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Pandemic and beyond - From the crisis of the welfare state to Commonfare as a horizon
I- Pandemic.
Within a few days the government suspended all movement on public roads, except for essential
activities, closed schools, universities and public offices, while the national authorities imposed
a lock out of commercial businesses and factories. At the same time, we have been confined to
our homes for weeks now. Police control is spreading everywhere. The state coercion, which is
a violation of the freedom of movement, is not for reasons of political unrest, but for health
reasons. However, the lex Mercatorian ends up overriding this provision when, at the same
time, it authorizes all export-related operations in order to guarantee the accumulation of capital.
This virus has turned the other into a social risk, while threatening to collapse the health system,
where only 30% of the population is treated in a deteriorated and insufficient public system. In
the meantime, social control imposed from above is spreading, as is the case of cyber patrols of
the networks, from the Ministry of National Security, and our social relations are mediatized
through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. While social networks, the media and
politicians in general invite the population to stay at home through hashtags, declarations and
decrees, business associations such as the UIA, CAME and the owners of industries and
companies put pressure in various ways to get out of quarantine and start up their factories and
businesses. The government acts legitimised by a "scientific technical committee" while
drastically restricting that fundamental elementary freedom, the freedom of movement and
movement of the body. The Supreme Court, for its part, says nothing about this flagrant
violation of the republican constitution. When science becomes the foundation of truth, it ends
up playing the role that previously belonged to religion, turning into vulgar scientism or
economistic biologism. The humblest of those who work in direct contact with people, to limit
and alleviate their suffering, have an experience of the ongoing pandemic that those who work
only with numbers and virtuality lack. Clearly, while the government gives the committee of
technicians and epidemiologists decisive influence, politics no longer seems to manage society.
Suffice it to recall that the impact of the quarantine and spread of the epidemic is not the same
for everyone, acquiring a class character. What the pandemic crisis makes transparent are the
deficiencies, biases and unequal constitutive process of substitution of public health by private
health, which started a few years ago and has been maintained by the last governments. One
wonders, "How do you discuss and resolve the self-quarantine of a person who shares a small
room with a dirt floor with 6 or 8 people in the slums? How do you advise the "social,
preventive and obligatory distancing" of a cartonero or a person who lives on a handout? How
do you tell one of the many inhabitants of the slums of the conurbano, who struggles for one
meal a day, to prioritize hand disinfectants? While these are post-colonial questions, they are
nonetheless crucial to the picture of disease management. In urban slums, the big question is
about what kind of public health measures are applied there and finding affordable alternatives,
i.e., hand sanitizer. Already, blockades and home-based work will force thousands of informal
workers to lose their daily wages. The families of daily wage earners will be pushed back into
poverty. However, if this is a war, as we are repeatedly told, and just like a war, the virus does
not discriminate, it is society and the system of social organization that does. This is where the
virus, the unheralded producer of a total social fact, does its good work in questioning the
legitimacy of the inequalities that structure the division of labour, social security or public
services. Because, in retrospect, a hospital is not a company.
Homes are not safe places for many women in the face of increasing domestic violence, while
abuse and feminicide are on the rise. Hence the concern of the feminist movement to organise
the defence of women at risk during quarantine.
However, we also know that neither governmental desires, the epidemic nor the unique times
we live in are capable of banishing politics from social life. We are far from the reign of
techniques and police control. We live in times where proposals, however radical they may be,
can suddenly become part of common sense. It is not possible to know what will be the next
step and how the emergency will transform the standards of the social and political order. But
2
we are sure that this change will take place and that there is a big space for politics, even under
conditions where it is not possible to go out on the streets, gather and protest.
Our society has mutated drastically in the last twenty years: formal and dependent work is no
longer the model, but a multiplicity of precarious, self-employed, informal, intermittent jobs
where discontinuous unemployment and immigrant workers now shape a new social
composition, excluded from the traditional social safety nets of the welfare state. It is not only
about the services associated with welfare state. The income linked to the imposed lock out
evaporates, and with it the possibilities of paying rents, bills, utilities, credits, etc.
In addition, although the government provided an Emergency Family Income (IFE) of 10,000
pesos as extraordinary aid to class A and B single-taxpayers (more than 8 million beneficiaries),
the provision of a credit portfolio to SMEs for the payment of salaries at interest rates of 24%
and postponements in the payment of public services, the situation is so catastrophic that these
measures will not be enough. After long years of budget cuts in the public health system, any
increase allocated to it will be insufficient. The health emergency comes on top of the job
insecurity and the hurricane that has hit informal work. Moreover, the extraordinary expansion
of the social safety net promoted by the government will leave many variants of workers by the
wayside: some domestic workers, some in the informal economy and many others in the folds
of precarious work.
The IMF in its latest report, The Great Lockdown
1
, estimates for our country a fall of close to
6% of GDP this year and unemployment of 11%. It forecasts a fall of 3% of GDP globally and
6% for the advanced economies. CEPAL forecasts for Latin America the worst economic
contraction in its history, more than 5%, higher than that of 1930 and 1914. We are facing a
unique, different crisis of capitalism: a global production crash forced from above, the result of
the outbreak of a health crisis and which, unlike the 2008 crisis, has repercussions on the world
stock markets. Now the path is reversed: from real production to the financial system. A
simultaneous crisis of supply and demand for goods, aggravated by geographical simultaneity.
As if it were an open political crisis or a war, uncertainty dominates both the duration and the
intensity of the shock. At the same time, the crisis being a consequence of the blockage of
production, it is more difficult to appeal to demand stimulation as a response.
We hear left and right that the world to come will not be as it was before. That enormous
changes are taking place, which are difficult to pinpoint and determine today. We do not know
if it will be a long transition, but we do know that it will be built on current social and economic
trends. The need for a return to normal times is spreading socially. However, as Naomi Klein
reminds us, "normality is deadly. 'Normality' is an immense crisis. We need to catalyse a
massive transformation to an economy based on the protection of life"
2
. Naomi Klein speaks of
a return to the previous normal, i.e., the crisis period of neoliberalism. Everything seems to
indicate that we are facing a worldwide event, never experienced before and in such a
globalized way. Which is more than the political generalization of the state of exception, as
proposed by G. Agamben
3
; the necessary overcoming of capitalism, S. Zizek
4
; the need to
show the failure of neoliberalism behind a minimal state, which leaves the health of the people
in the hands of the market and private capital, the signs of the exhaustion of modernity, as the
last stage of the Anthropocene, towards a new age of the world, Trans modernity, as Enrique
Dussel states
5
, or so many other very interesting readings.
Everything indicates that a long transition out of the pandemic awaits us in the framework of the
crisis of some core aspects of neoliberalism, where public health is now recognized as a
common good and public spending appears as an indispensable lever for capital. We have no
1
International Monetary Fund, World Economy Outlook, Chapter One, The Great Lockdown, Abril
2020.
2
N. Klein, “La gente habla sobre cuando se volverá a la normalidad, pero la normalidad era la crisis”,
entrevista de A. Lujan, D. Moreno, 1-04-2020.
3
G. Agamben, L’épidémie montre clairement que l’état d’exception este devenue la condition normal, Le
Monde, 24-03-2020.
4
S. Zizek, Un golpe tipo “Bill Kid” al capitalismo, https://ctxt.es/es/20200302/Firmas/31443/Slavoj-
Zizek-coronavirus-virus-sistema-Orban-comunismo-liberalismo.htm 20-03-2020.
