Look at the discourse of the European political class (almost without exception): If deregulation produced the systemic collapse with which the global economy is now confronted, we need more deregulation. If lower taxation on high incomes led to a fall in demand, let’s lower high-income taxation. If hyper-exploitation resulted in the overproduction of unsold and useless cars, let’s intensify car production.

Are these people insane? I don’t think so. I think they are incapable of thinking in terms of the future; they are panicking, terrorized by their own impotence; they are scared. The modern bourgeoisie was a strongly territorialized class, linked to material assets; it could not exist without a relationship to territory and community. The financial class that dominates the contemporary scene has no attachment to either territory or material production, because its power and wealth are founded on the perfect abstraction of a digitally multiplied finance.

This last part, from Franco Berardi’s intriguing and insightful article “Cognitarian Subjectivation,” misstates the change financialization enacts and comes close to repeating populist finance-as-parasite arguments. Finance is linked to both territory and material production: private equity attaches to productive companies, some of which even make things you can hold in your hands; currencies are translated between markets that align with the borders of nations; investments in public securities depend on the (fiscal, financial) health of states. Certainly the relationship between finance and territory/production has changed, just as the territorialities and modes of production have changed, but Berardi’s claim of “no attachment” goes against the work, by Christian Marazzi and many others, that assumes that the distinction between the real economy and the financial economy no longer holds, if it ever did. Finance is less of a “perfect abstraction” than it has ever been.

Or maybe what Berardi is registering here is a difference between Europe and the United States, where a mania for (industrial) deregulation, lower taxation, and hyper-exploitation reigns that can’t be attributed to financial-class domination. If anything, in the United States finance leads the (admittedly feeble) calls for more regulation and taxation (though not of its sector, of course), while the political, industrial, and merchant classes scream for more freedom for capital. This freedom for capital includes two components, two demands: for the unrestricted exploitation of labor, and to be rid of its “obligations” toward nonproductive subjects — those too old, young, or disabled or otherwise unable to produce. The unemployed and the unemployable.

It’s this, I think, that gives rise to the “insane” and frightened political responses: not the lack of connection to community or country but the inability to command labor and populations and to direct financial resources. The root of the crisis lies in the realization that “empire is ungovernable.”

And this digital-financial hyper-abstraction is liquidating the living body of the planet, and the social body. Only the social force of the general intellect can reset the machine and initiate a paradigm shift, but this presupposes the autonomy of the general intellect, the social solidarity of cognitarians. It presupposes a process of autonomous subjectivation of collective intelligence.

Yes. As has happened at other times, the impossibility of command means that capitalism can only rely on the autonomous activity of workers (broadly speaking) and then hope to capture their subjectivity for a renewed sociality. The problem right now is that the general intellect seems tilted toward the pole of machinic enslavement and away from the pole of social subjection that could produce new value and create new subjectivities. The fear comes from not knowing if the tilt will ever reverse itself.

3 thoughts on “Ungovernable

  1. Excellent work!

    Bifo likes to adopt the sort of prophetic style that lends itself to apocalypticism, exclaiming that we’re moments away from a time where ‘everything is different now’.

    Because our understanding of financialization is in such larval stages, it’s so easy to slide in crotchety old man “back in my day, when the economy was real…”

    To me, that is a characteristic of a conflict not yet resolved! We’ll only have ‘clarity’ when the debate has been settled by, echoing Luxemburg, ‘reform or revolution’.

    So rather than adopting a stance where every little change is decisive, I prefer your careful analysis. Keep it up – I always enjoy your blog.

  2. Thanks a lot, AC. The feeling is very much mutual.

    I really like your formulation of it being a conflict not resolved. Maybe I’m sick, but I’m kind of comfortable with the lack of clarity. Seeing capitalists uncomfortable is fun! Of course they are also more dangerous that way.

    I actually liked Berardi’s article, even if, as you say, he tends, like Negri, toward the prophetic style. To me, the mistake in separating finance from production isn’t “merely” an analytical one; it’s also a political mistake, one that leads to tea-party idiocies, among many other things (though, oddly, tea parties turn their hatred to central banks rather than real ones; I wonder what that’s all about?).

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