhanovism or high levels of professional skill the form of liberation, Finally, the intensification (whether at group or individual level) of heightened forms of mobility. of absenteeism, of socialization of the struggle, ran immediately counter to any factory-centred conception of working-class interests, of the kind that has come down to us from the workers’ councilist tradition. All this gradually uncovered, in increasingly socialized forms, an attitude of struggle against work, a desire for liberation from work – whether it be work in the big factory, with all its qualities of alienation, or work in general, as conceded to the capitalist in exchange for a wage.
The paradox of the situation was the fact that this mass spontaneity, highly structured within itself, negated in principle the very definition of spontaneity. Traditionally, spontaneity has been taken to mean a low level of working-class consciousness, a reduction of the working class to simple labour-power. Here, though, it was different. This spontaneity represented a very high level of class maturity. It was a spontaneous negation of the nature of the working class as labour power. This tendency was clearly present, and later developments were to reveal it still further. Thus anybody who wanted to analyse the new forms of struggle was going to have to be prepared to problematise the entire theoretical tradition of socialism. Within these struggles, there were new categories waiting to be discovered.
And this was what was done. In the early 1960s, on the fringes of the official labour movement, a number of working-class vanguards and a number of groups of intellectuals active within the class struggle produced a theory in which the mass worker was understood as the new subject of working-class struggles.
On the one hand, their studies identified the objective characteristics of this class-protagonist. These characteristics were determined as follows:
1) within the organization of the labour process, by Taylorism;
2) within the organization of the working day and the organisation of wage relations, by Fordism;
3) within economic/political relations, by Keynesianism;
4) within general social and state relations, by the model and the practice of the Planner-state.
On the other hand, they succeeded in defining (this was absolutely imperative) the new subjective characteristics of this new configuration of the class. These subjective characteristics were described in terms that were dynamic and highly productive. In other words, every aspect of the capitalist or animation of the factory society was to be seen as the product of a dialectic between working class struggle and capitalist development (including developments in technology; in the form of the wage; In economic policy; and in the form of the State) – the product a dialectic whose active and motion central force was the mass worker. As our old friend Marx says, machines rush to where there are strikes. All the mechanisms of capitalist control of development were brought to bear at critical points within the system. By means of a continual theft of the information generated by the struggles, capital created increasingly complex mechanisms of domination. It was within this framework that the analysis undertaken by workerism unstitched the capitalist Moloch, following the indications provided by working-class struggle. The comrades arrived at a fundamental theoretical conclusion: that, given a certain level of capitalist development, the concept of labour-power (understood as an element of the dialectical relationship between workers and capital, a relationship in which capitalist logic has the upper hand) becomes dissolved. A dialectical relationship most certainly remains, but now the relationship of capital/labour-power becomes the relationship of capital/working class. Thus the dialectic of capitalist development is dominated by the relationship with the working class. The working class now constituted an independent polarity within capitalist development. Capitalist development was now dependent on the political variable of working-class behaviours.
The concept of labour- power could no longer be substantiated;only that of working-class was adequate. I have to admit that our theoretical and political positions in this period, while very rich in some respects, were very poor in others. Their richness lay in the fact that they provided a basis from which we could then develop an entirely political concept of labour-power. We learned a lot from developments in the capitalist revolution of the 1930s and 1940s. In particular, we learned that it was possible to carry forward revolutionary struggles having a marked effect both on the structure of the labour process, and on the structure of economic and political domination – in other words, struggles that were capable of winning against Taylorism and within Keynesianism. On the other hand, the poverty of our theoretical and practical positions lay in the fact that, while individual struggles and the struggles of individual class sectors proved capable of understanding capital and taking it on, at the same time, the potential of that struggle, its strategic dimension, the re-establishment of a centre of revolutionary initiative, remained beyond our grasp. Practice, even the very highest working-class practice – at this level of the class struggle – always contains an element of uncertainty as regards its synthesis and resolution – what Lenin used to call the ‘art of insurrection’, an art which the workers, today, are seeking to turn into science. This science still had to be constructed – a science which the practice of the mass worker was demanding, but which it did not provide. In fact, capital’s science of domination was far ahead of us.At the time when we were introducing the concept of the mass worker, and, by implication, a critique of the category of labour-power in favour of a concept of the dynamism of the working class, capital, for its part, had already made tremendous advances in its own practice, as regards its theory of domination and redressing the balance of power. (Note that within the specificities and the isolation of a few national situations – Italy in particular – we were successful in developing a remarkable level of subjective action, and in bringing about moments of deep capitalist crisis.) For, while from the working-class viewpoint the revolutionary practice of the mass worker was being advanced within individual factories, and within the overall interlocked system of factories and companies, capital was already responding in overall, global and social terms – in terms of global domination and control. Keynesianism at its roots had already demonstrated this: an awareness not only that the wage relation extended between subjects that were different (capital and the working class), but also – and above all – that the solution (favourable to capitalist development) was to be sought across the entire span of production and circulation – in other words, involving the entire sociality of the relations of production and reproduction. In the Keynesian system, state budgeting was the means of recuperating and neutralizing the class struggle in the factory, and monetary policy was the means of subordinating the wage relation. Fordism, for its part, had already transformed the high level of cooperation on the assembly line (and thus corrected those elements of weakness which labour struggles, at that level of production, were able to turn against capitalist command) into a conscious policy, one might say, of the socialite of the assembly line – in other words, a policy of command over the relation between industrial production and the reproduction of labour-power, a capitalist intervention within the social flexibility of labour-power, privileging social command and divisions within society as conditions for command and division on the assembly line. Fordism recuperated social motivations and made them functional to the Taylorist organization of work -it posed them as the prime and fundamental terrain of command in the factory. Gradually, the labour market and the fabric of relations between production and reproduction was becoming an operative field (this also from the theoretical point of view) for the capitalist theory of factory command: hence the development from Keynes to Kaldor’s planning techniques, to Kalecki’s micro-analyses of the political cycle, to the present systemic theories of neo-functionalism, Faced with these developments in capital’s understanding of the articulations of command, not only was the concept of the mass worker late in developing, but also, crucially, it now proved incapable of if for itself a theory able to match the new dimensions of command. Of course, the old workerists of the ’60s knew that they had to go beyond the ’empirical’ category of the factory, and that the mass worker had to become effective over the entire span of the social factory – but the factoryist content of the concept and the circumstances of its genesis prevented its theoretical potential from becoming practical reality. Thus, in the end, this impotence of the mass worker left the way open for surreptitious operations of mediation and representation – and the whole old machinery of the party-form was wheeled out as the means whereby issues could be posed at the social, political and general level.