5
E. Dussel, Cuando la naturaleza jaquea la orgullosa modernidad, La Jornada, México, 4 de abril 2020.
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answers to many questions about the capitalism to come: what about the underground
tendencies, as well as about authoritarianism and social control, mounted on cyber patrolling
and/or data management? How effective will a politics of terror and fear based on the discourse
of war, when today the virus appears as the enemy, and tomorrow the system will designate a
different one? This crisis, which is deconstructing the global productive map, may also mortally
wound the idea of a globalization centered on connectivity. What could be the future of the One
Belt-One Road Project, globalization in Chinese style?
But we also have some certainties. The question about what post-pandemic capitalism will be
like, dismisses Zizek's utopian idea of the end of capitalism due to the CVD-19 pandemic. The
idea that the virus will bring down capitalism seems to us to be nonsensical. There will be no
construction of a new social order without the resistance and struggle of the oppressed, without
the intensification of the antagonisms internal to capitalism. In short, without the extension and
predominance of new forms of production, of a new mode of production, centred on the
potential autonomy of the cooperation of cognitive labour and the self-government of
production. It is about imagining a new economic and social order articulated on a completely
different hierarchy between the common, the public and the private.
As in fairy tales, the imaginary monster is not always the real enemy. As the pandemic
continues, the political debate about the "after" is rekindled. An "after" that, for now, it is clear,
does not end with the pandemic, but with the pandemic in progress, with the infection and death
curve a little flattened. With the prospect, moreover, of a sinuous tendency of this curve, which
could increase again, after the attenuation of social distancing, the resumption of work and with
the autumn-winter in progress. "After" means not only the gradual restart of production and
services, but also emergency measures for transition and the implementation of a post-pandemic
economic plan, which today is off the horizon.
Today's and tomorrow's crises are social phenomena that cannot be naturalized under the
pompous name of a humanitarian "war" against the pandemic. Things are much more complex
when society is not socially homogeneous and classes and governments use the pandemic in
various ways. Thus, Viktor Orbán magnifies the epidemic danger in Hungary to legitimize a
virtual coup d'état, while Putin, Trump and Xi Jinping do it in a way more appropriate to their
imperial role. There is no metaphysical state of exception, but experiments in the preservation
of power based on the spread of fear and terror, against which we will have to fight with
persistent resistance. The war and the enemy remain the same as in normal times.
The globalization of the last decades has accelerated our time, transforming it into an endless
period of work (where sometimes not even two jobs are enough to make ends meet) - towards
growth, GDP, unbridled consumption, unnecessary entertainment, digital hyper-speed. But will
the Corona virus of this indefinable 2020 be enough to modify all these plans and lead us to a
new world to come?
The authoritarian becoming of the pandemic....
How are those who govern us behaving towards the society that has delegated political
representation to them? Everything indicates that they are dragging us towards an unbridled
authoritarianism and that a social life awaits us where our movements and ideas will be
controlled. Through the GPS of mobile phones, by means of cameras strategically distributed in
public spaces and streets, it will be possible to determine whether we really respect the rules of
social distancing. All this with a discourse where we will initially be told that this data
collection will respect anonymity and that it will be carried out "only" to understand mass
behaviour. Then come the individual sanctions. Those above a certain age will have to stay at
home or go to the doctor or pharmacy at most, with prior notice; only those with an essential job
and also with prior permission, will be able to move around the city or take a plane. If we have a
fever, a sensor will show it and communicate it directly to the person who processes the
complete image of our profile. Individual biometric data, data on our movement, data on our
economic situation, data on our sleep and leisure time, will transform society and the way it is
managed, highlighting the social areas to support and those to sacrifice. This is what can await
us after Covid-19. The control society taken to its 21st century expression: Is this not the major
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desire of states and markets to reorganize the crisis and post-crisis, or the permanent crisis? It is
the collection of data, this big data, which allows society to be managed. And this data, in order
to minimize risks, must be as accurate and precise as possible. Risk for whom? For the market,
growth and productivity. If there are too many sick people, then assembly lines and social
cooperation will offer gaps in their course, affecting growth and expected social productivity. If
discontent is growing, then the danger is potential unrest and helicopter money
6
will need to be
put into operation, albeit temporarily. These are measures that, even if they are described as
social aid, are inscribed in a private logic, they support the private economy, avoiding overflows
and outbursts. Even the Financial Times itself sees it favourably that, in times of war, in order to
avoid the contraction of economic activity and to avoid depression, public debt should be used
to support work, banks, private companies, even in extreme forms.
Michel Foucault
7
, in describing the functioning of Bentham's panopticon in the 18th century in
the face of the spread of the plague, revealed the measures to be taken, at that time, if the plague
visited a city: "More than the massive and binary division between the ones and the others, [the
plague] calls for multiple separations, individualizing distributions, an in-depth organization of
surveillance and control, an intensification and a ramification of power"
8
. In Foucault's words,
"Everyone, in his place, is securely locked up in a cell where he is seen from the front by the
watchman; but the side walls prevent him from coming into contact with his companions.
9
Surveillance was based on a system of permanent recording and reporting: reports of
observations during the course of visits: deaths, illnesses, complaints and irregularities. In our
times, we can now speak of societies of control, of biopower over life, of a coronopticon in
operation, as published in the pages of The Economist
10
. Where the surveillance of capital over
our bodies has gone from behaviour and intentions to control and information about our bodies,
a true digital panopticon based on the internal knowledge of our bodies: body temperature,
viruses, bacteria, etc., where each body is identified with a QR code and a specific colour that
indicates its state of health. With the epidemic, therefore, mobile device-based applications have
rapidly and impulsively become part of the inter-operational field of technologies and networks
on citizens, which was once defined by G. Griziotti as biohypermedia
11
, where state and
financial power machines already exert a strong hegemony. The use of the smartphone as an
element of survival seems to be a decisive step towards greater control. The Google-Apple deal
is another step in the rise of Silicon Valley & C. to global power. The multinationals of platform
capitalism have a habit of directly intervening in global governance with their applications used
by billions of users
12
.
We are faced with a combination-superposition of demodées surveillance measures, typical of
feudalism - quarantines - with others that are truly coherent and typical of times when societies
of control reign. The attempts of neoliberalism, of modern capitalism, are not limited to
sweetening subjectivities with mercantile consumption, but now propose to advance towards
new stages of domination.
6
A type of monetary stimulus of last resort, which involves printing large sums of money and distributing
it to the public to encourage people to spend more and thus boost the economy. This is known as putting
money in people's pockets. It was M. Friedman who coined this name in 1960, describing, through a
metaphor, the inflationary effect of throwing money from helicopters at citizens.
7
M. Foucault, Vigilar y castigar, Bs. As. Siglo XXI, 1976.
8
Ibídem, p. 120.
9
Ibídem, p. 121.
10
C. Marazzi, Commonware.org Interview of G. Molinari, S. Cominu, “Tra emergenza e coronopticon.
Tendenze e contraddizioni del capitalismo in crisi”,
http://www.commonware.org/index.php/neetwork/940-tra-emergenza-e-coronopticon-tendenze-e-
contraddizioni-del-capitalismo-in-crisi 6-04-2020.
