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«      Boffo, Marco (2013) Interrogating the knowledge‐based economy: from  ...»

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However, albeit lively and energetic, this “continuist” reception is problematic for its neglect of, and abstraction from, the history and development of (post-)operaismo within the dynamics of Italian Marxism, society and politics, as well as its own internal theoretical developments and rifts.112 Accordingly, it is interesting to assess the recent work of Sergio Bologna (Bologna, 2007; Bologna, Banfi, 2011) and Carlo Formenti (2011), thus far unavailable in English, for two reasons. Firstly, while the former provides an account of independent work and its role within post-Fordism and the latter assesses the debates on the socio-economics of the internet, their work provides post-workerist dissenting alternatives to the Negrian consensus with respect to the features, dynamics, and conceptual tools identified as central to contemporary capitalism. Thus, it disputes the Negrian consensus’ claim to fame and reception as the (only) radical (post-workerist) political economy of the KBE, while extending the purview of post-workerism to new areas and popular topics at the heart of the debates on the KBE itself.113 Indeed, while Bologna draws on the German sociological debates on intellectual work and self-employment taking place during the Weimar Republic to analyse independent work, The list is too long to include here, but a simple search on any online bookstore suffices to prove the point.

See for instance Marazzi, 2008, 2011a, 2011b; Fumagalli, Mezzadra 2010; Roggero, 2011.

Panzieri, 1976a; Tronti, 2006 [1966, 1971].

Panzieri, 1976b, 1980; Tronti, 1972a, 1972b, 1973, 1979a, 1979b.

Historically-grounded accounts running in the opposite direction include: Corradi, 2011b; Turchetto, 2008; Tronti, 2009; and Wright, 2002.

For instance, Bologna’s reflections and analysis intersect and overlap with the debates on the putatively ongoing new processes of class formation within contemporary capitalism, especially in relation to new technological developments and recent changes in contemporary labour markets (for different accounts, see: Huws, 2003, ch.10; Fuchs, 2010a, 2010b; Standing, 2011). Similarly, Formenti’s reflections review, cover and assess many popular accounts of the politics and socio-economics of the internet, not least by siding with the McLuhanite sceptical readings of the latter against the readings of those celebrating them as emancipatory (for the division of this literature in the two camps of “celebrants” and “sceptics”, see McChesney, 2013).

and Formenti draws on Marx and McLuhan(ism) to denounce the convergence of neoliberal and autonomist accounts of the KBE, both propose a reading of the latter which debunks the proclamations of a new organisation of capitalism (or altogether new mode of production) characterised by greater freedom and autonomy for workers, typical of post-workerism and the Negrian consensus. Secondly, their work problematises and challenges the Anglo-American “continuist” reading of Italian (post-)operaismo, with the resurgence of the critique of Negri of old protagonists (Bologna and Formenti), influenced by their workerist roots and openly critical of the Negrian consensus. The persistence and renewal of critiques of Negri should not come as a surprise, however muted and unrecognised these may have been: indeed, Bologna and Formenti share a similar position within the history of (post-)operaismo, with both instrumental at one phase or another in pushing it forward,114 but later coming to dissent from Negri and the politics of autonomia.115 Nonetheless, and whatever the reader’s possible greater sympathy towards these authors (as opposed to the Negrian consensus), the search for an operaismo of our times in the work of these post-workerist dissenters will be frustrated. Indeed, although showing variety in the interpretation of the fundamental dynamics of contemporary capitalism within post-workerist reflection, and providing scathing and sometimes penetrating critiques of the Negrian consensus, this post-workerist dissent also displays striking similarities with the latter’s core features. Thus, not only Bologna and Formenti fail to move beyond the analyses of Hardt and Negri and the Negrian consensus guiding the cognitive capitalism debate, but their work is equally exemplary of the state of suspension that the previous chapter has identified for postworkerism (not least in relation to the debates on immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism).

