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Concreta Talks: Franco "Bifo" Berardi, Valencia

Friday 29 May 2015, talk by Franco Beradi, Bifo, The bourgeois work ethics is out of focus, at Aula Magna - La Nau-Universitat de València.

The bourgeois work ethics is out of focus

The European Union has been generated in the throes of the Second World War as an attempt to overcome the national war between France and Germany, which was the political Erscheinung of the cultural war opposing the Enlightened rule of law, universal Reason and human rights to the Romantic cult of belonging, of memory, community and blood.

But this was only the first part of the job. There is another cultural task that the Europeans have failed to fulfill. I’m talking of the divide between bourgeois work ethics (in which the Protestant Reform has historically played a role) and the Mediterranean culture of reduced individual responsibility. This divide has never been explicitly dealt with. The Southern intellectuals and part of the political class, particularly in the left, have often identified in the Protestant sense of individual responsibility the mark of Modernity that lacks to their populations.

Should we accept the idea that Mediterranean cultures have to learn the lesson of the Northern bourgeoisie (and do their homework), or should we question the legitimacy and the usefulness of the idea that debts have to be repaid, and that only hard work can bring prosperity?

I think that the second is true: we must question the superiority (from the point of view of social usefulness, and also from the point of view of civil ethics) of the bourgeois sense of responsibility, observance of the rules, and of the implied culpability. Private property, right compensation of work were principles in some way based on the common interest: expansion of the community, growth of production and increasing consumption. Ethical values and the common interest of the community were linked. Hard work deserved to be rewarded not only for its supposed innate worth, but also because rewarding work was the only way to foster a sense of responsibility in the whole of society. Responsibility meant respect for the common interest. Once financial capitalism had deterritorialized production and randomized the very source of value, the shared conditions of ethical behaviour vanished. The fluctuations of the financial market have little to do with the responsible behaviour of stakeholders; on the contrary, financial profits increasingly depend on the violation of the common interest, as with the recent American subprime crisis and with countless other cases of financial bankruptcy. The ethical foundation of the modern society was the responsibility of the bourgeois class and the solidarity among workers. The protestant bourgeois was responsible to God and to the territorial community which made his prosperity possible. Solidarity among workers was based on the consciousness of sharing the same interests. Both of these ethical foundations of modern ethics have dissolved. The post-bourgeois capitalist does not feel responsible for the community and the territory because financial capitalism is totally deterritorialized and has no interest in the future well-being of the community. On the other hand, the post-Fordist worker no longer shares the same interest as his/her colleagues, but, on the contrary, is forced to compete every day against other workers for a job and a salary in the deregulated labour arena. Within the framework of this new precarious organization of labour, building solidarity becomes a difficult task.

The rule and the measure

In the sphere of Modern bourgeois civilisation the rule was based on the measurability of value. Modern capitalism was predominantly based on a measurable relation between value and time of labor. This is no more true in the sphere of Semiocapitalism: cognitive labor is less and less reducible to common measure. And financial capital is not the effect of savings, parsimony and accumulation of the product of hard work. It is the effect of an arbitrary power, based on persuasion, deception and violence.

The bourgeoisie was essentially a territorialized class. The very definition of this class was related to the territory of bourg, the city, the place where the productive energies are assembled, where factories are built and property is protected. Also the wealth of the bourgeois was territorialized, and the accumulation of capital was enabled by the production of things that are made by physical materials linked to the place, the land, the territory.

Work time and territoriality were the conditions of universal rational measurement. While Baroque culture emphasizes the ambiguity and multifaceted deceiving nature of language, the work ethics is based on the assumption of a fixed relationship between sign and meaning, signifier and signified.

German rulers insist on the respecting the rules. Is there a rule that oblige the Greek people to pay for the fiscal evasion of the global financial class? And more basically: why should we work more, when technologies are making human labor superfluous, overabundant, and therefore more and more unemployed?

Franco "Bifo" Berardi

Franco "Bifo" Berardi (born 2 November 1948 in Bologna, Italy) is an Italian Marxist theorist and activist in the autonomist tradition, whose work mainly focuses on the role of the media and information technology within post-industrial capitalism. Berardi has written over two dozen published books, as well as a more extensive number of essays and speeches.

La Nau-Universitat de València
Aula Magna
C/ Universitat 2
46003 Valencia

Organised by Universitat de València, UNIA-arteypensamiento, Sevilla and Editorial Concreta, Valencia in collaboration with Col∙legi Major Rector Peset, Universitat de València.

Admission free

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