11
G. Griziotti, Neurocapitalismo-Mediazioni technologiche e linee di fuga, Milan, Mimesis, 2016.
Biohypermedia is the area of interaction and integration of ICT with the sphere of life. This is realised by
combining the two great recent techno-logical revolutions; the internet and mobile cellular telephony.
p.121.
12
G. Griziotti, COVID-19 e human tracking, effimera.org. http://effimera.org/covid-19-e-human-
tracking-di-giorgio-griziotti-1/
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However, as we know that this crisis does not originate in the banks but in the real economy, the
reaction will probably not mean that finance capital will try to move in to vampirish welfare and
labour conditions, but that we face something as pejorative as this: a possible control, direct and
selective, over populations and resources. That making live and letting die in action. The power
to manage life instead of the power to dispose of life. An attempt by capital, which, in
conceiving the factory society, persists in extracting value from our lives and resources in order
to accumulate profits.
We are facing a real threat of unprecedented authoritarian exercise. For G. Agamben "the
current health emergency can be seen as the laboratory in which the new political and social
structures awaiting humanity are being prepared"
13
. While he wonders whether "social
distancing" - as this has been called with a striking euphemism - will be the new organising
principle of society"
14
. For Bifo, "We could emerge under the conditions of a perfect techno-
totalitarian state"
15
. Finally, for Zibechi, militarism, fascism and the technologies of
population control are powerful enemies that, together, can do us immense harm, to the point
that they can reverse the developments that have been woven into the fabric of the movements
since the previous crisis
16
.
And at this moment the point is not simply to behave well and obey all the rules of social
distancing, but to understand which political model is functional to these rules. Or, what other
attempt is it possible to imagine, beyond that which ends up minimising the loss of life, to
guarantee the social economic model that led us to this crisis? In these times of confinement, we
must assume that the other (the population over 70) is not something to be controlled by fear
and terror, but someone to be understood. When Donna Haraway says that only from some
concepts can we think of other concepts, she suggests that everything is in a "specific
relationship". Now more than ever our task is to maintain this understanding of responsiveness.
.... and racialisation.
The response of power to CoViD-19 brings us back to that distinction Foucault made between
the leper and his separation, and the plague and its segmentation, "The one [leprosy] is marked;
the other [the plague], analysed and distributed"
17
, only in this case one is based on the other.
Exclusion, separation, identification, confinement: all must be deployed interchangeably, or all
at once to immobilise a city, to gain control of all individual bodies, because that is how the
spread of the Corona virus will be stopped. The image of the leper "cut off from all human
contact" and that of the people of the city segmented and interned, accounts for the two
elements of a mixed strategy of exclusion. We need not dwell on this point, but pay direct
attention to the profound relations between this strategy of exclusion and the production of race.
The operation of the exclusion strategy is rooted in the way affected communities and
population groups participate in the identification and exclusion of potential victims of the
disease. To defend the community, vigilantes build barriers, patrol cities to keep out outsiders,
and thus function as the inner perimeter of a community, be it a slum settlement, a city
neighbourhood, town, clan or the nation itself. But does race not originate in the obligation to
defend a society, an externalisation of the dynamics of conquest and its oppression? Illness
highlights this reality.
We must face the question posed by the return of race, caste and class in this war against Covid-
19. We ask: if population management to control disease is the essence of the biopolitics of our
time, can we think of a different form of biopolitics, one that does not segregate populations
13
G. Agamben, El distanciamiento social, https://lavoragine.net/distanciamiento-social-agamben/
14
G. Agamben, Una pregunta, https://lavoragine.net/una-pregunta-giorgio-agamben/
15
F. Berardi Bifo, Crónica de la posdeflación, Mundo Nuestro,
19/3/20, http://mundonuestro.mx/index.php/ autores/item/2303-franco-berardi-bifo- cronica-de-la-
psicodeflacion
16
R. Zibechi, A las puertas de un nuevo orden mundial,
https://www.elsaltodiario.com/coronavirus/geopolitica-china-estados-unidos-union-europea-a-toda-
velocidad-hacia-el-caos-sistemico
17
Ibídem, p. 120.
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along lines of caste, race or occupation, but one that thinks of society in a different way and
addresses the task, "How can the whole of society be defended?" Of course, this requires a new
kind of social power, a new republican authority built on the sans culottes of society where trust
appears crucial. Just as patients trust doctors, which is why patients follow medical
prescriptions, society must put aside all distrust behind the construction of a new biopolitics.
Biopolitics from below, if one can use that rather awkward phrase, which allows us to formulate
the question differently: can we imagine a society based on collective practices to assist the
health of populations, including large-scale behavioural modifications, without a large-scale
expansion of forms of coercion and surveillance? What will the collective "self-care" mean in
such circumstances, an alternative politics of life? Can we ask this question if workers are
forced to choose between life and livelihood? What is the meaning of self-care, if it leaves aside
caring for each other as a basic principle of solidarity? A new biopolitics means protecting and
caring for those who initially care for us, health workers, logistics workers, supermarkets and
producers of food, medicine, electricity, connectivity etc. It means self-organisation, as a first
condition for producing a new public power.
In the meantime, the course of the crisis will operate directly, as it already does, by lowering
wages (work suspensions recognise only 70% of wages) and making working conditions more
flexible (work shifts are being modified, while home work is being implemented), that is to say,
making the workforce more precarious. On the social horizon, the possibility of direct selective
control over populations and resources is looming on the horizon. Financial activity will no
longer be enough: what capital will need is a designed extermination of lives and control over
resources.
II- Pre-pandemic socio-economic transformations. The common as a new capitalist social
space.
A new kind of capitalism.
Without falling into the teleology of the event, synthesised in the idea that "nothing will be like
before", or in the nostalgia for the past, which takes shape in the desire that "we must return to
normality as soon as possible", the truth is that the future to be built depends strongly on some
anticipations of the present: how to decide under a state of emergency, which refers us to the
political environment; what economic policies to adopt and how to sustain them, which directs
us to the economic space; how we want to live in a pandemic that sends us into social drifts.
Undoubtedly, this comprehensive anticipatory desire will condition new balances and
hierarchies, and direct transformations and conflicts. Although we must recognise that the how
is difficult to predict. The apocalyptic character of the pandemic lies not in the end of
something, be it the human species, capitalism or the form it takes as neoliberalism. But in its
capacity to reveal features and contradictions of the world we live in: from the dominant role of
digital technologies, to the centrality of flows; from the effects of the socially devastating
policies of adjustment and austerity, to the fracturing of the project of globalisation. The impact
of the virus and related health emergency management measures are drivers of the present far-
reaching recession in the real economy and radical changes in our lifestyles. Where people's
health seems to be the supreme law in force, the principle around which the perimeter of social
and political spaces is redefined, while social reproduction is at stake in the fight against the
pandemic.
But the pandemic, like the 2008 recession, does not unfold in a neutral context, but within
precise historical and social coordinates that shape both the phenomenon and its consequences.
As before, neoliberalism is questioned as a total project (not only economic, but also political,
cultural and social) hegemonic in the construction of these social-historical coordinates. This
does not mean that we are witnessing the end of the neoliberal project or even of capitalism.
Rather, an extremely uncertain phase seems to have opened up before us, the results of which
are far from obvious. And for this reason, it is important to develop transformative thinking
about our present, not only to understand the knots around which the state of affairs we are
experiencing is defined, but also to act on it.
