Confronting the crisis of 'fordism':
Italian debates around social transition*


Steve Wright
[First published in 'Reconstruction' #6 (Summer 1995/96)]

The gradual unravelling of the postwar social compact in Australia and other OECD states has raised fundamental questions for left strategies. Within much of the West, the crisis of what is commonly called 'fordism' has entailed not only the emergence of new (and sometimes very old) production regimes, but also some speculation about the ongoing status and standing of wage labour itself. One of the most frequent responses to this uncertainty has been to call for a 'guaranteed income for all'. More and more, the relative merits of such a demand, often counterposed in turn to that of 'full employment', are being argued out in a number of forums: above all in Western Europe, but also on occasion in this country (Gray 1988; Alcock 1988; Gorz 1989; van Parijs 1992; Pixley 1993; Watts 1995). For some, it offers a means to ensure social stability, in the face of structural unemployment and an increasingly global capital; for a small minority, guaranteed income has become one plank in a raft of demands intended to destroy the wage relation once and for all.


New production regimes, new forms of waged and unwaged work, new struggles: a new class composition. As always, changes to the composition of the working class demand a debate about the meaning of revolutionary politics - of what, in these different circumstances, it actually means to abolish the capital relation and its state. This article is a preliminary survey of current reflections upon guaranteed income and related issues within the Italian far left, and in particular amongst Italy's autonomists. Their discussion is of importance both for what it says in its own right, and because it stems from a section of the revolutionary left which continues to be little known or understood in the English-speaking world. In the late seventies, the autonomist movement dominated revolutionary politics in Italy. While most of its largest components shared a common reference point in the brand of Italian marxism known as operaismo (literally, 'workerism'),1 autonomia as a whole was then a whirling kaleidoscope of ideologically diverse local collectives and regionally based political groups, united more by their refusal to work within the traditional structures of the labour movement than by any commonly agreed upon strategy. Despite its apparent collapse following a wave of mass arrests during the early eighties, a 'new' autonomia has since re-emerged as a small but lively current within a broader movement for the 'self-organisation' of community and workplace. As such, it has a real presence, along with anarchist politics, within Italy's extensive network of radical community squats (the 'self-managed, occupied' social centres) - and, to a lesser degree, within the world of industrial dissent, which presently groups tens of thousands of waged workers in a bewildering array of rank and file committees and 'alternative, self-managed' unions. In what follows, I hope to show that Italian autonomist reflections upon the 'guaranteed income' and 'a non-state public sphere', for all their ambiguities and oversights, offer a useful sounding board for those in the English-speaking world equally committed to finding some practical means of moving beyond capital and the state.


Guaranteed Income in the Seventies
The notion of a guaranteed income has long held an honoured place within Italian autonomist discourse. In the years immediately following the worker and student unrest of 1968 and 1969, the 'social' or 'political' wage was a central theme for Potere Operaio, a workerist group which would later supply many of autonomia's most prominent figures. Central to Potere Operaio's understanding of modern class conflict was the notion of a struggle within the immediate process of production which, in challenging the hierarchies of skill and command to be found there, sought to uncouple income from productivity. This refusal of work, exemplified by the practices of the mass worker found on the assembly line of FIAT and other large corporations, expresses and organises itself 'positively' in the struggle to appropriate an ever greater slice of social wealth: at this point, the struggle for the 'social wage' (equal for all and tied to workers' material needs, rather than to the productivity of the bosses) is something qualitatively, totally different from negotiating the wage as recompense for work performed (La Classe 1969: 35).
A 'social' wage was also demanded for those outside the traditional realms of paid work. Since, for Potere Operaio, capitalist society was now a social factory subject to the dictates of accumulation, a 'political' wage was necessary for all those with nothing to sell but their ability to work. In a country where the official safety net privileged workers in the larger factories, the political wage was more than a simple compensation for unpaid labour; forcing further apart the disjuncture between pay and productivity, it could only exacerbate the crisis of capital. Apart from students and the unemployed, women as houseworkers were also seen as prime candidates for a guaranteed wage, sparking a controversy that would last for years within and around the feminist movement in Italy and elsewhere (Malos 1980).
Inspired in part by mass campaigns to 'self-reduce' the rising cost of social services and to seize various means of consumption and reproduction (Balestrini 1989), the dominant currents within the autonomia of the mid to late seventies (the self-styled 'organised' autonomists) staked everything on their ability to give political cover and representation to such instances of direct appropriation. Indeed, one of Toni Negri's first attempts to decipher the forms of social conflict found within what he termed the new 'social proletariat' would explicitly reformulate the question of the wage in terms of the 'direct appropriation of the productive forces of social wealth' in the spheres of both production and reproduction (Negri 1976: 51). Bending the mass unrest of that time to the leninist notions of political struggle which most of 'organised' autonomia then espoused proved a greater challenge, however, and its hegemony over radical practice in Italy began to slip away even before the mass arrests of 1979 and 1980 devastated its membership (Wright: Chapter 9).
The subsequent destruction of the autonomist current formed part of a broader project of normalisation which, if judged by the relative social peace of the early eighties, proved remarkably successful. The past eight years, however, have brought with them a revival of social conflict in Italy. Less spectacular in form than those of the past, this cycle of struggles has nonetheless continued to unfold, spreading out from state-run schools, railways and universities into private sector workplaces. To the surprise of many - not least those formed in an earlier phase of revolutionary politics - this cycle has also breathed new life into the collectives of autonomia, with the influx of younger activists imparting a distinctly libertarian stamp to much of the movement. It is within this very different context, then, that talk of guaranteed income has returned to Italy.


