On May 5th a group of “artists, curators, critics, guard room, graphic designers, performers, actors, dancers, musicians, writers, journalists, art teachers, students, and everybody who works in the field of art and culture” occupied the Galfa Tower (Torre Galfa) skyscraper in the heart of Milan, Italy. We have been in touch with members involved in the occupation and they will be sharing things here on OE in English in the coming weeks. Below please find their first press release.


We are glad to declare the opening of MACAO, the new arts centre in Milan, a great experiment in building with a bottom up approach a space where to produce art and culture. A place where artists and citizens can gather together in order to invent a new system of rules for a common and participatory management which, in an autonomous way, will redefine time and priorities of their work and allow them to experiment new common languages.

We are artists, curators, critics, guard room, graphic designers, performers, actors, dancers, musicians, writers, journalists, art teachers, students, and everybody who works in the field of art and culture. We’ve been mobilizing for one year, meeting in assemblies where to discuss our situation as precarious workers in the fields of artistic production, entertainment, media, entertainment industry, festivals and the so-called economy of the event. A world increasingly hostage of the finance that exploits and absorbs the primary task of culture, which is being an economy of sharing.

We represent a large share of the workforce of this city that has always been an outpost of advanced service sector. We are the multitude of workers of the creative industries that too often has to submit to humiliating conditions to access income, with no protection and no coverage in terms of welfare and not even being considered as proper interlocutors for the current labor reform, all focused on the instrumental debate over the article 18. We were born precarious, we are the pulse of the future economy, and we will not continue to accommodate exploitation mechanisms and loss redistribution.

We open MACAO in order to let the culture strongly regain a piece of Milan, in response to a story that too often has seen the city ravaged by public procurement professionals, unscrupulous building permits, in a neo-liberal logic that has always humiliated the inhabitants and pursued a single goal: the profit of few excluding the many.

Since last spring, many citizens, artists and cultural workers have given life to new experiences through practices of occupation of public and private abandoned spaces. Such experiences are proving to last in time, by taking care of culture, territories, work, new forms of economy and new forms of collective intelligence. The artistic production must therefore be entirely rethought, we must take this time and this right in a serious and radical way, directly taking care of what is ours. Macao is this, a space for everyone, that must become an active laboratory where art, entertainment, culture, education and information workers are invited. Here artists, intellectuals, lawyers, constitutionalists, activists, writers, film makers, philosophers, economists, architects and urban planners, neighbourhood and city inhabitants should take the time to build a social, common and cooperative dimension.

We have a lot of work to do, we must transform these words into real practices, more and more constituent and effective, in order to build alternative models to those in which we live, and everything depends on us. We should not take anything for granted, producing competent inquiries, debates, analysis and confrontations concerning all the territories that produce inequality and expropriation of value, not to mention the new forms into which the capitalist ideology is disguising. We need to have joy and humour to transform this commitment into a human, collective and liberated moment. We should take care of this space so that it can host everyone. It is fundamental that in this space art and communication cease to be ends in themselves. On the opposite, they must explode and find their motivations in this fight, building new imaginaries and bringing into light the world that we see. Viva Macao and keep up the good work!

We fought alongside and within this network: Lavoratori dell’arte, Cinema Palazzo in Rome, Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome, Sale Docks in Venice, Teatro Coppola in Catania, L’Asilo della Creatività e della Conoscenza in Naples, and Teatro Garibaldi Aperto in Palermo.


For more information, please visit their Facebook page where they have been posting updates and more.


Towards the European Insurrection by Franco Berardi

Europe will be the product of your mind

Spring 2011 : the European Union is on the brink of the catastrophe, as Neoliberal dogmatism is imposing the diktat of the financial class upon the interests of society.

Let’s look back, before we try to understand what has to be done.

In the year 1933 in his Discours à la nation européenne, Julien Benda wrote the following words :

«Vous ferez l’Europe par ce que vous direz, non par ce que vous serez. L’Europe sera un produit de votre esprit, de la volonté de votre esprit, non un produit de votre être. Et si vous me répondez que vous ne croyez pas à l’autonomie de l’esprit, que votre esprit ne peut être autre chose qu’un aspect de votre être, alors je vous déclare que vous ne ferez jamais l’Europe. Car il n’y a pas d’Être européen. »

Benda says that there is no European identity. No ethnic identity, no religious identity, no national identity. This is the strenght and the beauty of the European project.  Europe can only be the product of our mind.

I would say also: a product of our imagination. And the problem of Europe nowadays is exactly here : the European leading class, and also the European intellighentzia, if something like this still exists, has lost any vision, any imagination of the future, and is only able to reassess the old failed dogmas of capitalist accumulation and of mandatory economic growth and financial profit. This is clearly leading European society to the catastrophe.

What has been Europe in the past century ? As Benda predicted, it has been the product of a vision.

In 1945 Europe was the vision of a political construction overcoming the philosophical opposition of Enlightenment and Romantik, the opposition of Universal Reason and cultural identity. It was the vision and the dream of a word of peace, the dream of a post-national process. This was the strenght and the attraction of the European idea.

Then, in the ‘70s and in the ’80 Europe was the project of overcoming the opposition between East and West, between socialism and democratic values. It was also the expectation of prosperity for everybody. The upheaval of 1989 and the following unification was the fullfillment of this European dream.

Prosperity has been the common ground of identification for old and new European citizens. But when the decline of the Western dominance on the world economy started to jeopardize European prosperity, what happened of the European political expectations ? Europe, once viewed as a symbol of hope and an object of desire, suddendly has turned a symbol of economic oppression and the harbinger of impoverishment.

