Labour transformation and European Constitutional Process

European Social Forum, Paris 2003

Francesca Pozzi and Gigi Roggero

For months an obsessive thought has been circulating in Europe: that a cycle of the movement has ended, or even that the cycle of the movement has ended. First one ought to reflect on the very category of movement. In the decade we have left behind, at least in Italy, it indicated mainly organised components, obliterating any possibility of a margin between them and, thus, within the movement. In the meantime, in the ambivalent folds of the behaviour of the multitude, between cynicism and the construction of new sociality, between individualism and valorisation of singularities, multiple threads of communication were being weaved and small practices of survival and resistance could be seen. Subterranean tunnels were being dug and a chaotic, strong and always plural transformative tension of the world ran through them. In the meantime, it became increasingly clear that describing the Nineties’ in terms of absence of movements was a form of provincialism: in that decade we find the workers’ struggle that set fire to the large car factories in Korea; the resistance against multinational corporations in Nigeria; the struggles of the Sem Terra in Brazil, the one in Los Angeles, or that in Zapatist Chiapas (and it would be useful to recall that, for the alchemy that has always characterised the large explosions of workers’ or proletarian revolt, 1994 was the year of Zapatist insurrection as well as the year when the highest number of general strikes in the XX Century was recorded on a world scale).
This ‘unilateral thought’ of the movement was short sighted and prospectively wrong, because it was unable to recognise the symptoms of global resistance and because it assumed the adversary’s viewpoint of the triumph of capitalism and the end of history. In this narrative the only (smooth) space was occupied by the discourse of power and it’s critics’ sterile denunciation of its wrongdoings and most cruel effects. The same lens, for instance, was used two years ago in order to observe the explosion of the Argentinean crisis: instead of paying due attention (also) to the social insurrection that provoked it, all that was looked at were the criminal responsibilities of the IMF and World Bank.

Out of that contradictory and difficult decade came the revolt in Seattle: a symbol of global struggles. From then on, through to Genoa, the movement muddled up the cards to the point that ‘nothing would ever be the same again’. When it erupts with force and conquers the global scene, the movement destabilises the organised components and often places them in crisis. If we don’t reflect on this issue, we will keep projecting shadows and ghosts from the past onto the future, or keep being dazzled by an image – the end of a cycle – that shares with the enemy the same point of perspective.
But there is more to it. One of the most crucial changes in perspective to take into account refers to the relation between centre and periphery. The ideology of thirld-worldist progressivism is toppled along with its categories, supposing they ever meant anything outside of the colonial and imperialist logic that forged them at the outset of modernity. No longer are there more advanced or backward places. The movements of the ex ‘peripheries’ finally disclose and provincialise our haughty local debates. In other words, we lack a theoretical potential accumulated in the previous years that is capable of offering definitive elaborations and needs only to be translated into pills for the mass kindly called multitude. The urgency today is the empowering of theoretical practice, a continuous research that neither aims at evoking distant futures nor at reviving unproposable pasts, but at interrogating the present in order to change it.

Crisis of mechanisms of representation, beyond the scheme of cycles: the movement as an open space for politicisation.

Now apparent to everyone is the gap between the organised realities of the movement and the movement itself. We need to start from here without falling into the easy conclusion of organisation played off against social conflict.

Having easily registered the crisis of representative democracy, the global movement has not yet found new organisational alchemies capable of overcoming it. It has criticised the organised components, but has so far not managed to find its own autonomous political representation. We do not believe, as some claim, that organisation had no positive function for instance in the preparation of deadlines, in providing structured channels of communication and facilitating forms of coordination. However, we do not believe that organisations are everything.

