Remembering Antonio Negri

We share below texts by Giorgio Agamben, Alex Foti and by Antonio Negri.

In memory of Toni Negri

Giorgio Agamben

Two nights before I received the news of Antonio, – of Toni Negri’s – death, I dreamed about him for a long time and his presence was so vivid that when I woke up I felt the need to write to him. My message to the old email that he had not used for years could not reach him. When I spoke of the dream, a friend told me: “he wanted to say goodbye to you before she left.” Even in the divergences of our thoughts, which became more and more clear over time, something stubbornly united us, something that had to do above all with his generous, restless and punctilious vitality, which I felt immediately when I met him for the first time in Paris in 1987.

With Toni’s death, I feel like something is missing, inside me, under my feet, perhaps especially behind me, as if a part of my past suddenly became present and challenged me when it was missing. And this lack not only concerns me, but our entire country and its history, increasingly false, increasingly forgotten, as demonstrated by the hateful obituaries, which only remember the bad teacher and not the evil and atrocious country in which he had to live and that he tried, perhaps mistakenly, to improve. Because Toni, starting from the Marxist tradition to which he belonged and which perhaps conditioned and betrayed him, certainly tried to measure himself with the destiny of Italy and the world in the extreme phase of capitalism that we are currently going through towards who knows what unfortunate destiny. And this is what those who continue to insult his memory do not dare and will never be able to do.

(Quodlibet, December 18, 2023)

Antonio Negri 1933-2023

Alex Foti (Freedom News, December 20, 2023)

While critical of anarchism, the leading theorist of Italian autonomism defended rioting and sabotage, the wildcat strike and social insurgence, and consistently wrote some of the best pages against the hateful triad of capital, state and borders.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Toni Negri. More than any other radical thinker, he has shaped the theoretical and political space in which we have acted as autonomists and anti-globalization activists in Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and indeed all over the world. Antonio Negri (1933-2023) was pivotal in developing operaismo with Antonio Panzieri (editor of Quaderni Rossi) and Mario Tronti (author of Workers and Capital) and especially Autonomous Marxism, the movement of which he was theorist in the red hot 1970s as well as leader of its revolutionary organization (so-called Autonomia Organizzata in Padua and Rome, as opposed to Autonomia Creativa in Bologna) together with Franco Piperno and Oreste Scalzone. For his incendiary writings and political commitment to the revolution of social labour vs industrial capital, he was prosecuted and persecuted by the Italian state, which imprisoned him after April 7, 1979 (the date of the investigation that put more than 15,000 autonomists under arrest or penal proceedings). He was freed briefly because he was elected to the Italian parliament in 1983. He then fled to Paris, where he studied Foucault and worked with Guattari and Deleuze. He was a political exile until he decided to return to Italy in 1997 and spend the rest of his 12-year sentence (ostensibly for abetting robbery). At this point, he was already the most important Italian Marxist alive. His works had started to be translated into English (by his future co-author Michael Hardt in the Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State Form, 1992), but a second phase opened in his life that would make him one of the most widely read leftist intellectual in the world and an inspirer of another major street-fighting movement after the Italian Troubles of 1977, namely the Genoa global justice movement of 2001.