We should also add (and this is not only merely of historical relevance)that this was the basis whereby the trade union was able to re-establish its powers of control over the working class. This had a paradoxical consequence: the trade union accepted the delegation of power and the general functions that the working class had restored to it, and then went on to impose rules which separated, in a corporation sense, the working class from the other proletarianised strata of society. When the trade union (ie in its traditional function as half party and half merchandiser, in the sense that it both represents labourr power within the bourgeois political market, and also sells labour as a commodity on the capitalist market) finally caught up with and grasped (post-’68) the new composition of the mass worker, it only reduced it to corporation, and divided it off from the rest of social labour.
Hence it follows that a methodology such as I use, which seeks to indicate possibilities for subjective genesis within the categories of class struggle, cannot rest content with this old version of the concept of the mass worker. And indeed, the conditions for further theoretical progress on this front were plentiful, especially in the years immediately following the upheavals of 1968-69. Working-class struggles, which were extremely powerful in spite of (or perhaps because of) their ambiguity as struggles both within and against the system of the relative wage, now brought about a crisis in the mechanisms of capitalist control. The capitalist response during this period developed along two complementary lines – the social diffusion, decentralization of production, and the political isolation of the mass worker in the factory.
The only possible answer to this, from the working-class viewpoint, was to insist on and fight for the broadest definition of class unity, to modify and extend the concept of working class productive labour and to eliminate the theoretical isolation (insofar as this concept had inevitably become tied to an empirical notion of the factory – a simplified factoryism – due to the impact of the bosses’ counter-offensive, the corporation of the unions, and the historical and theoretical limitations of the concept itself). On the other hand,the emergence & growth of diffused forms of production(the ”diffuse factory”), while it enlarged the labour market enormously, also redefined as directly productive and ”working class” a whole series of functions within social labour that would otherwise be seen as marginally latent. Finally, there was a growing awareness of the interconnection between reductive labour and the labour of reproduction, which was expressed in a wide range of behaviours in social struggles, above all in the mass movements of women and youth, affirming all these activities collectively as labour. This development made necessary an innovation in the vocabulary of class concepts, As we used to put it: ‘from the mass worker to the social worker’. But it would be more correct to say: from the working class, ie that working class massified in direct production in the factory, to social labour-power, representing the potentiality of a new working class, now extended throughout the entire span of production and reproduction – a conception more adequate to the wider and more searching dimensions of capitalist control over society and social labour as a whole.
There are numerous problems which arise at this point, and I have no intention of trying to avoid them. In what follows I hope to confront at least some of them. It will suffice at this stage to introduce what I consider to be the key methodological concept – that of class composition – which will help to clarify much of my further argument. By class composition, I mean that combination of political and material characteristics – both historical and physical – which makes up: (a) on the one hand, the historically given structure of labour-power, in all its manifestations, as produced by a given level of productive forces and relations; and (b) on the other hand, the working class as a determinate level of solidification of needs and desires, as a dynamic subject, an antagonistic force, tending towards its own independent identity in historical-political terms. AlI concepts that define the working class must be framed in terms of this historical transformability of the composition of the class. This is to be understood in the general sense of its ever wider and more refined productive capacity, the ever greater abstraction and socialization of its nature, and the ever greater intensity and weight of the political challenge it presents to capital. In other words, the re-making of the working class! It is by reference to this framework and these criteria, for example, that we can qualify more precisely a term like spontaneity. The concept of composition allows us to introduce a specific, determinate quality into our theoretical definition of spontaneity; it prevents us, in other words, from falling into the trap of ideological definitions (whether political – in which case spontaneity is conceived as an indifferent category’, or econometric – in which case spontaneity is reduced to the semantic emptiness of the concept of labour-power pure and simple). The category of ‘mass worker’ must accordingly be re-assessed, in its functions and limitations, within this temporal framework of the transformations of the composition of the working class. And under today’s conditions, it seems to me that this transformation is taking place through a process of real subsumtion of labour on the part of capital, which has now reached a level that encompasses the whole of’ society. ”Hic Rhodus, hic salta.”
2. Capitalist Restructuring: From the Mass Worker to Social Labour- Power
So, let us return to the moment when the pressure of this new spontaneity (that is, the spontaneous – but, as in the paradox we have described, both structural and structured – forms of expression of the new class composition, ie of the mass worker) brings about a crisis in the means of capitalist control over the production and reproduction of commodities.
I would suggest that this moment can be located chronologically within the decade 1960-1970. In that period, strikes and struggles created an upheaval within the existing framework of development, inducing a major series of critical phenomena (crises of capitalist control), of which the following seem to be the most important:
1) The mass worker set in motion a mobility within the labour market. The subversive characteristics of this mobility appear to consist in an uncontrollable increase in the speed of flow/turnover of demands, and, at the same time, in a rigid and homogeneous escalation of those demands. If we include within our definition of the mass worker the fact that the mass worker represents a certain qualitative solidification of abstract labour (which is another way of saying a high level of subjective awareness of abstract labour), then these mobility-related phenomena reveal simply the centripetal potential of abstract labour (towards averageness, mediety) in a framework of mass production in modern capitalism. And this might be consistent with development. But instead, the forms and modes in which the mobility (subjectivity) of the mass worker expressed itself threw capitalist development out of proportion, subjected it to intolerable accelerations, and in particular confronted it with the quality of this very composition – those historical differences ‘ and divisions of sex, age, culture, etc, which were now tending towards a deeply-rooted political homogeneity. Mobility of abstract labour equals tendency for subjects and for struggles to unify.