Beyond Gorz? Guaranteed Income as Reappropriation
Over the last decade or so, much of left debate over guaranteed income has revolved around the work of Andre Gorz. Reviewing the latter's Farewell to the Working Class back in 1984, the American autonomist journal Midnight Notes would insist that Gorz's plans for a new realm of productive activity constituted outside the parameters of wage labour simply obscured a project aimed at 'forestall[ing] struggles around the refusal of work and install[ing] the left as the managers of the working class'. Far from bringing freedom, his designs would only mean more unpaid work, a parody of communism in the form of self-managed poverty. By contrast, Midnight Notes offered a vision of a new society - the result of struggles which had assaulted the wage relation from within as well as without - where "Everyone takes it pretty easy and begins spending some of their spare time thinking up how to build safe machines that can do the work people still do, and inventing new drugs, sex positions and crossword puzzles made up of the names of famous marxist ideologists" (Midnight Notes 1984: 16).
Given this hostile reception, it is curious to discover that recent discussions amongst the autonomists of Italy's north-east have been rather circumspect in their dealings with Gorz. For example, a piece written for a regional conference held in March of this year argues that, while Gorz's image of a sector of 'alternative' production should not be taken literally, his vision, despite its 'Proudhonian and backward' aspects, remains suggestive - 'offering, like all prefigurative activities, some elements of truth' (Various Authors 1995). And in what is perhaps the most detailed autonomist assessment of guaranteed income to date, Carlo Palermo has sketched out a position which, in the name of going beyond Gorz's Critique Of Economic Reason, seeks nonetheless to build upon aspects of that work. Whilst rejecting Gorz's inability to see past existing forms of technique and the division of labour, Palermo praises him for insisting that the question of income be tackled hand in hand with the 'progressive but radical' reduction of labour time (Palermo 1994: 38). Gorz's biggest failing, he argues, is that in the absence of any real sense of how to implement it, his project remains trapped within terms set by capital. Designed to straddle an unwaged world of 'autonomous activity' and a waged sphere of 'necessity', Gorz's version of a guaranteed income ultimately offers no means with which finally to break the dominance of the wage relation (Palermo 1994: 40).
Surveying a range of schemes whose proponents, unlike Gorz, have no interest in challenging the hegemony of wage labour, Palermo indicates the ways in which their understandings of a guaranteed income are designed either to perpetuate or to exacerbate hierarchies found in and around the labour market. Like him, Massimo De Angelis has argued that, in order to serve as a means to challenge the capital relation, a guaranteed income must be linked to an attack upon the length of the working day. Just as many proposals 'to separate access to income from the labour market' are in fact designed 'to make the latter function effectively' (De Angelis 1994: 30), so any plan to reduce labour time which accepts existing social relations as given will only entail a 'redistribution of misery'. This, De Angelis holds, is the real meaning of the slogan - so popular within the mainstream European left - of 'Working Less so that Everyone can Work': "It must be emphasised that we don't want to work less so that everyone can work, for the simple reason that in one way or another (in production or in reproduction, in full-time work as in casual work) we are all already working for capital. What we want is the power to all work less, and much less, whilst simultaneously destroying the hierarchy of the labour market". Linking a guaranteed income to the reduction of the working day, he concludes, would provide an effective means of circulating struggles between those that capital seeks to divide: the employed and the unemployed, full-time staff and those in part-time or casual employ (De Angelis 1994: 32).
According to Palermo, the following points offer the beginnings of a 'radical reformist program' against wage labour and 'beyond Gorz':

1) the guaranteed income must be tied not to the 'right/duty' to perform wage labour, as Gorz would have it, but rather to the right/duty to perform socially necessary labour;

2) 'the liberation of free time' must involve a reappropriation of administrative functions which challenges and goes beyond both the forms and political personnel of today's representative democracy;

3) not only must 1) entail 'an ecologically sensitive, generalised and egalitarian reduction of labour time', it must also involve the free distibution of a whole series of services and use values, from housing and schooling to health;

4) 'the guarantee and development of these use values and services must take precedence over the social goals of production, and thus become the motor of a process of reappropriation of the welfare state's institutions and services, based upon the expansion of self-managed social labour and cooperation';

5) rather than remain confined to Italy's richest regions, this citizenship income 'package' must be posed in broader - and ultimately global - terms (Palermo 1994: 40).