In an article published by the New York Times in 2010 when the European crisis started to be perceived in all its seriousness, Roger Cohen wrote some far sighted words. What is more frightening in the current European situation, he said, is not the danger of a financial collapse, but the absence of a vision in the words of the European leaders. What they are only able to repeat is that the Maastricht criteria have to be honoured, and the debts have to be paid and the banks have to be protected, at the expenses of salaries and pensions and public education.

Vision or governance

Where is creative thought in nowadays European space ? Where the thinkers, the poets, the creators who may produce the vision and the imagination that according to Julien Benda is the vital prerequisite of Europe ?

European thinkers are an extinct species.  Conformity and dogmatism are the prevailing features of the public discourse. In the ‘70s French philosophy was able to prefigure the evolution of Neoliberal capitalism and the establishment of biopolitical control on social life. But the last generation, the generation of former Stalino-maoist turned apologists of market democracy, is incapable of creative thought. It’s a generation of journalists at best, of repentants and cynicist at worst – not philosophers, not thinkers, not creators.

Europe needs thought, not subservient dogmatism. But creative thought seems something of the past.

Jurgen Habermas has been able some years ago to give a contribution which was based on the generous idea that communication is a space of open dialogue and a force for democracy. But the Italian experience of the last three decades has abundantly proved the contrary.

Niklas Luhmann has been able to conceptualize the present form of the European reality, as he has revealed in a realistic way that democratic government has been replaced by technocracy and governance., What is the meaning of this world, that is often used as an exoteric keyword, cherished and emphasized, but not explained ? I would define governance as power based on information without meaning.

Governance is the keyword of the European construction.

Pure functionality without conscious intentionality.  Automation of thought and will.

Embedding of abstract connections in the relation between living organisms.

Technical subjection of choices to the logic concatenation.

Europe is a perfectly postmodern construction in which power is embodied by techno-linguistic devices of interconnection and interoperationality.

The European entity has been conceived since its beginning as possibility of overcoming passions: nationalist, ideological, cultural passion, dangerous marks of belonging. This has been the positive contribution of Europe to the evolution of political history, but in this empty space of identity has been filled by the absolutism of the Economic Dogma.

Governance is the replacement of democracy and political will with a system of automatic technicalities forcing reality into an unquestionable logic-framework  Financial stability, competition, labor cost reduction, increase of productivity: the systemic architecture of the E.U. rule is based on these dogmatic foundations that cannot be challenged or discussed, because they are embedded in the functioning of technical sub-systems of management. No enunciation or action is operational if it is not complying with the embedded rules of techno-linguistic dispositifs of daily exchange.

So far nobody has questioned this dogmatic construction and the ideology of governance, as prosperity was replacing democracy. But now the situation seems dangerously inclining towards the breakdown, and if Europe falls down the doors of violence and of national populism are wide open.

As Europe is not a democracy, and the decisions are never taken by a democratically elected organism, what can happen in the coming months and years ? European Parliament is just a symbolic place, that has no influence on the Central Bank, which is the real decider (better, the mere interpreter of monetarist rules that are embedded in the financial governance machine). Therefore the only way to stop the race towards the abyss is insurrection. Only European insurrection can dispel the fogs and miasmas of recession, violence, impoverishment, and fascism, and open a new story, which is within our reach.

The new story is based on unleashing the potency of the general intellect, the potencies of research, technical innovation, scientific creation. Basic income, redistribution of wealth, expropriation of the properties hoarded by financial corporations.

At this point I think that we should redress a certain idealism and voluntarism that may be detected in the Julian Benda’s words, when he says that Europe will only be the product of the mind. Now we know that mind is not something that belongs to the isolated individual, something that acts in a purely abstract space. Mind is the network of cognitive labor: general intellect, core of social production.

Intellectual labor is under aggression, and financial capitalism is trying to disactivate the force of millions and millions of cognitarians who are the true resource of Europe. European people are marching towards the insurrection. Only who is obscured by dogmatism is unable to see this. What has happened in London and Rome in december 2010, what has happened in Spain in May 2011, what is happening every day in Athens is only the beginning of an expanding wave, that will necessarily radicalize.

Our task is not to organize insurrectiom. Insurrection is in the things.

Our task is to arouse the consciousness of precarious cognitarians, to organize their political collaboration, to make possible the autonomy of their activity outside the market rules.

For this we need to mobilise resources: money, spaces, technical tools.

Insurrection is the process that will give to the precarious cognitariat what we need.


originally published on Franco Berardi’s Facebook page

Bifo: ‘Lesson of Insurrection’ by Franco Berardi Bifo. A call to revolt on a European scale.

I would like to talk about something that everybody knows, but that, so it seems, no one has the boldness to say. That is, that the time for indignation is over. Those who get indignant are already starting to bore us. Increasingly, they seem to us like the last guardians of a rotten system, a system without dignity, sustainability or credibility. We don’t have to get indignant anymore, we have to revolt.

Arise. In the dictionary, the word ‘Insurrection’ is described in different ways. But I stick to the etymology. To me, the word insurrection means to rise up, it means to take on ourselves our dignity as human beings, as workers, as citizens in an uncompromising way. But it also means something else. It means to fully unfold the potency of the body and of collective knowledge, of society, of the net, of intelligence. To entirely unfold what we are, in a collective way. This is the point. Those who say that insurrection is a utopia are sometimes cynics, sometimes just idiots. Those who say that it is not possible to revolt, don’t take into account the fact that, to us, almost everything is possible. Only, this ‘almost everything’ is subjugated by the miserable obsession for profit and accumulation. The obsession for profit and accumulation led our country and all European countries to the verge of a terrifying catastrophe, into which we are now sinking, and we should realize we are already quite far into it. It is the catastrophe of barbarism and ignorance.