2) On the other hand in a complementary process, the mass worker set in motion -both within individual factories and within the productive fabric of the metropolis – a downward rigidity of expectations and wage demands. This in itself (the demand for ‘parity’) became a subversive force. Drives towards egalitarianism served to reinforce this rigidity: we saw the collapse of all – or virtually all – the weaponry of division in the factory (piecework; employers’ unilateral control of timings of the labour process; internal mobility, etc) and of the hierarchy which controls the labour process and the organization of production. In this period, sackings – together with all the other various forms of exclusion and marginalisation – were powerfully contested, resisted, and in large part blocked. Furthermore, the overall rigidity of the class brought about a reduction in effective labour time; it also provided defence and back-up for individual experiences of resistance to work, or refusal of work. The wage struggle, in both its qualitative and quantitative aspects, became a powerful independent variable of development: a kind of economic-political dual power which came into existence. In some instances we find this registered in factory legislation – most notably in Italy, for example). Rigidity of abstract labour equals qualitative consolidation of the above-mentioned unification of subjects and of struggles.
3) Thirdly, the social mobility and the political/wage rigidity of the social worker was also articulated within the sphere of circulation. But, for the mass worker, circulation means a radical change in the relation between daily work-time and non-worked time. We were not yet at the point where the latter had hegemony over the former. However, this was a phase in which the social relation of production (the relation between production and reproduction) was an area of powerful contestation. Without succeeding in fully controlling and carrying through this leap in the class struggle, the mass worker nevertheless spread the infection of his subjective behaviour into the fabric of proletarian society. First – just to take one example – although opt yet at the point of directly contesting the ‘oedipal wage’ (in other words, . the wage paid for the male worker’s domination over his family), the mass worker nonetheless induced an awareness of the urgent need for . new wage forms in the management and development of the social sphere – new wage forms likely to have a decisive and dissolving effect on the unified family wage, and to liberate new labour power at an extremely high level of needs. The mass worker was an active factor in the circulation of working-class objectives, and in propagating the equality implicit in abstract labour. As such, the mass worker induced subversive effects within society which tended to ne ate the division between reductive and reproductive labour, and also to alter the established proportion between them. The circulation of the forms of behaviour of the mass worker was an extension of the unification of the subjects and of the struggles.
4) Finally, we have to stress that it is only by moving to a political expression that the series of subversive conditions implicit in the existence of the mass worker could be further advanced. The concept of the mass worker had an existence that was purely relative’, the fact that s/he was the point of a class evolution which had not yet been fully realized, often permitted the surreptitious reintroduction of old political concepts and practices, such as the notion of vanguard and mass, and thus permitted the re-emergence of party representation and the mirroring of past forms. This political inadequacy results from, precisely, the social indeterminateness of the figure of the mass Worker. We should never underestimate this limitation, but if we look beyond it, we can see that a framework of new values was beginning to take shape – ideas of freedom to match the fact of mobility; ideas of community, as an aspect of the rigidity mentioned above; ideas of new life and universality, as a synthesis of people’s relation to reproduction and liberated time. This framework of new values was incipient, was still dawning, but was nonetheless efficacious, because it existed at a mass level.
At this point, the capitalist crisis in the management of this labour power, with all its strength and richness, became decisive. Capital goes into crisis every time that labour-power transmutes to become working class – by working class I mean a level of composition incompatible with command, at a given historical levelled maturity of the productive forces. (lt is evident that consciousness cannot be defined outside of this relation; so that it is possible to find extremely high levels of consciousness which remain totally ineffective, and, on the other hand, spontaneous levels of consciousness which are powerfully effective in revolutionary terms). As I say, every-time that labour power effects a revolutionary transformation in its composition and becomes working class, at that point capital enters relations of crisis, and has only one weapon with which to respond:An attempt to alter and tramsform class composition. In other words, for capital, restructuring is a political, economic and technological mechanism aimed at the enforced reduction of the working class to labour-power. To put it more correctly: capital aims to reduce the intensity of the political composition of the class. At this point, the problem becomes specific again. How did capital respond to the crisis in relations of production that was induced by the class offensive of the mass worker? How was restructuration articulated at this level of political composition of the class and its struggles? What happened after the 1960s? , It is not hard to identify and describe some major elements of the capitalist response. [Obviously, the notes that follow are very partial and indicative. They limit themselves to questions of class relations in the sphere of production, To deal adequately with the restructuring of labour power, we would really have to consider two fundamental shifts in imperialist development in the early 1970s – the freeing of the dollar from gold parity (1971) and the energy crisis of 1973-74. There is no space to deal with them here, and so the argument, as well as being partial and indicative, is frankly insufficient. However, I would ask you to trust the author and believe me when I say that I have given a lot of thought to these other fundamental determinations of the overall framework. These, in my opinion, are not contradictory with the phenomena which are now studied at the level of production and reproduction. Rather, they present an overdetermination, an extension and a deepening of the logic which lies at the root of these phenomena.]
So, let’s return to our initial question, to the analysts of the groundwork of capitalist restructuring. Let’s begin by looking at mobility. In my opinion, as regards mobility, capital was already taking into account developments within the composition of the mass worker, and was in fact acting on their tendency to become realized, in order to throw the working class back to the position of being labour-power. While the composition of the mass worker from the 1960s onwards tended – via mobility – towards a unification in general of potential abstract labour, capital’s restructuration project effectively grasps the social tendency towards abstract labour. It is against this abstract labour that capital exercises its capacity to repress, to fragment and to introduce hierarchical division. Capital does not mobilize against abstract labour and the social dimension which it assumes, but against the political unification which takes place at this level. Capital assumes subsumption of labour (abstraction and socialisation) as a process that has been realized. Experiments in job-design, segmentation of the labour market, policies of regrading, reforms of methodologies of command within production cooperation, etc – all this became fundamental. A restless, practical process of trial and error was now set in motion, aimed at destroying any possibility of proletarian unification. If we understand mobility as a tendency towards freedom, as a definition of time which is alternative to commanded time within the classic working day – and if we assume that from now on, in a parallel movement, it becomes impossible for capital to establish any fixed ‘reserve army’ of labour – then we understand why, in political and economic terms, it is so urgent for capital somehow to fix this labour- power (the first, spontaneous and structural manifestation of an abstract labour that has become subjectively realised) within mobility and via mobility.On the other hand,the class struggles within and against capitals’s system.On the other,capital struggles within and against the new composition:within its mobility,its socialisation,its abstraction and against the subjective attitudes which these elements engender. All manpower and job-design interventions are to be understood as policies which learn from the progress of abstract labour towards its social unification: they intervene in order to stop further development of its subversive potential.