Before following through some of the themes raised by Palermo, it is worthwhile dwelling briefly upon the place within his schema of a very traditional left demand, namely the 'right/duty to work'. Those familiar only with English-language autonomist writings may think its presence here strange, to say the least. Still, as Sergio Bologna pointed out years ago, there have always been some within the Italian autonomist movement - amongst them Negri himself - who have at different times expressed unease with certain readings of the 'refusal of work' (Bologna 1976: 26). Indeed, according to one of Negri's close associates, "The refusal of work (lavoro) was never the refusal of labour (lavoro) as such; it was never directed against productivity, creativity or inventiveness. Rather it was the refusal of a specific relation between capital and labour" (Hardt 1993: 114).
Against this, one could ask whether 'labour as such' has ever actually existed - except, perhaps, in the form of class domination, as abstract labour. If arguments such as Hardt's seem premised upon the sort of socialist (as opposed to communist) sensibilities that Italian workerism has so often rejected, they can also be seen creeping into the Paduan conference text cited earlier. On the other hand, the editors of the Milan-based journal Klinamen continue to reject any critique of wage labour that is not simultaneously a critique of 'labour tout court' (Klinamen 1992: 56). The stance taken by De Angelis is similar, and almost identical in its use of language: 'Liberation from labour is instrumental to liberation tout court' (De Angelis 1994: 35).
Apart from print-based media, this debate as to the meaning of the 'refusal of work' is currently being argued out in a number of Italy's radical computer networks, chief amongst them the European Counter Network (ECN) and the CyberNet. One brief but telling exchange earlier this year concerned the fate of an older female employee in a lottery office 'whose smile and "'ca 'bbona furtuna"', recounted the Sandman, 'had always made my day'. Now, he discovered, she had been dismissed, allegedly because she had been unable to learn how to operate the new machines (Sandman 1995). As the discussion over this anecdote swung back and forth, Hobo of the Padua ECN chimed in to disagree with those advocating the line of 'Working Less so that Everyone can Work', adding: 'I wouldn't want to demand that the woman be reinstated, but rather that she have a comfortable life' (Hobo 1995).
In the end, if 'The refusal to work is the determination to do something else' (Lindsay 1995: 36), then here we are faced with understandings of that 'something else' which remain poles apart - and, to date, largely unreconciled. If a certain ground for agreement continues to exist amongst Italy's autonomists, it lies in the much broader perspective set out in Palermo's program, which links the demand for guaranteed income to the goal of the reappropriation and self-management of social services, as one step towards the reduction of necessary labour and the dismantling of the capital relation and its state. One of the most interesting aspects of this discussion is the insistence that a guaranteed income must from its inception be actualised in part as use values. According to Palermo, an income defined in purely monetary terms would remain - consistent with the bureaucratic logic of the traditional welfare state - a form of socialisation hierarchically controlled by the latter. As a right it would be in continual jeopardy, both in terms of its monetary value and its unconditional character. On the other hand, he argues, a guaranteed income based upon the free distribution of selected social services could provide a starting point from which to build for the further extension of a self-managed sector within which need supplanted the logic of profit (Palermo 1994: 34).
Within more traditional sections of Italy's left, echoes of this line of thinking can be found in Marco Revelli's talk of the need to reappropriate the functions of the welfare state 'from below'. Since it is now both 'useless to the bosses [and] alienating to workers', Revelli believes that a political strategy based upon an unconditional defence of the welfare state would be 'suicidal'. Its current crisis can only lead to two outcomes: either towards a social 'free-for-all' such as can be found in the United States, where each must fend as best they can, or else towards 'a more mature "sociality"' based upon mutual aid. Many examples of the latter, he points out, already exist in Italy: above all, the thousands of cooperatives and mutual societies which provide health care and other social benefits to their members (Revelli 1993a: 26). What is required, therefore, is a project that in 'socialising without statifying' is able to expand this area of welfare from below, and 'to reconstruct those autonomies that the inevitably bureaucratic apparatuses of the parties, unions and state have dispersed...' (Revelli 1993b: 16).
This questioning of statism within the mainstream Italian left - a process, it must be said, still largely confined to its formerly 'new left' fringes - has been greeted with a certain cautious interest in some local libertarian circles. Thus, in a pamphlet on new forms of workers' self-organisation, the anarchist theorist Cosimo Scarinzi has argued that "if linked to a clear project of the labour movement's destatification, to an effective initiative against fiscal pressure, the growth and coordination of structures of mutual aid could become one of the driving axes of rank and file unionism" (Scarinzi 1993a: 22).
Unlike Palermo, however, Revelli is not calling for the free distribution of the services such forms of mutual aid provide. Indeed, as one writer for the Padua-based autonomist journal Riff Raff has pointed out, Revelli's scheme, rather than 'emptying out' the state, would lead to a form of co-existence between state and mutual aid sector wherein workers were taxed twice over. By contrast, Roberto Ulargiu's preferred medium term scenario is one in which, as a consequence of restructuring, the collection point of taxation has been shifted 'downwards' to local and regional authorities. Given this premise, the self-organised movements would then seek to impose the free distribution of particular social services upon those bodies, with the latter in turn claiming renumeration from the central authority (R. U. 1993: 59-60).


