Contemplating ruins is an activity that is well suited to intellectuals. Sitting in what remains of Catalus’s drawing room, they look around bewilderedly asking themselves what on earth went wrong. First of all we need to clarify the idea of crisis. I have been examining all the interesting implications of this concept for some years. In actual fact crises do not exist. They never have done. Every now and then periods of change are called crises in order to favour particular political strategies or to justify their shortcomings. As we can see, it is not simply a question of terminology. The concept of crisis implies the existence of a linear process that suddenly suffers a rebound, as though forces that are either external or intrinsic to it suddenly cease to function.
That explains the great science of predicting such moments, at times replaced by devoted expectancy or by the more or less sanguinary efforts of the mole that keeps clawing away. Unfortunately these friendly little creatures do not work for us. A linear process only exists in the dreams of economists and revolutionaries who want to attest their power, or that to which they aspire at some time in the future. It might be instead that everything simply gropes about in a jungle of relations, giving rise to a situation that is quite illogical as opposed to one that is simply of a logic devoid of order and progress. In such a varied, contradictory context we find atrocities and barbarity one believed disappeared centuries ago flourishing alongside technological discoveries of a future that is already present. So just as it is ridiculous to talk of progress, the idea of crises—the product of such a concept—also falls.
It is also extraordinary how all those who have been threatening and deafening us for years with their arguments about the relation between infrastructure and superstructure are now awkwardly keeping quiet. Many of them, and I don’t mean those who made this about-turn lightly, are facing the same problems that politics and power have done in recent years, minus the intellectual operation (that’s just a manner of speaking, of course): the productive conditions of this political system are now well beyond the old knee-jerk dialectics which cannot be eliminated simply because this method of analysis has fallen into disrepute, precipitated into a vacuum along with the domes of the Kremlin.
It would be a further mystification to ask what the visible, but not always comprehensible, process of restructuring taking place within the political system means today without linking it to the restructuring of production. That would be equivalent to saying that all the evil lies in the egotistical management of a few swindlers, and that once they are removed from the scene everything will return to normal. We need to work out two lines of thought here. The first in order to better see the interests of the power groups who are intensifying their blame on the political class in power in countries such as Italy. This is aimed at diverting attention away from mechanisms that make any effective improvement in political management possible.
The second in order to show how post-industrial politics work, through a request for the fictitious participation of individuals in the management of public spending. In actual fact the restructuring of the political system is related to the growing demands of the new economic and social formations in countries where capital is most advanced. This is accompanied by a transformation of democracy, as it requires the participation of individuals in fictitious mechanisms that are capable of swallowing up, therefore nullifying, the ideas of each one of us.
Excluded from any effective participation in decision-making except for those in the stubbornly backward areas still tied to obsolete forms of trade union and party economism now devoid of any significance, the great masses are experiencing a new kind of democratic participation. This has not happened by chance. The demand has existed for almost two decades now, induced by the media through the complex system of control comprised of TV, telephone and computer. We are still in the initial phase, but there is already a direct, constant dialogue in process between the periphery and the centres of communication. People ring up, interact with television, codify themselves and fix the protocol for a further, increasingly detailed way of life. That allows for greater control of the mass of excluded on the one hand, at least of the regular majority, so to speak.
On the other, it allows their opinions to be catalogued and even piloted, drawing them into various interactive syntheses. As we all know, this is leading to a proliferation of cultural poverty in terms of taste and choices, a uniformity of demands and desires resulting in an even greater possibility to catalogue apparently free spontaneous participation. Then there is the flight from any possible diversity. Today it is codification that makes the man: the way one dresses, uses the same objects, looks for the same labels. One qualifies oneself through this uniformity, making the same gestures, moving, eating, loving, thinking and dreaming the same way as everybody else. This is the way the democracy of the future is being built. Soon politics will be born in and among people, but not before the latter have been levelled to the lowest common denominator in order to produce the flexibility necessary for post-industrial production.
The ‘old’ (in the true sense of the word) industrial world has disappeared, and with it a political system based on associationism, parties and movements as well as trades unions, which were all linked to the massive dimension of the factory and the idea of so-called (sometimes real) improvements in the workers’ conditions. The fact that some such structures continue to persist beyond the historical context that produced them is simply due to the classical viscosity of all social structures which are not prepared to disappear simply because new social conditions make them obsolete. This persistence has made these structures even more rigid, their only aim now being that of enriching themselves in order to continue to exist, and vice versa. And this function is in contrast to the new conditions of production and their need to develop more varied exploitative aspects. As post-industrial restructuring makes the old economic and productive formation obsolete, they are more prone to accepting blackmail and extortion, as evidently the service supplied by normal political pressure is less and less adequate for their requirements.