As a self-styled anarcho-Negrian activist, this is where I come in. Seattle 1999 was mostly an anarchist affair, as David Graeber pointed out in the New Left Review, but Genoa was in black and white, namely the black bloc and the white overalls who fought the police in July 2001. The tute bianche were all avid readers of Negri, and the Carlini stadium was set up by autonomist groups directly inspired by him, especially in Venice, Milan, Bologna, and Rome. Toni’s son, Checco, fought bravely in the streets when carabinieri charged us on the afternoon of Saturday, July 20, before killing Carlo Giuliani, a kid from Genoa who was both an autonomist and a black blocer. But the two forces didn’t merge. The North European/North American black bloc rioted and demolished in the morning, while in the afternoon, the Italo-European white overalls hoped they could push the police away by force of their numbers and were beaten, gassed and tortured, although the majority managed to make it back to the stadium where they were camping. As all of respectable Italy, including the parliamentary left, went hysterical after the black bloc, the leader of white overall protesters, Luca Casarini, refused to stigmatise their violence and famously showed on live TV the bullets the Italian police had shot against us. However, US anarchists thought that autonomists were becoming semi-institutional and they hadn’t sufficiently defended black bloc protesters, so Luca was pied when he visited New York City (he now heads the Mediterranea non-profit organization, which is rescuing migrants at sea). In the meantime, Empire, the book co-written with Hardt, had become an international bestseller. Multitude and Assembly would follow in the subsequent decade, proposing a significant new synthesis in Autonomous Marxism, inspiring movements like the Zapatistas and Indignados and political formations like Podemos and Syriza. Finally, he could leave France and travel across the world to America, China, Brazil, and Venezuela.

Throughout his life, Toni defended rioting and sabotage, the wildcat strike and social insurgence. He consistently wrote some of the best pages against the hateful triad of capital, state and borders, but he was critical of anarchism. He was a Leninist who believed in the necessity of revolutionary organization, and he was a communist, as he wrote in his monumental autobiography completed shortly before his death. Still, it was the Italian Communist Party that was his inquisitor, and the official left has consistently reviled him. In the mainstream press, the obits rehashed the label of cattivo maestro, nefarious mentor of young minds, rather than engage with his intellectual legacy. In Italy, saying comunismo is not the same thing as saying autonomia. In fact, I’d argue autonomia is halfway between communism and anarchism. It is heavily intellectual (like anarchism mostly isn’t), and this is a criterion for self-organising. It’s the brainiest who lead (as a bookish nerd, I’ve always been attracted to this). Autonomia proposes to mix spontaneity with structure, syndicalism with demands, social emancipation with institutions of the commons, Marxism with feminism and post-colonialism. The fact remains that anarchism competes with autonomism as a revolutionary ideology. You can’t do Bonanno and Negri; it’s either or. However, whether it was the underclass burning with rage in the London riots or the Gilet Jaune attacking the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Toni would always write in their favour: he loved rabble and the explosion of rage against the structures of domination.

Negri’s basic intuition is that the struggles of living labour determine capitalist development. First comes the autonomous subject, which affects capitalist dynamics and state power. Industrial labour in Negri I and precarious, intermittent, immaterial, and affective labour in Negri II are the forces driving social evolution. Capital is a social relation, not a mode of production, while the state is not the board of administration of the bourgeoisie but an active terrain which is amenable to be bent by social conflict and occupation by radical forces. Negri wrote the Marxist theory of the state that Marx lamentably never wrote. He advocated social unionism and political organizing. When in the 2000s in Milan, we did the EuroMayDay movement by the precarious for the precariat against precarity, Negri and Negrian movements across Italy and Europe supported us and were our accomplices. In the 1970s, the unions inspired by Autonomia controlled factories and neighbourhoods in Venice, Rome, Milan, and Turin. In the 2000s, the centri sociali (squatted social centres) established by autonomists were the backbone of the spaghetti left.

Toni became a Marxist as a professor rather than as a student. He was a leftist catholic and socialist before turning to communism, and he spent two years in a kibbutz and travelled across Europe before starting to teach philosophy in Padua. He always disliked Stalinism and the USSR and was always attracted by the US and the heights of “capitalist civilization”, but especially to its working class, which held the secrets of the next stage of capital-labour conflict. Today, if he were still alive, he would discuss with Sergio Bologna and others the implications for the workers of the world of UAW’s successful strike and unionization drive after three decades of neoliberal domination. He was always fascinated by the IWW and the wobblies, one of the many reasons that made me love him and study his ideas. And Toni could love. He was an affectionate person who put sentiment and altruism at the centre of his life. I shall miss him forever.

