Autonomist Theory

anti-G8 2013

Global Movements against Empire

This paper will examine the possibilities for new forms of collective action in the enactment of contentious politics of social movements brought about by the new post-Fordist labour relations within global capital (Interview with Negri in Proyect Kairos 2012). The two hypothesis laid out will correspond firstly to the current form of capitalism, that of the formation of the global factory (Chang, 2009), which dissolves time and space of capital and labour relations through technological, spatial, productive and financial innovation making the form and scope of capital mobility different from previous forms of capitalism. It will be argued that with the coming of neoliberal globalisation a new post-Fordist era emerged, making flexible production and flexible labour contracts the forefront of capital-labour social relations, eroding the social and material basis of the traditional working class prevalent in the traditional Fordist social contract (ibid.). As the Fordist factory expanded into the everyday lives of people by dissolving work time from leisure time, affective labour and immaterial forms of labour began to form part of the current global factory so that the exploitation of the worker became social, that is, it exploited the collective general intellect of the population at large (Virno 2004). Capital in this sense, once becoming an automaton serving to produce capital accumulation on its own with the accumulation of immaterial labour embedded in the machine, withered away the possible channels of resistance posed by trade unionism or the collective action of the general strike, that is, by nullifying the dialectical antagonism posed by the withdrawal of labour from capital (Hardt 2004). This problematized the idea of civil society, which was linked per se to the state, not so much by aiding to discipline society from its ungovernable subjects (Foucault 1978, 1997) or the ideological configurations against the working class (Althusser 1971, Gramsci 2000), but by trying to control society from its social disobedient subjects – the exodus- (Hardt 2004). Furthermore, as capital mobility intensified seeking cheap, temporary, flexible labour and competitive markets across the globe, possible solidarity ties amongst the old working class became more difficult, especially in the new international division of labour and power relations between core and peripheral countries.

The second hypothesis will examine the possibilities of the diffusion of transnational forms of protest, whereby new collective identities, a constituent process of reconstituting citizenship come into the scene with the withering away of civil society. This new subject determined by the new international division of labour (post-fordism) and the society of control (Hardt 2004), stands as the multitudo in potenza (Negri 2004), awaiting to posse (the subjectification of the multitude) producing post-national collective actions through horizontal network solidarity and multi-scalar configurations through new forms of protest. That is, through the importance of active social disobedience, a conflict with the state and capital, charged with high communicative impacts – at multi-scalar levels through scale shifts– reconfiguring the discourse in the media through symbolic theatrical clashes between the multitude and the police, using the Telecommunication and Technology Revolution as its platform for activation and the creation of new antagonisms (Hardt 2004, Iglesias 2008, Massey 1993). In this sense, the post-Fordist regime opened new opportunities with the rise of IT communications through which the multitude could organise and resist the subordination of capital (Iglesias 2008). To do so, we will look at the forms of collective actions from the Tute Bianche from its global rise in the anti-G8 summit in Prague in 2000 to its popularity peak and its social exodus in Genoa in 2001.

The Global Factory

The neoliberal globalisation project came about with the end of the political economy posed by the Keynesian social contract between labour and capital via the mediation of the state (Saad-Filho 2004). Structurally, the theory and policy implementation of the new dogma was based on the liberalisation of the market through the unrestrictive mobilisation of capital, the slashing off tariffs and subsidies, the deregulation of markets, and the privatisations and openings of the national economies to foreign investment, in particular in the peripheral areas (Fine 2011, Harvey 2004, Saad-Filho 2004). The increasing capital movement across transnational borders made different industries and production processes connected to global supply chains, formulated on the basis of capital accumulation (De Angelis, 2000. Chang 2009). Thus, capital moved internally within the same production cycle taking different forms, such as constant capital and variable capital through technological and organisational innovations, while externally it relocated its production in outsourced industries in the peripheral areas, or turned itself into commercial or financial capital (Chang 2009, Silver 2003).

Ideologically, it was based on the principles of the free market, such as the freedom to choose carried out by rational-maximizing individuals, whereby negative freedom, in particular property rights and the rule of law defended by a minimal state were paramount for a well-functioning political and economic system (Nozick 1976, Friedman 1962). Neoliberal ideology came to play a pervasive landscape limiting the boundaries of alternative thinking and blocking the imagination of the youth facing precarious conditions of labour short-term contracts and the diminishment of social security. As such, autonomous creativity and solidarity ties were broken in a restless and risk-environment further alienating the youth from social responsibility (Castoriadis 2011, Standing 2011).

Politically, the global governance of this new era came to be constituted not so much by nation-states, but by mixed constitutions of Empire, in which the transformational state came to give away its sovereignty to supranational organisations favouring Transnational Corporations in a deterritorialised and decentralised form of power (Hardt&Negri 2000: pp. 304-325). On the one hand, the challenges posed by this new form of power were that old forms of collective actions directed towards the state were obsolete such as trade unionism or general strikes (Iglesias 2008). On the other hand, global movements brought about by this new form of sovereignty gave rise to new forms of collective action, having drastic impacts at multi-scalar levels, that is, from the local to the global level or vice versa creating strong ties transnationally, using telecommunications as a platform and constructing post-national political imaginaries (Massey 1993, Sinha 2012).