Capital’s reaction against the rigidity evident within the composition of the mass worker was even more rigorous. This is because in this area mystification is harder to achieve, Policies aimed at segmenting the labour market (which are posed as ‘positive” as against the ‘negative’ of mobility of abstract labour) tend to produce a galvanization of the labour market, and above all, important new effects of marginalisation. Marginalisation in the form of political blackmail repression and degeneration of values – much more than the familiar blackmail of poverty. l have said that the rigidity in the forms of behaviour of the mass worker (particularly on the wages front) expressed an essence that was qualitative – a complex of needs which became consolidated as power. Capital’s problem was how to defuse this power, quantitatively and qualitatively.
Thus, on the one hand, we have seen the promotion of various forms of diffuse labour – ie the conscious shifting of productive functions not tied to extremely high degrees of organic composition of capital, towards the peripheries of metropolitan areas: this is the quantitative response, of scale and size. (The scale of this project is multinational, and should be understood against the backdrop of the energy crisis). On the other hand, capital has attacked the problem of qualitative rigidity, and has planned for one of two solutions:-it must be either corpratised or ghettoised This means a sytem of wage hierarchies, based on either simulated participation in development and/or on regimentation within development, and, on the other hand, marginalisation and isolation. On this terrain – a terrain which the experience of the struggles of the mass workers had revealed as strongly characterized by political values – capitalism’s action of restructuration has often made direct use of legal instruments. It has regarded the boundary between legality and extra- legality in working-class behaviours as a question subordinate to the overall restoration of social hierarchy. Not even this is new – as we know, it has always been the case – and Marx, in his analysis of the working day, makes the point several times. Law and the regulation of the working day are linked by a substantial umbilical cord. If the organization of the working day is socially diffuse, then sanctions, penalties, fines etc will be entrusted to the competence of penal law. Capital also acted against the way in which the mass worker had made use of circulation – in other words, of the increasingly tight links between production and reproduction. Restructuration once again adopted the method of displacement – in other words, capital takes as given/realised the tendency set in motion working class struggles: it subsumes its behaviours (i.e the awareness of the circularity between production time and reproduction time) and begins working on how to control this situation. The ‘welfare state’ is the principal level geared to synchronizes this relationship.The benefits of the welfare state are the fruit of struggles, are counter-power. But the specific application of restructuration aims to use welfare in order to control, to articulate command via budgetary manoeuvrings. ‘Public spending cuts’ are not a negation of the welfare state’, rather, they reorganize it in terms of productivity and/or repression. lf subsequently proletarian action within this network of control continues to produce breakdown, and to introduce blockages and disproportions, then capital’s insistence on control reaches fever-pitch. The transition to the internal warfare state represents the corresponding overdetermination of the crisis of the welfare state. But it is important to stress once again capital’s capacity for displacement. The restructuring which has followed the impact of the mass worker’s struggles and the tendencies which the mass worker has instilled within the general framework of class power relations, is geared to match a labour-power which exists as completely socialised-whether it exists or potentially exists is not important. Capital is forced into anticipation. However, marginalisation is as far as capital can go in excluding people from the circuits of production – expulsion is impossible. Isolation within the circuit of production – this is the most that capital’s action of restructuration can hope to achieve. It does not succeed in bringing about a restoration of the status quo, and in the struggle against the mass worker it is likely to assist in the even more compact formation of a completely socialized labour-power. There is much craftiness of proletarian reasoning in all this!
Things become even clearer when we come to the fourth area in which capital’s activity of restructuration has to prove itself and be proven. In other words, the terrain of politics. Here, every attempt at mystification – this seems to me the most interesting aspect – is forced to assume the complete socialization of labour-power as normal, as a fact of life – a necessary precondition of any action against the proletarian antagonism. In other words – as many writers now accept – the only remote possibility of mystifying (mystifying, controlling, commanding etc) struggles is conditional on an advancement of the terms in which the problem is considered: in other words, an approach to the problem at the level of policies of capitalist command which see its enemy subject in proletarian society as a whole. Capital relates to the phase of real subfunction as antagonism at the highest level. Capitalist analyses of command move from this awareness to develop two possible lines of approach.The first, which I would call empirical, regards social labour- power as a purely economic subject, and therefore locates the necessary control-oriented manoeuvrings within a continuous trial and error process of redistribution and reallocation of income – eg consumerism objectives, inflationary measures, etc. The other, which I call systemic, is more refined. This assumes that the empirical policies pursued thus far have resolved nothing. Thus the only way of ensuring the effective exercise of command, with an ongoing reduction of the complexity of class conflict, is to maintain command over systemic information and circulation’, to maintain a pre-ordered mechanism of planning and balancing inputs and outputs. At this level, capital’s science and practice of command reveal themselves as a set of techniques for analysing the social sphere – and as an undoubtedly involuntary recognition of the immediate socialite, structure and density of labour-power.
I consider it important to understand these fundamental changes and to highlight their conceptual character. Thus I define restructuration as a parenthesis within the evolving process if the composition of the working class. Obviously, this is a necessary parenthesis: the interaction of productive forces (capital and the working class) is in no sense illusory. But at the same time, we should stress that within this process, the motor force of working-class struggles is fundamental, as is the intensity of their composition, and the emergence of abstract labour as a social quality and as a unifying factor within production (and reproduction). As we used to say: capital’s great function is to create the conditions for its own destruction. This is still the case. Thus we must recognise that in the restructuring process currently under way, these critical conditions of capitalist development are still respected. Obviously, such a recognition is possible only if our theory is up to it. And one of the fundamentals of adequate theory is to have a concept of labour power which is not conceptually indiscriminate, but which is historically and politically pregnant, is continually and materially in tune with class consciousness – in other words, with degrees of struggle and of capacity to effect change which come increasingly close do the classic concept of proletariat. However, I feel it is still necessary to live through that ambiguity of production and the relations of production, and the way they are always being newly determined.
