Work, Crisis, Apocalypse?!: The Power and Promise of Autonomist Marxism in the US

The 2008 economic crisis coupled with decades of vicious capital restructuring and state revanchism has generated an explosion of discourses around inequality in the US, as vividly seen in Occupy of 2011 and the 2014 wave of minimum wage struggles and fast food worker strikes. Observers might suggest that the accumulated losses and setbacks for the poor and working-class point to a slow-burning catastrophe, one that severely weakened unions and nonprofit organizations will find difficult to address. However, there exists another tradition – a collective conversation of theorists and movements called “Autonomist Marxism” – that sees in the current crisis not the seeds of apocalypse, but the demand to carefully parse the composition of the working-class vis-à-vis state and capital forces. This approach attends to the everyday revolts and self-organization of the working-class in the midst of crisis, and particularly how this activity strives to change the terrain of class war beyond the limits of traditional Left and working-class institutions.

In this panel, three presenters will demonstrate the many uses of the Autonomist Marxist tradition in a variety of contexts. Craig Hughes will examine homelessness, professionalized advocacy, and disposability in the Northeast within in his paper “Homelessness, Disposability, and Class Composition.” Stevie Larson will read adoptee struggles in the Midwest as an indictment of child welfare’s role in race and class warfare in his paper “No Redemption: Reading Adoptee Revolts in the Strange Victories of Child Welfare.” And Kevin Van Meter will discuss the vibrant forms of autonomous working-class organizing that have emerged in the Pacific Northwest in his paper “Against Rust: Class Composition in Portland, Oregon.” The presenters are participants in the Team Colors Collective, a militant research organization that examines radical movements and class composition in the contemporary United States.

About the Kalmanovitz Initiative

Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor develops creative strategies and innovative public policy to improve workers’ lives in a changing economy.