From "Nettime" (filtered by), "Readme! Ascii Culture and the Revenge of Knowledge", Autonomedia, New York 1999, pagg. 285-289.

Songs From The Wood

Net-Culture, Autonomous Mythology and the Luther Blissett Project  


by F. P. Belletati


As Down Home As I Can Get


The prime mover was a loose-knit current of Italy's Marxism labelled 'operaismo' [workerism], which had absolutely nothing to do with the Communist Party.
In the early 1960's the Operaisti started to investigate changes in the sociological composition of the working class.  At that time, the young mass-worker of Fordist-Taylorist factories was still the tongue of the compass, the most important segment of the proletariat. The operaista intervention in class struggle was based upon a participant observation of the mass-worker's behaviour. The mass worker explicitly refused the older generation's work ethic and discipline. This insubordination was the main mover of conflict in the workplace. Sabotage was not invisible anymore: along with moments of open struggle (strikes and demonstrations) there was a flourishing of micro-tactics to slow down or stop the assembly line.

Operaisti were committed to studying those behaviours and defining the dialectics between class struggle and capitalist development which I'm going to sum up - taking some shortcuts. The continual confrontation between capital and living labour was the cause of all technological innovations and changes in management, which would provoke further changes in the class composition, therefore the conflict would continue on a higher level.

After the so-called Hot Autumn (1969), a season of general strikes and radical struggles with millions of workers taking the streets, proletarian insubordination increased. Struggles became more and more 'autonomous' (this was the adjective by which wildcat strikers would describe their occupations: "assemblea autonoma"). In 1973 the self-disbanding of the post-operaista group Potere Operaio [Workers' Power] gave origin to the scene renowned as "autonomia operaia organizzata" [organized workers' autonomy].

During the 1970's, Italian Autonomia theorists (Toni Negri first among equals) started to investigate and define the existence and subversive behavior of the 'operaio sociale'. Such an ambiguous collective noun - hardly translatable into English - served to describe both the youngest generations of industrial workers who had broken away from the work ethic once and for all, and the whole cast of frustrated service workers, 'proletarianised' students and white collars, unemployed wo/men and members of youth subcultures whose conflict was clearly 'anti-dialectical'.
'Anti-dialectical' means that self-organization, wildcat strikes, occupations and acts of sabotage did not take place within the realm of negotiated class struggle, indeed, they even cut loose from the traditional dialectical bond between struggles and development, and challenged the recuperative function of the unions and the Left's political control.

In order to repress those uncontrollable eruptions and outbursts (the 1977 movement above all), the ruling class had to impose a state of emergency. It was a bloodbath. By the end of the decade, most militants had been killed, thrown in prison, escaped from the country or started to shoot up heroin. But that's another story.

As some have suggested, from now on I'm going to use the term 'composizionismo' instead of '[post-]operaismo', because the former is more precise and does not automatically correspond to a particular segment of the working class (the "blue collars").

The so-called 'third industrial revolution' made capital supercede the fordist-taylorist paradigm, and turned information into the most important productive force.
Appealing to those passages of the Grundrisse where Karl Marx used the expression 'general intellect', compositionists began to use such descriptions as 'mass intellectual' and 'diffused intellectual' making reference to multifarious subjectivities in the new class composition.

'Mass intellectuals' are those people whose living labour consists, broadly speaking, in a subordinated output of "creativity" and social communication (in compositionist jargon: 'immaterial work'). This segment of the operaio sociale ranges from computer programmers to workers of Toyotist factories, from graphic designers to copy writers, from PR people to cultural workers, from teachers to welfare case-workers etc.

Negri's analysis in particular is based upon the 'prerequisites of communism' immanent to post-Fordist capitalism. By 'prerequisites of communism' Negri means those collective forms that are created by past struggles and are constantly re-shaped by the workers' tendencies, attitudes and reactions to exploitation. Some of these forms even become institutions (e.g. those of the Welfare State), then they go through a series of crises: social conflict created them, social conflict keeps them open and necessarily unfinished. Their crisis reverberates on the whole society, so conflict continues on a higher level.

The most important prerequisite of communism is the collective dimension of  capitalist production, which brings about more social cooperation. The stress must be laid upon the most strategic form of today's living labour, i.e. 'general intellect', immaterial work, "creativity", you name it. 'General intellect' (unlike labour in Taylor's 'scientific management') is self-activated. The mass intellectual's workforce is not organised by capital, because social communication is prior to entrepreneurship. Capital can only recuperate and subdue social communication, control the mass intellectuals from the outside after having acknowledged and even stimulated their creativity and far-reaching intelligence.

