What was Futur Antérieur? A major undertaking, ten years of hard work every week in order to produce four issues per year, along with occasional supplements. An expansive undertaking. An expansivity that was not only quantitative but also qualitative. A good journal is like an octopus, continually reaching out and pulling in the theoretical and historical happenings in the environment in which it lives. This journal had a soul — a passionate soul which tried to absorb everything in the world around it which offered theoretical interest, a political choice, an ethical dimension, or simply a joy of life. The soul of a journal is its radical determination to give meaning to everything it touches, to build it into a theoretical tendency, to embrace it within a mechanism of practical activity. Futur Antérieur definitely had a soul. Or rather, many souls.
In what follows I shall identify some of them — but identifying these souls does not mean that they can be pinned down. They were in movement, they were multitude; the alliances within the journal were always in flux, always in a process of continual renewal. A conjuncture which changed, which re-oriented desire.
The journal was born out of the emotion of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989. The question which the founding group posed for themselves was: how to reconstruct — not simply how to ‘refound’ — an experience of communism. All the founders of Futur Antérieur came out of the experience of ’68 — some from the French experience, some from the Italian. For the French the post-‘ 68 experience had been political and theoretical, within the communist and Troskyiost organisations, within the universities and within the organisations of the far Left. For the Italians — almost all of them political exiles in France — the problems posed in establishing the journal were posed in a continuity with the constructive activity of critical thought and revolutionary activity of the 1970s. As we know, the French ’68 was short, whereas the Italian ’68 was long and lasted for at least ten years. The former was an event, the latter a history. Now we found ourselves together, with different experiences but with a common need: how to build a new perspective for radical transformation of the world while at the same time maintaining a continuity with our hopes for communism.
As I said, the journal was born out of the wave of emotion that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It’s worth noting that all of us who were involved in the founding of the journal drank champagne on the night when the Wall came down. What was showing itself there was a betrayal of socialism: on the one hand Gorbachev’s attempt — to democratise a regime now completely detached from its revolutionary origins — had reached the end of the road. The communist parties of Europe were converting to social democracy at a rate proportional to the extent of the Stalinism of which they had been the bearers: those which had been most Stalinist now became the most social-democratic. In this conjuncture what was important was to intervene, to break, to reverse the tendency: theory had to be re-invented, recognising that, while socialism was dead, communism was possible, and that, if political mediation had run out of possibilities, the common constitution of the social was at hand. So in that conjuncture, the conjuncture that coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall, theory re-affirmed not a continuity of ideology, but a continuity of struggles. Socialism had been defeated in the conjuncture, but it left us a heritage of organisation, of struggles, of a biopolitical sense of the existing world, which could — to the extent that we were able to detach ourselves from it — be proposed as the basis for a reappropriation and/or a construction of new political means of transformation.
Later the journal was to live the experience of another major conjuncture. It analysed and documented the process of constitution of struggles, from those of the immigrants in the mid-1980s, to the upsurge of the social proletariat of Paris against the first attempts at privatisation by the city council. The great importance of this period of movement was that, on the one hand, it opened a window on the conjuncture that was about to begin, towards the problems that were to characterise the global era of neo-liberalism; on the other, it expressed and highlighted the new characteristics of living labour. The analysis of the conjuncture was profoundly intertwined with theoretical analysis, so that, beginning with the crisis which intensified between the 1980s and the 1990s, it was able to make statements about the new nature of productive labour. This was the great moment of the history of Futur antérieur. In fact it was through the analysis of the struggles (and certainly not only through sharpening our critique of ideology) that the discovery of what was new in value and in living labour became central to our political analysis.
Today we live in post-modernity. A postmodern analysis of the real does not mean simply analysing what is happening around us in terms of evanescence and global alienation; it also (and above all) means identifying, in what is happening around us, a productive matrix which reveals, with the new nature of labour, the evanescence, the mobility, the precarious existence of the ontological experience of postmodernism. The struggles of 1995-6 were the place in which the new capitalist mode of production (postmodern, precisely) appeared and simultaneously went into crisis. Futur antérieur charted this process, and was able to describe it in ways that were original and powerful.
