Some notes’n’quote to return to later.

From “Materialism and Theology: A Conversation” by Antonio Negri and Gabriele Fadini, v20, #4.

Negri says his Lenin book “was framed by reading Lenin anew”, a reading “that bridged the history of the working movement and the new political tendency of the mass workers” and “developed the more profound reality of restructuring the capitalist domain.” (671.) The history here and the new tendency referred to are for Negri in two moments. Imagine Negri’s book as placing points on a string. At one point, Lenin and the workers’ movement of old. At another later point the figure of the mass worker and its tendencies. Negri wrote from this later point, with the goal of folding the string, so to speak, in theory: bringing insights and so forth from the earlier moment into the later on, “both a retrieval of the past and a nondialectical rupture toward the future of class conflict.” (670-671.)

Here’s the big problem or problems:

The previous moment is flattened out. The hegemony of Lenin(ism) is treated as a technical or objective factor (this is a problem in much of Negri’s work, treating the technical composition as having a more determining effect on the political than he should, a move which renders class composition analysis less useful), rather than as precisely a matter of hegemony, of politics. The simple fact is that there were mass workers in Lenin’s day as well, and not simply as a class (well, class stratum) in itself, but for itself. The political or economic (political-economic?) organization – really, organizations – of mass workers were at least simultaneous with and perhaps prior to the hegemony of Lenin(ism) in ideas and in organizational form. This is one of the factors involved in the conflicts over the IWW and the Profintern. (See for example this letter from Haywood, in which Haywood among other things claims the IWW represents the US working class as a whole, a claim in part about class interests and in part, given the context, about trying to establish the IWW and the mass worker as hegemonic in a manner somewhat akin to the hegemony of Lenin[ism] and the professional worker which for Negri appears in retrospect to be so neat and obvious. See also this by Cannon, and this from the 1921 IWW convention. See also Lenin’s remarks on the IWW in Left-Wing Communism, which, if memory serves, are inexcusable; got notes on that somewhere if I can’t find them I’ll have to re-do them. Note to self – see also these notes on IWW ideology.)

So I find it quite odd to say the least when Negri says that “Lenin is still and always will be for us an image of multitude. Indeed he intensifies the existing multitude for us.” (671.) Rethinking Marxism indeed.

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“You Can’t Anticipate Explosions: Jacques Ranciere in Conversation with Chto Delat” by JacquesRanciere, Artemy Magun, Dmitry Vilensky and Alexandr Skidan
v20 #3

Vilensky: “It would be interesting to reconsider the idea of art’s autonomy in relation to the ideas of workers’ autonomy that were developed in Italy by the Autonomia Operaia (…) in the sense of the self-organization of cultural production that countermands the market system with a pressure of its own.”

Ranciere: “there may a be confusion about ‘autonomy.’ I tried to distinguish between the autonomy of the aesthetic experience and the autonomy of art. Art is about creating a space for unexpected capacities. I think that is not the same as the idea of autonomy in the sense, for instance, of the Italian operaisti. In a sense, their autonomy meant autonomy with respect to the organization of parties, communist parties and trade unions. This is still a minimal definition of autonomy. The real content of autonomy is equality: it is the recognition and the enforcement of the capacity of anybody. The Italian autonomist movement involved that capacity, but it tied it up with something quite different, which is a view of the global economic process coming down to the idea that everything belongs to the same basis. Then everything is production, and this form of production produces this form of organization, and then there is a complete translatability between working, struggling, loving, making art, and so on. I’d say that this idea of autonomy in fact suppresses precisely the autonomy of the spheres of experience.” (407.)

I’m not sure I agree with all of this and I don’t much care about the art stuff, but I think the point about translatability may help explain some of the appeal of post-operaismo to some of us who work in universities and other pieces of the culture industry – it makes our work feel political.

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Zizek, “Multitude, Surplus, and Envy”, v19 #1, p46-58 – have to come back to this when I have more time. I think Zizek is dead right in identifying big difference between what he calls “slumdwellers” and “the so-called symbolic class” and the internal differences of each. (58.) The “crucial break between slumdwellers and the classic Marxist working class” (57) is banal though, no less so for the references to Agamben and Foucault, as is the assertion that here is where “the germs of the future” will be found. (58.) I also find the characterization overstated that the “slumdweller is the one with regard to whom power renounces its right to exert full control and discipline, finding it more appropriate to let him dwell in the twilight zone of slums.” (57-58.)

And the notion that “the proletarian position is: substanceless subjectivity” strikes me as useless and perhaps actively counterproductive. (58.)

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Return to these:
Andrew Wells, “Imperial Hegemony and Colonial Labor”v19 #2, 180-194

Rakesh Bhandari, “Slavery and Wage Labor in History” v19#3, 396-408
Concluding paragraph: “That wage labor can take the form of slavey and that capitalism could have rested on slavery should encourage unblinkered study of the tendencies and potentialities of this social form. Once we move beyond the superficial definition of wage labor in terms of juridical attributes of negative ownership and contractual freedom to the actual performance of capital-positing labor, the extension of the concept – the cases that fall under its concept – changes as well. It then follows that the history and the geographic scope of wage labor have not been well understood. In fact, the primary reason for some of the greatest historical weaknesses of Marxism – its apologetic, Eurocentric occlusion of slavery and colonialism in the writing of the history of capitalism, its genuflection before capitalism for its putatively miraculous break with the unfreedom of all previous (especially European) societies, and its fraught belief in the necessary connection between capitalism and the freedom of the wage laborer – has been a superficial understanding of just what wage labor is. But the superficial understanding is far from innocent, for it is based on the serious of dubious metaphysical, Orientalist, and technological assumptions that I have herein challenged.” (406.)

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