Consequently, the crisis in mechanisms of organised representation does not coincide with the crisis of the movement: the hypothesis of the end of a cycle leads to oversimplifications of the reality we move within.
The question goes much deeper: what is in crisis is the analysis of the movements based on the classical form of cycles: the scheme according to which movements are born, grow, reach and apex, decline and reflux within a given temporal frame.
The scheme of cycles had two specific dimensions. The first one is spatial: the context of action of local or national movements. Today, however, this movement, by adopting the global space as space of action has determined a leap on the scale that signals a qualitative as well as a quantitative change.
Whilst in Italy we talk of the end of a cycle, the mobilisations in Cancun are contributing to the failure of the WTO; in Bolivia there is a successful insurrection (though at a terrible price in terms of life losses) against the government and multinational corporations; in the United States the anti-war movement is in good shape even after the official end of the war event; in South Africa struggles against ANC neoliberalist policies continue; in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela important political experiments are taking place.

These laboratories of conflict are neither separate nor do they only keep track of one another in the classical perspective of internationalist solidarity. On the contrary, they are inevitably interlinked. They communicate and fuel one another, no longer foreseeing the longed for unity of a global space but rather presupposing it as a feature of our present.

The Piqueretos struggles in the Argentinean social factory and the organisation of migrants’ fleeing from detention camps in Woomera do not tell us of distant stories, but speak to us (as the fleeing from the detention centre of Bari Palese that concluded the NoBorder camp in Frassanito last summer, echoed Woomera): they speak about the organisational experimentations of new forms of living labour, of how to attack the materiality of relations of production, of the limit and potentialities of global resistance. In the same way, from the heart to the belly of Empire, we are not getting anticipations or explanations of our future, but hypotheses of research, collective narrations, open problems for the invention of practices that are worth the challenges of the present.

The second dimension on which the hypothesis of the cyclical nature of movements was based, is a linear conception of objectives: the referent was power (embodied in the State), the development was measured from the perspective of a conflictual relation to it, in order to eventually assault it or obtain reforms. A reflux always followed both victories and defeats. This scheme has now come to an end not only because the dislocation of sovereignty makes the locations of power more indefinite, but also because the demands of the movement - war and peace, the free circulation of people, labour, the de-commodification of technologies and scientific research, the protection of the environment- go to the root of problems, they are irreducible to any ‘stagist’ programme.

The most appropriate paradigm to describe this reality is the social movement of migrants, subjects that in their mobile critique put into crisis the international division of labour and national as well as wage borders. Migrants are subjects that can neither be pacified in their places of departure (such as differentialist racism would wish), nor in their places of arrival (as the integrationist logic would like). Fleeing and searching for another possible world, they bring their conflicts and tensions to the places they arrive at (however temporary or permanent). This is exactly like the global movement. Surely what is still open is the node of individuation of referents and counterparts, points – however provisional – to press on to influence the processes. It is desirable that the debate on these themes carries on rather than dwelling on dimensions that once would have been called politicist. In this perspective we think that the thought on Europe needs to be considered still as an ambivalent space and possible terrain of experimentation for transformation.

Since its beginning, the thesis that the movement was the agent of another globalisation - a globalisation of struggles and resistance - provoked an explicit polemic against those who orientated themselves (and still do) first of all towards the recuperation of national spaces and the classical levers of the social state in the last century so as to tame or block ‘neoliberalist’ globalisation. We do not want these aspirations to be transferred from the national to the continental level, pointing to Europe as the strong subject of a renewed anti-Americanism. To be more explicit: for us the point is not to sustain impractical political projects that attempt to use local and/or national frameworks to consolidate experiences of struggle and resistance to global capital. What we are saying is that any political project, irrespective of its territorial scale of application, must be characterised by an open attitude to the global dimension that the very experience of working class and postcolonial struggles materially contributed more to build than capitalist development.

As we did after Genoa, we come back here today to place our stakes on the persistence of the movement intended as an open and complex space of politicisation, where multiple experiences of political agitation and social conflict, experiments in practices and languages, are not reducible to the sum of its components: constituent space where the process of subjectivation is always open.

In this continuous research, it is obviously not our intention to throw away the inheritance that the best parts of past radical experiences left us: but in order to make use of the ‘testament’, the binding clause entails liberating ourselves from any nostalgia and decline in the here and now what has been passed on to us that is alive and has a pulse.

