Academic journal article Capital & Class

A Crisis of Measurability? Critiquing Post-Operaismo on Labour, Value and the Basic Income

Academic journal article Capital & Class

A Crisis of Measurability? Critiquing Post-Operaismo on Labour, Value and the Basic Income

Article excerpt

Introduction

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the paperback publication of Hardt and Negri's (2001) Empire. Its release secured peak visibility for the rich tradition of Italian post-operaismo (Wright 2002), sparking a continuing debate about class, power, strategy and the changing face of labour at the commencement of the 21st century (Balakrishnan 2003; Passavant & Dean 2003). Bringing to light Italian radical left discussions about 'immaterial labour' (Virno & Hardt 1996), it challenged conventional Marxist understandings of work in capitalist society. Importantly, it disputed the relevance of Marx's labour theory of value. However, as Kicillof and Starosta (2007: 31, n. 4) suggest, post-operaismo's autonomist lineage rarely addresses contemporary debates in Marxian value theory (for an instructive exchange, see Bonefeld 2010, 2011; Carchedi 2011; Kicillof & Starosta 2007, 2011). Although Hardt and Negri's 'rejection of the contemporary relevance of the law of value' implies dialogue, post-operaismo in the wake of Empire seldom engages with cutting-edge re-readings of Marx's value theory. This article seeks to bridge this divide.

Empire was 'academias version of a blockbuster', described as a once-in-a-decade 'intellectual event' (Passavant & Dean 2003: 2). Its analysis of world power chimed with the tumult of globalisation. After the first run sold out, Harvard University Press hastily unleashed a mass-market paperback edition (Vuillamy 2001). With Multitude (Hardt & Negri 2004) and Commonwealth (Hardt & Negri 2009), Empire came to constitute part of a loose trilogy, its arguments gaining new resonances as the decade progressed. The theorisation of 'multitude' as a political actor became a go-to idea for a generation of activists 'reared on their Hardt and Negri' (Mason 2011).

Hardt and Negri's popularisation of post-operaist theories of immaterial labour, however, had a subtler impact, largely confined to academia and the art world (Graeber 2008). Ideas akin to 'immaterial labour' are, after all, common currency in public discourse. The mainstream is well abreast of the same empirical shifts as described by Hardt and Negri: the move towards a service economy, the development of the creative industries, the prominence of cognition and emotional connection in contemporary workplaces, the fragmentation and dispersal of work time, the blurred line between work and leisure, the rise of information technology, the immense power of communicative networks and the proliferation of non-standard forms of employment and contractual arrangements. The trends to which theorists of immaterial labour react in delineating the concept are stark enough to have been covered extensively elsewhere. As such, the significance of the theory is mainly limited to the development of academic research agendas and to debates about the changing face of labour. The concept's relevance to debates in Marxian value theory receives less attention. I seek to rectify this by foregrounding this aspect.

The immaterial labour thesis was originally formulated by Maurizio Lazzarato (1996). It depicts a transformation of work in late capitalist economies. For Hardt and Negri, these changes are not so much numerically significant as cultural and social. The transition to immaterial, postindustrial labour is not a quantitative shift, but a change in the hegemony of certain kinds of activity within the world of work (Hardt & Negri 2004: 107-109). According to Hardt and Negri (2001), 'industrial production is no longer expanding its dominance', economically and socially (pp. 285-286). Take, for instance, the move from secondary to tertiary occupations characterised by 'the central role played by knowledge, information, affect and communication'. For Hardt and Negri, this shift does not mean that industrial production has ceased or will cease. Older forms of labour, such as manufacturing, become infused with an informational aspect, akin to how industrial production came to infuse agriculture in the past (Hardt & Negri 2001). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.