Interview with Alisa Del Re – 26th July 2000
What was the course of your cultural and political development? Have there been important people and points of reference in the course of your development?
During the 60’s I studied Political Science here in Padua. In ’67 I strongly challenged Toni Negri, who was so enthusiastic about being challenged that in 1968, as soon as I graduated, he took me under his wing first as a funded postgraduate, then as research assistant. My cultural points of reference touched upon a wider range of issues than those of operaismo in the strict sense, though my political development took place mainly in Marghera and outside of the students’ movement, in the sense that, not knowing anything about the capital-labour relation, I was dragged out of the factories, like many others at the time, and through the method of workers’ enquiry that I always appreciated – which is why I like your work too – I managed to understand the exploitative relations I had previously ignored. I think I read certain books only later: to give you an idea of my path, I first read Tronti, then Capital, and finally the Grundrisse. Thus, I think that the most important point of reference, to be honest, was this environment that made you understand things, this collectivism that moved as one in the whole of Italy, because I immediately started going from meeting to conference with the comrades of Potere Operaio, Guido Bianchini, Luciano, Toni. It was unthinkable not to try to understand, I mean, there was so much intellectual elitism (its most obvious expression was summed up by the sentence ‘comrade I don’t understand you’ which meant ‘you are an idiot’) that I spent nights studying just to feel adequate. At the same time there was this way of learning in the field, in the workers’ cadres (those of Italo Sbrogiò and others, the Marghera workers’ cadres that I think are rather notorious) who taught us the hard reality of social relations that was not that evident after all. Thus I must admit that in my case there were not teachers first and political practice after, I think that everything more or less got into motion at the same time and the origin of it all was a form of boorish anti-authoritarianism that I deeply felt, a form of individual rebellion that found the right place and time to express itself, in the sense that it was later channelled in a more useful and productive direction, towards a serious political activity, rather than towards forms of individual anarchic expressions or such things. Then in everyday life there was not just the relationship with Toni—I immediately started working with him in the Institute, even though I graduated in Economics, not with him: I cannot say that he was my teacher in my education, even if in fact I depended on him for very many things—but in everyday life apart from him there also were Guido Bianchini and Sandro Serafini, with whom I joined the Institute and started working not only politically but also on research projects, organising seminars, etc. I had a daily and uninterrupted contact with these people and it was a very collective way of living that I no longer find today; maybe it is my age, I do not know, but back then we used to live much more together.
So we come to the period of Potere Operaio.
The period of Potere Operaio was not as homogeneous as people say; there were moments of great expansion and moments of reduction to smaller areas, especially here in Veneto, with the idea, that the other interviewees must have told you about, of opening up to the movement, that is to students and subjects who differed from those of the more traditional factory. This was probably a larger vision than the one we had theorised in the notion of mass worker, maybe already a departure from the worker form. However, I remained in the area where the Marxian tradition was purer, and this sometimes meant that we suffered some isolation at the national level. I must say that I was particularly involved with the journal Potere Operaio, as an editorial board member, and when the hypothesis of a merging with il Manifesto emerged through political collectives I made a very autonomous intervention between Pordenone and Conegliano, Rex and Zoppas, and constituted the first political collective with the comrades of il Manifesto. I must say that I was not very sectarian and never liked either labels or overly strict membership. So I had this experience, which I found interesting, and it was the only possibility in that area given that the forces were scarce, but we put together a political committee (or political collective, I cannot remember what it was called) that for a long time operated in these factories and with really good people, some technicians, some extraordinary students, the very workers’ intellectuality of the time. This was in the context of the hypothesis of local forms of organisation that I liked very much and that perhaps allowed us to foresee (although unconsciously) a reading of the future North-East, with diffuse factories, small factories, and a possibility of transforming the large factory into a relatively independent micro-entrepreneurship (let me use the word ‘independent’ to distinguish them from the small factories dependent on larger ones). Thus, this kind of territorial organisation seemed extremely reasonable to me for the place and I think this is the reason it worked and brought together cadres (as they were called at the time) of many villages around Pordenone and Conegliano, cadres that would then remain in the workers’ Left for a long time.
What direction did you take after Potere Operaio?
During the conference of Rosolina, where Potere Operaio lost the prerogatives that interested me and the idea proposed by Piperno and the Romans of turning it into a party prevailed, with the emphasis on organisation, at that stage I was already going through a crisis. I was already interested in feminism and so I left Potere Operaio without joining Autonomia Operaia, in the sense that I never formally joined it even though there was still a clear proximity. I started constituting the first feminist groups that then carried on autonomously: I did it through an argument linked to the recovery of time and of an autonomous dimension within the overall life of women. I undertook an argument on social services and reclaiming time that to an extent opposed Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s argument on wages, even though in the end there were similarities: the issue of wages was perhaps more ‘revolutionary’ but from the political practice that Rosa endorsed it was difficult to understand who was demanding these wages. It was nonsense, but then maybe my issue was much more reformist even though it is true that we annoyed a few people when we occupied local government meetings, demanding the construction of nursery schools and proposing concrete forms of ‘liberation from housework’. I needed these things anyway because I started having babies and felt very justified in demanding things I immediately needed. If you like, this was a translation of the theories of operaismo in Marghera: when people demanded ‘Five thousand lire now,’ everyone would say, ‘But this is not revolutionary,’ and the workers used to reply, ‘It might not be revolutionary but we wouldn’t mind five thousand lire!’ Back then money was different, and it was the same when it came to nursery school: maybe it was not revolutionary, but I had to put the babies somewhere! I later theorised these issues in Oltre il lavoro domestico (Beyond housework), because for me they made sense. I experienced the ’77 movement from the margins because I realised that the interesting things were the more marginal ones: I helped set up Radio Sherwood here in Padua because the radio seemed to me to be a meaningful, nice, intelligent and needed form of communication and circulation of information, whereas I did not like at all the more militarised organisational forms set up by the Political Collectives here in Padua, which were more engaged in heavy militancy, so they certainly were no longer part of my view of how to change the world. Aside from not understanding why me, one of the things I thought when we got arrested – not in a nasty way – was that I was pleased that we had not won! Because to be honest some positions really perplexed me. After the arrest there was a sort of identification because even if I had not been part of it, what could I say the moment I got arrested? Nothing to do with me? I could have said that to the judge to defend myself, but that was it.