While capital subordinated production for social needs to production for profit creating a vicious cycle of overproduction and an over-accumulation of capital (Harvey 2004), it was the growing social and political power of workers that challenged the innovative way of accumulation so that capital transformed itself through new methods of spatial, technological, productive and financial movements to either avoid the increasing cost of labour, competitive pressures, and, at radical centres, the refusal to work (Virno 2004, Silver 2003). In this sense the old contract between labour and capital started to decay where workers fought back and where capital did not extract profit. As such, on the one hand, capital’s spatial movement standardised and fragmented labour and the labour process, promoting geographical movements of capital within and beyond countries, seeking profitable business places for capital accumulation – in particular by pressures from Transnational Corporations and International Financial Organisations who pushed for free trade agreements, deregulation of investment, tariff cuts and liberalisation of the market between core and peripheral countries- (Chang 2009, De Angelis 2000). On the other hand, in Fordist factories where workers refused the work ethic of the traditional trade unions and the liaison with capital, a form of exodus from capital emerged reconfiguring its formation. This strand of political action, workerism, as it was soon to be derived by the autonomist Marxist thinkers of Italy, posed that capitalist changes depended on the collective struggle of the workers. In this sense, capital sought to use worker’s antagonistic will-to-struggle as a motor for its own development so that it was the proletariat that invented the social and productive forms that capital will be forced to adopt in the future (Sylvère 2004). The more creative and adaptable workers were, the more self-valorising – surplus knowledge- they could bring to the community at large (ibid.). In Marxist terminology, abstract labour embedded itself in the technology and machinery of the factory, so that the workers struggle to refuse to work made capital reconfigure itself to exploit the workers outside of the factory by co-opting and commodifying the general intellect of the mass workers into the machinery; that is, the knowledge, communication and world of signs and affections that dissolved time and space of work as immaterial labour became part of the extraction of capital to survive (Negri 2008). This exploitation was further reconfigured with the coming of the telecommunications revolution in the era of globalisation, confining it for their control, rather than for their freedom such that metallurgical and general intellect production (confined in the engineer, scientist, knowledge producer, now expanded to the whole of society) came to dominate the new capital landscape. Human communication thus became the basis of productive cooperation in general on the one hand, while on the on the other, it became co-opted and commodified as part of the global factory. In the words of Sylvère (2004), machines did not embed themselves with dead labour anymore, but they were to form part of the workers’ “life labour” which now plugs into the “general intellect” disseminating knowledge across the entire public sphere. Hence, the productive collectivity currently became the general intellect, whereby the social corpus lives with knowledge and consciousness, transforming the new social worker (outside and inside work places) in productive resources. As such, in post-Fordism all these immaterial elements such as creativity, arts, science, affection, caring, and aesthetic sensibility produced “outside” of the workplace became integral towards the functioning of capital accumulation or rather ‘social general knowledge’ (Virno 2004). This had two major consequences so that i) production became communicative: the workers were now part of the skills involved in direct immaterial labour involving cybernetic, computer control affecting horizontal and vertical communication ii) preproduction of the consumer now became defined and fixed by cultural and artistic standards, especially affecting consumer goods resulting from the diffusion of work time and leisure time as part of the commodification of the “general intellect”, where the consumer became subordinated in the productive process stealing and alienating her from her antagonism (Negri 2008, Virno 2004, Anarchistische Gemeinschaft, 2010). In essence, everyone became an exploited social labourer, where leisure time, now affective labour, integrated itself as part of the global factory. Nonetheless, opportunities for autonomist movements advocating non-guaranteed labour and nomadic ways of life to evade labour slavery and the co-optation of the general intellect by capital became necessary for ways of exploring new openings via the intelligent multitude. This “surplus” as Negri (2008) calls it, gave rise to the notion of excessiveness from power relations; a moment at which value comes from the cognitive and immaterial production of a creative action, which escapes at the same time the law of labour value. In concrete terms, global movements would come to represent this surplus (or exodus) of the multitude exiting the commodification of its own general intellect by capital. This multitude represented the desire of whole singularities irreducible to an individual unit or collective entity, which enacted its own immanent Potenza (potential creativity), when gaining Posse (subjectivation) and creating its own social rules via IT tools (Negri 2008). This amphibious, non-representative and immanent power of the multitude corresponded to a post-civil society process, distinct from Gramsci’s notion of hegemony or the Hegelian dialectics that understood the concept of civil society attached to gaining state power (On post-civil society refer to Hardt 1994 & Shaw 1996).

Italian Job?

