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

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ambit of application of the concept’ of productive labour up to ‘embracing tendentially the totality of interconnected subjects’ (p.109). Furthermore, Formenti recalls how ‘for Marx’ whether workers produce ‘material goods or services’ does not matter ‘to establish’ whether labour is productive or not; what matters is whether it produces surplus-value. Thus, for Formenti, this and the ongoing subsumption within surplus-value production of an everincreasing number of activities and social relations suffice to ‘dispel the misunderstanding’ associating ‘tertiarisation to the growth of unproductive labour’ (p.110).

Secondly, the concepts of formal and real subsumption allow attention and emphasis to shift from technological evolution per se to ‘the evolution of the social relation of exploitation of labour’, of which technology is not a ‘direct cause’ but a ‘catalyser’ insofar as it allows and accelerates transition from the production of absolute to relative surplus value (p.112).

However, although formal and real subsumption are ‘generally interpreted as’ distinct ‘successive moments of a unidirectional’ and ‘temporally oriented’ process, ‘Marx’s vision is not this linear and schematic’: formal and real subsumption, as well as absolute and relative surplus-value, ‘coexist and interweave in different proportions’ according to the ‘historical, social and cultural’ contexts in which capital ‘concretely’ operates, and the opposition it encounters from those ‘forms of life’ resisting incorporation within the market (p.113). Thus, for Formenti, while ‘technological revolutions allow’ capitalist colonisation of activities previously outside the scope of valorisation, they also allow ‘the birth of new areas of social autonomy which’, however, can be subsequently ‘integrated in’ capital’s ‘valorisation process’;

and, in Formenti’s opinion, the very history of the internet would exemplify this dialectic between processes of socialisation and de-socialisation characterising the history and functioning of capitalism (p.115). Lastly, Formenti dismisses the celebrations of the end of the rule of dead over living labour grounded with the opinion that contemporary capitalist valorisation draws on the ‘individual and collective creativity of producers’ (as opposed to a labour process subsuming living labour under the control of a system of machines) as mistaken, since this is to underestimate the ‘enormous power’ of the computer and internet.

Indeed, digital technologies ‘are not neutral’; they exert ‘coercion, control and discipline’ over the mind, constituting an unprecedented form of ‘“mental taylorism”’. Thus, while ‘new relations of exploitation’ may ‘appear similar to those’ characterising the first phase of formal subsumption of labour to capital,146 in reality they ‘embody more advanced and sophisticated forms of’ real subsumption,147 with formal and real subsumption, and absolute and relative As abundantly discussed in the second chapter of this thesis, the claim of a return to formal subsumption is central to the cognitive capitalism debate and the Negrian consensus guiding it (see, for example, Vercellone, 2007a and Hardt, Negri, 2009).

Similarly, see Lucas, 2010.

surplus value, continuing to ‘coexist and interweave’ (as opposed to being ‘stages of an irreversible temporal process’) (p.116). However, if it is ‘premature to decree the end of the rule of’ dead over living labour (p.116), for Formenti the era of digital technology relaunches the significance of Marx’s reflection on the general intellect (p.117). Indeed, while this shows, in Formenti’s opinion, how the theorists of the KBE have only reframed in ‘“fashionable”’ words ideas discussed by Marx more than a century ago (although they do not see a contradiction between the development of the forces of production and the social relations of production), it also highlights a deficiency in the post-workerist revival of the collapse of capitalism due to the terminal contradiction between development of the forces of production and the social relations of production, and in Marx’s thought itself. Indeed, for Formenti, ‘digital capitalism managed to render obsolete’ the ‘illusion that the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production’ can, by itself, determine ‘the collapse of capitalism’ (p.119). Thus, if for Formenti this highlights how Marx’s thought lacks a theory of transition and of the revolutionary subject, it also highlights how the post-workerist attempt to address these issues through the concept of multitude fails to undertake a serious analysis of class composition within networked capitalism, and to handle appropriately the task of political organisation (p.119).

At this point Formenti wonders whether it is ‘still possible to analyse social conflict’ from the standpoint of work, and whether the latter can still provide a foundation for class identity (objectively and subjectively intended) in the KBE, i.e. ‘an epoch of fragmentation and individualisation of the working classes’ where the ‘Marxian polarisation between owners of the means of production and sellers of labour force’ alone is insufficient to provide an answer to these issues (Formenti, 2011, p.120). Thus, to assess whether knowledge workers are the ‘bearers of a unitary’ and ‘potentially “revolutionary”’ class identity, Formenti distinguishes two definitions of knowledge workers as a class – a ‘restricted’ and an ‘extended’ definition.





For Formenti, the ‘most useful version’ (p.120) of the former is identifiable in Florida’s “creative class” (Florida, 2002) which, ‘theoretically weak but empirically rich’ (Formenti, 2011, p.120), identifies creativity and mutually shared values (free-sprititedness, diffidence towards hierarchy, informality in social relations, tolerance, etc.) as unifying factor of the ‘superior strata’ (in terms of social and cultural capital endowments) of a varied array of professionals (p.120-121). The ‘extended definition’, on the other hand, is identified by Formenti in the postworkerist ‘concept of multitude’, which extends ‘the concept of knowledge’ work ‘to all activities’ contributing, although in different ways, ‘directly or indirectly’, to ‘create value for networked capitalism’. From this point of view, ‘creatives are not a social class, but the superior stratum of an ample and stratified class composition’ and, therefore, linking with the interests of traditional industrial or other service sectors’ workers ‘is not a problem of alliances, but of recomposition on the basis of common antagonism with respect to capital’ (p.122).

