Steve Shaviro kindly posted a summary of and comments on a talk by Michael Hardt. I agree with Steve’s criticisms completely though I disagree with Steve on issues with regard to real vs formal subsumption. I’m not going to get into that now but here a few other thoughts on the Hardt talk as summarized by Steve.

On the supposed need to struggle differently – it makes a sort of intuitive sense to say “conditions have changed, we must struggle differently,” but that’s not actually an argument and the way that Hardt seems pose the issue sounds as if there’s a best fit (or worse, a causal determination) between an objective situation and a subjective response. I don’t see any reason to think this. It seems equally plausible to me to say the relationship between the two is underdetermined and multiple responses are possible and possibly effective. I also feel pretty strongly that people who want to argue “we must struggle differently” must present clearly what they think the point of contrast is – what is that we must differ from, how did/does that which we must differ from work, what were/are its strengths and weaknesses – something which I’ve never seen done in discussions on immaterial labor/real subsumption/postfordism and its political effects, at least not in a way that didn’t look cursory to me. And really that presentation should begin with an open question – should we struggle differently? – so as not to simply rhetorically confirm starting assumptions.

On cooperation, I think there’s an important distinction left out between imposed cooperation in waged workplaces and appropriation of less imposed – or perhaps better put, imposed via different means at least some of the time – cooperation which is appropriated a la accumulation by dispossession.

“The number of workers involved in immaterial or affective production is still much smaller worldwide than the number of factory workers”

This seems true if “worker” means “waged worker.” If it doesn’t, then this probably not true and has never been true – affective labors of all sorts are required to produce the commodity labor power. That seems relevant to the argument that “immaterial production qua primitive accumulation is more a case of the direct appropriation of the common by capitalists, than it is one of the indirect expropriation of the common through the sale and purchase of labor power as was the case under industrial capitalism.” This big difference posited seems to me to depend largely on bracketing out the immaterial and unwaged labor involved in producing industrial laborers (as those laborers – at least the men in unions among them, or the official publications and slogans of those unions – tended to do) during the fordist era and the great many policies and practices of state and non-state actors involved in reproducing that division of labor and division of wages. If we don’t make that bracketing then I think all of this looks different, and the fordism/post-fordism distinction looks less dramatic in terms of the particular traits Hardt discusses.

“The most dynamic sort of capitalist appropriation today comes in the form of a renewed “primitive accumulation,”

– what does dynamic mean here? Profitable (in terms monetary wealth or in terms of surplus value produced, and either way is this in terms of absolute amount produced or relative return on advances/investments)? Or does it mean most active/most influential on social life? I ask because the era of industrial expansion was also an era of colonial expansion – while Marx discussed what he took to be the ideal type of capitalism in England with reference primarily to domestic factors (Walter Johnson has a great article on this close-reading Marx’s focus on the commodity linen instead of cotton as part of narrowing his horizon of inquiry mostly to England, it’s called “The Pedestal and the Veil”) and dealing with primitive accumulation largely as being in the past, there was actually primitive accumulation occurring at the same time that Marx wrote, which he did recognize. I don’t read economic history really so I can’t speak to profitability but it’s at least conceivable that primitive accumulation during industrialization was still the most dynamic sort of capitalist appropriation at that time as well. (Plus industrialization was the product of previous accumulation by dispossession as well involving that type of accumulation on an ongoing basis among the industrial[ized] working class.)

Two final points, on immaterial labor and on biopolitical production – immaterial labor: Hardt seems to me to overstate the autonomy of immaterial (waged) laborers tremendously. Some immaterial laborers do have the qualities he describes. Other who work in jobs which are no less immaterial labor do not have that autonomy and accumulation does not work the way he describes. One simple example: food service.

Biopolitical production: I don’t think the distinction and relationship between value/surplus value production and use value production – or, relatedly, between the valorization process and labor process – figures adequately in Hardt’s presentation and similar work. Biopoliltical production means something different in terms of value and command than it means in terms of goods and services.