So yesterday, I stopped dancing around the issue and openly said that Antonio Negri, the writer whose pretty damn interesting, provocative, and compelling ideas was a communist.
My reason for doing so was to chip away at the popular conception of communists as these evil people. The image of Stalin as standing for all communists. That way, you could be open to the ideas of someone who was a communist all his life.
|Bryan Cranston plays Dalton Trumbo in the attempted|
Oscar bait biopic Trumbo. Here, he recreates a famous
photo of Trumbo writing a script from the bathtub
while smoking heavily.
More than this, being a communist doesn't mean you're a loyal communist. I remember hearing this smear in the right-wing and sensationalist quarters of the American press levelled against Dalton Trumbo when the biopic of the blacklisted screenwriter was released last year.
Essentially, those smears against Trumbo the movie said that it was right for the state to ruin the career of Trumbo the man. They equated Trumbo’s anti-capitalist politics and activism to his having taken orders directly from Stalin. They accused him of loyalty to Stalin as leader of a totally unified world communist movement.
This is at the heart of the libertarian smear against all left-wingers. It’s the contention that being in any way critical of unregulated free market economics and politics collapses to being a foot soldier of totalitarian Soviet state communism.
Negri was a communist, but he certainly wasn't loyal to any communist state or empire. He served a prison sentence because of false charges based on the same principle. Because he was a communist, so the argument went, he must be a member of the Red Brigades communist terror group.
It isn’t just Negri's life and political activism that stands against this principle of total unity among all left-leaning people. In so many quarters, his philosophy emphasizes the creative power of diversity as essential to life itself.
Here's an example of how. At least another one. It's connected to what I discussed a while ago about working people being the engine of the world economy’s creativity. But it discusses the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As a communist, so the argument goes, Negri would necessarily have to lament the end of the Soviet Union, the supposed leader of world communism. But Negri was happy to see the USSR go, and describes in Empire precisely how the Soviet Union’s style of oppression in its last decades hastened its collapse.
We in the West are used to the myths that the Soviet Union fell because they couldn’t sustain their economy keeping up with American military spending and Ronald Reagan told them to change Berlin's urban development plan.
Negri argues that the Soviet Union fell for the same reason Western workers rebelled against the conformist Company Man attitudes of mid-20th century American corporate culture. Russian workers were part of the same anti-bureaucratic movement as Americans.
|Dalton Trumbo writing in the bath. This|
was seriously a thing that he did.
Brezhnev’s USSR was the embodiment of bureaucratic and conformist management.* American workers at least had leisure time and the personal autonomy in their private lives to escape bureaucratic discipline. But in the Soviet Union, every waking moment was embodied the distilled essence of Franz Kafka’s and Robert Musil’s visions.
* Only Stalin's Soviet Union was genuinely totalitarian, defined by the most intense mass-mobilization possible, the death machine that would consume the world or itself, in Stalin’s case largely turned on its own population when not at war with Nazi Germany.
More than that, the USSR never had the democratic feedback mechanisms that American workers could use to change their styles of governance and employment.
This more flexible mode of work and employment that broke from conformist norms did more than satisfy workers’ demands for personal and professional freedom. The modern economy is driven by computer technology, and innovation in that sector depends on individual creativity and flexibility.
Heavily controlled bureaucratic management can't adapt to the rapid changes and qualitative shifts of the tech economy. The democratic social, political, government, and business cultures of North America and Europe permitted this shift in the foundations of the economy.
The Soviet Union’s bureaucratic dictatorship had no path to start the creative process required for an innovative computer technology sector. By the time of Gorbachev's liberal reforms in the economy and daily politics, the USSR had already fossilized itself.
Negri knew that the most important force for freedom in the world is the creativity of workers. And he knew that the Soviet system suppresses that creativity in favour of obedience to a bureaucratic state. That kind of politics earns no loyalty.