This is not to say that there are no contradictions or backtracking and mistakes within the movement, or, more simply, new difficulties of the day: such as the search for what might be the current equivalent of strikes and workers’ sabotage in Taylorist factories; the difficulty in influencing the materiality of productive relations; or stopping the war, despite the 110 millions of men and women demonstrating around the globe last February 15th.

Limits and problems must be highlighted first of all, but within the space of politicisation that we call global movement. Outside of this, there is nothing but the return to an ideological and disembodied dispute, to the space-time of self-referential impotence. Though ridden with difficulties and uncertainties, it seems to us more challenging to continue to experiment and jointly research in disquieting ways amongst the finally stormy seas we are sailing through.

The project DeriveApprodi: an open space of plural elaboration

For the first twenty-one issues, from 1992 to 2002, the journal was particularly involved with Italy and in general with the capitalist ‘West’. This was based on the conviction that the solidarity towards movements of the ‘South’ of the world would be short lived unless one could make evident the potential lines of rupture and crisis within the ‘metropolis’. However, things changed when, following the partially different paths from the ones we had initially planned, a great social and political explosion actually occurred: even for our path, the eruption of the global movement in the force of its events signals a periodisation.

After the great and tragic days of Genoa we started a discussion amongst ourselves that concluded with the decision to partly modify the organisation of the journal and to launch a new series. This also meant take the gamble of questioning our identity – however atypical – as a journal with a decennial history behind it, and to put into play, verify and update our working hypotheses under new circumstances.

Firstly, we were struck by the very eruption of the movement that demonstrated in Genoa against the G8, as it had done in the previous large events and as it kept doing afterwards. On the streets and squares of that city, very heterogeneous individual and collective subjects met and found, for the first time in Italy, a common political expression, which had matured, in different directions and though often hardly visible on the surface of politics, a radical critique of the new asset of capitalism. In such a context the concept of multitude –very present in our discussion in the course of the 90’s- turned into body and blood. Far from reducing ourselves to a state of ecstatic contemplation before this multitudinal composition of the movement, we have often highlighted the intrinsic risks of the use of the category of multitude as an already given and constituted subject, ready for the final battle and historically destined to win. We have rather preferred to investigate its great potential, both theoretical and practical –or, let us finally say it correctly, or theoretical practice – as a space of subjectivation irreducible to unity, where the relation between collective and singularity is based on new foundations in comparison to the past, with peculiar differences and subjective potentialities.

It is however an ambivalent space, always open onto the negative, on ‘evil’. In this sense, then, what must be investigated and rethought is a new gendered presence, neither ideological nor disembodied, but active and protagonist, starting from the differences in gender that sediment in the materiality of movements.
In the aftermath of July in Genoa, we defined the movement as a new principle of reality, on which both political proposals and interpretative hypothesis of the reality of contemporary capitalism must be tested. It seemed to us that the very presence of a strong and radical movement required a surplus of research and reflection that could accompany political militancy and register meticulously its limits and problems, rather than a suspension of theoretical labour for the sake of a full immersion in daily political action. Because, let this be clear, the limits we individuate inside the movement we recognised also as our limits.

