A deafening noise
"The speed of development of techniques contributes to erase the borders between activity and formation"
In the analysis of this month of struggle, one of the things which struck me the most was the shift between the richness of the subjects, the behaviors, the forms of struggle, the political implications and the poverty of the speeches, the languages, the codes that the movement (movements) produced on itself, as if it was a movement without voice, an aphasic movement. That does not mean that the movements did not produce and showed lived experiences, languages and behaviors (namely their contents and their form): on the contrary they were structured and consolidated. Neither does this mean that the movements did not know how to express new resistances to new relations of power: on the contrary they showed them.
What I want to say is that the movements did not produce any form of struggle, organization, nor speech or form of subjectivation that was immediately functional to the struggle and its objectives. This flexibility, this plasticity and this reversibility of the forms of subjectivation surely constituted the most extraordinary force of this movement, but perhaps also its weakness. In any event, while operating in such a way, the movements showed a total and hostile separation in relation to politics and its mediations. In this conflict everything has been "regulated" without discussion, without mediation or negotiation, as if the fight were supported by two completely different logics.
To advance a hypothesis on this subject, we might say that the movement (and by movement I do not mean its sociological existence, but its manifestation as event) tested and sought a "knowledge" adequate to new relations of power. Where, by knowledge, we mean the practical devices of visibility and enunciation, an ensemble of agencements and discursive practices which constitute and allow its "subjectivation". The movement, lacking the possibility - under the given conditions - to change the codes of communication and regimes of opinions (which are codes and opinions of "representation”), has not expressed any "general" language and has thus prevented power from defining it, naming it and bringing it back under the rules of its action, as it had been able to do in 1986 and with more difficulty in 1990.
The movement disappeared as it had appeared (revealing for a short time the new forms and conditions of its existence). What transpired, maybe, was a general épreuve that did not leave anything in the hands of power and the political system, aside from a few hundreds arrests (moreover immediately used by the police force to produce an analysis of the movement). What it has left to the class movement is more difficult to define. It determined a "threshold" that any fight will have to cross to constitute itself. What is certain, on the other hand, it is that for the first time the old effects of "namings" of multiplicity in political events ("the working class", "the revolution", "communism") have in a radical and irreversible way not played any part in the "constitution" of the movement. Moreover, which is more important, the movements have completely broken away from the memory of the labour movement (all the post-68 movements went in this direction, but only this one definitely broke away from this regime of truth).
The radicalism and novelty of the movement thus lie in this apparent silence or, more precisely, in the fact that in the public space occupied by the media the codes and vocabularies with which the movements were expressed have been those of the opinion: "student, unemployed, young, suburban" etc. This language lies between the sociological language and that of the journalists to which power was obliged and which the movement was reduced to use. Beyond this politico-mediatic language, the expressions of the movement has refused all denominations and subtracted itself from game of representation.
This is because the movement experienced representation as a trap, a machine of constitution of political subjectivity that was completely foreign to its very anthropology and from which it is necessary to withdraw in order to open up other spaces elsewhere. What the political system (including all of the Left) could not accept is the refusal of "representation" and its codes. We can all recognize that without any concession this movement sought and experimented forms of "expression" against representation and apart from it. On this point also the movement determined a radical rupture, a point of no return.
The simulacrum of the event
To measure the importance of this "silence" we should compare it to the discursive and media strategies set in motion by power in relation to the movement of 1986, when its political definition was the great socialist operation of the decade. If any political innovation was introduced by the Socialists, it was in the forms of control of the class movements. The dispositif of power and its agencements of enunciation (the media, institutions, etc.) have not managed to transform the event into a simulacrum; on the other hand, this strategy worked perfectly with the movement of 1986.
In 1986, a year of high economic growth, the media and institutional dispositif managed to combine the ideology of triumphant consumerism with that of human rights and to make them "live" as a value of the movement, as its fundamental quality, in a self-assured society that thought it had definitively "expelled" class struggle from its sight. The crisis of meaning of the great confrontation of classes (their impotence to name the new power relations) was resolved by the introduction of the sociological categories of "integration" and “exclusions”. And the conflict was reduced to the terrain of a pacified ethics: a "moral generation" which acted inside the unsurpassable "ethics" of the market, democracy and human rights.
A re-reading of some of the texts of that time provokes some astonishment: "the freedom of the consumers - which we all are – is today defended in the street, if need be – wrote the director of Liberation, one of the key media of this operation - we have entered the consumerism of the individual freedoms. Do not touch my freedoms of choice... Whilst reclaiming in such a collective manner the declaration the declaration of human rights, the youth of 1986 extremely embarrassed all of the political community: it is in the name of the democratic consensus that it demanded the withdrawal of the Devaquet project which it expressed as a generation."
