Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri



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In the 1970s the crisis became official and structural. The system of political and economic equilibria invented at Bretton Woods had been completely thrown into disarray, and what remained was only the brute fact of U.S. hegemony. The declining effectiveness of the Bretton Woods mechanisms and the decomposition of the monetary system of Fordism in the dominant countries made it clear that the reconstruction of an international system of capital would have to involve a comprehensive restructuring of economic relations and a paradigm shift in the definition of world command. Such a crisis, however, is not always an entirely negative or unwelcome event from the perspective of capital. Marx claims that capital does indeed have a fundamental interest in economic crisis for its transformative power. With respect to the overall system, individual capitalists are conservative. They are focused primarily on maximizing their individual profits in the short term even when this leads down a ruinous path for collective capital in the long term. Economic crisis can overcome these resistances, destroy unprofitable sectors, restructure the organization of production, and renew its technologies. In other words, economic crisis can push forward a transformation that reestablishes a high general rate of profit, thus responding effectively on the very terrain defined by the worker attack. Capital's general devaluation and its efforts to destroy worker organization serve to transform the substance of the crisis-the disequilibria of circulation and overproduction-into a reorganized apparatus of command that rearticulates the relationship between development and exploitation.
Given the intensity and coherence of the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, two paths were open to capital for accomplishing the tasks of placating the struggles and restructuring command, and it tried each of them in turn. The first path, which had only a limited effectiveness, was the repressive option-a fundamentally conservative operation. Capital's repressive strategy was aimed at completely reversing the social process, separating and disaggregating the labor market, and reestablishing control over the entire cycle of production. Capital thus privileged the organizations that represented a guaranteed wage for a limited portion of the work force, fixing that segment of the population within their structures and reinforcing the separation between those workers and more marginalized populations. The reconstruction of a system of hierarchical compartmentalization, both within each nation and internationally, was accomplished by controlling social mobility and fluidity. The repressive use of technology, including the automation and computerization of production, was a central weapon wielded in this effort. The previous fundamental technological transformation in the history of capitalist production (that is, the introduction of the assembly line and the mass manufacturing regime) involved crucial modifications of the immediate productive processes (Taylorism) and an enormous step forward in the regulation of the social cycle of reproduction (Fordism). The technological transformations of the 1970s, however, with their thrust toward automatic rationalization, pushed these regimes to the extreme limit of their effectiveness, to the breaking point. Taylorist and Fordist mechanisms could no longer control the dynamic of productive and social forces.[13] Repression exercised through the old framework of control could perhaps keep a lid on the destructive powers of the crisis and the fury of the worker attack, but it was ultimately also a self-destructive response that would suffocate capitalist production itself. At the same time, then, a second path had to come into play, one that would involve a technological transformation aimed no longer only at repression but rather at changing the very composition of the proletariat, and thus integrating, dominating, and profiting from its new practices and forms. In order to understand the emergence of this second path of capitalist response to the crisis, however, the path that constitutes a paradigm shift, we have to look beyond the immediate logic of capitalist strategy and planning. The history of capitalist forms is always necessarily a reactive history: left to its own devices capital would never abandon a regime of profit. In other words, capitalism undergoes systemic transformation only when it is forced to and when its current regime is no longer tenable. In order to grasp the process from the perspective of its active element, we need to adopt the standpoint of the other side-that is, the standpoint of the proletariat along with that of the remaining noncapitalist world that is progressively being drawn into capitalist relations. The power of the proletariat imposes limits on capital and not only determines the crisis but also dictates the terms and nature of the transformation. The proletariat actually invents the social and productive forms that capital will be forced to adopt in the future. We can get a first hint of this determinant role of the proletariat by asking ourselves how throughout the crisis the United States was able to maintain its hegemony. The answer lies in large part, perhaps paradoxically, not in the genius of U.S. politicians or capitalists, but in the power and creativity of the U.S. proletariat. Whereas earlier, from another perspective, we posed the Vietnamese resistance as the symbolic center of the struggles, now, in terms of the paradigm shift of international capitalist command, the U.S. proletariat appears as the subjective figure that expressed most fully the desires and needs of international or multinational workers.[14] Against the common wisdom that the U.S. proletariat is weak because of its low party and union representation with respect to Europe and elsewhere, perhaps we should see it as strong for precisely those reasons. Working-class power resides not in the representative institutions but in the antagonism and autonomy of the workers themselves.[15] This is what marked the real power of the U.S. industrial working class. Moreover, the creativity and conflictuality of the proletariat resided also, and perhaps more important, in the laboring populations outside the factories. Even (and especially) those who actively refused work posed serious threats and creative alternatives.[16] In order to understand the continuation of U.S. hegemony, then, it is not sufficient to cite the relations of force that U.S. capitalism wielded over the capitalists in other countries. U.S. hegemony was actually sustained by the antagonistic power of the U.S. proletariat.