A New Public Space? A New Class Composition?
The notion of a self-managed space challenging the subordination of need to accumulation has become closely bound up in recent Italian discussion with two other questions: the possibility of a new public space formed outside the state, and the dimensions and characteristics assumed by the new class composition thrown up by the crisis of what, for want of a better term, continues to be called 'fordism'. One of the first documents to pose the question in this way was drafted by the editorial board of Luogo Comune, a number of whose members had been leading intellectual figures of the old autonomia (and in some cases, amongst those arrested in 1979 or thereafter).2 Written in 1992, 'For an extraparliamentary democracy' used the opportunity of Italy's constitutional crisis to reject both the defenders of the old regime and those new political forces (from the the Lega Nord to the nouveaux riches around Berlusconi) vying for a 'second' republic. Insisting that 'the current institutional crisis has its roots... in the crisis of the society of labour', it pointed its finger directly at the displacement from centre stage of that 'citizen-worker' who had underpinned the postwar social compact (Luogo Comune 1992: 49). With restructuring and 'mass defection' now combining to break the link between producer and citizen, the defence of democracy tout court today coincides, like it or not, with the construction of, and experimentation with, non-representative democracy. Everything else is petulant chatter (Luogo Comune 1992: 51).
Faced with the statist - and increasingly statified - nature of the left parties and unions, Luogo Comune's editors argued that this new public space must be sought outside the traditional political sphere: in the social centres, in the new 'alternative' unions, in local groups working around immigration, housing, and the environment. In the last few years, the notion of a new public space has struck a chord within a growing number of circles within Italy's autonomist and libertarian left. Apart from an important 1994 conference (Padovan et al. 1995), it has spawned a number of regional projects, such as the attempt in Padua to establish a city-wide consulta (council) open to a range of social forces, including some beyond the traditional boundaries of left dissent (Klinamen 1993). Along the way, as one means towards constructing a lingua franca with such forces, the Paduan autonomists have discovered the vocabulary of radical democracy as citizenship. 'By democracy', they have written, 'we understand the direct popular control of a society's structures by its citizens' - the latter being defined as all inhabitants, whether they hold 'legal' citizenship or not (La Comune 1993: 2). Looked at in more strategic terms, the network of 'non-representative democracy' represented by this new public space has been theorised by some autonomists as a counter-power that anticipates the eventual emergence of revolutionary soviets (Krasivyj 1993: 111).
If 'the society of labour' based upon fordist mass production is said to be in crisis, what new class composition has begun to emerge in its stead? The proliferation of self-organisation amongst school teachers in the late eighties (above all, the rank and file committees known as the COBAS), followed by the university student movement of 1990, have inspired some Italian marxists of late to talk of a nascent 'mass intellectuality' which, they claim, has supplanted in strategic importance that mass worker formed within the fordist deal (Bernocchi 1993). Sharply criticised in quarters which continue to emphasise the importance of industrial workers (M. Melotti, R. Sbardella & M. Antignani 1990), this thesis presently holds sway within circles broadly connected with Luogo Comune and its successor Derive Approdi. While some equate 'mass intellectuality' with the massification of intellectual labour, and thus tie it to particular social strata, others see it as a dimension common to contemporary labour power in all its articulations: "This form of productive activity is not limited only to more highly-skilled workers; we are talking of a use value of labour-power today, and, more generally, of the form of activity of every productive subject within post-industrial society" (Lazzarato 1994: 6).
In an attempt to legitimise this line of argument, reference is frequently made to the Grundrisse - a tome long cherished within Italian autonomist culture - and to Marx's ruminations therein upon the emergence of 'general intellect' as a social subject. Mass intellectuality, it is thus claimed, is the form assumed by social subjectivity in an age where accumulation depends more and more upon 'immaterial' labour (Virno 1993; Lazzarato 1994).
More recently, the notion of mass intellectuality has again been challenged within the Italian far left. Writing in Riff Raff - a journal whose editorial collective would by 1994 divide over this very issue - Umberto Plinsky has called for more caution in the term's use. Whilst concuring that it 'grasps a real tendency of capitalist development', he has expressed concern that 'it appears to lack, for the moment, any convincing synthesis in material terms' (Plinsky 1994: 82). From outside autonomia, Cosimo Scarinzi is more skeptical still, questioning the very idea that 'a particular technical composition of employed workers' might lay claim to a privileged role within the broader process of social self-organisation (Scarinzi 1993b: 27). Equally contentious are the political consequences drawn by many of those who uphold mass intellectuality as the central defining feature of an allegedly 'post-fordist' class composition.


