Lavori in corso
From Common Sense#22 1999
Ricccardo Bellofiore's article supplies a critical assessment of Appuntamenti di fine secolo [Meeting at the end of the century], edited Pietro Ingrao and Rossana Rossanda, with essays by Marco Revelli, Isidoro Davide Morteilaro and K.S. Karol. 284pp. An expanded version of the book has appeared in German (VSA, Hamburg, 1996). An English language version is not available. Despite this Bellofiore's critique will be understandable. The main arguments of the book are summarised at the beginning of his review. Furthermore, the book's main focus is familiar: Fordism, its crisis, Fost-Fordism, globalisation and the New Times of left social and political practice These themes have, time and time again, been advanced within the British context, by the reformist Left, especially those associated with the former Marxism Today. In this context we refer to R. Gunn's review 'Communist Party: Facing up to the Future' (published in CS no.6) and F. Gambino's 'A Critique of the Fordism of the Regulation Approach' (published in CS no.19), as sources for further critical reading of mainstream Left proposals.
Bellofiore's article is based on a talk at the Associazione dei Lavoratori e delle Lavoratrici Torinesi (ALLT) in Turin on 24 November 1995. The article retains the original conversational style. We have also retained the Italian title: Lavori in corso means 'work in progress' but might also be translated as 'road work in progress'. We have cut the section where the author speaks about specific Italian conditions associated with the academic growth industry on the Third Italy. Those interested in this issue are advised to consult the German-language version, published in Wildcat Zirkular no.27, July-August 1996. As far as we are aware, an Italian version has not been published
Translation: Werner Bonefeld and Ed Emery
In a book published In the early 1980s I came across a cartoon. It showed a man meeting Karl Marx on a cloud in heaven. The man says to Marx 'I've read your book.' Marx replies: 'Oh really? And how does it end?'
Now we are in the 1990s and all sorts of people seem to think they have the answer to the question how the history of Marxism, and of communism - the history of that political thought and political practice which had raised the banner of the emancipation of labour has ended. The book by Ingrao and Rossanda moves into the opposite direction: it stubbornly insists that an analysis of, and a judgement on, capitalism has to advance also by inquiring into the contradictory dynamics of the capitalist mode of production. In short it places the question of labour once again at the heart of things. The book needs to be taken seriously and this means, of course, examining its theses in a thorough manner. Apart from the circle close to Ingrao and Rossanda - those who are either present as contributors, or who took part in the debate in il Manifesto after the book's publication, and who, so to speak, are part of the family (for example, Lunghini, Mazzetti, Ravaioli) - a thorough appreciation of their work has, as far as I am aware, not taken place. Most other comments on the book indicated an unwillingness to discuss: they were characterised by disgust, foreclosure, prejudice, and rejection. Commentators who dogmatically refuse to listen have nothing to say.
In what follows I shall try to express a dissenting viewpoint. However, first I would premiss both a note of caution and my own position. The note of caution is the recognition that it is a risky matter and far from easy to attempt to synthesise and argue with Ingrao and Rossanda. This is because of the richness and complexity of the volume, as evidenced in its very structure. The theses of the introductory essay, written by both of them, are already intricate and complex, and this appears further in the collection of letters between Rossanda and Ingrao which make up the second part of the book. These letters are full of disagreements and unanswered questions. Furthermore, their theses enter into fertile exchange with the essays by other authors contained in the third section.I am thus conscious that my critique of Appuntamenti di fine secolo is subject to the inevitable riposte of having over-judged a theoretical development which is very much still under construction. However, if you want to start a discussion, you have to begin somewhere. So I shall try to extract the main bones of Ingrao and Rossanda's position, to see whether and to what extent their arguments hold up. Let me now turn to my second premiss, that is my own position. The focal point of the book is the question of communism. The two authors declare at the end of their introductory essay that they still have this word in their vocabularies. It was undoubtedly this brave and rather unfashionable statement which gave rise to the whirlwind of criticism that promptly descended on them in the mainstream press. The considerations that follow, and these will not be indulgent, start from the same 'question' as that posed by the authors: communism. To cite Rossana Rossanda (p. 128) 'the challenge as to how to liberate everybody, and not to allow one person to be a slave either of another person or of needs that are so primary that he can't even question himself on the meaning of his existence here on earth. How to regulate power, how to guarantee one's freedom without canceling out that of others, how not to reduce the other to a slave or a commodity or a mere function of himself.' With the same frankness, however, I must state that, at least if for none other than generational reasons, my evaluation of communism as an answer', as it constituted itself in the form of the state during the twentieth century, is far less positive than the by no means sympathetic evaluation offered by Ingrao and Rossanda.