The new hegemony that seemed to remain in the hands of the United States was still limited at this point, closed within the old mechanisms of disciplinary restructuring. A paradigm shift was needed to design the restructuring process along the lines of the political and technological shift. In other words, capital had to confront and respond to the new production of subjectivity of the proletariat. This new production of subjectivity reached (beyond the struggle over welfare, which we have already mentioned) what might be called an ecological struggle, a struggle over the mode of life, that was eventually expressed in the developments of immaterial labor.
The Ecology of Capital
We are still not yet in a position to understand the nature of the second path of capital's response to the crisis, the paradigm shift that will move it beyond the logics and practices of disciplinary modernization. We need to step back once again and examine the limitations imposed on capital by the international proletariat and the noncapitalist environment that both made the transformation necessary and dictated its terms.
At the time of the First World War it seemed to many observers, and particularly to the Marxist theorists of imperialism, that the death knell had sounded and capital had reached the threshold of a fatal disaster. Capitalism had pursued decades-long crusades of expansion, used up significant portions of the globe for its accumulation, and for the first time been forced to confront the limits of its frontiers. As these limits approached, imperialist powers inevitably found themselves in mortal conflict with one another. Capital depended on its outside, as Rosa Luxemburg said, on its noncapitalist environment, in order to realize and capitalize its surplus value and thus continue its cycles of accumulation. In the early twentieth century it appeared that the imperialist adventures of capitalist accumulation would soon deplete the surrounding noncapitalist nature and capital would starve to death. Everything outside the capitalist relation-be it human, animal, vegetable, or mineral-was seen from the perspective of capital and its expansion as nature.[17] The critique of capitalist imperialism thus expressed an ecological consciousness -ecological precisely insofar as it recognized the real limits of nature and the catastrophic consequences of its destruction.[18]
Well, as we write this book and the twentieth century draws to a close, capitalism is miraculously healthy, its accumulation more robust than ever. How can we reconcile this fact with the careful analyses of numerous Marxist authors at the beginning of the century who pointed to the imperialist conflicts as symptoms of an impending ecological disaster running up against the limits of nature? There are three ways we might approach this mystery of capital's continuing health. First, some claim that capital is no longer imperialist, that it has reformed, turned back the clock to its salad days of free competition, and developed a conservationist, ecological relationship with its noncapitalist environment. Even if theorists from Marx to Luxemburg had not demonstrated that such a process runs counter to the essence of capitalist accumulation itself, merely a cursory glance at contemporary global political economy should persuade anyone to dismiss this explanation out of hand. It is quite clear that capitalist expansion continued at an increasing pace in the latter halfof the twentieth century, opening new territories to the capitalist market and subsuming noncapitalist productive processes under the rule of capital.
A second hypothesis might be that the unforeseen persistence of capitalism involves simply a continuation of the same processes of expansion and accumulation that we analyzed earlier, only that the complete depletion of the environment was not yet imminent, and that the moment of conf ronting limits and of ecological disaster is still to come. The global resources of the noncapitalist environment have indeed proved to be vast. Although the so-called Green Revolution has subsumed within capitalism a large portion of the world's noncapitalist agriculture, and other modernization projects have incorporated new territories and civilizations into the cycle of capitalist accumulation, there still remain enormous (if, of course, limited) basins of labor power and material resources to be subsumed in capitalist production and potential sites for expanding markets. For example, the collapse of the socialist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, along with the opening of the Chinese economy in the post-Mao era, has provided global capital access to huge territories of noncapitalist environment-prefabricated for capitalist subsumption by years of socialist modernization. Even in regions already securely integrated into the world capitalist system, there are still ample opportunities for expansion. In other words, according to this second hypothesis, noncapitalist environments continue to be subsumed formally under capital's domain, and thus accumulation can still function at least in part through this formal subsumption: the prophets of capital's imminent doom were not wrong but merely spoke too early. The limitations of the noncapitalist environment, however, are real. Sooner or later the once abundant resources of nature will run out.