Voice or Exit?
When reviewing 'For an extraparliamentary democracy', the editors of Klinamen had criticised the document as a piece caught between the strategems of 'exodus or counter-power' (Klinamen 1992: 56). Already, back in the first issue of Luogo Comune, Andrea Colombo had begun to speculate upon the theme of 'exodus' as a viable path out of the capital relation. Rejecting as failures both the 'storming of the Winter Palace' and the 'long march through the institutions', Colombo cited the black nationalism of the American sixties and seventies as a model of social change more worthy of emulation: "from Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X to Bob Marley, the myth of a return to Africa... was consciously used to change circumstances without [anyone] shifting one millimetre in space" (Colombo 1990: 62).
Since that time, other writers associated with Luogo Comune have taken up and expanded the theme of exodus, understood as escape to an alternative lifestyle outside the domain of capital. In a passage inspired by Hannah Arendt, Paolo Virno has asked whether the possibility of exodus might not in some way be bound up with that of 'the miraculous' - a property previously reserved by the likes of Hobbes and Schmitt for the sovereign power - as one moment in the path towards a new radical democracy constituted outside the state (Virno 1993: 23). Elsewhere, Lucio Castellano has identified another historical precedent for the exodus, this being the flight last century of many European proletarians to the US, and then again westwards 'far from the factories of the East coast bourgeoisie' (Castellano 1993: 14).3
This is not the first time that the heretical call for an 'opting out' of the capital relation has appeared within the autonomist camp. A decade ago, Philip Mattera concluded his survey of informal work in the modern underground economy by suggesting that it might 'yet provide the basis for social autonomy' (Mattera 1985: 129). In the nineties, the form of flight from the capital relation most commonly held up by the exponents of 'exodus' is that of so-called 'autonomous labour': what in English goes by the name of self-employment. According to Maurizio Lazzarato, "Wage labour and direct subjugation (to organisation) are no longer the principal form of the contractual relationship between capitalist and worker; a polymorphous self-employed autonomous work emerges as the dominant form, a kind of "intellectual worker" who is himself an entrepreneur, inserted within a market that is constantly shifting and within networks that are changeable in time and space" (Lazzarato 1994: 13-4).
A more obviously social approach to the goal of an alternative economy outside capital's sway can be found within Italy's hundred or so social centres. Spaces for political aggregation and the self-management of free time, many increasingly define themselves as sites of 'self-production'. Primarily engaged in the production of cultural artifacts - from publications to music (Adinolfi 1994) - and drawing upon the rich fanzine traditions of punk, their enterprises have been characterised by Benedetto Vecchi as 'high points of capitalist development' based upon 'knowledge, science and communicative action'. They are also, he continues in a now familiar refrain, "the most contradictory phenomenon of a possible exodus of labour power from capitalist society, through the constitution of a public sphere that contemplates the synthesis between developed social cooperation and political initiative" (Vecchi 1994: 14).
Perhaps the strongest call for 'the creation of economic circuits protected from the logic of profit' has come from the Roman social centre Brancaleone. Even they concede, however, that their proposal runs the constant risk of collapsing into 'self-exploitation': to their mind, this must be weighed up against the wealth of experience which comes from participation in a self-managed enterprise (CSA Brancaleone 1994: 105). An anonymous writer in Nessuna Dipendenza, the journal of Rome's most famous social centre, is more prudent in their reflections. Reasoning that, 'if the true antithesis of labour time is the time of free creative activity', there may well be space for self-managed experiments in the here and now, they also recognise the dangers inherent within projects which, whilst perhaps improving the 'quality of life' of those taking part, fail 'to contaminate civil society' as a whole (CSOA Forte Prenestino 1993: 19; an interesting local discussion of these themes can be found in Iain 1995).
This ambivalence is not confined to Nessuna Dipendenza. When the journal Klinamen speaks of exodus, it does so in a sense quite different to Luogo Comune. Gathering together a number of pieces concerned with community alliance-building for its fourth issue, Klinamen's editors have advocated an exodus that goes forth 'Out of the ghetto,... towards the centre' (Klinamen 1993: 45). Back in the late seventies, Negri had likewise criticised those who sought to detach the project of constructing a new world from that of confronting the old; he too had spoken scornfully of 'the party of the ghetto', although aspects of his writings from the early eighties talk somewhat ambiguously of 'separating' from capital (Negri 1979: 23-5; cf Negri 1980). Today, Negri considers the disjuncture between 'a productive exodus' from capital and 'the processes of the extinction of constituted power' to be a fundamental feature of contemporary capitalism. Furthermore, he is explicit in his view that the new 'constituent power' must ultimately confront the state, before the latter destroys itself - and humanity with it (Hardt & Negri 1994: 311). Negri seems unusual in this respect amongst those who advocate exodus; more typical is the position of Virno who, whilst naming 'radical Disobedience' and 'the Right to Resistance' as two facets of 'the new alliance between Intellect and Action', is equally insistent that 'social conflicts manifest themselves not only and not so much as protest than as defection... Nothing is less passive than escape' (Virno 1993: 23, 16).
Positions such as these have led many autonomists to reject the discourse on 'exodus' outright. According to Plinksy, any attempt to establish a genuinely social form of self-organisation dedicated to need over profit cannot postpone forever an encounter with the established order - an encounter which talk of 'dropping out' from the capital relation seems designed to forestall (Plinsky 1994: 81). The most extended critique, however, comes from the pages of the Roman journal Invarianti, where Luca Nutarelli has linked the theme of exodus to a well-established tradition within left culture stretching back to Proudhon and other 'schizo-socialists'. There he shows that a whole range of schemes which purport to offer a means to live outside capital and the wage relation, whether they be nineteenth century labour exchanges, modern day welfare scams or the perennial quest self-employment, are themselves predicated upon the existence of capital, wage labour and state (Nutarelli 1995: 25).