2. Appuntamenti di fine secolo
So let us turn to the main arguments contained in Appuntamenti... which I shall put together with the - albeit in some respects dissonant - theses advanced in the essay by Marco Revelli ('Economy and Social Model in the Transition from Fordism to Toyotism'). The book's argument can be summarised under four main headings:
i) During the 1970s the Taylorist-Fordist-Keynesian model went into crisis. This model was based on the scientific organisation of labour, on the rigid technology of the assembly line,and on an interventionist state which 'mediated' social concerns. This mediation involved support to business through demand management, the guarantee to workers of high levels of employment and of a welfare state. Ingrao and Rossanda don't say much about the origins of this crisis. For Revelli, the crisis was caused by a decline in the rate of economic growth and thus economic instability. The 'Fordist' mass consumer durable goods markets had become saturated and, as he seems to suggest, powerful ecological considerations had emerged. The crisis appears to have come from the outside and appears somehow 'natural'.
ii) The subsequent phase is defined principally via the category of globalisation, the globalisation of capital. The search for flexibility, and thereby for lower costs through a reduction of the minimum size of enterprises, unleashes a global and highly aggressive competitive struggle among individual capitals, hunting for markets wherever they can find them and relocating different parts of their production processes at the global level. Globalisafion thus gives rise to a crisis of the national state, which is definitive for Revelli, and certainly serious for Ingrao and Rossanda. Aided by the liberalisation of the movements of capital, there is a growing importance of the financial component in the profits of big business. In addition to a 'renewed domination' of the North over the South (the Gulf War), there can also be detected an 'ordering omnipotence' of the organs of world government (G7, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Maastricht Treaty).
iii) Concerning the issue of work, globalisation and the crisis of Fordism translate, on the one hand, into precarious work and exclusion and, on the other, into 'mass technological unemployment'. Work becomes increasingly less guaranteed, less stable, and lower paid, while anyone expelled from the labour market finds it harder to get back in. The number of workers in the industrial sector of the developed West declines, and those made redundant are left with no means to fmd work elsewhere. This liberation from work means that, within the capitalist universe, there is a reduction of living labour in real quantitative terms. In the new post-Fordist phase, capital has less need for the waged worker: what we see is the 'tendential end of the relationship of commensurate growth between the production of goods and employment (p.71), as lngrao and Rossanda maintain; and a 'systematic destruction of employment (p 198), according to Revelli.
iv) The present phase of capital in the post-Fordist era is characterised, apart from the aspects outlined above, by the much stronger integration of the workforce into the relations or production. This fourth point, as the first, is more pronounced in Revelli's contribution than in those by Ingrao and Rossanda. On the basis of an analysis restricted mainly to the automobile sector, Revelli seems to deduce an almost complete alienation of the workers (employed in this sector in ever fewer numbers), and an expulsion of conflict from factories which have by now become pacified because the soul' of the workers has been conquered. This, at least, is what we gather from pp. 185-94, although this is contradicted - and, in my view, rightly so - on pp 195-6.
This understanding of capitalist development is widespread amongst the majority of the radical left in Italy and has become more or less its vulgate. We have only to recall the analyses, each with their own peculiarities, of those who wrote contributions for Il Manifesto on the Ingrao-Rossanda volume. From this understanding derive, obviously, suggestions for political action. If it is true that within capitalism the socially necessary labour expended is tending ineluctably to diminish, the question of 'what is to be done' becomes reduced to a handful of options. The notion of a citizen's income, proposed specifically by authors such as Gorz and Aznar, finds little favour with Ingrao and Rossanda. There is also Lunghini's proposal to expand the area of 'concrete' socially useful labour, decommodifying the sphere of social reproduction in order to compensate for the reduction of 'abstract' capitalist work Furthermore, there is the idea of using the increases of productivity with a view to redistributing the smaller amount of work among everybody, as Mazzetti and Ravaioli (and, before them, Napoleoni) propose. In addition, there is Revelli's proposition - although, to be frank, he is not very clear on this - that 'antagonistic subjectivity itself [like post-Fordist capital] leaps over the relations of commodity exchange and thereby beyond the commodity form of labour, and the contract that sanctions it; and that it thus goes beyond the alienated relations of wage labour' (p. 193).
3. On a Fordism that never was
The framework outlined above obviously grasps some real aspects of capitalist development. However it seems to me that it is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of contemporary developments and that it supplies a view that is so one-sided that the implied periodisation of capitalism is quite wrong This is because it rests on distorted data.
Let's begin with the crisis of the Taylorist-Fordist-Keynesian model. I have to say that, to begin with, I regard this putting together of terms as highly problematical. Taylorism, that is the increase in the intensity of labour at a given level of technology, when it was introduced into the United States in the early part of this century, failed because of the conflict which, understandably, it aroused among the craft workers. A different fate was suffered by Fordism in the strict sense. Fordism sought to increase the productivity of labour through a revolution in the machine system, replacing the craft worker with the mass worker. It was only by virtue of this change that it was able successfully to incorporate the new organisational innovations of the early part of the century, which included, but not exclusively so, Taylorism. However, success at the level of production was confronted with the discovery of the limits of markets - the increase in productivity, combined with a relatively stagnant demand for consumer goods and, because of other factors, a weakened demand for investment, was one of the causes of the Great Depression (a far cry from the claim that Fordism means unlimited markets!). Only the Second World War and, it is suggested, Keynesian state intervention opened the era of the swift growth of income, a growth assisted by a politics of deficit demand management. This was Fordism in its broad sense, a mode of regulation which dominated right through to the early 1970s.