At the same time, the model of a journal as an expression of a political line or organised subject used as an instrument of political struggle to build hegemony has definitely entered a crisis. The gamble we made on the unity of the movement after Genoa does not have an ecumenical nature for us: the building of paths of transformation can only occur through critical confrontation and lively debate. What we definitely try to leave behind is rather the logic of reductio ad unum that is typical of organisational models of the last century: not only because all this is part of a questionable political baggage, but also because, faced with the demands of the subject – multitudinal, in fact – and the multiplicity of conflictual experimentations, that logic is no longer working. At the same time, ‘DeriveApprodi’ does not aim to be a container-journal, a place of discussion abstract from the dynamics of the movement, a ‘borderline’ actor that places itself at the margins in order to tickle the insufficiencies of organised components. On the contrary, what we are trying to build with the new series is an open space of plural elaboration, fully internal to the dynamics of the movement with strong points of view, but transversal to the political enclosures, interweaving relations not only with non organised subjects, but also with frontier zones, i.e., with those who – without renouncing their belonging to a group or area – live in it problematically, in a dynamic tendency towards the distancing and redefinition of their own mechanisms of identity production; thus assuming identity as a terrain of struggle, rather than pre-given datum or naturalised frontier.
The very category of ‘global movement’, like all categories, is not a concept that can be uncritically assumed, as a charming linguistic clich´┐Ż. For these reasons we have seen fit to launch the new series of the journal by placing it under a test, carrying out an enquiry into the state of the movements in the world. We started with a first issue entirely dedicated to the movements in Europe, which we presented at the first European Social Forum in Florence, November 2002. During that event we thought about the possibility of building a network of European journals capable of depositing durable relations and launching common projects. We carried on with an issue on the movements in the three continents that once formed what was called ‘third world’. This provoked much interest and large contributions that allowed us to draft a first –though still incomplete- cartography of orientation on the same genealogies of the movement of movements, from the struggles against adjustment programmes of the IMF, to the Zapatist revolt in Chiapas, up to the unfolding battles in the midst of the Argentinean crisis. We concluded the first phase of work of enquiry with an issue dedicated to North America and Oceania. Our aim is not only to accumulate knowledge materials on situations that are often little known in Italy, but also to build an actual network of transnational relations.
As a matter of fact, for these three issues we have methodologically chosen to publish only material that came out of relations actually developed through the circulation of an open letter where we presented the project. The ‘gaps’ and missing materials on important situations describe the difficulty, both our own and in general, to build relations and interlocution. Several contacts had already been established as the result of relations prior to or born out of international appointments over the last years. But at the closing of each issue, the material arriving has always had the ability to ‘destabilise’ us: communicative channels opened up in unknown and unthought of ways. At the same time, pre-established contacts not always turned out to be the most interesting ones.
We can immediately start to take back into our hands the idea of building a European web of journals, as was discussed in Florence last year. A strong point on which to reason collectively, a problematic knot for the whole movement, seems to be formation. What we have left behind is happily clear and (largely) unquestionable: internationalist party schools, indoctrination and transmission of ideological schema. However, the problem remains: new formative networked processes –capable of making their own the irreducible plurality that is the premise and wealth of the global movement – must be experimented with and organised.

The stakes are high: it is no longer about reproducing political frameworks but about practicing formative experiences that can radically question existing models. To build here and now other universities, open spaces of formation and critical subjectivity, sediment and enrich the multiple expressions of subjectivisation without alienating their inventive and constituent power: this could be an ambitious prospective for a network of journals.
On the basis of what we have said so far, we intentionally chose the categories of enquiry and of joint research to qualify our project, to recall a methodology of theoretico-political labour that is amongst the most important inheritances of that tradition of Italian operaismo the journal and many of us come from.
Enquiry, in the way we conceive of it, is an open process of knowledge that produces transformation. It starts from hypotheses but continuously verifies and problematises them whilst proceeding on the path. It presupposes a continuous exchange of ideas and experiences amongst all the subjects who are involved in it in different ways. This is the reason we have not asked the subjects with whom we came into contact to simply tell us ‘what they think of the world’. Nobody – and this could not be taken for granted- limited their contributions to a description of the surrounding context, nor were they apologetic for their paths. Everyone accepted the invitation to be protagonists of an analysis of reality capable of putting aside, if only for a short time, any ‘certainty’ and to discover new potential for the transformation of the existent; to build the common of the plural paths of transformation.
As we have been trying to argue, global space is neither smooth nor homogeneous, but striated and ridden with conflicts and contradictions. In this dimension, for the first time, rather than abstract unitary political lines, we can build laboratories where to experiment and compare practices, objectives, languages and elaborations. From Canada to South Africa, from Argentina to Holland, from Korea to Australia, the materials of enquiry we have accumulated cannot be summed up and contained, but exist in dialogue amongst themselves on their shared problems and similar perspectives. It is from this new principle of reality that we have to start again: researching together and jointly researching the words to say it and do it.

Translated by Arianna Bove

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