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While neoliberalism postulates the immutable nature of the free market, competition and the
individual owner, the social Darwinism of the sovereign and racist right strips this anthropology
of the promises of future prosperity and transforms competition into a civil war between
identities. In both cases, the present state of affairs is not in question, but only a different way of
relating to it. In both cases, political action is the privilege of a few, in one case of economic
technicians and in the other of populist leaders.
What about critical thinking understood as movement thinking that transforms the present state
of affairs? What politics can we imagine at the moment of pandemic? Do we have to resign
ourselves to accepting further cuts in welfare and labour market reforms with the promise that
once the debts are paid off there will be wealth for all? Or should we give in to the crude vision
of a world for the few, of death yours and life mine, with fewer rights and more social control?
Or are there other scenarios to imagine and explore?
Entering the current emergency within a specific context means, first of all, reflecting on some
long-term structural processes and how they come into play to define the current situation. The
pandemic, measures to combat contagion for the protection of health, its impact on the economy
and society: in all these cases, the pairs life/death, health/work, reproduction/production become
the axes around which political discourse is reformulated. But how do we situate these
categories within the neoliberal project in which we all live? Looking at the near past of our
present means, at the same time, asking ourselves what directions the events we are
experiencing may take; it means imagining which trends may undergo an acceleration and,
conversely, a reversal; it means identifying what is the battlefield and which players on the
field. The seriousness of the pandemic crisis goes beyond the impact it will have on the
economy: it is revealed by its transversal and pervasive character
18
.
For those of us who maintain the existence of substantive changes in the social composition of
our societies, it is undeniable that the crisis has brought us face to face with an emergency,
opening the doors to the possibility of a change in the philosophy, discussion and
implementation of some economic and social ideas, breaking with consolidated thinking about
the devices of social and economic control. In this sense, a first question arises: What are the
factors that have triggered the health emergency, and can we really argue that it is a shock
external to the capitalist system, originating in the transmission of a virus that has mutated?
It seems unquestionable to propose that the capitalist crisis of 2007-2008 was an internal crisis
of the capitalist system, insofar as the financial market - arguably the engine of the capital
valorisation process - revealed, in a forceful way, the weaknesses of the system. The current
crisis, we are told, is different. It is not comparable. It would be expressing a crash, an external
shock, with no warning to deal with it. However, this is a simplifying response that operates as a
balsam, in the face of the magnitude of the crisis we are facing, without being really true. In
reality, according to the experts, it is the mutation of a virus, a zoonosis, in the face of which
human activity cannot be considered exempt or indifferent. Mutations in nature are not neutral,
they do not occur occasionally, but always depend on human behaviour and actions. We are in
the presence of a phenomenon that is part of the transition from the anthropocene to the
capitolocene. Under the capitalocene, man's dream is to manifest his omnipotence over nature,
to the point of developing truly despotic anti-natural forces, capable of generating effects of
scarcity and/or calamity. What has matured in capitalism, which has made natural and artificial
production levers for valorisation,
is the assumption that as man dominates artificial production, which is presented as a transition
from the natural to the artificial, he could also dominate nature. This is simply a counterfactual
assumption. This fantasy has generated a series of known effects: the increase in the average
temperature of the earth, climate change, the ozone hole, etc., and even genetic transformation,
in a context where, since 2004, the writing of the genome has been achieved. What did this
discovery mean? The revelation of the writing of the alphabet of life, because the writing of the
genome, i.e., the deciphering of DNA, made it possible from that moment on to create living,
living matter artificially. We are now at a stage where it is claimed that artificial production can
18
B. Quattrocchi, P. Scanga, Il virus e il terremoto sotto il pavé della finanza, Dinamopress,
https://www.dinamopress.it/news/virus-terremoto-pave-della-finanza/
8
control natural production. In other words, we have entered the stage of creating living material
from artificial material. This is an epochal change, similar to the answer cemented by the
Russian Mendeliev in 1865, who, by discovering the alphabet of physical matter, was able to
construct his table of elements
19
. This was a true revolution in the physics of materials that
would enable the manufacture of polymers, synthetic fibres and plastics, which would devastate
nature in a few years' time.
It is not an epidemic reminiscent of other epidemics, but one that leads us to human action
guided today by the capitalist need to achieve a process of commodification of life. Therefore,
the current pandemic cannot simply be blamed on an external crisis.
What the Covid-19 crisis shows us very starkly is that the power of global capitalism is based
on the existence of large social spaces of economic, social, material and health precariousness.
This is not only individual precariousness but also structural precariousness, because it affects
the state of public health services globally. Faced with this scenario, the most widespread
political response that transcends all geographies is the return of state interventionism in its
different facets. The thinking of the global political mainstream considers that the pandemic has
caused an almost mortal wound to neoliberalism and globalisation, based on a triple reading: a)
on the one hand, the preponderance assumed by the state to face the crisis and design a way out;
b) on the other hand, the difficulty of the world capitalist system to build a globalised response,
as in the crisis of 2008/2009. Today, the nationalism of states prevents the creation of a global
management in the face of the real-world emergency. Each country faces the pandemic alone, as
if there were 197 national epidemics; c- finally, the health crisis revealed by the immense deficit
of a public health system that was privatised in the era of neo-liberalism; d- finally, the crisis in
the health system revealed by the immense deficit of a public health system that was privatised
in the era of neo-liberalism triumphant. This empirical finding sustains and strengthens the idea
of a rapid and almost inevitable return to the welfare state that prevailed during the 30 glorious
years, and which succumbed, according to the same thinking, to the onslaught of neoliberalism
and so-called financial valorisation, so dear to national and popular thinking. It is likely that
this idea will reinforce the attempt to return to the old welfare system, while displacing any
critical reading that would allow us to perceive a collective response as a different alternative.
At the same time, we are witnessing an unprecedented monetary issuance, massive government
intervention that does not distinguish ideologies, which alters any fiscal balance, contradicting
the basic principles of neoliberalism: Trump and Johnson; the European Central Bank (ECB)
and the governments of Conte, Macron and Sanchez; as well as the Latin American
governments, Piñera, Fernandez, Lopez Obrador. Isn't what has been called helicopter money,
i.e., the creation of currency financed by the Central Bank, a return to the Keynesianism of the
early days? If so, and given that it is a strong incentive to demand, it should assume a permanent
character and everything indicates that these are non-recurrent, exceptional, short-lived policies
that will disappear once the productive blockade has been overcome and social control has been
strengthened.
In the course of the crisis, the neoliberals, applauded by the sovereigntists, rushed to demand the
return of the state (after the almost unlimited monetary emission), by chance, at the moment
when the capitalist economy collapses. After the crisis their complaint will turn to excessive
taxation, excessive public spending, the private debts they took on etc., etc., a familiar borincan
lament. While the sovereigntists and lovers of all state policy will express joy and see in this the
triumphant return of the state as the gravedigger of neo-liberalism. All the more so, when the
sovereigntist-nationalist role of states in confronting the pandemic has been exacerbated. Recall
how some of them, the USA (America first again), issued an informal declaration of war against
the rest, to arbitrarily dispose of the available production of masks, test kits, respirators etc.,
emulating a return to the days of the filibusters.
