Monday, 20 October 2014

Notes on Autonomism/Autonomism Marxism.

Italian autonomist Marxism has a long and complicated history that flows from the early theory of Operaismo in the 1960s (workerism in journals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia), through to the larger organisations until the mid-to-late 1970s (Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio especially) to Autonomia Operaia and then “post-Workerism” that includes analyses made famous by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in works such as Empire and Paolo Virno’s (superior) Grammar of the Multitude. One continuity between these brands of Italian Marxism is the idea of analysing “class composition”, understood as centrally important to organising the working class against capitalism (see note).

In its workerist period where it was most cleanly articulated, class composition called for attention to the close relationship between what they called the technical composition of the working class and its political composition. The technical composition – the way in which work was organised, the flow of the working day, the manner in which communication was allowed on the shop floor – resulted in a particular political composition of the working class – the manner in which they would struggle against the working conditions imposed upon them by capital. As Wright points out, this characterisation can sometimes appear rigidly mechanistic, but this was related to another classical workerist analysis, the so-called “Copernican inversion” instituted by the Operaist theorist Mario Tronti. Just as Copernicus had inverted the relationship between the Earth and cosmos, Tronti that the ruling classes respond to working class struggle, which is primary, rather than the other way around. Previously Marxists had written history from the perspective of capital – the point was to read it from the perspective of the living labour subjugated by capital, to which capital responded by changing. Thus the technical discipling of one era of the working class is the result of their struggle in the preceding era. This leads to an alternative history of the struggles between classes which can be extended to the digital sphere."

"This means that careful attention was paid to the way the working class as they actually existed and struggled against capitalism in their day to day lives. This meant that this understanding of that life was to be finally the task of the workers themselves, with only the help of theorists and left sociologists – the idea of the ‘worker’s enquiry’ was central to workerist and then autonomist analyses. Since this early period analysts working in the tradition have paid close attention to the changes in the way work is composed, offering a series of new understandings that operate under the unstable, sometimes over wrought but provocative categories of post-Fordism, immaterial labour, affective labour, precarious labour, the Multitude, the cognitariat and so on. What is centrally important here though is that if the working class is to struggle, it must be understood as it is now. The problem with the political organisations of the day, the early workerists theorised, was that they had a view of the working class that was radically out of date, so they were totally unable to respond to its needs"

"Some post-autonomist theorists – such as Hardt and Negri – have been rather over enthusiastic about the political possibilities of this type of communication worker as being intrinscally collaborative and ‘communistic’ – something that has been heavily criticised. Those influenced by the autonomist tradition have published extremely detailed analyses of call centre work – the most famous being Kolinko’s Hotlines. Indeed, the best moments of Chavs are the descriptions of daily work that could well flow from one of these organisations."

The best history of the early development of this period is Storming heaven: class composition and struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism by Steve Wright


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