At that time I had two children (one born in ’74, the other in ’76), I had gotten married, I lived here in Padua and had not even moved that much around Italy. Actually I had done very little, so I have a very restricted view of the movement and its organisational forms and political expressions, a view that stemmed from here, from the Political Collectives. I read their papers through the lenses of what Toni and Guido used to tell me: the Institute still continued to function as a centre of theoretical production and in that period I published a book on the public enterprise in Italy. I was doing something and was not out of the world, but for several years I ceased to have the direct (and I must say more satisfying) participation I was used to in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. I must say that I miss this extremely rich period, that was also productive for me, but I think that -in the social field- things were constantly moving and giving the impression that we could seize power and change things; in other words, it seemed that each one of us could somehow influence our own destiny and each other’s destiny. Perhaps it personal, limited and utopian, but this sensation was so evident and palpable, as well as collectively felt, that I have missed it ever since and I know now that the feelings to come were linked to solitude, isolation and the search for some kind of placement in some way or in some corner. I do not know what Oreste said about this, but after moving to Paris in ’82, even the attempt at reconstituting a common identity of the exiled that could somehow bring us together always failed, due to the differences we had interiorised at the end of the ‘70s. Thus, despite the fact that all of us shared an initial common element of great significance, i.e. the fact of being exiled in a foreign land with common problems and issues, we could never do it and there were terrible meetings in Paris in the early ‘80s. So if I miss those times it is because I have not witnessed the same feeling and power of a communitarian kind since then, even though subjectively and individually now I have much more power over my life and decisions about it than I used to: but it is a very solitary thing.
Keeping to an analysis of the present, what were for you the possibilities but more importantly the limits expressed in the more or less organised movements and ideas between the end of the ‘60s and the ‘70s?
I don’t know if this was a limit, but my hypothesis is that at least in my experience and recollection of them, they were movements with a strong reformist impact. What was revolutionary was only our will: the only possible outcomes that, retrospectively, were predictable, were really reformist ones. In fact there have been reforms and for me they are ascribable only to this strong social impact of the movements in general: I am referring to a number of things, from the workers’ statute, to the national planning of nursery schools, to the ’77 equal opportunity laws, not to mention the laws on abortion, divorce, family rights, and such things. What did not work? The fact that we did not account for this: in my opinion, we assumed that the revolution, radical change, was a rapid and uninterrupted process, without pause, and instead we were probably defeated by the reforms and by what could have been the immediate results of these struggles. I always talk about the mass movements of the ‘70s, seeing clandestine armed organisations such as the Red Brigades, Prima Linea etc. as aberrant moments that were out of sync with the strong forces that were moving the whole of society. Maybe I say these things only with thirty years hindsight, because back then I would probably not have said the same: but I have to say that had I been conscious of this good reformist process, it would have been different. I say ‘good reforms’ in the sense that the point of departure for Italy was really minimal in comparison to other European countries. Take France for instance, where there was a great movement in ’68 that involved both students and workers: the kind of reforms France accomplished did not turn it into a happy country, but at least a country that more fully met, and still does, the expectations of the proletarian side. Nothing is definite or extraordinary, but if we look to the guaranteed minimum wage that we still can’t even dream of (here), or to all the forms of income that somehow can be found, even if they are not called citizenship income, there are forms of allocation that in some way support people. 70-80% of French families do not pay substantial taxes: such things sound miraculous to us. If we think of the immigrant women who have lots of children and receive allocation that permits the family to more or less survive until the children are 6-7 years old—we refuse to call it citizenship income and it is handed out in a highly controlled way—but at least they have it and if we had it we could start fighting for other things. Had we had the awareness that we were aiming for reforms maybe we would not have done all we did. It’s funny, sometimes I think that our lack of awareness of the results of the large movement we were part of in the end made us accomplish good reformism; it forced institutions to come up with better changes than those they would have carried out without our push. In fact, now that for instance this apparently irrational push no longer exists and there are no waves of movements in society, I have the impression that in Italy it is impossible to carry out reforms. I assume that the elected officials (whether we call them parliamentarians or political managers) are roughly the same; their names might differ but they have the same intelligence and the same abilities: yet there is not a single meaningful reform in Italy. But I have to look into the educational one more carefully; I realise that it changes many things and I want to understand more about it. The most dramatic problem we are going through now, especially in Italy (because from the little I know something more gets done in other countries), is that without any interlocution with civil society, due to this real deafness, detachment, non-communication, or perhaps the sense of disgust and refusal on the part of civil society and without any relation to it, this country does not even have a ‘modern’ character, and I am not referring here to great revolutionary transformations. Moreover, any attitude that looks for dialogue or communication – which could also be struggle, but this is irrelevant- is easily forgotten: take for instance all of young people’s interventions in social centres and in general. I have been involved with the Greens for a year now, and I do not know if it was a good idea. I am national adviser and I would like to leave, so maybe it is a mistake: here we all are involved with the social centres and it was not just my decision, or I would have not gotten involved. What the social centres are doing here, with Bionova, Tebio and all the active participation that is capable of imposing itself, is then absorbed into an institutional pseudo-dialogue, like Pecoraro Scanio, which is unable to produce new elements of struggle, or even refusal, of anything. It seems that there are no ideas in circulation and the few that emerge are immediately used to do something, because little can be done since the parameters lie elsewhere and are already determined at the European, international, global or universal level: so much so that nobody can move and little ever gets done.