This is not just happening in Italy, but in nearly all the advanced capitalist countries. In Spain, the old unions of the democratic centre which succeeded Franco created the conditions, then things developed in a decade of socialist rule. All the parties in Spain have had recourse to illegal forms of financing. The best known case is the Guerra one, where a brother of the Spanish Vice-President contracted favours from businessmen for the PSOE. The same thing happened with the main Spanish opposition, the Popular Party, where the Baseiro case caused the biggest scandals related to the rake-offs. The autonomous governments of Catalonia and the Basque countries have also had their scandals. The main case in the news at the moment is the Filesa affair involving the PSOE again, with illicit funding obtained through exorbitant invoicing for largely nonexistent services, reports and studies.
In Germany, cases of corrupt politicians, rake-offs and illegal trafficking with organised crime are the order of the day. The biggest scandals concern Siemens of Monaco and Flick of Frankfurt. There is a trial going on concerning the considerable amount of tax-relief (which could turn out to be more than three million marks) granted to Flick and allocated to party funding. The same thing is happening in Hamburg and Bremen, and even in Berlin where once ‘in the red’ Filz is now ‘in the black’, but things have not changed. Corruption is still rampant.
France also has its scandals in the field of political corruption. From the Luchaire case where interests concerning arms sales to Iraq have emerged, to the Urba one involving the occult financing of the Socialist Party, to the case of Bérégovoy, a character who received a million francs from a not-exactly-impeccable financier. A timely amnesty has blocked new scandals from emerging, making judicial procedures pointless.
The list could be extended to Great Britain, the United States, Poland and many other countries that have not reached such levels of post-industrial capitalism. And the same situation would be apparent: a political system no longer suited to the economic transformation in process, which is fast becoming a gangsterist system of extortion and blackmail.
But let us look at the problem from another angle.
Not by chance some idiotic ‘intellectuals of the moment’ have talked of ‘revolution’. Without knowing or wanting it, and for reasons quite different to those I am about to describe, they have actually got something right. At this moment in fact a true revolution, different of course to the one of which we dream (and which is not in any way political), is taking place. It would certainly not be possible to trace this revolution through the coding we used for such events in the past. Why then do we think it is possible to talk of ‘revolution’, even if only in political terms? There are two reasons for this. The first is that a political system, within which capital has undergone a fast and profound restructuring, has exploded. It has turned out to be incapable of representing the interests of a new managerial class. Secondly, because a strong movement of opinion has been set into motion which, although codified in terms of the processes of control and participation discussed above, has also shown, underneath the uniformity, the existence of a spreading feeling of resentment, a desire for liberation, an atavistic feeling of aversion to all who command and dominate. As far as the first reason is concerned, the process that led to the Great French Revolution comes to mind. This was due precisely to the fact that the king and the nobility, by not allowing the development of commerce and industry, were no longer able to guarantee the interests of the bourgeois class. But, as is clear even from those events that are now as far off in time as they are from our possibility of understanding them, a dominant structure does not surrender simply because it is no longer useful to the system that produced it and once protected and stimulated it.
As far as the second reason is concerned, something more is necessary, I would say. What is happening underneath all the attempts to deviate or nullify dissent? This phenomenon holds a wealth of instruction for revolutionaries as well as for politicians whose aims are diametrically opposed to ours. First of all, it is surprising to see how a seemingly formidable political structure such as the Christian Democratic Party has crumbled in a few months. This balances the just as unexpected and strange collapse of the Soviet political structure. The two events are obviously not unconnected: they both concern the needs of the vast restructuring of economic power that is taking place at world level. The fact remains that nothing seems so firmly rooted as to defy the unpredictable development of events any longer. And this uncertainty has entered the bloodstream of us all. It has become a positive element that restructuring had tried to realise by peddling the idea that nothing can be guaranteed unless it is agreed on the basis of common interests—obviously managed by the ruling class—with the fictitious participation of all. The fact remains that uncertainty has become a part of all of us. It makes people uneasy, wakes them up, gives rise to the most desperate adventures, making them more difficult to control (this, yes), or at least rendering this control just as uncertain as all the rest of reality. As far as revolutionaries are concerned, this element is positive and of no small importance. Then, the hatred that has emerged, which could easily be diverted into a reformist, but none the less significant, dimension (i.e. demands for changes in social rules), given that it has shown itself to have a considerable capacity for ‘movement’, resuscitating the old evils of leaderism and the delegation (for example, good judges leading the revolt of the humble).
But we will have to examine this problem elsewhere. It is indispensable to be aware of the conditions that are affecting the reality we are operating in when we act, especially now as they are so different to the classical formulae that once explained things in deterministic terms.
