Metropolitan proletarian research
Research as a political method
All the time when we have been thinking, planning, organizing and doing research, a ghost has been hovering above it: the ghost of the political aspect of research. The doubt that it is only about starting a such research process, whose objects would be the non-typical, flexible and insecure forms of work in the postfordist metropolis, caused that many of the subjects who we have met during our work of research, have legitimately raised questions about the political effects of research. For many of our comrades research did not immediately appear as a political method.
In reality these are the difficulties which doing common militant research faces now. The constitution of research as a political method is a feature, which it cannot get rid of: it is the content and the aim of research. However, simultaneously it feels that this wealth is not understood and that doing militant research is represented only as a general antagonistic use of sociological research. As a grassroots doing of such research, which brings tools to the field of politics, tools that are not political, including all the dangers tied to this thing. What we want to say here is that the tools of research still belong to the toolbox of the movement of actual transformation, even if they have not been used for a while. They may have become rusty and some have forgotten about their existence. Now that we are repairing these tools and taking them in use again, it is useful to remember the ways in which they functioned, how they were used, and why they are in the toolbox which is ours. We cannot argument the reuse of these tools just by declaring "ex cathedra" in the name of the history of proletarian research, but we must observe how they have elapsed since the beginning of the labour movement all the way to the 60's and 70's, how useful they were then, what are the preconditions for their current usefulness, in order to find new ways to use them, and to find a meaning, which would be adequate for the current moment.
We know well the history of research from Marx to the Quaderni Rossi -periodical. It tells us something and it is the observational point of ours. We also know that the one-sided repeating of the experiences from the past is completely useless. The past must be understood in its content, the method must travel inside the past in order to actualize the tools of research again, by compelling them, even by force, to a new reality, by translating them in their entirety, to make them useful in the current situation. Therefore we will begin from maybe the most mature phase of proletarian research and by looking at what Quaderni Rossi -periodical has to say. Philology, here you are...
"What have our comrades done? In Ivrea, among comrades and workers there prevailed a profound suspicion against sociology. Many activists know what this is all about, as they have experienced this thing themselves - [...] they are saying: we have experienced it in our own skins, in the hardening work tempo. In addition to this [...] people were not ready to do anything for such a thing which would end up in a book or a periodical. In our preliminary meetings everyone brought up this same problem: if we do something, which politically and in practise organizes the workers in a factory, to liberate the struggles from a circle of frustration, we have a complete support, but if we only talk and write, we will get bad results. [...] Concerning our goal [...] a great restriction came from the stabilized situation and the low fighting pressure, which were characteristic to large companies, and which also were the most central problem of the general situation. A stabilized situation signifies the maximum of fragmentation, suspicion, the complete passivity of a worker, one's own restriction, exclusion to the task of work and the approval of official opinions. It means approving the company myths, whose significance is to mystify the relationships of exploitation. It means isolation, impatience, privatization etc. In decreases into a minimum level the possibility of bringing forward the work on the fundamental level. In means also the extreme difficulty to go inside situations. It makes the situation worse, increases the difficulties in encountering the other side of the problems and reduces our relationship to workers either to outburst of emotion or to a mechanical interview, in which the worker only gives information and his position or attitude does not change. We have begun from the preliminary phase of research, from the mapping of problems, concerning the outsider, in other words through interview, in order to reach a minimum level, from which to start more profound and more extensive conversations. [...] Our first goal was to reveal the official myths and self-evident things, which make the worker isolated and powerless in front of the over-organized capitalist, and forced to rationalize his/her desperate position in order to accept it. We were supposed to have in our possession proveable elements in order to give the worker a chance to reach a rational state, in other words to become critical concerning his/her own position and to help him/her in the critical observation, whose goal is to find an exit. The system, its inner contradictions, and the analysis of the way by which it is possible to organize in order to create final solutions for actual relationships of exploitation. In general, in our reciprocal conversations we always ended up talking also about situations described by others and the solutions proposed by them. [...] Concerning the extension of research work we proposed the young workers to research themselves by always conversing with new people, and this way also profundity would be realized. In the factories there increased mobilization amoung youngsters and the local struggles increased, and therefore we led the conversations into more central topics. It was possible if one returned always back to the same worker to continue conversation, by following the objective thread of politicization and not only to finish the interview or the research, but to build a permanent relationship, permanent bonds around the problems, which had been born, therefore in order to build political organization among factory workers, who were pushed by the nature of problems, on the level of the relationship of production, into an alternative, implicitly revolutionary level." (Romano Alquati, "Composizione organica del capitale e forza-lavoro alla Olivetti", Milano 1962)
The first remark: suspicion. It is in some way similar to the suspicion which we face today. Suspicion existed already in the beginning of the fighting cycle which has ended twenty years ago. What we face today is not the lack of subjective certainty: the analogy is too strong to be a coincidence. Suspicion must be problematized in the research work as a some kind of militant watching, concerning its possible degenerations. There are two kinds of degeneration: first of all, the feeling of the rules of social sciences in one's own skin in the form of hardening work tempos, secondly the production of speeches or something which will end up in a book or a periodical, in other words technical or intellectual degeneration, which produces informations, that are not connected to the path of political self-organization, the autonomy of the proletariat. The first form of degeneration is not the one which concerns us. It is only suspicion towards social sciences, because they have been a tool and a code, in which there has been included knowledge in order to make the structures of production more efficient and to reproduce the capitalist command. The second form of degeneration is the one against which we are traveling unavoidably, because research, the common militant research, means to place a question concerning political organization on the fundamental level, in other words the constitution of scenarios and consciousness for social fights, and to bring forward this in practise, which is something that exits the world of just speeches and lives within the productive wealth of the multitude of living work and especially in the challenge that this multitude can self-constitute politically. This challenge is the militant research. Its success can neither be measured by the accuracy of knowledge, by the explicity of the description of productional structure, nor by the delicacy of its political proposals, but by its ability to produce critical and antagonistic social co-operation, in the extent of its political network. It cannot be the result of the work of the few, it must be horizontal, extensive and allover circulating.
The second remark. After transcending suspicion the proletarian research begins "a preliminary research, whose goal is to reach a minimum level from which to start conversations with others". Therefore it is the moment of background research, in which to concentrate on researching a certain productional segment, not to finish our work, but to produce conversation materials. It is obvious, that a politically useful interaction between political activists and workers will not be created unless the former do not understand the productional process which they wish to research. A political grasp is characteristic also to this phase, which is more centered on collecting information, a grasp whose goal is "to reveal the official myths and self-evident things, which make the worker isolated and powerless in front of the over-organized capitalist, and forced to rationalize his/her desperate position in order to accept it". In this preliminary stage one must produce the conditions through which the work situation can be criticized, in other words to make it a condition which can be transformed by the organization of the fundamental level and its fights. To cause this one must get the individuals out of the isolation of their own world of experience, by prioritizing the circulation of experiences and conversation.
The third remark. There must be another phase, which transcends the circulation of experiences, their exchange and the production of critical consciousness from the conditions of the productional process - this is the power and the strength of the research. Often we get the conception that the subjects which we encounter have not imagined or understood it. Sometimes it feels as if research work should be something that precedes politics, its tool, and that politics comes after it, the same way as a given product is placed into a given market segment by a given communication strategy after the market research. The problem which arises clearly, has something to do with vanguard. However, more about this in some other place. Let's have a look at what the next phase of proletarian research means, in other words its final form. It is a widening work which is accompanied by profounding development. "The development of connections and contacts by helping the youngsters to realize research directly" means to enable a such first removal, where research begins to function actually, where it becomes self-research. It is a moment, when the difference between the militant and the subjectivity of living work disappears, a moment when the self-governing, social co-operation of living work produces class-consciousness.
The profounding development is born from this, the research functioning as a fuse: the bringing of critical rationality first of all into the level of individuals, the extension of contacts to develop the consciousness on the collective level, and when this has been rooted into research, nothing else can follow from it than political organization inside factories and new struggles of workers. Research is living in the work struggles and in the political factory organization. In here it find its fulfilment and the reason of its existence.
This proletarian research is a strong method of political work, having found an accurate systematization in the theory and practise of Quaderni Rossi. Such a mature experience that it cannot be just the invention of those comrades. It must have a longer history of its own and worthy parents. Therefore the issue of Quaderni Rossi dedicated to research - the issue which includes many of those speeches, which were held in the planning seminar of proletarian research in Torino, from 12th to 14th of September 1964 - begins with a writing, which is about the research that Marx did in 1880 through the publication Revue Socialiste. It is about a form, which consists of 101 questions to French workers, of which 25 000 copies were made and whose motive was the need of the French proletarian movement to understand the actual conditions of exploitation, the level of consciousness and the organization level of workers. Marx - by creating the form simultaneously as building a tool for knowledge - included to the form questions which cannot be reduced solely to it, and which are peculiarly partial, such as "tell about your task: don't talk only about technical features, but also about the overstraining of muscles and the effects for the workers' health" or "are the machines cleaned by workers who are specialized to do this task, or are they cleaned for free by workers who use these machines?"; "how much time does it take you to travel to work?". Or "despite the fact if you're paid by the job or by the time, when are you paid? In other words how long is the loaning time which you accept to your employer?". And finally two seemingly innocent questions: "do you know of incidents where the government has placed the police to act in favour of the capitalists and against the workers?"; "do you know of incidents where the government has acted to protect the workers against the blackmailing by the employers or their unlawful cartels?". This kind of questions, in addition to the use of form, are connected immediately to the political need which Marx places for the function of observation and turns completely over the character of the questioning form by making it more like an agitation newspaper than a distinct tool of sociological research. The placing of specific political thoughts inside a form - a form which is divided into four parts (the working environment, the working time, the salary and the workers' organization) - in the shape of questions, such as the ones mentioned above, follows the rational development of the proletariat, according to which liberation must be "the result of the action of workers' own" (Marx) by bending the scientific and sociological tool to this goal, the tool that becomes a political method. A simple reading of the form makes the worker observe his/her own casual reality in a new light, to acknowledge his/her exploited position and to regard this condition as historically determined, outside of natural non-transformation to which the worker seems to be forced, and takes the worker on the road of possibility of communist transformation and liberation which the history offers.
The research form by Marx brings forward the concept of scientific research which does not know of neutrality and which is not submitted to command of capital, but is immediately and directly the science of class struggle. This is proved by the fact that even if only 100 forms were returned of all the distributed 25 000 forms, it had no effect on political efficiency. From the point of view of bourgeois sociology this would have been a failure, but from the perspective of the workers' movement it is completely irrelevant. The concept of immediately political research is the aspect which is removed from the questioning form by Marx into the development of proletarian research by Quaderni Rossi and this is its observational point. Raniero Panzieri stated, in the seminar in Torino, about proletarian research: "I believe that it is easy to say that considering sociology a political science is one of the basic features of marxism. If I needed to give a general definition of marxism, I would say that it is exactly this: sociology conceived as political science, the science of revolution". Before we end this trip in the archeology of the current working class movement, let's try to summarize the method on which the tool of political research is based.
We have separared three phases:
All this to say that after the actualization and the treatment of rust-removal we can remove the political tool of research method from the storage of old and dear tools, where they are stored because we may need them again sometime, and to place it in the small and flexible toolbox, which we carry along with us daily, on the condition that we will tell about how this tool can be useful and valuable during these times when work consists of codes, languages, informations and affects, and in which it has traveled outside of factory walls.
What we are interested say here is that research, in all its phases, shows itself as a linguistic work, as a communicative activity, as the constitution of constant relationships, which are replaced higher and higher, into a more collective and antagonistic level. This proves true a thing that is not of secondary value: doing research is a method which is not based on objective knowing, but it is a way to build relationships, a completely subjective method, which lays foundations to the autonomy of the proletariat, and in which the attention is attached to the process of social constitution of critically understanding living labour.
Therefore it is not about removing a solid pattern or an objective model of transforming the productional system into the workers' subjectivity by directing it into one course, by commanding ideologically, but it is about putting into movement a cumulative mechanism, a linguistic work, in which critique can be constituted in a concrete way by starting from the subjective undestanding of material conditions, from knowing those conditions, in which the workers' subjectivity lives autonomously.
But what do we mean here with the concept "linguistic work"? What does it mean to regard research as linguistic work? Firstly it means to define a path, a process which takes something in order to transform it into something else. To say "work" (Aristoteles) means separating it from activity which is an end in itself, and to bring forward a characteristic feature of work: its goal is the product. To say "linguistic work" (Rossi-Landi) means the affirmation of the external significance of language, the social exchange of messages, and includes its product, the common activity of people, as its specific feature and precondition, as communication in its full meaning. Therefore to say that research work is communicative work, means taking the living proletarian work into the field of the constitution of common activity and defining it on the level of social transformation, on the political level of antagonistic self-organization. All this seems to be completely forgotten when research is comprehended only as a "cognitive" activity connected to knowing. It is not about knowing something, or about knowing the material conditions in a certain productional form, but about producing the conditions for collectively and socially antagonistic common activity.
The goal of research is not the interpretation of world, but the organization of transformation.