The crisis of the welfare state
19
Interview to A. Fumagalli, effimera.org http://effimera.org/intervista-ad-andrea-fumagalli-sugli-effetti-
socio-economici-del-covid-19-di-extinction-rebellion/
9
However, the question that arises is whether we can expect the strengthening of that Fordist-
social democratic welfare state that protected public health, strengthened public education,
research etc. etc. etc. Recognising that the political economic mainstream tends to simply
defend the social progress achieved by the welfare state. By invoking the state as an abstract
protective entity, a sort of political pater who will save us (I recall the thought of R. Segato,
"maternal state because it takes care of us"), we forget that it is, above all, an administrative
machine made to dominate and administer a national population, a machine presided over by
rulers who, once elected, manage according to the logic of power, whatever profile it assumes.
Suffice it to recall that the welfare state that emerged in times of capitalist crisis and depression,
1930, was capital's response to workers' demands and the revolution of 1917. We must situate it
as capital's policy of social containment and the search for a time of peace, which would allow a
prolonged accumulation of capital. Where the chain of wage agreements with capital
underpinned the long cycle of virtuous accumulation, the 30 glorious years, built on social
benefits to the Fordist factory workers, accompanied by substantial state involvement in the
social management of labour power and currency, as well as in the areas of social welfare and
education that allowed mass production to be coupled with mass consumption. But this social,
factory labour world, with the hegemony of industrial production in the dynamics of
accumulation, no longer exists
20
. The social and political conditions on which these projects
were based in the 20th century no longer exist. The nexus constructed between wages and
productivity served to simultaneously drive technological innovation and counteract workers'
resistance. Indeed, as a result of workers' pressures, the factory wage was complemented by the
social wage, born out of the payments made for the different social plans, headed by the
Keynesian state: health, education, pensions, retirement and social assistance were part of this
overall package. This set of state measures helped to support a new regime of accumulation, as
a way of preventing and containing social struggles and integrating the bulk of workers into the
consumption circuit of capital. This socio-economic framework, which sustained the
development of capitalist society throughout the 20th century, appears today to be undergoing a
profound structural crisis that is shattering to its roots the functioning and legitimisation of those
social institutions which, during industrial society, allowed the foundation and stabilisation of a
certain regime of growth.
The starting point of this questioning, which led to the disorder and real upheaval of the
industrial Fordist model of accumulation, is based on the conflictive dynamics exercised by the
mass worker who de-structured the foundations of the scientific organisation of labour, leading
to a formidable expansion of the guarantees and collective services of the welfare state, beyond
any possible compatibility with Fordism. As a result of this process, there was an attenuation of
the monetary restriction of the wage relation, as well as an important process of collective re-
appropriation of the intellectual command of production. Meanwhile, within capital itself, the
elements of a commonality and an ontological transformation of labour were being constructed,
now turned against the logic of capital, through the figure of the collective worker, the general
intellect, the subjective condition and structural form of an economy founded on the driving role
of the cognitive dimension of labour and the construction of a diffuse intellectuality.
The whole of the Keynesian policies of relaunching demand and its most advanced political
expression, the social democratic compromise - as a mode of regulating social conflicts based
on the multiplication of bilateral or trilateral arrangements between employers, trade unions and
the state - became ineffective in containing workers' struggles and resistance.
Capital's response to the struggles and resistance of the Fordist workers was to take production
beyond the factories, exploding the institution of labour which, as a social institution,
guaranteed integration between the singular and society. In effect, productive integration, the
heart of the wage relationship, validated the right of workers to demand and enjoy the social
rights that the welfare state guaranteed: the right to education, the right to health, the right to
housing, the right to public services such as telephones, electricity, gas, water, sewer, etc. Social
20
G. Arrighi, El largo siglo XX, Madrid, Akal.
10
citizenship was constituted in a way that was dependent and subordinated to productive
integration, to the prior exercise of the wage relationship. The welfare state, the articulator of
the relationship between the living factory and industrial workforce and the production and
reproduction of labour, which served as guarantor in this relationship, is virtually exhausted.
The loss of the centrality of wage labour, the progressive autonomy, decentralisation and
networked development of the social production process, as well as the establishment of
increasingly individualised and therefore random rules, are the fundamental nodes of the
ongoing economic and social transformation. Although work continues to be organised within
the company and the factory, we must recognise that it also frequently and widely occurs
outside it. The boundaries of labour have extended and become more flexible, now
incorporating, without mediation, those spaces of life and social reproduction that in the past
were excluded, as they were considered unproductive and not exploitable for the generation of
surplus value and, therefore, of profits
21
.
Any bet and any possibility of emerging from the crisis cannot, therefore, be redirected to the
project of an eventual establishment of a new compromise between capital and labour and the
creation of institutions capable of limiting the power of finance and of re-establishing the
Fordist link between wages and productivity, thus ensuring a harmonious development of the
rules of production and consumption proper to a capitalism now based on the immaterial and
knowledge. Recovering a "subjective" reading of the construction of a new type of welfare
means putting living labour at the centre of the analysis; a perspective that must be taken up
again if we are to understand the dynamics of the current changes.
We are witnessing a metamorphosis of the wage relationship
22
translated into changes in the
nature of work - today affective, relational, communicative, cognitive - based on cooperation,
while transcending factory borders to extend to society as a whole. A central mutation that has
impacted on the modalities of state intervention and the socially productive validity of the
welfare state itself. Transformations which, as such, are not recognised by those sectors of what
could be called the left, since their analyses are limited to approaching these changes as simply
the effects of mistaken neoliberal policies, and whose overcoming would require a change in
economic policy with strong state participation.
Cognitive capitalism.
We are facing a historical process of radical transformation that began in the mid-1970s and
deepened in the last quarter of the last century, without ceasing to manifest itself in these first
two decades of the new 21st century, and which has determined the virtual disappearance of
industrial society, as we knew it, and the emergence of a cognitive capitalism. By the concept of
cognitive capitalism, we mean a system of accumulation in which intellectual and immaterial
labour becomes the dominant value. It is the result of a process of restructuring through which
capital tends to parasitically absorb and subjugate the collective condition of knowledge
production, suffocating that emancipatory potential inscribed in the society of the general
intellect.
Two essential arguments adequately characterise the genesis of the new capitalism. The first is
that the essential motor, origin and starting point of an economy founded on knowledge is to be
found in the power of living labour. The second argument holds that the main creative force in
NICTs does not come from a capital-driven dynamic. It is based on the constitution of the social
network of labour cooperation, which is the bearer of an alternative organisation, both in the
company and in the market, as a form of co-ordination and management of production. It is
21
"The way in which capital has succeeded in increasing productivity on the basis of necessary labour
reduced to a minimum by automation and computerization has been to get out of the wage relation by
appropriating a series of activities whose contribution to the valorization of capital makes it possible to
free itself from the limits which the wage relation imposes on productivity increases. It is by increasing
the volume of non-wage, or unregulated, work that one can today obtain continuous increases in
productivity by compressing social living labor". Et vogue l'argent, Christian Marazzi, Editions de l'aube,
p. 92, Paris, 2003.
22
R. Castel, Las metamorfosis de la cuestión social, Bs. As. Paidos, 2004, p. 327.
11
therefore possible to affirm that the formation of a knowledge-based economy precedes and is
logically and historically opposed to the genesis of cognitive capitalism.
The cognitive capitalism approach, as opposed to the dominant theorisations of the knowledge-
based economy, constitutes a double inversion at both the conceptual and methodological levels.