In Futur antérieur, our attention to the cultural and political genesis of postmodernity was accompanied by an analysis of the subjects located within the changing nature of labour in the regimes of postmodernity. Immaterial labour, precarious labour, the subsumption of affective labour within and beneath the productive potential of capitalism, the transformation of social cooperation into a fundamental element of value creation — all this became a crucial element of research and theoretical analysis. When these considerations were added to our detailed analyses of struggles, and were articulated with the definition of tendencies, then we were within a change of paradigm: from modernity to postmodernity, from Fordism to postfordism. In short, precisely at that point where the analysis of the present opens the way to an analysis of the future.
In Futur antérieur all this was widely understood and jointly discussed. Furthermore, the discussions about class struggle went hand in hand with a deep reappraisal of the latest themes in French philosophy. Once, in the nineteenth century (says Marx), there was a relation between Germany and France: in Germany metaphysical thought ruled the roost, and this way of thinking about transformation was picked up by the struggles of the workers and the proletariat in France. Futur antérieur represented a similar relationship, but this time between France and Italy in the late twentieth century: now it was Italy which came across as the place of struggles, and France which came across as the place for theory. In Futur antérieur Italian workerism proved itself on the terrain of a philosophy which was innovative in European terms and transformed the socialist thinking of totality into a communist thinking of difference. It was here, in this continuity and in this synthesis, that we saw the powerful emergence of the theme of precarious labour, and that of citizen income [reddito di cittadinanza; it was here that — albeit in an atmosphere of major polemic — that new lines began to develop for the development and refoundation of a postsocialist programme.
What more can I say? Both in the themes that it put forward and in the polemics which enlivened the editorial committee, the journal lived, so to speak, on the outer edge of the possibility of still thinking in terms of socialism, and of the desire to invent communism. The journal lived in a space between a distancing from of socialism, and communist excess.
Before ending I should obviously say something about the limitations in the discourse of Futur antérieur. It was characterised by a certain eclecticism, on a philosophical terrain located between Althusserianism and Foucauldianism, between critique of socialism and traditions of communism, between analysis of struggles and various openings in the critique of ideology. This led to a rather contradictory atmosphere, perhaps contradictory in a positive sense, but often aleatory, sometimes unsure of itself and groping in the dark. The journal was postmodern without wanting to be so, as a result of the internal polemics and the capacity which its editors had, of [pulling the debate towards a common point, a shared emotion, a utopian projectuality, rather than dissipating the complexity, the radicality and sometimes the contradictoriness of that experience into destructive polemic. However, it is true to say that there was a degree of theoretical eclecticism and a very dispersive philosophical discourse. Another limitation was that the themes of feminism were touched on but not assimilated, even though — for the first time — they were assuming a central role in the elaboration of a communist discourse. Certainly, Futur antérieur did publish in France the writings of Judith Butler, Donna Haraway and many other feminists. The politicised feminist discourse which concluded in the simple demand for equality of rights was systematically attacked and demolished. On the other hand the thematic of female difference found in Futur antérieur a place for its diffusion and a precise appreciation of its value as a political programme. However, that said, Futur antérieur was not capable of embarking on a progressive mechanism of absorption of the theoretical and practical experience of feminism into the themes of postmodernity. This was a big limitation, and was not much lessened by our intellectual and political curiosity.
You, dear readers, cannot imagine the level of polemic, not to mention psychological and physical tension, around the editorial table at Futur antérieur. It was a miracle that this group of comrades was able to work together, coming as they did from the experiences of French Trotskyism post- ’68 and the Italian workerism of the 1960s. But they were able to work together, and the results were excellent. The editorial board of Futur antérieur worked by asking questions and by asking questions of each other. A combined operation of research and theory, conjunctural interventions and attempts at the elaboration of programmes. Futur antérieur broke with the literary and journalistic traditions of the labour movement and in a strange but extremely positive manner renewed many things in the project of communism.
(Translated by Ed. Emery)