The conflict continues on the highest level: capital's "progressive" spur is over, autonomy is becoming a premise rather than a goal.


The Common Being And The Net


A compositionist approach to computer networking reveals that:

- The Net's horizontal and trans-national development brings about a potentially autonomous social cooperation.

- Most netizens fall within the anthropological, sociological and economical descriptions of  'mass intellectuals'.

- Today's Net landscape is the synthesis of many molecular insubordinations and some important molar victories, (e.g. the anti-CDA 'Blue Ribbon' campaign) and is continually re-shaped by conflict.

- The Net is also shaped by software piracy and copyright infringement: private property of ideas and concepts is challenged and often defeated. If any one of you is without copied or cracked programs, let them be the first to throw a stone at me.

- As an "institution", The Net is going through a growth-crisis that is reflected upon the whole society. In its turn, this crisis is a mover of conflict. In plain words, the Net seems to be the prerequisite of communism *par excellence*. This is not an uncritical utopian view of computer networking, of course there's a huge gap between the potential and the actual: work-force vs. work, langue vs. parole, capital vs. living labour, consumerism vs. social communication. The Net is the OK Corral. It's paradoxical that, after all the schmoozing about 'molecular revolution', we're heading straight to a new molar impact.

The global anti-"paedophilia" mobilization is the state of emergency by which the powers that be want to gag netizens. The reappropriation of knowledge and the self-organization of mass intellectuals require the defense of the Net from slanders and police raids. We must keep this "institution" unfinished and open to any possibility, prevent capital from filling the abovementioned gap with censorship and commodification. It isn't just a liberal battle for free speech: it's class war.

But this is not enough yet. We've got to make history, no less - fill that gap with autonomy and self-organization. We also need myths, narratives that incite mass intellectuals to take action. Each historical phase of class war needs propelling mythologies, there's nothing wrong with that. Georges Sorel has been slandered and misunderstood for too long. As Luther Blissett put it:

'...the trouble is not the "falsehood" of myths, but the fact that they outlive the historical forms of the needs and desires they channelled and re-shaped. Once ritualised and systematised, the imaginary becomes the mirror image of the powers that be. The myths of social change turn into founding myths of the false community built and represented by the power [...] The myth of the "Proletariat" was rotten as well: instead of fighting for the self-suppression of proletarians as a class, the communist movement had mystical wanks over any sign of  "proletarianship", such as the "hardened hands" of the workers, or their "morality" [...] proletarians were defined according to sociology and identified with blue collars themselves at best, or with the "poor" of the Scriptures at worst, or even with both figures, while Marx had written: 'Either the proletariat is revolutionary, or it is nothing'. The direct consequences were Zdanov's Socialist Realism, puritanism, sexual repression vs. bourgeois "decadence", and all that shite. However, [...] the "destruction of myths" makes no sense, we must concentrate our efforts in another direction: let the imaginary move, prevent it from crystallising, try to understand when and how myths are to be deconstructed, dismembered or forgotten before the plurality of images is reduced to one and absolute. [...]'

(Mind Invaders: Come Fottere I  Media, Rome, 1995)

We need open, interactive... rhizomatic mythologies. But mythologies are always created, modified and re-told by some community. What community are we talking about here?

Let's start again from 'general intellect'. 'General' means 'common', literally 'belonging to the genus', i.e. wo/mankind, our species. In On The Jewish Question and the Economic And Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Marx appealed to two important concepts: Gemeinwesen (common being) and Gattungswesen (species-being). Class struggle, the self-suppression of the proletariat as a class and, eventually, revolution were to overcome the alienation of human beings from their own Gemeinwesen and Gattungswesen, in order to build a global human community that coincided with the species itself, beyond races and state-nations, beyond citizenship. We cannot understand the compositionist theory which stems from the Grundrisse if we don't stick to Marx's humanistic idea of community.


The Waldganger's Black Game


The Luther Blissett Project consciously started as an experiment of networking as myth-making. 'Luther Blissett' is a multi-use-name that can be adopted by anybody. The goal is an anthropomorphization of 'general intellect': since 1994 many people who don't even know each other have endlessly improved the reputation of Luther as a "Homo Gemeinwesen". And yet, as Bifo put it: 'One must not overvalue the importance of Luther Blissett. We could even say that Luther Blissett doesn't count for anything. All that really counts is the fact that we're all Luther Blissett [...]'.

