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Thus, Formenti identifies the theme linking (post-)workerist reflection spanning the beginning of the 1960s to present in ‘the idea that all anti-capitalist struggles can be interpreted as’ manifestation of a ‘single antagonist contradiction’ between the ‘collective intelligence (the Marxian general intellect) incorporated in dead labour’, and living labour, reinterpreted as the ‘collective intelligence’ of the working class comprising ‘the mind, creativity, emotions, feelings, relations’, and ‘all that we call today social and cultural capital’ (Formenti, 2011, p.97). Therefore, for Formenti, the ‘decisive theoretical challenge’ for post-operaismo was to ‘demonstrate that’ this ‘contradiction’ remains operative ‘in a post-Fordist era where the epicentre’ of value creation has moved ‘from the factory to society’. Providing ‘provisional response’ to this challenge, ‘the figure of the social worker’ functioned as ‘joining link’ with the ‘category of the multitude’ elaborated in reaction to the ‘technological jump associated’ with the networked computer (p.97) and the phenomena described in the first part of the book (p.98). Thus, for Formenti, three theoretical ‘hybridisations’ have been essential in allowing for this conceptual shift.
Furthermore, Formenti sees this ‘thematic convergence’ as even more evident in the ‘second contamination’, that between ‘Marxism and Foucauldian biopolitics’ (p.98): since, according to Hardt and Negri (2000, 2004, 2009), networked capitalism does not only produce commodities ‘but also social relations and forms of life’ (Formenti, 2011, p.98), the ‘expropriation’ of wealth generated outside ‘capitalist production’ would prevalently concern today the social commons (as opposed to just nature) (p.99). Thus, for Formenti, Hardt and Negri’s belief that ‘value production’ arises from ‘forms of spontaneous social cooperation’ autonomous from ‘capitalistic command’, and whose ‘products’ are not easily ‘subsumable by private property’, marks a partial convergence with ‘the liberal critics of the expropriation of the immaterial commons’.139 However, while the latter see this condition as ‘an opportunity’ for those firms able to ‘coexist with these externalities’ to their own advantage, Hardt and Negri see it as inherently contradictory for, in their opinion, ‘capital can valorise itself only imposing its direct control on knowledge production’ which, however, tends to escape all forms of control hampering ‘the productivity of “biopolitical” labour’ (p.99). The third hybridisation is that with the analysis of the processes of financialisation (p.99). In this account of the latter, the ‘advent of the New Economy’ radically transformed the relationship between ‘finance and the real See, for example, Virno, 2007.
For example Lessig, 2004 and Benkler, 2006.
economy’, rendering obsolete the distinction between them: since ‘immaterial networked capitalism’ can ‘prosper exclusively’ on ‘furious rhythms of technological innovation’ and their financing through ‘systematic overestimation’ of stock market listings of firms, to speak of speculative bubbles is misplaced. It is ‘only through these processes of “virtual” valorisation’ that, in Bologna’s opinion, capital can ‘intercept and translate into profit wealth’ produced outside the boundary of the firm, such as, for instance, that resulting from the free work of prosumers (which, given its ‘extra-economic nature’, would not be measurable otherwise) (p.100). This diagnosis leads to the reconceptualisation of profit as rent (p.111),140 diverting attention from the ‘immediate’ capital-labour relation ‘to the processes of financialisation of the economy’, to explain ‘how capital’ appropriates ‘social wealth produced outside’ the productive process despite the ‘resistance’ of those cooperating ‘autonomously and spontaneously’ with ‘extra-economic ends’ (p.99).
Having closely examined the origins and assumptions of the post-workerist concept of multitude and the attendant identification of networked capitalism as ‘biopolitical device’ putting life itself to work (Formenti, 2011, p.100),141 Formenti moves on to denounce the aporetic character of both. Indeed, given the ‘excessively abstract character of an idea of work’ coinciding with ‘any manifestation of vital energy’ and the ‘eminently philosophical nature’ of the concept of multitude, for Formenti the latter must ‘inevitably’ evoke ‘an equally abstract image of power’, failing to ‘identify’ a clearly distinguishable ‘“enemy”’. Thus, as Formenti indicates, in this context the description of contemporary forms of power can only oscillate between the ‘enumeration of a series of empirical actors’ competing for the control of the ‘new productive environments’, and the ‘abstraction’ of a ghostly Empire hovering over the world, sucking its ‘vital energy’ as a parasite. Furthermore, Formenti points out how the ‘expulsion of the concept of class’ from theory and analysis affects negatively their ‘capacity’ to deal credibly with ‘the problem of’ identifying ‘the subject of social transformation’ (p.101).
Indeed, this conception of contemporary capitalism paradoxically holds that ‘the totality of human relations’ is ‘subsumed within the capitalistic valorisation process’, while all ‘social production’, being ‘biopolitical production of subjectivity’, is ‘external to capital’ and selforganised through ‘spontaneous and autonomous’ cooperation (p.102). However, for Formenti, while post-workerists admit that this implies that revolution can only ‘barge in from See, for example, Vercellone, 2007b (and the second chapter of this thesis).
It is following this identification that some adherents to the hypothesis of cognitive capitalism also refer to the latter as “bio-capitalism”, not least to emphasise the putative necessity to reconfigure economic thinking in a “bio-economic” perspective and amend (if not replace) the labour theory of value, accordingly, with a “life theory of value” (Fumagalli, 2007; Morini, Fumagalli, 2010). The expression “bio-capitalism” also appears consistently in the work of Codeluppi (see, for example, Codeluppi, 2012), an Italian sociologist of consumption adhering to the concept of prosumption, see below.
outside the capital relation’, they still hold, through ‘dialectical contortion’, that revolution is ‘an innovation’ emerging from within the system (p.102).
