Moltitudine: Struggles for basic income and the common logic that emerged from
“All of us are guaranteed to Basic Income without any condition!” This is
the demand called by various names; Basic Income / Renta Basica, Citizen’s
Income / Reddito di Cittadinanza / Guaranteed Income / Revenu Garanti / Revenu
D’Existence / Allocation Universelle, etc. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
describe this demand as one of three programmes of the multitude. This paper is
written as a response to the three following situations: First,
critiques against Hardt and Negri (hereafter H & N) do not understand this
demand properly. Second, while recent developments within academic literature concerning this demand should be welcomed, the fact that one
of roots of the demand is radical grassroots’ movements in 1970s is usually
ignored with a few exceptions. Third, while experiences of Lotta Feminista, Autonomia Operaia and other spontaneous movements
The argument will go as follows: I will start by introducing current
academic discourses on this demand (Section 2). This will help to point out
mis-understandings within the critiques against H & N.
Then the argument by H & N will be introduced with a brief reference
to struggles in
2. Recent Arguments for Basic Income
2.1.Many names and one content
As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, the demand for guaranteed income is given various different names. Here I mainly use the term “Basic Income” due to the convenience derived from the fact that this is the term most widely used within the academic literature, and with no intention to give privilege to neither this terminology nor academic discourses. The recent development of academic discourses on Basic Income can be traced via an academic community; the Basic Income Earth Network, which started in 1986 as the Basic Income European Network. 
Basic Income is an unconditional guaranteed income for all. Philippe van Parijs defines it as “an income paid by a government, at a uniform level and at regular intervals, to each adult member of society.” It is paid “irrespective of whether the person is rich or poor, lives alone or with others, is willing to work or not.” (van Parijs 2001, p.5)  There are three reasons why Basic Income is called “basic”: First, it is a basic platform which “[a]ny other income - whether in cash or in kind, from working or saving, from the market or the state - can lawfully be added to (van Parijs 2001, p.6).” Second, it helps to satisfy “basic human needs.”  Third, it is an entitlement derived from “basic human rights.” The name “guaranteed income” could be a source of the overlooking of significant differences between Basic Income and existing/existed welfare states (cf. Boron 2005), because one of the main tasks of the latter has been “the minimum income guarantee”. We could say that this name itself reveals that welfare states have failed to do this, and also reveals the existence of “second class citizens” who are not guaranteed minimum income. By the name “allocation universelle”, we can see continuity and discontinuity of Basic Income from existing welfare systems.
2.2. Continuity and discontinuity
Let us look at the continuity aspect first. The direct income transfer system under existing welfare states consists of three different types of provision: social insurance, social assistance, and social allowance. Social insurance requires two conditions: a contribution beforehand (e.g. monthly payment for certain period) and eligibility (e.g. having been injured at the workplace). Social assistance requires a set of tests which should be cleared: a means test, a work test, and (usually implicitly held) a behaviour test. Social allowance does not require these kinds of conditions. However, usually it is not for all people, but people who fall into certain categories (e.g. having a child / children under a certain age). Logically there is no huge gap between social allowance and Basic Income, so if we expand this third type of provision to all people, it could be a first step to Basic Income: from social allowance to universal allowance (allocation universelle).
Now we turn to the discontinuity aspect. In order to understand this clearly, we need to look further into the characteristics of the welfare state. The three transfer systems are never considered equally. Among them, the social insurance system is at the core of the welfare state. This insurance system covers “risks” in peoples’ lives. There is an assumption that these risks are temporal. It was not expected that people (meaning “male bread winner” for the planners of the welfare state) would be out of waged work for long period. People should and can work. Some people termed the welfare state with two names; the Keynesian-Beveridgean welfare state. While Keynesian economic theory corresponds to the “can work” aspect, the following statement by William Beveridge corresponds to the “should work” aspect.
[T]he correlative of the State’s undertaking to ensure adequate benefit for unavoidable interruption of earning, however long, is enforcement of the citizen’s obligation to seek and accept all reasonable opportunities of work” (Beveridge, 1942, p.58)
The other two systems (social assistance and
social allowance) are thus supplementary at least normatively speaking. We can
see this clearly in the fact that the main social assistance programme in the
Thus we can say that the notion of contribution is essential to the welfare state, and wage labour is at the core of this notion. In terms of this priority or duty of work, Basic Income is totally different from the welfare state as we know it. Basic Income will guarantee income without any condition, although there are some variants: some Basic Income advocates think we could abolish any other kind of income transfer, and others think we could have other complimentary income transfer systems. Some critiques against H&N argue that their recommendation of Basic Income is not far from the welfare state (Boron 2005, pp.89-90). But this is simply wrong.
