Some Random Notes
Economic growth leads to the globalization of finance and the commodification of public or common space—including that of their previous gratuitous use. The territory, as the foundation of vast infrastructures (and also as the site of the second home, a space for recreation, tourism, nature preserve, garbage dump, logistical platform, energy production….) is being transformed into the key piece of the picture of total commodification.
The social question par excellence is not posed from the terrain of labor, since labor is secondary in the valorization process (in the conversion of a good into a commodity), but from that of the territory, because the construction of a suitable space is fundamental in the constitution of the global market. But this is also its weak point. The defense of territory directly challenges the nature of globalization and obstructs its functioning. It is therefore the main factor of the modern class struggle. The territorial struggle configures a new class, a proletarian class that is formed to the degree that it undergoes exclusion, to the extent that it dissolves this valorization process. To the degree that it does not consume, vote, or work for a wage; to the extent that it is self-sufficient, takes care of its own health and educates itself. To the extent that it adopts a rural existence, or even better, an existence that develops direct relations with the countryside, in which it creates a rural collective or forms bonds with one.
From the perspective of the countryside itself, or what remains of the countryside, the defense of territory does not constitute “a world”, a place of consciousness inhabited by a historical subject. The inhabitant of the countryside has lost his memory and he is therefore outside of history. This rural domain does not exist as a real territorial community within an abstract official space, in conflict with that official space. There was once such a community, but not anymore. The rural is today a subsidiary of the urban. It has, in a way, been urbanized. It must recreate itself in order to really exist and this can only be done by opposing urbanization, by de-urbanizing. Paradoxically, this does not mean the destruction of the urban domain, which has already been destroyed, but a return to the truly urban, to the agora. The anti-urbanizing struggle is just as much a struggle for the city as it is for the country.
The first contradiction of combat in defense of territory arises from the fact that the population is concentrated in conurbations or metropolitan areas, where social conflicts often take the form of labor struggles, within the economy but without questioning the economy. Labor power must compete with machinery, cost-cutting and efficiency, which is why the rate of exploitation can rise without the surplus value necessarily rising in tandem with it. This is the case because the “value added” to the commodity does not come from low wages, from over-exploitation, but from technology and hyper-mobility. The owners of labor power, the workers, are practically unnecessary as producers, but are necessary, and much more so, as consumers. On the one hand they tend to be expelled from the labor market, and then lose their class status; on the other, they tend to be integrated in consumption, and then are atomized and massified. This is why they no longer fight against exploitation, but against exclusion. Nor do they reject the consumerist lifestyle; they simply do not have any other choice than to strive to uphold it.
The labor conflict does not immediately transcend the dominant order, because it does not question domination, or the way of life under domination. It is an urban conflict entirely subject to the imperatives of the global economy. In the process of decomposition of mass society, which is an urban society, a multitude of labor conflicts and struggles of a similar kind take place (over pensions, social benefits, mortgage foreclosures, small investors….), each limited in scope, contingent, and incidental. By demanding something that is perfectly plausible in the framework of the system, they call upon the system to operate more efficiently, so that the burdens should be more equitably shared. The labor conflict does not lead to a solution outside the domain of labor. No organization, much less any community of struggle, is born from such a conflict. It is repetitive, rather than cumulative. It does not question the capitalist system, neither objectively nor subjectively, but appeals for a more comfortable position within it, with higher wages, secure labor contracts, shorter hours and better working conditions. All of this is quite legitimate, but if no action is taken against the system no class will be formed; the class is born in the struggle against the system. And the reverse is true; there is no real class struggle without a combative class, but such a class cannot exist without consciousness of itself. The labor conflict does not provide this consciousness. In general, without a previous rejection of the imposed conditions of life, without a will to separation, without a separation between “worlds”, no questioning is possible, nor is any consciousness that is worth anything. In view of the current industrial and financial conditions, today the exploited class is anti-developmentalist or else it is not a class. The concepts of commodity, poverty, wealth, exploitation, exclusion, class, etc., must be redefined from the perspective of anti-developmentalism.
The real critique of the industrial and financial regime first arose in the conurbation as a critique of everyday life (which is the critique of patriarchy and also an ecological critique), disconnected from any territorial base as well as from any base in the labor movement. This separation of praxis is a major problem that can only be overcome by way of the unification of globally anti-developmentalist theoretical critique with urban and territorial conflicts. The conscious factor for this unification is contributed by the irremediable nature of the conflict within the framework of the system. Only in this sense can defeats be victories.
The organizations, formal or informal, defensive or constructive, must set themselves short-term goals that transcend the limits of the system, in accordance with the appropriate strategic principles. In order to accomplish this, the real struggle is compelled to dispense with the institutions of integration such as parties, legalist associations and trade unions. It must also distrust social movements that do not question these institutions, and to make preparations against their supporters. It must adopt horizontal, assemblyist, anti-statist structures, countering the effects of particular mechanisms of obstruction and delegation. At the moment that this is accomplished, it will transform itself into a struggle for the anti-capitalist urban community.
The violence of this struggle does not determine its radicality; cunning is a hundred times more preferable. If it is not conducted for the purposes of self-defense, violence is nothing but an affirmation of impotence: impotence with regard to autonomous self-organization, impotence with regard to the discovery of effective means, impotence with regard to the ability to separate oneself from political and trade union conditioning; for not knowing where to shoot, or where one is going. In that case, it is an act of pure negation, devoid of creative passion. One system is rejected, but no other system is affirmed. Nothing can be built on pure negativity. In its worst form it is converted into an individualist esthetic and attempts to justify itself as such, going around in a circle and returning to the beginning. The rage of dissatisfaction cannot proceed on different roads than those of consciousness, which are the roads of everyday praxis. The answer cannot be separated from the objective and the latter cannot be limited to destruction.
The urban social struggle must attempt to assimilate the territorial problematic and see that the countryside and the metropolis are just different theaters of the same war. This confluence implies the assimilation of certain new critical elements associated with the formulation of a different kind of rights (rights to nutritious food, water, territory, free training, solidarity-based care and services, assembly, self-defense, etc.). It is not so much a matter of instituting a new legal code as of reinstating certain customary traditional liberties. The most obvious of the elements referred to above are the critique of consumerism and the critique of politics. The primary element is the critique of wage labor. Combining all of these critiques into one, the question of modern dispossession will be posed in a new way. Anti-developmentalism is one of its corollaries.
The new subject must find his space; he must make his space (his world), in the conurbation as well as the rural territory. This subject must desert the conurbation and either re-occupy the territory or else transform it into territory. Over the course of this desertion and this change, which will never take place without struggle (for territory, for the city), the subject will constitute itself as a class. But it will never be formed in the workplace, which is a non-place, but in the perspective of its abandonment. It will not be constructed in comfort, but amidst ruins.