The possibility for me was this great ability to be in the future, to see changes taking place. Initially, the analysis according to which the mass worker was the centre of society seemed futuristic. The events and changes in the mode of production have too rapidly surpassed us. On the other hand, what I have to recognise is that women had this ability to grasp the global elements of the working day and its relational form: maybe they did so with little lucidity of exposition, but linking this to daily experience provided great tools to later understand the changes in labour as a whole. Today, when I hear of the feminisation of labour, affective labour or immaterial labour, I laugh: it feels like they are joking because we used to say these things every day in the ‘70s, when we imagined that there is a form of labour that is neither accountable nor measured and yet is what makes us reproduce the labour-power and allows for material production to take place, something without which material production is impossible. The fact that, when it was emerging, the movement never made these issues its own allowed the capitalist productive structure a great advantage that we are now chasing after, because all current debates on immaterial labour and, I insist, affectivity (Toni calls it precisely that, as well as ‘affection’) in production, are things that capital has already made operative. In this there is another issue that women have long debated and that in my view could correct from a theoretical standpoint this analysis of immaterial production: this is the issue of the body. This is not to say: ‘we have a body that we have to take care of because we have to be healthy, we are not happy with our body and so on’. Capital has already talked about this. Our argument is rather that production is certainly immaterial, but this cannot come into reality independently of bodies. We (the feminists of the ‘70s) talked about the impossibility of measuring domestic labour (we call it domestic) because it was impossible to follow a process of valorisation of the commodity, because they used to say that the commodity was the worker’s body, whereas what could not be measured was the mind, the relational environment, the psychic and affective stability. But from the workers’ point of view the aspiration to live well made sense (I recall Lotta Continua used to talk of quality of life, which meant living well rather than good or bad quality) and it was the only aspiration of political significance, because I wonder what political discourse could say that one must have a bad life—not even the Protestants. Feminists then turned this issue into a question of our exploitation, in the sense that we were the ones who made sure that people, workers, comrades and whoever, somehow would survive if not live well. Had this issue been the collective aspiration back then, its significance would have been greater and at least have conformed to the transformation effectively undertaken by capital over the following ten years, because things were not moving slowly and it did not take one hundred years for these changes to take place and for what today is synthetically and with little definition called Postfordism to come about. Thus I believe that we can ascribe to the feminist movement a series of analytical qualities that were not grasped, but feminism itself probably failed to grasp them in their more universal value. I think that one of the problems of feminism in this respect was that when talking about this question it addressed itself to women and failed to put forward a gender perspective on the world, which would have been very different. However, there was a mechanism of general misunderstanding or incorrect exchange and communication of ideas. In fact, there has almost been a divergence, as if back then people were split in half, partly doing political militancy in the world and partly being feminist, and these two worlds never met. There was never the opportunity to have a common language even with different points of view: this common language did not need to be homogeneous, but from different points of view one could have at least raised an issue that for me has only become a real one at the end of the ‘80s.
In your opinion, how can we interpret the fact that for some time women who were militants in, let’s say, a mixed environment and those who initially were not militant at all began to show an interest and participate in the feminist movement, but then very quickly this changed and only a few feminists of that time still think about these things and continue to follow certain issues? Perhaps the others tried to make use of that experience in their own lives and in the education of their children, but they did so in private and are now seemingly absent from the political scene.
Here you are asking me two questions: one is that of ‘double militancy’, the relation between parties, political groups and feminism; the other concerns this Karstic trend in feminism. Double militancy is a difficult issue because it splits belonging: for instance, I met women active in extra-parliamentary political groups who were also feminist and faced with dramatic decisions, because feminism forced women to make dramatic personal choices. The enemy was often in the home: if a woman was to gain a kind of personal autonomy and have relationships with lovers, friends, husbands, fathers and men who were on the Left and thus shared many of the ideas of changing society, she would feel great discomfort. I am thinking of the chauvinism of the workers of Marghera at the time, when they dared to make crude judgments on our physical appearance, not to mention the poor big-breasted women who really felt like dying when they went distributing leaflets at six o’clock in the morning. So it was a very complex issue linked to a very personal identity and to a life choice: one could not always let the husband off because some of their positions were right, even if some marriages failed. The decisions were so drastic and violent that I can understand why some were hidden feminists and public comrades. With the party things get more complicated because some women always thought of the Communist Party as a kind of benevolent father who somehow would have accepted their little babies’ demands, yet there was not one party in Italy that took up the issues of the feminist groups, at least in the ‘70s. Militancy in the Communist Party was largely a family question of tradition; I met many families (mothers, grandmothers and daughters) who were members of the PCI, and this was lacerating, because it was a historical affection and one that was difficult to change. The UDI (Italian Women’s Union) was ferociously hostile to the feminist movement and the movement for divorce. The UDI disassociated itself from the Communist Party when in 1976 the PCI refused to let its members protest in the streets in favour of abortion rights after the facts of Seveso (the case of dioxin and pregnant women who wanted an abortion for fear of giving birth to monsters). At the time of the separation of the UDI from the PCI, many party militants left the party and joined the feminist movement. Later there was the theory of difference, Luisa Muraro and Cigarini, women who, despite their intelligence and capability, were a tragedy for the feminist movement, in my opinion, not for saying the wrong things, but for inciting to an absurd practice. These women were for the Carta Itinerante, the pact proposed by Livia Turco in 1987, and supported this pact inside and outside of the party. This pact was founded on one of the theories of difference, that of reliance [affidamento]: what came under question was the fact that women were always reliant on powerful men. When writing a bibliography women writers would refer to and cite a male theorist; whilst according to these critics, women had to refer to female theorists because they had to rely on powerful women instead. Thus, transferring this theory to the relation between movement and party, the women in the party received legitimacy from the women of the movement, and vice versa, the women of the movement had a privileged channel for dealing with institutions through this reference to the women of the party. So after a first instance of double militancy of an affective and coercive kind—coercive because difficult to untangle—women then separated themselves from the institution, only later to be thrown back in by the women of difference together with Livia Turco by means of this Carta Itinerante in 1987. What I am trying to say is that this relation between feminism and the structuring of political demands through parties and groups is an unstable one in Italy, as it is abroad, and depends move heavily on contingencies and fashions.