This difference of Basic Income from the welfare state on the treatment of wage labour is at the centre of the argument about the pros and cons of Basic Income. I will briefly come back this issue later, but first let us see Hardt and Negri’s argument.
3. A Programme of Multitude and Italian Experience
Hardt and Negri listed Basic Income as one of three programmes of the multitude (H&N 2000, ch.4), and also referred as “a constituent project aimed against poverty” (H&N 2004, p.136). The calling for Basic Income is rather widespread as we saw in the last section, but their justification is unique.
The demand for a social wage extends to the entire population the demand that all activity necessary for the production of capital be recognized with an equal compensation such that a social wage is really a guaranteed income. (H&N 2000, p.402)
Under the current mode of production - biopolitical production - “the production of capital converges ever more with the production and reproduction of social life itself (H&N 2000, p.401)”. Thus, (1) not only the industrial working class, but the multitude as a whole, which includes houseworkers and the unemployed, produces values, and (2) these values cannot be measured in the sense of the traditional labour theory of value. So we, the multitude, are entitled to a guaranteed income.
From the logic offered to us in Empire, we can directly arrive at the provision of a guaranteed income for all (i.e., Basic Income), and do not need to come via a social wage. Then why do H & N mention social wage at all? We can understand this through Italian experiences and Negri’s articulation of these in his earlier writings.
“Refusal of work” was a slogan which
symbolically covered varied struggles by diverse agencies; from factory workers
to the unemployed, students and housewives. While they refused wage labour,
they tried to make it explicit that they were engaging in another kind of work,
which should be paid. For example, Feminists demanded a “salary for housewives”
(Bono and Kemp 1991). This political moment (demanding a
recognition for unpaid or invisible work) explains why the demand of the
Another reason why it was social “wage” (not directly basic “income”) can be found Negri’s articulation of refusal of work. Negri’s earlier theorization of it took the form from his reading of Marx. It eloquently told us that there was (and I think still is) a difficulty for those who identified themselves as “Marxists” to understand this form of uprisings and resistances. This tendency can be called “naturalisation or mystification of work / labour”. Through reading Marx’s Grundrisse, Negri emphasizes there is no concept of work that we could rescue. He concluded that “Marx insisted on the abolition of work. Work which is liberated is liberation from work (Negri 1991, p.165)”. This argument itself seems to support directly a Basic Income rather than a social wage. However, what Negri tried to do is not only justification of the refusal in terms of Marxist tradition, but also giving a meaning via reading Marx. As he later articulated with Hardt (clearly referring Diane Elson’s work)(H&N 1994, p.9), a labour theory of value is also a value theory of labour. While the former is losing explanatory power, the latter enables us see the singularity of diverse movements. The dichotomy between the traditional class struggle, which is usually explained in Marxist terms, and the new social movement, which is usually explained in post-structualist terms is a misleading one, and both are the struggles over the determination of labour, and then of value. In this theoretical line, again as same as in the case of practices in Italy, we once again need the concept of social wage before reaching Basic Income. 
4. The Cunning of Empire?
As we saw in section 2, the main discontinuity from the current welfare state is on the location of wage labour. This is located at the centre of the welfare state, but it is not in the case of Basic Income. Most of the skepticism towards Basic Income centers on this issue. Will people stop working once we have Basic Income? Isn’t it a denial of a right to work? Isn’t it the cunning of Empire that threatens our unity and solidarity as the working class? We would not get the singular answer to these questions from Basic Income as an institution. Through plural imaginations that conceptualize Basic Income, we will reach plural answers.
4.1. On the incentive to wage labour
First, there is a discussion on neutrality of Basic Income. The golden rule of liberalists is that social institutions should be neutral to preferences of individuals. From this point of view, the current system is criticized on the grounds that it isn’t neutral about individual preferences on labour and leisure, and it favours preference to labour. Some critique argue against Basic Income insisting it will reduce the incentive to (wage) labour. But nothing is wrong with reducing this incentive. The social institution should not convey any incentive which affects individual preferences, because it isn’t neutral. Phillipe van Parijs, an eminent advocate of Basic Income, argues in this line (van Parijs 1995).
