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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Isabell Lorey: Non-Representationist Democracy

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Here is a nice piece by Isabell Lorey wherein she argues something very similar to what Ranciere, Hardt and Negri, Virno, and I do: that democracy and representation are opposites.  Democratic government is an oxymoron.  Lorey reads the uprisings in Spain and Greece (and perhaps Portugal) as examples of the kind of non-representational democracy she is calling for, a democracy captured in Spain in the slogan Democracia Real Ya.  She sees in those movements a manifestation of and experimentation with constituent power that I was trying to articulate as well in my talks at the AAG, especially in the session on local politics.

Michael Hardt on the Potential of Autonomia

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Nice Job!

I just re-read Michael Hardt’s introduction to the book Radical Thought in Italy.  Both the piece and the book are fantastic and recommended.  But what struck me this time was the beautiful job Hardt does of articulating the how the Italians tend toward a radical politics that focuses its attention not on the powers that be (what they often call constituted power), but rather on our own power (constituent power).  In autonomism this took the form, for example, of Tronti’s point that if all value is produced by labor (this is Marx), then the proletariat must be the leading class in society, the class whose activity shapes society.  The bourgeoisie, it follows, is thus continuously reacting to and trying to catch up to the action of the workers.  For the Italians, “the tasks of political theory,” while they do “involve the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation that plague us,” nevertheless insist that “the first and primary tasks are to identify, affirm, and further the existing instances of social power [which already exist among people themselves] that allude to a new alternative society, a coming community” (7).  The point is therefore not to confront capital-and-the-state in order to seize their power.  Since we are the source of all power, we must instead withdraw our power–the power we already have–from the capital-and-state relation.  An exodus (Virno); a line of flight (D&G).

This line of thinking underscores the importance of Nietzsche’s critique of ressentiment.  If we spend all our time obsessing about the intricacies of how constituted power dominates us, and resent the power it holds over us, we are not being attentive to our own (constituent) power.  We are missing the point, we are ignoring the way out, we are blind to “the entire creative potential of our own practical capacities” (6).  In this power lies the seeds of a communist and/or democratic society, and so ressentiment’s obsessive critique does nothing so much as occlude the path to the possible.