Autonomist Marxism is an anti-authoritarian, democratic tradition whose roots go back to the early 20th century “Left”- and Council Communists. In The U.S., the tradition has come to be most often associated with Antonio Negri but in fact is far, far broader. Yet, Autonomist thought and analysis is often ignored or derided by other “brands” of Marxism. Why? Perhaps because “Autonomists”:
- Don’t read Marx (or Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, etc.,) as divine gospel and undertake a rigorous reappraisal/critique without abandoning or becoming anti-Marx like so many “post-modernists” maintaining instead that Marx is still the essential starting point for understanding today’s capitalism and is still as relevant today as he was a century and a half ago;
- Reject vanguard party Marxism (where the working class first needs to be educated by “outside intellectuals” in order to understand its “true” interests and then led by them in the revolution and ruled by them afterwards);
- Don’t see Capitalism as the all powerful Oz, the “man behind the curtain” pulling the strings of a working class that rarely makes an on-stage appearance on its own terms;
- Believe “struggle” is central to any analysis of capitalist class relations taking seriously Marx’s pronouncement in the Communist Manifesto that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle” and reject the idea that capital/capitalism is a set of abstract laws that exist absent and apart from working class struggle;
- View race and gender along with class as fundamental to both the development of capitalism, as well as the ongoing forms of capitalist exploitation, oppression and reproduction; and,
- See the working class as being more than the just industrial proletariat e.g., unwaged workers, students, housewives, etc.
The class will cover the historical roots of Autonomist thought, read some of the foundational Italian and American texts and conclude with more recent works such as Nick-Dyer Witheford’s “Cyber-Marx” and essays in “Beyond Marx.”
Dan Karan has worked for NYC housing and community development organizations for 25 years and studied Marxism for nearly 40.