Indeed, although aiming to provide a radical and critical account of contemporary capitalism rooted in Marxist political economy and, de facto, attempting to provide an alternative to the Negrian consensus more in line with the heritage of the original Italian operaismo of the 1960s, the very development of Bologna and Formenti’s analyses undermines their own analytical and political ambitions. This is nowhere as evident as in the ultimate reduction of their analysis to the search for an actor of social change no less spasmodic than that of the Negrian Bologna coined the key operaista concept of mass worker (operaio massa) (Bologna, 2007) – but see Turchetto, 2008, p.288, which, relying on Palano, attributes paternity to Alquati, 1962. Formenti was one of the founders, with the Gruppo Gramsci, of the journal Rosso, one of the main references for Autonomia Operaia (Formenti, 1999-2000).

Bologna dissented from Negri over the abandonment of the concept of mass worker in favour of that of social worker (operaio sociale) – a shift he saw as Negri’s theoretical sleight of hand to bypass the political difficulties and organisational failures of the former – and left Potere Operaio because of the organisation’s ambiguous flirting with violent action. Similarly, Formenti retreated from active militancy out of dissent with the vanguardist turn within the autonomia movement and the consequent militarisation of conflict. For personal accounts, see Bologna, 2001 and Formenti, 1999-2000. On Bologna’s break with Negri, see also Wright, 2002, pp.170-171, 175.





consensus, which, despite a professed radical commitment to the interests of labour, has the effect of disqualifying the experience of most of the working class itself. While sections 3.2 and

3.3 of this chapter review the recent work and intellectual trajectory of, respectively, Bologna and Formenti, section 3.4 addresses the issue of whether and why this post-workerist dissent is unfit to revive an operaismo of our times, focusing on the immanent contradictions leading it to reproduce similar shortcomings to those of the analysis proposed within the Negrian consensus.

3.2) The point is to change it: Bologna’s eleventh thesis.

Bologna’s recent intellectual and political efforts and writing centre around second generation autonomous work (lavoro autonomo di seconda generazione),116 a concept he coined to describe self-employed and freelance workers falling out of both traditional own-account work (first generation autonomous work) in agriculture, commerce and craftsmanship, and professions certified and protected by Registers (Bologna, Fumagalli, 1997; Bologna, 2007, pp.35-36, 127-128, 159-163). Drawing from his own experience as a freelance consultant in the logistics sector – an occupation Bologna had to “invent” for himself in the early 1980s, as his life as an academic came to a halt for political reasons (Bologna, 2007, Competenze e poteri, pp.137-155) – Bologna’s books pick up the thread of his landmark contribution to the Italian debate on post-Fordism (Bologna, Fumagalli, 1997). The latter laid the foundations of Bologna’s political economy of second generation autonomous work by tracing the characteristics, modalities, and conditions of existence distinguishing it as a precise social figure (Bologna, 1997a). In doing so, Bologna tracked the conceptualisations of selfemployment and their legacy from the early sociological debates of the Weimar Republic on intellectual work, all the way to the recent expansion of own-account within post-Fordism, with special emphasis on the apogee and decline of Fordism (and the culture of work attached to it), the refusal of work of the (Italian and German) post-1968 generations and social movements, and the neglect of second generation autonomous work in the economic sociology of the industrial districts and Third Italy (consequently charged of proposing a onesidedly positive account of post-Fordism and its dynamics) (Bologna, 1997b). With a nod to Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach and Bologna’s own ‘eleventh thesis’ on second generation autonomous work (Bologna, 2007, L’undicesima tesi, pp.55-107), the title of the current section of this chapter summarises Bologna’s trajectory of the last fifteen years, which It must be emphasised here how, by contrast with the extremely abstract conception of the autonomy of labour put forward by Hardt and Negri (2000, 2004, 2009), in this context “autonomous work” refers to a specific juridical figure (lavoro autonomo), regulated in the Italian Civil Code (Codice Civile, Libro Quinto, Titolo IIII) and equivalent to self-employment (i.e. a concrete sector of the labour market).