One of the main problems facing the restructuring of power today is that of making political management adapt to the world process of transformation in production. It is now clear to all that post-industrial capitalism has taken on a global dimension, distributing itself differently according to local situations, but referring back to a common management. The telematic structure of the economic and productive setup allows elements that were once irremediably separate to be linked in time and space. It has become an instrument that attempts to rationalise discrepancies in the demand for work at world level. This is putting great pressure—which will continue to grow—on the economic conditions of the advanced capitalist states today. The old dichotomy development/underdevelopment has exploded, or is about to. The transitional phase was marked in the mid-Eighties by a spreading leopard-spot pattern, both in developed and underdeveloped countries. Eastern Europe’s entry onto the chess board of post-industrial capitalism has multiplied these leopard spots. This development prevents a net differentiation and is producing considerable complications for power concerning the control and recuperation of the areas with a high risk of subversion, in the first place in the great metropoli which are becoming time bombs that no one has the key to deactivate.
At this point all high-handed arguments as to whether there is any real difference between ‘right’ and ‘left’ become ridiculous. The proof that this problem no longer bears any relation to the mechanisms of restructuring is given in the fact that a real ‘right’ no longer exists, at least at the institutional level. The xenophobic and executive aspirations of the dominant class, naturally despoiled of all the folklore that once characterised such expressions of political reaction, can be managed by any political formation. In fact, skinheads stand out today not just because of their lack of brains but also because of their adoption of an outdated folklore that reflects the dreams of a few madmen. They do not have the consensus of large numbers of people—who are not for that matter not racist, only they want their defence against the ‘different’ to come about anonymously through guaranteed jobs, not in discriminatory statements like ‘black people smell’.
The dismembering of society, the most evident aspect of which is the relationship between the individual (now practically at the mercy of transitory groupings) and the centres of communication, is a consequence of the transformation of production that is taking place. Struck at the workplace which, at least up until the beginning of the Eighties could lead to gaining individual, therefore class, consciousness, the individual has now been thrown headlong into a rapidly changing world. What was once far away is rapidly drawing closer and closer due to TV, telephones and integrated computer technology. And just as rapid a distancing of what was once close at hand is underway: associationism, the compactness of the traditional workplace, trades unions and factory, are disappearing. The workmate has become, if not an enemy, at least a stranger.
The break up of association was an indispensable premise for worker flexibility, and this could only be attained by abolishing the tyranny of absolute space and time. The substitution of letter-writing by the telephone and the advent of the real time of information technology systems has meant that individuals themselves have changed. Their memories have been dissipated, their human consciousness divided into sectors. This was rigid at first, then it became less and less consistent, to the point of mixing and producing a new agglomeration of sensations and value judgements that are forever being modified, at a greater and greater speed. The values of the past, the stored knowledge held in vast memory banks where it could lie for years, but still give a direct contribution when necessary in terms of both theoretical and practical knowledge of work processes, have disappeared.
Everything that led to the possibility of workers building a better world on and from the ruins of the old has now disappeared. It has all been ground down in the great race of accelerated procedures, the elimination of subject and object as distinct and opposing elements of a contradictory mechanism, which was nevertheless rich in prospects and vitality. In place of this mechanism we now have the domination of passage. The simple movement of something that reaches the receiver and the transmitter simultaneously, in real time, unifying them in the ongoing capacity to respond to simple, fast, coded impulses of communication.
So everything seems to have been brought back to this concept of absolute flexibility. The whole of production, including the most traditional fixtures with their prison-style architecture, has all become flexible. Assembly lines are governed by robots. In turn they are governed by flexible programmes which skilfully modify commands, and thus the products produced by these chains. What once required millions of pounds of investment in fixed capital now takes place in real time. The worker has had to adapt to this flexibility. The quality required by the operator today is not professional skill but adaptability to face different situations coded with a certain number of alternatives, and to find optimal solutions in the shortest possible time.
The need for flexible conditions has put the traditional agricultural and industrial sectors into second place, subordinating them to the tertiary sector, which is producing and directing the mechanisms and logic for restructuring them. In the tertiary sector flexibility is obviously of central importance. However strange it might seem, there are no specialists here. Everyone is specialised in a few routine procedures. The same hallucinatory world where programmes produced for future projects are entrusted to telematics has been substantially reduced: fewer and fewer sophisticated programmes are capable of producing yet others and so on, to infinity. Proof of this generalised idiocy is given in the unease felt by the mathematicians who enter the world of computer programming.
The conditions of production we have defined as post-industrial are spreading like leopard spots, in and beyond the industrially advanced countries. No areas can consider themselves safe from such processes of change. We must therefore avoid falling into the trap, useful to the management of the new democratic power, of considering that such analyses do not concern certain more ‘backward’ areas of capitalist development, leading one to believe that some of the old relations and new possibilities of struggle still exist. Everything fits in with everything else. There are no isolated conditions, only models of lesser intensity, i.e. conditions where models of ‘flexible’ management are less obvious than others.
