The geopolitics of struggle

by The Uninomade Collective

1. The fracture of European space. Everyone is looking for an exit strategy. The rhythm of transformations is accelerating and, at the same time, is breaking any linearity: financial governance looks more and more like a system of fragmented tools, attempts at stabilization that duly end up reaffirming the crisis’s constitutive turbulence. In this framework, the temptation to accept a simple cartographic role of the crisis, ignoring the complexities of the present, is quite strong. “Fragmentation” and “complexness” are indisputable facts of our present: the risk, however, is that these terms are transformed into a charmer’s mantra, both for theoretical practices and social struggles. The shrewdness of those who know how to navigate these dark waters must be combined – and not without a certain audaciousness – with an attempt to look further into the future, to identify the rupture lines where struggles live, to experiment with possible re-compositional tools, and to elaborate programmatic proposals. [1]

The recent elections in France, Greece, Germany and Italy give us elements to reflect upon and open these problems. The first: the “German model’s” hegemonic pretense and the undisputable assumption of austerity as the foundation of European policy have been severely damaged. We believe that this fact, viewed in all its complexity and in all its contradictions, will be reinforced after the results of the Greek vote. The victory of a fragile conservative-socialist coalition, a victory measured in the context of an international media pressure that went so far as to grotesquely paint Hellenic national-conservatives as a shining example of Europeanism and economic rigor, cannot hide the advance, if only on an electoral level, of forces that are assuming the challenge of a European space radically different from the one envisioned by financial governance. Even the very actors of that governance know it: it is no coincidence that, after having popped a few bottles of champagne to cries of “Greece has chosen!” – almost as if trying to exorcize the great fear that they must have felt – they soon returned to writing timid and heartfelt requests to the German Chancellor to ask she not “go too far”. The whole scenario is not looking so hot for the fundamentalists of the German model: the elections give us a Hollande that puts the Franco-German accord into crisis; Merkel herself weakened on the internal front an Italy’s disappearing PDL and Lega Nord but without the PD gaining anything from it. In this shifting panorama, the answer from at least a part of the establishment has been to sound off an appeal for “growth”. Good: we can recognize the end of the phase when austerity was the only fiercely repeated keyword; it is now considered over even by some of it’s own supporters. The idea that growth is a sort of “obligated” effect of austerity policies, the prize for the attack on welfare, salary cuts and further precariousness in labor relations no longer holds any water. Without any remorse, obviously.

The result, however much a tendency, is the fracturing of European space and is not easily remediable. Calls for growth are nothing other than a reassuring and “moderate” way of declaring the unsustainability of the European architecture centered around the “German model”. This model was founded on the presence of high productivity, low wages and cuts to welfare and was proposed, through the adoption of the Fiscal Compact, as a fundamental norm of the material European system, even up to the point of imposing, through the adoption of obligatory balanced budgets, forced modalities and timeframes for adjusting the formal constitutions in Europe. This attempt, a hegemonic affirmation over the whole of Europe that came faster than anyone could have imagined, is in overt crisis. Mind you, there is evidently no hope in the resources of European social democracies, long unable to propose alternatives facing the power of financial capital. But it would be an unforgiveable political shortsightedness to not immediately accept this fact: we are already moving inside a historical fracture of the model that the institutions of the European Union were constituted on. In a previous editorial, we identified the necessity of “taking Europe back”, the urgency of opening a European dimension of struggle: this urgency is evermore manifest now, when the attempt of a “revolution from above”, imposed by Germany with the adoption of the Fiscal Compact, has been revealed as impotent and has only accelerated the process of the deconstruction of European institutions.

At this point, any sovereign nostalgia would be unforgivable. The “Global May” was convincing but, above all, it demonstrated, at least potentially, decidedly translational modalities and languages. However, in Italy (with exception for the long-rooted NoTAV movement), recompositional paths of the disseminated forms of social conflict like the social strikes, occupations and student revolts in Spain and North America that reinforce the tendencies we have identified are struggling to take shape. Frankfurt’s Blockupy, then, represents an important gash in Germany’s presumed exceptionalism in the crisis, that up until now on an institutional level, has been reflected in social movements, going so far as to re-propose [for] German activists the clichés of internationalist solidarity with the struggles in southern Europe. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to say whether the assault on the ECB is the first step toward a common plan of political initiative and not, instead, the last phase of the previous counter-summit cycle. Maybe, more realistically and in a positively contradictory way, it is both of these things and it will depend on the strength of European and transnational struggles to answer these questions in the short- and medium-term.

