The Regulation School

In his 20 theses on Marx, Antonio Negri mentions the formula workers struggle/ capitalist development and his adherence to this formulation by Tronti and the regulation school. He then goes on to comment that the regulation school became an academic discipline with less relevance for the politics of subversion. Boyer's introduction to the school notes three main origins: the work of Destanne de Bernis and the Research Group on the regulation of the Capitalist economy based in Grenoble, Aligetta's study of regulation in the US experience and Bertrand and Billaudot's and Lipietz's extension of Algietta's research. In reading Aglietta's major 1974 work, its academic character is pretty plain to see. Arguably there is much useful within this work, but overall it comes across as an attempt to make the Marxian schema relevant to the preoccupations of academic pursuits.
'A theory of capitalist regulation' aims at criticising the one-sided handling of economic realities by neo-classical economics which are described as theories of general equilibrium. These economics are one-sided in that they are incapable of accounting for the lived experience of time of work and the social relations that inform them. Neo-classicism in economics assumes the existence of individuals at the level of its explanation and economic relations are understood only through these market- based approaches. For Aglietta, real crises and diequilibria cast doubt over theories of general equilibrium, and he argues that the approach of the regulation school is to look for the source of ruptures with the old in the process of accumulation. Even Keynes who looked to the history of capitalism confined his theory to the short term. The regulation school by contrast looks at the long-run developments of capitalism, and in this particular work which is based upon the experience of the USA, looks to the market adjustments, depressions, deflations and crises in contradistinction to the ideological idea that they conform to a harmonious form of development. What this entails is a study of the reproduction of capitalism as a system, and the cognition (following Marx's refusal to attribute a fixed essence to capital's forms (pp 15)) that changes within the production and reproduction of capital are qualitative changes within the functioning of the system. The regulation school sets out to explain this through the analysis of the social existence of the producing class.' 'the study of capitalist regulation therefore, cannot be the investigation of abstract economic laws. It is the study of the transformation of social relations as it creates new forms that are both economic and non-economic, that are organised in structures and themselves reproduce a determinant structure, the mode of production'(p. 16). Although it is not their specific object of study, the regulation school understands that shifts in these social relations as a whole takes place with a changing structure of the state, thus is similar in concerns with Marxism in general and the theoretical insights of Antonio Negri in particular.
Written in 1974 Aglietta's book already suggests some paradoxical elements. It is perceived as relatively fundamental that the 'the cohesion of social relatio0ns under the rule of the wage relation necessarily involves the framework of the nation' (p. 22) Here the organisation of the capitalist class through the nation state is treated as a basic and fundamental relationship. Secondly, as the development of capitalism is seen to 'encompass the totality of social relations (p. 24) the wage relation, its imposition and generalisation is given special importance. Aglietta thus considers as absolutely important the two forms of the production of surplus value (absolute and relative/extensive and intensive), which coexist as form of labour-capital relation. So far he has not suggested how this relation might change, and subvert the basic categories of analysis, when the totalisation of the outside ' of non-capitalist substance ' is complete. Indeed Aglietta recognises that the state forms part of the very existence of the wage relation, its generalisation equals worldwide emergence of nation states*. However, the basic concerns are very much in line with the tradition of thinking about the symbiosis of economic and political levels we have been accustomed to in the Italian workerist tradition.'Rejecting the idea of a superstructure that acts from the outside on a similarly autonomous infrastructure, I shall seek to show rather that the institutionalisation of social relations under the effect of class struggles is the central process of their production.'(p. 29)
*Aligetta argues that the wage relation forms a cornerstone of capitalist economies meaning that 'the classical fiction of labour-power as a commodity' pursued by Marx is opposite to his own view of the wage relation as an unequal exchange (hence not commodity relation). In Aglietta's schema, the wage relation directly gives rise to the abstract space of value. (see: p. 32)
Boyer, in his critical introduction to regulation school comments that though Aglietta's concerns lay in the investigation of the U.S experience and the ambitious attempt to define the processes that lead social relations to form a mode of production, his originality lay in the study of collective bargaining and consumption norms. Crises are understood as divergences from norms of consumption and production, a process that takes the form of inflation.