(John Steinbeck, 1939)
The old working class is dead. However, at a certain point of its agony it has elected the 45th president of the United States of America. It is impossible to come to different conclusions looking at the manifold comments that consider the white working class as the main responsible of Donald Trump’s resistible rise. Even more than its electoral orientation, however, what is really astonishing for us is the eternal return of the working class. Wasn’t it swept away by automation and cognitarian labor, wasn’t it condemned to social impotence? But here it is: alive, well and voting, even decisive in overturning Obama’s success in the rust belt States and in consigning them to Trump.
It is therefore useful to look this male and white working class in the face. It is really made by fascists, racists and male chauvinists which Trump is pleased to mirror? At least during the last 60 years, American liberal intellectuals warded us against the congenital authoritarian tendencies of the working class. This was just one way to solve their theoretical and political problem: workers, they said, had become part of the middle class, but some of them did not act as they should. When they did not engage class struggle, they preferred to follow McCarthy’s or Goldwater’s «paranoid», self-righteous and racist «pseudo-conservative» right-wing mania, the logic of white and Christian «identity» rather than the one of «interest», a virtue of reason that – according to unclear motives – should lead to vote for the Democrats.
The same problems are coming back today. Like Hillary Clinton, nobody knows what to do with this working class that was supposed to enjoy the splendor of Fordism, before powerlessly assisting to a deindustrialization that deprived and impoverished workers, thus tearing down the myth of the «best-paid worker of the world»: the one who worked in a factory, the one who obsessively hated the factory but could not have lived without it, the one who was however still able to dream a Cadillac, as Paul Romano tells in an essay that it is still worth reading. For sure, these were nothing but fantasies of escape that allowed to cheat the unacceptable reality of the production chain, but nonetheless they speak of a «worker’s privacy» that in the last years has been mocked or simply ignored. A removed privacy, therefore, which emerged from beneath the carpet where it was hidden in order to make us appreciate in all its shining novelty the new social cooperation based on knowledge and multiple identities. In order to preserve this post-industrial scenery and go on exorcizing the problem of waged-labor, once the waged workers voted for Trump they were labeled as fascist so to close the question. It is however easy to notice that the great majorities that voted for Clinton on the two coasts reveal that even the forms of life and organization of a world opposed to the old industrial workers’ world, as self-sufficient as they might seem, are actually marked by a fracture within the working class that cannot be erased through the distinction between the old and the new one. The movements of the last years, like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, were essentially urban and limited to some areas. Their revolt marked a double fracture: towards the establishment – considering that in Portland, where now the uprising is more vehement, Trump gained only the 17% of the votes –, but also towards another part of work and exploitation. The question is therefore: can this new world live and win leaving to its destiny the old and rusted one?
In the meanwhile, grey but alive, the worker’s privacy came to the fore and claimed to count and to be counted, reclaiming at least a contorted piece of its own existence apparently subtracted by globalization, something which, in exchange, returned only the threat of unemployment and the ghost of indigence. While they boycotted the polls or voted Republicans – without necessarily turning into fascists –, those workers credited Trump and his promises of charging enterprises with the social costs of delocalization, of going back to a protectionist system that should supposedly protect American jobs, of tearing down that Obamacare which, for heterogenesis of ends, is increasing the prices of private health insurances and which the new administration is planning to privatize anew. Also Bernie Sanders, however, built his short-lived fortune among the young people of universities and metropolis upon the fear of the Chinese growth and the promise of stopping outsourcing.
As for Trump, he brought to the highest degree the link between right-wing authoritarianism and neoliberalism that was already experienced by Bush’s America and characterizes today the anti-abortion and racist Poland. After all, neoliberalism is not over and, in order to maintain its domination, it continues to relay on the most traditional centers of authority, exploiting the fact that the worker’s privacy feels deprived of what it is entitled to and of the possibility of obtaining it. It therefore decided to allow a fixed-term trust to the one who has been able to sell the dream of making America great again, even if in a way that is directly proportional to the income level that since 1996 decreased of the 47% for the middle-age group, so much that it is unclear which savings could have been accumulated. It is easy to mock it and even easier to despise it, but the privacy moves workers’ indiscipline in its embryonic stage, it triggers the violent joy of escaping the command of capital, it materializes the always possible way of escaping that «prison of human freedom» which is the world.
This does not mean that those who casted a ballot at the elections are the embryo of a rough pagan race striving to be politicized in order to produce a revolutionary rupture. It does not even mean that we are facing the feared or desired invasion of new hordes of barbarians. Class determinism is as bad as political determinism. The «rediscovery» of the old working class is no excuse to ignore the remaining voting composition. For instance, the majority of white women voted for Trump, in spite of his fame as harasser and of his declarations that do nothing to prove it wrong. Patriarchy exists regardless of Trump and would have continued even with a woman at the White House. It won’t be a successful biography to free women from a hierarchical order that condemns them to subjection and to accept a competitive logic shaped on the triumph of the individual, that is male as such. Hillary Clinton did not ask American women to make their difference matter. She just sold her own social climbing as a possibility for all women. Especially for the non-white part of the electorate, this promise must have seemed rather aleatory. It’s not enough to promise wage equality to someone who does not even glimpse the glass ceiling that should be broken, maybe because she is sweeping floors with the head down and when she raises it what she risks to see is just a looming illegality.
