Steve Wright sj at
Sun Apr 16 02:57:44 MDT 1995

I tried reading the Italian edition of Negri's Spinoza book when it first
came out, and found it even more frustrating than his earlier stuff -
enough so that I have only glanced at many of the things he's written
since. Perhaps his book with Michael Hardt will be different - I've only
just received it, so I can't yet comment at any length. Anyone else
interested in the idea of discussing it on this list? In any case, the
chapters in it from the seventies are rather more accessible than some of
the things Negri has since written.

I spent a certain amount of time trying to grapple with Negri's work in
the eighties, as part of a broader project of trying to make sense of the
Italian workerists' class analysis developed in the years before the
repression and defeat of 1979 onwards. I had become intrigued with
the Italians' notion that working class subjectivity and politics are
historically specific, and quite taken by their notion of the 'struggle
against work'. My own subsequent doubts concerning Negri's grand narrative
of a new working class subject emerging from the ashes of the defeats of the
mid seventies (above all, the inability of the factory militants who had
led the Hot Autumn of 1969 to break out of the confines of the workplace)
had less to do with his language than its lack of grounding in social reality.
Still, I think Ralph's point about the obscurantist language in much of
Negri's work is a valid one. At least for the seventies stuff with which
I am most familiar, I'd put it down to a need on
Negri's part to play the role of the grand synthesiser able to weave all
the fragmentary social conflict of the time (unrest in the small
factories, the women's movement, the squats begun by self-styled
'proletarian youth', campaigns against price hikes in utilities) into a
unified theory of the 'socialised worker' - a pretension that was neatly
punctured back in the mid seventies by Sergio Bologna:

'The form of political discourse is obsolete, the millenarian language is
just a "ballbreaker", and this form of theory deserves to be negated like
every other "general theory"... (*Primo Maggio* 7, 1976)

The best thing Negri has ever 'written', I think, is a book-length
interview with him called *Dall'operaio sociale all operaio massa*, from
1979. I understand that there's a Spanish edition, if that helps anyone.
It's the best thing by him that I've seen because in conversation, at
least, he illustrates many of his points with useful examples, and
discusses the particular circumstances and struggles that inspired
particular workerist categories. Unfortunately, it hasn't ever appeared
in English. Beyond that, I think the best work by autonomist/workerist
theorists has been done by those directly engaged in research around
concrete struggles in particular sectors of the working class - people
like Bologna and Marco Revelli (author of a superb history of the class
struggle at FIAT), neither of whom are particularly well-known in the
English-speaking world.

As for James' influence on the tendency, I think that, depite what Harry
Cleaver has argued, this was much stronger by the seventies and even
eighties - in the early days (late 50s/early 60s), my impression is that
Dunyevskaya and James Boggs would have had more direct influence than CLR
himself; I'm sure that will appall Ralph still further.

Still, Ferrucio Gambino's piece in the Paul Buhle edited book on James
was a good example of the better Italian appreciation.

Finally, I remembered this passage from Giorgio Bocca's book *il caso 7
aprile* (Feltrinelli 1979, p.42). It's a quote from Negri; 'they' refers
to the magistrates who had arrested him in 1979:

'For them our language is a foreign one, of which they perceive only
gestures and sound [segni e rumori] - but that's like observing that all the
languages of Central Asia are all guttural and therefore mistaking them
all for the same tongue'.

Does that make things any clearer? Didn't help me much, that's for sure...

Steve Wright

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