Negri: capitalism is good for workers

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu May 31 06:52:41 MDT 2001

New Statesman, Monday 28th May 2001

The left should love globalisation

Mark Leonard

Antonio Negri, a Marxist sentenced to 30 years for supporting terrorism in
Italy, has now turned conventional thinking on its head. By Mark Leonard

Opponents of globalisation may have finally met their match. The challenge
comes not from the sharp suits of the World Trade Organisation, the
International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or even from Clare Short, but
from a middle-aged academic who is no stranger to direct-action techniques.
He is the man accused of leading the Italian revolutionary left in the
1970s: Antonio Negri. Thirty-odd years after he achieved notoriety in the
student revolts of 1968, his new book, Empire (published by Harvard
University Press), has been hailed as "a communist manifesto for our
times". It is a riposte both to the Jeremiahs on the left who see
globalisation as an unalloyed evil and to the fatalists of the right who
see it as a fait accompli that we are powerless to change.

To Negri, still infused with the optimism of a previous era, globalisation
is a great opportunity: for a knowledge economy where life itself becomes
the "raw material of production" and workers are liberated from the heavy
machines of industrial capitalism; for a shift from "representative
democracy" that forces one-size-fits-all solutions on a diverse population
to a new politics of "expression"; for a real global citizenship as an
increasingly mobile population interacts to create new forms of identity;
and, above all, for a left-wing politics concerned with liberty and the
quality of life, rather than with a reductive quest for equality between
groups. . .

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. . .

"The protesters at Seattle are not unsympathetic. They don't stand for
anything. They don't have a programme. But what is important is that they
have found a space for a different politics - a global politics. My old
communist friends compare Seattle to the 1905 revolution in Russia, but I
don't think Seattle will lead to a universal process. The important thing
is the new space. There is no politics without a space. But if you ask me
what form it will take, I don't have any answers. I'm not a utopian. I
provide an analysis. I've always thought that forms of organisation come
from people. They are invented by people. From this perspective, I am
completely Marxist. Marx always used to say go and look at the Paris
commune, look at other forms of organisation, go and learn."

Mark Leonard is director of the Foreign Policy Centre

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Louis Proyect
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