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Exodus or autonomist abdication

Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi is an old school Italian marxist. Rising up during the 1960s, he spent years in exile in France, during the repression of the 1970s. The Prisma’ memoirs.    


Steve Latham


Now a new superstar of the far left, he has released a new book, “Schizo Mail”, based on short notes he made, via email, on the so-called ‘Great Recession’ that we are living through.

Written travelling across Europe, to fulfil various speaking engagements, it is a loose-knit assemblage of random reflections, but unified in a consistent analysis of the current capitalist crisis.

Berardi is part of the “autonomist” school in Italian marxism. This tendency was the first to try and grapple with changes in advanced capitalism during the late twentieth century.

Instead of concentrating on the traditional working class, autonomists, like Berardi and Antonio Negri, recognised the changing class composition of capitalism.

Italian communism had previously developed a strong class base among the manual workers, in factories like Fiat.

Western capitalism, however, began exporting manufacturing jobs offshore to cheap labour economies, in the global


In the West, therefore, the nature of the subsumption of labour began to change, replacing of the manual wage earner.

In its place has arisen the role of cognitive labour: those who work with information, computers, symbols.

Although initially these appear to be very different from the old proletariat, Berardi examines their imprisonment in an economy trapped in short term contracts.

The drive to develop one’s own ‘brand’, to market oneself to prospective empowers was supposed to be liberating, as one was free to go wherever one wanted.

But, in practice, this of course led to the classic atomisation of the workers, as individualised ‘free labour’; free to sell one’s labour, but with no security.

Berardi has therefore coined the term, the ‘cognitariat’, to refer to this fresh expression of exploitation in postmodern, techno-capitalist society.

In “The soul at work”, Berardi writes that the ‘soul’ has been taken out of our working lives. Here and in “The Uprising”, he suggests we need to restore creativity and poetry to our lives.

Instead of a unified, or simple, depiction of the current situation, however, Berardi borrows from Felix Guattari’s ‘schizo-analysis’, to portray its many-faceted, complexity. For example, his book, “After the future”, exposes the lack of hope for the future in current ideological thought; because our optimism about ‘progress’ has vanished under the impact of repeated crises.

In his new book, he celebrates that his predictions of catastrophe in Europe were correct, claiming that this has caused a closure on new radical possibilities.

Consequently, like fellow autonomist Paolo Virno, he recommends an ‘exodus’, or withdrawal, from the wage economy; the creation of autonomous enclaves of artistic creativity.

In face of complete intransigence among the commanding elites, this option is attractive; however, it may also be an abdication.

Does withdrawal not mean the abandonment of hope for the whole, for society-wide transformation?

And would this not indicate that Berardi remains stuck in the same future-loss he discerns and decries in others? (March, 2014)

(Photos: Pixabay)

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