3. Towards a Critique of the Political Economy of the Mass Worker, from Social Labour Power to the Social Worker
So, our project is to resolve this fundamental ambiguity in the relationship that labour-power (whether posed as individual commodity or as socialized abstract labour) has with class consciousness and with capital. In other words, at this point we have to ask ourselves whether the linear mechanism of Marx’s analysis, which locates the socialization and the abstraction of labour within the process of real sublimation of labour under capital, is not perhaps incorrect. The process of real sublimation, in Marx, concludes in a real and proper Aufhebung: the antagonism is transcended via an image of communism which is the necessary outcome of the dialectical process developed up to that point. In the more banal of the socialist vulgates, the Aufhebung – whose schema, in Marx, is conceptual, structural and synchronic – becomes diachronic, utopian and eschatological. To further clarify this point, I shall spell out my thesis: at the level if real subsumption (ie at the level of the complete socialization and abstraction of all the productive and reproductive segments of labour) , we are dealing not with linearity-and catastrophe but with separation and antagonism. It seems to me that proof of this theory is to be sought first and foremost from empirical analysis (historical, sociological and political) of the movements of the working class. In other words, from considering the characteristics of labour-power when posed as social labour-power.
Concretely, our argument could proceed from examination of a familiar historical conjuncture: if, as sole authors have done, we construct historical charts mapping developments in the quality of work, then we can see how the entire direction of capitalist development is towards the destruction of skilled labour (of specific ‘skill’), reducing it to abstract labour (the multilateral ‘job’). The socialization of educational processes (schooling, skill training, apprenticeships etc) goes hand in hand with the process of the abstraction of labour, within a historical series of episodes which span the entire period since the Industrial Revolution. Within this time-span, the tendency is progressive and broadly balanced, beginning from the 18th century, and moving through to the 1920s-1930s: but at this point a break takes place in the balanced continuity of the historical series.The collapse of ‘skilled work’ can be located precisely in the period between the two big imperialist wars – ie in the 1920s and 1930s. This resulted in the hegemony, as from that period, of the semi-skilled worker, the ouvrier specialist (O.S.) – in other words, what we call the mass worker. But it also turns out that this hegemony is transitory, because the mass worker is in fact just first figure in the ‘collapse’ of the balanced relationship between ‘skill’ and ‘job’; the mass worker is the first moment of an extraordinary acceleration towards a complete abstraction of labour- power. The mass worker, the semi-skilled worker (whatever his subjective consciousness) is not so much the final figure of the skilled worker, but rather the first impetuous prefiguration of the completely socialized worker.
This premise has a number of important consequences. Without losing ourselves in casuistry, it is worth highlighting just one consequence, which seems fundamental in characterizing a critique of the political economy of the mass worker. As follows: if ‘skill’ collapses into an indifferent element; if the division of labour as we know it (based on vertical scales of relative intensity and of structural quality) dissolves’, if , in other words, every theory of inhuman capital” (ie the self- investment of labour-power) reveals itself to be not only a mystification of a reality which is both exploited and subjected to command, but also pure and simple fantasizing apologetics’, if , as I say, all this is given. it does nothing to remove the fact that capital still needs to exercise command by having and maintaining a differentiated and functional structuring of labour power to match the requirements of the labour process (whether this be individual or social).
In the previous section, we noted some o the basic characteristics of capitalist restructuring in the transition from the mass worker to socialized labour-power. We can grasp the theoretical kernel of the matter by returning to them for a moment. As I said, once there is a lapsing of such vertical differentiations as between ‘skill”and (job’ then collective capital (and State command) tend to advance new differentiations on the horizontal terrain of command, over the labour market, over the social mobility of labour power. In relation to relatively advanced capitalism this is familiar territory: it is the terrain of new industrial feudalism (what we would call corporatism). From within this particular balance of forces, there proliferates a host of theories about the division of labour-power: the debate as to whether labour-power is primary, secondary or tertiary’, whether it is ‘central’ or ‘peripheral’ etc. What is the substance of the problem? Social labour-power is understood as mobility, and it is as such that it is to be regulated. [A short aside: In this regard, all static theories about industrial reserve armies – and similar nineteenth century archaeological constructs – as well as needing to be politically rejected by us, are obviously logically untenable.]
But let me be more precise about what l mean when I say that social labour-power is understood as mobility. I mean that labour-power is understood as social, mobile and subjectively capable of identity. I mean that capital understands as a present reality what, for the mass worker, weighed down by the contradictions implicit in his own social gestation, was present purely as tendency. And above all I mean a substantial modification in the level at which we consider the problem.
Mobility is time, flow and circulation within time. Marxism bases its categories on the time-measure of the working day.In certain well- known Marxist texts, the convention of time-measure becomes so solid and unquestioned as to postulate as its base a working day that is ‘normal’. Now, in our present situation, of all this there remains no trace. The time of social labour-power is a working day so extended as not only to comprise within itself the relation between production time and reproduction time, as a single whole, but also and above all to extend the consideration of time over the entire life-space of the labour market. From the working day to the labour market, from working hours to the mobility of labour – this transition means countermoving two opposing conceptions of time: the capitalist conception of time-measure, and the conception of working-class freedom over the temporal span of life. The capitalist operation of reducing life-time to abstract labour time- measure becomes an operation which is absolutely antagonistic. In its conception of time and of development, it reveals a substantial dissymmetry with proletarian life, with the very existence of social labour-power. Here we can say that the dissymmetry of command in general (the dissymmetry revealed by theories of the state) and in particular the dissymmetry which regulates the categories of exploitation, become dislocated and reshaped in the face of the long and social time of proletarian existence.
In arguing my case, i want to stress this point. The reason is clear.If it is true that the terms of exploitation are now relocated on the social terrain, and if, within this social terrain, it is no longer possible to reduce quantity and quality of exploitation, absolute surplus value and relative surplus value, to the time-measure of a ‘normal’ working day – then the proletarian subject is reborn in antagonistic terms, around a radical alternative, an alternative of life-time as against the time-measure of capittal. But even if we limit our arguments to a critique of the political economy of the mass worker, we are still able to achieve positive results on this question. Namely that the ambiguous concept of the mass worker here reveals its structural indeterminacy and instability: its ambiguity is that between a system of domination still internalized by the mass worker (capital’s time-measure) and a perspective of work which is calculated and envisaged over the time of an entire life. The mass worker is still prey to ideology – his memory is of slavery, while his actions speak of freedom. The capitalist restructuration which anticipates and out manoeuvres the struggles of the mass worker by introducing the dimension of social labour-power, at this point arrives at a definitive contradiction, inasmuch as any transcendence of the mass worker has to be not a reproduction and reformulation of domination over socialized labour-power, but a resolution of the contradictory tensions within the figure of the mass worker, and the structural realization of the antagonism in a new form.
