Tens of thousands Hungarians refusing to submit to the slave law. The mass demonstrations in Serbia against the government’s violence. The greatest student revolt in Albania since the end of socialism. The gilets jaunes’s insurrection in France and the massive resistance against Brexit in Great Britain. Women’s struggle, everywhere threatening the orderly reproduction of global society. Migrants’ movement, still crossing those borders built to stop them. The strikes and their repression in the logistic sector in Italy. Two hundred million male and female workers shutting down production in India. The insubordination in hundreds invisible factories, daily shaking the chains of production and their confidence.
Only beginning with these distant, separate and still non-communicating rejections, we can try to make sense of our self-evident hardship in connecting them and of the challenge in front of us in this great mutation still going on. Populists, sovereigntists and neoliberals are the characters of the same drama and their purpose is to make men and women obedient and subdued. They are trying pretty hard, but they are not succeeding as they would. There is an enduring feeling that the game is in play, that another revolt is around the corner. The gilets jaunes’s insurrection primarily had and still has this European significance. Beyond the specifically French issues, beyond the trends expressed by the insurrection, beyond the hope of a European diffusion of that fight and beyond the awareness of the uneasiness of exporting the struggles, the yellow revolt shows that our trouble is not their omnipotence. For this reason, populism of capital, sovereignism and neoliberal governance still have the problem of establishing a more and more intense command over living labour, of governing the movements and the behaviors of millions of men and women who are daily rebelling against the promise of being exploited, impoverished, oppressed and killed. Let’s go back and take a look inside the present state of things, in order to understand where revolt produces that reaction trying to silence it.
Today, there is plenty of right-wing and left-wing definitions of populism. We talk about populism of capital because we think that the racist and the patriarchal discourse, sustaining the re-establishment of nationalist, cultural or religious bonds, has the function of making the capitalist relationship undisputable, a relationship which can impose itself at the transnational level only. The contradiction between the forced nationalization of life and the global capital’s dominion is merely apparent. Both the former and the latter produce brutal and material effects which add up, but never clash. This perspective must be overthrown. If there ever was a democratic populism, now for sure there isn’t anymore. While pointing the finger at the internal enemy or at the enemy pressing at the border, the populist political practices are clearing the labour market from any possible disturbance, progressively increasing the rate of exploitation imposed by a capital hiding its global nature behind the national flags. Despite their different characteristics and success rates, Poland, Hungary and Italy are all following the same path.
In Poland, institutional racism operates alongside with a religious traditionalism trying to silence women and to prevent them from deciding over their bodies and lives. At the same time, labour policies guarantee high profit margins to Amazon warehouses, to multinational corporations constantly delocalizing their production, and to northern-European firms exploiting posted workers, who move through Europe working at the contributory conditions of their home countries, according to European directives. Orban’s racist government is forbidding migrants’ transit and stay in Hungary, while they are trying to reach Northern Europe. Far from the populist spotlights, however, in the last years, tens of thousands Ukrainians were recruited in order to tackle the lack of workforce due to the emigration of hundreds of thousands Hungarians who have already decided to leave in search for higher wages. Moreover, to fight the very high turnover, which expresses the working-class refusal to submit to the blackmail of work, in December 2018 the government approved the infamous «slave law», not only increasing the overtime to 400 hours, but also delaying the payment over three years, in order to allow the corporations producing in Hungary – mainly German ones – to wait until the exchange rate between Euro and Hungarian Forint is most favorable. In Hungary as well, the other side of intensive exploitation of labour is patriarchalism, that became government’s ideology, with the ban of gender studies from universities. In Italy, the anti-migrant security law and the plans to defend the patriarchal family go alongside with a «poverty income» for few and possibly white, with cuts on pension funds, with a taxation damaging wages and favoring employers, through an unstoppable precarization of labour. In order to save the profit rates, capital becomes populist and gladly embraces patriarchy and racism as crucial moments of its social reproduction. We must recognize these constituent linkages and we must know that exploitation, patriarchy and racism act jointly and can never be separated, not even in order to establish a hierarchy of contradictions.