In Italy, the reform of the Berlusconi government and of his crawlers has already taken 8 billion euros away from the school, university and the education system, and soon it will take away even more. Everyone knows what the consequences will be, and not only in Brera, which is still a privileged place within the Italian education system. I have also taught in 3 or 4 other schools in this country, and I know what are, for example, the consequences of the reform of the crawler-minister Gelmini for an evening school for adults in Bologna. The Gelmini reform meant that the available budget for that school has shrunk to one third of that of three years ago. In the face of this process of devastation and barbarization produced by this reform, we can’t continue complaining. We must say: first of all, you all have to go, then we will take care of it. They have to go, just like the citizens of Tunis and Cairo said. I don’t know how the revolutions and insurrections in the Arab countries will end. A lot is up to us, I believe: whether or not Europe will be able to open a secular and innovative perspective. I don’t know how it will end up, but I know that they revolted and they won. What did they do? They said: we won’t leave this place. We won’t leave this square, we won’t leave this station, we won’t leave this parliament. We won’t leave until the tyrant and his crawlers go. This is what we have to say, what we have to do. By the end of spring 2011, this is what has to happen in Italy. We will occupy the central train stations in Milan, in Bologna and we will hold them until the tyrant and his crawlers will go.

But the tyrant and his crawlers are not the real problem. The real problem is an obsession, embodied in financial power, in the power of banks and in the idea that the life of society, the pleasure, well-being and culture of society is worthless. The only worthy things are accounting books, the profits of a minuscule class of exploiters and murderers. From our point of view, at the moment, these two problems, that of the tyrant and of his crawlers and that of the European financial dictatorship are one single problem. But we must understand that it would be useless to get rid of the tyrant and of his crawlers, if their places were taken by the murderers, by people like D’Alema or Fini, who are just as responsible. The destruction of the Italian school did not start with the tyrant and his crawlers. From what I know, it started with the Rivola Law, of which few have memory. It was a law issued in 1995 by the Emilia Romagna region, and it was the first law to give private schools the right to receive public funding. That is, it opened the door to the destruction of the public school and the sanctification of private universities such as Cepu.

So, there is one immediate problem: to hold the country, the squares and stations until the tyrant and his crawlers will go. But at the same time we have to be aware that power, true power, is no longer held in Rome. The Minister of Economy, Tremonti, said this. In an interview that appeared in La Repubblica on 30 September 2011, Tremonti replied to a silly journalist, who was trying to criticize him and instead fell in his trap, saying: ‘Why are you so angry at the Berlusconi government? Listen, we don’t decide anything. Decisions are taken in Brussels.’ Well, we don’t know it very well – who should tell us? La Repubblica, maybe? – but since 1st January 2011 the economic, social and financial decisions over individual countries such as Italy, France, Portugal or Greece are no longer taken by national parliaments. They are taken by a financial committee, formally constituted at European level. This is the rule and the ferocious application of the neoliberal, monetarist principle, according to which the only worthy things are bank profits and nothing else. It is in the name of growth, of accumulation and profit at the European level, that you are forced to live a shit life. And your life will be more and more of a shit life, if you do not rebel today, tomorrow, immediately! Because with every passing day your life increasingly, inevitably becomes a shit life.

They say: insurrection is a dangerous word. I repeat: arms are not implicit in the word insurrection, because arms are not our thing, for a number of reasons. First of all, because we don’t know where they are kept, secondly because we know that somebody has them, thirdly because we know that there are professional armies ready to kill, like they killed in Genova in 2001 and many other times. So, this is not the kind of confrontation we are looking for. We know that our weapons are those of intelligence and critique, but also the weapon of technology. For example, we learnt Wikileaks’ lesson, and we know that it is not only a lesson on sabotage and information; it is also a lesson about the infinite power of networked intelligence. This is where we will re-start. We know how to do it, how to enter your circuits, how to sabotage them, but we also know how those circuits – which are not yours, are ours – can be useful for our wealth, our pleasure, our well-being, our culture. This could be the use of those circuits that the collective intelligence produced and that capitalism stole, privatized, impoverished, that capitalism uses against us. This is the meaning of insurrection: to take possession of what is ours, to perform a necessary action of recognition of the collective body, which for too long has been paralyzed in front of a screen and needs to find itself again in a Tahrir Square.

An American journalist, Roger Cohen, wrote in a clever article: ‘Thank you Mubarak, because with your resistance you allowed the Egyptian people, who hadn’t talked to each others for years, to stay in that square for weeks and weeks.’ Like in wars, also during revolutions there are moments of boredom, and during those moments what is there to do? Talk to each other, touch each other, make love. Discovering the collective body, which has been paralyzed for too long. We will say ‘Tank you Berlusconi’, after weeks spent fighting on the streets of Italy. Afterwards, from the moment when the collective body will have awakened, the process of self-organization of the collective mind will begin. This is the insurrection I am calling you to. This is the insurrection that could even start from the Brera Academy, on a day in March 2011. Because the problem is that everyone knows what I just said. Maybe they don’t say it in such detail, but they know it. All that is necessary is to say: it is possible. There are millions of us, thinking this way. So, the next time 300,000 of us will take on the streets, let’s no go back home at the end of the day. Let’s go on the streets with our sleeping bags, knowing that on that night we won’t sleep in our beds. This is the first step, this is the step we need to take. It’s easy! Then, the rest is complicated…