Restructuring cannot content itself with a simple alternation of those in power, or with making possible more regular changeovers in the political class. It was necessary to make profound changes. And here we find a problem within a problem. Is it possible to single out a precise will, a precise moment in which decisions are made in this sense? I do not think so. I do not believe there is a specific minority in power capable of programming such changes. More than anything it is a question of processes that connect up, often inevitably. When the very first changes took place at the level of production, all they did was apply certain cybernetic systems to industry, in the same way that technology has always been applied to production. Yet the full potential of this technology was not understood. However, upon closer inspection it is apparent that this unknown quantity concerns all technology, particularly the interrelations that develop between single technical applications and the technical whole, where no one part is autonomous of the rest. No one could have foreseen the consequences that such applications were to have on the labour market, i.e. something similar to the restructuring that took place at the beginning of the Eighties. This reduced the cost of labour, but only after much hesitation were they able to put programmes of early pensions and mass sackings into effect as they feared a response in terms of social struggle, in spite of the Tarantelli/Modigliani theorem which had already clarified how such a response would probably not come about in the presence of a strong government. However, capital would almost certainly not have been capable of such a lively recovery were it not for the unforeseen effects of grafting the new technologies onto the old system of production. In a word, a series of causes and effects that could not be linked together, but which produced the conditions we could sum up today in the word flexibility.
So it is not possible to speak of a project that has been mapped out in all its parts. The adjustments of power are always approximate and tend to settle along the line of least resistance. Moreover, such movements can only develop to the point where the elements which comprise them reach their full potential. Today, the present disintegration upon which the new structures of power are being built must reach the extreme consequence in every aspect. That is, power cannot materially expand fully and leave an associative mentality and culture intact. Just as it cannot go ahead with a democratic mechanism based on past processes and values. They require new political forms to correspond to the new forms of production and social life.
So the project for a new kind of democracy is materialising, and that is the final point of these notes. Like all the projects of power this one is vague, but it bases itself on needs that already exist, are clearly visible, and could be summed up in a few essential points.
The main point is participation. The arrogance of the old political caste is not suitable for the changing conditions. The citizen must participate, not to make political life (which will always be a ghost in an artificial world) become real, but to make the decision-making mechanisms of power more effective.
The immediate consequence of democratic participation is the birth of the active citizen who has discarded his old disinterest and apathy toward politics, where men he considered superior were buried in the corridors of power, manipulating the lives of their subjects. The political sphere has been broken up into a myriad of possible openings for intervention. Voluntary work has been institutionalised. The monopoly of the professional politicians has given way to free political initiative where representation stays within precise credibility limits, even to the extent of certain circumscribed areas being controlled from the base. Politics begins at home. The leaflet, once an instrument exclusively in the hands of an active minority, is now commonly used as an instrument for voicing opinions. In this way everyone is under the illusion that they are reinventing the way to run public spending, by living inside and alongside the institutions rather than submitting to decisions that are made elsewhere. So democracy is widening and becoming rationalised. It is presenting itself as being equal for all in practice, not just in theory. The majority system no longer rebounds against those who use it, and a plurality of interventions makes knowledge of decisions possible.
This new pack of illusions produced itself almost spontaneously as soon as the old mechanisms of political groupings where delegates, charismatic party leaders, central committees with their dominant ideologies and the aims of liberation that imposed sacrifice and death, were all dismantled. All this has finally disappeared. What is left is flexible, objective disintegration that is clear for anyone who wants to see it, in that it comes from a process of development that is unequivocally ongoing: the process of production. So there are more ways to participate. The need for social justice, one of the fundamental aims of a movement that has responded to the putrefying old political world with total condemnation, immediately transferred itself, and it could not have done otherwise, to precisely the area of participation. This has been taken up by the new builders of ideology. It is they who are building the flexible ideology of future democracy. And this new dimension will give positive results. It will give greater possibilities to some and deny others any at all. It will guarantee the legality of political procedures of management, extend control, but make it seem as though it is being managed from the base, desired by the people, guaranteed by a plurality of opinions. It will allow greater security for the included, separating them from the excluded, building an unscalable wall around them, foreseeing new needs that are specific to the ruling class and are incomprehensible to the dominated. It will select the excluded on the basis of their possible participation, showing varying degrees of tolerance towards them according to their levels of participation. At the extreme limit, for the non-participants, the maladapted—the excluded excluded from everything—there will still be systems of segregation. Not so much the old-style prisons as new ones run by people in white coats.
These are the programmes for restructuring power and transforming democracy. Opposing oneself to all this is a part of the fascinating and indispensable revolutionary project that is perhaps still to be invented.
[Original title: Ristrutturazione del capitale e nuova democrazia, Conference held in Rovereto, 26 June 1993. English translation by Jean Weir published in "Let's destroy work, let's destroy economy", Elephant Editions, London.]