Firstly, rescuing the term "capitalism" means indicating the permanence, beyond any variation,
of the invariants of the capitalist system. In particular, the determining role of profit and the
wage relation, i.e., the different forms of labour on which the extraction of surplus value rests.
Secondly, the term "cognitive" brings to light the new nature of labour, the sources of value and
the forms of property that now support the accumulation of capital and the contradictions this
generates. While so-called intangible and intellectual capital asserts itself as the main form of
productive capital, at the same time, the produced also acquires immaterial characteristics, as
opposed to the material character of the produced in industrial capitalism, commodity
production by means of commodities.
In terms of the mode of accumulation, the central issue in the development of capital is
increasingly focused on controlling the production of knowledge and its transformation into
goods, while relying on rent-extracting mechanisms: growth of finance and intellectual property
rights (patents, copyrights and trademarks). The contradictions of the new capitalism manifest
themselves both in the relationship between labour and capital (in the sphere of production and
circulation) as well as, increasingly sharply, in the antagonism between the social nature of
production and the private nature of appropriation. Thus, the meaning and stakes of the current
transformation of capitalism are not, in fact, to be found in the simple constitution of a
knowledge-based economy, but in the formation of a knowledge-based economy, framed and
subsumed by the laws of capital accumulation.
This process of restructuring is based on a new phase of de-socialisation of the economy, a new
phase of primitive capital accumulation which develops according to a logic that follows four
essential objectives: a) the capture of value based on the cooperation of labour, increasingly
external and autonomous with respect to capital. As if the movement to foster labour
cooperation were accompanied by a parallel movement to empower capital in the abstract,
eminently flexible and mobile form of monetary capital; b) the progressive commodification of
welfare state institutions, through the gradual colonisation of the commons represented by
knowledge and life, in particular through the strengthening of intellectual property rights and
the politics of control of life, which Marx described as a strategy to forcibly maintain the
primacy of exchange value over wealth; c) the individualisation and precarity of the wage
relationship, as a way of regaining control, in the face of an increasingly autonomous workforce
(crisis of real subsumption), a process of desocialisation that also enhances the development of
rent; d) attempts to break the unity of the figure of the diffuse intelligentsia by attempting to
segment it into those linked to the most profitable sectors (finance and banking, tax collection
agencies -AFIP-, start-ups, digital platforms, patent-oriented research activities) and those
subject to the most precarious jobs in the new cognitive division of labour, those neo-
technolaborised in the traditional sectors and the new standardised services (care work, various
female jobs linked to social reproduction).
In the age of the general intellect (i.e., of the hegemony of cognitive labour in capitalist
production), the new social organisation of labour is conditioned by an increasing productive
efficiency of cognitive labour and thus by an ontological primacy of living labour over dead
labour in the capital relation.
Of the dual function of the capitalist management of the production process, in the sense Marx
assigned to it, with respect to its organisation on the one hand, and the despotic command with
respect to the extraction of surplus labour on the other hand, only the latter remains. And, in
parallel, in cognitive capitalism, unlike the smithian industrial model based on the centrality of
the technical division of labour within the factories, the source of the "wealth of nations" is
increasingly based on productive cooperation that takes place outside the precincts of the
enterprises. In short, in many cases, the productive valuation of capital within enterprises today
is no longer based on the effective role it used to play in the planning of the organisation of
work. It depends much more, and mainly of the monetary power of command over labour,
underpinning, in this sense, the blurred frontier that opens up between income and profit.
12
Capitalism has made society as a whole productive. This is why profit, capitalist profit, no
longer comes from an isolated factory, but from social production as a whole. It is no longer
possible to determine profit as the monetary expression of surplus-value, insofar as production
has gone beyond the frontiers of the factory. And all this because the nature of labour has
changed: every life has become integrally productive.
Production today is increasingly social in two senses. On the one hand, production takes place
in networks of cooperation. In turn, the end result of production can no longer be circumscribed
simply to material or immaterial commodities; its output now also brings together the
production of social relations, ultimately of human life itself. This is the meaning given to the
new type of contemporary production, as anthropogenetic or biopolitical production.
Production takes the form of the capitalist Common.
The particularity of cognitive capitalism is that its production is simultaneously the production
of subjectivity, the production of social relations, the ultimate material support of the Common.
It is the capitalist productive process itself that has been modified: superimposed on factory
production is the post-Fordist organisation of the exploitation of the general intellect over the
whole of society and the capture of the socially produced surplus value through financial
mechanisms. The form of exploitation and the mode of extraction of surplus value has changed.
The value produced is not only the responsibility of the individual worker but is based on the
social cooperation involved, while the appropriation of surplus value no longer takes place as
before directly as the direct exploitation of labour, but now takes the form of appropriation by
capital as the extraction of the Common as the constitution of total social production.
Common as a mode of production. Commonfare or Common Welfare.
In our Latin American societies, after the wave of privatisation and neoliberalism, it is clear
that, despite the efforts and policies of recent governments, a significant mass of workers,
invisible from the point of view of the labour regulations in force, remain outside the classic
labour spaces. What has changed is the material constitution of our countries insofar as the
system of industrial relations has been radically altered. We are witnessing a progressive
degradation of dependent labour and, at the same time, a fragmentation of labour. The post-
Fordist organisation of work has rendered almost impracticable a whole series of regulations
that regulated labour conflicts and negotiations typical of the previous period
23
.
To speak of the Common is to bring into play the distinction between the public and the private.
It is not surprising that, in the face of the practice of real socialism and the capitalist welfare
state, the idea and conception of the common takes equivocal approaches. If real socialism
confused the public with the state, reducing the commons to the state by simultaneously
confusing the commons with the public, the practice of the capitalist welfare state, which
developed the public as a device associated with the welfare state, also assimilated the public to
the commons, confusing the two spaces. With the growth of Fordism and the Keynesian state,
the dialectic between the public and the private became so inclusive that the organisation of
solidarity itself appears increasingly mediated by the bureaucratic organisation of the welfare
state.
For Negri et al.
24
, on the other hand, both the project and the definition of the Common consist
in going beyond the concepts of private and public, transcending both categories within a
common management.
The Common is constituted on the very terrain of the materiality associated with labour activity
in cognitive capitalism, in the form of cooperation and networking. Indeed, for the immaterial
worker, the Common represents not only the material condition of his activity - an activity that
23
Suffice it to recall that in our country only 25% of the workforce is unionized, i.e. it responds to labour
regulations such as Collective Labor Agreements. The mediation of the Collective Labor Contract could
work because subjectivity in this phase was based on collective, i.e., class terms, and the legal devices
were confined to the interior of the various national societies.
24
A. Fumagalli, A. Giuliani, S. Lucarelli, C. Vercellone, T. Negri, Cognitive capitalism, welfare and
labour. The commonfare hypothesis, New York, Routledge, 2019
13
is necessarily exercised in interdependence - but also those of its very result, mediated by the
diversity and complexity of links, interventions and transactions that he produces while carrying
out his activity. The constitution of the Common always refers to a multiplicity; it does not
result in a unity of action, but unfolds in the form of a multiple and transversal, pluralised and
singularised agency. It cannot be associated with something static or referred to a
transcendental. It is a relation of appropriation and redistribution that goes from singularity to
multiplicity and from multiplicity to singularity, in a virtuous circle of singular and collective
empowerment. Which is produced in the immanence of cooperation and which, in the
immanence of cooperation, freely and autonomously produces its own right. It is a contradictory
and open process in which the relations of production are called into question through the
always open tension between the capitalist capture of difference and the autonomous
development of subjective partiality.