I have almost finished my lecture. I just want to come back to this place. This initiative of mine was born within the situation you all know. Students, lecturers, technicians, precarious workers at the Brera Academy, like those in any other school or university in Italy or abroad, they all know well what is happening. They know that, beyond a complex dance made of ‘I’ll give it you / no I won’t give it to you / maybe I will / but not tomorrow’, beyond the smoke screen of incomprehensible baroquisms, the problem is that there is no more money. How is this possible? What happened? How come all that money disappeared? Brera used to be loaded. It’s all gone. One could say: but Europe is rich, how come all of a sudden there’s no money? Europe is rich, with millions of technicians, poets, doctors, inventors, specialized factory workers, nuclear engineers… How come we became so poor? What happened? Something very simple happened. The entire wealth that we produced was poured into the strongboxes of a minuscule minority of exploiters. This is what happened! The whole mechanism of the European financial crisis was finalized towards the most extraordinary movement of wealth that history has seen, from society towards the financial class, towards financial capitalism. This is what happened! So, what is now happening in Brera is just a small piece, one aspect of the immense movement of wealth, our wealth, the wealth of collective intelligence, which is now being counted inside the strongboxes of the banks.

Well, we decide to pay some attention to the banks. And I communicate to you that from this moment, I, as a professor at Brera, will hold my classes inside a bank. My next lecture will be held on 25th March just there, inside the building of the Credit Agricole. It will be held there. Behind this statue, of which we can now see the ass, on the other side of the square there is a bank where I ask to hold my next lecture, on 25th March, at 11.30am. I’m not doing this because I am a deranged individualist. Well, I might also be a deranged individualist… But the reason why I took this decision and I communicated it to you is that in Europe, it has now been constituted the Knowledge Liberation Front. Maybe these kids could have been a little less rhetorical… The Knowledge Liberation Front called a teach-in in 40 European cities, on March 25th. First of all in London, because, as you know, after many years, on March 26 there will be a general strike in the U.K. This is because the U.K. is now under an exceptionally strong storm of financial violence, and thus on March 26th they will strike and will take on the streets. The day before, the Knowledge Liberation Front will perform 40 teach-ins in 40 European cities. In London, but also in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, Madrid, Bologna, Milan and many other cities. We will do something very simple: we will dress smart, will go to the offices of a bank, will sit on the ground, will take out a banana, a cappuccino and a panini, just like civilized people do, and we will talk about molecular biology, about Goethe, we will read Faust, we will read poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, someone will talk about the poetics of Kandinsky and someone else about nuclear physics. This is what we will do on 25th March, in 40 European cities. Because the time has come for the society of Europe to become, once again, what it could have been in several moments of its history: purely and simply a civil society. Thank you.

Translation and subtitles: Federico Campagna, Anna Galkina, Manlio Poltronieri

Knowledge Against Financial Capitalism (Bifo)

Knowledge Against Financial Capitalism
by Franco Berardi on Sunday, February 20, 2011

For a New Europe: University Struggles Against Austerity
We, the student and precarious workers of Europe, Tunisia, Japan, the US, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Argentina, met in Paris over the weekend of the 11th-13th of February, 2011 to discuss and organize a common network based on our common struggles.
Students from Maghreb and Gambia tried to come but France refused them entry. We claim the free circulation of peoples as well as the free circulation of struggles.
In fact, over the last few years our movement has assumed Europe as the space of conflicts against the corporatization of the university and precariousness. This meeting in Paris and the revolutionary movements across the Mediterranean allow us to take an important step towards a new Europe against austerity, starting from the revolts in Maghreb.
We are a generation who lives precariousness as a permanent condition: the university is no longer an elevator of upward social mobility but rather a factory of precariousness. Nor is the university a closed community: our struggles for a new welfare, against precarity and for the free circulation of knowledge and people don’t stop at its gates.
Our need for a common network is based on our struggles against the Bologna Process and against the education cuts Europe is using as a response to the crisis.
Since the state and private interests collaborate in the corporatization process of the university, our struggles don’t have the aim of defending the status quo. Governments bail out banks and cut education. We want to make our own university – a university that lives in our experiences of autonomous education, alternative research and free schools. It is a free university, run by students, precarious workers and migrants, a university without borders.
This weekend we have shared and discussed out different languages and common practices of conflict: demonstrations, occupations and metropolitan strikes. We have created and improved our common claims: free access to the university against increasing fees and costs of education, new welfare and common rights against debt and the financialization of our lives, and for an education based on cooperation against competition and hierarchies.
Based on this common statement:
• We call for common and transnational days of action on the 24th-25th-26th of March, 2011: against banks, debt system and austerity measures, for free education and free circulation of people and knowledge.
•We will create a common journal of struggles and an autonomous media of communication.
•We will promote a great caravan and meeting in Tunisia because the struggles in Maghreb are the struggles we are fighting here.
•We will be part of the G8 counter-summit in Dijon in May.
•We will meet again in London in June.
Fighting and cooperating, this is our Paris Common!