The social worker. Let us define the way the antagonism has besom subjectivised at this level, and call socialized labour-power ‘the social worker’. In this way, we are clearly introducing a specific methodological difference – in any event a position which differs from those developed in earlier phases of the theory of the mass worker and in the methodology which was considered adequate for the maturation of that theory. The specificity and the difference lie in the quality of the antagonism which appears at this point. In other words, this abstract, social and mobile labour-power – to the extent that it subjectivises itself around its own concept of time, and a temporal constitution of its own (which are irreducible to the time measurement of capitalist command) – brings about an irreducible antagonism. That is, irreducible not only to labour power conceived as variable capital, and to the theoretical dialectic of value – all of which is perfectly obvious – but also and above all an irreducible antagonism to the far more refined dialectic of composition/restructuration/recomposition which, from a class point of view, had been developed as a portrayal integral to the historical experience of the mass worker. In reality, this portrayal, in its further versions, maintained a concept of the working day which was modelled on the capitalist conception of time-measure. But when the whole of life becomes production, capitalist time measures only that which it directly commands. And socialized labour-power tends to unloose itself from command, insofar as it proposes a life-alternative – and thus projects a different time for its own existence, both in the present and in the future. When all life-time becomes production-time, who measures whom? The two conceptions of time and life come into direct conflict in a separation which becomes increasingly deep and rigidly structured. But we shall come to all this in the next section.
Let’s now return to our critique of the political economy of the mass worker. At the cost of repeating myself, l must stress once again both the importance and the ambiguity of that category. Its importance lies in the fact that, with the historical emergence of the mass worker, the concept of labour-power removes itself definitively from the theory- imposed destiny of being a component – albeit variable – of capital. But in the act of revealing itself as an independent variable (and clashing with a capitalist restructuration which relentlessly tracks, adjusts and recomposes the struggles), the constitutive activity of the mass worker – even though it is moving within a situation of a complete socialization of production – failed to reach a sufficient degree of maturity. This brought about powerful ambiguities, and alloy in the 1970s, a degree of political retrogression: a corporation of certain strata of the mass worker, new divisions within the class, etc. But this is the point where the character of the social worker emerges as a new force, and as a subjective qualification of social labour power. The social worker completed and concluded the dynamic which existed within the mass worker as a tendency, and transformed the independent variable into independence tout court. This antagonism develops at a pace dictated by the rhythms of the real sublimation which capital puts into operation in relation to social labour. As real sublimation advances, so the social worker is brought into existence, as irresolvable antagonism. Antagonism as regards conceptions of life, the liberation of time, and thus in bringing about spatial-temporal conditions which are wholly alternative. A sort of ‘a priori’ of liberation.
But before I resume this line of argument, allow me to point out an apparent paradox in the theory – which in this case turns out to be a function of mystification. In the so-called post-modern (or ‘post- capitalist’) conceptions which are so current in political debate today, the process of subsumption is conceived in terms of linearity and catastrophe. In some instances, these terms can also be found in Marx – and in far more developed form, and sometimes completely explicitly, in the socialist vulgate. Subsumption is given as a system, as labour-power realized within capital’s social domination, as a levelling-off of the antagonism – and therefore the antagonism is conceived as a utopian and catastrophist alternative. Such positions are fairly widespread, and sometimes also include exponents of the mass-worker theory. In these workerist theories which are flirting with theories of post-modernism (stressing tendency and objectivity, and eliminating antagonism and subjectivity), some would say that workerism is committing hari kiri. The paradox, and at the same time the mystification, consists in the fact that here Marx’s thinking (and the considerable tensions which run through it, right up to the point where he defines real sublimation, whether in the Unpublished Sixth Chapter, or, a good while previously, in the Fragment on Machinery in the Grundrisse – texts which must be seen as complementary) appears to be respected, whereas in fact it is deeply and irreparably misrepresented. In fact, the focus in Marx is always the actuality and the determinacy of the antagonism. It is indeed true that the theoretical tendency of capital, which Marx also describes (but only episodically: and, as I have said, in terms rather subordinated to the antagonistic spirit of his overall argument), on occasion accepts this criticism, and fights shy of the more banal mystifications. Nevertheless, when pushed to the limit, the most we can get from this conception of the antagonism is to see it in an exogenous form: catastrophe. But our task, in going beyond Marx, is to grasp the antagonism in its endogenous form, also at the level of real sublimation. By this I mean that: real sublimation of labour is a form of the crisis of capital. Understanding real sublimation of labour as crisis is one of the discoveries in store for communism as it goes ‘beyond Marx’. But this is not enough.In our rejection of post-modern ideologies (without, of course, denying their analytical efficacity), we also retrieve another element of the theoretical history of our Italian movement since the 1960s. Namely: while the ambiguous theory and methodology of the mass worker implied a dialectic of value which today the social worker rejects, there was also articulated therein an inherent practical activity of subversion, a self-valorising independence(autonomy) ,which now the social worker lives as his own dignity and essence. Massimo Cacclari, [trans: PCI member since 1969] the philosopher of Krisis cries:
Where there is crisis, there is no dialectic. Crisis is not a form of the dialectic. Or, rather, crisis can only be dialecticised in the form of its transcendence – an Aufhebung”. (M. Cacciari, Krisis, Feltrinelli, Milano 1978)
No, replies the social worker, here there can be no Aufhebung, because here the confrontation is between subjects which are different.
In moving from formal subsumption to real sublimation, capital overcomes obstacles, lives the continual reduction of the working class to labour- power in terms of a continuous, long-term and progressive socialization of labour – in terms of a transition between class compositions at increasingly high levels of intensity and potential. Once subsumption is completely realized, the only possible development ia a transition from socialized labour-power to the social worker, to the new class subject. The tradition and theory of the mass worker can still be of help in stimulating us towards this new definition.
