Edited by Giuseppe Caccia
Translated by Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andrea Casson
The Winter Is Over: Writings on Transformation Denied, 1989–1995
May 17, 2013
Cambridge, MA (distributed by MIT Press)
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about Europe’s disastrous and divisive 20th century is that its last major transition, the end of “really-existing socialism” iconified by the opening of the Berlin Wall, was so peaceful. In this collection of essays, Antonio Negri describes how the spirit of 1968 was able to outlive the Cold War, and in particular the long winter of Reagan/Thatcher conservatism, only to be rekindled in a new “metropolitan” struggle carried out by an expanded and reconfigured proletariat.
Negri has been active with Leftist parties in Italy since the 1960s and is a long-time professor of political science and a prominent post-Marxist theorist. He is best known in the US for his collaboration with Michael Hardt onEmpire, a volume on globalization published in 2000. The Winter Is Over is the translation of a volume originally available in Italian in 1996, with the addition of an introductory essay by Jason E. Smith and a brief author preface written in December 2012.
The essays are divided into four thematic sections. The first, and perhaps most relevant today, looks closely at labor unrest in France and Italy in the 1990s to re-define a new socialized worker. The second part deals with philosophical developments in France. The third and longest section addresses the global power balance from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the first Gulf War. Lastly, the fourth section consists of commentary on domestic politics in Italy.
My first question on opening the cover was about the relevance of these essays today. After all, in 1995 (when the most recent essay was published), 0.4% of the world had Internet access (versus over 70% of the developed world today), Boris Yeltsin was president of a liberalizing Russia, the euro currency didn’t yet have a name, and China’s share of global GDP was only 2.7% (going on to become the second largest economy in less than 20 years). But despite this temporal shortcoming, these essays chronicle a pivotal time: not only the end of the Cold War, but the formation of a new European identity.
One of the more interesting situations described in the first section are collective strikes in France, which included public transportation, communications, and auto factory employees. For Negri, the notion of a new socialized worker was expanded to include the users of these services, particularly Paris Metro riders, who joined in solidarity with the strike by organizing ad hoc alternatives. The significant change here is that the consumers of these services—who in effect co-create with the worker that very service—were now co-creating the strike. Smith, in his introductory essay, highlights Negri’s concept of the metropolitan strike, relating it to various reactions to the financial crisis of 2007/08 including the Occupy Movement, anti-austerity riots in Europe, and even the Arab Spring.
The second section of essays addresses the decline of what Negri calls “weak thought” in French philosophical debate. He addresses variously the influence of Nietzsche, Marx, and in particular, Deleuze and Guattari, as developing a “philosophy for the 21st century.” As for the fate of the intellectual, Negri is able to place him in the framework of this new, expanded proletariat. With obvious relief, Negri declares, “For the first time, finally, we intellectuals are able to begin to speak as members of the proletariat. Finally the separation from labor is finished, a separation that made us feel strange and in some ways as though we were participating in the exploitation of the workers” (116).
But what about technology and the Internet? In a fascinating comment on Toyota’s automated “just-in-time” manufacturing model, which has had influence around the world in countless industries, Negri contrasts this new labor model against traditional American Fordist/Taylorist organization. He then goes on to describe how this management-led innovation impacts the worker’s struggle. “The Japanese model of working reveals and interprets, in its own way, that rupture of Taylorist alienation of labor and of the despotism of the factory which the workers’ struggles, starting from the Seventies, had indicated as the privileged object of worker hatred” (92).
In one 1992 essay, decrying the demise of the media, Negri foresees the development of the Internet in calling for the necessity to “construct a system of public communication based on the active and cooperative inter-relationship of subjects. To connect communication/production/social lives in ever more intense forms of cooperation and proximity” (40).
In the end, the reader is impressed with Negri’s grasp of European dynamics as they are unfolding, but at times is left struggling to relate these insights to issues today. Given the changes during the interceding 20 years, the global context often seems lacking. The essays are short and engaging, though most assume a familiarity with European political economy and philosophy. This is undoubtedly a valuable resource for charting changes in Europe after the end of the Cold War at a pivotal moment in the development of the European Union, as well as a testament to Negri’s key role as a voice of the European Left.
Steiner lives in San Francisco where he edits, writes, and takes pictures. He studied global history at Universität Leipzig and the London School of Economics.