As to how the movement followed a Karstic trend, i.e. it was first apparent, then concealed and then apparent again. I do not know the reasons. All I know is that it surely enjoyed a mass expansion on specific objectives both at the European and the Italian level: we had a feminist movement on abortion, something on divorce, but mainly on abortion, contraception and family counselling everywhere. The rest is more linked to individual behaviours and lived experiences, at the price of blood and hard decisions, and had little expression at the mass level and more at the level of forms of behavior rather than taking the form of obvious demands or organisational forms. We always think of the feminism that brought a hundred thousand people into the street, but we neglect to notice that in the 80’s for instance, when feminism did not seem to exist, in Italy roughly three hundred Case delle Donne (Women’s Houses) were set up. These are anti-violence centres set up by women in negotiation with local institutions; in Turin there were many of them. Then there was the Buon Pastore (Good Shepherd) in Rome; we even have a Casa delle Donne here in Padua (which seems impossible). Then we had some women’s forms of expression; I am only talking about women, not considering the participation of women in initiatives such as the anti-war movement and the Donne in Nero (Women in Black). We tend to forget that these initiatives are part of a course of events whereby many people who occupied the streets in the ‘70s now find themselves out in the street dressed in black in the ‘90s, or managing a centre of women’s documentation in Bologna in the ‘80s. So in my opinion, rather than an unchanging movement (which would be an idiocy), there is a rooting in a gender awareness of society that is always evident and manifest in various factors, not only in feminism as we know it from the ‘70s, but also in the fact that in Italy, for instance, women have increasingly gained exposure in social commerce, working and earning, which gives them more autonomy from the rest of society and also from its structure, and in the fact that having joined the labour market at a later stage, women tend to occupy its most atypical structures. In fact, something upon which we need to reflect more is the fact that we find many women wherever there are companies with atypical time schedules (such as the service industries and the like), wherever there are atypical forms of diffuse productivity, micro-entrepreneurship, etc. I am not saying that women constitute a majority in these places, but there is a trend towards an increased presence of women there, not to mention the general issue of education, which is in all the papers so I won’t repeat it.
Who were your mentors, people who had a particular importance in the course of your development?
I will certainly omit many, but let’s try. Surely the first one is Marx. Then, Tronti’s Operai e Capitale was very important to me. I would not mention Toni’s early writings because I did not understand anything he wrote, I swear, and I was not too interested in it either, but now I think he writes better; however, his vicinity and ability to convince us that we had to act as if the revolution was taking place was very important to me. It was a way of experiencing events as if they were already happening and it helped to determine them from within: in politics I think the optimism of the will is important in order to be clearer and perhaps more banal. So, it was surely also what he wrote, but the determining factor for me was primarily Toni’s political ability and enthusiasm and this crazy lucidity that he displays in making up a reality that we might now call virtual but is actually a reality dictated by the will: things are not as they are because our common sense tells us so, they are what we desire. For me this was the extraordinary thing that makes you do politics, otherwise you would not do it. I miss this. Surely many other people said and wrote things that are still important for me today. But what I miss most and regard as most important is this collective intelligence that we put into operation in the ‘70s and that I now no longer find. I try to reconstruct it in the things I do now, but with much effort: I set up research groups at the international level with valuable and intelligent people, but there is not the same atmosphere. I never again found the same intelligence of the ‘70s, this force of thought built together in practice, and I miss it very much. This is without disregarding what I owe to Luciano Ferrari Bravo, Guido, Magnaghi and all the extraordinary people I met—like Romano Alquati for instance, at the Institute, who was an intelligence that emerged at the national more than the local level—and it worked in a way that made people in themselves almost interchangeable, even if each person had a particular expressive and educational capacity.
Who are the authors of today who you think are most useful in reading and analysing reality and its transformations?
Now I find more good books than good people. I would say, since we always speak well of the dead, that Luciano Ferrari Bravo was [move very important] for me and others in Padua because he was able to listen, appreciate and also address forms of thought in fieri. Apart from this I really have the impression that many people in the current I belong to are important, for instance in Paris there is Yann Moulier (Boutang) who wrote an extraordinary book on slavery; there is Maurizio Lazzarato, who used to be one of my students and is now becoming an all-around intellectual and his rediscovery of Tarde seems important; not to mention Christian Marazzi and the things he writes, but also Bifo and people who are more distant from me in terms of their development. In this theoretical current I find many people who are still producing interesting work. But I must admit that, due to my more immediate and concrete interests at the moment, I would place myself with those who need to find in reality and research some solutions that I can no longer find in books, so my need now is to work with the people I work with at the international level in order to search the field for certain answers that I find hard to find. This is not to be arrogant, rather it is because I think that many answers are not present today and must be looked for, so it is necessary to go through a moment of active reflection in which all of us should participate, and quickly, because great questions and theories do not seem to be emerging and getting elaborated. I have marked out a more precise and delimited space for myself, since I am involved in a gender perspective that is hard to construct as a theoretical stance, and I am doing so with very competent and capable people at the international level, so I might not have an overall view of things even though I try and keep myself up to date. So it is not a matter of providing the names, since there are too many to mention right now; rather, I have a need to put on some shoes and start walking and going and seeing how things are in order to understand not only what is going on but also how to face changes that happen so fast that I think they even surpass many analyses, however compelling and critical they may be. For instance, I am not too convinced that Toni’s story of Empire is so up-to-date. Empire was already over by the time Toni wrote it: Clinton could not make Camp David work and this is obvious since the story of the American policeman in the world might have been true at some point, but is it now? In any case this was not the right perspective because it is a matter of seeing what China, Japan and Korea will do. So it seems to me that in order to understand changes effectively at the moment, we have to go and see them rather than write theories that quickly become not exactly obsolete, but at least the few I read and know of through my readings fail to establish significant tendencies.
Regarding the capitalist process of development and change, beyond macro-theories, what are the peculiarities and fields to which research and analysis must be addressed, in your opinion?
