Autonomia

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The journal Aufheben was first produced in the UK in Autumn 1992. Those involved had participated in a number of struggles together - the anti-poll tax movement, the campaign against the Gulf War - and wanted to develop theory in order to participate more effectively: to understand capital and ourselves as part of the proletariat so we could attack capital more effectively. We began this task with a reading group dedicated to Marx's Capital and Grundrisse. Our influences included the Italian autonomia movement of 1969-77, the situationists, and others who took Marx's work as a basic starting point and used it to develop the communist project beyond the anti-proletarian dogmatisms of Leninism (in all its varieties) and to reflect the current state of the class struggle. We also recognized the moment of truth in versions of class struggle anarchism, the German and Italian lefts and other tendencies. In developing proletarian theory we needed to go beyond all these past movements at t... (From : LibCom.org/aufheben.)

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Introduction: Autonomia Whether we have liked it or not, Aufheben has often been pigeon-holed as an Autonomist Marxist magazine. It is certainly true that Autonomism had been a defining influence and inspiration for those of us who launched Aufheben in 1992. It was not so much the lucidity of the prose, the rigor of the logic or even the empirical robustness of the arguments contained in the autonomist writings which had been translated into English over the previous decade or so that impressed us. There were other more important reasons why we had been inspired by Autonomism. First of all, autonomist theory could claim to have arisen from the practice of an actual mass movement. From the accounts we had read, it was apparent that the waves of class struggle that had swept across the world during the 1960s and 70s had occurred on a significantly greater scale and intensity in Italy (the home of Autonomism) than those that had occurred elsewhere. But mo... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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lists.village.virginia.edu The J18 mobilization sought to link up the autonomous struggles of “environmentalists, workers, the unemployed, indigenous peoples, trade unionists, peasant groups, women’s networks, the landless, students, peace activists and many more”. See bak.spc.org In political discourse in the UK, ‘workerism’ is usually a derogatory term for approaches we disagree with for fetishizing the significance of workplace struggles (and dismissing those outside the workplace). Italian operaismo, on the other hand, refers to the inversion of perspective from that of the operation of capital to that of the working class: “We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to turn the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggl... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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From Operaismo to Autonomist Marxism Italy’s ‘Hot Autumn’ of 1969 and ‘Movement of 1977’ were two of the high points of late 20th century revolutionary struggle. The recent publication of two books on workerism and autonomia testify to the continued interest in the theoretical development surrounding these events. Steve Wright’s Storming Heaven presents a critical history of Italian workerism; and Harry Cleaver’s Reading ‘Capital’ Politically has been influential as an account of the ‘autonomist’ tradition. The review of these two books gives us the opportunity for a critical reappraisal of the contributions of workerism. We suggest that Cleaver reproduces some of autonomia’s problems as well as its useful theoretical tools. These problems include the inadequacy of the concept of autonomy for a class analysis; the absence of a critique of leftism; ambiguity over the ‘law... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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2. Beyond leftism? It was a vital insight of workerism to see workers’ refusal to participate in union-sponsored token strikes not as the absence of class conflict but as evidence of their autonomy. In debates today about the state of the class struggle, the danger is to take such ‘passivity’ as just a refusal of representation when it might in fact be doubled-edged: at the same time as being an expression of hostility to capital it might also entail a paralyzing fatalism. However, a weakness of workerism was not an exaggerated sense of the significance of workers’ autonomous antagonism not only to capital but to the institutional left; rather it was an unwillingness or inability to reconcile their insights with their conceptions of organization. Time and again, the same theorists who provided us with the theoretical tools for a new approach caution us to be modest in our understandings of workers’ struggles. For example, Pan... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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3. Negotiating the ‘law of value’ A further workerist tension reproduced in Cleaver’s book is that surrounding the status of the ‘law of value’. On the one hand, the very emphasis on workers at the sharp end of the immediate process of production appears to speak of a commitment to the centrality of value-production in the explanation of the dynamic of class struggle. On the other hand, the seeds of a revisionist approach were sewn as early as 1970, when Potere Operaio argued that class struggle had broken free of the bounds of accumulation; the mass worker was said to have disrupted the functioning of the law of value, forcing capital to rely more and more on the state (p. 137). Potere Operaio cited the Hot Autumn as the turning point, but their analysis was prompted by a revolt in the second half of 1970 among the population of Reggio Calabria against proposed changes to the city’s regional status which seemed to speak of a wide... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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4. Grasping retreat Tronti famously argued that each successful capitalist attack upon labor only displaces class antagonism to a higher, more socialized level (Wright, p. 37). Following this, Negri, Cleaver and others in and influenced by the autonomia current stress the role of working class struggle in driving capital forward. Working class activity is seen not (just) as a response to the initiatives of capital but as the very motor of capitalist development — the prime mover. In this account, capitalist crisis — the shutting down of industries, mass unemployment and austerity — means that working class struggle simply changes form rather than retreats. Class struggle is argued to be ubiquitous and manifold in form. This perspective therefore offers a valuable corrective to traditional Marxism’s objectivist account of the workings of capital. Traditional Marxism’s frozen and fetishized conceptions of class st... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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5. A political reading of Capital: From 20 yards of linen to the self-reduction of prices in one easy step In his attempt to render a political reading of Marx’s critique of political economy, Harry Cleaver is again following in the workerist tradition: Negri’s ‘Marx on cycle and crisis’, which was written in 1968, is an earlier example of the attempt to connect Marx’s categories with notions of strategy and struggle. However, a sub-text of Cleaver’s book is his defense of the importance of Capital against the arguments made by (the later) Negri that, for the revolutionary project of our time, Capital is superseded by the Grundrisse. In Marx beyond Marx, Negri argues that Capital has served to reduce critique to economic theory, that the objectification of the categories in Capital functions to block action by revolutionary subjectivity and to subject the subversive capacity of the proletariat to the reorganizing and re... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Arcane of Reproductive Production Introduction One of the main contentions at the core of Autonomist Marxism is that all human activity in either the sphere of production or in circulation and reproduction is potentially productive, that is, can contribute to the valorization of capital.</strong> The work of reproduction, which is the work done on ourselves and on our families to reproduce ourselves, reproduces our labor power, i.e. our capacity to work for capital — in this sense, Autonomist Marxist theorists argue that the work of reproduction is production for capital. Leopoldina Fortunati’s The Arcane of Reproduction, published in Italy in 1981 and in the US in 1995, seems to be the most sophisticated contribution to this theme so far. While reproductive labor may cover anything from playing video games, attending courses, going to a gym, watching television, looking for a job, etc., in her pamphlet Fortunati deals wi... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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1. The quest for value No Marxist would deny that housework and reproductive work are functional and necessary for the whole process of capital’s self-valorization. What makes Fortunati’s book new or challenging is that it aims to convince the reader that housework is a real expenditure of abstract labor time, and a real creator of value, and that this can be quantified. In fact, the argument that work done outside production is productive is a recurrent focus in Autonomist theory. In Reading Capital Politically, Cleaver reminded the reader that abstract labor and abstract labor time ‘must be grasped in the totality of capital’ (p. 118) and that in the ‘total social mass’ of abstract labor and value produced in capitalism there is ‘a direct or indirect contribution’ from anybody who is coerced into any form of work, either waged or unwaged, including housework (pp. 122–123). Although any coerced act... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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2. The subsumption of society by capital and class antagonism As we have seen in Section 1, the arcane of the Autonomist interest in demonstrating that the work of reproduction, or any work done outside the sphere of production, is productive work, lies in a reading of Marxist categories, which makes the categories of value, abstract labor, etc. have ‘meanings’ in terms of subjective categories: the imposition of work by capital and the resistance to work by the working class. The way value and its laws can immediately mean a class relation of antagonism is explained by De Angelis. Abstract labor, the creation of value, being tantamount to imposed, boundless and alienated labor, is the ‘form’ of work in capitalism. For De Angelis then any waged or unwaged work, insofar as it is alienated, boundless and coerced, is abstract labor and consequently a creation of value. And since antagonism and resistance necessarily come out of the coercive and... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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3. The dialectic of capital as despotism and bourgeois freedom In the previous section we acknowledged the importance of the Autonomist argument that human activity in society can be subsumed by capital, and that this subsumption entails antagonism. We appreciated that this understanding is a moment of truth in the understanding of capitalism. Yet we have also seen that this does not necessarily imply that attending a vocational course, hoovering, making love, sleeping, smiling at a parent, etc. are productive labor for capital and create value. In this section we will see that there are in fact differences between these activities and those done within a wage-work relation, and that a view of bourgeois society as simply a social factory misses out a dialectic understanding of capital. Indeed, when the conception of society as a ‘social factory’ was used as a polemical device, it had some poignancy; but its overliteral use as a theoretical mod... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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4. Consequences of the undialectical conception of capital as ‘just imposition of work’ We have seen that the Autonomist understanding of capital as ‘imposition of work’ stresses only one aspect of capital, that of discipline, organization, despotism. This means that the other aspect of capital, the freedom to exchange and own your own value in the sphere of circulation is not spelled out. This undialectic approach allows for two possible theoretical understandings. One, clearly followed by Cleaver and De Angelis, is that of incorporating the latter aspect of capital in the first, even if they are opposite. In order to force two opposite dialectic aspects into one ‘imposition of work’, the concepts that describe this imposition (work, command, foreman, etc.) must become extremely abstract — as this is the only way to give the same name to opposite situations! For example, if we abstract enough the concept of &l... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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5. The nature of labor power The above leads us now straight into the core of Fortunati’s work: her original ‘demonstration’ that housework produces value. In fact, it is not a demonstration, but simply, the declamation of a ‘truth’ based on an initial assumption that labor power is ‘a commodity like any other’ (p. 19). If this is the case, labor power must contain value, as the crystallization of the abstract labor expended by its producer. Thus the labor of the housewife, the producer of the labor power of the chief wage-earner of the family, must be abstract value and must create value. There is a general tendency in Autonomist theory to gloss over the nature of labor power as a special commodity different from others. For example in Reading Capital Politically Cleaver treats labor power in the same way as other commodities, (food and energy) without any specification. In fact, after having discussed labor p... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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6. Invisible value Thus Fortunati starts with a mistake, the assumption that labor power is ‘a commodity like any other’, that it must consequently carry some value created by the housewife. Starting from an initial mistake, it is no wonder that a theory is bound to be contradicted by facts: Fortunati’s theory clashes with the fact that the exchange value of labor power does not reflect any housework-created value at all. But for Fortunati, this is not because there must be something wrong in her assumptions, but because of a hidden peculiarity of labor power, that it can contain invisible value. In fact, for Fortunati, labor power is such that its value and exchange value are related to totally different mechanisms, this giving value the possibility of having invisible contributions that are not reflected in exchange value. While the exchange value of labor power accounts only for the value of the means of subsistence consumed by the... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Conclusions As we said in the Introduction, the present critique of The Arcane of Reproduction was principally aimed at commenting on a few questions that have been central in the Autonomist tradition: Does reproductive work (and in general any work outside the sphere of production) create value? Is the whole society a large factory where any work or activity not only produce value but are also organized as waged work? Can we see class relation in capitalism as the antagonism between capital, i.e. a subject that merely wants to impose (work) discipline, and the working class? In Section 1 we explored the reasons behind the Autonomist argument that work outside the sphere of production creates value. We showed that this ‘quest’ for value is consistent with the Autonomist subjectivist reading of Marx’s categories, e.g. value and abstract labor: i... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Keep on Smiling — Questions on Immaterial Labor Introduction: a colorful necklace Toni Negri and Michael Hardt’s recent works, Empire and Multitude, have earned these authors great popularity in the Anglo-Saxon world. Negri is known in Italy for belonging to autonomia operaia in the ‘70s and for being on the receiving end of political persecution by the Italian state at the end of that decade. His earlier work (above all Marx Beyond Marx) was a valid contribution to the understanding of the nature of capitalism and influenced many among us who sought an answer to Marxist objectivism and a theory of history based on class struggle. However, Negri’s earlier work circulated among a restricted public, via obscure publishers. The new Toni Negri for the ‘new’ era emerges in 2000 with Empire. A tome written with literature professor Michael’s Hardt, Empire was warmly wel... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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1. Immaterial labor and a new theory for the ‘new era’ In this section we show that the concept of immaterial labor, or better, immaterial production, is the pivotal element for Negri and Hardt’s analysis and for their popularity. On the one hand it allows them to subsume the bourgeois theories which, in the ‘80s, challenged traditional Marxism. But on the other hand it allows them to subsume these theories into a revolutionary, subjective, anti-capitalist theory. And it seems to offer an explanation for the new movements which sounds reasonable (and flattering) to the participants. 1.1 Immaterial labor and the millennial theories As we anticipated in the Introduction, immaterial labor plays a fundamental role in a central quality of Negri and Hardt’s theory: its intellectual universality. Specifically, both Empire and Multitude, as well as Negri’s pre-Empire work, successfully appropriate a large range o... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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2. The origin of immaterial labor as class struggle In this section we comment on one of the central issues in Negri and Hardt, that immaterial production is itself the result of the struggles of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the class experimented with ‘new productivity’, and autonomously redefined itself as creative, flexible, communicative labor power. We agree that the emergence of what Negri and Hardt call immaterial production should be analyzed as class struggle, but we argue that immaterial production is an aspect of the domination of capital over labor, though contradictory and unstable. We then question Negri and Hardt’s vision of immaterial production as having inherent anti-capitalist aspects in itself and their view of a communist future based on its self-management. 2.1 Immaterial labor as the result of subjectivity and class struggle — myth and reality How did immaterial labor come about? Accordi... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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3. Immaterial labor and capital as objectification In this section we comment on Negri and Hardt’s thesis that immaterial production is ripe for self-management since this ‘new’ production is inherently independent from the individual capitalist. We argue that the apparent objectivity and autonomy of immaterial labor from the capitalist is only evidence that immaterial production is an aspect of capital. We argue that Negri and Hardt’s uncritical naturalization of the present production system derives from their lack of understanding of capital as an objectified social relation. We will see that this problem is mirrored by a parallel, opposite one: Negri and Hardt’s lack of critical understanding (and celebration) of capital as the product of bourgeois subjectivity. 3.1. Production as inherent in the practices of labor Negri and Hardt tell us that there is something interestingly new in immaterial production th... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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4. Immaterial labor and the mind of capital We now consider the subjective side of immaterial production i.e. how immaterial production is related to class antagonism and the necessity of the revolution. Negri and Hardt say that antagonism emerges from our resistance against capital’s efforts to tamper with our potentially autonomous deployment of creativity and to enclose what we produce in common. To this view we oppose that antagonism arises from the unacceptability of a division of labor that imposes our daily deprivation of creativity, and we explain why immaterial production is part of it. 4.1 The contradictions of immaterial production as the contradictions of capital Negri and Hardt’s theory has the interesting aspect of speaking about subjectivity. Against bourgeois objectivism it tells us that the development of capital and its contradictions are the result of antagonism, of subjectivity. As we have seen in Section 1,... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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5. Immaterial labor and the heart of capital We have focused so far on immaterial production as the production of knowledge and ideas. Another, central, aspect of immaterial production as defined by Negri and Hardt is the production of affects, communication and cooperation. In this section we address Negri and Hardt’s view that this production, which is capitalist production, is ‘elevated to the level of human relations’ and criticize their inability to understand the ontological inversion that turns affects and communication into abstract powers of capital and into our disempowerment. 5.1. ‘Immaterial production of communication and affects and subversion Capital and affects, it seems, do not go along too well. For Negri and Hardt capital was simply forced to incorporate affects and other subjective powers like communication and cooperation into production (Empire, pp. 275–6). Without the strugg... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Conclusion: a bad string makes a bad necklace New old categories for the ‘new’ era In the course of this article we have addressed the inadequacy of Negri and Hardt’s concepts of material and immaterial labor for the understanding of capitalism and its contradictions — the string of their fascinating necklace. Negri and Hardt’s categories of material and immaterial labor replace the old categories of manual and mental labor of traditional Marxist times. The latter were intended to conceptualize the ‘manual’ as a potentially revolutionary agent of class struggle. It is important to notice that the essential distinction between those who create and those who execute within production — thus a distinction in roles and privileges — became conflated with ‘mental’ and ‘manual’ work, i.e. the type of work done. The increasing investment of capit... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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