But is this really how it was? One might legitimately dispute it. When we look at the data and the most convincing interpretations, we find that the golden era of capitalism after the Second World War was characterised from the early 1960s onwards by the following elements: A world economy that had been unified under the leadership of the United States because Europe and Japan needed a leader country, not merely for economy reasons particularly reconstruction - but, also, for political-military reasons. For this reason we also had a single currency, the dollar (one should say that if there ever was a global capitalism, it was perhaps this). A stable demand for private investment was sustained by high profits and, of course, on rosy expectations because there were certain convictions associated with the proclamation of Keynesian principles, and there were central banks who were ready to function as lenders of last resort (thus not a model of development based on consumption, as suggested by the agreeable conception of Fordism-Keynesianism). Nevertheless, state budgets were essentially balanced; the growing percentage of expenditure in relation to GNP was compensated by a growth in taxation levied principally at the expense of labour. Were one to conceive of the Keynesian era as if it had been characterised by the pursuance of economic policy within the boundaries of national states and by the accumulation of deficits, one would be left with no more than a caricature. In particular, growth of capitalist income was faster than the growth of real wages, although these increased too thanks to the marked expansion of commodity production.
Why did this model go into crisis? Essentially because it was unstable: during its development it undermined its own foundations. In particularly, its international foundations fragmented: the catching-up of Japan and Germany (with Europe coming up behind) pushed the USA out of its undisputable central position and led, during the 1960s, to a sharpening of inter-imperialist rivalry. Then the monetary foundation was undermined: in the same decade, the global monetary system that was based not only on the dollar but also on the dollar's tie with gold, began to wobble and finally collapsed in 1971. Above all, in those same years, industrial conflict began to grow to the point where it exploded at the end of the decade: after years of 'full employment', why on earth should the workers in manufacturing not have done what economic theory teaches night and day - in other words, exploit a favourable position in the labour market a market that was then favouring the seller? More serious than that, as well as asking for higher wages and less pressure at work - demands that in abstract terms are not incompatible with the capitalist model - at the heart of working class antagonism was the rejection of 'factory discipline' itself, and capitalist command over production as a whole. Mi this had been perfectly foreseeable; in fact, it was foreseen by Kalecki in a well-known article dating from 1944. In the 1970s, budget deficits increased - not only, and not so much, because of the social pressure that was demanding reforms but also because of the attempt by the state to continue a Keynesian response to the difficulties, and to tame and circumvent the problems posed by social conflict in the big factories. In addition to this conflict at the 'heart' of the crisis-ridden development, and also intra-capitalist conflict, there was, for a time, a conflict with the producers of raw materials, of oil in particular. Over a period of a few years, profit expectations worsened with the decline in profitability, the time-horizon of investments contracted, and investments fell. Strange as it may seem, it was the return to the fore of monetarist economic policy - symbolised in the coming to power of Reagan and Thatcher - which led in the United States, but also elsewhere, to an explosion of deficits and public debt, precipitating the more or less ferocious subsequent attempts at reducing them. In regard to Italy, for example, Di Cecco characterised the Italian model in the 1980s as 'delinquent Keynesianism'. Not only in Italy, despite this 'Keynesianism', investment is having a hard time getting under way again.
The reason for all this is not at all mysterious. If what I say is correct, then the crisis of the old model derives not from some rather vaguely defied crisis of growth, but from a far more material emergence of fundamentally internal conflicts over the creation and distribution of wealth. Other precise consequences follow from this. The political right's critique of the Keynesian era is inconsistent: it did not fail as a result of a spendthrift and unproductive state (which, as I have said, is doubtful that it ever existed). The Keynesianism of those days had little to do with the Keynesianism that is peddled by academic circles and the media. The crisis of the so-called Fordist model was crucially due to social conflict, and so its transcendence, which is still under way, inevitably has to pass through a radical redefinition of existing conditions in the labour market and the labour processes. The fact that investment is not lifting off after two decades of defeats of the working class is perhaps testimony to the radicality of the challenge to capitalist power which was more or less consciously pursued, and of the fear that followed from it that every upturn in the economy would reactivate conflict. A testimony, in short, that the dismantling and restructuring of all parts of the capitalist valorisation process is still in full motion. And one can again ask: if things are as I have said, does it make sense to compare, as the authors of the volume do, tPost-Fordism' with a -however defined - conception of 'Fordism', a conception which appears increasingly as a parenthesis in the history of capitalism? Is it really impossible, if not rather simply improbable, to repropose a Fordist/Keynesian settlement, a settlement that combines a sort of global regulation with income and employment policies based on a negotiated settlement of a new Toyotist organsiation of labour? In this respect, we might have to set aside the desirability of such a settlement from a Left point of view, to which I would give a negative response. That this reproposition is, as I suggest, improbable derives from the fact that there has not yet appeared on the horizon an 'objective' crisis such as that which struck Fordism narrowly defined at the end of the 1920s. This is because, in our time, there is hardly a 'subjective' critique of the contradictory constitution of Fost-Fordism which does not propose a hasty 'exit' from it. Such a critique is entirely powerless to confront Post- Fordism's real contradictions.