At the moment I am very attentive to what is going on at the micro-territorial level. I believe that understanding and creating forms of inter-relations, presences, critiques, questions etc. on the territory is a way to understand what is happening not only at the national but also at the global level. This is also because I have the impression that what is happening is not too different at different levels, at the micro and the global level; I also think that without this outlook, one runs the risk of having no interlocutors. What is of particular importance to me at the moment (probably due to my age) is understanding whom the critique must be addressed to, who must be opposed and with whom a series of processes can be shared. This is not more important but I would say that understanding whom I am with is as important as understanding whom I oppose and what are the possibilities of materialising and channelling precise demands, as well as having an influence on concrete changes. Whilst I look with surprise at phenomena like Seattle or Tebio in Genoa, I ask myself whether real forms of aggregation and movement lie behind them: surely the move Bové trial in France that brought one hundred thousand people to his village is linked to processes like Seattle, Tebio etc. But we should also bear in mind that Bové is a farmer there, who had his trial there, and who smashed a McDonald’s there. So, the territorial concreteness of a political attitude perhaps also produces less sporadic forms of aggregation than Seattle or Tebio. For instance, what interests me is that here in this quarter of the city there are committees against antennas: in this semi-bourgeois quarter, inhabited by university professors and people like that, there are so many determined people that one day they will march on the council unless it removes the antenna it is building! The same happens in Larcella: there is a nearby committee against an underground car park for seventy cars that would ruin the area. These are extraordinary and spurious forms of aggregation (there is even a countess, a general’s wife, surely right wing, probably a royalist, in the group against the car park), but I look at them and they are made up of people with whom I can talk concretely about things that have to do with their lives and mine, people who create precise and substantial forms of groupings with a clear objective, with a clear interlocutor and eventually really modify the political composition of the territory or of this city. On the other hand, I see little of the rest. Bionova for instance, and what happened here, had a significance I cannot deny, yet it never produced anything beyond four newspaper articles; when I take my mother to the hospital the doctor comes to me and says: ‘Ah, Madame, I saw you in the committee against antennas, I have one in my own area because they built one there too’. This is fine but what does it lead to? I do not know. Now antennas are in fashion so it is easy to find these things, but it is also true that there have been a series of committees. For instance there is a problem at the general hospital in the children’s unit—this is something I had never thought about before, but where there are sick children there are also parents who have to go there and nobody knows where to put them, how they could sleep there, what money they need, so a series of groups were created to turn this children’s unit we have (which is also linked to the university) into a welcoming place for parents. So, perhaps this is not the revolution, but I think that starting from these things some real aggregation is created; with a civic movement that is capable of breaking institutional balances and party alliances and that could change our view of how to live in our territories. If I manage to engage in discussion on an aim that I deem correct, just and meaningful with all those who live in the same area, then it is fine for me because I live here, I don’t live somewhere else. So I don’t know if this is the new form of politics, but I pay attention to this because this is what moves civil society (at the local, territorial level). I must say I am not impressed when I see factory workers every year on the first of May: they hold banners saying ‘I want a wage increase because I have a family’, as if people today still had a family. It is not true: there are people who would like a wage, an income, but having a family cannot be a justification for it. They look like antediluvian monsters to me, whereas all the university professors, small time lawyers and what have you, all the people who live around here, seem to make more sense. On the one hand there has been a process of proletarianisation of all these professions, so that there certainly is still a wage difference between them and factory workers, but the difference in status is minimal. The fact that these classes feel obliged to participate in making life better in the area they inhabit, even if for personal interest—well, this seems to be very important. I say this because I live in Larcella for instance, which is a working class area, but you find these committees here too. Committees have been an element in the shift of the electoral trend in the last elections: the list called ‘Together for Padua’ (which won) had promised them that all the antennas would be removed, so the committees voted Destro (who is right wing, from Forza Italia), whilst Zenonato, who was a DS mayor, lost by five hundred votes. This is to show that from the institutional point of view these issues count quite a bit in the end.
A debate on the issue of class has recently emerged: that is, on whether one can still talk about class, the way it has changed (earlier for instance you briefly mentioned this process of long-term proletarianisation), and on whether within this class (or something that is no longer called that) there can be a tendency toward a central subject (for instance Bifo has recently come up with the neologism ‘cognitariat’). How do you analyse this complex situation at the macro- level?
This is the issue of class composition: from a strictly Marxist point of view, I think that it must be revisited, as the analysis of commodity production and the creation of value must probably be rewritten. However, if we meant by class the supposedly physical participation in the production of commodities, whatever they are, and if we could include in this production all the present changes of labouring, we would say that the concept of class must be much more inclusive. According to Tronti, class was not only the driving engine in so far as it was linked to productive structures of a certain kind – obviously reduced in comparison to the rest of society- but it also became the element capable of constituting the general social interest and the satisfactions of its demands became the satisfaction of the general social interest. Today this works the opposite way: given that the production of commodities (any kind of commodity, even communicative commodities and the most immaterial ones) invests the whole of the relational structure of society, class is identified with citizenship or, even worse, with citizens and then legal and illegal immigrants, with all those individuals capable of understanding and willing and maybe even others. This is to say that if any social and relational behaviour has now become a productive one, then the definition of class ought to be more extended, which it probably is not, I do not know; so, undoubtedly if it is so extended it has to be central. In that case then one would only have financial capital, which is to say absolute immateriality. On this I will digress: in Marghera there are incredible places where you can dance, right in the middle of an industrial area, in former factories, like in the periphery of Padua where there used to be factories and now another commodity is produced: entertainment. What is produced is leisure time and its satisfaction. But the factory is there; the weirdest thing is that the shift occurred so fast that what contains these two things has not changed and what is produced is still a commodity. So I was asking myself: the managers of these places (half dance classes, half nightclubs), the dance teachers, what are they? Are they the working class of today? I don’t know—maybe they belong to the working class but have an extra-ordinary character; they must keep training in order to produce this commodity and pay attention to fashions. Is this the new working class? Is this class? What class-consciousness the manager of a dance school in the middle of the industrial area in Marghera has I honestly don’t know, but it must be this way. The change in the physical space is so limited that something must be happening, you see: this is a very immaterial commodity, yet it allows an extraordinary circulation of general equivalents because none of these commodities are free; there are people who make a living out of them and these commodities are bought and sold. What is extraordinary is this physical contiguity.
This expansion of the notion of class creates some difficulties with respect to the individuation of subjects who can be leading, for instance, according to an old ‘70s model: back then the factory worker used to lead the process of capitalist development along with the revolutionary process. Today it is difficult to individuate a subject of such import. Guido Bianchini, who is unfortunately dead too, would have said that this kind of individuation could only bring about a model of the revolution resembling an upside-down pyramid, in the sense of the Winter Palace, some rather old attempt at proposing once again the dictatorship of the proletariat and Leninist models. Perhaps he might have been right in some way, yet the inability to identify a subject probably carries with it clear organisational deficiencies, an organisational poverty and an unproductive discontinuity of initiatives. My tendency would be to identify leading subjects amongst women and in their behavior; but thank God women do not present homogeneous behaviours. There are reformist women, revolutionary women and conservative women, so I never speak of women as a subject in itself. However, the appreciation of gender issues in political practice is surely a source of transformation of a ‘revolutionary’ kind, because it rules out and provides an alternative to productivist views of social relations. In relation to the issues of progress, productivity, production etc., seen in a socialist and good light, as the distribution of wealth that allows for freedom, a gender perspective on the other hand puts forward a problematic linked more to the use of productivity, the use of production, the use of wealth and issues thus connected to relational and personal development, well-being etc. Here we can find a source of great transformation.