The ontology, the historically determined ontological basis of the actuality of the Common is
not, in fact, primarily to be found in the intrinsic nature and particular characteristics of certain
goods. It lies instead in the capacity for self-organisation of labour, a capacity which in
contemporary capitalism is based on the potential autonomy of cooperation in cognitive labour
and the development of collective intelligence (general intellect).
In this sense, the Common is always a social and political construction, whether in its
organisational form or in the choice of criteria that select or not certain resources, goods or
services for the status of commons
25
. Therefore, the Common can in principle refer to the
management of any type of goods or resources (whether competitive or non-competitive,
excludable or non-excludable, material or immaterial).
The Common must be thought of, in Marxist economic terms, as a truly emergent "mode of
production" or economic system in the making. It should not be thought of simply in terms of
the common goods or the commons
26
. It is the bearer of an alternative to both the hegemony of
the administrative bureaucratic logic of the state, and to the capitalist market economy, as a
principle of coordination of production and trade in the Marxist sense of the term, an
increasingly acute tension between two key elements: (1) the nature of the increasingly parasitic
relations of production, property and appropriation of value of cognitive capitalism, on the one
hand; and (2) the living productive forces of an economy based on knowledge and the
production of humans for and by humans, on the other hand, an economy that contains within
itself the possibility of overcoming the capitalist order.
On the one hand, this concept establishes a general principle of the autonomy or self-
government of society, which ideally brings democracy down to the sphere of the economy and
strategic decisions related to the questions: how to produce? what to produce? for whom? It is
also based on the non-appropriability of the instruments of production and the material and
immaterial resources on which the economic production and reproduction of society depend.
This is a fundamental break with respect to systems based on the state-market pair where
democracy is relegated to the political level of representative democracy and completely
separated from the economic sphere, a sphere where strategic decisions are based on public
and/or private property, property that both spheres share under the principle of absolute
ownership. As well as from the model of real socialism, where real economic property,
possession according to Bettelheim, was the monopoly of a bureaucratic caste. It is a matter of
understanding that the Common in the singular, as a mode of production, does not present itself
in a pure state, but is inscribed in what the Marxian tradition calls social economic formation,
founded on the hierarchical articulation between different modes of production
27
. Rather, it
presents itself, as Marx says, as a new mode of production in the process of emergence, which
unravels within capitalism and which can become dominant in relation to the logic of the state
25
C. Vercellone, F. Brancaccio, A. Giuliani, P. Vattimo, Il comune come modo di produzione, Verona,
Ombre Corte, 2017. Chapter III. Comune e commons nella dinámica contradditoria tra un’economia
fondata sulla conoscenza e capitalismo cognitivo
26
Let us remember that during the growth of the so-called Glorious Thirties, the concept of the commons
or good commons seemed to sink definitively into the oblivion of history.
27
Ibídem, Cap. II, Approcci del Comune al singulare e il Comune come modo di produzione, p. 67.
14
and the capitalist market economy. One of the salient aspects of the productive model of the
Common is precisely to be the bearer of the capital-labour conflict, under an ecological and
non-productivism redefinition of the relationship between man and nature
28
.
But the common is also the construction of a space of resistance within this new horizon; in
this sense, the common is understood as an expression of the biopolitical struggle. As the way in
which subjectivities can compose their differences, leaving aside that which makes them
identical, and incorporating that which momentarily articulates them, according to a relation of
forces that determines them and from which they seek to free themselves. "...transversality of
the struggles..., in a horizon not of unification but of composition of the diversity of the
movements, of the local situations in their own differences"
29
.
For all these reasons, the Common cannot be reduced to a policy pertaining to public services or
to the provision of some universal service, since its scope is not limited to those goods and
services that are freely accessible, even if it may temporarily take on this form. It is the
expression of a biopolitics, as a power capable of articulating the interaction of multiple
singularities. It is constituted as a weft and mesh, behind a verticality that cannot be confused
with hierarchies, as knots belonging to a criss-crossed network, in short, as a condensation,
impossible to be reduced to the One. The hegemonic becoming of the Common in social
organisation will not necessarily mean the disappearance of the institution of the welfare state
and its guarantees, but the transformation of its mode of management through the development
of mechanisms of direct democracy and co-production that will allow the transition from a
statist model to a Commonfare model.
Commonfare institutions
In the current socio-economic debate, it is possible to distinguish two basic concepts of welfare
that attract the attention of academics and politicians more than others: workfare, which is more
closely aligned with neoliberal policies, and, alternatively, public welfare, which is Keynesian
in origin.
The former is based on assistance in the absence of work, designed as a temporary food
assistance subsidy in the face of growing unemployment. This welfare was to gain enormous
momentum after the 2001 crisis with the implementation of the Plan Jefes y Jefas de Hogar
(PJJH), which sought to reinforce and extend the safety net in times of crisis. In the following
years, it was renamed Plan Argentina Trabaja (Argentina Works Plan). In all cases, it is an
unemployment subsidy, in some cases with a labour counterpart, which has become almost
permanent.
The following social security schemes were subsequently added with permanent characteristics:
Universal Child Allowance (AUH): implemented since 2009, this is a non-contributory benefit
aimed at children and adolescents under 18 years of age, children of workers in the informal
sector or unemployed, benefiting unemployed people; workers in the informal economy with
incomes equal to or less than the minimum, vital and mobile wage; social mono-tributors; and
service workers. It is a policy that includes conditionalities in education and health, without
being universal.
Complementary Social Wage (SSC) that reaches the members of the CTEP (Workers of the
Popular Economy), workers who generate their own employment to survive, although it is not
enough to support them. It is a supplement to this informal wage, in order to reach the amount
of the guaranteed Minimum Social Wage.
IFE: The Emergency Family Income (IFE), launched in April 2020, is an exceptional monetary
benefit designed to compensate for the loss or serious reduction in income of people affected by
the health emergency situation, self-employed workers registered in the Monotax system
(category A and B), Social Mono-taxpayers, workers in private homes and informal workers.
28
Ibídem, p. 68.
29
J. Revel, Diagnóstico, subjetivación, común, C. Altamira (comp) Política y subjetividad en tiempos de
governance, Bs. As., Waldhuter, 2013, p. 254.
15
The crisis unleashed by the CVD-19 made the need to restructure the existing welfare system
even more acute, emphasising its urgency. And it is at this point that nostalgic voices are heard
in defence of the Keynesian welfare state. It is an idea of welfare that forgets the fact that today
welfare is a mode of production and, as such, leaves aside the two main elements that
characterise the current phase of biocognitive capitalism:
- precarity and debt as devices for social control and domination, capable of sustaining the vital
subsumption of labour by capital;
- the re-appropriation (in terms of distribution) of the wealth that comes from social cooperation
and the general intellect.
On the first point, although the figure of the industrial wage-worker is maintained in numerous
geographies of the world, we must recognise that it is languishing in an almost irreversible way,
not only in the most advanced countries, but also in our Latin American countries, at the
expense of a varied multitude of atypical and precarious para-subordinated and self-employed
workers, whose organisational and representational skills are increasingly limited by the
prevalence of individual bargaining. The priority of the individual over collective bargaining
empties and weakens the representational capacity of traditional trade unions. It is enough to
recall the almost 11 million beneficiaries registered to receive the so-called IFE.
