Luther Blissett on Tue, 2 Dec 1997 18:07:33 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Negri, Bordiga, the general intellect and the nomadic war machines

Dear Barbrook,

Glad to see that this debate is proving useful. However, I strongly disagree
with your opinion that these issues cannot be interesting for the net-time
subscribers, indeed, the stuff  about Stalin and defunct ideologies
certainly isn't (and it wasn't me who put it there in the first place), but
some references to the perception and re-elaboration of Marx's Grundrisse in
Italy are VERY important in order to understand how so-called _net-culture_
developed there, and then grasp  the very relationship between Negri and
Deleuze, which appears to be puzzling you. Nowadays, no account of this
history can seriously count Bordiga out, because he was THE prime mover and

That's why, in order to answer your (private) questions about Negri, it is
necessary to (publicly) explain why you're underestimating Bordiga. There
are more things in his writings and personal history than you could imagine.
Your third-hand sources must be extremely clumsy, while my first-hand ones
are very good. Unfortunately (for me) I'm a "doctor" myself, I made a degree
in History of Technological Innovation, and - guess what - Bordiga was the
subject of my thesis, whose title was 'Technology And Environment In Amadeo
Bordiga's Post-War Writings'.

In plainer words: while I was writing the  essay on Bordiga I got access to
a lot of old books and long-forgotten issues of 'Bordiguist' newspapers. It
was an unbelievably interesting experience. For instance, I discovered close
links between Bordiga and Negri (Negri would never admit this), being the
former a forerunner of those post-Grundrisse studies that have changed
forever the elaboration and praxis of Italian 1960's "operaismo" (the
antechamber of 1970's Autonomia). So would you please stop conforming to
stereotype, I mean, displaying the typical arrogance of the academic? Me, I
would never play the wiseacre writing about the UK. I know it isn't that
important, but I can't help saying it: the bordiguists were marginalised
within the PC at the Congress of Lyon (1926 - not 1927!), but they (and
Bordiga himself) weren't expelled from the party (that is, from the
Komintern) until 1930. 

And now... back to the serious issues.

All my books and archives are in Italy, so I can't be 100% precise in my
quotations, but it isn't difficult to describe the theoretical (as well as
personal) relationship between Negri and D&G. I inform you that Negri and
Deleuze interviewed each other in the late Eighties (the conversation, as
far as I remember,  was published on Negri's magazine 'Futur Anterieur' in
1988 or 1989). In the early eighties Negri and Guattari even co-authored an
essay titled "Les nouveaux espaces de liberte'" (which I read in Italian as
'Le verita' nomadi' - "Nomadic Truths"). Sorry, I don't remember the French

As you know, Negri deems the Grundrisse as the centrepoint of Marx's work.
To Negri, Marx's notes on the labour process and alienation in machinery and
science, as well as the distinction between 'formal' and 'real' capital
domination, is nothing less than *the touchstone of everything*. Like his
master Raniero Panzieri (the founder of 'Quaderni Rossi', the most radical
revolutionary magazine of the sixties - even more important than the frankly
over-rated 'Internationale Situationniste'), Negri lays the stress on the
subversive potential of collective living labour (which Marx describes as
"social mind" and "general intellect")  rather than on the alienation of
labour in machinery. 

According to some mainstream, narrow-minded interpreters of the Grundrisse,
the  "general intellect" has simply to do with dead/ objectified labour,
which is expropriated from the workers and incorporated into the machinery.
According to the Italian post-operaista school, "general intellect" is what
the workers' *living* labour has become since  the hegemony of relative
surplus-value (i.e. the increasing automation) has provoked the collapse  of
any dialectical theory of labour-value and radically mutated the old fordist
class-composition (with its obsolete distinction between white and blue
collars). Nowadays General Intellect/Living Labour is not only physical
work-force; it implies technical skills, mastering of complex language codes

During the seventies, unlike his contemporary Camatte, Negri didn't
liquidate the proletariat. Rather, he described the new antagonist
subjectivities bent on raising hell all along the 'social factory', and
gathered them under the umbrella-term 'operaio sociale'. Ed Emery
ludicrously translates 'operaio sociale' as 'social worker' (!) while it
means, more or less, 'diffused worker' [social factory = decentralised
factory]. The operaio sociale was the personification of the living part of
general intellect, the synthesis of a mixed-up class composition which
included the younger generations of industrial workers (who, unlike their
fathers and mothers, were absolutely uncontrollable by the unions, real
foreign bodies to the traditional mediations of industrial conflict) as well
as 'proletarianised' students, former white collars, unemployed (nay,
unemployable) graduates, etc. 

