In a recent post, Steve Shaviro suggests that Hardt and Negri are economistic. I agree. In a recent piece, “The Common in Communism,” Hardt approvingly cites Marx from the 1844 manuscripts, about the growth of one form of property opening up new political possibilities.

Of course, changes in forms of property and so forth *do* change existing possibilities. We always start from the present as we find it, and the make up of that present is crucial. The issue is what sorts of newness and possibilities we’re talking about.

Marx’s “periodization,” Hardt writes, “highlights the increased potential for a communist project.” (4.)

It’s the *increased* that bothers me. I’ve been thinking for a while now about Hardt and others’ characterization of the present in terms of immaterial labor. They describe the present via terms like “the hegemony of immaterial labor.” They stress “we don’t mean this quantitatively” in the sense of the numbers of workers doing immaterial work, they say “we mean it qualitatively.” I think this is a dodge, and that there is a type of quantitative claim here, although perhaps not one that involves counting things. The claim is that immaterial labor is more important today, and that more jobs are taking on qualities like those of immaterial laborers, and that immaterial labor has more possibilities (which presumably entails, though this is never stated, that the more ‘immaterialized’ a type of work, the more that the workers who do that work ought to have those possibilities). The repeated use of “more” here seems to me to be a type of quantification (or measure). If the claim was purely qualitative then it would be something like “our immaterial labor today has qualities and possibilities such that…” Likewise with the “increased potential for a communist project” bit in the Hardt quote above. This is a quantitative type of claim (“communist practice is more possible now”) and not just a qualitative type of claim (something like “our communist practice today is…”). Hardt does make the latter type of claim, of course. It seems to me that the former sorts of claims are wrongheaded, but are perhaps useful potentially, if one doesn’t mind using wrongheaded ideas. (There’s some quote about this somewhere – in Gramsci maybe? – about the belief in the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and/or the inevitability of the breakdown of capitalism, how this belief didn’t bear scrutiny but was a motivating factor for many marxists.)

For what it’s worth, I’m sure there is a version of Marx that periodizes like Hardt does. I’d like to think there are other, better, Marxes, but that’s ultimately not really important. Better to be right and disagree with Marx than the reverse. Regardless of the possible existence of other versions of Marx, the one cited here is one of the worst, in my view. It’s a philosophy of history, or rather, a theology. The claim entails among other things that in certain eras domination is not political, but technical.

Getting the relationship between technology and politics backwards is something I’ve disliked about Hardt and Negri’s work for a while. In their new book Commonwealth they’re even more explicit about this. [More notes to follow.]

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