Conclusion
All of these speculations about a possible escape route from capitalism have taken us a long way from our original starting point. What practical possibilities, then, do the debates reviewed above hold out for the project of social transformation in Italy today? For the time being, at least, probably very little. Whether the fiscal revolt led by the populist and racist Lega Nord does indeed shift the locus of tax collection 'downwards', and so open up space for local campaigns over social services, is a moot point - as is, at present, the ability of either the social centres or the 'self-organised' workers and alternative unions to carry such campaigns into the class as a whole. The latest phase of mobilisation within workplaces, while real enough, continues to fall short of 'a unitary and rank and file movement able to invert the tendency to defer before the union leaderships' (d'Errico et al. 1995: 6). In any case, the central debate in Italian offices and factories has most recently concerned an altogether different form of guaranteed income - the pension (Botti & Miglino 1995). As for the social centres, many of those who run them feel caught between a growing interest in 'self-production', and the ongoing difficulties of securing the active participation of their 'consumers' in broader political projects; they too are entering a new phase which, if potentially rewarding, nonetheless remains uncertain (Borrelli 1995; Moroni 1995).
There are other limits to the discourses discussed above. Perhaps the most evident of these is that, with the exception of De Angelis, there is little said in all the talk of guaranteed income about gender relations - a matter without which no serious understanding of class composition is possible (Cleaver 1992). On the few occasions where gender is explored at length, as in Alisa Del Re's fascinating look at the welfare state (1994), the contributions made are still too infrequently taken up within the main flow of debate. This is all the more disturbing given that any serious project aimed at reducing the paid working week will be anything but egalitarian unless it also confronts the profoundly gendered realm of unwaged work (Marazzi 1994).
Then there is the question of class composition itself. However intriguing the notion might appear, talk of a 'mass intellectuality' remains contentious, to say the least. If the term has a certain suggestive ring to it, similar to that played by operaio sociale (socialised worker) within the autonomist debates of the late seventies, it continues to be more schematic than substantive in its explanatory power. At best it may offer some insight into the forms that class struggle has assumed in newer labour processes such as software design (Cleaver 1995b: 167); at worst, it stands as yet another instance where the (supposed) reality of one layer becomes confused with the politically and culturally diverse experiences which characterise contemporary class composition as a whole.
Finally, there is the matter of the 'exodus'. This, as we have seen, has been presented in two forms: self-employment, and a more explicitly collective project of an alternative economy based upon self-production. But can individuals really escape subordination to capital through self-employment? As the fieldwork of Sergio Bologna and others have indicated, the burgeoning phenomenon of self-employment is a complex one in Italy today, and the relevant data partial by nature. At the same time, it does seem a touch implausible, judging by what is known, to suggest that the degree of autonomy heralded by Lazzarato is in any way typical. Indeed, given the structural dependence of so many self-employed upon a single client - often, a large firm to whose production rhythms they are beholden - it is somewhat forced to suggest that such workers have loosed the bonds of the capital relation. If anything, their circumstances evoke those of earlier workers who, whilst retaining control of their tools, were nonetheless formally subordinate to capital. As a consequence, it may prove more useful to characterise many of today's self-employed as 'de-waged labour power', if not perhaps, as Bologna would equally insist, 'the new mass worker of the network-firm' (Bologna 1992: 17). As for the sort of social identity emerging from this path, the picture that Primo Moroni has painted of the growing numbers of self-employed in Milan is a bleak one: "A vast process of self-valorisation and 'desalarisation' which, instead of producing social cooperation outside the hierarchical domination of the enterprise (as some would have wished), produces new egoisms and separate, intolerant individualities" (Moroni 1992: 45).
Apart from anything else, the ongoing polemic over dropping out of the wage relation indicates that a minority within Italian radical circles have become leery of any frontal assault against the state. Some have suggested that this stance is both proof of its exponents' reformism, and a direct consequence of their earlier 'disassociation' (Ghignoni 1995: 176). Given the personal costs associated with the movement's defeat in the early eighties, such wariness of confrontation is perfectly understandable. More to the point, though, is this question: if self-employment offers so little hope, can the collective forms of 'opting out' espoused by some within the social centres be generalised? And can this really be accomplished, as the American anarchist writer Hakim Bey suggests, in a manner invisible to capital's gaze? "How can I live a comfortable (even luxurious) life free of all interactions and transactions with CommodityWorld? If we took all the energy the Leftists put into 'demos', and all the energy the Libertarians put into playing futile little 3rd-party games, and if we redirected all that power into the construction of a real underground economy, we would already have accomplished 'the Revolution' long ago" (Bey 1993).
As far as I can see, it's doubtful whether such a strategy would actually engender instances of social autonomy; if anything, it evokes a life more akin to that of rats which, in eking out an existence between the walls, survive on what they can scavenge.4 Here, the arguments of Midnight Notes a propos the flight of individuals from South and East towards the perceived benefits of wage labour in the metropoles, seem equally relevant to those seeking within the West and North to flee from waged work: "if they do not create places against capital at the termini of their trajectory, they will find themselves, like the pirates of the Caribbean, continually displaced and eventually exhausted and exterminated" (Midnight Notes 1990: 9).
A recent paper by Harry Cleaver reiterates this point. Discussing Laura Miller's reflections upon gender relations and the American frontier myth (Miller 1995), he argues that capital's relentless drive to 'colonise' all facets of human creativity continually engenders resistance, including efforts to 'break away' from its grasp. While these moments offer valuable opportunities to experiment with new, non-exploitative social relationships, they too will be crushed or incorporated unless their creativity is directed against 'the larger capitalist system' (Cleaver 1995a).
Recognising that no space can presently exist beyond capital's reach means working towards a 'deepening of contradictions and conflict' (Plinsky 1994: 81) in a manner that is conducive to mass self-organisation. In this respect, further debate over the autonomist discussion of guaranteed income might offer one possible way to explore the question of class self-activity within the sphere of social relations as a whole. Whether this approach has some chance of success in circumstances where 'opting out' might well appear to many as a far more plausible alternative must, in the end, await 'the closest study of the diverse directions [that] different subjectivities may pursue' within the present state of things (Cleaver 1992: 17).