As the micro-electronic revolution definitively destroyed taylorism-fordism,
the definition "operaio sociale" started being replaced with "mass
intellectuality" (or "diffused intellectuality"), which means all those
subjectivities whose work-performance is constructed upon a subordinate,
compulsory output of 'creativity' (in Grundrisse-speak: upon a further
valorisation of the living elements of the general intellect). For example,
the 'collaborative' workers of toyotist/post-fordist factories, computer
programmers, media low-level workers, etc. The post-fordist labour process
is increasingly based on workers' 'collaboration' and 'self-activation',
e.g. the Japanese model. According to Negri and other commentators, the
existence of a potentially revolutionary  network of such newer operai
sociali is a prerequisite of communism in itself. These people are in the
key points of the social factory (telecommunications, spectacle, transports,
services, education), their insubordination would have shocking
repercussions on the capitalist command structure. The workers are already
managing 'immaterial production', their work doesn't depend on the bosses
anymore, they could even get rid of the whole command structure (and of the
unions as well). Workers' autonomy is not an aim anymore: it's a
precondition - see what happened in France in 1995.

So what is living labour nowadays? According to Negri, it includes
"artificial languages, complex articulations of information and science of
systems, new epistemological paradygms, immaterial determinations,
communicative machines". That's why Negri is interested in D&G. works (and
generally in post-structuralism and philosophy of language) - and vice
versa. Negri's description of today's living labour has much to do with D&G.
allegories, "the subconscious is not a theatre: it is a factory",
"deterritorialisation", "rhyzomes" and all that. Negri thinks that 'Mille
Plateaux' is the most important philosophical work of the century. There's
an obvious affinity between the concept of workers' autonomy in the
post-fordist labour process and the allegory of "nomadic war machines". 

Deleuze & Guattari had the same opinion, that's why they described
themselves as 'marxists' - I suppose they meant to say Negri's peculiar
anti-hegelian no-more-dialectical marxism (curiously enough, many years
after Bordiga had stated that marxists should bury the stinking corpse of
Hegel). Negri wrote two books on Spinoza ("L'anomalia selvaggia" and
"Spinoza sovversivo"), trying to demonstrate that the replacement of Hegel
with Spinoza was as important for revolution  as the replacement of The
Capital with the Grundrisse). One may agree or not with these declarations,
what I'm saying is that there's no detectable incongruity between Negri's
position and D&G. works. 

If i may append my personal position: I find Negri very interesting (albeit
frequently disputable), that's precisely why I've got sick of all those
anti-communist deleuzo-guattarians. They've missed the point. The difference
between your point of view and mine (apart from my being a communist) is
that you don't think such a point ever existed - heret's what is making you
unable to describe the Italian situation. For instance, the fact that
Guattari didn't find it necessary to be shot or beaten to bloody pulp by the
police in the streets of Bologna does NOT mean, as you wrongly assumed, that
he'd had no influence on Radio Alice. Even after the bloodbath, Guattari
kept doing all he could to get the comrades released from jail, gave
hospitality to many exiles (including Bifo and Negri himself) and put his
reputation on the line to defend the Italian movement from further
repression. He failed, but at least he had tried. You may not agree with his
theories and despise his lingo, but respect is due.

I hope this is of some interest to someone (especially the German
a.f.r.i.k.a. group, whose members once asked me something about these
things) and apologize for my English - it's very difficult to explain these
things in a language which is not Italian. By the way, I find the English
translations of Negri's books ugly and unreadable, but I admit I couldn't
ever do better than that.

Luther Blissett

P.S. Did you think I was just a media prankster?   >;-))))))

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