Second, some other advocates also are happy with less incentive to wage labour in Basic Income, but from different points of views. Some ecologists favour Basic Income because less incentive to wage labour might be good for the transformation from an industrious society to a post industrial one (cf. Gorz 1999). 
Third, obviously enough, less incentive is also welcomed by Hardt and Negri. Wage labour is to be abolished. Why should we be motivated towards wage labour?
4.2. Ambiguous Effects of Basic Income
Isn’t Basic Income the cunning of Empire that threatens our unity and solidarity as the working class? Well, yes and no. Worries about Basic Income in this line argue that Basic Income justifies precarious labour and undermines the material condition for workers’ solidality.  First of all, we could say that in the same manner that some trade unionist demands such as “full employment”, and “equal pay to equal value labour”, and their form of solidality based on waged labour justify discriminations against people who do not or cannot work. The positive effects of any demand can only be understood by looking at their specific context.
Second, some of them might argue the following. Yes, we are worried in this particular context about neoliberalism dominance. It makes labour more precarious, less well paid. Milton Freedman, self-claimed neoliberalist advocated the negative income tax, which is similar to Basic Income. Because of this, some would argue that Basic Income must be neoliberalist product, or the cunning of Empire. Yes, Basic Income could be used in this way, just as the notion of “worker’s power” has been used by Stalinists, and the notion of freedom and democracy has been used by Neo-conservatives. We have to be cautious of misuse in this way, but it makes no sense to negate notions themselves. If we closely study the radical movement around 1968, we will find that most of their demands, like freedom against bureaucratic states, were stolen by neoliberalists later. But this fact cannot deny the value of their demand.
Let me give
one other example. No progressive authors say anything positive about the
Speenhamland system in
5. “Abolition of the Wages System”: Claimants Unions in the
It has been said that the claimants
union movements appeared in
They insisted that their banner should be changed from “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” to “abolition of the wages system (The National Federation of Claimants Unions, p.5)”. They problematised unpaid work based on sexual division of labour and work ethic combined with waged labour. This work ethic was imposed not only by the welfare authority, but also by “poverty industries” such as charity organizations and other voluntary groups.
This handbook is written by “the national federation of claimants unions”, which is explained as “merely a network of all those Claimants Unions which have affiliated together”. They shared the four common demands known as the “Claimants Charter”. These are;
1. the right to an adequate income without means test for all people.
2. a socialist society in which all necessities are provided free and which is managed and controlled directly by the people.
3. no secrets and the right to full information.
4. no distinction between so-called “deserving” and “undeserving”
(The National Federation of Claimants Unions, p.3.)
The first demand is about Basic Income, and it was repeated as the first demand among 13 demands specific to pensioners; “a free welfare society, with a guaranteed adequate income per individual as of right (The National Federation of Claimants Unions, p.37)”. The welfare state at that time was criticized because its aim was to control people.
Unfortunately it is not clear when and how the demand for Basic Income was
introduced in this movement as a whole. Instead, I will introduce an episode
from one of local claimant unions. In Newton Abbot, south west of
At one of the weekly meetings in the early stage of this union, some members who knew that some other claimants unions had demanded a Basic Income, decided to discuss Basic Income in the meeting. They weren’t sure that what other members would think about this, and expected that there might be some objections. But during the meeting there wasn’t any objection and people really supported for this proposal. The secretary later said to me that it was a good surprise and was ashamed that he had doubted popular support. Some ex-claimants said that members shared the same belief that we should not be deprived humane life because of unemployment, disease and disability.
However, usually these people demand a decent job or a decent allowance for his or her own category. Why could they reach the common demand of Basic Income? We can see two reasons for this; the one is an objective condition, and the other is about subjectivity. First, all of them were forced to be in the common situation of being excluded from wage labour. At the same time, the possibility of accessing wage labour varied among members. Because of having both this commonality and difference, they reached the universal demand of Basic Income, instead of aiming at employment like usual movements of the unemployed or trade union’s struggle on behalf of them, and instead of only aiming for particular benefits for specific people. For them, class divide was not (only) between capitalists and workers, but (also) between capitalists/workers and claimants. In the same way the discourse that workers should become entrepreneurs is simply wrong (though this rhetoric became more prevailing under neoliberalist dominance), the discourse that claimants should become workers is wrong (though this is still prevailing belief among the left wing). However, generally speaking objective material conditions are not enough to form a collective class identity. This is my second point; in this case, through communal activities, like allotment or protest, they were able to respect varied situations among members and to share the common identity/subjectivity as claimants at the same time.