4. Uneven Globalisation
The thesis of the globalisation of capital also deserves to be reexamined. We have seen that, in some respects, the capitalism of the Keynesian era was more, not less, global. We could add that the capitalism of the golden age of the gold standard, that is the period which ran from the last quarter of the nineteenth century through to the First World War, was also at a high level of globalisation. The present growth of trade integration merely carries through to completion the recouping, begun after the Second World War, of the terrain lost in the years of mercantilism between the two wars. It is certainly true, on the other hand, that the contemporary greater dependence on export markets is a consequence of the lesser weight of internal investments. It is also true that, as regards manufacturing and most particularly traditional manufacturing of mass consumer durable goods, the quota of imported goods has effectively increased. On the whole, then, industrial competition has indeed increased dramatically, and the globalisation of production in this area of the economy is a fact. However, the phenomenon of global competition in manufacturing goes hand-in-hand, as the economists should know, with the reduced importance of this sector for the creation of income and employment. This reduction is compensated by the growth of sectors that are protected from imports. This development which strikes at all the classic locations of the organised strength of the labour movement, is not generalisable to all sectors of production. And the sociologists, for their part, should know that the post-Fordist reorganisation of labour, to which I will turn below, cuts right across both protected and non-protected sectors.
The globalisation of commercial flows is, however, another of those sirens which we should not allow to bewitch us. If anything, in the crisis of Fordism in its broader sense, the tendency towards the regionalisation of capitalism into the three areas of America, Europe and Asia seems to predominate. Ingrao and Roassanda note this, but they do so as if this phenomenon operates merely as something that puts a limit to the predominant tendency towards globalisation. In fact, and importantly, the notable characteristic of these three areas is that they are 'closed' economies, in the sense that their openness to trade does not seem to have grown in any dramatic sense. This is true, in particular, for Western Europe as a whole - not, of course, for single countries given the process of trade unification within Europe itself. It is thus understandable that the thesis of the globalisation of capital appears, for example, plausible from the Italian viewpoint - that is of an economy which was relatively more closed than others, more dependent than others on a traditional manufacturing sector which was hit particularly hard by openings to the outside.
It is equally wrong to argue, as Ingrao-Rossanda and Revelli do, that we should see the globalisation of production, and the present reality of the global character of commodity production, as something definitively new and imposed by neoliberalism, as part and parcel of the tendency of capital to seek lower wage costs, less regulated conditions of labour, and countries that are more compliant with the desires of companies. Those who take at face value the thesis of a single path of capital after the Fordist-Keynesian era, lose sight of the plurality of capitalist models in the 1970s and 1980s, and the disunited nature of capital today. Alongside the Anglo-American model of breakneck deregulation - a deregulation, however, that is never carried to its extreme logical consequences - we have had another model taking shape in Germany, Japan and South-East Asia.
In some cases, the German case in particular, this model has been compatible with high wages and relatively restricted working hours.
Even South Korea, we should remember, has seen - albeit from a starting point of a particularly low level - rates of growth in real wages never seen before in the history of capitalism. This model was based, as in Japan, on the protection of the highly qualified sections of the work-force, at the expense of its more peripheral sections. At the heart of this model there was a state and a banking system which regularly broke every neo-classical wisdom, every suggestion of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. This has meant practicing the kind of support policies for national industry which are heresy for neo-liberalism: a concern for the quality of local factors of production, and not only their cost, selecting credit flows, and controlling its own capital and its domestic labour. It has been this type of capitalism, which we might call Schumpeterian, that up until now has obtained the best results, and not the sort of capitalism propagandised by the supporters of deregulation. The countries of Latin America have learned that lesson, and the countries of South East Asia are also learning it fast. Both these groups of countries have enjoyed, more than enough, the guidance by proponents of neo-liberal anti-statism. Clinton himself came to power with a programme which proposed intervention in the quality of local factors of production, and not with a programme that argued the case for a subordination to the ideology of globalisation. And the variously-labelled experiences of the 'Third Italy', of the 'Adriatic backbone', of the North-East of Italy, have they not perhaps also been constructed on this basis, namely on a combination of flexibility and qualification of labour? But when reading the Appuntamenti, we often have the impression that the ideology propagated by international organisations is confused with understanding of the real developments.
