So one thing you might not know about Antonio Negri, you can learn from Wikipedia. Antonio Negri is a communist. He’s always been a communist. I’m talking to you about the economic ideas of an enthusiastic communist.
All those insights about the networked nature of the modern economy? The creative energy of working class frustration? Revealing racism to be the ideological justification and prop of imperialist conquest? All these ideas that hold true, or at least compelling? A communist wrote them.
Most importantly, all those analyses of how the modern state developed its most oppressive machinery? And speaking against that oppression. From the mind and pen of a communist.
Why should we think a communist’s insights are valuable for contemporary people? Even and especially people in business, who today profit and gain from the expansion of labour pools and markets that accompany the end of racism.
We, at the scale of our whole society, don’t expect useful ideas for social progress and the growth of freedom to come from communists. There are reasons for that. I'll talk about a few of them.
The Cold War, especially in North America, vilified communists. This was true throughout culture – in political discussions, of course, but also in art of all media, education at all levels, any kind of popular culture or communication.
But I’m going to tell you what very few self-identified communists today will be up front about. Quite a few of the communists of the 20th century deserved it. Here’s one example.
The Stalinist vision of communism was a genuine totalitarianism, the perfection of the administrative state's oppressive powers and amping them to their highest intensity. Joseph Stalin’s government killed millions, controlled the Soviet population with a ubiquitous secret police, indulged ideologically-motivated junk science to the point of disaster, committed catastrophic ecological destruction, and violently purged his own party and supporters to maintain his dictatorship.
So why should we listen to a communist like Negri? It starts with one simple fact: Stalin was a communist, but not every communist is a Stalinist.
|Joseph Stalin: Colder than ice.
I feel sad that this is something that needs to be said, because it seems obvious, if only because of the large number of other communists Stalin killed. This is the influence of Freidrich Hayek, the economist and philosopher who argued that any form of state involvement in the economy or collective economic action was an essentially communist suppression of individual freedom.
However you evaluate the quality of Hayek’s arguments in The Road to Serfdom, he built himself an enormous fanbase who believe those arguments. That’s why you find libertarian people and communities who call Barack Obama and Jack Layton full-on Stalinist dictatorial communists.
Negri has been accused of being the worst kind of murderous communist, having served nearly a decade in prison because the Italian government trumped up charges linking him to the Red Brigades group that killed former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978.
But he's really just an intellectual. And a better intellectual in one way than all the hardcore communists locked away in ivory tower university positions: he actually did enough political work and agitation to get himself arrested by his country’s paranoid right-wing government.
My own political views are much more complicated than doctrinaire communism. Like Negri, I distrust the state and consider it, at heart, a massive tool for controlling the population. I don't like the oligarchical class much either, as they use their money and power to control people so much more crudely.
Negri may be a communist, but his insights and analyses speak to the turmoil of our times, the economic and ecological collapse. His dream for society, which in Empire he rarely describes, is communist. But he does understand the dangers of the contemporary world's capital markets and labour markets.
Because he's a communist, he can give us the unvarnished truth. He knows you'll be uncomfortable with the knowledge that your economic system causes such destruction. He's able to point it out honestly because he wants to see it fall. So Negri isn't invested in the current world order.
In a world where capital rules everything around me, a communist is the only person who can find enough neutral ground to stand and assess the situation.