This discourse, managed by the Socialist Party but especially by the media, found a powerful relay inside the movement in S.O.S.-Racism, which had thus succeeded in removing the political direction of the movement to the radical wing represented by the "second generation" of immigration. The construction of the simulacrum of the "moral generation" only functioned because there were forces inside the movement which held onto and managed this discourse. As always the act of "naming" a movement cannot be left only to the media, politics or the performative powers of language. Criticisms of the media are often an alibi for the lack of analysis of the specific agencement between the social and communication technologies. Berlusconi docet.
But let us return to the construction of political leaders as process of subjectivation of the simulacrum. The most important leaders of S.O.S-Racism expressed themselves in these terms:
"In the past, militants wanted to be hard, erudite and aggressive. But Leninism is dead. Today’s militants are more human. And above all they tried to be effective. This was the last of our concerns: we would only run after myths, in the bad sense of the term, the revolution, proletarian internationalism, the vanguard party [exactly the old effects of "denomination" of the political event n.d.r.]... Our only reference is human rights. Our philosophy is humanism."
Even though the ideology of human rights in its consumerist version is still the official ideology today, within the movements it lasted the time of a fashion. The movement of 1990 had already deeply cracked it and in 1994 it played no part, having been completely (depassee) surpassed by what it was to undermine (refouler): class struggle; a reappearance of class struggle, as I said, but inside a paradigm which often prevents us to recognize it as such.
The same paper that had defined the ‘86 generation as an ethical one was forced today to show how the problem of immigration was not a problem of integration but according to the language of opinion, one of “rich and poor” (the two eternal categories power uses to define exploitation). Consumerism, individual liberties, human rights are effaced by the hard emergence of the class hierarchy which originates in the '80s. The great launch of the film Germinal, with the participation of the political class, could signal the coming to terms of power with the need to revise its ideology of human rights and adapt it to the issue of labour and poverty.
One of the journalists of Liberation reports the opinions of the participants in the confrontations of Lyon in these terms:
"This is a revolt, a social explosion: there are too many poor. I live on 1800 FR. per month, others on 180000."
"My mother buys (gagne) Smic. In all these stores there is nothing for less than 2000 FR. I saw a sweater for 9000 balls. It is like gold which they wave in front of your eyes and you do not have the right to touch. It is for that reason that Lyon explodes: because the contrast between the very rich center and the suburbs is too strong.
"You see, the
cops - says Ahmed - I aim to the knees, that hurts more."
The reemergence of the issue of wages (social, objectively social because posed by the subjects "out" production sociale, objectivement sociale car posée par des sujets "hors" production) completely blocked the mechanism of the simulacrum. In the same way the process of the creation of leaders, largely used in '86, was stopped, as the creation of a process of subjectivation that was not built by traditional political channels, but rather by the media. In fact the leaders of the movement had become small stars of the small screen, like sport, music or journalism celebs. We must also point out that in 1986 the focusing of the media on Isabelle Thomas as spokesman of the movement had already caused its "dismissal" of the representative instances of the movement.
On the contrary in 1994 the movement was an "anonymous" movement in the true meaning of the term. One month of struggle produced neither a form of organization separate from the struggle, nor leaders. Without "delegates", the machine of the representation could not mark the body of the movements with its languages of power. The media thus "received" the new contents of the movement which were simply recorded, without the power "to transfigure them" in the political language of representation and without being able to determine the chain of command inside the movement. The movement simply managed this situation without introducing any "symbolic rupture". For this reason we can say that the movement, when expressed in the public space, used the same codes of expression as power. In the public space controlled by the machines of communication, we can only speak their aseptic and empty language (and thus withdraw from dialogue and communication), unless we want to offer points of anchoring for media techniques.
But does this situation deny the need for a symbolic rupture, for the creation of language in the event?
Thus the violent emergence of class conflict (in discourse and actions) has prevented all possibilities to turn the event into a simulacrum because power lacked the ideological weapons and the chance of “infiltrating" the movements. The most important effort of definition was made by the police force, but all the fragments of institutional discourse never succeeded in building the "truth" of the simulacrum.
