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«      Boffo, Marco (2013) Interrogating the knowledge‐based economy: from  ...»

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‘the “local” constitution of subjectivity’ at the expense of ‘the deeper specific differentiae of the capital-labour relation’ (Spencer, 2000, p.224),96 and ultimately leading many labour process theorists to relocate in business schools, critical management and organisation theory (Rowlinson, Hassard, 1994). With respect to the debate on productive and unproductive labour, while the original Italian operaismo of the 1960s represented a genuine and healthy break with the rhetoric and praxis of the Italian Communist Party on the basis of more complex accounts of class composition and dynamics, the movement from the later phase of operaismo to contemporary post-operaismo has been characterised by an attempt to expand the category of productive labour similar to that of the first proponents of the concept of immaterial labour, the French idéologues, Say and Storch (Haug, 2009), even if on the opposite side of the political spectrum and inspired by a politically inclusive, rather than exclusive, social ontology. Thus, Negri’s political reading of Marx’s value theory and the stress on its politics of inclusion through a redefined and expanded notion of productive labour led to the elaboration of immaterial labour and use of the general intellect as ‘collect-all’ categories ‘for all postFordist labour and for the interpellation of a new revolutionary subject’, functioning ‘not as … (epistemological or ontological) analytical’ concepts (Haug, 2009, p.177) but, rather, as ‘sloganistic’ terms ‘for political mobilisation … at the cost of theoretical arbitrariness’ (Haug, 2010, p.209; the same can be said to apply to the multitude, cognitive capitalism and the common).

Thus, having departed from Marxist political economy and value theory in search of a new political theory of value, post-operaismo ultimately developed ‘unhealthy and uncritical dependence on mainstream business and management writings on the knowledge economy and knowledge work’ (Thompson, 2005, p.75), often sharing the millennialism of many information society theorists, post-industrial discourses, and less respectable futurists.

Furthermore, its focus on subjectivity and a politics of cultural resistance have led to the identification of Hardt and Negri’s theory as an instance of postmodern left-liberalism (Cremin, Roberts, 2011). This tendency is most evidently manifest in Hardt and Negri’s recent intervention in the debate on the politics of the commons and rhetorical turn to the categories of mainstream economics in Commonwealth (Hardt, Negri, 2009). Indeed, as discussed earlier, the closing of Hardt and Negri’s trilogy marks a new step for the trajectory of post-operaismo for its turn to specific categories from the discipline of economics to corroborate the postworkerist socio-economic foundation, rather than for any substantive change in its analysis of contemporary capitalism itself. However, it is not by coincidence that this turn to the Similarly, see Hyman, 2006; but see also Burrell, 2006 for a positive account of postmodern labour process theory.

categories of mainstream economics arrives exactly at the moment when the cognitive capitalism debate, by building onto the immaterial labour debate, completes and complements the latter with a socio-economic foundation for post-workerism. Indeed, rather than bringing closure, this last step reasserts the shortcomings of post-operaismo, and reveals the real price to be paid for the rejection and neglect of the insights of Marxian political economy, clearly putting into question the practical, political and theoretical relevance of postworkerism itself. Indeed, and although inspired by the political project of instituting and managing ‘a world of common wealth, focusing on and expanding’ the capacity ‘for collective production and self-government’ (Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.xiii) through rejection of the ‘pernicious political alternative between capitalism and socialism’ (p.ix), Hardt and Negri’s intervention in the debate on the commons entirely avoids addressing and confronting the politics of the state and those of the debate itself. Thus, it neglects the (analytical, practical and political) necessity to engage with the social forces and processes shaping the capitalist state, the role of the state itself and its action as locus and object of class struggle, and the potential for the state as basis for the development of an anti-capitalist politics and practice.

These are significant issues, whose neglect undermines Hardt and Negri’s own analysis of, and

commitment to, economic democracy.97 Furthermore, while others (see, for example:

Caffentzis, 2009, 2010; Mattei, 2011; Harvey, 2011; Harribey, 2011; and Fine, 2010a) have engaged critically with Elinor Ostrom’s (1990) work (co-winner in 2009 of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for her contributions on community self-management of commonpool resources), Hardt and Negri do not acknowledge, discuss, nor critique it, failing to qualify post-operaismo’s political project with respect to (oddly similar) mainstream (neo)liberal visions of community self-management (often a rhetorical device allowing for deeper neoliberal restructuring in practice).98 Ironically, while Negri’s (2003) review of Vercellone, 2003 prospected that ‘economic science will have to open up to political science, that is... give in to political praxis’ (p.204), both the award of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Elinor Ostrom – a political scientist – and her work’s firm attachment to methodological individualism are exemplary of exactly the opposite tendency, as part and parcel, and a token example, of economics imperialism (on which see below) (Fine, 2010a).99 See Cumbers, 2012, ch.6 for a critical account of the rise of the discourse on the commons in the context of debates on an alternative (and anti-capitalist) globalisation agenda.





See, for example, Caffentzis, 2009 and 2010 for critical assessment of Ostrom’s work, and recognition of the ambivalent character of the commons and their compatibility with capitalism.