Alex Foti is an editor, essayist and activist based in Milano. He was among the founders of ChainWorkers and EuroMayDay, early instances of the self-organization of precarious workers in Europe. A pink wobbly and green radical, he has co-authored the Middlesex declaration of Europe’s precariat and the Act 4 Radical Europe manifesto. He is the author of General Theory of the Precariat: Great Recession, Revolution.

May eternity embrace us

Antonio Negri (EuroNomade 16/12/2023)

With these words, four years ago, finishing the the third volume of his political memorial, Story of a Communist, Toni spoke with serenity about his own death.

Sometimes I seem to be completely oblivious to the world around me. It is a curious sensation for someone who has filled three volumes with a story of intense immersion in what exists. Probably, I tell myself, it happens because I’m old; ss much as I get nervous about trying to keep communication open with younger, more awake friends, my perception is dull. But then I wonder: Could it be that my consideration of the world and this sense of alienation are not true? True? I mean, that this perception of alienness does not depend on me, on my insufficient or reduced attention, but on the fact that the world around me is really ugly and inconsistent. Could it be that my trust in being, my admiration for what is alive, no longer corresponds to something that can be loved?

Ugly, beautiful, alive, loved… are adjectives that are difficult to define and highly relative. Perhaps then, to confirm my doubt, I should not place my trust in these terms. Perhaps the only adjective that counts, among the many that I have used from the beginning, is “alien.” A distancing effect is what languages and moods provoke in me, no matter whether individual or collective, that resonate in society, outside of me. I have the feeling of being deaf and hearing confusing sounds. In reality, I am a little deaf, but I do not hear confusing sounds with my ear, but with my soul, with my brain. The world around me escapes me. I have had a long life, I have known enormous contradictions and deadly conflicts, but I always knew what things were about; the elements of the contradiction and conflict were within a known or, in any way, significant framework. Why then is the meaning of the events that take place around me today obscure and escape me? What is its insignificance? There is a whole new world that represents this alienness. It is a new, but tired world, prostrate before the physical, political and spiritual difficulties of its own reproduction; economic difficulties and the fall of political and collective references, of valuable references. Communication has become frenetic, but meanings fade in the speed. There is confusion in the spirits. There is corruption in languages. The old references of struggle have disappeared: right and left, unions and parties, sense and meaning of history… this is the world that surrounds me. It doesn’t depend on my old age, on my tiredness: that’s how it is.

When I reflect on this phenomenology of the present, the more I refine my gaze, the more it seems to me that the only evaluative and descriptive figure that permeates the world of meanings and allows it to be described is that of nihilism. The signs lack meaning, the faces lack smiles, the speeches are empty. We don’t know what to talk about. I see a grimace on the haughty face of the interlocutor; it is always the same one that I find in most of my interlocutors. Therefore, it is a great celebration when someone is found free of this pathology. People are desperate. When I think of those who in my time, already ancient, developed nihilistic conceptions for their philosophy, and who often ended, in the crisis, in pessimism and in the expectation of catastrophe (and my readers know with what constancy and with what harshness I have fought them), when I think about them again, I am almost moved now by their illness, from which they suffered and of which they were conscious. While today I have people before me whose ethics are nihilistic and catastrophic not as a result of critical work, but because their existence is inconsistent, even when, when frequenting them, it seems that they live an ordinary life. In reality, they have no passions, they have no meaning, they have no faith; at most, they think that language should be purified, washed and rewashed, and brought to a meaningful purity: the purity of the sink within which they have been doing the cleaning. Seriously, they throw the meaning away with the dirty bath water. They are left with that ideal of purity – the “reign” of reason, of sensitivity, of the concept – which has become an adjective of emptiness, of the mere remainder after the emptying of being. When I look around I feel that I am surrounded by these zombies, millions of zombies.

