In this post from a year ago, I quoted Franco Berardi: “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.” Bifo seemed to have in mind a communization that would save the world, or create one, but it’s also the case that capitalism needs this autonomous subjectivity to lead the way to a new regime of accumulation. It can’t do it itself. That’s always been so, but financialization has created a governance problem that is especially unbridgeable: The strategic scattering of production, the nullification of unions, and the destruction of welfare state provisos, among other things, have put the workforce and, to a lesser extent, its reproduction beyond capital’s direct command. As long as the subjects of debt adhere to the convention of this arrangement, it works, but once they start taking advantage of their not being managed, the equilibrium becomes upset. What capital needs right now is what it has fought against for thirty-plus years: mediation.
With this in mind, and without holding it up as a vanguard, it seems to me that the worst thing that could happen to the occupy movement is cooptation. The danger of cooption isn’t that it will make the movement fizzle out or that it will mean a taming of its agenda and a bringing into the Democratic fold. Those are, at least in softer forms, inevitable and are just symptoms of the real danger: the capturing of autonomous subjectivity to create a new regime of accumulation. It’s impossible to know what that would look like just now, but it was just as hard to imagine Fordism arising from, say, the CIO sit-down strikes of the 30s.
In a sense, all the debates that have surrounded the occupations revolve around the question of cooptation: demands and “organization,” “violence” and civil disobedience. The forces that have held the line against the former pair and refused to the condemn the latter pair have been waging a fight against cooptation. This isn’t to say that those who question the commitment to those strategies are craven sellouts, but it does seem to be the case that those who want demands and a program, and who question, for example, black bloc tactics and even occupation in general, are also eager to seek solutions to problems: full employment, greater social benefits, financial regulation, etc. That is to say, they want state management of the economy.
And for their political purposes, they are right. But other protesters, I would even venture to say most others, know that state involvement would in the long run benefit not the 99% but capital. Because even though the increased repression of the last few days might indicate otherwise, the occupations present capital with an opportunity it’s been needing but unable to create the conditions for on its own. I don’t think, at this point, that the movement is politically powerful enough to instigate a new kind of production, but it soon could be. If so, the question then becomes, Will capital be able to capture this new subjectivity and transform it into a mode of accumulation. If autonomy means anything, it means keeping this cooptation at bay.