As with the questioning of the Taylorist/Fordist/Keynesian model, the questioning of the thesis of globalisation has enormous political consequences. Just to mention two: the Gulf War would appear at least as much, if not more, marked by the conflict within northern capitalism as by conflict between North and South; and the same should be said of what is happening in Eastern Europe after the collapse of real socialism. However, let me stay with the thesis of globalisation, in order to sum up. I have left to one side one characteristic, the most striking, of global capitalism, and that is the exponential growth and autonomisation of speculative capital in financial markets. This is something which one would have to be blind not to see. However it is hard to understand why this should be seen by the whole of the Left, even the less conformist groups among them, almost as a natural given fact, rather than as a product of choice, or at least of the omission of possible actions. We shall never find out whether 'global' financial capital really is uncontrollable unless we try to control it - and the subjects of this control, given what I have just said about 'regional' capitalism, inevitably have to be found at an intermediary level between the national level and the (for good or ill) Utopian level of a world government. To state just one: honestly reformist proposals which strike at the speculative movements and not the productive movements of capital have been on the table for a while. The new information technologies, whatever one might wish to say about them, increase rather than reduce the possibility of control over monetary flows. Events like those following on from the crisis of the 'irrevocably' fixed exchange rates of the European Monetary System confirm that the much-vaunted death of the autonomy of national monetary policies has been announced prematurely. In short, it is possible to act.
5. Too much work
The so-called globalisation of capital is thus a phenomenon which is far from new. What we have been seeing in recent years is rather a redefinition on the part of capital of the national and international conditions of accumulation, which has not yet run its full course, and which is best understood through the categories of regionalisation and plurality, a plurality of capitalisms, Because Ingrao and Rossanda analyse the general tendencies of capitalism differently from me, their analysis of mass unemployment, which they share with many other well regarded commentators, is also quite different from mine. I have to confess that my perplexity with their analysis of this issue is even more marked.
The clearest and most rigorous exposition of the thesis that capitalism has transformed from that of Fordist-Keynesian full-employment into a post-Fordist 'future without work' ('too many commodities, very little work') is probably that of Giorio Lunghini in L'Eta dello Spreco ('The Age of Waste'). The structural change of recent years is said to consist in the fact that the increase in unemployment in periods of recession is crystallised by technological and organisational restructurings, so that when the economy revives employment does not rise. The quantity of living labour employed by capital is thus, it is claimed, tendentially destined to fall. In this circumstance too, however, a close look at what is happening in different areas of capitalism reveals a quite different picture.
First of all, right until the end of the 1980s, aggregate employment continued to grow everywhere, and it is too early to know whether the dip, which has been seen subsequently in some economies, is permanent or temporary. In any case, the employment figure as a percentage of the workforce has remained stable for decades. Secondly, the tendency to reduce living labour affects manufacturing, and in particular the large factories. However, in the terms in which this process has really taken place, it had already taken place in the USA during the 'Fordist' phase itself. This does not seem particularly unnatural since otherwise the capitalist reproduction would remain stuck in a specific commodity-configuration. Thirdly, within this sector, it is not clear to me why there is never any reference to the capitalism of the newly industrialised countries - those of South East Asia, for example. It is in these countries that we see a continued input of new labour power into the processes of valorisation and powerful waves of urban migration. The omission is all the more serious because it is in Asia that the accumulation of 'global' capital is, again, resuming most vigorously.
One of the more striking weaknesses of the analysis of imperialism up until the 1960s was the forecast that it was impossible for those countries which were then called the Third World, to take an active part in capitalist development. It is this Third World which today is pushing the diverging thrusts of inclusion and exclusion which have their cause precisely in the lift-off of capitalism. Finally, it is as well to bear in mind that unemployment presents peculiar characteristics in the different capitalist regions, with notable variations also in their midst: with all the necessary caution regarding the reliability of statistics, it is obvious that the unemployment levels of little more than 2% in Japanese statistics, and the oscillation of United States statistics at around 6% (euphemistically called 'full employment'), indicate a far different situation from rates of European unemployment, which range from 10% in Germany to 25% in Spain, with Italy somewhere in between. If the statistics on unemployment are sometimes underestimated and this is certainly the case in Italy - it is also true that the main body of precarious and unstable employment is invisible. We thus have to offer differentiated explanations of the different experiences. In the United States, the relatively more important factors are the deregulation of the labour market and the growing imbalance in the distribution of wealth. This has made possible the creation of insecure, low-skilled employment that, more often than not, maintains these workers in poverty. At the same time, the central position of the USA in the international division of labour permits also the creation of skilled and highly paid employment. In the European case, a greater role is played by the lesser downward flexibility of real wages. Thus the circumstance that restructuring penalised unskilled labour and led to an uneven position of Europe in the international hierarchy. So, although labour-time is declining in the area of unskilled or simple work employment of the traditional sectors of the older industrial-capitalism, there is good reason to maintain that the capitalised total labour time is increasing hugely.
