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Review article: Toni Negri – Inventare il Comune

In Negri on March 27, 2012 at 12:11 am

Reviewed by: Yari Lanci

Toni Negri, Inventare il Comune. Roma: DeriveApprodi, 2012, 205 pp.

Negri’s Inventare il Comune[1] is a collection of several of his articles published between 1990 and 2008 for the French journals “Futur Antérieur” and “Multitudes”. The book presents critical interventions over specific events and phenomena – like the rise of “Berlusconism” in Italy and the dissolution of the Left, the French wave of strikes in 1995, the reconfiguration of metropolitan spaces such the French’s banlieues, and the political and economical shortcomings of the EU – as well as indirectly showing the preliminary and partial formulations of concepts and analyses that will be crystallised in Negri’s major works with Michael Hardt (Empire [2000], Multitude [2004], and Commonwealth [2009]). The articles included in Inventare il Comune are ordered chronologically.

As pointed out in the precise foreword by Judith Revel, amongst the many essays written by Negri in the last twenty years, the articles selected for Inventare il Comune encompass four broad theoretical themes: the formation of an imperial global order, the appearance of the multitude, the metamorphoses of current economic production (and, therefore, labour), and the conditions for the creation of a democratic (communist) commonwealth.

The first trope of Negri’s book gravitates around the formation of a new globalised politico-economical order – much different from the traditional category of “state” as it was understood in modern political thought – that he will eventually call “empire”. Heavily influenced by French poststructuralist thought – particularly by Foucault’s analyses of modern disciplinary and security regimes and Deleuze’s sketch of the “societies of control” (pp.21-30) – Negri argues that the traditional political category of the nation-state started to vanish in the second half of the Twentieth century, replaced by a form of political power that, indissolubly linked to an increasingly deterritorialized and abstract form of capital, erased the classical geographical boundaries between different countries. Compared to the modern nation-state, Negri continues, this new form has lost any kind of recognised political legitimacy although remaining globally in charge by micropolitically dispersed means of (physical and economical) violence. This drafted version of what will afterwards become Hardt and Negri’s idea of “empire”, in Inventare il Comune often coincides with the representation Negri gives of the political configuration of the US. Here the reader is confronted with one of the most common misunderstandings of the idea of “empire”, as outlined in Negri’s books after 2000. In fact, Hardt and Negri’s concept of “empire” in Empire, although closely related to the many different national and international policy sets the US activated in order to continually (re)establish their hegemonic position – mainly in relation to the embryonic formation of the EU in the 1990s and the hitherto rising economic power of Japan (p.48) – it does not coincide with the US. Negri and Hardt have been quite clear on this over the years. However, it is undeniably interesting to see how Negri, in Inventare il Comune, began to spot the emerging traits of the “empire” in the US’s attempt to defend an hegemonic political and economical position constructed on the ashes of WWII.

Throughout many of the articles collected in this book, this idea of the new imperial global order is coupled with the analysis of the transformation of the capitalist mode of production (and therefore, of the forms of labour and valorization processes) in the last fifty years. The second axis that sustains the book’s inquiries is the Marxian – and not classically “Marxist”, since in Negri‟s articles it is evident that he always rejects the progressivism of traditional Marxism – outline of the passage from the material production of commodities to the immaterial production of ideas (technoscientific knowledge), which is the result of the development of industry in the second half of the Twentieth century. One of the most important arguments of the entire “workerist” (and “autonomous”) tradition – represented by Negri in Inventare il Comune – is that, with the increased productivity of industrial machines, the productive importance of the traditional worker‟s material labour force has decreased. Conversely, the shift from fordism to postfordism – in Negri‟s words, “late, postmodern, or postindustrial capitalism” – created (and was generated by) the emergence of the category of the intellectual (immaterial) worker. The cognitive worker assumes an hegemonic position within the postindustrial capitalist mode of production. This new highly educated figure of the production process, according to Negri, ends up being absorbed by the fixed part of capital insofar as the immaterial (semiotic and communicational) commodities produced by postindustrial capitalism cannot be alienated from their producers and, consequently, they become part of a generalised knowledge that will be used as a starting point for the production of new immaterial commodities. Differently from the old paradigm of fordist capitalism, the immaterial worker “stores the instruments of labour in the brain and s/he no longer needs the instruments lent by the capitalist, in exchange for work” (p.148). Accordingly, capital (personified in capitalists) shifts from its position of rationalist overseer to a parasitic stance, for it lives out the results of the cooperative general intellect (p.137), with the resulting return of the importance of the “revenue” – such as profits gained through patents or copyright of intellectual property – in the capitalist accumulation process (pp.181-200).

One might argue that Negri’s articles…

continue reading: Negri last part


[1] (eng. transl. To Invent the Commonwealth; originally published in French in 2010 by Bayàrd Editions, Inventer le Commun des Hommes)

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