The common interest and subjectivity in this case wasn’t an eternal one, though. As relatively young members who were short term unemployed returned to employment, the Newton Abbot Claimants Union lost most of its active members. It ended around 1975. Almost of other claimants unions also diminished in the mid 1970’s. Although some of them restarted claimants movements later, and though there were several efforts to form a national network and a couple of claimants collectives are still struggling today, the demand for Basic Income isn’t within their programmes anymore.
6. “Living itself is Labour”: Blue Grass
and disability movements in
Here I would like to turn from the
same demand to the same justification. When I read their justification of Basic Income in Empire,
it echoed phrases in radical movements of the disabled people in
Around 1970, movements of (not “for” or “on behalf of”) the disabled became active significantly different from before. Tomoaki Kuramoto summarised this new wave as “not liberation from disability, but liberation from discrimination” (Kuramoto, 1997). Aoi shiba no kai (if literally translated to English, Blue Grass Collective, so hereafter Blue Grass), which was started as a peer self help group in the late 1950’s, turned to a radical action group around 1970. Their programme which first appeared 1970 eloquently explains their thought. That is:
1 . We identify ourselves as people with Cerebral Palsy (CP).
We recognize our position as "an existence which should not exist", in the modern society. We believe that this recognition should be the starting point of our whole movement, and we act on this belief.
2 . We assert ourselves aggressively.
When we identify ourselves as people with CP, we have a will to protect ourselves. We believe that a strong self-assertion is the only way to achieve self-protection, and we act on this belief.
3 . We deny love and justice.
We condemn egoism held by love and justice. We believe that mutual understanding, accompanying the human observation which arises from the denial of love and justice, means the true well-being, and we act on this belief.
4. We do not choose the way of problem solving.
We have learnt from our personal experiences that easy solutions to problems lead to dangerous compromises. We believe that an endless confrontation is the only course of action possible for us, and we act on this belief.
(Aoi Shiba no Kai Kanagawa Rengo Kai, 1970) 
They protest against the able-bodied majority and the system, both of which are understood to sympathise with parents who murdered their disabled children because of the underlying perception that the heavily disabled should not to be born. It was a material threat for them (“When will my parents kill me?”), caused by the perception of the majority of society. At the same time it also made their self-affirmation difficult, through internalizing this perception. The first and second points of the programme reflect the need for struggling against this situation.
The third part is a good summary of their demands. They saw that the disabled people were negated by the imperialist-capitalist mode of production, and this negation is “fixed and enforced by people’s perception” formed by this mode of production (Kansai Aoi Shiba no Kai, 1975). When they deny love and justice, “love” means this perception, for example, parents’ “love” to kill children as mentioned above, or voluntary people’s “good will” which negates autonomy of the disabled. The “justice” which should be denied is the current system, i.e., the welfare state, which segregates and controls disabled people. They refused to be put into institutions, and started their “independent living”. They demanded “inclusive” education. The welfare policies, law and medical practices based on Eugenics were criticized. In order to live outside of institutions, in other words, to survive everyday life like able-bodied people, they had to demand a lot of things; from accessible public transportation to income.
The fourth part explains their strategy well, but due to time constraints I have to omit further study of this aspect. Let me note only one thing in order to avoid possible misunderstanding. Apparent from this programme (especially part 1 and 4), we could say their politics can be called “politics of difference”, if we adopt the terminology in modern political philosophy. However, from this if someone conclude that they are mere separationalists, and were refusing communication with the able-bodied majority, it isn’t true. They tried to “make a platform for the common future through mutual criticism between us [them] and workers, through recognizing our [their] and worker’s history correctly. We transform the value of labour by bringing the issue of the disabled into any workplace (italics mine)”.
To “transform the value of labour” echoes Negri’s logic which justifies Basic Income. The demand of income for living and payment to personal assistants are, however, mainly pursued by another organization, called National Claimants Union for Guaranteed Personal Assistance, which formed in 1980’s. It is said that there and elsewhere, demands similar to Basic Income are discussed.
The Blue Grass collectives still
exist today, and they have fought for a wide range of matters. They are “usual”
in the sense they are for “usual every day life” for them, and at the same time
“radical” in the sense that they fundamentally differ from the perceptions of the
majority. What I would like to pay attention to here are the
following two things. In the first place, their logic expressed in the form
such as “living itself is labour” is quite similar to Negri’s argument.