4. A Political Conception of Labour Power: the Proletariat. Some Problems
Having reached this point, we can now attempt a summary of some basic methodological assumptions which should help us to reach a partial conclusion, and to pose new problems. To start with, I regard as logically untenable any theory of labour power as a logical construct, an ambiguous and volatile essence, caught in a dichotomy between a tendency to become variable capital (the variable part of organic capital) and a tendency to become working class (ie a receptacle for consciousness which derives from the outside, the substance of a new Aristotelian synolus). This instrumental and pure- logic definition of labour power, which is both abstract and open to manipulation, has, historically speaking, been progressively negated through (if I may simplify) at least three concomitant processes. -The first process is the advance in the organic composition of capital which, as it internalizes massively labour-power’s relation to the structure of capital, at the same time eliminates from it all measure of proportionality, in terms of the relationship between the work done by the individual worker and the level of productivity achieved.Labour- power as presented within the labour market as a multiplicity of individual labour powers can now only be concieved of as a totally marginal phenomenon.
The second process, which takes the development of the organic composition of capital beyond the scope of the single firm, and which goes beyond its phenomenological appearance to see it in terms of the realization of the subsumption official labour within collective capital, has shown labour-power to be a social entity. That which is marginalised in individual terms becomes transformed, at the social level, into mobility, into an equivalence of abstract labour, into a global potentiality which has within it that generalized social knowledge which is now an essential condition of production.
The third process, concomitant with those of individual marginalisation and collective socialization, has brought about a conjunction between (a) the refusal of labour-power to make itself available as a commodity (I see this as the effect of individual marginalisation and the collapse of any relationship between ‘job’ and ‘skill’) and (b) the socialization of this mode of class behaviour, l designate this as a ‘third’ process, and I consider it both innovative and conceptually very rich, since the coming together of individual marginalisation with collective socialization is no simple process of addition. Rather it is a historical process which both combines material elements and becomes at the same time subjectivised; this in the sense that historical experience becomes transformed into irreversible qualities, into a second nature. Through the genesis of this process, new subjective forces make their appearance. As a result of these processes, it should now be clear that labour- power, at this level of subsumption of social labour by capital, so far from presenting itself as an intermediate entity, suspended between being a function of variable capital and becoming working class, now presents itself as a social subject: a subject that has internalized at the social level its refusal to be a commodity.
At the political and social level, this subject presents a complete materialization of consciousness within the structures of its own ‘existence. Class consciousness, in other words, comes neither from outside nor from afar: it must be seen As completely internal to, a fact, a thing, of class composition. The concept of class composition, which was developed originally through the analysis of the mass worker – as a means of classifying changes in the nature of labour-power, and as a critique of purely logical and econometric characterizations of these changes, can now be updated as a historico-political, subjective, social definition of labour-power. In view of this, we can appreciate the importance of the theoretical current that developed through the analysis of the mass worker, and above all we can appreciate how the specific antagonistic subjectivity of this class protagonist contributed, through its struggles, to go beyond and overcome the limitations of the original theoretical conception. It seems to me that the mythical term proletariat has been given a historical dimension and has become founded as a specific material reality through the development of this theoretical approach.
Major consequences derive from all this. First, a demystification of a number of concepts and practices existing within the traditions of the labour movement. Second, in my opinion, important consequences (and, more particularly, problems) arise at the strictly theoretical level – in other words, relating to our conceptions of work and communism. Third – and not to be underestimated in their importance – we also find indications for method.
Let’s take the first point. This social labour-power which exists as a political reality, this social worker, this proletariat, embraces within itself so many dimensions, both intensive and extensive, as to render many categories obsolete. In other words, proletarian antagonism (within real subsumption) poses itself on the one hand (intensively) as an irreversibility of the given levelly needs that has been arrived at, and, on the other hand, (extensively) as a potentiality of action, as a capacity to extend its action across the entire span of the working day. If we want a tighter conceptual definition, we mightily that this socialized labour- power not only (a) dissolves any possibility for capitalism to consider it as a commodity, as the variable component of capitalist command for exploitation, but also (b) denies capitalism any possibility of transforming necessary labour into the wagee and transforming surplus value (absolute or relative) into profit. Clearly, profit and the wage continue to exist, but they exist only as quantities regulated by a relation of power – a relation of forces which no longer admits the threefold partition of the working day into necessary labour time, surplus labour time, and free time or reproduction-time. We now have a labour-power which is both social and subjective, which recognises the value-partition of the working day only as a system of command which capital may or may not succeed in imposing over and against the continuous flow of labour-power within the working day. The conditions for the extraction of surplus value now exist only in the fonts of a general social relation. Profit and the wage become forms of the division of a value content which no longer relates to any specific mechanisms of exploitation, other than the specific asymmetry of the relationship of command within society. Capital has the form and substance of profit, as an average, a mediacy of command’, labour-power has the form and the substance of the wage: but in no way can a ‘natural rate’ be said to exist between the two of them. In other words, the mechanism of transformation and mediation which characterizes the Marxian genesis of these concepts has now reached its point of fullest maturity. Exploitation consists in command. It is violence against the antagonism of sociaI subjects that are fighting for liberation.
As a consequence, the marketing of labour-power is no longer an undertaking for minions and sycophants: if anything, the marketing of labour-power today has become a totally political operation. This consists in extending Marx’s “war” between capitalism’s tendency towards the limitless working day and the tendency of the proletariat to limit (to nil, if possible) the provision of labour-power, and transforming that ‘war’ into formalized and viable political procedures which extend from the concrete labour process (within production and reproduction) to the overall scenario of the organization of command – ie to political and state forms of the management of the economy, management of the labour market, of public spending, etc, etc. Only in this political dimension can success or failure in the marketing of labour-power now be gauged.
All of which is another way of saying that at our given level of development, the old dialectic of labour-power within/against capital (la dialectics dellaforza Iavoro) is now played out, has become obsolete, is only of archaeological interest. lf there exists any real negotiation or bargaining, this can no longer be encompassed by trade union forms of bargaining, or other such antique practices. In other words, dualism- of power is now the norm. The working day can only be described in terms of an active dualism of power, wherein the old dialectic of unity, transcendence and equilibrium is obsolete. In making this point, l need only refer, by way of example, to the inadequacy of the most normal, everyday and (as it often seems) obvious institutional form of the traditional labour movement – the trade union.
