Michael Hardt on the Potential of Autonomia

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Nice Job!

I just re-read Michael Hardt’s introduction to the book Radical Thought in Italy.  Both the piece and the book are fantastic and recommended.  But what struck me this time was the beautiful job Hardt does of articulating the how the Italians tend toward a radical politics that focuses its attention not on the powers that be (what they often call constituted power), but rather on our own power (constituent power).  In autonomism this took the form, for example, of Tronti’s point that if all value is produced by labor (this is Marx), then the proletariat must be the leading class in society, the class whose activity shapes society.  The bourgeoisie, it follows, is thus continuously reacting to and trying to catch up to the action of the workers.  For the Italians, “the tasks of political theory,” while they do “involve the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation that plague us,” nevertheless insist that “the first and primary tasks are to identify, affirm, and further the existing instances of social power [which already exist among people themselves] that allude to a new alternative society, a coming community” (7).  The point is therefore not to confront capital-and-the-state in order to seize their power.  Since we are the source of all power, we must instead withdraw our power–the power we already have–from the capital-and-state relation.  An exodus (Virno); a line of flight (D&G).

This line of thinking underscores the importance of Nietzsche’s critique of ressentiment.  If we spend all our time obsessing about the intricacies of how constituted power dominates us, and resent the power it holds over us, we are not being attentive to our own (constituent) power.  We are missing the point, we are ignoring the way out, we are blind to “the entire creative potential of our own practical capacities” (6).  In this power lies the seeds of a communist and/or democratic society, and so ressentiment’s obsessive critique does nothing so much as occlude the path to the possible.

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3 thoughts on “Michael Hardt on the Potential of Autonomia

  1. I am mostly in agreement, especially with the connection to ressentiment. But Negri and the others ignore or downplay the extent to which competition among capitalists also drives private accumulation, the introduction of new technologies, etc. Our prospects would be much rosier if the capitalist class were indeed as reactive as Negri et al. make them out to be…

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