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having rejected value theory and neglected political economy through postmodernism, privileging subjectivity and a politics of cultural resistance (Cremin, Roberts, 2011), postoperaismo is left without bearing and grounding in the material processes structuring social, political and economic life. With the latter and political economy powerfully reclaiming the scene with a vengeance as a result of the current crisis, post-workerism, having nothing left within its research and political programmes to address the economic, finds nowhere to go but to seek explanation externally, forcibly summoning economics to its help. Thus, having adopted the rhetoric of mainstream business discourses and economics, post-workerism finds nothing else to offer but a political rhetoric and project which, with its misconstrual of the state, the market and civil society as separate entities, and its focus on externalities, social capital and market failure as explanatory principles, mimics the Post-Washington Consensus and Good Governance Agenda (albeit in populist guise). Having departed from Marxian political economy, post-workerism comes full circle: the debasement of the proposal of the original operaismo is complete, and the standpoint of labour lost.
2.6) Conclusion This chapter has put forward an assessment of the immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism debates, where the latter has been presented as completing and complementing the former in building the socio-economic foundation of a post-workerist theory of contemporary capitalism. Expanding on this interpretative key, the post-workerist aim of providing a radical understanding of the KBE, the concomitant post-workerist portrayal of capitalism as suspended (that is, surviving in form and appearance, yet undermined in practice and content by its very own workings and modality of operations), and the subsequent post-workerist advocacy for a rethinking of political economy along “biopolitical” lines have all been subject to close scrutiny.
In the process, emphasis has been placed on the apparently paradoxical nature of a theory claiming attachment and commitment to Marx’s method and analysis as point of departure, but, eventually, coming to propose the use of categories drawn from mainstream economics to understand, and account for, the presumed centrality of “biopolitical production” in contemporary capitalism. However, this chapter has also demonstrated how post-workerism provides a flawed account of capitalism, its functioning and dynamics. Furthermore, the chapter has also shown how post-workerism misunderstands and erroneously dismisses Marx’s value theory, while at the same time progressively reducing its own socio-economic and political analysis to the successive strategic elaboration of social figures and political subjects which, despite partial (or, more often, tenuous, if not imaginary) links with the working class and its condition, reality and behaviour, are understood as transcendental actors with respect to capitalism. Last but not least, this chapter has demonstrated how the postworkerist political project, reframed by Hardt and Negri as the prospect of “the common”, is ambiguously similar, if not outright subaltern, to neoliberalism, not least because of its shallow and rhetorical (as opposed to analytically purposeful) mobilisation of categories from mainstream economics.
Thus, that the closing of Hardt and Negri’s trilogy reaches the grotesque endpoint of a rhetorical turn to mainstream economics simultaneously with the completion of the socioeconomic foundation of the post-workerist theory of contemporary capitalism is neither coincidental nor fortuitous. Indeed, although parading as an attempt to revive political economy in the footsteps of Marx’s method and up to the task of responding to the theoretical and practical challenges posed by the putative emergence of the KBE, all the post-workerist conceptual “innovations” are, in fact, as many steps back with respect to the theoretical advances established by Marx’s value theory and (critique of) political economy in the systemic understanding of capitalism. Thus, on the one hand, the attempt to innovate Marxian political economy through hybridising it with postmodernism ultimately left post-workerism bereft of the appropriate analytical categories and conceptual tools to understand the economic; on the other hand, the inescapable necessity to address the latter, both in general and in the burst and context of the current crisis, ultimately led post-workerism to seek support from the discipline and toolbox of economics, even if only rhetorically. However, this shift from (the attempt to correct Marx through) postmodernism to the tools of mainstream economics has nothing of the extraordinary; rather, it is exemplary of how, neither here nor there, postworkerism remains caught between (the memory of) its “glorious” past and its current political ineffectiveness. Therefore, the paradoxical nature of post-workerism is easily resolved, and its ambiguities dispelled. Indeed, and despite the post-workerist prognosis for capitalism, it is not the latter that is suspended, but post-workerism itself: suspended from the processes shaping and structuring the functioning of capitalism, and the purposeful understanding of these that can be reached through correct application of the tools, concepts and analytical categories of Marxian political economy; suspended from its own origins in labour process analysis, the original Italian operaismo of the 1960s, and the reality of labour and the working class; and, ultimately and despite much radical posturing, suspended from the political project of Marxist political economy itself. Although parading as an attempt to revive all of these, post-workerism undermines them through the development of its own analysis. In conclusion, rather than producing an understanding of the relations between knowledge and the economy that is superior to that reachable through purposeful deployment of Marxian categories, postworkerism produces ignorance of Marxian political economy itself. However, while the declining trajectory of post-workerism stands testimony to the unavoidable necessity for social theory to address and confront the economic, it also highlights the necessity of developing an understanding of knowledge, information and new technology rigorously committed to Marxian value theory.