Something has always worried me: I think that all the elements we have analysed, seen and developed in the ‘70s (the mass-worker, the rupture of the capitalist plan etc.) were essentially right; however, capital anticipated us so these elements would have been right only if we had won, to use extremely modest words. Now the same thing seems to be happening; we try and understand these changes, to grasp this need. For instance, women made an issue of the question of time, flexibility, the need to live as elements of production and reproduction at the same time without the two conflicting and creating forms of double labour and things like that. Once we face forms of production that are framed exactly on this basis, the only difference is that the winners were those who are now organising these forms of labour, rather than us. So I do not really understand why –given that we had the ideas- this is true: what happened? How come we always come second or always lose? I cannot answer this, but I can respond to this analysis. I evaluate European research projects and often travel to Brussels to look at them. I know people in the European Commission who tell me what they do: they put in practice things than my girlfriends and I had thought of two to three years earlier, but they do so for themselves. We say: ‘Look at the poor women who must go to work in the morning, take their children to school, and there is the problem that school schedules conflict with work schedules, and when do they go shopping?’ These are banal things, but we do enquiries on these issues and two years later the European Commission comes up with a great project to make labour in the family compatible with wage labour. This is a great defeat, because we were not asking for these to be made compatible, because that simply entails that you do one thing first and the other second, and life is not made easier this way! So there is a reason we asked certain things and they were understood differently: is it a kind of misunderstanding? Is it a form of nastiness towards us? I do not know: it is possible that we conceived of the issue in one way, we expressed the issue and they translated it in their own way. What is certain is that we lost, because I find all the women in institutions, those who make up what I call institutional feminism, who immediately and diligently put these things into practice with the result that things never work for us. And I cannot understand the reason for this.
The feminism of the ‘70s carried forward a program of liberation rather than emancipation, and did so with force and some violence; later, what seemed to have survived time is exclusively the discourse on processes of emancipation, which has effectively been defended at the institutional level (as you were saying earlier) because many women choose autonomous labour and achieve a status, and some of them also take up positions of leadership in cooperatives where they make use of their feminist past. However, in the end, even if these roles are not taken up by men in the same way, they are equally functional to the same system: thus the issue of liberation seems to have been completely eliminated from the practices of these women.
I have my doubts about this, because what someone subjectively says of herself is one thing, and what objectively occurs when competences linked to a different body are inserted in a system where only male competences of a certain kind were previously allowed is another. I absolutely do not think that there is a biological destiny whereby women do different things from men, but I recognise their different historical and social development and experience: Roman slaves had a different experience than that of free people, a different attitude and socio-cultural and relational background. So when a different body with a different experience is inserted, it does not do the same things and is not always functional to the demand of the productive or social structure. No studies have been done on this issue, but I am currently working on a research project, funded for three years by the European Commission, on gender and local management of change, in order to see if the few elected women bring with them practices and experiences that change the structuring of local policies, their form and substance. This is a project carried out in seven European states; in many cases this has already been confirmed by previous enquiries and I must say that here in Italy, at least judging from the three interviews we did (we work on the regions of Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Calabria), we began to realise that even if unconsciously women insert practices that will absolutely not be revolutionary, nevertheless they are different, even if they don’t realise the differences in their behaviours. For instance, in local politics there is a greater awareness of civic duty, a more rational use of time, the reduction of meeting time etc.; if they are local councillors they show a greater interest in relations with citizens, making sure that the relation between citizens and institutions is as smooth as possible, and rationalising their offices etc.; greater attention is given to the reproductive life of the city, old and disabled people, cyclists, nursery schools etc. These are indications of a change that we could notice, which has nothing to do with the changes for instance of the party alliances of the local council or of the mayor, but has to do with a change of gender—they occur when a woman replaces a man. This is often due to the subjective awareness of women mayors who choose women councillors to lead departments of education or social services because they are more sensitive; but the change occurred whether this awareness was present or not.
To go back to your question, I would like to see enquiries made into this process of feminisation, whether it is so painless and neutral, because I believe (and so does Drude Dalerup, a Dutch sociologist, and Ann Philips, a British political scientist) that by increasing the number of women in predefined social fields, not randomly-Drude Dalerup talks of a threshold of 40%-if we reach this gender percentage we surely obtain individual and subjective forms of behavior that are more spontaneous and natural than those linked to a gender presence of 10%. This is to say that so far this 10% of women entrepreneurs or mayors has manifested behavior that is not too different, as you were saying, from that of men (even though I would always go and see what they do rather than just listen to what they say about themselves), however the reason no perceivable change has occurred is that women as a minority group in this case tend towards homologation and thus identification with predefined forms of behavior: this is the easiest thing to do. Any individual, when entering a group, behaves like the elements of the group because the group has survived with this set of behaviours. This is an ethnological and Lorenzian analysis if we like. But if we were to exceed the 40% threshold, individuals would start acting with greater freedom and would no longer need to conform to the dominant group, so only then could we see whether women can really do something different. Given that the tendency is to have more women in various social strata, in productive sectors etc., maybe we will be able on the one hand to verify whether this is true, but in my opinion we will probably also see changes in the social and behavioural structure, especially in the relational one. I am absolutely certain of this, because to think otherwise would be like saying that if we put 40% immigrant workers in a factory they would all produce the same way because that’s how capital forces them to produce: this can only be true if only 10% of the workers were immigrants, but with 40% of them I think something would happen, especially if they were culturally homogeneous, if they could represent themselves as a group. I think women can introduce not revolutionary, but innovative elements that are not always and necessarily functional to the productive model. Then there is also the ability of capital to adapt, which seems infinite I must say, and always moves faster; but women are certainly neither directly nor simply functional—someone must give something up and I do not think women will do so from this point of view. Up until now they have manifested an attitude of assimilation to male behaviour, but I think that when they will have an option they will no longer do so. For instance, if we look at the analysis of choices to work part-time or in short-term contracts, everyone says: ‘Yes, it is because women have babies so they prefer to work part-time so they can stay at home with the children’. But women who have children work full-time because they need money to raise them—they do not choose to earn less! Those who opt for part-time are young women who want to do shiatsu or go dancing. So there is this attitude of lack of respect for social rules, aside from the constraint to earn, I insist (when you have children you work to maintain them and cannot do otherwise); this attitude of disrespect for social rules is more manifest in women than in men, especially in young women, in the few investigations I have seen. This is also a wager, similar to the one we made when we said that the working class, when in power, would have accomplished extraordinary things.
