Social entropy and recombination

Franco Berardi Bifo

The resurgent question of the intellectuals hides the contemporary problem of "what is to be done?", the problem of the auto-organisation of cognitive labour. Space has re-emerged as a question for the intellectuals in the discussions of the Italian left. But the question is badly posed, and the word intellectual does not fit well with the contemporary socio-mental geography.

Lenin related to the figure of the intellectual's problem of what to do, the political direction of collective action. The intellectuals are not a social class, they do not have specific social interests to sustain. They are generally the expression of parasitical income, they can make "purely intellectual" choices, making themselves out to be the means of revolutionary consciousness. In this sense they are what is most similar to the pure becoming of the spirit, in the Hegelian development of self-consciousness.

On the other hand, the workers whilst being the bearers of a homogenous social interest, can not pass from the purely economic state (the Hegelian in-itself) to the politically conscious state (the for-itself of self consciousness) only through the political form of the party which embodies and hands down the philosophical heritage (the proletariat as heirs of classical German philosophy).

In Gramsci the reflection on the intellectuals is more articulated, and it comes closer to a materialist formulation of the organic character of the relation between the intellectual and working class. However, the party is conceived in the entire communist tradition as the as collective intellectual. The intellectual of the modern tradition (who has not yet been put to work by the digital web) can only have access to the collective dimension through the party.

The break produced by Italian Operaismo (which I prefer to call composition, for the emphasis that is given to the question of class composition) is founded on an abandonment of the Leninist notion of the party as collective intellectual, and of the notion itself of intellectuals that gets substituted with that of the general intellect (Marxian but neither Engelsian nor Leninist). It does not seems to me that a satisfactory reflection on the overcoming of the Leninist notion of party and of the Gramscian notion of intellectual has been accomplished.

If we want to define today a what is to be done for our times, we must concentrate our attention on the relation between the cognitive function of socially complex labour and movements that organise forms of productive and communicative autonomy.

The book of Hardt and Negri (consciously) lacks a theory of action, and this is not one of its limits. The notion of 'multitude' does not have, (IMHO) an active and organising power, even less so a 'subjectifying' function.

The notion of the multitude describes a dissolutionary tendency, the entropy that is diffused in every social system, and which rends impossible ('asintotico', infinite, interminable) the labour of power, but also the labour of political organisation.

We need to individuate a recombinative function, and this we find in the cognitive function that traverses all of social production.

Intellectual work does not exist anymore as a social function separate from total social labour, but becomes transversal function, creation of techno-linguistic interfaces to which is given the fluidity of a social process, and therefore recombinative power (where to recombine does not mean to subvert, to overthrow, to authenticate and reveal, but it signifies much more concretely to assemble elements of knowledge according to a different design from that of profit and capital.)

The answer to the present what is to be done is political in a very particular sense. In fact it does not exist in the creation of a party, of an organisation external to the social capable of leading it or governing it. The answer consists in giving shape to the specific knowledge practice according to autonomous epistemic models, according to ethical epistemic models that interweave that specific level of knowledge.

The programmer must be a programmer, the doctor must be a doctor, the bio-engineer must be a bio-engineer, and the architect must be an architect, whilst in the Leninist view each one had to be a professional revolutionary, and this meant to bring revolutionary consciousness to the worker from the outside.

But the programmer, the engineer, the doctor and the architect must in the first place reorient ate their own knowledge action., modifying the function and structure of their own specific field of knowledge and their own specific field of productive action.

It seems to me that we have put together a great quantity of useful elements for the elaboration of a "manifesto of knowledge workers (which should not be called that)", but the hesitation that frustrates us regards the method itself. We don't want a manifesto "declared", because this reminds us too much of Leninist voluntarism, a declaration that appeals to something external to what is said. We want, on the contrary, a manifesto that is like software, or like a genetic code. A declaration that is paradigm, that is contagious and at the same time a recombinative enunciative chain.

Have we exaggerated our expectations, requirements and intentions? Perhaps yes, but its worth it because, the intentions are not just intentions, in themselves, but dispositions to being.

Translated by Erik Empson and Arianna Bove from the original Italian on the Rekombinant mailing list.

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