Re: [OPE-L] SubStance Special Issue: Italian Post-Workerist Thought

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon Apr 23 2007 - 03:51:36 EDT

On the question of immaterial labor as theorized by Hardt and Negri...

Perhaps Hardt and Negri would consider academics sharing and
developing ideas on a list serve to be a general model of the
emergent new types of production which are already beyond and outside
capital. But there is no emerging paradigm of immaterial labor here.

Here is the controversial passage from Hardt and Negri's Empire:

: "cooperation is completely immanent to the laboring activity
itself. This fact calls into question the old notion (common to
classical and Marxian political economics) by which labour power is
conceived as "variable capital", that is, a force that is activated
and made coherent only by capital, because the cooperative powers of
labor power (particularly immaterial labor power) afford labor the
possibility of valorising itself. Brains and bodies still need others
to produce value, but the others they need are not necessarily
provided by capital and its capacities to orchestrate production.
Today productivity, wealth, and the creation of social surpluses take
the form of cooperative interactivity through linguistic,
communicational, and affective networks. In the expression of its own
creative energies, immaterial labor thus seems to provide the
potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism"p. 294

Valorizing itself? Let's remember Marx's critque of the Gotha
Programme. It's a pretty conception to say that workers can valorize
themselves which implies of course that they themselves the source of
all wealth. That's a pretty conception because it abstracts away from
the workers dependence on the privately owned means of production
which are necessary for the production of wealth or any kind of
valorization. But Negri seems to be arguing that immaterial labour
suffers no such dependence on privately owned means of production.
The Gotha Program comes into its own in informational, immaterial and
affective capitalism.

Yet  mental workers or 'affective' workers (workers who produce
affects) must most often use means of production which they could not
possibly own.

Also   even a petty bourgeois innovator must often depend on and pay
for the use of distribution networks which are private property?

How can communism in the economic sphere just spontaneously assert
itself? Isn't this the metaphysical conclusion they must derive since
Hardt and Negri want to escape patient and protracted dialectical
contradictions for immediate Deleuzean lines of flight?

So...the central concept of immaterial labor baffles me. And for many
reasons: as if service workers have to be producing social relations
biopolitically rather than commodities as wage laborers  because a
commodity is by definition durable vendible which services are
not???; as if the overtime work of computer programmers somehow
negates the law of value; as if
capital enjoying gratis scientific ideas of self sacrificing genius
is something new.

I understand that the rising affective dimension of some job
categories is important especially in the alienated emotional labor
it implies usually for women (Arlie Hochschild) and in the
exclusionary effects it has on black workers who don't have the face
the company wants for its prejudiced custormers (Troy Duster).

But I don't see how this implies any epochal shift. New forms of
alienation and discrimination yes but not the basis for the
dissolution of capital.

As the passage above underlines, the goal here is to have these
special workers understand that the kind of intellectual and emotive
work they do is inherently autonomous and social and (and for these
reasons) difficult for capital to appropriate and thus already an
elementary form of communism. Perhaps nursing fits this model? Nurses
have in this region been among the most militant trade unionists, but
Negri is not found of this kind of working class organization.
Certainly nursing depends on the use of privately owned means of
production; it can't be spontaneously communist.

In the  critique below Carnfield shows that to shake off the charge
of an exclusive focus on an aristocracy of scientific labor Hardt and
Negri have at times incoherently inflated the idea of immaterial
labor, seeing commonalities where the singular immaterial laborers
surely would not!

As for Hardt and Negri's other major thesis--that US hegemony has
become impossible--that I can see. Here their ideas overlap those of
Immanuel Wallerstein, Cyrus Bina and Prem Shankar Jha. But that the
system is tending toward an equilibrium state of what Hardt and Negri
idiosyncratically call Empire I am more skeptical. The US may be
structurally unable to make the sacrifices for the Empire to work and
the US may demand as a condition of its cooperation concessions which
its potential partners are unwilling to make.

Yet I do appreciate (though don't agree with) the Copernican turn of
understanding capital as the reactive force to the assertions of the
autonomy of the multitude and the general challenge to the
nationalization of the masses implicit in the category of the
multitude. .


The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri's
Theory of Immaterial Labour

David Camfield
Labour Studies
University of Manitoba

While Hardt and Negri note that  immaterial and material forms of
labour are "almost always"15 mixed together, citing the  example of
health care workers who both clean bedpans and generate affective and
intellectual  products, their description of immaterial labour as
biopolitical labour that is both materially and  immaterially
productive, creating "ultimately social life itself," in fact
dissolves the distinction  between immaterial and material labour.
This all-encompassing notion contradicts their  definition of
immaterial labour as labour that produces immaterial products.

The rise of immaterial labour has profound consequences.  One is the
breaking down of
the division of time between work and non-work or leisure.  This
split was clear-cut in the age of
the factory, but under the hegemony of immaterial labour "an idea or
an image comes to you not
only in the office but also in the shower or in your dreams."27  To
grasp this change,  Hardt and
Negri suggest, we would do well to remember that the work/leisure
split had no meaning for
women traditionally engaged full-time in unpaid domestic labour, and
that agricultural labourers
may work all the day long.  They also give the examples of companies
like Microsoft, which
attempt to keep their employees in the office for as much time as
possible by offering free food
and exercise, and the phenomenon of multiple job-holding by low-waged
workers in precarious

As a consequence of the rise of immaterial labour, the authors argue
that it is necessary to
reconceptualize labour and value.  The relationship between them has,
they claim, changed since
Marx's day.  Marx saw social labour as "the source of all wealth" in
capitalism and abstract
labour, "labor in general, labor without respect to its specific
form," as "the source of value in
general."47  However, capitalism's law of value, which measures value
in units of labour time, no
longer holds because of the tendency for the division between work
and non-work time to
disappear.  "This law... cannot be maintained today in the form that
Smith, Ricardo, and Marx
himself conceived it," even if labour is still "the fundamental
source of value  in capitalist
production."  Immaterial labour produces  knowledge, communicative
capacities, and social
relationships, and these fall into the category of "positive
externalities."  "Such externalities,
which are common to all of us, increasingly define economic
production as a whole."  Positive
externalities are outside of capital, which tries to control them but
can never succeed completely.
Immaterial labour is still exploited by capital, but the nature of
exploitation has changed along
with the relationship between labour and value.  No longer can value
and surplus value be
conceptualized on the basis of temporal units of labour time.
Exploitation becomes "the private
appropriation of part or all of the value that has been produced as common."48

Immaterial labour is said to be dissolving the division of time
between work and non-work, creating a new commonality, undermining
qualitative divisions
among working people, producing life outside the sway of capital and
making possible the
popular unity of singularities that can achieve absolute democracy.
If one follows Hardt and
Negri, immaterial labour is of world-historic importance.  But should
we follow them?

In a highly abstract sense it is possible to talk
of labour producing goods, services, social relations, and human
subjectivities.  Yet it is essential
to be able to distinguish the production of ourselves as human
subjects through our relationships
with nature and each other in determinate socio-material conditions
and particular historical
moments from the production by humans of, say, microprocessors.  Very
different kinds of
production processes and products are involved.  Labour is at the
heart of them all, but at
different levels of abstraction and in different social forms.  The
all-encompassing concept of
biopolitically-productive immaterial labour does not allow us to make
such distinctions.

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