by Commonware and Effimera
After seven years of financial and economic crisis, we can say that today's crisis is not the same one that exploded in 2007. On our opinion, it’s necessary to identify some key hubs, which allow a timing of the main stages. Very schematically, at least three steps can be defined. The first reaches its peak between the bursting of the subprime bubble in 2007 and the collapse of Lehmann Brothers, the following year: the epicentre is located in the United States, but its effects have an immediate global reach. Regardless to the neoliberal laissez-faire view, State intervention in the rescue of banks and an expansive monetary policy (the so-called quantitative easing) becomes a constant to cope with the structural dimension that is sweeping the capitalist economy. The culmination of the second phase arrives in Europe in 2011, after two years of full-blown recession: speculation on government bonds and public debt growth are the main features, which would then be followed by a new drastic decrease of the GDP. Germany partially breaks away from Europe by intensifying its interests to trade exchange with China, Russia and the BRICS. The timid Keynesian proposals show their weakness, leaving the field to the domain of austerity policies. Over the past two years, finally, the quantitative easing is in fact imposed by the need to satisfy the speculative conventions of the financial oligarchy, without a consistent "trickle-down” into the "real economy". The process of fragmentation of Europe goes on, while the BRICS announce the creation of its own financial institution, the New Development Bank. After a period of apparent truce (with an average increase of capital gains up to 20% in 2013), the attempts – even if different – by the ECB and the Central Banks of Usa, Uk and Japan to mitigate the structural elements of the crisis collide with a new phase of aggravation at the global level.
So, the seven years of crisis seem to confirm the characteristics, not only structural but somehow permanent, of the current crisis: the financialization pervades and hegemonically affects the entire valorization cycle. In this framework, a periodization of the crisis that jointly analyses the processes of accumulation, governance and monetary policy and the geopolitical dimension is not a mere academic exercise, but it is a fundamental task to grasp the specific elements of each phase, since, in these steps, processes of the reorganization of powers and forms of government are going to be redefined. The schematic periodization here proposed - which is precisely the subject of the seminar discussion – needs to be in-depth analysed: above all, open policy issues arise from it. The first objective of the seminar is therefore to ask ourselves to develop the different scenarios of the crisis, to update the analytical tools with which we have dealt with since its inception, to investigate the new forms of global governance that emerge within it. What is going on between Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, in addition to the nth military aggression of Israel against the Palestinians, for example, strongly lead us to wonder if the war, even in partially new forms it takes, comes back to be a tool used by the capital to cope with the crisis. One of the outcomes of the crisis is in fact deepen the process of fragmentation and the growth of the contradictions that, in an “Empire” scenario, some time ago defined as inter-imperialist (but in a different context).
This does not mean to give up a global view, that is, a method that is able to identify trends and common elements; we do want to highlight these differences and faults that mark the geopolitical framework. Without grasping, we have the impression that it risks confusing the global nature of the crisis with its supposed uniformity in the forms and effects, by painting a smooth and flat world where the intensity and specific territorial conditions such as development of struggles can be lost. So, without claiming to exhaust the complexity of the geopolitical situation, in the seminar we will focus in particular on some examples of the European context (with obvious attention to Italy) and the BRICS. From here, we will try to ask the questions that really have a global perspective.
After what we can call in Marxian terms an analysis of the organic composition of capital in time of financialization and its crisis, in the second part of the seminar we intend to focus on the open node of class composition, linked on the one hand to the transformations and to the movements of living labor, on the other, to a deeper reflection on the forms of exploitation and capitalist subsumption. We're not proposing two separate moments of seminar discussion, the first related to the "objective" dimension and the second to their "subjective” characteristics. On the contrary, though analysed in their specificity and distinction, these two parts are intimately connected and continuously intertwined at different levels of reality: we do not grasp the central aspects of the contemporary crisis if you do not tie them to the struggles (ie, to their emergence and their silences), to the behaviour of the class, to the forms of insubordination as well as to concrete suffering produced by the exploitation and impoverishment. Schematically, we have the impression that the problem of class composition has often been circumvented and solved in the formulation of new concepts which, although useful in many aspects, are likely to be crushed on the technical composition (in “workerist” terms, what concerns the capitalist division of labor, the organization of the technological structure and the relationship between machines and living labor) and to neglect the political composition (ie, the subjective dimension of the class itself, inherent behaviour, culture, ways of thinking, needs and desires), or better yet to linearly derive the second from the first. We were not able to go much further than the fact, which is rather obvious, that the concept of class composition can no longer be used in the same manner in which it was forged in the 60s. The observation of constitutive heterogeneity of contemporary living labor has led not only to the correct critique of essentialist conceptions of class, but ended up ignoring the problem of restoring the differences, without which the “common” is not conceivable. In summary, talk about class composition means restoring the centrality of the relationship which determines the development of capital and subjectivity, the crisis and struggles, exploitation and resistance. Without understanding this relationships, in mutated forms which today assumes, we believe that it is very difficult to get out of the simple sociological description and seize new features of the movements in the crisis, especially in their spurious characters and unexpressed potential.
We don’t need to invent new suggestive categories, but to rethink or build adequate theoretical tools, in a phase where we face difficulties from the point of view of discourse and political practice. The concepts of cognitive capitalism or cognitive labour have always been for us a strong hypothesis for militant intervention: we are not the custodians, but we want to put them in check and possibly rethink: by putting them to the test of the labourious process of organization of the struggles: by considering the limits that we have seen in recent years; by reanalysing the issues and the different contexts in which they occur. For example, while in Brazil the past year hasseen some outbreaks from rising expectations, that is, an expanding society in which subjects fuight to take control of productive wealth they create, the scenery in Italy and in various parts of Europe is somewhat upside down. In recent years we have probably paid little attention to what we can define a framework of diminishing expectations: the Jobs Act (which will be in the Expo Milan a field of experimentation) institutionalizes not only permanent precarity conditions but even unpaid labor. How do these low expectations negatively impact on subjectivity? What does this mean from the point of view of the struggles and how it is possible to break the level of acceptance that the crisis continuously produces? Similarly, for some time we ask ourselves what happens to the enterprise as a model of organization of the labor force within the productive transformations of recent decades. We ask ourselves, that is, if it works as a parasitic structure or if - even with partially new mode - continues to be a form of organization and construction of subjectivity. How these issues are reflected in the analysis of class composition?
From the discussion of these topics, very roughly here presented, we propose to build a space of large confrontation: we are convinced that, today more than ever, the problem is not the competition between schools of thought, each of which is likely to sink in ‘self’ or in the margins, but to collectively ask ourselves on unsolved political issues, on the inadequacies of our discourse and conceptual tools, on the limitations of the struggles and movements. The goal is not to leave the seminar with definitive answers, which might be illusory: the goal is to begin to put some of the central questions in a row, to turn them into grids of theoretical research and militant activity.
The seminar will be held in Milan on 29-30 November. Immediately, we’ll open a site for reflection and collection of contributions on the topics suggested here. The seminar will consist of two sessions, one on Saturday afternoon and the second on Sunday morning (each session will last for approximately 4 hours, with a coffee break in the middle). The mode of organization and management of the seminar provides concise interventions with the possibility of immediate exchange and discussion, so outside of academic lessons, however, but following a sort lines of reasoning that we will be defined by the figures of the moderators. There will not be, therefore, a distinction between "theoretical" and "militant" interventions, as we believe that the task is to produce speech from the conflicts and for the conflicts, trying first to grasp the limits and lock points. We’ll release a first draft of the program with the speakers and the timing of the discussion.