And so, like any respectable nightmare, the same problem returns: subjects dispossessed of a power that they want to have in order to gain control over their lives, claiming autonomy, but finding themselves with a freedom that is so much shining as regimented, that is the only one neoliberalism is prone to grant. Why then vote for Clinton rather than for Trump, or vice versa? Many blacks, Latinos and Asians should have asked themselves this question: even though they probably did not vote for a man who promises walls and repression, they still might have decided to abstain from voting after Obama’s call had raised their possible turnout percentage. After all, in front of Black Lives Matter, that is a movement openly fighting the institutional racism that runs along the color line, democrats did offer nothing but ways of institutionalization. It’s difficult to believe the promises of reform coming from a woman who stood by her husband while he was enforcing laws that criminalized and imprisoned many Afro-Americans. And so democrats ended up going astray: something similar to what happened in the ’70s when liberal intellectuals preached dialogue and integration for a whole decade, and then found themselves with the Black Panthers occupying Columbia, the very university in which they were teaching dialogue and integration. Back then they have been left just with their own tears, just like the democrats today need to acknowledge that even potentially positive demographic trends do not become straight away positive electoral trends.
Democrats’ business, one would say. Yes, but only superficially, because this whole collective race to decipher the American elections tells us that representation might well be imploded, but clearly the electoral behaviors still interest us because they represent some sort of obscure forces that move within society and with which we need to come to terms. It is not so much a matter of praising a one-day-freedom, but of knowing that in that day some spaces may open up or close having effects on the existence of precarious, migrants and industrial workers. Sparks of existence are won or lost in the elections and thus the electoral results are not insignificant.
Then, properly, organize!, even though the panic of organization which haunts us goes well beyond the panic provoked by Trump’s election. The ways of subjectification surely do not pass through the polls, but do not even coincide with other secure and known paths. Or at least, there will not be organization until the moment we will be able to affirm a collective discourse and practice which allow to return their power to subjects that were dispossessed of their own lives, and to turn their privacy into the condition of possibility of a common struggle. This is as much important today, when the organized minorities that shape their public face through an openly racist discourse and the incitement to violence against migrants are finding new force. Only in this way the category of «populism» will stop being the ambiguous way of labeling whatever we are not able to organize. The working class, that has never been only white, taught us that voting by feet is often more effective than voting by hands. The factory strike was the weapon that the process of outsourcing has blunt, thus showing the more visible face of the logistic power and metropolitan dimension of capital. Inside this dimension, the lives of impoverished industrial workers meet the ones of the old and new precarious workers of services, of those women who, in more or less informal ways, guarantee the general conditions of social reproduction, of migrants with or without the documents ensuring their exploitation, of the Afro-Americans who, together with Latinos and Asians, fight against the violence of institutional racism and for 15$ hourly wage, a claim towards which the big unions around the Democratic party have been indifferent or even hostile. Within these material conditions, racism, sexism and possibly fascism are shaped and affect the living flesh of those like us.
Organize!, then, but starting from the material conditions of existence and knowing that the working class needs not be a national one. Trump’s neo-protectionism – if it will be enacted – will not change the coercive form of cooperation, but rather will strengthen it in order to protect production and work rather than the workers, who will remain a commodity to be squeezed according to the exigencies of the enterprises. This can be easily foreseen, as much as the fact that the absence of compensative devices will be the real problem of this wonderful novelty. The wages that the reopening of factories and mines should secure to the impoverished groups will be first of all reduced through a marketization of welfare that begins just with the counter-reformation of the health system. The Medicare promoted by the Republicans does not entitle to the right to be cured, but to vouchers ranked according to the social power of the individuals, the level of the income through which care must be bought on the market, eventually charging women and their reproductive labor with the task of providing those performances that cannot be paid. Secondly, the enterprises that will be taxed at 35% for the commodities produced abroad will compensate their loss by reducing the starvation wages of delocalized workers or increasing the prices of the goods bought by the internal consumer/worker. These subjects will be responsible for the defense of the declining American productive supremacy. The logistic power of capital is such that the lives of the workers/consumers are absorbed by the tentacles of the monster of capitalistic production. With or without custom barriers, it is production that will establish the strict borders within which those «privacies» will be in trouble. It is not Trump the one who will renew the splendor of national production and of its borders.
Organize!, then, but without surrendering to the comforting illusion of the natural. Nothing will follow a prearranged path, and we are not living a better condition here just because we do not have Trump. Both the metropolitan dimension and the logistic power of capital clearly show that the space of our initiative must be social and transnational at one and the same time. Concretely, this means that it is not possible to assume that a part of the working class is not our problem because it is old and fascist. Insofar as it opened the Pandora’s box of the American society, the vote of November 8th obliges us to rethink forms of organization that would allow to express the refusal of command and the appropriation of the power contended into the struggle. Acknowledging Europe as the minimum field of our initiative, we called this process of organization transnational social strike, thinking that the break that it foresees could return us the violent joy of escaping the «monster» that – as John Steinbeck said – «has been made by men, but men cannot control». Most of all, that process can socialize a passion for insubordination that must overcome its individual, identitarian and intellectual minority so as to deploy its massive power. Of this power we sometimes see the bolts in the leaden shy, but they are however still missing the infrastructure necessary to recognize each other and become a storm. Perhaps along this path it could even happen that the meaning of existence is not established by labor anymore. After all, the American worker who dreamt a Cadillac was just looking for the emancipation from waged-work.