Conoscenza contro il capitalismo finanziario
by Franco Berardi on Sunday, February 20, 2011

Per una nuova Europa: Lotte Universitarie Contro l’Austerità
Noi, studenti e lavoratori precari d’Europa, Tunisia, Giappone, USA, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Perù e Argentina, ci siamo incontrati a Parigi dall’11 al 13 Febbraio, 2011 per confrontarci e organizzare un network comune basato sulle nostre lotta comuni. Agli studenti dal Maghreb e dal Gambia è stato impedito di partecipare, perché la Francia ha rifiutato loro l’accesso. Noi rivendichiamo la libera circolazione delle persone e la libera circolazione delle lotte.
Negli ultimi anni i nostri movimenti hanno assunto l’Europa come spazio di conflitto contro l’aziendalizzazione delle università e la precarietà. L’incontro di Parigi e i movimenti rivoluzionari che attraversano il Mediterraneo ci permettono di fare un importante passo avanti verso una nuova Europa contro l’austerità, a partire dalle rivolte nel Maghreb.
Noi siamo una generazione che vive la precarietà come condizione permanente: l’università non è piu un ascensore per la mobilità sociale, ma una fabbrica di precarietà. E l’università non è un luogo isolato: la nostra lotta per un nuovo welfare, contro la precarietà e per la libera circolazione dei saperi e delle persone non si ferma ai suoi cancelli.
Il nostro bisogno di una rete comune è basato sulla nostra lotta contro il Processo di Bologna e contro i tagli all’istruzione che l’Europa sta usando come risposta alla crisi.
Dal momento che gli interessi pubblici e privati collaborano nel processo di aziendalizzazione dell’università, le nostre lotte non hanno l’obiettivo di difendere lo status quo. I governi salvano le banche e tagliano l’educazione. Noi vogliamo costruire la nostra università – una università che viva nelle nostre esperienze di autoformazione, ricerca autonoma e nel libero accesso. Si tratta di una università libera, gestita dagli studenti, dai lavoratori precari e dai migranti, una università senza frontiere.
Questo fine settimana abbiamo condiviso e discusso con diversi linguaggi pratiche comuni di conflitto: manifestazioni, occupazioni e scioperi metropolitani. Abbiamo creato e arricchito le nostre rivendicazioni comuni: il libero accesso all’università contro l’aumento delle tasse e le spese di istruzione, un nuovo welfare e diritti comuni contro il debito e la finanziarizzazione della nostra vita, e per una formazione basata sulla cooperazione contro i processi di gerarchizzazione.
Sulla base di questa dichiarazione comune:
Convochiamo i giorni comuni transnazionali d’azione del 24, 25 e 26 MARZO 2011: contro le banche, il sistema del debito e le misure di austerità, per il libero accesso e la libera circolazione delle persone e dei saperi.
Costruiamo una rivista comune delle lotte e un mezzo di comunicazione autonomo.
Organizziamo un grande carovana e un incontro in Tunisia, perché le lotte in Maghreb sono le lotte che stiamo combattendo qui.
Ci incontreremo di nuovo a Londra nel mese di giugno.
Prenderemo parte alle mobilitazioni contro il G8 a Digione in maggio.
Lotta e cooperazione, questo è il nostro comune di Parigi!
[translated by Claudia Tomassetti-Academy of Fine Art of Florence]

Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint

Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint
Silvia Federici

Precarious work is a central concept in movement discussions of the capitalist reorganization of work and class relations in today’s global economy. Silvia Federici analyzes the potential and limits of this concept as an analytic and organizational tool. She claims reproductive labor is a hidden continent of work and struggle the movement must recognize in its political work, if it is to address the key questions we face in organizing for an alternative to capitalist society. How do we struggle over reproductive labor without destroying ourselves, and our communities? How do we create a self-reproducing movement? How do we overcome the sexual, racial, and generational hierarchies built upon the wage?

This lecture took place on October 28th 2006 at Bluestockings Radical Bookstore in New York City, 172 Allen Street, as part of the ‘This is Forever: From Inquiry to Refusal Discussion Series’.

Tonight I will present a critique of the theory of precarious labor that has been developed by Italian autonomist Marxists, with particular reference to the work of Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno, and also Michael Hardt. I call it a theory because the views that Negri and others have articulated go beyond the description of changes in the organization of work that have taken place in the 1980s and 1990s in conjunction with the globalization process – such as the “precariazation of work”, the fact that work relations are becoming more discontinuous, the introduction of “flexy time”, and the increasing fragmentation of the work experience. Their view on precarious labor present a whole perspective on what is capitalism and what is the nature of the struggle today. It is important to add that these are not simply the ideas of a few intellectuals, but theories that have circulated widely within the Italian movement for a number of years, and have recently become more influential also in the United States, and in this sense they have become more relevant to us.

History and Origin of Precarious Labor and Immaterial Labor Theory

My first premise is that definitely the question of precarious labor must be on our agenda. Not only has our relationship to waged work become more discontinuous, but a discussion of precarious labor is crucial for our understanding of how we can go beyond capitalism. The theories that I discuss capture important aspects of the developments that have taken place in the organization of work; but they also bring us back to a male-centric conception of work and social struggle. I will discuss now those elements in this theory that are most relevant to my critique.

An important premise in the Italian autonomists’ theory of precarious labor is that the precariazation of work, from the late 1970s to present, has been a capitalist response to the class struggle of the sixties, a struggle that was centered on the refusal of work, of as expressed in the slogan “more money less work”. It was a response to a cycle of struggle that challenged the capitalist command over labor, in a sense realizing the workers’ refusal of the capitalist work discipline, the refusal of a life organized by the needs of capitalist production, a life spent in a factory or in office.

