BY MAURIZIO LAZZARATO
There has by now been a significant quanity of empirical research into thenew forms of organisation of labour, and a corresponding wealth of theoretical reflection on the question, and all this has begun to highlight a new concept of labour and the new relations of power which this implies.
A first synthesis of these results, conducted from a particular viewpoint (that relating to a definition of the technical and subjective-political composition of the working class), can be expressed via the concept of immaterial labour, wherein immaterial labour is the labour which produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity. This concept refers to two different methodologies of labour: on the one hand, as regards the "informational content" of the commodity, it alludes directly to the modifications of working-class labour in the big industrial concerns and big organisations in the tertiary sector where the jobs of immediate labour are increasingly subordinated to the capactities of treatment of information(and of horizontal and vertical communication). On the other hand, as regards the activity which produces the "cultural content" of the commodity,it alludes to a series of activities which, normally speaking, are not codified as labour, in other words to all the activities which tend to define and fix cultural and artistic norms, fashions, tastes, consumer standards and, more strategically, public opinion.
Once the privileged domain of the bourgeoisie and its children, these activities are today spreading, after the end of the 1970s, of what has been defined as "mass intellectuality". The profound modifications in the strategic sectors have changed radically not only the composition, the management and the regulation of the workforce, the norms of production, but more deeply still the role and function of intellectuals and of their activity within society.[...]
All the characteristics of the post-industrial economy (present both in industry and at a territorial level) are heightened within the form of "immaterial" production properly defined: audiovisual production, advertising, fashion, the production of software, photography, cultural activities etc. The activities of this kind of immaterial labour oblige us to question the classic definitions of "work" and of "workforce", because they are the result of a synthesis of varying types of savoirfaire (those of intellectual activities, as regards the cultural-informational content, those of manual activities for the ability to put together creativity, imagination and technical and manual labour; and that of entrepreneurial activities for that capacity of management of their social relations and of structuration of the social cooperation of which they are a part). This immaterial labour constitutes itself in forms that are immediately collective, and, so to speak, exists only in the form of network and flow. The organisation of its cycle of production, because this is precisely what we are dealing with, once we abandon our factoryist prejudgements) is not immediately visible because it is not confined by the walls of a factory. The location within which it is exercised is immediately at the territorial level: the basin of immaterial labour. Small and very small "productive units" (being often only one individual) are organised for ad hoc projects and are used for the given time of work. The cycle of production emerges only when it is solicited by the capitalist, then to dissolve, once "order" has been determined, within networks and flows which permit the reproduction and enrichment of its productive capacities. Precariousness, hyperexploitation, mobility and hierarchy are what characterise metropolitan immaterial labour. Behind the label of the "independent or dependent" worker is hidden a true and proper intellectual proletarian, recognised as such only by the employers who exploit them. [...]
Immaterial labour finds itself at the crossroads (is the interface) of a new relationship between production and consumption. The activation, both of productive cooperation and of the social relationship with the consumer, is materialised within and by the process of communication. It is immaterial labour which continually innovates the form and the conditions of communication (and thus of work and of consumption). It gives form and materialises needs, images, the tastes of consumers and these products become in their turn powerful producers of needs, of images and of tastes. The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labour (seeing that its essential use-value is given by its value contained, informational and cultural) consists in the fact that this is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but enlarges, transforms, creates the "ideological" and cultural environment of the consumer. This does not produce the physical capacity of the workforce, it transforms the person who uses it. Immaterial labour produces first of all a "social relationship" (a relationship of innovation, of production, of consumption); and only if it succeeds in this production does its activity have an economic value. This activity shows immediately that which material production "hid": in other words, labour produces not only commodities, but first and foremost the capital relationship.
Our working hypothesis consists in the observation that the cycle of immaterial labour is preconstituted on the basis of a social workforce which is autonomous, and able to organise its own work as its own relations with the enterprise. Industry does not form this new workforce, but simply recuperates it and adapts it. The control of industry, on this new workforce, is predisposed by an independent organisation and by a free "entrepreneurial activity" of its productive force. [...]
In contrast to many theoreticians of postFordism, we do not believe that this new workforce is solely functional to a new historical phase of capitalism and of its process of accumulation and reproduction; this workforce is thus the product of a "silent revolution" which is taking place within the anthropology of work and within the reconfiguration of its senses and its significance. Waged labour and direct subjugation (to organisation) are no longer the principal form of the contractual relationship between capitalist and worker; polymorphous autonomous work emerges as the dominant form, a kind of "intellectual worker" (operaio intellettuale) who is himself an entrepreneur, inserted within a market that is mobile and within networks that are changeable in time and space.
If the "discovery" of the Marxian concept of "General Intellect" guaranteed a sure theoretical and political anticipation, today this anticipation has become a reality of management and of organisation of the collective capitalist. During the 1980s, at a worldwide level, production and command were rearticulated along the lines of the networks and flows of immaterial labour. Its cooperation and its subjectivity guaranteed management, innovation, productivity of the post-Taylorist system. The class anticipation sprang out against the massive and imposing "setting-towork" of general intellect. In these conditions, also a theoretical advance, requires as an absolutely necessary presupposition an inquiry into the powerful economic, productive and political threads woven around immaterial labour. An inquiry into the material power (potenza) of the immaterial will only be able to bring forth convincing results if it takes on the necessity of the political constitution of the "general intellect" as a precondition. Translated by Ed Emery