I’d been meaning to get back to the Colonel re: her comments on this post here but hadn’t yet. I was re-reading her remarks there when I suddenly remembered Keir mentioning to me that at some point Negri had used the term “biopolitical entrepeneur” in ways similar to his remarks on immaterial laborers and multitude. I did a bit of looking, and the term appears in a piece of Negri’s from 1998 called Exile. (I have a paperback copy in Spanish someplace.) I recopied the text here.

This reminds me, someone really should translate these two works that Negri was part of:

Le Bassin de travail immatériel dans la métropole parisienne (en collaboration avec Antonella Corsani et Maurizio Lazzarato), L’Harmattan, 1996; Des entreprises pas comme les autres : Benetton en Italie, le Sentier à Paris (en collaboration avec Maurizio Lazzarato, Yann Moulier-Boutang et Giancarlo Santilli), Publisud, 1993.

Likewise this piece co-written with Lazzarato (link is to a work in Spanish, I don’t know the original title and don’t think it exists in English.) I think a lot of the immaterial labor claims Negri makes are bound up with those. [NOTE TO SELF, FIND THIS: Sergio Bologna, “Problematiche del lavoro autonomo in Italia” (Part I), Altreragioni, no. 1 (1992), pp. 11-32; discussion of the term immaterial labor on 10-27.]

Anyhow, in that piece “Exile” is the following section:

The Biopolitical Entrepreneur

Here too, as usual, we are dealing with a sphere in which all the terms have been inverted — direct terms. We must really succeed in inventing a different language, even when we speak of democracy and administration What is the democracy of biopolitics? Clearly it is no longer formal democracy, but an absolute democracy, as Spinoza says. How long can such a concept still be defined in terms of democracy? In any case, it cannot be defined in the terms of classical constitutional democracy. The same thing is true when we speak of the entrepreneur, when we speak of the political entrepreneur, or better the “biopolitical” entrepreneur. Or rather, when we speak of the one who could be single or a set of collective forces, that succeeds at times in focusing productive capacities in a social context. What should we say at this point? Should this collective entrepreneur be given a prize? Frankly, I do think so, but all this has to be evaluated within the biopolitical process. I would say that here we really have the opposite of any capitalist theory of a parasitic entrepreneur. This is the ontological entrepreneur, the entrepreneur of fullness, who seeks essentially to construct a productive fabric. We have a whole series of examples, which have each been at times very positive. There is no doubt that in certain community experiences, red (communist) collectivities, cooperatives basically, and in certain experiences of white (liberal) communities based on solidarity, we can see examples of collective entrepreneurship. As usual, today, we must first of all begin to speak not only of a political entrepreneur, but also of a biopolitical entrepreneur, and then begin to recognize also the inflationary or deflationary biopolitical entrepreneur. The biopolitical entrepreneur determines always greater needs while organizing the community and the entrepreneur represses and redisciplines the forces at play on the biopolitical terrain. There is no doubt that an entrepreneur in the Sentier neighborhood, to take an example from the studies we did here in France, is a biopolitical entrepreneur, one that often acts in a deflationary way. Benetton is the same thing. I really believe that the concept of entrepreneur, as a concept of the militant within a biopolitical structure, and thus as a militant that brings wealth and equality, is a concept that we have to begin to develop. If there is to be a fifth, a sixth, or a seventh Internationale, this will be its militant. It will be both an entrepreneur of subjectivity and an entrepreneur of equality, biopolitically.

This seems to support some of what the Colonel says re: the reading of Moll Flanders as immaterial laborer, how that speaks to the immaterial labor qualities of entrepeneurship, however much Negri wants to refigure them for the proletariat. I’ll also note the point about collective production as co-ops. Co-ops are find and good but like I said here I’m not at all convinced of their communist potential.

The other thing I wanted to say on this, getting back to the original post re: Moll Flanders and immaterial labor (I just checked and the original blog post that had that idea is no longer available and I hadn’t written down whose idea it was; I feel bad about this now, riffing on someone else’s idea when I don’t know who they are – whoever you are, if you find this, I think that piece you wrote was great and the idea was great and I wish the page was still up so I could read it again more closely!), one of the basic points for me here is that all of this stuff is precedented, despite the insistence on a posture of unprecedentedness, of novelty.

After I read that now missing post on Moll Flanders I happened to read two things where I had a similar thought – The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the John Parker’s memoir/autobiography of his life as a slave then as a ‘conductor’ on the underground railroad, His Promised Land. In both cases the protagonists, in Malcolm X’s words, live by their wits for a while. Their ability to speak and to build relationships – and out of this, to build organization – is crucial to their successes, politically and otherwise. Now, arguably Parker is not value productive and so is not an immaterial worker in the sense of what he does for waged work, but if that’s the case then it makes the point I’ve yammered on about here many times, that I think the immaterial labor stuff has a poor sense of the relationship between the capacities of the immaterial laborer as value producer vs as political agent. With Malcolm X, on the other hand, he is value productive (arguably for his church and certainly for the crime bosses when he was a criminal earlier in life). That’s clearly a case of immaterial labor. The response might be that he is so but the point is the hegemony of immaterial labor, that that’s what’s changed what postfordism/real subsumption. Perhaps. But if so, then the example of Malcolm X is helpful for demonstrating that the temporal and spatial bounds of these claims need to be better specified (more recently Negri’s been a bit better about this, mentioning at least in passing that he’s really on about Europe and the special possibilities he sees there) – because Malcolm X would basically have argued, though not in these terms, that the type of criminal he used to be or used to work for prior to his religious conversion was one of the hegemonic groups over/within the African American community, which means this seems to be a sort of hegemony of immaterial labor. (Likewise with the African American preachers and leaders that Malcolm X decried.)

All of that said, I’d really like if the Colonel would expand on her provocative mark in the comments on that other post. She said “Maybe the defining feature of the “immaterial labourer” is at bottom something like “living a life that can be told as a good story” (adventures, not too repetitive, lots of characters, some surprises, changing situations and circumstances). So that the one indispensible “immaterial” product which all immaterial producers produce is the first person narrative itself.” There’s an element of crossover here I think Federici’s remarks on the problems with the precarity discussions in Europe, the occluded social base of those conversations.

(Damn it. Just discovered yet another thing to get back to eventually.)