Another important theme is that the precariazation of work relations is deeply rooted in another shift that has taken place with the restructuring of production in the 1980s. This is the shift from industrial labor to what Negri and Virno call “immaterial labor”. Negri and others have argued that the restructuring of production that has taken place in the eighties and nineties in response to the struggles of the sixties has begun a process whereby industrial labor is to be replaced by a different type o work, in the same way as industrial labor replaced agricultural work. They call the new type of work “immaterial labor” because they claim that with the computer and information revolutions the dominant form of work has changed. As a tendency, the dominant form of work in today’s capitalism is work that does not produce physical objects but information, ideas, states of being, relations.

In other words, industrial work – which was hegemonic in the previous phase of capitalist development – is now becoming less important; it is no longer the engine of capitalist development. In its place we find “immaterial labor”, which is essentially cultural work, cognitive work, info work.

Italian autonomists believe that the precarization of work and the appearance of immaterial labor fulfills the prediction Marx made in the Grundrisse, in a famous section on machines. In this section Marx states that with the development of capitalism, less and less capitalist production relies on living labor and more and more on the integration of science, knowledge and technology in the production process as the engines of accumulation. Virno and Negri see the shift to precarious labor as fulfilling this prediction, about capitalism’s historic trend. Thus, the importance of cognitive work and the development of computer work in our time lies in the fact that they are seen as part of a historic trend of capitalism towards the reduction of work.

The precarity of labor is rooted in the new forms of production. Presumably, the shift to immaterial labor generates a precariazation of work relations because the structure of cognitive work is different from that of industrial, physical work. Cognitive and info work rely less on the continuous physical presence of the worker in what was the traditional workplace. The rhythms of work are much more intermittent, fluid and discontinuous.
In sum, the development of precarious labor and shift to immaterial labor are not for Negri and other autonomist Marxists a completely negative phenomenon. On the contrary, they are seen as expressions of a trend towards the reduction of work and therefore the reduction of exploitation, resulting from capitalist development in response to the class struggle. This means that the development of the productive forces today is already giving us a glimpse of a world in which work can be transcended; in which we will liberate ourselves from the necessity to work and enter a new realm of freedom.

Autonomous Marxists believe this development is also creating a new kind of “common” originating from the fact that immaterial labor presumably represents a leap in the socialization and homogeneization of work. The idea is that differences between types of work that once were all important (productive/reproductive work e.g. agricultural/industrial/“affective labor”) are erased, as all types of work (as a tendency) become assimilated, for all begin to incorporate cognitive work. Moreover, all activities are increasingly subsumed under capitalist development, they all serve to the accumulation process, as society becomes an immense factory. Thus (e.g.) the distinction between productive and unproductive labor also vanishes.

This means that capitalism is not only leading us beyond labor, but it is creating the conditions for the “commonization” of our work experience, where the divisions are beginning to crumble. We can see why these theories have become popular. They have utopian elements especially attractive to cognitive workers – the “cognitariat” as Negri and some Italian activists call them. With the new theory, in fact, a new vocabulary has been invented. Instead of proletariat we have the “cognitariat”. Instead of working class, we have the “Multitude”, presumably because the concept of Multitude reveals the unity that is created by the new socialization of work; it expresses the communalization of the work process, the idea that within the work process workers are becoming more homogenized. For all forms of work incorporate elements of cognitive work, of computer work, communication work and so forth.

As I said this theory has gained much popularity, because there is a generation of young activists, with years of schooling and degrees who are now employed in precarious ways in different parts of the culture industry or the knowledge-production industry. Among them these theories are very popular because they tell them that, despite the misery and exploitation we are experiencing, we are nevertheless moving towards a higher level of production and social relations. This is a generation of workers who looks at the “Nine to Five” routine as a prison sentence. They see their precariousness as giving them new possibilities. And they have possibilities their parents did not have or dreamed of. The male youth of today (e.g.) is not as disciplined as their parents who could expect that their wife or partners would depend of them economically. Now they can count on social relationships involving much less financial dependence. Most women have autonomous access to the wage and often refuse to have children.

So this theory is appealing for the new generation of activists, who despite the difficulties of resulting from precarious labor, see within it certain possibilities. They want to start from there. They are not interested in a struggle for full employment. But there is also a difference here between Europe and the US. In Italy (e.g.) there is among the movement a demand for a guaranteed income. They call it “flex security”. They say, we are without a job, we are precarious because capitalism needs us to be, so they should pay for it. There have been various days of mobilization, especially on May 1st, centered on this demand for a guaranteed income. In Milano, on the May Day of this year [2006], movement people have paraded “San Precario”, the patron saint of the precarious worker. The ironic icon is featured in rallies and demonstrations centered on this question of precarity.

Critique of Precarious Labor

I will now shift to my critique of these theories – a critique from a feminist viewpoint. In developing my critique, I don’t want to minimize the importance of the theories I am discussing. They have been inspired by much political organizing and striving to make sense of the changes that have taken place in the organization of work, which has affected all our lives. In Italy, in recent years, precarious labor has been one of the main terrains of mobilization together with the struggle for immigrant rights.