On the other hand, it is clear that, in times of crisis, the precarious condition is reinforced by the
growing weight of a condition of debt, generating a vicious circle.
As for the second point, the existence of learning and network economies are nowadays the
variables that give rise to and sustain productivity gains. We have already mentioned that it is a
productivity that always comes from the exploitation of common and public goods, derived
from the social cooperation brought into play in the labour process.
It follows that, in this context, a redefinition of welfare policies should be able to respond to the
inherent provision of biocognitive capitalism: the inverse relationship between the
precariousness of life and social cooperation as a source of value. More specifically, it is
necessary to remunerate social cooperation on the one hand, and to encourage forms of social
production on the other. These aspects constitute the three main pillars or institutions of what
we call commonfare or common welfare
30
.
Basic income. The remuneration of social cooperation implies the introduction, at the individual
level, of an unconditional basic income (IBI), for all those who live in the territory, regardless of
their professional and civil status. The basic income should be understood as a kind of monetary
compensation, as remuneration for social productivity and productive time, i.e., production
time, which is not certified in the existing employment contract. In other words, it is a social
wage linked to a productive contribution that is currently unpaid and unrecognised. It is an
unrecognised qualification when we speak of a basic citizen's income. By considering the IBI as
a primary income, we rule out any reading associated with welfare, whether in the case of a
logic selectively associated with work, or with Keynesian public welfare. The basic income to
which we refer is definitely not a subsidy. And this distinction is important, since those who
define basic income as a mere form of subsidy, J. Bergoglio (Pope Francisco) and J. Grabois
included - in calling for a universal wage - are not only a form of subsidy, but also a form of
social welfare income for the precarious in the informal sector - have not understood, or do not
want to understand, that the processes of accumulation and valorisation of contemporary
capitalism are profoundly and structurally modified, to the point of incorporating life itself as a
factor of production. Precisely because we are moving from a distributive (and not a
redistributive) perspective, this measure must be accompanied by the introduction of a
minimum wage, in order to avoid the effect of replacing wages with a subsidy in favour of
companies and to the detriment of the worker. On the other hand, the unconditional character
30
A. Fumagalli, Cos’e il commonfare, Commonfare Book Series, N* 2; C. Vercellone, Il reddito sociale
garantito come reddito primarie, Quaderni di San Precario N* 5; L. Baronian, C. Vercellone, Moneda del
común e ingreso social garantizado, C. Altamira (comp.) op. Cit.
16
allows the worker the possibility of refusing unwanted or heavy work, affecting working
conditions, and opening up prospects of liberation, which go far beyond the simple distribution
measure. In fact, contrary to approaches in terms of the end of labour, the current crisis of the
Fordist employment norm is far from signifying a crisis of labour as the main source of (non-
market) value and wealth production. On the contrary, cognitive capitalism is not only a
knowledge-intensive economy, but at the same time, and perhaps even more so than in
industrial capitalism, it constitutes a labour-intensive economy, although this new dimension of
labour often escapes official measurement. Basic income also contributes to strengthening the
logic of the decommodification of social protection systems by adapting social benefits to new
forms of work that are now excluded, such as precarious work.
The universal or unconditional basic income recognises the contemporary hybridisation that,
under cognitive capitalism, occurs between life time and work time in the labour process, a
quality that pulverises the canonical Fordist wage relationship. Indeed, the immediate working
time devoted to production, during official working hours, becomes only a fraction of the social
production time. By its very nature, cognitive work is in fact presented as a complex
combination of reflective activity, communication, relational exchange and knowledge
exchange, which takes place both inside and outside of firms and contract time. As a result, the
traditional boundaries between work and non-work are blurred, generating a contradictory
dynamic. On the one hand, leisure is no longer reduced to a therapeutic function, associated
with restoring the energy capacity of the workforce. Today, the reproduction of the workforce
acquires social characteristics that transcend family boundaries. As C. Morini recalls with
reference to the female role, social reproduction fulfils the functions of "housewife of capital"
31
.
The second pillar of commonfare concerns the management of the commons and the common,
where a distinction must be made between commons and common.
The idea of commonfare implies, as a prerequisite, the social re-appropriation of the profits
derived from the exploitation of the common (reproductive and cognitive) and of the commons
that are at the basis of current accumulation. This re-appropriation does not necessarily require
that private property be made public (in the sense of "state"). For basic services such as health,
education and transport, which are now increasingly privatised, the aim is to achieve public
management of their use as use-value in the face of any attempt at commodification.
But if we refer to the common, the picture is different, since it is from the common based on
social cooperation and general intellect that the new intangible common and the possibility of
their management emerge. The only way to manage the common is self-organisation, autonomy
and the configuration of a different valorisation regime. On this basis Marazzi defines it as "a
production of man by man"
32
.
The welfare of the common presupposes autonomy and independence, and therefore requires the
activation of processes of self-organisation or self-government. Although these internally
promoted practices are known to require time for experimentation and are not always
immediately productive. In this sense, it is essential to guarantee fully autonomous
sustainability in order to avoid processes of subsumption. From this point of view, the welfare
of the common, commonfare, presupposes its own self-capitalisation, in the opposite direction
to the growing and widespread manufacturing, aimed at the production of use value, as an
alternative to the production of exchange value. It follows that the welfare of the common,
Commonfare, can only be financially autonomous if it is inserted into a monetary circuit which
is itself independent of the dictates and impositions of the dominant financial conventions.
The currency of the common
33
is therefore the expression of the welfare of the common and
defines its framework of implementation. This is the third institution of commonfare.
These three aspects, among others, highlight a perspective of overcoming the capitalist
productive logic in its most immaterial dimension of valorisation. It is possible, thanks to the
31
C. Morini, Riproduzione sociale, Quaderni di San Precario N* 4.
32
C. Marazzi, “L’ammortamento del corpo machina, Posse: La clase a venire, Roma, 2007. Actually, the
term "production of man by man" belongs to Robert Boyer, La croissance debut de siecle. De l’octet au
gene. Albin Michel, Paris, 2003.
33
L. Baronian, C. Vercellone, Moneda del común e ingreso social garantizado, op. cit.
17
growth of the "immaterial" sectors, to really think about alternative forms of production,
compatible with environmental constraints and respectful of human nature. In short,
commonfare could favour, better than any other ad hoc economic and industrial policy, better
governance than the current anthropocene-capitolocene phase where life is at the centre of the
process of accumulation and exploitation, and therefore of valorisation.
The proposed notes aim to incorporate points of view that contribute to prefiguring our world to
come, based on trends present in the current economic situation. In the wake of the crisis of
neoliberalism and the pandemic, the widespread recognition of health as a common good, the
emergence of public spending as an indispensable terrain for capital - beyond the humanitarian
discourse of aid to the most needy - and the reflection on the growing importance of the
capitolocene, and its implications for climate change and development models, are evident. And
where the tendencies towards authoritarianism and social control call on us to mobilise against
their inertia.
Health opens the field of discussion on the profile of the new (?) welfare, without leaving aside
the intervention on public spending in relation to unconditional basic income. Last but not least,
social reproduction and care, as institutions promoted by the global feminist movement, appear
as crucial spaces to be incorporated in the design of new commons, public but non-state spaces,
far from any patriarchal contamination.
César Altamira Bs. As. May 10 2020