The true structural break of the last fifteen years has been the interruption of the more than century-long tendency towards the reduction of individual labour-time. Instead of this, there has been the lengthening and intensification of the effective working day. To this has contributed, to greater or lesser extent in the various countries, the fragmentation of the labour market to which I referred earlier. This has led to the re-emergence of the 'working-poor' and precariousness of employment. In addition, there has been the 'slimming-down' of big companies and the externalisation of parts of the production process, to which Ingrao and Rossanda, as well as Revelli, draw attention. This externalisation weakens the central and strongest swathe of guaranteed employment and offloads the pressure of competitiveness onto subcontractors where the weaker regulation of the conditions of labour can be exploited more easily. As Sergio Bologna has reminded us untiringly for years, this externalisation is in large part responsible for the expansion of self-employed labour, a labour which in reality has nothing to do with 'self-employment' but which is rather labour that is commanded by, more often than not, a single contractor. The 'strong' area of the labour market is reduced while the 'weak' area is expanded. From this point of view it seems reasonable to state that the characteristic of our epoch is that of 'too much work', and not of 'too little work'.
If the first reason has to do with the conditions of the labour market, the second reason relates to the characteristics of the capitalist reorganisation of production. In the central areas of accumulation a crucially important role is played by the production of commodities which are rich in terms of information and which require a labour-force that is able to exploit knowledge and experiences accumulated over a long time. In Marxian terms, the labour time incorporated in these commodities is a multiple of that contained in the products of simple labour. In the meantime, the less-skilled labour involved in the traditional production of mass consumer durables has been relocated to areas that were once peripheral. These two phenomena explain the circumstance that, in Europe, there is a simultaneous growth of total labour time and non-labour time, permitting the continued existence of long-term structural unemployment - a development that should not surprise a Left which argues on the basis of Marx. There should, however, be no surprise that such a radical redefinition of the concrete nature of the valorisation process at a global level demands a higher mobility of the transfer of surplus value: it is inherent in 'capital' that it seeks to push its mobility forward with as little control by the state as possible.
There is also a third reason for the lengthening and intensification of the working day, a reason so obvious that I would not even raise it were it not for the fact that nobody seems to pay attention to it. The transition from the high growth of the Fordist/Keynesian model to the reduced growth of the subsequent years has seen a reduction not only of relative wages, but also of real wages. The reduction of real wages is obviously a powerful factor that increases one's willingness to work much more intensively and for longer hours.
In the face of this reality, Left-wing intellectuals have allowed themselves to be taken in by the ideology that capital is driving inexorably towards a reduction, and in the end to an elimination, of labour. The exhaustion of capital's capacity to create employment of which we hear so much nowadays has led some to rejoice and others to lament The view that capital's capacity to create employment is exhausted amounts to a fairytale. I have to say that if there is a period in the history of capitalism that, for me, confirms the Marxist thesis of the centrality of 'abstract labour' in the organisation of social life, it is precisely this one. Particularly if one takes account of the fact that today the very instruments of information technology which are revolutionising production are also revolutionising consumption; and that the distinction between labour time and non-labour time is rendered increasingly arbitrary.
If this is how things stand, then it is easy to see the limits of the proposals against mass unemployment which we mentioned at the start of this paper. All of them make the same mistake. Namely, they start from the mistaken assumption that in the present phase of capitalist development demand for labour is declining rather than increasing. In other words, the proposals against mass unemployment are not based on a correct appreciation of the facts. Since real wages are falling, the reduction of hours of work at parity wages would lead probably to the extension of de facto hours of work, to double work and to work in the black economy. The promotion of socially useful work would probably translate itself into a dualist segmentation of the labour market which, contrary to the intentions of those who propose it, would involve the devaluing of 'concrete' jobs and reduce these to the role of a simple shock-absorber in relation to the difficulties faced by those employed in the area of commodity production. At the same time, those employed in this area would be left to their fate and this because of the mistaken conviction that we are witnessing the problematic but 'tendentially' assured euthanasia of capital. Nor am i convinced by the schizophrenia of those who portray the post-Fordist labour processes as a place of total alienation and who, for this reason, hope to find and look for the emancipatory potential beyond capital in the sphere of reproduction as well as in [autonomous] spaces. I am not convinced of this, probably I am still too much imbued by the old materialism, because I do not see how this could be rendered possible. These are all proposals which start, like Gorz and a number of French intellectuals, from the assumption that society is divided into two parts, one, the declining part, is seen to be subordinate to capital, and the other, the increasing part, is seen as one of freedom. It is hard to disagree with Bruno Trentin's Il Coraggio dell'Utopia ('The Courage of Utopia') when he says that individuals who accept the mutilation of themselves during a part of the day are marked throughout the whole of their daily activity. There is no reason to assume why this should be different for the whole of society.
If we want to talk again about the reduction of labour time, then we have to do it in the concrete processes of production and in relation to the whole range of life, and we have to debate it in such a way that we secure a reduction of labour time not only, regarding the labour markets, on the side of demand but, also, and importantly, on the side of supply to obtain flexibility and choice. And there should be no doubt that such a demand can only be realised through 'artificial', that is political interventions, interventions that go against the natural tendency and mode of motion of capitalist accumulation. This demand poses not only a quite different dynamic in the distribution of income but, also, an active political intervention at the level of macro-economic industrial policies and labour policies. Therefore, the conflict within capital and within the state cannot be left behind; rather it needs to be taken up. The sooner we abandon the thesis that the capitalist tendency at the end of this century is to reduce labour time, the better.