Secondly, the difference with Negri and Autonomia is that
the emphasis by Blue Grass is the difference between the disabled and
the able bodied. This is also different from Claimants Unions in the
7. Concluding Remarks
These three movements (each of which are also plural) differ from each other especially with regard to the identity of the main active subjects. Further they are remote from each other and there does not seem to be good contacts between them. Nonetheless, we have found similar demands in each and a same logic that justifies these demands. This fact reminds me the following analysis in Empire:
The tendency created necessarily a potential or virtual unity of the international proletariat. This virtual unity was never fully actualized as a global political unity, but it nonetheless had substantial effects. In other words, the few instances of the actual and conscious international organization of labor are not what seem most important here, but rather the objective coincidence of struggles that overlap precisely because, despite their radical diversity, they were all directed against the international disciplinary regime of capital. The growing coincidence determined what we call an accumulation of struggles. (H&N 2000, p.262-3)
What does this “objective coincidence of struggles” tell us? What do we need in order to actualize this “virtual unity”? I would like to keep these questions open for discussion in this conference.
Instead, let me conclude
(or repeat) with a few things. First of all, Negri’s (and later with Hardt)
theorization on refusal of work is also the logic that came out from the
movements we saw outside of
Second, Basic Income can be the cunning of Empire. In order to avoid a case that Basic Income would function in this negative way, I suggest learning from historical experiences such as those outlined in this paper. It is important to bring these experiences into the discussions of the emerging academic network on Basic Income. But this is only one of many things that should be done. Needless to say, communicating and joining the current and future movements on Basic Income is crucial. 
Finally, political subject(s) who have fought for Basic Income are “one” and at the same time “many” (Una Sola Moltitudine ). The meanings of this experience to our politics of the multitude are worth interrogating, and this is open to discussion in this conference and future.
Acknowledgements and a general note
The earlier version of this paper was published
in Japanese (Yamamori ). I omit here my acknowledgement that I wrote
there, except to people from ex-Newton Abbot Claimants Union, ex-South Shields
1. See the following homepage for the details. http://www.etes.ucl.ac.be/BIEN/Index.html
2. The membership mentioned here is “not only citizens, but to all permanent residents (van Parijs 2001, p.5)”. Almost of academic literature on Basic Income do not problematise the exclusive aspect of citizenship, i.e. the problem of membership. H & N is one of the few exceptions to this tendency with Jordan and Duvell 2003.
3. While we can find a multitude of examples which connect Basic Income with basic needs both in social movements and academic literature, van Parijs delinks these two.
4. Some countries such as
5. As far as more detail of Italian experience is concerned, this conference has two papers related to Basic Income by Italians (one of them is Negri himself), and has other participants who have been involved in this experience (Andrea Fumagalli and Maurizio Lazzarato, who wrote on Tute Bianche / White Overall which demanded Basic Income in 1990’s), so I leave it to them.
6. The earlier recommendation of Basic Income by Gorz came with some conditions of individual contribution. Similarly some communitarians and feminists are happy with less incentive to wage labour, but not happy with less incentive to contribute to society in the form of care labour or voluntary work. Basic Income is favoured over the current system for them, but it should come with some requirements for individual contribution to society. Anthony B. Atkinson’s adovocacy of Participation Income is an example of this type of argument. It is different from the welfare state, but also different to Basic Income which we are discussing here, so I omit this.
7. I frequently heard this from friends and activists in trade unions.
8. I interviewed ex-activists and ex-claimants from several claimants unions. The reason I described the case of Newton Abbot is not that this union is typical one, but that the interviewees remember well the moment that Basic Income was adopted as their programme.
9. Of course, they struggled for particular benefits for each individual, and sometimes they won. My emphasis is on only.
10. The fifth programme added later. That is: “5. We deny able-bodied civilization. / We recognize that modern civilization has managed to sustain itself only by excluding us, people with CP. We believe that creation of our own culture through our movement and daily life leads to the condemnation of modern civilization, and we act on this belief.”
11. Taught by Shinya Tateiwa. For further details, the voice of the disable activists who were involved in should be heard.
12. Let me note in order to avoid possible misreading. This claim does not mean that the logic out of these movement should or can be reduced to the writing by H&N.
struggles on Basic
Income are on the process. For example, we will see the clear demand for Basic Income at
the coming Mayday demonstration in
14. Maiko Enomoto taught me that this phrase is used for the title of the Italian version of Fernand Pessoa’s poetry collection edited by Antonio Tabucchi.
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