Bifo on How the Cognitivat Will Lead to an Unprecedented Socio-Cultural and Informational Revolution
* Article: Welfare State and Democracy : Getting free from Illusions. Franco Bifo Berardi. Ment 01, 2011
"After thirty years of Neoliberal obsession, we have arrived at a collapse of the welfare state system as envisioned and perpetuated by both the leftist and the more liberal right parties. What comes next? The ruling class seems to perpetuate more of the same without really understanding a new situation, in which the new cognitive movement, the one that grew up in the neoliberal system, will never have characteristics and goals of the previous working class. The mistake is to believe that this new movement will be absorbed soon. In a positive and zealous view, the writer and media activist Bifo Berardi points out that this structural difference will open a new scenario, one in which the “cognitivat” will lead to an unprecedented socio-cultural and informational revolution."
"Until the 1990s, this new capitalist global structure seemed to be able to give response to some societal issues, thanks to the uninterrupted expansion (apparently unlimited) of growth, technology and income. But the illusion of an unlimited expansion (profoundly embedded in new economic theories as they appeared at the new millennium) has finished at the turn of a new decade. The dot-com crash of the new millennium, the collapse of the virtual economy, plus the explosion of the immaterial “bubble”, gave new kinds of labour (cognitive, mobile, innovative and semiotic) up to the hell of precariousness.
The breakdown of entrepreneurial illusions has opened up a new phase of proletarization (if I can use again this eighteenth-century term) that has, within it, invested cognitive and semiotic labour forces. This process happened with an incredible speed, and at the end of the first ten years of the new millennium we have experienced not only all the devastating social consequences, but also all the possibilities of autonomy and resistance that this process has generated.
In December 2010, the raising of student movements spreading all over in Europe involving universities and schools is the starting point of a new process of self-organization and permanent conflict of the cognitive workers, whose characteristics cannot be completely comprehended and imagined until now. One thing, however, is certain: the cognitive movement will never have characteristics and goals of the previous working class movement.
So, in this new context it is a dangerous illusion, the one the leftist parties try to propose again and again with even more scarce vigour: the restoration of a traditional welfare state system based on safety valves (shock absorbers) and job security. In the near future, there will be no security or safety valves for precarious labour. There will be autonomy, but this is a different discourse.
In the current system, there is no possibility of establishing the law of “right salary”, for the simple fact that salary is never right enough. Salary cannot be determined on the basis of specific and objective factors. Salary is the product of a forced relationship, and especially today the forced relationship in the labour market is totally unbalanced in favour of capital. That is, the cost of consumable goods will always exceed the costs of human labour. And in this sense, it will remain like this for a long period to come (even if the coming Chinese workers’ revolt could potentially modify the current situation).
If the cognitive movement (the cognitivat) follows the blind path of conservative revenge (the restoration of the social-democratic idea of a welfare state as a guarantee of a job, as it has happened in Italy and could individuate in the idea of “assistenzialismo” or dependency culture), we can be sure that the cognitivat will loose any political battle and will be reduced to a condition of infinite sadness and in a sense of sub-alterity. As long as the cognitive labour force continues to be associated with old values, they will never have a chance at restoring original ideals of economic growth via the welfare state.
Only when the cognitive labour-force will be able to intellectually, socially and productively separate from the global capital, as well as separate from old connotations, then it will be able to start a process of autonomy and solidarity that could permit moving beyond the actual catastrophic situation and onto envisioning new prespectives for the future. Here begins the most difficult issue, because it concerns the possibility of inventing new forms of action, related to totally new social goals. What I should say is that it is necessary to be free from all political illusions (often consequences of theoretical blunders), in order to clearly see what is the new context of the twenty-first Century. The illusion of democracy, for example, is similar to the illusion of the right salary.
The word democracy did not have strong references for a long time. Democracy presupposed two fundamental conditions: the free formation of the political will of the majority; and the efficiency of the majority political decision; from these two conditions, we can rightly say that democracy doesn’t exist anymore.
Indeed, we have standardized or homologated machines determining the will of the majority (the most important are television and advertisement); to those, the verdict of the majority is always pre-constituted. Furthermore, any political decision cannot do anything against the techno-financial automatism that rigorously guides the economic and societal daily life. It is well explained by the melancholic impotence of American President Obama. He has demonstrated an incapability to free himself and the whole Nation from the financial automatism those powers have imposed by the domain of big banks and of Neoliberal rules, despite the enormous failures of big banks and Neoliberal policy.
In the same way that democracy no longer corresponds to present conditions, the notion “right salary” (meritocratic, etc.) does not correspond to anything else. In this sense, there is no way of evaluating physical work in its general sense, and specifically, there is no way to evaluate the value of cognitive labour force. The only way to define an adequate salary is based on the recognition of individual human needs, independent from their competences and their productivity.
To be free from these kinds of illusions would mean stopping to think that we can increase or change the existing society; on the contrary, we need to create the condition to get out from such a system; to create structures of production, distribution and education that are external to the logic of capitalism.
This is the sense and meaning of the present understanding of the word “Autonomy.” The cognitive labour force, the so called cognitivat, is currently in the best position to realize an autonomous project, meant as a project of self-design of independent worlds with seismographic character - to once again, change the rules of the game."