6. In search of the phoenix: Post-Fordism
In the book by Ingrao and Rossanda there is much talk of postFordism - a word which has been fashionable for some time. It is not at all clear what exactly is meant by this and, unfortunately, the phoenix remains as such even in the essay by lngrao and Bossanda. Fortunately, Revelli's essay is an exception, but it does leave a strange sensation. First because post-Fordism is here defined in opposition to Fordism in the broad sense. While Fordism is seen as being founded on unlimited growth, economies of scale, conflictual factory-relations, and a national state and a domestic capital, postFordism is seen as having limited world markets, a lean and hegemonic factory, a deterritorialisation of the enterprise and the crisis of the national state. I have already expressed doubts on some of these defining elements: here I limit myself to express my doubts whether it makes sense to define post-Fordism simply as a counterpoint to the Keynesian era, without broadening one's gaze to a wider and possibly more meaningful span of time. Were one not do this, might there not be the risk of attributing to post-Fordism elements of pre-Fordism? Ingrao and Rossanda seem to share my doubt (p. 43) and the problem cannot simply be resolved by identifying the one with the other, as Revelli seems to suggest (pp. 792-3).
The most attractive part of Revelli's article, however, is that on the changes in the organisation of work. Unfortunately I cannot here give it the space it deserves. Nevertheless it is quite striking that in order to describe post-Fordism such massive recourse is made to marketing manuals, a resource from which the suspicion of ideology is not far removed. There is also a lack of any reference to the copious literature on the subject, which is often dedicated to the innovations in that selfsame automobile sector on which Revelli focuses his attention: here we have only to recall the contributions by Parker-Slaughter, Jacob, Kern-Schuman, Pollert, Jurgens-Malsch-Dohse, Kennedy-Florida and Appelbaus-Batt. These authors supply a far more contradictory picture than that proposed in this volume. Given the lack of space, I shall content myself with suggesting that a typical characteristic of the present phase is that the unifying element of capitalist strategy is the attempt to bring to an end the process of re-forming the working class. This process which might perhaps combine flexibility, precarious conditions and skilled work, does not cancel out conflict, even though it does render it more difficult (when it comes to it, Taylorism and Fordism themselves were, in their own time, presented as the prelude to the disappearance of conflict), which makes the individual place of work more flexible, while rigidifying the global production line and thereby making it more fragile.
It appears to me that the. whole Left which has over the last thirty years concerned itself with the analysis, and the future, of work, has premised its analysis on the same cardinal error - a mistake which appears also in the recent writings of Bruno Trentin. This mistake consists in the primacy accorded to Taylorism. Let's take the Taylorist-Fordist-Keynesian model with which we began. Current interpretations look at Keynesianism through the eyes of Ford, and at Ford through the lenses of Taylor. In this view, capitalist exploitation of labour exhausts itself in, and is no more than, the 'pressure' brought to bear on labour. From this it follows that post-Fordism would amount to no more than the extension of this pressure from the body to the brain - or even, more spiritualistically, to the 'soul' of the worker.
There is, I believe, a serious historical reason behind this mistaken conception. The cycle of struggles at the end of the 1960s, centred as it was on struggles over the extraction and organisation of labour, followed on from a phase, starting in the mid-1960s, of real and proper Taylorist regression in Italian industry. At that time, domestic producers reacted to the wage conflicts at the beginning of the 1960s by accumulating capital without comitting new investments and thus by intensifring labour on the basis of the given technical composition of capital - yet another example that Taylorist means of extracting surplus value lead inevitably to conflict. However, the widespread interpretation by the Left turned the real sequence of capitalist development, as Marx understood it, onto its head. There is an inherent tendency in capital to effect technological change, to control the extortion of labour through the revolutionising of the system of machinery. The direct and personal control over labour that is typical for the extraction of absolute surplus value, is 'governed' by the indirect and impersonal control that is typical for the extraction of relative surplus value.
Marx posed the hypothesis that revolutions in the organisation of the labour process do not precede the innovation of the labour process but rather follow it; and that it is through the dynamic of competition that individual capitalists are compelled to revolutionise the labour process. The dynamic of competition imposes upon individual capitals the requirement to reorganise work. Were one to start one's analysis from the opposite end, and were one not conscious of the force that impresses itself upon the individual parts of the accumulation process, then one is easily led to confuse the break with Taylorism with the opening of automous spaces for employed labour. Trentin makes this mistake when he conceives of the crisis of Taylorism as bringing about conditions of work that are less and less focused on rigidly performed tasks. Revelli's analysis, although he describes the situation quite differently and arrives at opposite political conclusions, starts on the same basic assumptions. For him, Toyotism amounts to an intensification of Taylorism and thus to a Strengthening of Fordism, As he puts it, there is 'once again a form of focused pressure on one's own labour power, on the management of labour time, on the performance of work' (p.182).