Formenti highlights how two different traditional justifications are mobilised and revived to provide an answer to this dilemma. Firstly, ‘the classic Marxian scenario of a terminal crisis of capitalism determined by the contradiction between’ the ‘development of productive forces and relations of production’: if production today is first and foremost ‘autonomous production of subjectivity’, with the ‘anachronistic survival of private property’ allowing capital’s parasitism over ‘self-organised social production’, stepping ‘into a new world’ would simply require the liberation from capitalistic control of ‘a social body’ de facto already ‘extraneous to the juridical superstructures’ constraining its productivity (similarly, although with greater detail, see section 2.4 of this thesis, which identifies this endeavour as portraying capitalism as suspended, i.e. undermined and de facto transcended by the current material organisation of production and economic activity, together with their functioning and modality of operations, yet maintaining the form and appearance of capitalism). However, Formenti dismisses this argument as a ‘subterfuge’ hiding the ‘absence of a theory of revolution in Marx’s thought’, 142 and legitimising the point of view of those describing the KBE as ‘a post-capitalistic mode of production’ (p.102). The second justification draws on the ‘conviction’ that ‘any new society’ grows out of the shell of the preceding, leading to ‘revolution’ being seen as ‘an “excess” of the present’ containing and anticipating the future (p.103). For Formenti, this ‘valorisation of immanence’ is in ‘strong continuity’ with the ‘operaista tradition of’ the 1960s and 1970s, which derived a ‘profound confidence’ in civil society’s spontaneous potential for selfgovernment from its critique of ‘the party form’ and attendant faith in the ‘autonomous capacity of the working class’ to ‘self-organise’. As Formenti points out, this attitude resurfaces even more radically in contemporary post-operaismo, which negates any ‘legitimacy to the “autonomy of the political”’, positing the self-government and valorisation of the multitude, and proposes the ‘new forms of “horizontal” organisation’ of virtual communities as substitute for political organisation (p.103). However, while Formenti also stressed in the recent past the similarity between these experiences and the ‘structures of direct democracy’ invented by the workers’ movement throughout its history (p.103),143 he nonetheless showed how, without ‘political institutionalisation’, these phenomena would have been ‘neutralised by the counteroffensive of governments and firms’ in their common effort of ‘normalisation of the web’, and how many of them remained ‘constitutionally ambiguous’ and amenable to ‘evolve into Formenti, 2012 submits that this shortcoming of post-operaismo is due to its reading of Marx privileging the Grundrisse (1993) over Capital (1976, 1978, 1981), with the former work displaying absence in Marx’s thought of a proper ‘theory of social classes’ and of ‘a revolutionary transitions to communism’ (Formenti, 2012, p.51).
See Formenti, 2008.
productive structures functional to the new forms of’ capitalist accumulation (as discussed in the first part of Formenti’s book) (p.104). Thus, for Formenti, post-operaismo’s ‘blind faith’ in the ‘multitude’s capacity to invent ever new forms of democratic self-organisation’ determines its convergence with the ‘utopian enthusiasms of the Web 2.0 gurus’ (p.104).
Against these visions of a post-capitalist present, Formenti is motivated by the prospect of ‘“parenthesising” the thought of Michel Foucault’ (whose analysis he deems helpful ‘to understand how the hegemony of dominant classes is constructed’, but devoid ‘of any antagonistic value’ for its conception of resistance as a ‘constitutive element of the power apparatus’) and proposes to draw instead from the toolbox of a ‘straightened McLuhan’ (Formenti, 2011, p.147) (i.e. purged of ‘undue extension to digital media of his ethical point of view concerning the emancipatory potential of electrical media’, p.148) as complement to a rediscovery of Marxian concepts (p.147). Yet, whether (and to what extent) Marx’s thought and Marxism are in need of, and amenable to, such integration is something on which Formenti remains silent. This is in itself problematic, since, for example, neo-McLuhanite commentators such as Keen (2007) and Lanier (2010) display evidently scathing (though equally ill-informed) opinions about Marxism. On the other hand, Lucas (2012) emphasises, from a Marxist perspective, the limits of the McLuhanite analysis of Carr (2008, 2010). Further, Guy Debord, a Marxist critic of the mass media and their role in the capitalism of the 1960s (which he understood as the ‘society of spectacle’, see Debord, 1996 ), emphatically defined McLuhan ‘the spectacle’s first apologist’ (Debord, 2002 , p.33). Nonetheless, Formenti (2011) aims to reaffirm the enduring significance of Marxian categories as valid tools to understand contemporary capitalism and its dynamics (pp.107-119).144 Indeed, for Formenti, although the ‘neoliberal theorists’ of networked capitalism and the digital revolution implicitly refer to the concept of mode of production, their use of the notion displays reductive technological determinism; on the other hand, the persistence of the commodity form and private appropriation of value (or, in other words, of ‘social relations of exploitation’) determine the persistence of the capitalist mode of production itself (p.108). This, for Formenti, has significant implications. Firstly, the distinction between productive and unproductive labour maintains an undiminished relevance:145 indeed, for Formenti, the greater cooperative nature of the productive process, now intensified by the internet, ‘extends the Similarly, see Formenti, 2012.
For Formenti, the ‘theories of the post-industrial’ could declare this distinction obsolete on the grounds of orthodox Marxism’s exclusive identification of ‘productive labour’ with ‘industrial production of material goods’, and the consequent conception of services and of the labour employed within them as unproductive. However, as Formenti recalls, while this choice was motivated by ethical and political (as opposed to scientific) reasons, finding reflection in the rhetoric and politics of trade unions and leftwing parties, nothing in Marx’s works justifies this interpretation (Formenti, 2011, p.109).