Antonio Negri (1933-2023)

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By HUGO ALBUQUERQUE*

Antonio Negri's greatest lesson is to never give up his revolutionary north

The world has lost a great communist militant. At the age of 90, Italian Toni Negri left Paris, the capital of France where he had lived for a long time. Born in Padua, Veneto, he was one of the most prominent leaders of the Power Worker and after Worker autonomy, the extra-parliamentary left of Italy in the 1960s-1970s, linked to “Marxist autonomism” and engaged in radical social struggle – while traditional parties capitulated to institutional logic and the belief in development for its own sake.

In his long and productive career, there are at least four phases of Antonio Negri: his militant formation in Italy in the 1950s, especially in his collaboration with Mario Tronti – also deceased in this year 2023 – and Raniero Panzieri – in the Quaderni Rossi [Red Notebooks], his radicalization in the late 1960s, his French exile, in which he relates to post-structuralism and his global fame from 2000 onwards, in collaboration with Michael Hardt, with the tetralogy Empire, Crowd, Common Good e Assembly.

In his final phase, Toni Negri's close relationship with Brazil and Latin America is still evident. Here, he made constant visits, maintained direct dialogue with activists and networks, being an enthusiast of so-called “progressive experiences” – precisely because he realized the revolutionary dimension of being a reformist on our periphery of the world. Brazil has always enchanted Antonio Negri, in whose meetings he always revealed his powerful side of a realist without ever losing his joy.

Italy: from post-war to May 1968

After the tragedy of fascism and the slaughter of the Second World War, Italy dominated by the Allies was a poor land, devastated by the storms of the extreme right and the greatest conflict humanity has known. Young Antonio Negri, whose father was a communist activist who died when he was two years old, was already a committed activist at a very young age, later joining the left wing of the Socialist Party – where he remained for seven years.

Graduated in philosophy in Padua, his homeland, Toni Negri dedicated himself to State theory and constitutional theory. In the fertile soil of northeastern Italy, Negri quickly linked up with the dissident intelligentsia of the Communist Party itself, who sought a Marxist renewal, while the party – the largest communist group in Western Europe, became a ship adrift, lost in logic electoral and parliamentary.

In an intense intellectual production, especially in the pages of Qaderni Rossi, Toni Negri is a privileged observer of the death of Fordist capitalism and innovates with the concept of “mass worker” – in which he already foresees new forms of labor exploitation by capital. It is in this context that he allies himself with social movements in what will be seen as an entire decade of struggles in his country: in Italy, 1968 lasted more than ten years and lasted throughout the 1970s.

Italy developed under a regime of representative democracy in the post-war period, with an irruption also in the fields of intellectual art, but the 1970s were the moment of truth for another project of humanity – perhaps the last plan of this nature created in Europe. . It all ends with the kidnapping and death of Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades, in 1978, which triggers a wave of repression and arrests, whose objectives went much further.

At the time, Toni Negri projected himself as a major intellectual, recognized in France, where the most intellectually advanced in the West was produced. After a successful cycle of conferences with Louis Althusser in Paris, which yielded the iconic Marx beyond Marx, Negri returns to Italy, where he is involved, months later, in the whirlwind of events surrounding the death of Aldo Moro, under unusual accusations of being the moral mastermind of the crime, for his work, and being a captive maestro, a corruptor.

Prison, French exile, return to Italy and freedom

Arrested, insulted and degraded at the beginning of 1979, Antonio Negri's story would not end, however, at that moment. While he was the target of active international solidarity, especially among French intellectuals, Negri resisted and did not weaken in prison. There, he writes his seminal The wild anomaly (Ed. 34) on Spinoza's work, a presence that accompanies especially late. In 1983, he was elected deputy, despite being arrested, for the Radical Party, which led to his release.

Furious, the right joins the parliamentary left to revoke the mandate, and consequently the parliamentary immunity, of Toni Negri, who uses his brief release to undertake a cinematic escape to France. There, he is welcomed by the network of Italian exiles from the years of lead Italians as well as philosophers Félix Guattari, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault – who helped him establish himself as a professor at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes) and resume his production.

Protected by the so-called “Mitterrand Doctrine”, which allowed the reception of Italian militants persecuted by the repressive wave at the turn of the 1970s, enormously productive, Toni Negri faces the shadow of not being able to return to his homeland – a drama followed by many of these exiles, especially the elderly, who would like to die in their homeland, see loved ones and so many other basic things.

Meanwhile, Negriano philosophy sees the 1990s as a good wind, which rejects defeatist explanations and seeks to think about the future, aligning itself with the alterglobalist movement – ​​without refusing communism as an instance of understanding and struggle for the new times, when neoliberal hegemony it seems absolute and invincible. It is in this scenario that Toni Negri leaves for his native Italy, to surrender and seek to call into question the government and the cause of the exiles.

It was in this new experience in prison that Antonio Negri began the production of the trilogy, which in the end became a tetralogy, which makes him world famous, made in partnership with the American Michael Hardt: Empire (2000) Crowd (2004) Very common (2009) and, finally, Assembly (2017). Once released, Antonio Negri visits Brazil in 2003, maintaining a strict relationship with the Lula government, especially with the then entourage of the Ministry of Culture, headed by Gilberto Gil.

Toni Negri in the XNUMXst century

Toni Negri's production with Michael Hardt elevates him to global stardom, even more so with many of his predictions being confirmed with the Arab Spring, the protest movements in Europe and, finally, the Occupy in the United States. The icing on Toni Negri's cake, however, will be the Latin American experiences, which mark new modes of innovation from the global periphery, with their multiracial populations and social increments that were undergoing substantial democracy.

Initially close to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, from whom he is relatively distant, Toni Negri will remain close to Lula, opposing Lava Jato, whilst recognizing the value of 2013 fights. Antonio Negri's thought begins to suffer a series of questions in light of the enormous wave of reaction that occurred in Latin America, but was seen in all parts of the globe - where his militant optimism with the spontaneous possibilities of the crowd seems, in the end, to be undone with sand castles in the face of harsh reality.

Even though, in a certain way, the formulations have been subjected to severe blows, especially the scenario envisaged in Empire, his analyzes regarding the transformations of capitalism are not a trivial or easily circumvented fact – and if, in a way, the Chinese advance went, to a certain extent, unnoticed, the converse was not exactly true, since his work in the XNUMXst century has also been translated into Mandarin.

Despite the health limitations of his age, Negri remained lucid and defended courageous positions such as a realistic way out of the Ukrainian conflict or even refusing to abandon communism, or the ideas of joy and love in political language. Evidently, his legacy is immense, in quality and size, which must be revisited not only after the end of this specific wave of reaction – but precisely within it, to bring it to an end as soon as possible.

Antonio Negri's greatest lesson is to never give up the revolutionary direction, but that this demands unity between theory and practice, which always puts us before the enormous challenge of making reality and desire walk together. It's no small feat. But betting on humanity's creative and resilient potential is a fair and reasonable path – even more so in such frightening times. We cannot weaken, nor give way to sadness, as joy is always the test of the nine.

* Hugo Albuquerque is publisher of Jacobin Brasil, editor of Autonomia Literária, master in law from PUC-SP, lawyer and director of the Institute for Humanity, Rights and Democracy (IHUDD).

Originally published in the magazine Jacobin Brazil.


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