In your opinion, would the change in behavior introduced by women once the 40% threshold is reached go in itself in a direction that is incompatible with the system?
I think so, unless, I insist, the system goes through processes of adaptation that are as fast as those it has gone through recently; but generally I think this is not too compatible with the kind of productivity required today, though I do not know about the future. I think we are faced with such rapid processes of transformation that frankly I sometimes feel unable to grasp them. I am deeply involved in them, when I think that in fifteen years’ time I have gone from one writing system to another with incredible rapidity: it took us cultures and centuries to move from one writing system to another in the past, whilst now the world has done it in fifteen years. I say fifteen but maybe it took longer. I started using a computer in ’84 or ’85 and I was one of the first ones: now I cannot live without it nor without the peripherals that I carry with me and attach to the computer. I now live in this system of communication (when I say ‘writing system’ in fact I am referring more to a communicative system). It was 1986, perhaps 1987 (and I am old, but I’m not that old after all): I remember that the first time I saw a fax being sent, I had tears in my eyes looking at this piece of paper that was sending an article to Toni in Paris (I had just got back here), and I said: ‘They will immediately see it there, on paper’: I swear I was in tears when they installed a fax machine here in the university department and that was one of the first ones I sent. Things change incredibly fast and it is difficult to say ‘Women will surely come and change everything’: women can come to do exactly what they want in the labour market, but capital has already changed its needs. I do not even know whether women will be privileged subjects of change: all I can think of is that women are subjects truly capable of rapidly shifting from production to reproduction (also of themselves, though I hardly ever talk about children), and especially that they are capable of being extraneous to and not necessarily identifying themselves with the world of production (and in this women are the privileged subject). I have a notion similar to the exile, who lives away from her country and has to somehow invent how to live and what to do and who has no roots: in this sense I see women as well as immigrants as the subject. In other words, it must be a subject that has no memories, no history, and thus nothing to lose. If you asked me whether the unions will be the new organisational forms of class, I would answer no because they have already lost, not because they have something to lose. The subject cannot be that, though what remains is certainly one to build too. I think that young people embody well the idea of a new subject I have I mind and I say it is women but not necessarily: it is a subject that is gender-conscious and is thus aware that the world is made up of two genders that have a different social history that somehow we must entangle and turn into one, or maybe keep two of them and make them interchangeable, but this is not important. At the same time women represent for me the subject that moves easily, traverses borders and even though it has a place, it is a well-defined place that is not the ideal place; it has no homeland or anything like that and is more or less at home anywhere: this is the idea of the exile who has nothing to lose but can also insert herself everywhere, at ease when communicating and critically adaptable. This is normally the condition of the exile, and it is what I see in women when they assume working roles, even traditional ones. They are less participative than men and this perhaps is not linked to investigations I carried out but more to a personal and probably bodily knowledge, which I can see. I do not know to what extent these [attitudes = forms of behavior] can produce organisational forms because I have great perplexities regarding all organisational forms hitherto used in politics, parties as well as the party-form itself, the party to build from groups to movements: beyond ephemeral forms that register a strong involvement and participation with very clear objectives (as I mentioned the committees, and there can be many different objectives), the rest seem really bound to fail to create the stronger collective interest and participation that I witnessed in this area (people are always the same, so we cannot say that maybe it was better in Milan, but I speak of Padua). I regard the Internet and virtual organisations with great curiosity, but they do not convince me; rather than being inside them, I am passively involved with mailing-lists and virtual communication. I am on the editorial board of the journal Multitudes so I am in Multitudes-info, but I do not even open some of the e-mails. I do not have the time and given that some things really don’t interest me, I don’t read them. So I don’t really know if these are the new forms; Bifo believes so, but I don’t as much, also because I do not believe in virtual participative forms, in the sense that at some point if the bodies don’t come out I am distrustful, as I can observe from the way I relate to these structures.
On this topic, how much is left of the feminist militant practices of the movement, for instance the forms of self-consciousness or the criticisms levelled against organisational models?
