The fine folk at Generation Online posted a translation of a talk by Negri, “Communism: some thoughts on the concept and practice.” Here’s my notes.

I like his remarks against the state.

Negri’s remarks on use value early in the piece sound vague, silly, confused, and his spatial metaphors only muddy things. He recognizes at the end of the piece that a different understanding of use value is possible, though his suggestion that “We have now come to the point” where this different understanding makes sense is misleading – that understanding was already present in v1 of Capital among other places, so we don’t need Negri’s theoretical architecture to have it – if “now come to the point” means “having reached the end of my argument” – which also means that the claim is false if “we have now come to the point” means “the moment in history has arrived when…”

“The technical composition of the labour force is in constant motion and corresponds to an always adequate, and different, production of subjectivity. This is a political composition that must find concrete forms of expression and desire for revolution in its present circumstances.”

Corresponds? Adequate? How, in what way? Meaning what? “Always different”? That’s the claim, but there’s little evidence. The quote is hard to follow, but I think it implies an overemphasis on technical composition in determining political composition. This is certainly the case in the next quote. Political composition is underdetermined by technical composition, just technical composition changes in response to but is still underdetermined by prior political composition.

“communism is closer to us today (which doesn’t mean that it’s around the corner) because the surplus labour extracted from labour power – as it changes with the cognitive metamorphosis – is only with difficulty translated and turned into that surplus value that the capitalist organises into profit. Cognitive labour is terribly indigestible to capital.”

Nonsense. A mistaken displacement from political to technical, subject to object, proletariat to labor process. The form of work done under capitalism does not make communism closer.

“there is no revolution without organisation”

Yes, absolutely.


“historical materialism and the immanence of the revolutionary project show us a subject that goes against capital and a multitude of singularities that organises into anti-capitalist power [forza], not formally, as a party, a mature and accomplished organisation, but, by virtue of its existence, as a resistance that is stronger and better articulated the more the multitude is a whole of singular institutions in itself. The latter include forms of life, struggle, economic and union organisation, strikes, the rupture of social processes of exploitation, experiences of re-appropriation, and nodes of resistance.”

So we don’t want a mature and accomplished organization? Or is this simply to say that the multitude hasn’t made one yet? There seems to be little role here for political organization, and a lack of adequate distinction between types of mass organizations as well as between organizations and events (though events are of course organized) such as strikes. Fine, but an argument would be nice rather than an assertion of the adequacy of all this. Likewise this sounds more like what Negri favors is movement building rather than organization.

“The multitude is a group of institutions that takes on different political compositions time after time and in relation to the shades and vicissitudes of power relations.” and “it is a whole made of institutions.”

That’s useful. The multitude is something like the class for itself. Some assessment types of institutions – strategy and tactics – would be nice; most of this seems to amount to a sophisticated presentation of appreciating institutions of whatever type (except the party, of course). That’s useful, but in a limited way.

“From the standpoint of contemporary biopolitical society, the relation between reform and revolution is different from that of industrial societies.”

Nonsense on stilts, with no argument.

“For almost three centuries we have conceived of democracy as the administration of the public good, the institutionalisation of the state appropriation of the common. If we seek democracy today, we need to radically rethink it as the common management of the common.”

Who is we? I think there are other traditions of self-management (as ideal and theory and in some cases as practice and as a form of conflict with capitalists, actually as more than one form). Negri’s selective historical memory continues to grate. Along the same lines, insofar as the following is true, it has always been true under capitalism. Negri needs his bad claims about the present and past, his problematic periodization and selective memory, in order to accomplish the Now Is The Time! feeling that his rhetoric conveys. Now is not a special moment for the reasons Negri suggests that it is, whatever unique factors of the present there are, this quote does not describe them:

“The first three elements of a communist ethics are: revolt against the State, common militance, and production of institutions. Clearly these are traversed by two fundamental passions: the passion that pushes from natural neediness and economic poverty towards a power of labour and science freed from capital’s command; and the passion of love that from the refusal of solitude leads to the political constitution of the common (unsurprisingly religion, bourgeois aesthetics and all new age ideologies try to recuperate, mystify and neutralise these passions). By coming together, developing new forms of common coexistence in resistance and organisation the constituent power of communism is invented. This concept of constituent power has nothing to do with the constitutional structures that capital and its State have organised. At this point, the power [potenza] of labour power, the invention of the multitude and the constituent expression of the proletariat on the one hand and capitalist power, the disciplinary arrogance of the bourgeoisie and the repressive vocation of the State on the other are not homologous.”