What is certain is that the gap between the “national” fragmentation of social struggles and the breadth of the geopolitical space of transformation, despite these potentialities, still exists and should be addressed with determination by social movements: it cannot be bridged, as a few of the aspects of the Frankfurt mobilization gave glimpses of, by a simple recourse to a kind of internationalist “solidarity” with countries in the “weaker” zone. Above all, the extraordinary relevance of the Mediterranean, of its radical asymmetry in respect to the ordered “spatiality” dictated by European governance, has decidedly remerged. If, in fact, as everything would suggest, the fracture between the “German” Europe and the “Mediterranean” Europe is destined to widen, it is up to social movements to construct a veritable “geopolitics of struggle” that assumes the Mediterranean as a fundamental node for the radical redefinition of European space. The movement’s construction of the “European” exit strategy therefore returns to demand the urgent identification of ways to connect with Egyptian and Syrian struggles. The Mediterranean is now the place for the recomposition of class struggle against fundamentalisms and military establishments: in the decline of the institutional architectures of the old European Union, every possible reinvention of political European space passes precisely through the capacity of resounding these struggles across the banks of the Mediterranean. Therefore, the first point: the fracturing of old Europe versus a new “geographic imagination” implemented by social struggles.

2. The wealth of social struggles, the welfare of the common. However, the social struggles also tell us many things about the question of growth. Evidently, we must be cautious against assimilating struggles that exist in these very different contexts too quickly: heterogeneity, as we have often stressed, is a constitutive part of social struggles, just like the subjectivities, and living labor in general, are inescapable fields of action. Yet, a fundamental fact that unifies the struggles of the Occupy movement to those on the shores of the Mediterranean should be reiterated: we are facing struggles that express all of the true wealth and force of social cooperation. Austerity policies have produced desperation, sadness and a decidedly miserable “de-growth”, as Christian Marazzi noted a few days ago. On the contrary, inside all these struggles – from the Indignados to the Mediterranean “springs” – a wealth of the common and collective intelligence is expressed, a wealth that is clearly visible even to the sociological observation of the profiles of who animate the streets, the occupations, the experiments of resistance as well as active reappropriation in the crisis. Pieces of a rapidly proletarianizing middle class meet, in these movements, in the various forms of Occupy, with a proletariat bereaved of the prospects of social mobility: this meeting tears down the identitarian defenses of culture and creativity from the former while tearing down the nihilist risk of “no future” from the latter. The result frees both of them from sectorial isolation and depression from the crisis and allows for the manifestation of this new composition’s strengths despite its heterogeneity. The common is, in the end, this encounter. Certainly it is no smooth and lacking conflict, but it is this new language that permits us to express ourselves freely if –to use Marx’s words – we move without reminiscences, forgetting the original language.

It is precisely this wealth of the common that indicates an authentic exit strategy founded on the refusal of the call for sacrifices: social struggles, being rooted in a dense and articulated productive tissue, incarnate an authentic “critique of the political economy”, a clear critique of the “scarcity” postulate that has guided the sad science of the liberal economy and that continually remerges in penitential rhetoric, even on the Left. Still, the “social-democratic” renewal of the discourse of “growth” remains irremediably deaf to this wealth and, in the best of cases, is able to push for the timid revival of state planning. Today, every revival of “growth” must instead reckon with this evermore-visible fracture, between the strength of social cooperation and the impoverishment produced by the financial devices that capture the common. Every social-democratic or Keynesian hypothesis finds itself trapped in the insoluble contradiction between the short-terms of financial markets and the medium-to long-terms of coming out of austerity. The issue is how to reappropriate the terms of subjectivation, how to allow the force of this composition to directly bite into the political terrain, using and widening the spirals and interstices that are offered or allowed, for the moment, by anti-neoliberal policies.

The space that is opened in the crisis of the “German” model should thus be occupied without hesitation through addressing the question of the welfare of the common, a welfare that invests in the productive capacity of social cooperation. The reinvention of the European space goes hand in hand with the assumption of the terrain that is already driving experiences of struggle – even those, for example, that currently characterize Italy in this latest period, the experiences of reappropriating spaces (and times) that entertainment and cultural workers have recently undertaken and, more in general, the experiences of social movements that are fighting for access to the commons. From this point of view, the urgency lies in overcoming the evident difference between the cooperative wealth expressed by social struggles and their fragmentation, accepting the permanent risk of incapacitating setbacks into sectorial and corporative attitudes: the welfare of the common, from basic income to the access to resources and services, is the terrain on which social struggles can recompose today and, at the same time, challenge the timid calls for “growth” in the crisis in a very concrete way.

3. Either the common or resentment. The affirmation of “populist” forces, the second important electoral result next to the evident crisis of strategies based on austerity fundamentalism, should evidently be collocated on this level, in the tension between the force of cooperation that is expressed in social struggles and the immiseration produced by the strategies of financial governance. The risk of the subjectivities that compose this wealth falling back into corporative isolation or deep envy, through an overzealous sense of justice or “meritocratic” ideological expressions, is constant. Leaving aside the vagueness of the term “populism” that, having completely lost its noble historical roots, does not explain phenomena that are sometimes juxtaposed and, in any case, irreducible to homogenous interpretations. Instead, we should try to put the process back on its feet taking, only as an example (and not because it has a central tendency), the 5 Star Movement [M5S] (and, let us mention, that it is something very different than France’s rightwing Front National or Greece’s neo-Fascist Golden Dawn). [2]

On the other hand, when the stink of national unity is in the air, sanctified by the “guardian of the constitution” President Napolitano, it is always a good rule to take another route and substitute anathema with longer strides in research.

