Virno: Rescuing Democracy

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In “Do You Remember Counterrevolution,” Virno discusses the Movement of 1977 in Italy and the struggles that followed in its wake.  He talks about the social centers, which aimed at some form of secession and also tried to create new forms of life outside capitalism and the State, the comitati di base (base committees), in which workers became active and made their own decisions without union or party leaders, and the student movement that tried to understand the transition to immaterial, social, and intellectual labor and organize politically around that trend.  Virno insists that such movements should not merely refuse, they should not just leave an organization/institution and live on the fringe.  Rather they must simultaneously build alternative forms of life. While this particular set of movements did not grow and spread to become generalized, he says, nevertheless participants in the movement of ‘77 did achieve something very important: they removed themselves from the broad social compact, they refused the capitaloparliamentary consensus, they radically called into question the function of parties and the State in capitalism.  In so doing, he says, they opened up the possibility of emancipating the concept of democracy.  What he means, I think, is they opened the possibility of rescuing democracy from the meaning it bears under the regime of liberal, representative democracy, and restoring its real meaning: a form of nonrepresentative, extra-parliamentary life in which people manage their affairs for themselves.  The Movement of ’77 laid out the lineaments of the project, which is for the new workers, the people who do the new forms of immaterial labor, to figure out how to become active and create new forms of life and new forms of democracy beyond capitalism and the State.

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