A third hypothesis, which may be seen as complementary to the second, is that today capital continues to accumulate through subsumption in a cycle of expanded reproduction, but that increasingly it subsumes not the noncapitalist environment but its own capitalist terrain-that is, that the subsumption is no longer formal but real. Capital no longer looks outside but rather inside its domain, and its expansion is thus intensive rather than extensive. This passage centers on a qualitative leap in the technological organization of capital. Previous stages of the industrial revolution introduced machine-made consumer goods and then machine-made machines, but now we find ourselves confronted with machine-made raw materials and foodstuffs-in short, machine-made nature and machine-made culture.[19] We might say, then, following Fredric Jameson, that postmodernization is the economic process that emerges when mechanical and industrial technologies have expanded to invest the entire world, when the modernization process is complete, and when the formal subsumption of the noncapitalist environment has reached its limit. Through the processes of modern technological transformation, all of nature has become capital, or at least has become subject to capital.[20] Whereas modern accumulation is based on the formal subsumption of the noncapitalist environment, postmodern accumulation relies on the real subsumption of the capitalist terrain itself. This seems to be the real capitalist response to the threat of "ecological disaster," a response that looks to the future.[21] The completion of the industrialization of society and nature, however, the completion of modernization, poses only the precondition for the passage to postmodernization and grasps the transformation only in negative terms, as post-. In the next section we will confront directly the real processes of postmodernization, or the informatization of production.
Assault on the Disciplinary Regime
To understand this passage more deeply, we have to touch somehow on its determinant foundation, which resides in the subjective transformations of labor power. In the period of crisis, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the expansion of welfare and the universalization of discipline in both the dominant and the subordinate countries created a new margin of freedom for the laboring multitude. In other words, workers made use of the disciplinary era, and above all its moments of dissent and its phases of political destabilization (such as the period of the Vietnam crisis), in order to expand the social powers of labor, increase the value of labor power, and redesign the set of needs and desires to which the wage and welfare had to respond. In Marx's terminology, one would say that the value of necessary labor had risen enormously-and of course most important from the perspective of capital, as necessary labor time increases, surplus labor time (and hence profit) decreases correspondingly. From the standpoint of the capitalist, the value of necessary labor appears as an objective economic quantity-the price of labor power, like the price of grain, oil, and other commodities- but really it is determined socially and is the index of a whole series of social struggles. The definition of the set of social needs, the quality of the time of non-work, the organization of family relationships, the accepted expectations of life are all in play and effectively represented by the costs of reproducing the worker. The enormous rise in the social wage (in terms of both working wages and welfare) during the period of crisis in the 1960s and 1970s resulted directly from the accumulation of social struggles on the terrain of reproduction, the terrain of non-work, the terrain of life.
The social struggles not only raised the costs of reproduction and the social wage (hence decreasing the rate of profit), but also and more important forced a change in the quality and nature of labor itself. Particularly in the dominant capitalist countries, where the margin of freedom afforded to and won by workers was greatest, the refusal of the disciplinary regime of the social factory was accompanied by a reevaluation of the social value of the entire set of productive activities. The disciplinary regime clearly no longer succeeded in containing the needs and desires of young people. The prospect of getting a job that guarantees regular and stable work for eight hours a day, fifty weeks a year, for an entire working life, the prospect of entering the normalized regime of the social factory, which had been a dream for many of their parents, now appeared as a kind of death. The mass refusal of the disciplinary regime, which took a variety of forms, was not only a negative expression but also a moment of creation, what Nietzsche calls a transvaluation of values.
The various forms of social contestation and experimentation all centered on a refusal to value the kind of fixed program of material production typical of the disciplinary regime, its mass factories, and its nuclear family structure.[22] The movements valued instead a more flexible dynamic of creativity and what might be considered more immaterial forms of production. From the standpoint of the traditional "political" segments of the U.S. movements of the 1960s, the various forms of cultural experimentation that blossomed with a vengeance during that period all appeared as a kind of distraction from the "real" political and economic struggles, but what they failed to see was that the "merely cultural" experimentation had very profound political and economic effects.
"Dropping out" was really a poor conception of what was going on in Haight-Ashbury and across the United States in the 1960s. The two essential operations were the refusal of the disciplinary regime and the experimentation with new forms of productivity. The refusal appeared in a wide variety of guises and proliferated in thousands of daily practices. It was the college student who experimented with LSD instead of looking for a job; it was the young woman who refused to get married and make a family; it was the "shiftless" African-American worker who moved on "CP" (colored people's) time, refusing work in every way possible.[23] The youth who refused the deadening repetition of the factory-society invented new forms of mobility and flexibility, new styles of living. Student movements forced a high social value to be accorded to knowledge and intellectual labor. Feminist movements that made clear the political content of "personal" relationships and refused patriarchal discipline raised the social value of what has traditionally been considered women's work, which involves a high content of affective or caring labor and centers on services necessary for social reproduction.[24] The entire panoply of movements and the entire emerging counterculture highlighted the social value of cooperation and communication. This massive transvaluation of the values of social production and production of new subjectivities opened the way for a powerful transformation of labor power. In the next section we will see in detail how the indexes of the value of the movements-mobility, flexibility, knowledge, communication, cooperation, the affective-would define the transformation of capitalist production in the subsequent decades.