Recently, Lucarelli and Vercellone (2011) have attempted to salvage Hardt and Negri from this kind of critique. Thus, they have clarified that the post-workerist ‘approach to the notion of common is based on a critique of the naturalistic approach typical of the economic theory of common goods, inspired by the work of Elinor Omstrom [sic]’. Therefore, within post-workerism, ‘the common’ is defined ‘as the potential of expanding social cooperation which attends the paradigmatic transformation of productive More generally, Commonwealth (Hardt, Negri, 2009) also draws directly on other concepts from mainstream economics. Possibly related to the assonance and apparent resonance of the concepts of social capital and externalities with post-operaismo’s (and Negri’s) claims of the subsumption of the whole of social life by capitalism and of capitalist exploitation as external to labour’s autonomous social cooperation, and possibly mediated through the relevance attributed to them in Moulier Boutang’s (2008) and Gorz’s (2003) accounts of cognitive capitalism,100 these concepts from mainstream economics are arbitrarily superimposed on the post-workerist reading of contemporary capitalism, rather than purposefully deployed analytically. Erroneously presented as if uncontested and unanimously accepted by all economists (with Hardt, Negri, 2009 only cursorily mentioning some ‘contemporary heterodox economists’ in footnote 37, p. 419, but with no explanation of what their heterodoxy consists), externalities and market failure are introduced in the post-operaista system without acknowledgement or discussion of their origin in methodological individualism and the mathematical apparatus of microeconomics, neglecting whether their use might constrain, let alone skew, analysis. This is particularly striking, given that it directly contradicts Hardt and forces and the prominence of new forms of labour in contemporary capitalism’, ‘such as the increasingly socialized production of knowledge. Consequently the common is not relegated to specific common goods such as water, for example. Conversely the naturalistic approach leads to a subordinate position that is not able to overcome the public-private dichotomy. In Toni Negri’s recent writings, the common refers to a form of socialization that breaks down the former divisions between work and life, between production and reproduction, and between material and immaterial’ (p.79, footnote 4). However, this clarification fails to rectify Hardt and Negri’s lack of engagement with the political and analytical issues at hand. Firstly, the extent to which the post-workerist take on the common functions as a critique ‘of the naturalistic approach typical of the economic theory of common goods’ (p.79, footnote 4) is not clear, not least given that: a) this critique has not (thus far) been developed systematically and with specific reference to the features of Ostrom’s work and the debate on the commons itself; b) the postworkerist belief in the "indomitable" character of knowledge (which cannot be commodified or separated from the minds of workers) and ‘the cooperative aspect of immaterial labor’, which would not be ‘imposed or organized from the outside, as … in previous forms of labor, but rather... completely immanent to the laboring activity itself’ (Hardt, Negri, 2000, p.294) betray... a naturalistic conception of knowledge and labour if there ever was one! Secondly, the justification that the two debates have different objects or, rather, take place at different levels of philosophical analysis, so to speak, is poor.

Indeed, it does not resolve that the exact meaning and relevance of overcoming ‘the public-private dichotomy’ (Lucarelli, Vercellone, 2011, p.79, footnote 4) need to be explained with respect to the practical implications and repercussions of such a political prospect (for it not to remain a merely voluntaristic, or even angelic, plea). This need is especially pressing, given the amenability of the commons to capitalist capture and incorporation within neoliberal rhetoric, scholarship and policy in practice, and it is telling that an autonomist (though not post-workerist) Marxist such as George Caffentzis (2009, 2010) has attempted to provide an answer to it by addressing these very issues.

Furthermore, Lucarelli and Vercellone's justification does not elide the fact that Hardt and Negri's intervention on “the common” follows from their peculiar mobilisation of categories from mainstream economics (externalities and market failure) and social theory (social capital) without any real consideration of their meaning, history and significance within economics itself, nor consideration of the (lack of) coherence of integrating these categories within the post-workerist reading of contemporary capitalism (see next paragraph).

With respect to externalities (not least in the context of “cognitive” production), Hardt and Negri’s Commonwealth (2009) provides direct references to Moulier Boutang, 2008 and Vercellone, 2003 and 2006a (see Hardt, Negri, 2009, p.406, footnote 16; p.409, footnote 59; p.417, footnote 16).

Negri’s own (albeit cursory) mention and rejection of the ‘methodological individualism of the Chicago School’ as insufficient to account for ‘biopolitical existence’, even if associated with ‘new concepts like human capital and cognitive capital’, in Multitude (Hardt, Negri, 2004, p.157). Furthermore, despite the marxisant use of the expression social capital in Empire (Hardt, Negri, 2000, pp.304-307 and 403), Hardt and Negri do not acknowledge, let alone explain, the semantic shift implicit in their use of the expression in Commonwealth (Hardt, Negri, 2009), the polysemy of the expression itself, nor the implications of adopting one meaning of the concept over others. Last but not least, social capital, externalities, and market failure are, each in their own way, key illustrations of economics imperialism, the restricted and restrictive incorporation of the social within economic theory (for economics imperialism, see Fine, Milonakis, 2009; for social capital, see Fine, 2001 and 2010b). To base analysis on either concept comes at great costs in terms of both what is left out and what is incorporated in piecemeal fashion. Furthermore, with both concepts having gained prominence in World Bank rhetoric, scholarship, and policy in practice in the guise of the Post-Washington Consensus and Good Governance Agenda (see Fine, 2001, especially ch.8; Fine, 2006b; Jomo, Fine, 2006), externalities and social capital have been instrumental in sustaining and pushing forward the latest phase of neoliberalism (Fine, 2010b; Saad-Filho, Johnston, 2005; Saad-Filho, 2005).

However, these concepts are mobilised by Hardt and Negri and post-workerism irrespective of their own specific meaning and use in economics, and without engagement with, or critique of, the vast and ever-expanding literature regarding them. Therefore, being mobilised without definitional accuracy, and through a complete misreading of economic theory, its history, the current economic crisis and the crisis of economics within it, externalities and social capital are inserted in the theoretical system of post-operaismo in a manner that is casual and selective at best. Similar to, and consistent with, the typically post-workerist hollow coinage and use of concepts, their function is not analytical but merely rhetorical. Confirming the identification of Hardt and Negri’s theory as postmodern left-liberalism (Cremin, Roberts, 2011), this turn

reveals the internal exhaustion of post-workerism and its theory of contemporary capitalism:



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