lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 13 09:57:21 MDT 2001
I've joined a reading group/listserv on Hardt-Negri's "Empire" which should
prove interesting. Here was my initial post to the group:
In the discussion of "utopian" authors who anticipate their vision of a
postmodernist, information economy based Empire, Hardt and Negri invoke
Bartolome de Las Casas, Toussaint d'Louverture and Karl Marx. Somehow the
first two don't quite evoke Lyotard in my mind, but let's leave that aside
momentarily. Arguably, you can make the case that Marx was some kind of
prophet of globalization, a process that would put cable television and
fast food restaurants in the sleepy outposts of Africa and Latin America
where "rural idiocy" held sway. But only if you assume that Marx never
wrote anything on the topic after the 1853 Tribune articles on India, where
he did say things that superficially resemble what Thomas Friedman has been
writing in the NY Times recently about the wondrous changes the Internet is
producing in backward Ghana.
The problem, as Hardt and Negri refer to rather gingerly, is that these
articles are wrong and that Marx basically repudiated them. By 1880 he had
come to regard British colonial rule in India as a "bleeding process" and
considered arguments that Russia must pass through a capitalist phase
before trying to make a revolution a distortion of his views. Marx did not
really believe that capitalism was a "civilizing" force. It's only value
was that it produced a class that could overthrow it.
In a New Statesman profile on Negri, we discover, "Turning Marx's theory of
immiseration on its head, Negri argues that modernisation has always been
positive in the end. Each new phase of capitalism has improved the position
of the working class - and created a platform for further liberation."
Might I suggest that this has nothing in common with Karl Marx's views, but
has more in common with Eduard Bernstein?
Here are the profiles volunteered by some group members. It should give you
a flavor of the kind of people who become attracted to 'autonomist Marxism':
My name is Hans Skott-Myhre. I am located at the University of Minnesota in
the US. I am a doctoral student completing a dissertation in Education on
Youth Subcultures as Performances of Post-Colonial Hybridity: A new method
for training youthworkers- employing Deleuze, Marx, Foucault and Negri. I
am also working towards a second doctorate in Cultural Studies with a focus
on recuperating psychotherapy as a political project.
My name is Rick Dolphijn. I am Dutch. I majored in Cultural Studies,
Philosophy and Cultural Philosophy. Currently I am writing my PhD thesis...
on the changes in food culture around the world... I visit four different
cities and try to experience the changes as they are going on. I have not
read Empire... yet, but am familiar with Spinoza and Deleuze (the two major
theorists I use in my thesis)... thus very much interested in the ideas of
I am a research student in the Department of Sociology, Lancaster
University in the UK. There has been quite a bit of interest in Empire
here. I came to it indirectly, having been introduced to the work of Negri
first through a book called Cyber-Marx by Nick Dyer-Witheford. I was
interested in some of the intersections between Marxism and
post-structuralism, particularly Deleuze and Guattari. I read parts of the
book some time ago, and intend to re-read it. As someone else commented, it
is perhaps not necessary to read it cover-to-cover - it is, as they say in
the introduction, built as a series of plateaus.
Substantively, my interest is in intellectual property, intellectual
property lawyers, and the construction of the global knowledge economy.
I am about to post my own profile:
I am a 56 year old computer programmer who moderates a Marxism mailing
list. After spending 11 years in the Trotskyist movement from 67 to 78, I
abandoned sectarianism altogether and became an activist in the Central
America solidarity movement. From 1987 to 1990 I was involved with an
organization called Tecnica that sent programmers, engineers, etc. to work
with the Sandinista government, the ANC, SWAPO and frontline states in
Africa. From 1995 approximately to the present, I have been writing
articles on Internet mailing lists and in print journals on understanding
Lenin in context, ecosocialism, Marxism and the American Indian, and a wide
variety of cultural reviews. These can be found at:
I have read Deleuze-Guattari and Antonio Negri in some depth and have come
to the conclusion that 'Autonomist' distrust of the state puts a limit on
the effectiveness of political action. In general, local struggles have to
be united on a national level and leveraged toward the conquest of power.
This was the main thrust of Lenin's "What is to be Done" and remains true
today. Autonomism is basically a version of economism fitted out for the
What interests me about "Empire" is that it weds autonomism to a kind of
stagism that went out of fashion at the turn of the century. The excitement
about computer networks, etc. reminds me of how the Second International
became mesmerized by 19th century displays of capitalist invention. For me,
Rosa Luxemburg's retort in the "Junius Pamphlet" serves well as a reply to
Hardt-Negri as well:
For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians, railroads, Swedish
matches, sewer systems, and department stores are "progress" and
"civilization." In themselves these works grafted onto primitive conditions
are neither civilization nor progress, for they are bought with the rapid
economic and cultural ruin of peoples who must experience simultaneously
the full misery and horror of two eras: the traditional natural economic
system and the most modern and rapacious capitalist system of exploitation.
Thus, the capitalist victory parade and all its works bear the stamp of
progress in the historical sense only because they create the material
preconditions for the abolition of capitalist domination and class society
in general. And in this sense imperialism ultimately works for us.
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