Letter from Toni Negri

Posted: September 30, 2010 in 1997, Letters

to the Venice meeting of the European Counter Network & its allies (including the Zapatistas):VENICE, SEPTEMBER 12-13-14: A SOCIAL EUROPE FOR JUSTICE AND FREEDOM, AGAINST SECESSIONISM AND RACISM


Rebibbia Prison, Rome, 10 September 1997

Comrades and friends,

Our Venetian region is rich and its riches have been produced by a common spirit of enterprise. The heroes of this productive transformation are certainly not only the bosses, big and small, who are exalted today: they are all the Venetian laborers, all those who have served the common good, fatigue and intellectuality, labor force and inventive force; they have invested and accumulated professionalism and cooperation in common networks, through which the whole life of the populace has become productive.

Whoever recalls the Veneto of the Fifties and Sixties knows how much this collective effort of transformation cost: how much misery and struggle, how much obedience and rebellion. These people are not diligent and sanctimonious “little ants.” They are a multitude which has always struggled in successive waves, first against peasant slavery by the expedient of emigration, then against capitalist exploitation by constituting itself as a working class, and finally against salaried labor by forming a new composition endowed with a common spirit of enterprise. Today the road of modernization is quite finished. Little by little, while this new reality of the world of labor developed as a new composition endowed with a common spirit of enterprise, it has come to oppose itself, externally, to national politics, to its rules of representation, its administrative procedures and fiscal inaccuracies. On the other hand, internally, it tends to oppose itself to contradictions of development and must confront the emergence of new economic and political segmentations and inequalities among the producer-citizens. Together these crises have destructive effects on the nature of the model of development and the form of citizenship, and they are going to be fought together, at the same time and in the same way.

Federalism and the new Welfare are apparatuses allowing these negative effects to be opposed. Federalism and local self-government, reappropriation of administration by laborer-citizens, new forms of representation, democracy and taxation. The new Welfare, and thus the new forms of modality of aid and forethought, new services to individuals and to families, reinvention of training (academic and continuous) and above all universal citizenship income – reforms which thus answer, each and every one, to the necessity of a society in which life and production overlap.

Federalism and the new Welfare are therefore politics which go together, indissolubly linked in order to consolidate the common basis of our mode of producing. How can it be claimed that, in Venetian conditions, the new Welfare is not the product of a participatory democracy? Or that federalism is the last brainstorm for excluding the laborer-citizens yet again from decisions on the social conditions of production?

There are those who are opposed to a federalist foundation of the political enterprise of the common good. They are those, on one side, who are attached to the privileges of the Fordist labor organizations of traditional capitalism, not wanting to recognize the singularity of Venetian productive development; on the other side, they are those who, under cover of secession, pervert the sacrosanct needs for autonomy of this productive society. Both re-privatize what is becoming the common good.

We must remind the first group that flexibility and mobility of the labor force (to say nothing of that of the intellectuality of the masses) are irreversible; the problem is not one of opposing the new organization of labor but of guaranteeing the wages and freedom of the post-Fordist laborer. The new organization of labor demands less corporatist Welfare and more, much more, constitutive Welfare – constitutive of this common good which is the basis of the mode of producing (continuous schooling and training, home services for working women, daycare and aid to children, transportation, communication networks, etcÖ)

Less “scrapping” and more life. The epoch of negotiation between big government, big business and big labor is over, over forever.

From now on only “social contracts” on a federalist basis which affect the dimensions of the redistribution of taxation and revenue will be possible.

To the secessionists we must say that their politics imprisons in the most archaic egotism the productive passion of the common spirit of enterprise, breaks off its expansive power [puissance] at the base, excludes from it innovation and intellectuality, forms a brutal and sanctimonious “Swiss race” – thus it should come as no surprise that already the members of the Northern League let slip racist remarks and fascist sentiments.

Quite another thing than secession! We need to tear down all the borders, those that surround regions like those henceforth ridiculous ones which claim to define nation-states, those that hinder commerce. And at the same time, we need power [pouvoir], in order to prevent the powers that hide behind the world market from crushing us in ever more uncontrollable, by us, financial cycles and in irresistible speculative operations.

Now, only a political, economic and social Europe, a strong union of this area, can shape the mediation of the expansive interests of the new mode of producing and the urgent necessities of resistance to the power of world financial corporations. Only Europe is an area adequate to the federalist constitution of the common good.

But since we are gathered, here, on the left, let us also admit our limits and, as in the best traditions of the past, let us acknowledge our share of responsibility in the gravity of what is happening at this moment.

Why is it that only now we recognize ourselves as federalists? Why, for at least 20 years, have we hindered rather than supported the development of productive autonomies? Why didn’t we succeed in quickly identifying the characteristics of the new mode of producing? Why didnít we succeed in inventing a syndicalism of the “diffuse factory”? Why have we always taken moralizing and punitive positions on fiscal problems? Why did we endure the construction of the produced common good as if it concerned an enemy, instead of anticipating its development and being able to represent its articulations and needs?

And yet there are certain parts of the political culture of the Venetian left who for 20 years have understood these dynamics and acted with them in their hearts: they have been repressed and when they managed with great vitality to survive, they reappeared as “internal exiles.”

Well, this demonstration, through the forms that organize it, shows that at last a “reduction of sentence” has been proclaimed for these “internal exiles.” Itís time to proclaim one for the “external exiles” and for those who fight in prison as well.

In any case, without recrimination, from now on itís a matter of going forward united. It’s a matter of re-inventing and experimenting with the program of the new left from the very bottom, on the basis of the exceptional (but exceptionally, gravely dangerous) situation that is our Veneto.

Here labor has changed, here today subjectivity, once again, has its “laboratory.”

Long live autonomy.

Trans. Timothy S. Murph


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