The problem is that when you talk about this you are referring to a feminism that–in Italy for instance-lasted a very short time, no longer than two or three years; as far as forms of self-consciousness are concerned, in feminism this was an essentially elitist event, and there have been few consciousness-raising sessions. What is left of the critique of organisational forms is the fact that the organisational forms of that time have disappeared. If there was a relation of cause and effect it was a very effective critique, so it was the right one; it seems normal to me that the movement would not produce permanent alternative organisational forms. Some of the movement has been institutionalised and created relations with local institutions: all these women’s houses that exist—maybe we do not realise it because we do not often go there, but they do exist. It is also true that the movement had a greater variety of organisational forms because it is false to say that it did not have it. We only have to think of the groups, journals, document centres, forms of political expression of the movement, such as the anti-war movement etc. An interesting issue that seems more modern and recent is women’s strong participation in movements linked to volunteering and in this sense I must say that there is a discourse of political practice very closely linked to women’s behaviours, such as a political practice that has a more concrete aspect and can have some self-exposure: when one becomes a volunteer and cares for immigrants for instance, she knows that by the evening she fed fifty bowls of soup to fifty immigrants, or if one cares for prostitutes she knows that she is part of a team that goes around at night to distribute condoms or to ask prostitutes if they need help, advice or things like that. So it is a political practice, but maybe not strictly feminist in the traditional meaning of the term, yet it is practiced by a great majority of women: I ascribe it to one of these new practices of women that are not called feminist because when we interview these people, it is obvious that they are charity ladies, women with the awareness of being so and of caring for other women, and there is also an object that identifies their labour which seems very interesting. This new political practice is a mixture: it often relies on institutions because it has projects and asks for funding, but it creates an absolutely autonomous space for itself, often substitutive of what the institutions are supposed to do or do badly. Thus all this is done with a very reasonable attitude with regard to the policies of the institutions, and it is linked to a very feminine practice of relations that allows any mother of a family to organise the different timings, characters and bad feelings of a family, and to put together a social group that, despite living together, somehow does not kill itself in the majority of cases. This relational practice becomes the new way of doing politics and also registers innovative changes. I have been following for some time an association called Mimosa (now renamed Welcome; it had internal problems but this is not important). This association was practically set up by women, and then there is one priest and two boys. These women are medical students, nurses, who form a night team and go around to talk to prostitutes, do health projects and distribute condoms and do other things, so they often manage to get underage women out of the circle, they cooperate with the police to charge their exploiters so the police leave them alone for six months, they get placed in houses etc. So these are problems I would not know how to deal with, yet they manage to find solutions that are extremely original and proper to civic living. We know of citizens’ groups (you must have some terrible things in mind in Turin) who demonstrate against transvestites and prostitutes in their area: for instance, in an area nearby they managed to convince these so-called good citizens to enter forms of mediation by dividing up a street and getting the prostitutes to work somewhere further up the road but granting them a space, whilst pacifying a situation that was exploding into a civil war. In another area, prostitutes used to work near a supermarket and a school, because as we know the buildings that are full during the day are empty at night; they used to go there with their clients and there were condoms everywhere. So this group asked the municipal police to place some trash bins with lids there so that, when taking their children to school, mothers could find a clean road; then they went to the prostitutes and taught them to put everything in the bins, so they managed to create some kind of balance and nobody got killed or lynched in this area. These are trifles in comparison to the big issues, but this is a practice that institutions cannot create (imagine doing it here where there are people who demand sheriffs!) and citizens cannot create, for they can only imagine forms of rebellion; so that these structures set up by women make relations in society and the territory more fluid. We might say that they are functional (to the system) in this way, that nobody rebels anymore, but the other form of rebellion against prostitutes scares me. Rebellion is not good in itself: this is why I think this kind of political practice constitutes a margin of good sense. They are not feminists, but they are feminists subjectively, even if they are in associations that are not necessarily feminine, since they do work with women. Another remarkable result (and this is why I would like to study these behaviours) is the fact that these people, unlike the local institutions, have a direct knowledge of the territory, of the subjects. For instance, I talk to them about how Nigerian, Albanian, Romanian women behave, and I would never dare to say prostitutes because each culture (not to say ethnicity because there are not that many of them) has a different attitude toward clients, toward condoms, hygiene, abortion even, toward whether or not to have a protector, toward criminality and drug dealing: so they have an impressive knowledge. Who is doing politics in this case? The head of the security department or these groups of women? Who is doing the real politics? Who is making the changes? Who manages to do something different on the territory? Let’s not dwell on whether this is functional or not (to the system). I don’t know. I ask myself this series of questions because this interests me more than understanding who the feminist groups are. I am part of the Casa delle Donne; we practically put it in the hands of a group of immigrants who manage it, organise lots of parties, and enjoy themselves a lot, and then there is a group of old women who have a library. We no longer go there; we like our own houses, so why should we go there? It is good for them to manage it and I prefer seeing what these people do with it. We invited them to tell us about their experiences, this is how I met them, and then they did not become a feminist group, but their issues for me are gender issues, in this case regarding prostitution for instance.
In relation to the University in general and to what the production of knowledge and science is (which is something you have worked on), what changes do you see taking place?
This is a complex issue: first of all there is a huge change in the university, with this three-plus-one scheme, this adaptation to European standards of diplomas. We still don’t know what it will entail at the level of education. I have taught and continue to teach both here and in France, and the obvious rigidity in the structures of education in Italy scares me, I hope that this reform can shake that up at least. With respect to educational processes in general, for me it is the same thing: for our own happiness as well we have to get used to the fact that life is a process of continuous training. In the 90’s for instance there was a law proposed on the politics of time, that rather than dividing time into work, rest and free time, it divided time into work, rest, free time and time for oneself, which was the reproductive time, when one could also get education, study a different language, enrich oneself, go to the hairdresser, in other words enrich oneself by changing oneself. Well, this seemed a modern, intelligent and meaningful thing to do, because we have to learn to think in these terms. It is obvious that capital already does it, and it does it much better than the State, because capital rightly imagines educational processes as investment processes: this is what private schools are for, and they are surely better than state schools because they are regarded, I insist, as education for investment. On the contrary, for the State the school is often regarded as expense, as an expense item. If we do not manage, at the state, regional, local level, in any case at the public level, to create this attitude of investment for education, I think that everything will end up in the hands of capital and private schools—not necessarily Catholic ones, even though many Catholic schools are moving in this direction. In any case, these schools will be functional to capitalist needs rather than functional to what I like about education, which is the fact that one never finishes learning, but since it is not functional, learning is necessarily continuous and linked to the pleasure of understanding things and enriching oneself with knowledge. Clearly knowledge can be, historically and necessarily, socially productive; if it is only done by him who makes it functional to his own interests, then it will be productive for capital, but these are political choices that states have to make. Now in France 80% of the population reaches secondary school, and I think they will get up to 100% because the French state is following the idea that to educate and train people means to create wealth in the country. I don’t know if it will be functional to capitalism but creating wealth also entails giving people the opportunity to enrich themselves. Today capital certainly needs educated individuals, but individuals also need education, and this would not scare me. I think that the important thing is the possibility to choose how, where and in what subject to get it. If one is forced to study marketing or go to one of the schools that now function to sell commodities (since producing them is no longer that useful), then the decision-makers will have to take responsibility for having left education in the hands of those who necessarily will make it partial rather than a terrain for the achievement of freedom. On the other hand I am absolutely opposed to anyone who says that schools are places of indoctrination, that it is useless to attend them (here in Veneto we are familiar with this debate) and that one can produce, earn and live without going to school, which is often done.