The various analyses of "new social movements" have done a great service in insisting on the political importance of cultural movements against narrowly economic perspectives that minimize their significance.[25] These analyses, however, are extremely limited themselves because, just like the perspectives they oppose, they perpetuate narrow understandings of the economic and the cultural. Most important, they fail to recognize the profound economic power of the cultural movements, or really the increasing indistinguishability of economic and cultural phenomena. On the one hand, capitalist relations were expanding to subsume all aspects of social production and reproduction, the entire realm of life; and on the other hand, cultural relations were redefining production processes and economic structures of value. A regime of production, and above all a regime of the production of subjectivity, was being destroyed and another invented by the enormous accumulation of struggles.
These new circuits of the production of subjectivity, which were centered on the dramatic modifications of value and labor, were realized within and against the final period of the disciplinary organization of society. The movements anticipated the capitalist awareness of a need for a paradigm shift in production and dictated its form and nature. If the Vietnam War had not taken place, if there had not been worker and student revolts in the 1960s, if there had not been 1968 and the second wave of the women's movements, if there had not been the whole series of anti-imperialist struggles, capital would have been content to maintain its own arrangement of power, happy to have been saved the trouble of shifting the paradigm of production! It would have been content for several good reasons: because the natural limits of development served it well; because it was threatened by the development of immaterial labor; because it knew that the transversal mobility and hybridization of world labor power opened the potential for new crises and class conflicts on an order never before experienced. The restructuring of production, from Fordism to post-Fordism, from modernization to postmodernization, was anticipated by the rise of a new subjectivity.[26] The passage from the phase of perfecting the disciplinary regime to the successive phase of shifting the productive paradigm was driven from below, by a proletariat whose composition had already changed. Capital did not need to invent a new paradigm (even ifit were capable of doing so) because the truly creative moment had already taken place. Capital's problem was rather to dominate a new composition that had already been produced autonomously and defined within a new relationship to nature and labor, a relationship of autonomous production.
At this point the disciplinary system has become completely obsolete and must be left behind. Capital must accomplish a negative mirroring and an inversion of the new quality of labor power; it must adjust itself so as to be able to command once again. We suspect that for this reason the industrial and political forces that have relied most heavily and with the most intelligence on the extreme modernization of the disciplinary productive model (such as the major elements of Japanese and East Asian capital) are the ones that will suffer most severely in this passage. The only configurations of capital able to thrive in the new world will be those that adapt to and govern the new immaterial, cooperative, communicative, and affective composition of labor power.
The Death Throes of Soviet Discipline
Now that we have given a first approximation of the conditions and forms of the new paradigm, we want to examine briefly one gigantic subjective effect that the paradigm shift determined in the course of its movement: the collapse of the Soviet system. Our thesis, which we share with many scholars of the Soviet world,[27] is that the system went into crisis and fell apart because of its structural incapacity to go beyond the model of disciplinary governability, with respect to both its mode of production, which was Fordist and Taylorist, and its form of political command, which was Keynesian-socialist and thus simply modernizing internally and imperialist externally. This lack of flexibility in adapting its deployments of command and its productive apparatus to the changes of labor power exacerbated the difficulties of the transformation. The heavy bureaucracy of the Soviet state, inherited from a long period of intense modernization, placed Soviet power in an impossible position when it had to react to the new demands and desires that the globally emerging subjectivities expressed, first within the process of modernization and then at its outer limits.
The challenge of postmodernity was posed primarily not by the enemy powers but by the new subjectivity of labor power and its new intellectual and communicative composition. The regime, particularly in its illiberal aspects, was unable to respond adequately to these subjective demands. The system could have continued, and for a certain period did continue, to work on the basis of the model of disciplinary modernization, but it could not combine modernization with the new mobility and creativity of labor power, the fundamental conditions for breathing life into the new paradigm and its complex mechanisms. In the context of Star Wars, the nuclear arms race, and space exploration, the Soviet Union may still have been able to keep up with its adversaries from the technological and military point of view, but the system could not manage to sustain the competitive conflict on the subjective front. It could not compete, in other words, precisely where the real power conflicts were being played out, and it could not face the challenges of the comparative productivity of economic systems, because advanced technologies of communication and cybernetics are efficient only when they are rooted in subjectivity, or better, when they are animated by productive subjectivities. For the Soviet regime, managing the power of the new subjectivities was a matter of life and death.
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