Chapter 3 – Between the “Domestication” of Work and “Prosumption”: Whither (Post-) Operaismo Beyond Hardt and Negri?101 3.1) Introduction Historically, each new wave of technological change and innovation has come equipped with its own rhetoric of path-breaking epochal transformation. Although differently positioned along the spectrum running from techno-utopianism to techno-pessimism, commentaries on the social effects of technology usually converge on highlighting the unprecedented nature of the changes brought about by the new technology at hand, and their radical break with the situation preceding them. In this respect, the advent of the networked personal computer has not been any less conducive to speculation than previous instances and waves of technological change. Indeed, given its character of general purpose machine, the networked personal computer has attracted attention for its ability to function simultaneously as means of production, communication, and consumption. Thus, its widespread diffusion has prompted enthusiastic analyses of its capacity to renegotiate the boundaries between production, consumption, and social reproduction. Furthermore, this has been understood as entailing the renegotiation of the boundaries between work and home, public and private, and so on. In particular, two trends have attracted attention and received emphasis: firstly, the capacity of networked computers to allow for the “domestication” of work,102 (that is, the performance of work from home – or elsewhere, but always away from the office or workplace – aided and mediated by ICTs) and the latter’s effects on the structure of employment; secondly, the capacity of networked computers to give a new impetus to the processes of “prosumption” (that is, the creation of goods and services for consumption, produced by consumers themselves).103 While reflections on these concepts and processes originate in businessoriented writing, attaching to them the promise of a cleaner, cosier, toil-free and brighter future in which the functions of the brain replace those of brawn (see Toffler, 1980 for a classical example), radical scholarship and debates have taken them up recently to identify new forms of exploitation. This chapter deals with the way in which these concepts and processes function as cornerstone of the analyses of contemporary capitalism provided by All direct translation from Italian and French are my own. Emphasis in quotes is always in the original unless otherwise specified.
This has also been referred to as “teleworking”, “distance working”, “remote working”, “home-based telework”, or “telecommuting”. Similar discussions have concentrated on “nomadic work” and the “electronic cottage”. See Toffler, 1980 for an enthusiastic account, and Maldonado, 1997 and Huws, 2003 for reviews and critical assessments of earlier debates on the topic.
This is also sometimes referred to as “produsage” (Fuchs, 2010a, 2010b; Ritzer et al., 2012).
Sergio Bologna (Bologna, 2007; Bologna, Banfi, 2011) and Carlo Formenti (2011). These authors are post-workerist critics of Hardt and Negri (2000, 2004, 2009) and of the Negrian consensus that has gathered around them in the wake of the debates on immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism, and they have focused their critical reflection around, respectively, the implications of the domestication of work for the structure of employment and the processes of class recomposition, and the socio-economic dynamics of the internet and their implications for contemporary capitalism (not least in relation to the processes of class recomposition themselves).
Indeed, over four decades of neoliberalism and the coeval crisis of influence of Marxism, Italian post-operaismo has gained prominence at the turn of the century through the work of Hardt and Negri (2000, 2004, 2009) and the concomitant rise of Italian Theory in AngloAmerican academia.104 Thus, it has become one of the most debated reconceptualisations of contemporary capitalism. Indeed, Hardt and Negri’s trilogy (Hardt, Negri, 2000, 2004, 2009) has been extremely influential in recasting and popularising the conceptual apparatus developed over the last forty years by Italian post-workerist autonomist Marxism in its encounter with French post-structuralism. With the socio-economic foundation of its political philosophy resting on the concept of immaterial labour (Camfield, 2007), now completed and complemented by the debate on, and conceptualisation of contemporary capitalism as, cognitive capitalism (Toscano 2007; Vercellone 2007a) (as discussed in the second chapter of this thesis), Hardt and Negri’s post-operaismo has come to be perceived within AngloAmerican radical scholarship and activism as the radical political economy of the KBE.
Furthermore, this enthusiastic reception is too often based on, and itself a vehicle for, a reading emphasising continuity both within and between operaismo and post-operaismo under the organising principle of autonomism,105 implicitly identifying Negri’s post-operaismo (and the theoretical work associated with the phase of autonomia) as the only logical and legitimate inheritor of the original Italian operaismo,106 and retrospectively attributing his positions (as if by osmosis) to the whole paradigm.107 The workings of the publishing world also played an important part in shaping and reinforcing this “continuist” reception, giving it the character of a Negrian consensus: as the success of Empire (Hardt, Negri, 2000) in the Once primarily considered a ‘footnote’ to French post-structuralism (Wright, 2007, p.270), contemporary Italian political philosophy has come recently to the fore in Anglo-American debates relabelled as “Italian Theory” (see Pasquinelli, 2011 and Gentili, 2012 for positive accounts).
See, for example: Dyer-Witheford, 1994, 1999; Cleaver, 2000 .
Which, according to Tronti (2009, p.7), spans from the birth of the journal Quaderni Rossi in 1961 to the death of the journal Classe Operaia in 1967.
Wright’s (2002) careful history of Italian operaismo and his mapping of its intellectual legacy in Wright, 2007 and 2008b, stand out as notable exceptions, soliciting praise in Italy in: Bologna, 2007 (Sulla storia dell’operaismo, pp.244-257); Gambino, 2008; and Bellofiore, Tomba, 2008.
Anglophone world spurred a wave of translations and reprints of Negri’s earlier works,108 together with the translation of like-minded post-workerist literature,109 other currents and leading lights of operaismo did not receive similar attention. Thus, key texts of the original operaismo of the 1960s such as those of two of its founding fathers (Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti), although published in Italy as books,110 remain available in English only as a handful of old journal articles and book chapters.111 These two tendencies have acted as parallel forces, allowing the “continuist” reception of operaismo to gloss over important differences between the three main phases of operaismo (each under the intellectual guidance of, respectively, Raniero Panzieri, Mario Tronti, and Antonio Negri), not least those related to their interpretation and acceptance of Marx’s value theory and their conception of political strategy.