Antonio Negri, Your Past Is Calling

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In the Independent, Johann Hari paints a devastating portrait of Antonio Negri, the old-tyme Italian communist, former prisoner, co-author of the anti-globalization bibles Empire and Multitude, and insistent white wine drinker:

None of the world's real problems—from poverty to tyranny to climate change—are discussed in Negri's work, except to claim that the poor are "more alive", and the citizens of liberal democracies are living under the "real tyranny", and… oh, I give up. It's not just that this preacher of Empire has no clothes; he is living in an intellectual nudist colony. There are some important anti-globalisation writers, such as Monbiot and Joseph Stiglitz. But Negri is trying to keep alive a patient—Marxism—whose heart stopped beating long ago.

So, this is where revolutionary Marxism comes to die. It has been reduced to an obscure parlour game for ageing bourgeois nostalgics, played out a few feet from Buckingham Palace by an old terrorist who needs us to forget.

Whole thing here. And read Reason's caustic review of Empire here.

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  1. gaius marius,

    I think you point to a more general phenomenon – the common argument used against those who accuse capitalism, marxism, christianity, muslims, etc. of great sins. Which is that the practitioners weren’t “real” capitalists, marxists, christians, muslims, etc.

  2. Insistent white wine drinker

    Now THAT is a vile accusation. I trust you can corroborate that, Gillespie.

  3. white wine drinker

    That pezza di merda! Corroboration is indeed required.

  4. Negri fits in with Findlay Dunachie’s Admit nothing, explain nothing and apologize for nothing at samizdata.net.

  5. RE: White Wine. Here’s two moments from Hari’s piece:

    “I need wine,” [Negri] says quickly, as he lights a cigarette. “White wine.”…

    “More wine please,” he says suddenly. “More wine.”

  6. in reading reason’s review of “empire”, i noted:

    Again and again, capitalism is indicted for the greatest horrors of our past, without the authors? making any distinction between capitalism and the practice whereby business abandons free market principles to conspire with government. Thus “the ideal type” of modern sovereignty “in capitalist form” turns out to be not the United States but Nazi Germany.

    The Pacific branch of the Axis was also just another example of what happened when “capitalist growth took the form of militarism and imperialism.” The cause of slavery? Once again, capitalism, “even though capitalism?s ideology is indeed antithetical to slavery.” For Hardt and Negri, if anyone in a particular nation practices double-entry bookkeeping, then every outrage committed within its borders may be ascribed to capitalism.

    i have to ask: is this — “capitalist growth (taking) the form of militarism and imperialism” — materially different than what we live in today?

    i don’t mean to defend negri or marxism — quite the opposite, in fact. but it bears examination, imo: if “the practice whereby business abandons free market principles to conspire with government” is an eventuality of democratic capitalist societies — then is it really idelogically separable from capitalism, or is it simply a normal manifestation of a healthy capitalist system?

    one can certainly argue, i think, that (looking back to the time of the articulations of smith and locke) at some point, large economic entities within economic systems which prioritorized trade also coopted government to seize lands and establish foreign armies to their advantage — witnessing everything from the dutch east india company forward to standard oil and (perhaps now) halliburton.

    while Capitalism in its ideologically pure form may not condone the establishment of government-industrial complexes, neither does ideological Marxism call for the establishment of police states — and yet, it could be argued that each are inevitably consequences, and therefore should be considered intrinsic features of the philosophy by any pragmatic observer.

    so i ask: doesn’t the practical implementation of capitalism then essentially inevitably involve the abandonment of idealistic “free markets” for government-corporate preferential cooperation — and thereby (in some limited respect) validate the book’s view of capitalism?

  7. gaius marius:

    That same line of thought you explore above is what part of what led me to eventually becoming a “pure” libertarian or anarchist. The inevitable growth of the state along with the seemingly inevitable big business-big government collusion made me question my more moderate minarchist tendencies and realize that the only solution would be the abolition of the state.

    P.S. That excerpt from Reason’s review of Empire also illustrates why I prefer the term “free-market” to “capitalism.” Too many people associate capitalism with our current system of corporatism or state capitalism or whatever you’d like to call the government-industrial complex.

  8. Gaius, that’s a well worded argument.

    I think the answer is that we haven’t seen enough history to know. In our present experience, not all capitalist states have become Nazi Germany – which means either that state/corporate collusion is not the end state of all capitalist systems, or that the devolution to state/corporate collusion can sometimes take a longer period than we have currently observed.

    Contrast this to Marxist systems, which devolve to police states with reliable rapidity. Though they have been around less than a century, I think we can all agree we’ve seen their life cycle long enough to know where it leads.

    To throw another curve ball into the mix, consider the European church/state model that existed from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Baroque era. All sorts of evils arose when church/government collusion grew too great, and yet that sort of collusion was the end result of regime after regime. Today, however, churches and governments coexist with minimal collusion throughout Europe and European-descended countries. Sure, the Pope is still in Rome and Jimmy Swaggart has plenty of money and power, but His Holiness isn’t calling many political shots and Swaggart can’t have people burned at the stake. My point is that even if there is a fundamental flaw in today’s capitalist systems, it may be fixable.

    “Ours is the worst economic system in the world. Except for all the others.” – Winston Churchill

  9. I suppose the advantage to being a Eurocommie is at least you know where you can get some good cheese.

  10. i wish someone would tell this gaius moronus character that since rome fell we’ve developed a system of punctualization and capitalization that makes it a bit easier to read english which isn’t nearly as case-intensive as his apparently beloved ancient latin.

    just a thought. been so many mojaks (including me, at one time) since jjoyce came along who thought punctuation was a hinderance to understanding it almost makes you wish there were more teachers like jennifer around.

    seriously maybe you could provide a link with english translations.

    die 20th century die

  11. aw just having a bit of fun ya silly bitch

  12. seriously maybe you could provide a link with english translations.

    lol — i could jean bart you here, but i won’t. suffice to say that, in abandoning capitals (but my punctuation is passable, sir!) i am simply doing my part to destroy the english language.

  13. aw just having a bit of fun ya silly bitch

    sorry — i meant to make plain that so was i. but you’re not a “silly bitch”. a bit insecure, hm? 😉

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