For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The multitude and the machine: Productivism, populism, posthumanism"

by Pitts, Frederick Harry (2020)


Abstract There has been a proliferating literature on postcapitalist and post-work futures in recent years, underpinned by policy proposals like the basic income and a reduction in working hours. It has gained increasing uptake within left electoral politics and policy making. The generational potency of these ideas require that we understand their theoretical roots. This article considers the interplay between the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri and the new postcapitalism exemplified by the likes of Paul Mason and Aaron Bastani, as well as its relationship with intellectual currents around Corbynism and the wider contemporary left. Through a discussion of their latest book, Assembly, it will be seen that Hardt and Negri both inform, and are increasingly informed by, the postcapitalist and post-work thinking popular on the left today?in particular at its ?posthumanist? fringes. However, this recent work is characterised by a series of tactical redirections that, rather than indicating renewal, reflect the potential collapse of this utopian framework for the future in the face of a rapidly unravelling global political context. Whilst the determinist understanding of social transformation cannot permit these setbacks, this shines a light on more general shifts in left strategy and analysis.

Key Passage

The difference between Hardt and Negri’s negated dialectic of forces and relations and that found in orthodox Marxism is that, for the former, there is no promise of resolution or unification out of the social conflict and resistance that powers it, only ‘permanent crisis and continual imbalance’. This, it is fair to say, fool-proofs what was formerly, in Empire and Multitude, the sense that a new world was being built in the shell of the old, and were only it to be liberated from the relations constraining it, all would be well. Moreover, Hardt and Negri appear keen to distance themselves from the uptake of their ideas in the fashioning of schemes for imminent automated utopias and the like, noting that the tendency of machines is not to liberate humans from work, but to create new and more routinised forms of work that render the worker more like a machine than a human. The digital age has only exacerbated these tendencies by facilitating a ‘Digital Taylorism’ just as rationalising as the original. Meanwhile, they suggest, the chances of computer systems, artificial intelligence, and algorithms rendering human labour obsolete altogether are also mitigated by the incapacity of the technology as currently constituted to perform a whole host of tasks necessary to the performance of most existing jobs. Their argument, therefore, is not technologically determinist: technology cannot accomplish things alone, but it sees no alternative in a humanist response to the issue. Instead, they sense revolutionary possibility in the combination of human and technological factors; a dynamic assemblage wherein each reshapes the other. (p.367)


Postcapitalism, Communism, Negri, Hardt, Machinery, Technology, Automation, Posthumanism


Technology, Employment, Automation

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