It is instead because of their interweaving that sovereignism can present itself as the necessary savior of the people and of their State, even without the patriarchal and racist cries of the populism of capital. The walls that have been or are being built actually have very fragile foundations. Their manifest goal is to stop men’s and women’s movements, while promising that capitals as well will go in one direction only, or even that they will stop to enrich the sovereign people. Both things are impossible, though. Great Britain knows something about it, since Brexit is becoming a logistic revenge of global capital that, facing the introduction of new tariffs and duties, foresees a further delocalization of production and a further dismissal of local workforce. Despite the rediscovery of sovereignty as a value, in Hungary as in Great Britain wages are not rising, welfare is still being cut, and education is becoming a less and less accessible luxury. Pace «Italians first» and the lovers of constitution and labour, the self-evident truth is that it is possible to be sovereigntists within the neoliberal governance only, that is within a broader frame which can be discussed and contested, but never left without paying an unbearable price. As the British citizens, and now also the extravagant Italian governors, are discovering, you can’t have a State all for yourself, simply because you can’t have a market all for yourself. For every obstacle introduced in the world market, sovereignism must submit more to its rules, by strengthening its command on living labour through the laws of the State.
This explains why European governance, despite practically nobody likes it, is a center of power that can compel, and especially forbid behaviors. There is no such thing as a Europe of rights and neither there is a Union guaranteeing freedom of movement and social protection, but there is a power that we have to face. Despite the declarations and proclamations in view of the next elections, Europe is currently built at the crossroad between neoliberal governance, populism of capital and sovereignism. The Union incorporates them and sponsor their policies, inside and outside its borders. The predominance of national governments did not cancel neoliberal governance, it just requalified it politically and financially. When in Poland and Hungary sovereignism endangers the classical shape of constitutional democracy, the European Union’s reaction is politically feeble and bureaucratically slow. It has indeed to consider the economic interests of multinational and European corporations, that do not have their headquarters in sovereigntists States, but that count on the possibility of finding there cheap labour without trade union rights. It is not by chance, that the most sovereigntists States are also the most strong advocates of European budget constraints, the backbone of every neoliberal policy. What is happening in Andalusia shows how neoliberal governance, if unable to impose by itself, gladly accepts any help from the fascist right. So the Popular Party, that brutally imposed austerity in Spain, has no problems in making a deal with Vox, an openly racist and sexist party. The less neoliberal austerity will be able to present itself as the only possible economic policy, while the walls will start to show their already visible cracks, the more this alliance between neoliberal governance and fascism will be put into practice.We therefore need to formulate a realistic judgment about Europe: not on the basis of our desires or on the basis of how much we hate it, but acknowledging what Europe does and what Europe cannot do. We seriously need to understand how Europe takes advantage of populism of capital and sovereignism, without waiting it to be destroyed by its own contradictions. What is at stake in the next European elections is not the possibility of freeing ourselves from the Union and the extent of this possibility, but the restructuring of the political command over living labour in Europe. There certainly are politically relevant peculiarities and differences among the kinds of command we face today. It is nevertheless unquestionable that no closure of Italian ports would have been possible without this connection between neoliberal governance and sovereignism. As the gilets jaunes experienced in France, it is not that different to face Macron’s cold and neoliberal smile or Salvini’s and Orban’s populist grin. The social promises of the Five Star Movement may appear less ferocious than the direct command on labor practiced by the Polish and Hungarian governments, but they clearly give a glimpse of the same scheme assigning to companies the only possible intermediation that workers can appeal to to get an income.
We still claim the transnational level as the only viable level of political initiative, and not for stubbornness. In the first place, transnational should mean European, if we want to be realistic and concrete. It is on the transnational level that the demand for freedom of millions individuals meet the capital’s command and its political government. The transnational level of initiative must be actively pursued and practiced, in order to stop it from becoming an obstacle against the demands of men and women daily fighting oppression and exploitation, which are both neither local nor national. This is why we think that an income based on citizenship in Italy is senseless and unrealistic as much as the idea of changing the wage structure on national basis. The transnational is the terrain on which we need to deepen a crisis that, differently, will continue to bounce between the national and the international, between the simulacrum of the sovereign State and the European Union.
We have two examples of the transnational political practice, which show both its possibilities and difficulties: women’s and migrants’ movement. women’s movement is the last years’ true political novelty, since it has been able to give rise to constant and huge mobilizations everywhere in the world. The fight for free, legal and safe abortion in Argentina, was not only aimed at a national-legislation reform, but it picked up the strength of the Polish Black Monday and of the Irish referendum becoming part of a general uprising demanding sexual freedom against the patriarchal policies, both neoliberal and populist ones, which are intensifying around the world. There is a connection between the protests in Brazil before Bolsonaro’s election and the Non Una di Meno’s demonstration in Rome on November 24, contesting Salvini, Di Maio and Pillon, with their familist, racist and precarizing policies. Such a connection the ability of transforming a partial battle – as that against male violence against women – into the point of impact which asserts a political opposition against the capital’s command, which cannot be reduced to a government opposition. Movements like Non Una di Meno in Italy or Ni Una Menos in Argentina show the capacity to fight moving from a specific material condition, understanding the global character of that condition and therefore the global character of the fight against it. Limiting these movements to their local objectives means being unable to see their power, even when it daily continues to show up everywhere around the world, from China to Bangladesh, from India to South Korea. As proven by the recent and unexpected strike organized by Israeli and Palestinian women against male violence, the social movement of women is transnational not because of a certain organizational structure, but because the feminist strike circulates around the world with the strength of a popular prejudice, everywhere triggering organizational processes actually related to each other.
While women’s movement is the transnational movement that everyone can see, the social movement of migrants has been blacked out by the governments’ racism. It didn’t stop, it didn’t become politically less relevant, but it struggles to impose itself as an autonomous force, capable of defying frontiers and consolidated class relationships. Germany and Japan discovered their need of a migrant workforce, but they try to govern its movement, counting and controlling migrants since their leaving. Migrant labour thus becomes a subaltern function to the capital’s valorization, thanks to its political command. It should be nothing more than commanded labour or poor and threatened labour, that one can always get rid of according to market’s needs. Instead, migrant labour is a real and great spectre, scaring those who dream a general command over living labour. It is this uncompromisingly mobile workforce that is now preventing the possibility of making ends meet, those refugees and asylum seekers pressing the southern European borders and the millions of migrants who have been living in Europe for years, under the yoke of a legislations linking more and more tightly residence permit and work, those workers moving across the eastern European borders constantly looking for a higher wage. The composition and the dimension of this social movement makes anti-racism insufficient, even though it is absolutely necessary. For this very reason, antiracism cannot be practiced only on the borders or via institutions from which migrants are already excluded. Right because in Europe the government of mobility concerns a multitude of men and women, we need to recognize that the government’s racism is one element of the populism of capital, which aims at a stronger command over migrant men and women: the populism of capital does not only want to repulse them, but also to make them a poor workforce unable to change its position. The European powers’ relentlessness in uniting against migrant labour shows it persisting political centrality.This brings us back to where we started.In this moment women and migrants are the two polarities directing the refusal to submit to the capital’s command. In general, there is a inclination to revolt which is still not finding an adequate organizational answer. In the infinite mutation of the present state of things, we call strike the moment when that inclination becomes material, by backing out capital’s command. This back out does not take homogenous shapes, but in every local display it expresses the pretence of interrupting the dynamics of production and reproduction of society. Through a block of production, through a movement across borders, through the refusal of submitting to the patriarchal imperatives and their violence, in its industrial, logistical, metropolitan and social expressions, the strike shows the possibility of transforming the local revolt into a transnational political initiative. The Transnational Social Strike Platform is tenaciously trying to build the political infrastructure which could allow us to go beyond what we are, obstinately aiming to get close to the real scale on which the neoliberal reaction is hardly trying to chase our daily revolts.