can be outlined as follows: conceptualisation of the nature and condition of second generation autonomous work through ten theses;117 analysis of the consequences of a changing economic, political, institutional, and socio-cultural landscape for second generation autonomous work and its growing self-awareness (Bologna, 2007, especially, though not exclusively, L’undicesima tesi, pp.55-107); and analysis of constraints and opportunities faced by second generation autonomous work in the processes of self-protection, representation of its own interests, and coalition-building (Bologna, Banfi, 2011).118 The thrust of this analysis provides scepticism on, and an alternative to, the “novelty” announced by both the apologists of the KBE and the theorists of immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism.119 Indeed, Bologna is critical of the ‘usage of the term “knowledge worker” as an all-embracing’ category, ‘applied indiscriminately to all activities entailing cognitive work’, because of its unhelpfulness ‘to understand the profound differentiation of the labour market and the real transformations’ occurring within it (Bologna, 2007, p.128). On the other hand, he deems the categories of multitude and exodus ‘too generic’ and potentially homogenising (p.242),120 and the theories of immaterial labour and cognitive capitalism as prone to obscuring the ‘materiality’ of labour within a globalisation merging elements of Fordism and post-Fordism (p.91).

In line with his workerist roots, Bologna’s analysis begins by reassessing workplace dynamics from the standpoint of labour. Seen from this perspective, post-Fordism thrives on combining stable and precarious employment, aggravating the differences between competing components of a segmented labour force (Bologna, 2007, pp.15-16).121 Thus, rather than just bad managerial practice, Bologna sees labour contract flexibility and its pervasiveness as acquiring a structural status and role within post-Fordism comparable to that of the scientific Bologna, 1997a identifies ten parameters to conceptualise own-account work (lavoro autonomo) and distinguish it from traditional employment: content, perception of space, perception of time, professional identity, form of compensation, necessary resources for access to autonomy, necessary resources for maintaining autonomy, market conditions, organisation and representation of its interests, and citizenship rights.

Processes which see Bologna and his co-author Banfi, also a freelance consultant, strongly involved through active militancy in the Associazione Consulenti Terziario Avanzato, http://www.actainrete.it th (last accessed on the 9 of August 2013).

That Bologna’s formulations represent a dissenting alternative to Hardt and Negri’s theory of immaterial labour has been recognised (more or less explicitly) by historians of (post-)operaismo. For example, Cuninghame (2000, p.98) explicitly presents Bologna’s ‘self-employed “autonomous worker” as an alternative to Negri’s “immaterial worker” as the new social subject of this era’.

‘By exodus’ Hardt and Negri mean ‘a process of subtraction from the relationship with capital by means of actualizing the potential autonomy of labor-power’. Thus, for Hardt and Negri, ‘[e]xodus is...

not a refusal of the productivity of biopolitical labor-power but rather a refusal of the increasingly restrictive fetters placed on its productive capacities by capital’ (Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.152).

In this respect, Bologna’s account echoes common understandings of precarious employment relations as the ‘product of labour market changes over the last four decades’. However, these have been a ‘pervasive feature of labour markets in developed countries since the first industrial revolution, apart from a brief interregnum’ in the thirty years following the Second World War (Quinlan, 2012, p.19).

organisation of labour under Taylorism (p.13), with the intention of eradicating from the workplace the material and ideal conditions for coalition-building. Therefore, for Bologna postFordism is not, and cannot be, a regime of generalised precarity or flexibility, as that would reconstitute, albeit on different bases, the grounds for unity of the working class (pp.15-16) (as if this were sufficient to equip workers with the capacity and the material conditions for organising effectively, as opposed to something which cannot be determined or understood in isolation from the broader dynamics and categories of capitalism). However, having recognised the end of the workplace as terrain of solidarity, Bologna deems futile, if not damaging, the attempts to re-enact old coalition-building attitudes, habits, and practices which he sees fit for Fordist times (p.15). Indeed, for Bologna post-Fordist contractual flexibility is not produced exclusively by capitalist restructuring, but also deliberately pursued by workers to safeguard their own autonomy and independence, and reconcile working life with care activities. Thus, post-Fordism would result from both capital restructuring and the active refusal of work, and the renewal of coalition-building practices and processes cannot but move beyond demonising assessments of contemporary forms of work (pp.30-31).



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