It serves little to center the interpretation on Beppe Grillo and rather not ponder over the composition of the M5S or those who support it: it is even less useful to raise the specter of “anti-politics”, where the “precious” autonomy of politics defending itself from barbaric anti-politics, is merely party politics and representation. If we flip our point of observation, it is not difficult to see how – inside a decidedly variegated and heterogeneous vote that collects the run-off from both the Left and the Right alike – we also find sectors of the M5S constituted by highly educated youth who do not find a correspondence between their degrees and a position in the labor market. In brief, next to the various deluded social categories and those most hurt by the crisis in different ways, labeled as “protestors” or “neopopulist” in these movements, there is always an interesting presence of a first generation cognitive precariat, including portions of “entrepreneurs” and autonomous labor that forcefully express the end of cognitive capitalism’s progressive promises. A part is fed up with or, in any case, not attracted to the Left: clown for clown, they vote for the newest one instead of the older ones. Inside the structural crisis of representation, they react to the processes of precariousness and declassing by calling for meritocracy or expressing anti-caste bitterness.

It can be easily demonstrated how this is really about mystification, or attacking Grillo and his firebrand demagoguery head on: it is analytically correct and, maybe, will even turn out useful as “Grillism” becomes, little by little, government. But the problem with movements like M5S or the European “Pirate Party” has to do with this social composition in the crisis. First of all, we must understand that their ambiguities are the significant ambiguities of social composition: it is urgent to invent tools so that this composition expresses itself on the political terrain of reappropriating the common rather than limiting itself to depreciating the irresistible tendency to fall into sad passions. We have been dealing with this composition since the Anomalous Student Wave, when it was clear that, in abandoning the generalizing and recompositional force of the common (maybe to take refuge in the defense of the “public”, or simply the face of the institutional caste), black holes of overzealous calls for justice, resentment and populism opened up. The political point that interests us is: how can a composition similar to, at least in part, the ones in Spain or the US who are discovering the common through the acampadas and the Occupy movement be pushed to activate analogous experiences here in Italy, avoiding the exhaustion that, shortly, will end in bitterness or desperation? Besides, without exaggerating too much, M5S activists are also part of the NoTAV movement and push hegemonic discourses: if they are brought onto the solid ground of the recomposition of the common, these ambiguities can always be dissolved in a happily unpredictable way.

The alarm for the advance of Le Pen’s extreme rightwing and the Greek neo-Nazis cannot force us to retreat to the terrain of frontism because, in the polarization that the crisis produces, it is precisely this terrain – characterized, once again, by representative alliances – that is inexorably worn away. It is not about playing down the danger or lowering our guard, anything but: the point is that these nationalist and reactionary forces, just like the poison of an overzealous sense of justice and meritocracy, are only defeated by raising the stakes and moving ahead, i.e. to a European level and through the affirmation of the common. Once again, judging by the social struggles, at least a partial change in this direction is emerging while facing the dissolution of Europe as a political subject. Even the forces on the left that are emerging electorally support it or, in any case, are addressing these issues (this is the case of Syriza, in contrast to the Greek Communist Party). Therefore, social movements are presented with opportunities. This is a necessary, but certainly not sufficient condition, not exclusively because the forces that contrast it, as the latest events in Greece remind us, are many and anything but defeated, but above all because it is only the capacity to construct a common organizational dimension that will be able to conquer the continental space of action, i.e. imagining and practicing the geopolitics of struggle, an urgent and indispensable passage.

4. The currency of the common. Therefore: the common – in its non-sovereign and non-state dimension and, at the same time, as the welfare of the common, as growth rooted in the wealth of social cooperation – is both the recompositional terrain and the exit strategy for social struggles. A strategy that inserts, immediately, a third urgent point: currency. The principal institutions of the Europe of the past risk coming out of the crisis with broken bones from this fragmentation. But even here, in extreme synthesis, the defensive closure and the nostalgia for national currencies, although comprehensible as “resistance”, are not the terms that social struggles should use, both for the “potential” transnational dimension of social movements and for the social wealth that they express. A new direction can, however, be traced: the question of currency is wholly inside the struggle for the welfare of the common. It is a question of the reappropration of measure by social cooperation itself that the failure of the Euro as “measure” of financial governance renders urgent. A “common currency” is, in this sense, a clear alternative both to currency as an expression of financial accumulation as well as for the nostalgia for currency as an expression of the power of national sovereignty. It is an open field of experimentation but one that can construct a powerful tool against the fragmentation of social struggles and that could also create a space of theoretical and programmatic invention that connects the question of currency with that of “another” growth. We must avoid a conception of currency that ends up being articulated as a mere identification of another improbable mechanism for stabilizing economic exchange.

[Thank you Sandro Mezzadra and the editors of Uninomade for permission to post this here]


[1] This article was first published at Uninomade 2.0 and translated by Jason Francis McGimsey.

[2] The “Movimento 5 stelle” is a relatively new “populist” political party that has recently won over 20% of the Italian electorate. Its leader is the comedian Beppe Grillo.