middle class and autonomia

Jonathan P. Beasley-Murray jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu
Tue Dec 20 23:49:42 MST 1994


On Mon, 19 Dec 1994 pen-l at ecst.csuchico.edu wrote:
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Date: Mon, 19 Dec 1994 15:21:03 EST
> From: Pete Bratsis <aki at cunyvms1.gc.cuny.edu>
> To: pen-l at ecst.csuchico.edu
> Subject: Re: Middle Class

[snip]

> Frankly, I prefer a move to emphasising
> domination over exploitation as well as, in the Fordist era, showing
> the importance of consumption in differientiating society.  Toni Negri
> has, I think, made a solid attempt to move away this productivist
> position through his concept of the mass worker where it is no longer
> exploitation that is key (I do not know Negri enough to talk about his
> idea's without the books in front of me, perhaps some one who is more
> familar with this stuff can elaborate) cf. 'Archaeology and Project:
> The Mass Worker and the Social Worker' in REVOLUTIOM RETRIEVED,
> Toni Negri (1988, Red Notes).

I don't think anyone else on pen-l has picked up on Pete's suggestion
here... but I'll have a go (and in cross-posting to marxism might pick up
a few responses from others who know still more than I).

The general trajectory of autonomist marxism has been to return left
thought to looking "from the working class point of view."  After all,
talk of exploitation, productive or non-productive labour etc. etc. is
still looking at society from the point of view of capital (even if the
working class must also be able to comprehend that point of view).
However, labour-power is defined by its exceeding such bounds imposed by
the command of capital, both in so far as capital is an antagonistic
(rather than a merely functional) relationship and in so far as the
working class defines its own needs and (in later Negri, eg. _The Savage
Anomaly_) indeed its own *being*--this is "constituent power."

As such, autonomist marxism resists analyses premised on the "dignity of
labour" or union exchanges of productivity for salary raises etc.--in
this sense "workerism" was defined by the "strategy of refusal," the
premier part of which was the refusal to work (as evidenced in wildcat
strikes, sabotage etc.) but which also implied the refusal to be defined
through work.

While some of these moves have been attacked as smacking of idealism and
intellectual abstraction--from Tronti's formulations that the working
class has always been in command of capitalist production to Negri's
later vision of the new working class community--certainly they bring at
the very least a corrective to some of the more interminable debates
about class, especially, in my view, those revolving around the old
productive/non-productive labour (apparent) dichotomy.  They also could
offer (I think) a coalitionist concept of working class, in that the
working class's process of self-definition may include women, minorities
and other social movement in so far as they are in struggle together
(this is more or less the concern of Guattari and Negri's _Communists
Like Us_ as I remember).

I'd recommend Michael Hardt and Negri's _Labor of Dionysus_ as an
accessible and practical dive into *autonomia* for a contemporary US
audience, and Steve Wright's PhD thesis "Forcing the Lock?" for a
comprehensive survey of workerism, somewhat alleviating the stress that
has been laid on Negri alone (a stress that is in part a result of
contingent notoriety and the accidents of translation history).

But I hope Michael and Steve might also wish to jump in here.

> Peter Bratsis
> Grad. Center, CUNY

Take care

Jon

Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at acpub.duke.edu




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