brock

Toni NegriThe Brock conference “Metastasizing Capital” left much to think about. I didn’t catch everything, in part because I also took the time to do some sight-seeing. But of what I saw, there were plenty of good papers, even among those I disagreed with.

In the end, though, no doubt the point of the thing was to hear from Toni Negri (and Judith Revel), and to engage in some dialogue with them. Kudos to Brock, by the way, for being as far as I know the first place in North America to host Negri.

But as we’ve started to discuss in comments to my previous post, the reception of what Negri actually had to say was far from completely favourable.

He pointed to some important issues–not least, the problem of evil, that haunts any philosophy of affirmation. Other tidbits included he denial that the disturbances in the banlieus had anything to do with the logic of (post)coloniality (huh?!), and Revel’s aside suggesting that we have to distinguish between “good” and “bad” multitudes.

But Negri’s over-riding theme, taken up also by Revel, was the “rupture” between what he here framed as modernity and postmodernity. And the more he discussed this rupture, the less convinced I became.

While listening to Judith Revel, I grabbed a piece of paper from Nate (who’s already posted some initial reactions to the conference) and came up with the following tables:

Negri today
Continuities and breaks in the rupture between modern and postmodern. (All theses taken from Negri and Revel’s oral presentations at Brock.)
before after
dialectic between labour and capital NO dialectic between labour and capital
exploitation of labour power central to capitalist system exploitation of labour power central to capitalist system
modern subject, defined by rights postmodern, but not postcapitalist, subjectivities: minorities, multitude

Negri beyond Negri
Continuities and breaks in the rupture between modern and postmodern. (All theses taken from Negri’s published work.)
before after
NO dialectic between labour and capital [MBM] NO dialectic between labour and capital
exploitation of labour power central to capitalist system exploitation replaced by pure command [E]
modernity traversed by the multitude, a subject misrecognized as people etc. [I] postmodern, postcapitalist, subject, the multitude, comes into its own
Key: MBM=Marx beyond Marx; E=Empire; I=Insurgencies

Now, I’m as big a fan of rupture as the next person, but there is some incoherence here. Moreover, what’s important is surely the relation between continuity and discontinuity. One of the insights of the workerist and autonomist tradition from which Negri comes (but which, in public at least, he continues rather oddly to underplay) is the notion that it is working class power that’s continuous, continually pressing upon capitalist domination. And that capital in response is forced into a discontinuous series of restructurations, which in turn force a series of class recompositions (elite industrial worker -> mass worker -> socialized worker). Still, the red thread remains working class power.

Ironically, though, in that the force of working class power is against its confinement, as a class, within capitalist relations of production, and in that its aim is autonomy, the working class envisaged by the autonomist tradition is a class not for itself, but against itself.

Should the multitude emerge on its own account, then, that would mean the end of the working class as a class, and also the end of exploitation. In so far as that has taken place, in so far as social productivity now has no need of capitalist structures, i.e. in so far as any putative labour/capital dialectic is broken, all that remains is a command that is cruel and unpredictable precisely because it no longer has its roots in economic exploitation. Corruption is all.

After all, “corruption itself,” Hardt and Negri argue, “is the substance and totality of Empire” (Empire 391). It is “not an aberration of imperial sovereignty but its very essence and modus operandi” (202).

More on this anon, I’m sure…

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