References
P. Adinolfi (1994) 'Autoproduzione: punto a capo', in F. Adinolfi et al., ComunitÓ virtuali: I centri sociali in Italia. Manifestolibri, Rome.
P. Alcock (1988) 'Unconditional benefits: misplaced optimism in income maintenance', Capital & Class 37, Spring.
N. Balestrini (1989) The Unseen. Verso, London.
P. Bernocchi (1993) Dal sindacato ai Cobas. Erre emme edizioni, Rome.
H. Bey (1993) 'Permanent Autonomous Zones' - http://www.uio.no/~mwatz/bey/paz.txt
S. Bologna (1976) 'Proletari e stato di A. Negri: una recensione', Primo Maggio 7.
S. Bologna (1992) 'Problematiche del lavoro autonomo in Italia (I)', Altreragioni 1, June.
F. Borrelli (1995) 'Un agorÓ tra i banchi di libri e riviste', il manifesto, 28 March.
G. Botti & C. Miglino (1995) 'Sulle pensioni pi¨ democrazia', il manifesto, 19 May.
L. Castellano (1993) 'Il Potere degli Altri', Derive Approdi 0, July.
La Classe (1969) 'Il rifiuto del lavoro', in L. Castellano (ed.) (1979) "Aut.Op. La storia e i documenti: da Potere operaio all'Autonomia organizzata" Savelli, Rome.
H. Cleaver (1992) 'Marxian Categories, the Crisis of Capital and the Constitution of Social Subjectivity Today'. mimeo, University of Texis at Austin.
H. Cleaver (1995a) 'The "Space" of Cyberspace: Body Politics, Frontiers and Enclosures'. mimeo, University of Texis at Austin.
H. Cleaver (1995b) 'The Subversion of Money-as-Command in the Current Crisis', in W. Bonefeld and J. Holloway (eds.) Global Capital, National State and the Politics of Money. Macmillan, London.
A. Colombo (1990) 'Fughe senza fine, dieci anni di esodo', Luogo Comune 1, November.
La Comune (1993) 'Uno spazio politico pubblico', La Comune 0, June.
CSA Brancaleone (1994) 'Autogestione Mon Amour', Derive Approdi 5/6, Winter.
CSOA Forte Prenestino (1993) 'Stretti tra il tempo...', Nessuna Dipendenza 3, 1 May.
M. De Angelis (1994) 'Lavoro e mercato del lavoro capitalistico tra Auschwitz e il comunismo: "Crisi dell'occupazione", strategie del capitale e ipotesi strategiche per l'autonomia', vis-Ó-vis 2, Spring.
A. Del Re (1994) 'Dov'Ŕ Giocasta? Analisi del welfare', Riff Raff 2, March. S. d'Errico et al. (1995) 'Manifesto dei lavoratori anarchici e libertari', UmanitÓ Nova 75/12, 2 April.
E. Ghignoni (1995) 'Brigate Rosse e autonomia del politico', vis-Ó-vis 3, Winter.
A. Gorz (1989) Critique of Economic Reason. Verso, London.
A. Gray (1988) 'Resisting economic conscription', Capital & Class 34, Spring. M. Hardt (1993) 'Il volo attraverso le alpi', Riff Raff 1, April.
M. Hardt & A. Negri (1994) Labor of Dionysus. A Critique of the State-Form. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Hobo (1995) 'il razzismo nella tecnologia?', CYBER_PUNK area, CyberNet, 9 January.
Iain (1995) 'Urban Survival Rave', Woozy 6.
Klinamen (1992) 'Kritica alla proposta di Luogo Comune', Klinamen 3, June.
Klinamen (1993) 'Uscita dal ghetto, esodo verso il centro', Klinamen 4, May.
D. Krasivyj (1993) 'Produzione sociale e autogoverno', Riff Raff 1, April.
M. Lazzarato (1994) 'General Intellect', in Red Notes (eds.) Immaterial Labour, Mass Intellectuality, New Constitution, Post-Fordism and all that... Red Notes, London.
B. Lindsay (1995) 'Making Space: Notes on the Recent Student Demonstrations'. Reconstruction 5, Winter/Spring.
Luogo Comune (1992) 'Per una democrazia extraparlamentare', Derive Approdi 0, July.
E. Malos (1980) The Politics of Housework. Allison & Busby, London.
C. Marazzi (1994) Il posto dei calzini. Edizioni Casagrande, Bellinzona.
M. Melotti, R. Sbardella & M. Antignani (1990) 'Ma quale classe generale?!', Incompatibili 2, April.
Midnight Notes (1984) 'The Working Class Waves Bye-Bye: A Proletarian Response to Andre Gorz', Midnight Notes 7.
Midnight Notes (1990) 'Introduction to the New Enclosures', Midnight Notes 10, Fall.
L. Miller (1995) 'Women and Children First: Gender and the Settling of the Electronic Frontier', in J. Brook and I. Boal (eds.), RESISTING THE VIRTUAL LIFE: The Culture and Politics of Information. City Lights, San Francisco.
P. Moroni (1992) 'L'Avventura della Transizione', Derive Approdi 0, July.
P. Moroni (1995) 'No ai facili moralismi', il manifesto, 1 April.
A. Negri (1976) Proletari e Stato. Feltrinelli, Milan, Second Edition.
A. Negri (1979) Dall'operaio massa all'operaio sociale. Multhipla edizioni, Milan.
A. Negri (1980) Il comunismo e la guerra. Feltrinelli, Milan.
L. Nutarelli (1995) 'Autoproduzioni, taz e fritto misto: Funzione dei centri sociali e patologie schizo-socialiste', Invarianti 26, April.
D. Padovan et al. (1995) Atti del convegno dul tema: Per una sfera pubblica non statale; autogoverno comunitario e cooperazione sociale. Grafton 9, Bologna.
C. Palermo (1994) 'Reddito di cittadinanza e lavoro sociale', Riff Raff 2, March.
J. Pixley (1993) Citizenship and Employment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
U. Plinsky (1994) 'Monete fuori corso', Riff Raff 2, March.
M. Revelli (1993a) 'Uscire in mare aperto', Alt 1-2, February.
M. Revelli (1993b) 'Conclusioni' to 'Inserto: Lavoro e innovazione industriale', Alt 3-4, April.
V. Ruggiero (1993) 'Sentenced to normality: The Italian political refugees in Paris', Crime, Law and Social Change 10/1, January.
Sandman (1995) 'il razzismo nella tecnologia?', CYBER_PUNK area, CyberNet, 3 January.
C. Scarinzi (1993a) Il sindacalismo di base. Edizioni 'Sempre Avanti', Livorno.
C. Scarinzi (1993b) 'Lavoro mentale ed autorganizzazione sociale', Úcole 14, May.
R. Ulargiu (1993) 'La nuova centralitÓ del lavoro', Riff Raff 1, April.
P. van Parijs (ed.) (1992) Arguing for basic income. Verso, London.
Various Authors (1995) 'Consulta della rete autonoma dell'autorganizzazione sociale'. mimeo, Padua.
B. Vecchi (1994) 'Frammenti di una diversa sfera pubblica', in F. Adinolfi et al., ComunitÓ virtuali: I centri sociali in Italia. Manifestolibri, Rome.
P. Virno (1993) 'Virtuosismo e rivoluzione', Luogo Comune 3/4, June.
R. Watts (1995) 'Rethinking the Employment/Citizenship Link', Political Expressions 1.
S. Wright (1988) Forcing the Lock? The Problem of Class Composition in Italian Workerism. PhD thesis, Monash University.