I do not want to minimize the work that is taking place around issues of precarity. Clearly, what we have seen in the last decade is a new kind of struggle. A new kind of organizing is taking place, breaking away from the confines of the traditional workplace. Where the workplace was the factory or the office, we now see a kind of struggle that goes out from the factory to the “territory”, connecting different places of work and building movements and organizations rooted in the territory. The theories of precarious labor are trying to account for the aspects of novelty in the organization of work and struggle; trying to understand the emergent forms of organization.
This is very important. At the same time, I think that what I called precarious labor theory has serious flaws that I already hinted at in my presentation. I will outline them and then discuss the question of alternatives. My first criticism is that this theory is built on a faulty understanding of how capitalism works. It sees capitalist development as moving towards higher forms of production and labor. In Multitude, Negri and Hardt actually write that labor is becoming more “intelligent”. The assumption is that the capitalist organization of work and capitalist development are already creating the conditions for the overcoming of exploitation. Presumably, at one point, capitalism, the shell that keeps society going will break up and the potentialities that have grown within it will be liberated. There is an assumption that that process is already at work in the present organization of production. In my view, this is a misunderstanding of the effects of the restructuring produced by capitalist globalization and the neo-liberal turn.

What Negri and Hardt do not see is that the tremendous leap in technology required by the computerization of work and the integration of information into the work process has been paid at the cost of a tremendous increase of exploitation at the other end of the process. There is a continuum between the computer worker and the worker in the Congo who digs coltan with his hands trying to seek out a living after being expropriated, pauperized, by repeated rounds of structural adjustment and repeated theft of his community’s land and natural sources.

The fundamental principle is that capitalist development is always at the same time a process of underdevelopment. Maria Mies describes it eloquently in her work: “What appears as development in one part of the capitalist faction is underdevelopment in another part”. This connection is completely ignored in this theory; in fact and the whole theory is permeated by the illusion that the work process is bringing us together.

When Negri and Hardt speak of the “becoming common” of work and use the concept of Multitude to indicate the new commonism that is built through the development of the productive forces, I believe they are blind to much of what is happening with the world proletariat. They are blind to not see the capitalist destruction of lives and the ecological environment. They don’t see that the restructuring of production has aimed at restructuring and deepening the divisions within the working class, rather than erasing them. The idea that the development of the microchip is creating new commons is misleading; communalism can only be a product of struggle, not of capitalist production.

One of my criticisms of Negri and Hardt is that they seem to believe that the capitalist organization of work is the expression of a higher rationality and that capitalist development is necessary to create the material conditions for communism. This belief is at the center of precarious labor theory. We could discuss here whether it represents Marx’s thinking or not. Certainly the Communist Manifesto speaks of capitalism in these terms and the same is true of some sections of the Grundrisse. But it is not clear this was a dominant theme in Marx’s work, not at least in Capital.

Precarious Labor and Reproductive Work

Another criticism I have against the precarious labor theory is that it presents itself as gender neutral. It assumes that the reorganization of production is doing away with the power relations and hierarchies that exist within the working class on the basis of rage, gender and age, and therefore it is not concerned with addressing these power relations; it does not have the theoretical and political tools to think about how to tackle them. There is no discussion in Negri, Virno and Hardt of how the wage has been and continues to be used to organize these divisions and how therefore we must approach the wage struggle so that it does not become an instrument of further divisions, but instead can help us undermined them. To me this is one of the main issues we must address in the movement.

The concept of the “Multitude” suggests that all divisions within the working class are gone or are no longer politically relevant. But this is obviously an illusion. Some feminists have pointed out that precarious labor is not a new phenomenon. Women always had a precarious relation to waged labor. But this critique goes far enough.
My concern is that the Negrian theory of precarious labor ignores, bypasses, one of the most important contributions of feminist theory and struggle, which is the redefinition of work, and the recognition of women’s unpaid reproductive labor as a key source of capitalist accumulation. In redefining housework as WORK, as not a personal service but the work that produces and reproduces labor power, feminists have uncovered a new crucial ground of exploitation that Marx and Marxist theory completely ignored. All of the important political insights contained in those analysis are now brushed aside as if they were of no relevance to an understanding of the present organization of production.

There is a faint echo of the feminist analysis – a lip service paid to it – in the inclusion of so called “affective labor” in the range of work activities qualifying as “immaterial labor”. However, the best Negri and Hardt can come up with is the case of women who work as flight attendants or in the food service industry, whom they call “affective laborers”, because they are expected to smile at their customers.

But what is “affective labor?” And why is it included in the theory of immaterial labor? I imagine it is included because – presumably – it does not produce tangible products but “states of being”, that is, it produces feelings. Again, to put it crudely, I think this is a bone thrown to feminism, which now is a perspective that has some social backing and can no longer be ignored.

But the concept of “affective labor” strips the feminist analysis of housework of all its demystifying power. In fact, it brings reproductive work back into the world of mystification, suggesting that reproducing people is just a matter of making producing “emotions”, “feelings”, It used to be called a “labor of love;” Negri and Hardt instead have discovered “affection”.

The feminist analysis of the function of the sexual division of labor, the function of gender hierarchies, the analysis of the way capitalism has used the wage to mobilize women’s work in the reproduction of the labor force – all of this is lost under the label of “affective labor”.

That this feminist analysis is ignored in the work of Negri and Hardt confirms my suspicions that this theory expresses the interests of a select group of workers, even though it presumes to speak to all workers, all merged in the great caldron of the Multitude. In reality, the theory of precarious and immaterial labor speaks to the situation and interests of workers working at the highest level of capitalistic technology. Its disinterest in reproductive labor and its presumption that all labor forms a common hides the fact that it is concerned with the most privileged section of the working class. This means it is not a theory we can use to build a truly self-reproducing movement.