As discussed earlier on in this chapter, Formenti tackled this issue in the past (in Formenti, 2002): after ‘having identified the emergent subject’ in a ‘Fifth Estate … susbtantially homologous to the concepts of creative class, hacker class and knowledge workers’, he hypothesised that it could exert hegemony on other strata of the workforce, to create, then, ‘new forms of political organisation able to convert hegemony into’ a ‘revolutionary project’ (Formenti, 2011, p.122). However, it is the developments described in the first part of Formenti’s book that induced him to abandon ‘this illusion’ (a point to which we will return in section 3.4 of this chapter) and to question the pertinence of conceiving knowledge workers as an avant-garde in the ‘complex backdrop of global class conflicts’ (p.122). Indeed, for Formenti, in the context of the diffusion of the ‘“Wal Mart model” … founded on processes of tertiarisation/financialisation’, ‘the purchase of commodities produced in developing countries to be sold to an increasingly impoverished middle class’, and the anti-union politics and policies of traditional firms (p.123), the ‘firms of the New Economy have not’ had to ‘neutralise’ the unionised resistance of their workers (p.124). Convinced that ‘flexibility is a conquest and not an imposition’, that ‘the horizontal structure of the networked firm could liberate them from’ bureaucratic routines and ‘favour rapid careers based on individual merit’, and fully identifying themselves with managerial objectives, these have, in Formenti’s opinion, unflinchingly adapted to the spillover of working time into free time, unaware of the ‘structures of power and control embedded in the new modalities of organisation and exploitation of work’, and interiorising ‘the “guilt”’ for the failure of firms employing them in the crash of the new economy (p.124).

However, for Formenti, the ascent of the creative class predicated by Florida (2002) is not entirely ‘an illusion’ hiding ‘the reality of a process of “proletarianisation” of the middle classes’ (Formenti, 2011, p.124). Indeed, in Formenti’s opinion, ‘concepts such as creative class, knowledge workers, etc.’ have the ‘limit of concentrating attention’ on the ‘cultural values shared by a given social stratum’, thus neglecting ‘differences of income, power, social capital etc.’ (p.124). For Formenti, once these are taken into account, it is important to see the creative class in the context of the ‘radical semantic shift’ leading to a ‘radical inversion of roles between modernisers and traditionalists’, ‘progressives and conservatives’, in American politics (p.125) (and, one might add, beyond). With this shift, ‘modernity and progress’ are not identified anymore with ‘the enlargement of workers’ rights but with the promotion of productive models and lifestyles’ favouring environmentalism, individual creativity, tolerance, etc. (p.125). Thus, for Formenti, ‘the massacre of the American middle class’ since the end of the 1970s has been perpetrated at the hands of republican and democratic administrations alike, not because of any ‘treason of the clerks’, but rather due to an ‘ideological mutation parallel to the ascent’ to power ‘of the class’ debuting on ‘the political scene with the movements of the’ 1960s. Therefore, for Formenti, the continuity established by ‘the gurus of the New Economy’ between the ‘countercultures’ of the 1960s and the ‘values of the protagonists of the digital revolution’ is correct, as long as (following Lacanian commentary on contemporary society – most notably Žižek, 2006) the attention is shifted from ‘elements such as freedom of expression, meritocracy, anti-authoritarianism’ to the ‘convergence’ between the ‘taste for transgression’ of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s and the ‘demeasure of capitalist accumulation’ (p.126). Thus, for Formenti, the ‘ascent’ to power ‘of this elite is symbolised by the years of the Clinton presidency’, which signalled the rise to power of the ‘upper strata’ of the generation of 1968 backed by the entrepreneurs of ‘the digital revolution and the invention of the first business model of the New Economy’. Hence, with the (first) election of Obama, Formenti sees the closure of a cycle, whereby Florida’s claim of lack of representation for the creative class does not hold anymore: the ‘Fifth Estate has had its own ‘89, thanks to the cultural hegemony’ that it has exerted on the lower levels of the ‘networked society’, but ‘a third cycle of the revolutionary process’ is not in view. Thus, Formenti proposes ‘to abandon the dreams’ (p.127) of self-organising and self-governing multitudes to resume the analysis of the ‘political composition of the proletariat’ shifting attention to the ‘global level’ (p.128).

Closing his book with a short overview of the role of (control over) the internet in the hegemonic strategy of the United States and the struggles of (Chinese) workers (pp.128-138), Formenti locates in the emerging economies ‘the perspective of a cycle of struggles founded on the convergence of interests between industrial neo-proletariat, creative class and migrants’, whose ‘alliance’ can be ‘welded by the use of new networked technologies as instruments of mobilisation and political organisation of struggles’. For Formenti, China is already exhibiting the ‘objective prerequisites’ of this process under the form of: ‘rapid formation of ample workers’ masses due to the processes of outsourcing of Western and Japanese industries’; the rapid growth of a ‘creative class’ which is acquiring the duties of its Western counterpart (‘destroyed by the crisis’); and the ‘presence of powerful internal migratory flows’ from the countryside to big cities. In this context, whether these processes are ‘a moment of the ascent of a nation destined to undermine’ the role of the United States as ‘leader of the capitalism of the twenty-first century’ or, on the other hand, a moment of the emergence of ‘a model of development destined to’ supplant ‘the current mode of production’ in hitherto unimagined ways (p.137), will depend for Formenti on the outcome of these class struggles. Holding the latter as a ‘frankly “operaista” opinion’, Formenti believes that the Chinese example should lead the theorists of operaismo to ‘self-critical reflection’ on their rejection on the ‘“autonomy of the political”’, thus shifting attention from the ‘function of representation’ of institutions (‘the state, the party, the union, etc.’) to ‘the capacity... of subaltern classes of using them’ (p.138).



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