Here are some sub-mythologies studied and put into practice by Luther Blissett:

1. The nordic myth of the Waldganger, the rebel who "takes to the woods". In 1951 the German reactionary writer Ernst Jünger wrote a pamphlet titled Der Waldgang. Jünger described the society as ruled by plebiscitary patterns and panoptical systems of social control. In order to escape from control, the rebel must go to the woods and organise resistance. In nineteen-fucking-fifty-one! What should we say nowadays? Echelon, interceptions, video-surveillance everywhere, electronic records of our bank operations... Taking to the woods is more necessary than ever.
Some hacks have compared "Luther Blissett" to Robin Hood. Actually that hazy myth has much to do with multi-use-names. In XIIIth century England, Saxon peasants ill-treated by the Norman ruling class expressed their malcontent and everyday resistance by ascribing many anonymous actions (real and imaginary) to one outlaw whose figure gradually became that of "Robin Hood". The surname suggests that this folk hero (at least at the beginning) wore a hood - he had no face, he represented anyone. That's the way the myth works, though in the Middle Ages it could only bring temporary consolation for a very limited gemeinschaft.

2. Some other journalists described Luther Blissett as a "pirate" or a "buccaneer". It is an error. OK, net-culture and orthodox underground culture are clogged with maritime metaphors and, yes, "pirate" also means someone who illegally copies material protected by copyright. But Luther Blissett is a terrestrial myth. You don't breathe brackish air in the woods. The sea is far away, maybe a utopian horizon to which the outlaw gradually moves.
If there's a utopian element in the Luther Blissett narrative, it is the utopia of the criminal class: 'fuck them over and take the French leave', as melancholically evoked in Gary Fleder's Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, a gangster-movie whose characters greet each other saying: 'Boat drinks!'. This is the happy end of all the movies whose protagonists manage to pull a fast one (a fraud, a robbery...). In the last sequence you see them sailing around the Antilles, quietly sipping their Daiquiris.
Of course 'boat drinks!' can only be a propelling sub-mythology, certainly not a realistic project, because there is no "elsewhere" left - misery is all around. The epilogue of Jim Thompson's The Getaway is very instructive. Sometimes one can achieve 'boat drinks!' though. Ronald Biggs, the Englishman who made the Great Train Robbery of 1963, fled to Brazil and, as far as I know, he's still there. But the Waldganger is too far from the sea, indeed, only those who stand in the middle of dry land can cultivate 'boat drinks!' as their utopia: 'This is Denver, what do you need a boat for?'.

3. The last recurrent description is 'cultural terrorist', which is less unacceptable but it is improper all the same, because 'terrorism' is a term that the ruling class uses to defame anything and anybody, and also because "terrorism" and state repression always mirror each other (the ETA vs. the GAL, the Armed Islamic Group vs. the 'ninjas' of the Algerian Army etc.). The dialectic between police state and "terrorism" is based upon emulation.  And yet, even the apparatus of the state can provide us with some useful images. I'm talking about "intelligence" and black propaganda.
Multi-use-name bearers from Italy and other countries often mention and cite a book, Ellic Howe's The Black Game: British Subversive Operations Against the Germans During the Second World War (Queen Ann Press, London, UK, 1982).
During WW2, Mr. Howe was the secret Political Warfare Executive's specialist for the manufacture of printed fakes and forgeries. PWE's instructions were to undermine the morale of German soldiers and civilians, by means of disinformation and psychological warfare. Thanks to a network of agents in the enemy-occupied territories, PWE issued fake NSDAP circular letters about feuds in the Party, bogus government edicts about desertion, a frightening *Plague Booklet* supposedly published by the German Ministry of Health and leaflets advising the female army personnel not to have sex with soldiers because of venereal diseases. PWE even produced half a dozen issues of Der Zenit, a bogus astrological magazine that dissuaded sailors from weighing anchor on a certain "inauspicious" day (of course it was the date of some important naval operation). PWE also invented Gustav Siegfried Eins aka Der Chef, a non-existent German dissident talking on a bogus clandestine radio station (actually the broadcasts were from the UK), entertaining the audience with invectives against nazi politicians and detailed (albeit false) gossip about their sexual perversions.
Since the dawnings of the project, Luther Blissett has been playing a black game like that. This is another viable mythology for mass intellectuals. Given the new molar dimension of conflict, this is the molecular we can find and work with. Try to figure all those tricksters, impostors and transmaniacs meeting up in the woods, spreading rumours and black material, inoculating lethal viruses in the territories of this global electronic Fifth Reich and then... 'Boat drinks!'.


September 1998