A laughter that will bury you all : the antagonistic gesture of 'Autonomia' and 'Operaismo'

Carvalho, Luhuna (2020) A laughter that will bury you all : the antagonistic gesture of 'Autonomia' and 'Operaismo'. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Several contemporary critical currents, from post-operaismo to autonomist Marxism, report their conceptual lineage to the Italian political struggles of the 60s and 70s, a period known as the “long 68”. Operaismo’s famous claim of a political primacy and autonomy of the working class within the reproduction of capital is synthesized as the essential trope of the period’s legacy and set as the keystone for ulterior developments. While partially accurate, such assertion erases the complexity of the conceptual debate around the period’s intense antagonism. In different ways, operaismo, a theoretical current, and autonomia, an insurrectional social movement, sought to derive a theory of antagonism rather than establish a normative periodization of the transformations within the relations between capital and labour. This thesis reads such effort as an attempt to conceive a repertoire of forms of action and being within real subsumption. Within operaismo and autonomia, alongside the constituent claim of class primacy, a tentative theory of a destituent power is also to be found. It is the confrontation between these positions that will spell out the movement’s development and demise. This first part of the thesis addresses how the categories of refusal of labour, antagonism, and movement emerge out of the confrontation between Marx’s critique of political economy and the period’s autonomous struggles. The antinomies of Marx’s concept of labour are read as an open problematic from which operaismo grasps emerging repertoires of dissent: the refusal of labour as social form. Antonio Negri affirms this as the position from which to fully understand the Marxian critique of political economy as a theory of class antagonism. This effort, however, grounds Negri’s attempt to derive a political leadership to the burgeoning self-consciousness shown within the struggles themselves. The widespread generalization of the proto-insurrectional practices associated with the refusal of labour throughout the 70s unearths an assemblage of wildly contradictory positions and repertoires that coalesce around the attempts to build a common ontology of antagonism and refusal while refusing any process of institutionalization. The second part of this thesis looks at such ontology of refusal. While autonomia was seemingly split along “organized” and “creative” factions, in both we find a shared understanding of political action as an undoing of capital’s apparatuses of command. Giorgio Agamben’s work, a seemingly unlikely figure in this context, emerges as the most earnest attempt to deduct the categories of such undoing, an effort which reaches its apex in his theory of a destituent power. Going beyond the aporias of Agamben’s exposition of the problematic, the possibility of a “negative care” is found, of a common gesture of aid and antagonism that does not attempt to affirm any identity or method.

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