For Revelli, the epochal break resides in the circumstance of a completed reduction of the worker to a thing, to a commodity among other commodities. Again, capital's impossible dream is confused with reality. However, were one to argue with Marx, the question that needs to be posed would be quite different. The question would then not be whether the post-Fordist production method serves to conclude the restructuring of the labour processes and the labour market that has moved into all directions with the complete automatisation within big industry. Rather, and against the background that this has not functioned in real and proper Fordism, one would have to inquire about the points of rupture of this so apparently omnipotent mechanism
6. What is to be done?
Our critical assessment of some of the essays contained in Appuntamenti, will probably be accussed variously as operaism, industrialism and productivism. There is no doubt that my analysis is fundamentally different from that on which the Ingrao-Rossa essay is based. Strangely, though, this difference appears less fundamental if one looks at some of their practical conclusions at the end of their joint essay. There they ask - as I have done above - if it is not premature to abandon 'labour' and the state as areas of social and political action. On this issue, it seems to me, that Ingrao and Rossanda are, thank godness, less coherent than authors such as Gorz, Aznar and Latouche, but also Revelli and Longhini, Mazzetti and Ravaioli who, each in their own way, appear to say that the 'civilisation of labour' as well as the 'statism' of the 'short century' is coming to an end.
I find it easy to share, in particular, the observation of Rossana Rossanda in the letters part of the book. She writes: 'I have never thought that the sum total of a person exhausts himself in his relation of and with production. Outside of that area a whole set of fundamental experiences, beginning with perceptions of life and death, of the other, of one's own sex and that of others, of love, of fear, of growing, of dying, of good and bad, of the sense of one's own being, wounded or matured by experience. Of literature, of history, of memory, of art, of thinking and counting, of play, which to a certain extent cut across the life of every man and woman' (pp 100- 1). Although one might disagree with what Rossanda has to say afterwards, namely when she states that the movement born from Marxism has never been Labourist Marx was certainly not Labourist when he stated in the Holy Family that 'if it wins, the proletariat does not become the absolute side of society; in fact it wins only by transcending itself and its opposite'. However, to me it seems undeniable that not only the Marxism of the Second and Third Internationals, but also that closer to our time, of the old and the new Left, that was present right up until the mid-1970s in workplaces, always based themselves on a belief in the centrality of production - and this even then when working-class struggles were taking place against the primacy of production, and despite this claimed a higher dignity than that accorded to other conflicts For this reason, amongst others, the labour movement has been placed' in the defendant's stand by the so-called 'new movements' foremost amongst them the feminist and the green movements' Here I believe, we find an almost logical misunderstanding upon 'which 'the contemporary difficulties of a Left politics are based For anyone like Ingrao-Rossanda and myself as well, who still believes that' the contemporary 'conditions of social autonomy' is founded on the 'position within the system of production of goods or services and the access to the system of exchange' (p.101), conflict over and within work inevitably has to remain - to use again that expressions which Bossanda does not like - at the centre. However this social centrality of labour within capitalist accumulation, which is in turn at the heart of this society, can not be translated into a political centrality of labour in the sense of establishing a hierarchy between the different subjects, which would accord more weight to the working class. Or, again in the sense of defining the characteristics of the future society, according to Hanna Arendt's reproach against Marx: communism as a society of workers without wage labour. The challenge to create an anti-capitalist movement in which different subjects pay attention to each other and recognise each other's equal dignity, is in fact still not solved. Rossanda herself recognises this when she says that 'within the new subjects there is a temptation to substitute one totalising view with another' (p. 126). This misunderstanding is almost logical because the different 'communes' that have been created through the struggle against capital - that force which 'dissolves into thin air all that is stable' - tend to regard themselves as permanent Perhaps this 'subjective' difficulty is the most material of all, and its overcoming the key to an authentic theory and practice of 'transition' which will truly examine the questions raised by the Greens and, in particular, the women's movement.
The dichotomy between Ingrao and Rossanda's analysis and their practical recommendations has a high price: their insistence on the centrality of labour, deprived of any reference to the authentic dynamics of the daily explosiveness of labour, are tinged with idealism (can work still be a value?, p. 71); and their recourse to an alternative sort of statism and an alternative public sphere with which they wish to transform the 'things' from above, has to appear inevitably politicist.
On the other hand, even if my considerations should be vindicated - that is that capitalist accumulation is not moving into the direction of reducing labour, and that interventions into the relations of labour inevitably has to pass through economic policy -there would still obviously remain the dramatic difficulty that this volume addresses: how to organise the restructuring of capital? Whatever the answer, I do not believe that it will be helped by analyses that are incorrect and replies that are consequently illusory. Perhaps one of my friends was right when he said that Marxists have hitherto changed the world: now it is time to go back to interpreting it.
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