Far more dangerous, as regards potential mystification of our own (rediscovered and reconstructed) concept of the proletariat, are those ideologies which take labour-power as a material that can be led to class consciousness (although they are also more ineffective, given the historical experience of ‘realised Socialism’ in the East). To turn labour-power into what? To transmute exploited labour into liberated labour, via the magic wand of a mystical ‘political consciousness’, in other words of its vanguard representatives. What has changed in reality? Nothing – only words. The dialectic of labour functions here perfectly. The word ‘labour’ replaces the word capital : the system remains the same. The working day is not touched. Time-measure continues to be the regulative function of command and of partition/division. No – the new (and even the old?) concept of the proletariat really cannot accept these mystifications. The truth is that, from the proletarian point of view, the process of real subsumption brings about such a massive intensification of the composition of the working class, and such an extension of its potentiality, as to eliminate any dualism between being-and consciousness, any isolation of single aspects within it. The proletariat acts directly over the entire span of the social working day. Production and reproduction are now in parallel and on equal terms, the spheres of action proper to and adequate to the reality of labour-power. Consciousness is an attribute, entirely within and of its material structure.
And now let’s look at work, labour. Here we come to the second set of consequences deriving from our political concept of socialized labour- power, of composition (ie of the social worker). Labour is the essence of capital. It always has been so. It is also the essence of man, inasmuch as man is productive activity. But capital is real – while human essence is only a dream. The only human essence of labour which a approximates to the conctretness of capital is the refusal of work. Or, rather, that kind of productivity which, for capital, is purely negative – because while it represents a sine qua non of production, capital nonetheless tends to reduce it, and, precisely insofar as it is an essence of human nature, to eliminate it from production. Human labour, when posed as proletarian reality, is a negative element in capitalist production. Of course, it is true to say that only labour produces. But it is also true that bosses are only happy with production when the labour within it is totally under command: command is sadistic, it requires the presence of human labour, but only in order, then, to deny it, to nullify it. This process has functioned in the past, as the classic steely scourge of capitalist domination – until and unless labour-power presents itself as a social subject. In other words, we have here, within the intensity and extension of the composition of the proletarian subject, a negative form of labour, which has such broad dimensions and is so articulated as to render problematical its very definition as ‘negative’. We often refer to it as ‘alternative’ ‘self-valorising’ etc. But I prefer to continue calling it ‘negative labour’, not in order to flirt with the language of crisis, but simply because I do not yet feel the strength to be able to call it liberated work (ie work that is wholly positive). It is difficult to describe any work as ‘positive’ so long as it is contained within capital, such is the quantity of death and pain that it bears within it. For us to call working-class and proletarian work ‘positive’ and socially useful, we would have to be capable – the proletarian subject in its overall complexity would have to be capable of the statement in prefigurative terms of its alternative form of production. We would require a vision of how its own productive potential could unfold. (Only certain sectors of the proletariat within the area of reproduction – the feminist movement chief among them – have so far proved capable of producing a positive image of forms of work that could be proletarian, alternative and revolutionary. But the fact that we cannot spell it out does not necessarily mean that it does not exist. It exists as a murmuring among the proletariat. Negative work, amid the whispers of everyday life and the noise and shouting of the struggle, is beginning to gain a general form of expression. What I think needs stressing particularly is the material character of negative work, its institutionality. concept of proletariat is becoming an institutional reality. A practical emergence – not lifeless, but living. A different conception of time. A universality held within that second nature, entirely factitious (in etymological terms: velum ipsum factum ). An institutionalism, thus, which seeks order and a systematization of its own values. The levels, the spaces of this experience are truly thousand-fold. But they all have a centripetal impulse which increases according to the extent of their liberty, their expansively. If we are to translate the word ‘communism’ into present- day language, then perhaps it means reinforcing and solidifying this proletarian institutionalism and developing its potential contents.
However, for the moment, we still require a long period of clarification, of study, and of specific struggles. The method remains tactical. Methodological consequences derive from our definition of the proletarian subject as antagonism within realised subsumption – and they derive, above all, from our understanding of the various aspects of the transition from mass worker to socialized labour-power, to the social worker. Within this transition, simultaneously with the breakdown of the regulatory principles of capitalist development (the market; value’, the division between production and reproduction etc), there also unfolds the impossibility of any homogeneous/unified determination not only of the overall design of development, but also – and particularly – of its categories, its norms. When the concept of labour-power is realized within a socialized and subjectivity class composition – and this, precisely, takes place at the highest point of unity from capital’s viewpoint (real subsumption) – then all the established terms of scientific argument break down. They become blocked, definitively non-recuperable for the old dialectical logic of unity and transcendence. The only way that any scientific category, whether in logic or in ethics, in politics or in political economy, can constitute itself as a norm, is as a negotiated settlement: a formalization and balancing of opposing forces’, in the human sciences, as a moment of voluntary agreement. It is clear that none of what defined the old conception of scientific norms is present here. What we have instead, exclusively, is the logical results brought about by the development of class composition – subsumption’to capital realized in the form of permanent crisis. What we are presented with is the positive emergence of negative labour as an institutionalized counter-power acting against work that is subsumed within capital. While labour subsumed within capital corresponded to a logic of unity, of command, and its transcendence, negative labour produces instead a logic based on separateness a logic that operates entirely within, is endogenous to, that separateness. The institutionalized forms now assumed by labour-power as a separate entity also represent its de- institutionalisation in relation to the present framework of economy and politics, to capital and the state. This relation is precisely a negative one, and inasmuch as negative labour has the power and possibility of imposing it on the system, the only unifying logic that remains is one of duality, two-sidedness: a logic that is ephemeral, that is reduced to mere semblance. In reality, it can only represent a moment in a historical phase of crisis, in which the point of reference for all rationality or intelligibility is being rapidly shifted towards a fully socialized labour- power, the new class subject, the ‘social worker’. So, we have covered, in outline, some aspects of the formation of labour-power into a social subject. A very rich phenomenology could be provided for this transformation, starting from the mass worker and the history of the mass worker’s struggles. I think that such an account would confirm the theoretical and methodological assumptions I have outlined here.
In conclusion, however, I would stress that so far this is only a half- way stage in the analysis. For, if it is true that every scientific category concerning the relation of capital can now only be understood within a dualistic matrix, then a further logical problem is posed: the question of the multiplicity and mobility of the forms of this transformation of the class subject, and how this multiversity can be grasped within a mature political concept of labour-power. In other words, how we can develop a theory of the new institutionalism of the proletariat in its multiple matrices. But this will have to wait for another occasion.