The radical separation of the movement from the political system (State, parties, trade unions) is perhaps its most important aspect, because it proves the definitive crisis of political mediation in the form it had been conceived in the post-war period. This is also the first true post-Communist class movement. French and European politicians in particular tried to exorcise Berlusconi and at the same time were fascinated by his victory, because they confusedly perceived that in Italy power managed to find a new agencement between democracy and enterprise. But the fact that this agencement is organized by communication is also what, at the moment, destabilizes them, so used are they to relate to society through labour.
Only class movements such as the "French March" will be able to carry out what Berlusconi "mystified": the expression of new forms of cooperation and power outside and against representation, outside and against the Berlusconian strategy to integrate new forms of expression into representation.
The social wage
Whilst this movement objectively put at the center of this dynamics the problem of the social wage, it also posed the problem of its articulation. The definition of the wage as social wages is not simply an extension of its distribution, but also and at the same time a modification of its form.
For the first time the struggles of March showed a "non-productive'’ subject that fights for a wage issue. This apparent contradiction is easily explained when we think of wages as having bench marks of space-time co-ordinates completely different from those of work. Indeed these new "wage" struggles refer to a block of space-time that has nothing to do with that of the factory, work or the trade union. For this reason these movements are of capital importance to define class struggle in post modernity. The fact that no analyses or reflection is dedicated to this aspect of the forms of subjectivation, rather than attesting to a weakness of the movement, only points to the inability (impuissance) of the left to think in terms of the new conditions of accumulation.
Thus whilst we should think about the social wage, we should not start from the wage of productive labour as it is traditionally defined and take it as measure and ground for distribution. We should do the opposite.
In any case, it is necessary to raise new questions. How can the social wage, for example, be a response to the new temporal and spatial forms of the productive co-operation and of exploitation? How can the social wages reverse the forms of exploitation in communication - control of time - and those which are constituted in the territory - control of space?
It seems to me that the movement, through the practical criticism of the media and through the self-organization of the youths of the suburbs, has defined the premises of a deeper reflection on the theme of the social wage.
Access to new communication technologies will become (but it is today already in a way more important than one imagines) a source of discrimination, of hierarchisation and of exploitation that will not have anything to envy to the factory and that, as we have seen with Berlusconi, was only a first taste of the new structuring of exploitation. Collective equipments of new technology, opened communication networks and social data banks must form part of the definition of the social wage, since today 2/3 of the data that circulate in IT networks concern the economy and finance.
If the control aspect of "technologies of today" were not present as such in the movements (it has been so indirectly through the strategy adopted towards the media), the problem of dispositif of control of space was abruptly introduced by the young people of the suburbs.
A senior civil servant of the State said to Le Monde: "I hardly appreciate this word of exclusion". It is an easiness of language that masks a difficulty of analysis... The population of foreign origin, for example, shows in many respects to be perfectly “included” ... Rather than analysing “exclusion", it is thus necessary to reflect upon the social conflicts which develop around the city. The fact that "mauvais lieux" in our society are designated is undoubtedly the essential form given to the conflict between the rich and the poor today. The use of space is the stake object much stronger than here are twenty years. In the same way as we say that a company "externalizes" a fraction of its costs when resorting to subcontracting, we could ask whether a company has not thus also “externalized" its conflicts... It would be wrong to underestimate these conflicts which take the city as, today, a major place of expression."
These new devices of power (no longer of disciplinarisation in "closed" spaces like the factory, but of "control" in open spaces) require forms of resistance and strategies of struggle which must be integrated in the discourse of the social wage. The same senior civil servant of the State allows us to draw up a direct relationship between wages and space.
"One of the aspects of poverty is what I name "relegation ", i.e. the fact of seeing oneself denied the right to live in a place that is not an "mauvais lieu". There is a sector of the population who cannot strictly leave the districts known as "difficult"... On the contrary, in the same way that there exists a SMIC, there is a "minimal mobility" to reclaim."
To imagine a strategy on these forms of temporal and spatial mobility would be surely an instrument to remove the initiative from the capitalists, even on the terrain of "labour". The social wage must thus include sets of issues such as those, for example, concerning access to communication networks and "minimal mobility". It is only on these conditions that the social wage can correspond to new relations of power which structure our society.
Translated by Arianna
Bove and Dan Skinner
1. (Tr. Note: the Devaquet project was the proposed reform to the higher education system which restricted open access to university. The bill was heavily opposed and never went through. For more on the struggles of 1986 see: http://www.noborder.org/strasbourg/topics/back/display.php?id=30&lang=en
2. (Tr. Note: SMIC=SALAIRE MINIMUM INTERPROFESSIONNEL DE CROISSANCE, or minimum wage)
|In French here
Originally published in Futur Antérieur 23, 1994/3-4.