March 7, 2011

Franco Berardi and Marco Jacquemet on The Italian Anomaly

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In that long wave of social conflicts we find a constant and recurring element: the refusal of the subordination of life to work. This refusal was manifest in a manifold of different ways: first of all as a Mediterranean idleness, the privileging of sensuality and social life over productivity and the economy. In the 1970s this refusal flourished as a political act of insubordination and resistance against capitalist exploitation. So this concept could be inserted in the framework of progressive political strategy. Workers refused the effort and repetitiveness of mechanical labour, thus forcing companies to keep restructuring. Workers’ resistance was an element of human progress and freedom, as well as an accelerator of technological and organizational development. Contrary to the Protestant idea of progress as founded on work discipline, the autonomous, anti-work spirit claims that progress, namely technological progress, is based on the refusal of discipline. Progress consists of the application of intelligence to the reduction of effort and dependency, and the expansion of a sphere of idleness and individual freedom.

The refusal of capitalist exploitation was not peculiar to Italy, of course. All around the world workers demanded wage increases and more free time for their lives. However, in Italy this insubordination transformed the anarchic spirit of southern plebs into an explicit and politically relevant issue: autonomy of everyday life from capitalist discipline. Did young rebel workers who in the 1970s came from Naples and from Calabria to the northern factories embody the individualist and anti-modernist populism that characterizes the 1799 counterrevolution, and led Neapolitan people to oppose the enlightened bourgeoisie? Yes, in part. But they expressed also the realization that the society of industrial labour was nearing its end, and the consciousness that industrial labour was a remnant of the past, and that new technologies and social knowledge were opening up the possibility of the liberation of society from the burden of physical labour.

- Franco Berardi and Marco Jacquemet, The Italian Anomaly



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