Is this world truly new? It is true, it has recently been consolidated, it is growing, soon this “new” thing will take over everything. But it is not new. I am eighty-five years old. Until my twenties, thirties, this “new” world was, in solid and effective ways, the world between the wars and the second post-war world. It was that world that oppressed me and against which I fought. We had partially destroyed it and put it in the attic. Now, this very old world reappears hegemonic. It was that fascist world of my childhood and youth. It was the world in which “patriarchy-capitalist exploitation-sovereignty of the nation” permeated, like patterns, the lives and heads of the people. And they betrayed the generosity and intelligence of young people to induce them into illusory adventures: patriotism, the nation, race, identity, masculinity were assumed as superior values. This world is called fascist, not only conservative but reactionary, not only religious but fanatical about the destruction of all freedom. A world where the burden of living dominated any other passion and a harsh discipline forced souls to be insensitive to pain. Oppression pushed towards insignificance. Has today’s world become like this again?

But, if so, how will the young people of today be able to read me, how will they understand me? My book will seem to you to sink into distant depths, difficult to access. It will be an archaeological document for them. And my editor, why should you publish this text that is at most archival-worthy? Are there still enough oldies who will appreciate this story and thank the editor for publishing it?

When – not long ago – a horrendous fascist character became President of a great country, Brazil, some young friends asked “What can we do? How should we behave to resist?”, I responded, “Don’t be afraid.” That is the condition for building a great and effective resistance. Fascism is governed by fear, it produces fear, it constitutes and keeps the people in fear. Do not be afraid: this is all we need to be able to say to the people, among the people, in the multitude that today suffers the return of fascist barbarism, also here, under our sun; to not be afraid to break the prison of empty language that is imposed on us and laugh at authority, wherever it appears with the grotesque fascist mask. Not being afraid means releasing passions and thus filling those linguistic forms that the process of fascist subjugation left empty. It seems as if the century has darkened: to reject fear, to produce resistance is, above all, to dissipate the shadows, to reconquer the meaning of words. Fill them with things, with reality, with freedom. Subjectify them. But the main operation consists of recognising that fascism is always the same, it is always the repetition of violence to block hope; it is the old – the absolute non-values of patriarchy, violence, exploitation and sovereignty – that returns as the illusorily proposition to impose it as a necessity of the spirit and an obligation of morality, while it is the foundation of a culture of death. “Long live death” is the slogan of fascism.

“Long live life” is the response of those who are not afraid. Spring will return; it always comes back! Fascism seems eternal and, in fact, (even if it is brief) it seems like an overly long prison sentence, but fascism is fragile. Faced with the passion to live freely, how little it can endure. Freedom necessarily prevails against fascism, because with freedom there will be other strong political passions, such as the passion for equality and the passion for fraternity. Spring will return and it will be a true season of the new. But then if fascism is always the same, the spring of freedom is always new, always different, always full of gifts.

Look at the past, look again at the great seasons of struggle. We could go back so far…, but two examples are enough. 1848 and 1968 are fundamental dates for my generation. The first, the inauguration of socialism in Europe, within and against the development of the contradictions carried over from the French Revolution and the maturation of capitalist accumulation. From this encounter there arose the antagonism of freedom against equality and that of equality as fraternity of peoples versus freedom as nationalism and sovereignty. The reactionaries are always on one side, fixed, blocked in the defence of their privileges. For the first time, the revolutionaries raised the red flag of brotherhood among peoples. ’48 was followed by a century of fierce struggle. Socialism was affirmed, then defeated, but in either case, it left an enormous legacy of public goods, or rather, of “commons” for new generations. ’68 opened upon this terrain of innovation and potentiality. “Communism” was its horizon. It was a matter of making what was public, common again, about obtaining more commons from what was public, conquered in the democratic game. The fruit of socialism had to be multiplied.

We have been and will be in this battle, ours and our children’s. That breath of democratic will that once again turned the world upside down was new. And it repeats itself: every ten years, more or less, we have large, widespread and extended episodes of revolt. The Kondratiev cycles are over. The cycles of subjectivation of the commons have taken the lead. Each time, resistance is adapted to overcome the obstacles created by a repression now converted into a “science of government.” Every governmentality is a capitalist and sovereign operation to block and corset the productive movements of living labour. The answer is a renewed attack by citizen-worker movements and an ability to build on the gains made.

