Friday, September 12, 2008

James and those Italians

No need to begin grandly; let's set ourselves to work. Here's a large chunk of information of dubious importance. Pardon the style; it's a footnote from a recent paper on James, in which I attempt to work out his relationship to Hardt and Negri.
In addition to the theoretical similarities, a history of the exchange of ideas between these revolutionary coteries [Italian workerists and James' Johson-Forrest and Facing Reality groups] would be quite fascinating. In 1972, for instance, George Rawick published with Negri, among others, Operai e stato [Workers and the state] (Milan: Feltrinelli). In 1973, Rawick’s From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community was published as Lo schiavo americano dal tramonto all’alba (Milan: Feltrinelli). The speed of the translation (just one year after its American publication), and its publication with the same house as Operai e stato indicates a tight exchange of ideas. Alex Lichtenstein has documented the importance of C.L.R. James to Rawick’s work; Rawick met James in 1964. Martin Glaberman was another Jamesian, a leader of the Facing Reality Group, and the eventual editor of Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization. In 1976 he published Classe operaia, imperialismo, rivoluzione negli USA (Turin: Musolini). Jame himself was apparently published in Italian, co-writing Da schiavo a proletario with Harold Baron and Herbert Gutman. This was published in 1973, with the same publishing house as Glaberman. These connections of James to Italian workerism, and Negri more specifically, indicate that more work needs to be done in situating James – historically and theoretically – within the major currents of Western Marxism. See Ferdinando Fasce, “American Labor History, 1973-1983: Italian Perspectives,” Reviews in American History, 14.4 (1986); Alex Lichtenstein, “In Retrospect: George Rawick’s From Sundown to Sunup and the Dialectic of Marxiam Slave Studies,” Reviews in American History, 24.4 (1996), p. 712-13.
This small heap of publication data was intended to authorize a more theoretical inquiry. For those who have bothered to read James' (post-)trotskyist theoretical texts, a question quickly emerges: what is the theoretical relationship between James' politico-economico-cultural theory and Hardt and Negri's Empire? The comparison in scholarly work is almost becoming old hat:
In his review of Empire, Tim Watson writes that “Hardt and Negri recall the populist Marxism of C.L.R. James, who had a similar faith in the creative energies of the proletariat of all countries” (emphasis added). The reduction of James’ theoretical position to faith is an odious tendency in writing on James, who provided sustained arguments for his positions. Chamsy el-Ojeili laments the lack of influence that James and the Johnson-Forest had on Italian workerism, even while noting the exchanges (generally mediated through Castoriadis, who published with James as well as European groups) between these groups. Peter Hudis writes that “James’s emphasis on spontaneity can be seen as having influenced a number of currents in autonomous Marxism, including Negri and Hardt. At the same time, in regard to the problem of organization, they seem not to have gone beyond [James’s] stopping point, as seen from the conclusion of Empire.” See Tim Watson, “An American Empire?” Postcolonial Studies, 4.3 (2001), p. 355; “‘Many Flowers, Little Fruit’? the Dilemmas of Workerism,” Thesis Eleven, 79 (2004), especially pp. 114-16; Peter Hudis, “Workers as Reason: The Devleopment of a New Relation of Worker and Intellectual in American Marxist Humanism,” Historical Materialism, 11.4 (2003), p. 290.
So, a relationship clearly exists, both in terms of historical connections and in terms of theoretical positions. Unfortunately, writing on the relationship hasn't moved much beyond the simile: James is like Hardt and Negri. To add insult to injury: what could be worse than hearing that one's theory of the present has already been theorized as the present of a past? The problem cannot be resolved by claiming that Hardt and Negri complete and elaborate James's project (though, of course, such a claim would still require proving). Finally, it is my feeling that Virno (of The Grammar of the Multitude), and not Hardt and Negri, better mediates James' project from the position of the present. For one, Virno restricts himself to post-Fordist societies; the rule(s) of Empire are global in a way that James does not theorize. Secondly, Virno's understanding of culture and media is, as I hope to show in another post, closer to James' understanding. This distinction is important for two reasons: firstly, in both James and Virno cultural apparatuses are introjected into production; secondly, in James' and Virno's texts cultural production works as the ontological paradigm of production-in-general.

In the posts to follow, then, I want to trace the relationship of James to Virno/Hardt/Negri through his theory of culture and its relation to production. I do not have a ready answer to the question of the status of the relationship between James' theoretical work and the current theories of the multitude. In marxism, as ever, the lines between theory-of-history, theory-as-history, history-of-theory, and history-as-theory is too fraught to enable anything but the patient working-through of the texts themselves.

[A note: I do not have any Italian, and have been unable to verify, in any way to my liking, the bibliographic data above. If anyone is in the know, please drop your knowledge on me.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are right, "faith" is wrong. I was trying to find something positive to say about Empire, and I thought a quick (and therefore reductive) comparison to James would do the trick. But "odious" seems a bit strong. This review wasn't "on James," and if I did write about James I certainly wouldn't reduce his thinking about the workers to a question of faith.

Odd to come across this citation for the first time just now, having been following your great blog for some time already. Keep up the excellent work!

Tim Watson