The transformations of capitalism in the post-Fordist era, in addition to the new forms of sovereignty given away by nation-states to global governance institutions that regulate and administered the latter, have given rise to potential forms of collective action not so much directed against the state per se, but, on the contrary, towards global agencies (Iglesias 2004). In this sense, global movements – the rise of a conjunction of anti-systemic movements since the anti-G8 summit in 1998 in Seattle- have directed their action against global agencies that exert their power through the scalar levels of Empire (Hardt&Negri 2000). This gave rise to new forms of collective action distinct from old temporal general strikes, flexible, indirect, less violent actions directed to the nation-state changing the political culture of activists into a post-national repertoire of collective actions (Iglesias 2008, Tarrow 2005). These have been based on the use of communicative-productive resources and horizontal networks of solidarity (by widespread infection or the transnational diffusion of tactics), making possible the generation of different forms of post-national citizenships produced by scale shifts – resistance and contestatory impacts at multiscalar levels- in the moment of the conflictive high-communicative forms of collective action (McAdam, Tarrow&Tilly 2001). As such, they have introduced a new political imagination of radical criticism into the mainstream discourse via telecommunications and political conflict, that is, in theatrical symbolic clashes between the protestors and the police to the extent of even paralysing global meetings (as well as generating symbolic messages via the constituent process: occupations, control of autonomous spaces questioning the legitimacy of red zones and, thus, reconfiguring the spatial jurisdiction of the status quo). To sustain our hypothesis we will identify the Tute Bianche (White Overalls movement) as an exemplar of this new form of collective action from its inception until 2001.

The white overall movement represented a symbol of the youth workforce living on precarious conditions, working on short labour contract, without rights or guarantees, excluded from the Fordist social contract (Rapelli, 2013). What distinguished them from other movements were their contentious politics characterised by civil disobedience as a juridical mechanism having a high-communicative impact (the occupation of political and economical headquarters, unilateral price reduction of tickets to museums, cinemas, public transport, irruptions into live television programs), a basic income demand based on world citizenship and the use of post-national repertoires of collective actions such as symbolic theatrical conflicts in red zones against the police with use of white overalls (to make visible the invisibles), colourful helmets and Plexiglas shields rather than the use of old forms of collective action (worn-out conflict-repression-struggle tactics) (Casarini 2003, Rapelli 2013). This new multitude, the “desobedientti”, appeared in demonstrations against the G8 in Prague and Genoa and later on expanded to the semi-peripheries of Europe, as well as forming solidarity ties merging discourses with anti-globalisation activists from across the Atlantic such as the Zapatista uprising from 1994 (Figure 1&2). As such, the Tute Bianche formulated the first global social movement whose post-national collective action constituted contentious politics managing to stop meetings amongst G8 leaders, with the use of IT communications and impacting the local space by configuring the global scales through experimental theatrical clashes with the Caribinieri firstly in Prague in 2000 and then in Genoa 2001 (Tilly 2008). Using urban spaces as a contestatory political space, these paramount theatrical clashes with the police managed to formulate a mystical image of conflict related to “war” whereby the police was depicted as being “violent” as the Tute Bianche shaped itself in “Tortoise formation” displaying a combatant mode against the societies “enemies” (Figure 3). And since the forms of protest differed either from legal collective demonstrations or the use of violent political action, the global movement came to gain widespread consensus and gain an image as “heroes” (Iglesias 2008: p. 375). As such, the Tute Bianche plans were to centre the media’s attention on the modalities of collective action and attempt to violate the red zones in order to construct a political imaginary of resistance against the G8 (Casarini 2003). This transformed the hegemonic neoliberal discourse in the mainstream media, as well aiding to transform the consciousness of people expanding their political imagination horizon to seek alternatives via the use of IT communications of rapid and constant transversal and decentralised diffusion, and infected, above all, activists globally, creating new forms of transnational activism charged with an innovative form of political culture.

As the Tute Bianche reached its popularity peak, having gathered the support of the moderate centre-left and the extreme left, civil disobedience turned into social disobedience with the exiting of the use of the white overalls. This symbolic act made clear the internationalisation of the movement fostering the withering away of civil society, that is, legitimating the disobedience of the multitude as a ‘surplus’ action from the society of control as predicted by Hardt and Negri (2000). The move was also made necessary given the deliberate attempt to create a violent scene directed by the police and the administration of public order against the successful forms of collective actions fomented by movement of the Tute Bianche during the anti-G8 summit in Genoa in 2001 (Iglesias 2008).

Always in Potenza

This paper examined the restructuring of capital-labour relations with the coming of neoliberal globalisation, that is, through the formulation of a new post-fordist era making flexible production and flexible labour contracts the dominant form of the global factory. This process eroded the social and material basis of the traditional working class breaking with the traditional Fordist social contract, transforming the factory labourer to a social labourer where immaterial labour, producing the general intellect, came to be subordinated by capital. Along with the rise of a post-national Empire and the withering away of civil society, fragmentation, competition (structurally) and a lack of imagination (ideologically) charged with precarious conditions of short-term contracts and the diminishment of social security came to break with the solidarity ties and identities held amongst the old working class. As such, old traditional forms of collective action such as the general strike or demonstrations targeting the nation-state were made ineffective. Instead, the rise of global movements along with the neoliberal globalisation process came to take centre stage with a whole new repertoire of forms of collective action resembled by the multitude’s “surplus” against the established society of control. As demonstrated by the case study of the Tute Bianche, the global movements targeted global entities by creating critical multi-scalar spaces via high-communicative symbolic collective actions via the use of IT communications helping to reshape the political imagination contra the hegemonic neoliberal discourse.

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