Let’s look carefully at this game that was launched after ’68; the resistance of workers to achieve the satisfaction of old and new needs, then repression. But can repression achieve the objective of blocking subversive action? We were often forced to give a positive answer to this question. But even when the subversive movement is blocked, we must see if the struggle truly had a negative (or relatively negative) result. And well, it’s not like that. The reforms that the struggles – even those that lose – accumulate are important; they are an increase of the “commons” in the hands of the multitudes of the proletariat. Pay attention to old voices that come from the past: does the positivity of this process mean that we must be “reformist” in leading the movement? Absolutely not. The reformists do not accumulate anything of the commons, they only accumulate defeats and demolitions of the commons, they collaborate in capitalist governance, they dirty and pervert the struggles. On the contrary, only resistance struggles that become subversive accumulate common wealth and subdivide it among institutions of the commons. Surrounded by institutions of the commons, we have achieved a certain progress for our lives and those of our children. I gladly testify to this in my old age.

But to keep open this apparatus of the “commons”, of its conquest and its accumulation, the history of struggles teaches us that we must organise. I have spent my life trying to solve this task. I do not think I have achieved it; that is, to discover an organisational formula that would have the effectiveness of the “labour union” in the Second International or the “soviet” in the Third. We have identified the terrain of the multitude as a set of singularities, which operate as a swarm, as a network, probably susceptible to organisation in a true direct democracy. However, we have never managed to go beyond “in vitro” experiences. But that is the path, and following it already allows the dialectic of resistance and subversion to destabilise enemy power and de-structure its production system, therefore, prepare for the conquest of the commons and for the construction of its institutions. The road ahead is still long and the lack of organisation and the empty times of the subversive task are paid for.

We are faced with a resurgent fascism. We know that the struggle is difficult. Let us not be afraid. Let us keep the front line. Let us think that our resistance is effective. But it is necessary to prepare for the extreme consequences that fascism can lead to: war. Whoever has lived through war, who has suffered it, knows that war is, has been and will be an irresistible machine of destruction. And this time, it will be the destruction of the whole of humanity, given the means of war that the great capitalist powers can use. The war between powers = destruction of the roots of humanity. Fascism can produce this human disaster, this massacre of its history on the planet. Therefore, fighting fascism means fighting for humanity, without ever forgetting that fascism is capable of destroying it, when it claims that the patriarchal rules of society, the command structure for exploitation and the sovereignty of its own interest in the political form of the State are endangered. Let us concentrate on this point and organise ourselves so as not to suffer the decision of war by an authority that has crossed paths with fascism. Our task is to avoid war, to fight and win over capital without going through war. How is this to be done? Pacifism will be our weapon, because peace is our desire.

I have lived through and suffered fascism. My heart is offended and my brain is traumatized when I think back on that experience. I have lived since 1968 until today, without the fear of fascism. The crimes that were attributed to it, first among them, the Shoah, prevented it from being desired again; the great mass of the population seemed to have definitively repudiated it. Only the officials of sovereignty were able to follow in the memory (and be conniving in the practices) of those criminal behaviours, sometimes renewing them. The repression of 1968 in Europe was an example of this. Anyway, I was never afraid; I simply developed contempt for those criminals. Today things are different: a cloud of sulphurous smoke, a thick atmosphere, impossible to see through with one’s eyes, surrounds us. Fascism is omnipresent. We must rebel. We must resist. My life is going away, fighting after eighty becomes difficult. But what remains of my soul leads me to this decision.

In the resistance to fascism, in the attempt to break this dominance, in the certainty that we will succeed, this book was written. All I have left, my friends, is to leave you. With a smile, with sweetness, I am dedicating these pages, these three volumes that I am concluding, to those virtuous men who preceded me in the art of subversion and liberation, and to those who will come after. We say that they are “eternal” – may eternity embrace us.

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