Notes
* An earlier version of this paper was presented to 'Socialism Beyond the Market', the 25th Annual Conference of Socialist Economists held 7-9 July 1995 in Newcastle upon Tyne. Thanks to Massimo De Angelis for comments, including his reiteration of the (non)meaning of 'labour as such'.
1. 'For operaismo, the only valid starting point for any theory which sought to be revolutionary lay in the analysis of working class behaviour in the most advanced sectors of the economy. More than anything else, it was to be this quest to discover the "political laws of motion" of the commodity labour-power which came to mark workerism out from the rest of the Italian left of the sixties and seventies. At its best, the discourse on class composition would attempt to explain class behaviour in terms long submerged within marxism, beginning with that struggle against the twin tyrannies of economic rationality and the division of labour; at its worst, operaismo would substitute its own philosophy of history for that of Marx's epigones, abandoning the confrontation with working class experience in all its contradictory reality to extol instead a mythical Class in its Autonomy. At first inextricably linked, by the seventies these rational and irrational moments of its discourse had, under the pressure of practical necessities, separated into quite distinct tendencies, although not sufficiently so as to avoid workerism's political and theoretical collapse at decade's end' (Wright 1988: 3-4).
2. Just to complicate things further, here, as in the debate concerning the possibility of an 'exodus' from the capital relation, the various positions expoused are further underpinned by an apparently unrelated but lingering controversy, which concerns stances taken during the period of mass arrests back in the eighties. At that time, after a number of years in prison awaiting trial, a circle of prominent autonomists including Toni Negri and Paolo Virno formally 'disassociated' themselves from the armed struggle carried forward by the Brigate Rosse and similar groups. From their point of view, this was merely a logical consequence of the serious political and cultural differences which had long divided the dominant currents within autonomia from the terrorist organisations; for many other autonomists - including some of the Brigate Rosse's most trenchant critics - 'disassociation' represented an opening to the state made at the expense of other political prisoners, or even a distancing from revolutionary politics altogether. One of the few available English-language accounts of disassociation can be found in Ruggiero (1993).
3. That Castellano would choose this saga to illustrate his point already hints at some of the problems underlying the myth of exodus as a means to social autonomy. As both Miller (1995) and Cleaver (1995a) have shown, the particular form which this flight to the Western frontier assumed not only failed to avoid eventual colonisation by the wage relation, but was intimately bound up with the displacement of indigenous peoples - peoples from whom the homesteaders might have learnt something about the dangers inherent in seeking 'to own' some land of 'one's own'.
4. I discovered Nutarelli's essay only after completing the first version of this paper. I was intrigued to find a similar metaphor in his critique of exodus: that of the mice 'at play' forced to scurry for cover upon the (capitalist) cat's return. He further suggests that self-production is at best a form of playing with the crumbs which have fallen from the master's table, and that one should avoid 'confusing the instrument of antagonistic communication with the objective of antagonism' - (1995: 36).

Back to Chaos numero dieci index page

Back to Chaos Home page