I’ve developed two main disconnects from post-operaismo in the past few years, one tied to what I think is a blithely inaccurate set of assumptions about the past and the other tied to questionable politics. I’m beginning to think these are related. Bad ideas about the past and periodization discourage engagement with the past. This helps make ideas seem novel which are actually repetitions of past political proposals. This is also tied to an inadequate engagement with questions of organization. The main bad political ideas that I think characterize the post-operaismo milieu (primarily an academic milieu, but not exclusively) are mutualism and what I’ll call craft universalism. I want to say craft unionism but few parts of this milieu are engaged in union struggles.

Notes to get back to later…

One frustrating irony of all this is the combination of repeating past positions fairly closely while proclaiming novelty. This struck me again – and I started to think these are related, that this is a dynamic of elements that reinforce each other – while reading a book, The Racketeer’s Progress, about what the author calls “the craft economy” in early 20th century Chicago. I put a comment here with a thought about how to put that history in conversation with one of Berardi’s books, I’m going to copy it into this post as well:

“I’m skimming this book called The Racketeer’s Progress. Among other things, it’s about workers in the skilled trades and craft unions in early 20th century Chicago. From what I;ve read so far the author makes two points relevant to all this. First, production in what the author calls the craft economy relied primarily on the skills and the social connections (which implies the social skills, part of what Berardi calls ‘the soul’) of craft workers. Second, this economy was huge in the era and is overlooked by many historians. It’s worth adding that this was a capitalist economy, though not one that people tend to think of (part of this economy being overlooked in recreations of that era). It’s also worth adding that while eventually came an industrial and corporate economy became dominant, that economy’s dominance arose politically and furthermore the craft economy persisted in at least some form for much of, maybe all of, the twentieth century. So Berardi’s “now the soul is put to work!” is not only a distortion when it comes to ‘the mass worker’ but distorts other stuff as well.”

Passing comment re: edu-factory as craft focused and/or as mutualist here, here, here, and here. See also N D-W’s ‘commonism’ talk re: mutualism; also passing reference in this old piece by Virno to “the co-operative or the micro-company.”
Not quite sure what the link is but this craft emphasis is tied to a specific relationship between making a life and making a living, notes on that here. That too is a repetition of past forms of craft universality.

Fancy quotes: Marx, first as tragedy second as farce (and the third time both laughable and sad?); Freud, from “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through”, “repetition replaces remembering.”

The point is not just the old adage that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, rather it seems to me there’s some move or set of moves here, rhetorical and conceptual, that discourages engagement with the past and encourages craft universality at the same time, in a mutually reinforcing manner.