For this task the lesson of the feminist movement is still crucial today. Feminists in the seventies tried to understand the roots of women’s oppression, of women’s exploitation and gender hierarchies. They describe them as stemming from a unequal division of labor forcing women to work for the reproduction of the working class. This analysis was the basis of a radical social critique, the implications of which still have to be understood and developed to their full potential.

When we said that housework is actually work for capital, that although it is unpaid work it contributes to the accumulation of capital, we established something extremely important about the nature of capitalism as a system of production. We established that capitalism is built on an immense amount of unpaid labor, that it is not built exclusively or primarily on contractual relations; that the wage relation hides the unpaid, slave-like nature of so much of the work upon which capital accumulation is premised.

Also, when we said that housework is the work that reproduces not just “life”, but “labor-power”, we began to separate two different spheres of our lives and work that seemed inextricably connected. We became able to conceive of a fight against housework now understood as the reproduction of labor-power, the reproduction of the most important commodity capital has: the worker’s “capacity to work”, the worker’s capacity to be exploited. In other words, by recognizing that what we call “reproductive labor” is a terrain of accumulation and therefore a terrain of exploitation, we were able to also see reproduction as a terrain of struggle, and, very importantly, conceive of an anti-capitalist struggle against reproductive labor that would not destroy ourselves or our communities.

How do you struggle over/against reproductive work? It is not the same as struggling in the traditional factory setting, against for instance the speed of an assembly line, because at the other end of your struggle there are people not things. Once we say that reproductive work is a terrain of struggle, we have to first immediately confront the question of how we struggle on this terrain without destroying the people you care for. This is a problem mothers as well as teachers and nurses, know very well.

This is why it is crucial to be able to make a separation between the creation of human beings and our reproduction of them as labor-power, as future workers, who therefore have to be trained, not necessarily according to their needs and desires, to be disciplined and regimented in a particular fashion.
It was important for feminists to see, for example, that much housework and child rearing is work of policing our children, so that they will conform to a particular work discipline. We thus began to see that by refusing broad areas of work, we not only could liberate ourselves but could also liberate our children. We saw that our struggle was not at the expense of the people we cared for, though we may skip preparing some meals or cleaning the floor. Actually our refusal opened the way for their refusal and the process of their liberation.

Once we saw that rather than reproducing life we were expanding capitalist accumulation and began to define reproductive labor as work for capital, we also opened the possibility of a process of re-composition among women. Think for example of the prostitute movement, which we now call the “sex workers” movement. In Europe the origins of this movement must be traced back to 1975 when a number of sex workers in Paris occupied a church, in protest against a new zoning regulation which they saw as an attack on their safety. There was a clear connection between that struggle, which soon spread throughout Europe and the United States, and the feminist movement’s re-thinking and challenging of housework. The ability to say that sexuality for women has been work has lead to a whole new way of thinking about sexual relationships, including gay relations. Because of the feminist movement and the gay movement we have begun to think about the ways in which capitalism has exploited our sexuality, and made it “productive”.

In conclusion, it was a major breakthrough that women would begin to understand unpaid labor and the production that goes on in the home as well as outside of the home as the reproduction of the work force. This has allowed a re-thinking of every aspect of everyday life – child-raising, relationships between men and women, homosexual relationships, sexuality in general – in relation to capitalist exploitation and accumulation.

Creating Self-Reproducing Movements

As every aspect of everyday life was re-understood in its potential for liberation and exploitation, we saw the many ways in which women and women’s struggles are connected. We realized the possibility of “alliances” we had not imagined and by the same token the possibility of bridging the divisions that have been created among women, also on the basis of age, race, sexual preference.

We can not build a movement that is sustainable without an understanding of these power relations. We also need to learn from the feminist analysis of reproductive work because no movement can survive unless it is concerned with the reproduction of its members. This is one of the weaknesses of the social justice movement in the US.
We go to demonstrations, we build events, and this becomes the peak of our struggle. The analysis of how we reproduce these movements, how we reproduce ourselves is not at the center of movement organizing. It has to be. We need to go to back to the historical tradition of working class organizing “mutual aid” and rethink that experience, not necessarily because we want to reproduce it, but to draw inspiration from it for the present.
We need to build a movement that puts on its agenda its own reproduction. The anti-capitalist struggle has to create forms of support and has to have the ability to collectively build forms of reproduction.

We have to ensure that we do not only confront capital at the time of the demonstration, but that we confront it collectively at every moment of our lives. What is happening internationally proves that only when you have these forms of collective reproduction, when you have communities that reproduce themselves collectively, you have struggles that are moving in a very radical way against the established order, as for example the struggle of indigenous people in Bolivia against water privatization or in Ecuador against the oil companies’ destruction of indigenous land.

I want to close by saying if we look at the example of the struggles in Oaxaca, Bolivia, and Ecuador, we see that the most radical confrontations are not created by the intellectual or cognitive workers or by virtue of the internet’s common. What gave strength to the people of Oaxaca was the profound solidarity that tied them with each other – a solidarity for instance that made indigenous people from every part of the state to come to the support of the “maestros”, whom they saw as members of their communities. In Bolivia too, the people who reversed the privatization of water had a long tradition of communal struggle. Building this solidarity, understanding how we can overcome the divisions between us, is a task that must be placed on the agenda. In conclusion then, the main problem of precarious labor theory is that it does not give us the tools to overcome the way we are being divided. But these divisions, which are continuously recreated, are our fundamental weakness with regard to our capacity to resist exploitation and create an equitable society.

From: In the Middle of the Whirlwind: 2008 Convention Protest, Movement & Movements.
Publisher: The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest.