The Extreme Center and Social Struggles in France: From the Labor Law to the Presidential Elections

Antifascist March in Paris, December 28, 2016. Image from

Against the Labor Law and its World

To understand the 2016 French spring, we can start with the slogan which featured significantly in the mobilization: “Against the Labor Law and its World.” 1 The French struggles of 2016 in fact began with protests against the El Khomri labor law, but immediately assumed a much more general and extensive radicalism which seemed to go well beyond the labor law itself: the labor law and its world, to be precise. And this was not so much because the labor law was ultimately a minor reform, or because the protests against this law remained marginal in the movement, but for two other reasons.

First, because this law is perfectly compatible with the ensemble of existing social relations: it fits within the normative and institutional framework of present day French reality – and more generally, European reality (this law, hardly a year old, might accurately be understood as the missing piece of the current “European regime” of wage labor). Secondly, the link between the labor law and this world, and thus the link between the critique of the labor law and the critique of this world, is important because work has become more pervasive than ever – even more than in the past. 

Since the 1970s, there has been an increasingly acute subsumption of human faculties and the social sphere under capital; an intensification and extension of the employment of subjects and capitalist valorization of the social in relation to what has been seen in prior periods. The French movement thus quickly and correctly understood that the labor law was not the sole problem – that is was the world of which the labor law was the visible manifestation that needed to be criticized and changed. “Against the Labor Law and its World” is a slogan and political watchword that perfectly synthesizes the stakes not only of this mobilization, but the broader historical conjuncture. 

The world the labor law belongs to, however, is not limited to the precarization of the material conditions of life; it also involves authoritarian shifts in the state apparatus. The reconfiguration of production and the dismantling of social welfare since the 1970s have effectively gone hand-in-hand with a reorganization of the state. To put it concisely: the transition from the “crisis of the planner-state” to the institution of a state of permanent crisis determined a substantial modification of the state-form. Over the last few decades, for example, we have seen a mandate to strengthen executive powers, the short-circuiting of representative bodies and social categories, a fierce unavailability of meditation, a tightening of ideologies and policies of austerity, the deepening of repressive tendencies and police logics, and the dogmatic homogenization of media-driven discourse. In short, there have been real process of “de-democratization,” to use Wendy Brown’s expression, that is, the spread of a governmental rationality which operates by situating itself beyond democratic legitimation. 2 And the crisis has only accelerated, radicalized, and reinforced these processes which have relentlessly emptied out the form and substance of liberal democracies. It should also be noted that it is within the EU that the crisis has revealed itself, in a crystal clear way, to be a crisis of methods of governance – although the events which have transpired in Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Russia and Turkey signal very ominous scenarios.

The recent reforms of the workplace therefore constitute a rollback of the gains of the post-democratic development of our political systems. They aim to eliminate intermediary bodies, break social solidarities, and submit subjects to the logic of the market and competition: to set the individual and singular worker against the profit requirements of the transnational fringes of big capital. In this way exploitation and domination, or precarity and subjugation, are two sides of the same coin: the labor law and its world, with the state of emergency as one vivid extension. Last year, a plurality of subjectivities expressed their discontent against this state of things, through different practices and through different political orientations and sensibilities: students, youth, the precarious, the unemployed, wage earners, etc., assembled in the streets and demonstrated on on numerous occasions over four months, blocking the universities [facs], schools, and workplaces, occupying spaces, going on strike, confronting the forces of order. The cortège de tête 3 and the union rank and file [bases du syndicat] – despite all their differences in social composition and political perspective – together in Nuit Debout, managed to draw the main trade unions to their side, if for a moment. The unions were pushed to take positions they would not have necessarily taken from the start, but ultimately did, or else they would likely be outpaced by the dynamic of social events. These actors thus had a strong influence – a positive influence – on union leaders. Of course, this is not the only criterion for measuring what the cortège de tête, Nuit Debout, and the union rank and file did. 4 One of the best qualities we possessed, however, was the following: the capacity to determine the character of the protest. This is a crucial point of emphasis for any retrospective reflection. 

One Year Later

But in the aftermath of the presidential elections, what remains of the vast process of political subjectivization that embroiled France during the spring of 2016? What were its twists and turns, and more importantly, what experiences came to light between autumn 2016 and spring 2017? In the first place, after the protests opposing the labor law, after the blockades, strikes, and occupations, after the more than 15 demonstrations of spring 2016, the past summer gave rise to student-led initiatives, including “occupy your classroom” [“occupe ta salle”] and “disrupt your city” [“perturbe ta ville”]. Then the union rank and file organized the September 15th demonstration – a demonstration which, contrary the last three summer demos, was able to articulate a decidedly higher degree of antagonism, proving that the will and determination to struggle was still present at the onset of fall and the new school year [la rentrée]. And then, immediately following September 15th: in October, there were the protests against the demolition and clearance of the Calais “Jungle” migrant camp, the march to the ZAD [zone à défendre] in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, 5 and support for the Goodyear workers who were sentenced to a year of imprisonment for occupying their plant; in early November there was the evacuation of the Stalingrad migrant camp and the mobilization around Adama Traoré’s family; in December, the antifascist marches; in January, the founding of “Génération ingouvernable”; in February, the riots over the “Théo affair” and the “classroom occupations” [occupation des salles]; in March, the international women’s strike and the “March for Dignity and Justice”; in April, protests against National Front (FN) meetings and against the police killing of Liu Shaoyo; and finally the “social front” demonstrations, right after the two election rounds, the clashes on May 1st, etc. 6

If we were to draw up a balance-sheet of the protests against the labor law, the first element to emphasize would be the political subjectivization it determined, particularly among certain sections of youth. Or better: among certain sections of the precarious youth, since the youth as such is not a political subject. No matter the calls to take to the streets, no matter the theoretical and political encounters with autonomous movements, the history of the 1970s, the renewal of Marxism, and the present conjuncture all contain an intense desire to wage struggles (with thousands of people prepared to demonstrate) and a tenacity to pursue equally participatory processes of collective learning and self-organizing [auto-formation] (with hundreds of highly motivated young people). 

Of course, the labor law passed via Article 49.3 of the French constitution. But the traditional forces of the extreme center have crumbled, with the Republicans and Socialist Party having to regroup around Macron, that is, around an emergent figure seeking to combine the interests of big capital with those of the upper levels of the state. And further, there is a renewed resistant subjectivity, which has been barred by ruling forces over the past forty years of neoliberal restructuring of labor and the state sphere – there are subjects who continue to be resolutely against the labor law and its world, as was made clear last year.

From our perspective, this political cycle can be interpreted through a remark by Max Weber, cited by Mario Tronti in the postcript to the second edition of Workers and Capital (published a few months after the “Hot Autumn” mobilizations of 1969), right before taking stock of the class struggle in the United States during the 1930s. “Our successors,” Weber writes, “will not hold us responsible before history for the kind of economic organization we hand over to them, but rather for the amount of elbow-room we conquer for them in the world and leave behind us.” 7 We can thus agree on the following: the mobilization of spring 2016 created important spaces for maneuver, more than had been available in 2015; it produced the objective and subjective conditions for a more resonant mode of politics than what came before; it opened up breakthroughs in the wall of the present. Breakthroughs which range from the Jean-Luc Mélenchon campaign (the candidate who knew how to best capitalize on Nuit Debout) to the most radical components – with all the subjects which find themselves between these two poles being much stronger in 2017 than in 2015. 

This shared, persistent effort, determined to activate itself, is thus the key point of departure for any political reflection which aims to understand what has happened in France over the past eight months; that is, any reflection which tries to discern the state of semi-permanent mobilization we have experienced since the passing of the labor law. However, it is also true that in the months following the September 15th, 2016 demonstration, the rank-and-file components – to summarize quickly – became increasingly separated, unable to continue agitating in a mass, collective manner. In other words, they were unable to structure and expand this determination, that subjective will and capacity to reproduce the mobilization in more effective political forms. As soon as the major trade unions dropped out – and it was understood that sooner or later they would end up doing so – there was a lull in autonomous organization as well. Beyond the ongoing upheavals and sudden irruptions that have dotted the last few months, what has transpired since the beginning of September has shown us that there remains a lot of oil to throw on the fire, but we have ultimately not really been able to rekindle the spark. 

This was the phase running from September 15 to May 1: self-organized groups were the most visible elements last spring, but once these groups became isolated, along with the union rank and file and radical unions (SUD-Solidaires, CNT, etc.), they were unable to successfully structure a sustained mobilization in an autonomous fashion. We have not managed to organize this will, this capacity and determination – which was indeed present – or reproduce and expand the mobilization. The cortège de tête, the dissident trade unionists, and Nuit Debout (including all the limits and potentialities of this experience) have made strong, positive references to the mobilization, have provided it with an impetus, radicality, and scale which would never have been attained if the major unions were in charge of things; but afterwards, without these unions, it’s been arduous. It’s been rough going, to say the least, and this fact must be acknowledged: not merely to complain about the obstacles, but to go beyond them. 

A Movement With Demands

One year later, thanks to the passing of the labor law through article 49.3 and in the wake of such a profound social, cultural, and political uprising, the fundamental question we must pose is the following: how to sustain the social dynamics of mobilization over time, and how to multiply the spaces in which they take place? How to embody, how to channel or structure the subjective capacity, determination, and will to carry on the struggles which have been visible since September 2016 – with the explosion of projects, collectives, and groupuscules one still sees at work? 

From this perspective, the complete abandonment of the terrain of demands, as has been the case since last year (“we demand nothing” having been one of the hallmark slogans of the 2016 mobilization), turns out to be a double-edged sword. 8 If this abandonment is an indicator of radicalism – which means, at bottom, that it reverses the framework of the existing order – then it also risks, at the same time, removing struggles from the materiality of their specific battlegrounds, thus preventing any efforts towards a political recomposition that could build larger coalitions between the plurality of social subjects who, in the present moment, separately and on their own confront a plurality of different enemies. Recent anti-racist struggles are instructive on this count. In the low-income neighborhoods 9 [quartiers populaires], powerful new forms of political expression are already being produced, which are at once very prosaic and very pragmatic in their stated objectives. To demand “Truth and Justice for Adama,” we can agree, does not necessarily mean questioning the partiality of liberal forms of law. In the same way, marching for “dignity and justice” does not necessarily imply overturning the dominant order; to affirm that “we are not animals,” as the migrants in Stalingrad did last November, does not in any way require that one establish the conditions of possibility for developing the generic capacities of human beings. And yet, it appears difficult to relativize the importance of these experiences. The construction of autonomous pathways [parcours] for demands – which involve a both a style of militancy and the reproduction of mobilizations over time – could play a decisive role. 

In this regard, however, the problem of what kind of demand, or what spectrum [spectre] of demands, arises at the outset. In the contemporary moment, if we take into consideration what is happening in the world and what is happening in France, there are processes in motion that are drawing up extremely interesting pathways for demands, which place questions of gender and race at the center of political discourses and practices: that is, the global women’s movement collective Ni Una Menos and, in the case of France, struggles against police violence. 

The global women’s movement has its epicenter in Latin America – Argentina, more specifically – but lately it has spread out towards the United States, Poland, Turkey, Italy, etc. In all these contexts, the movement has involved very politically composite and socially heterogeneous mobilizations, with some militants more connected to the syndicalist tradition, others closer to social movements; women coming from the middles classes, others from the lower social strata; students, workers, etc. What is truly interesting in this movement, among other things, is the passage that has been made from the denunciation of forms of gender violence and bodily harm (stalking, rape, femicide) and the incorporation of issues having to do with labor, welfare, social rights, on the one side and the role and place of women in our societies, on the other. The recasting of the strike tactic – the gender strike – has made this qualitative leap possible. And this is not anodyne, since it not at all a simple juxtaposition between irreducible claims. The women’s strike is the instrument that has allowed for a connection to be made between violence against women and a specific politicization of contemporary forms of exploitation and domination in the spheres of economic production and social reproduction. In other words, the women’s strike is the instrument that has made the link between forms of gender violence and the political, social, and economic context. It is through this recasting of the strike tactic that this double aspect can be read and criticized in practice: specific violences on the one hand, and social context on the other, with the women’s strike as the connector and catalyst of this protest movement.

To return to the French present: the two antisocial and reactionary processes of restructuring labor and the state sphere, which we referenced at the beginning and can be qualified, with Étienne Balibar, as an “extremism of the center,” have determined the transition from the control of subjects through welfare to a form of control that articulates workfare and warfare. 10

This transition unfolds through a double tendency: 1.) fully precarious underemployment (along the lines of the German model of the Hartz IV reforms, adopted in the labor law); and 2.) the growing centrality of security technologies, from the police and the punitive carceral regime (the US model favored by the state of emergency). In France, because of its colonial past and present, post-colonial subjects are exposed to the most harsh effects of this double restructuring; that is, black and Arab subjects. And it was precisely these subjects who deserted the call to arms last spring, who were not mobilized en masse, and who did not descend into the streets and squares: not in March, with the high school blockades and university actions; not in April, with the “occupations” of the squares; not in May, with the strikes; and neither in the over 15 demonstrations which have marked the mobilization from March until July. If we listen to the collectives active in the low-income neighborhoods and banlieues, what were the reasons for this defection? That we, black people and Arabs, have experienced and lived the labor law everyday for several decades. The same goes for the state of emergency: police brutality is the daily bread provided to us, not because of what we do – like you, the white militants – but for who we are; not because we protest in the streets, but because we live in our neighborhoods. 

But since last July, in conjunction with the end of the mobilization against the labor law, very interesting pathways for demands have been built through mobilizations against the structural racism of the French state. These mobilizations do not criticize the racist practices of the police, but the practices of the racist police, to cite Omar Slaouti. More broadly, they not do seek to question the racist policies of the state, but the policies of a racist state. 11 Nevertheless, these mobilizations – like the recent “March for Dignity and Justice,” for example – have had difficulty in making the qualitative leap the women’s movement has been able to achieve. Until now, they have accorded clear primacy to the criticism of the strong arm of the state (police, repression, prison, Islamophobia, etc.) to the detriment of the criticism of the soft arm of the state: welfare, social rights, insurance benefits, education, health, etc. Obviously, it’s not a matter of abandoning the critique of police violence in favor of the critique of an articulation of the “social question” and the “racial question,” but of integrating the two perspectives. This is a major stake if one wants to support the autonomous struggles of the low-income neighborhoods and antiracist movements. Take two recent examples of police brutality: Adama and Théo. Adama Traoré’s family was able, thanks to the network of activists who acted with and for them, to build a very powerful and effective mobilization that was largely resistant to the republican narrative. Théo Luhaka’s family, on the other hand, who are close to the organizational network revolving around the PS – which provided workstations and legal assistance, and thus generated income – was immediately co-opted by SOS Racisme and other groups under the aegis of the PS. 12

The Presidential Elections

It seems evident, then, that the call to “support the riots” [“soutenir l’émeute”] is not a sufficient perspective. It needs to be combined – and this is the least one can say – with efforts to build an “applicable and lasting solidarity” within the low-income neighborhoods. 13 In this connection, the first round of the presidential elections offers us some important indications. As an editorial in the Quartiers libres argued: 

From de Trappes to Grigny, the northern neighborhoods of Marseille, Department 93 [Seine-Saint-Denis], Department 04 [Val-de-Marne], the Overseas departments, etc.., the Mélenchon vote came out on top in several low-income voting districts. The results in the low-income neighborhoods and the Overseas territories show something that many have forgotten or neglected: the class vote exists in France. Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s numbers in certain low-income neighborhoods, which exceeded 40%, like his victory in the 93, the poorest and most racialized department in Metropolitan France, is not insignificant. It’s not a sign of support for or identification with France Insoumise, but rather corresponds to a “social” vote from the left, basically a class vote. 14

The second round of the presidential elections also gives us a double political indication. First, the undeniable turnout for the FN: eleven million French people, or 16% of the population, did not hesitate to support an openly fascist party and program, whose implementation would have had extremely grave consequences for the racialized subjects in the low-income neighborhoods. 15 After having obtained 7.65 million votes in the first round, a marked increase from the second round of the 2002 presidential elections (5.52 million) and the victory in the 2014 European elections (4.71 million, with 24.86%), the FN made impressive inroads within the Catholic and Republican right, which, if it did not dare support the party in the first round, finally broke the taboo last month, making May 7, 2017 a truly historic date. And in fact, despite a degree of barely concealed dissatisfaction among militants and leaders, several minutes after the result Marine Le Pen announced a thorough renewal of the party in order to sustain its long march through French public opinion. 

Secondly, the vote for Macron was not in any way a binding choice. Highly unpopular before even before arriving at the Elysée, Macron’s mandate represents a strong continuity in relation to Hollande’s term – the most hated presidency of the Fifth Republic. 16 The new president promises to extend labor reform during his first months in office, and intends to do so through government ordinances. Since it is unclear beforehand whether he will enjoy a parliamentary majority, Macron will be forced to proceed by relying on executive powers. 17 This will only exacerbate the lack of confidence in the existing institutional framework, in the party system, and, more generally, in the electoral understanding of representation. This round of elections has provided us with two other statistics that should be mentioned: the 25% abstention rate (the highest number since the electoral revolt of 1969) and the record number of blank votes (12%).


The coming months already look to be extremely dense, both from the viewpoint of employer actions and social movement activities. Over and above the escalation of repressive measures against social movements already announced by the new president, the governmental project is clear: to take advantage of the summer months to pass anti-social laws concerning the workplace and social rights, bypassing parliament if necessary. As for resistant and oppositional subjectivities, the present and future challenges are considerable. After a short period of pre-electoral retreat, the last few weeks have revived the attempt to build a transversal force, whose goal is to unite the dissident union rank and filers with the most determined groups of the precarious youth. Although the repetition of the “unplanned demos” [manifs sauvages] in northeast Paris (increasingly patrolled by the police and gendarmes) has lost the force of political subjectivization it had last spring, the desired resurgence of an alliance between the “black K-Way jackets and red vests18 [K-way noirs et chasubles rouges] announced by the new “social front” could provide a breath of fresh air to the protests. 19

At present, no subjectivity has the effective power to take on this encounter alone: not wage earners, not women, not the racialized subjects, not the youth – even if they are actually [pour de vrai] ungovernable! If we want to contest the plan of capital and the state machine, then we must begin (again) from the different components that, in one way or another, led the social struggles in France from the mobilization against the labor law through the presidential elections. In effect, as Simona de Simoni recently remarked in a talk on feminism and Mario Tronti, “differences matter no less than conflict, and conflict without differences points to a path that can longer be traveled.” 20 In this light, and beyond all the necessary criticisms of Mélenchon, which are not worth dwelling on here, the concrete social measures advanced in the France Insoumise program and the rampant racism since the 2015 Paris attacks (later accentuated during this campaign) had a major impact in French cities and the banlieues. If the union rank and files and the youth movements want to build a path of alliance with racialized and segregated subjects, it’s necessary to begin seriously investigating the ways in which this different thematic content can be articulated, by providing an eminently political dimension to concrete demands. 21 The needs and requirements specific to singular conditions of life can and must become the principal ground of any real renewed antagonism [toute véritable relance antagoniste]. It would then be the task of this antagonism to push the content of these demands in a political direction, without necessarily identifying with them – as the most successful experiments of the Italian red years (1968-1977) were able to do. 22 Because it is only through the convergence of economic struggles and political struggles – following, for example, the recent case of Ni Una Menos – that we will be able to trigger a real crisis in the system of existing social relations, not only by making the ruling class afraid, but also by directly threatening them. 

– Translated by Patrick King


1 The present text aims only to open up a debate in France on the practices and forms of organization at work within movements. It stems from a series of remarks made in collective discussions held since last January in many different settings: at Michèle Firk, Lieu-dit, Conséquences, Manifesten, La Planète, la Brèche, Cox, Bioslab, and several universities.
2 See Wendy Brown, “American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization,” Political Theory 34.6 (December 2006): 690-714.
3 Translator’s Note: A term that is very difficult to render in English, which refers to the “leading contingent” of the marches and demonstrations around Nuit Debout. It carries a militant connotation, and while both the social composition and contentious repertoire of these protests overlap with black bloc tactics in the North American context, there are particularities to take into account. It is also significant that in many major demonstrations in France, unions often occupy this space at the head of the march, which was decidedly not the case last spring.
4 Translator’s Note: For other reflections on Nuit Debout, see the interview with Frédéric Lordon conducted by Stathis Kouvelakis, “Overturning a World,” Jacobin, May 4, 2016; or the interview with Kouvelakis also in Jacobin, “What’s Next for Nuit Debout?,” May 15, 2016.
5 Translator’s Note: For an excellent historical analysis of the repressive measures used by the gendarmes against the ZAD protests, in connection to the death of Rémi Fraisse, see Louise Fessard, “Grenades offensives: enquête sur le précédent de Creys-Malville en 1977,” Mediapart, December 17, 2014.
6 Of course, not all of the same subjectivities were at play during these mobilizations…
7 Max Weber, “The National State and Economic Policy (Freiburg Address),” trans. Ben Fowkes, Economy and Society 9.4 (1980): 438. See the recent republication of Tronti’s classic work in an excellent French translation: Mario Tronti, Ouvriers et capital, trans. Yann Moulier-Boutang (Geneva: Entremonde, 2016).
8 Ultimately, one might even argue that this was symptomatic of a particular social composition, which did not have any need for major demands…
9 Translator’s Note: I follow here the translation by ediciones ineditos of this valuable interview with an organizer in the quartiers populaires, “Our Neighborhoods are not Political Deserts,” February 16, 2017. While the more literal translation would be popular neighborhoods, and this is often used, it loses a considerable amount of accumulated meaning; the chosen substitute is not perfect and might be too economistic.
10 Cf. Étienne Balibar, “Du populisme au contre-populisme: histoire et stratégie,” Populismus Interventions, No. 3 (Thessaloniki, 2015), 1-12.
11 Cf. “Il est temps de marcher avec notre boussole politique’: Entretien avec Omar Slaouti,” Contretemps, March 16, 2017.
12 For an overview of how the French state manages these “peripheral” territories via associative and financial apparatuses linked to the PS, cf.the article on the Quartiers Libres site, “Made in PS,” February 27, 2017.
13 Cf. respectively, “Soutenir L’Émeute,” Lundi Matin #94 (February 23, 2017); and “Pour une solidarité durable et appliquée,”, February 17, 2017.
14 See the analysis of the first round of elections at Quartiers Libres, “Au Quartier, on vote La Classe,” April 28, 2017. For an analysis of the social and geographic composition of the vote, cf. Roger Martelli, “X-Ray of a Shattered Vote,” Jacobin Magazine (May 2017).
15 Incidentally, the inability of a large part of social movements to articulate a differentiated discourse, and which ended by placing both candidates on the same level – with the slogan “Ni patrie ni patron, ni Le Pen ni Macron” as only one aspect – demonstrates once again the difficulty in confronting racism politically. It is in fact from the viewpoint of the racialized, and their viewpoint alone, that one can establish the terrain of social struggle or latent civil war, so as to not be forced to return to the ballot boxes in the second round in order to “block” the FN. Cf. the series of interviews conducted by Carine Fouteau with anti-racist militants active in the low-income neighborhoods who chose to abstain, “Voter ou s’abstenir: le «cas de conscience» des quartiers populaires,” Mediapart, May 4, 2017.
16 According to several surveys (the numbers vary, but the overall result is the same), about one-third of the Macron vote was due to his personality and program, another third due to the novelty he represents (like Berlusconi and Trump, Macron is a direct product of the ruling class, but pretends to pass as “anti-establishment”), and the last third stemmed from the attempt to block the FN. What’s more, a section of the voters who went for Macron would have effectively voted for the LR (The Republicans) if the Fillon campaign had not been rocked by scandals, while another section would have happily voted for the PS if the primary results had been different. In short, the possibility of a Le Pen vs. Mélenchon second round was not in the realm of political fantasy.
17 In a different manner than what has taken place in Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy, and elsewhere, where “mixed” coalitions have proceeded to form governments, in France the ratification of an extreme-center government seems to be at hand, with Macron acquiring an absolute majority in the legislative elections. This perspective accentuates, moreover, the ongoing implosion [l’effritement] of the two so-called moderate parties.
18 Translator’s Note: Clothing often worn by members of the cortège de tête (black K-Way jackets) and dissident trade unionists (red vests) respectively.
19 Like the most productive political experiences of last spring, which could be seen in the cortège de tête and during the autonomous blockades.
20 Simona di Simoni, “Femminismo, differenza e conflitto: Genealogia e prospettive (in dialogo con Mario Tronti),” Commonware, May 10, 2017.
21 A group of comrades, including the present author, is currently attempting to do this. We are raising, for example, the question of the social wage or social income [revenu social] in the banlieues, but by reversing the terms through which the question has usually been posed at least within Italian workerism and autonomia, which theorized and agitated around this issue starting from the most advanced point of capitalist development, namely around cognitive and intellectual labor, social cooperation, etc. To use Bifo’s classic metaphor, in order to grasp the potential of the social wage, it appears we should head to Silicon Valley. But in my view, it seems just as important and all the more important in the French context, with its historical specificities to understand the social wage in the context where processes of capitalist restructuring have incurred the harshest and most violent effects: namely the banlieues, the peripheries of the large metropoles and low-income neighborhoods, by placing it at the intersection of anti-racist struggles. We have only started to investigate this problematic over the past several weeks, engaging for the moment with about a hundred high school students in the northern and southern banlieues of Paris. What has already emerged from these first encounters, beyond a whole series of symptomatic contradictions, is the potential for the social wage in terms of political imaginaries and perspectives of self-determination. To put it very prosaically: the significant flexibility to be able to autonomously decide what to do, where to do it, and how without being totally subjected to the constraints of the labor market or family background, is an element that opens up quite remarkable fields of possibility. Among the thousands of ways of designating social income, I find a recent formulation, adopted by the Italian branch of the global feminist movement collective Ni Una Menos, particularly convincing: a wage for self-determination! See Maria Rosaria Marella, “Ni Una Menos: Un Reddito di Autodeterminazione contro lo sfruttamento capitalistico e patriarcale,” EuroNomade, March 8, 2017.
22 Cf. Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni, La horde d’or: Italie 1968-1977, trans. and ed. Jeanne Revel, Jean-Baptiste Leroux, Pierre Vincent Cresceri, and Laurent Guilloteau (Paris: L’éclat, 2017) 274-75, 282-83, 336, 400, 402, 416-17, 434, etc.

Author of the article

is lecturer in International Politics at the University of London Institute in Paris.