Meeting Toni Negri: Introduction to “Antonio Negri: A Revolt that Never Ends”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

posted under , by Unit for Criticism
Written by Emanuel Rota, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese

I met the Italian philosopher Toni Negri in his apartment a couple of weeks ago. Around the walls there were the usual books that make up the living space of a university professor, plus some memorabilia of his past and present as a revolutionary intellectual: posters, leaflets, paintings. Some of the books he owned, he told a couple of visitors while I was waiting for my turn to speak to him, were irremediably lost when he escaped from Italy to avoid a jail sentence for terrorism. He is now a free man, after spending the required time in jail for what he had written and said in the ’60s and ’70s. Still, he will probably never be able to set foot in the United States, despite the extraordinary success that his books have here. There is still hope if the last existing superpower is afraid of a 75-year-old intellectual!

The movie below is a long interview that chronicles some of his life and some of the ideas for which he went to jail. As with Marx, his ideas should be studied by those who want to interpret the world, and not only by those who want to change it. Some of them are pretty simple, and they come from the great tradition of Italian operaismo, one of the many western marxist heresies, a heresy with a twist. (parts one and two below)

Forget Hegel, be suspicious of dialectics, and be very skeptical of historicism and its teleologies. History is not the result of the mysterious cunning of Reason, of the Spirit, or, even less, of the development of productive forces. History is class struggle in all the forms in which the conflict between classes manifests itself, even those traditionally refused by the workers’ organizations, like Luddism. Sabotage is more responsible for technological, social, and economic progress than the entrepreneurial minds of thousands of capitalists.

Those who want to understand what Negri is talking about should just open their eyes to the present of the music industry. The new models of production and distribution are not the result of the self-development of the industry. Even less are they the fruits of the music industry executives’ creative minds. People simply started to sabotage the industry by refusing to pay for the product. The result was that, first, the music industry called the police, then it tried to adapt to the new conditions, and finally it will disappear in a world where nobody will get incredibly rich, but a lot of people will be able to make a decent living. Everybody will be able to enjoy music according to their needs and make music according to their abilities.

What is making this revolution possible, among other things, is the end of the ability of nation states to police their economies, in the name of those who control the music business, or the software business, or the other industries. Bittorrents don’t need to be in a specific place. In a world where most of the value added is kept in patents and licenses, only a worldwide system, an Empire, can hope to police the multitude that wants to use the software for their computers, the medicines for their health, and the corn to plant in their fields without paying licensing fees. The multitude seems unwilling to pay the lion’s share to those who “expropriate” for themselves the general intellect of humanity.

And it’s an “expropriation” of our general ability to produce. We are now constantly at work, thanks to the revolution of past generations that have put cell phones, computers and cameras in our hands. The same computer that we use to write a paper is used to write a program, to participate in a social network, to write blogs, share photographs, listen to music, watch movies and, for those who like it, have cybersex. All of these can be exploited. Don’t worry about a business model is the new mantra, if the idea is good— a social network, a search engine—it is possible to find a way to make money out of it. The smart industries try to stay on top of the curve, but the desires and intelligence of the multitude to use for themselves what they make in the new service-oriented productive world are the permanent counterweight to the desire to exploit our fellow human beings.

Negri and others have been describing this new world since the sixties. All the time they spent talking to the workers outside the factories, seeing the workers who did not want to spend eight hours in the same place, and who wanted flexibility, control over their time, and a way to use their intelligences, all that time has paid off in one of the few radical theories that still looks at the future with hope, rather than with fear
Enjoy the movie..

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