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Labor of Dionysus

A Critique of the State-Form

1994
Authors:

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri

Labor of Dionysus

“Labor is the living, form-giving fire,” Marx wrote. “It is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their transformation by living time.” How is it, then, that labor, with all its life-affirming potential, has become the means of capitalist discipline, exploitation, and domination in modern society? The authors expose and pursue this paradox through a systematic analysis of the role of labor in the processes of capitalist production and in the establishment of capitalist legal and social institutions. Critiquing liberal and socialist notions of labor and institutional reform from a radical democratic perspective, Hardt and Negri challenge the state-form itself.

“Labor is the living, form-giving fire,” Marx wrote. “It is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their transformation by living time.” How is it, then, that labor, with all its life-affirming potential, has become the means of capitalist discipline, exploitation, and domination in modern society? The authors expose and pursue this paradox through a systematic analysis of the role of labor in the processes of capitalist production and in the establishment of capitalist legal and social institutions. Critiquing liberal and socialist notions of labor and institutional reform from a radical democratic perspective, Hardt and Negri challenge the state-form itself.

Hardt and Negri have written one of the most important new books of political theory to appear in some time. Few books hold the potential of genuinely reorienting our thinking about the relations between political movements, the state, and the ideals of communism. This is one of them. Antonio Negri is one of the most innovative political thinkers of the contemporary era. Largely because of the radicality of his ideas, he is also one of the most ignored. Labor of Dionysus makes available for the first time some of his major writings from Italy on political organization, state repression, and the possibility of communism. The collaborative sections with Michael Hardt constitute a significant recasting of the anglophone tradition of political theory. Hardt succeeds in bringing the theory of autonomy down to the present and—one would hope—past it into the future. A terrifically important, long overdue book.

Michael Ryan, Northeastern University

“Labor is the living, form-giving fire,” Marx wrote. “It is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their transformation by living time.” How is it, then, that labor, with all its life-affirming potential, has become the means of capitalist discipline, exploitation, and domination in modern society? The authors expose and pursue this paradox through a systematic analysis of the role of labor in the processes of capitalist production and in the establishment of capitalist legal and social institutions. Critiquing liberal and socialist notions of labor and institutional reform from a radical democratic perspective, Hardt and Negri challenge the state-form itself.

In the twentieth century, labor has become central to the material and formal constitution of the State, as a complex nexus of value and right. And yet, in living labor and social cooperation, which cut across the divisions of workdays and wage relations, the authors identify a total critique of capitalist practice as well, presenting not only the negation of the present social order but also the affirmation of an alternative system of value, norms, and desires. The forms in which this potential is expressed, from the social movements of the 1960s to those of the 1990s, are the “prerequisites of communism” already existing in contemporary society.

Labor of Dionysus

Michael Hardt is a visiting lecturer in the Literature Program at Duke University. Antonio Negri, a native of Italy, teaches in the political science department at the University of Paris-VIII at Saint-Denis.

Labor of Dionysus

Hardt and Negri have written one of the most important new books of political theory to appear in some time. Few books hold the potential of genuinely reorienting our thinking about the relations between political movements, the state, and the ideals of communism. This is one of them. Antonio Negri is one of the most innovative political thinkers of the contemporary era. Largely because of the radicality of his ideas, he is also one of the most ignored. Labor of Dionysus makes available for the first time some of his major writings from Italy on political organization, state repression, and the possibility of communism. The collaborative sections with Michael Hardt constitute a significant recasting of the anglophone tradition of political theory. Hardt succeeds in bringing the theory of autonomy down to the present and—one would hope—past it into the future. A terrifically important, long overdue book.

Michael Ryan, Northeastern University

This major work contains some of Tony Negri’s earlier writings, going back to the 1960’s, and it provides a striking complement to the English translations of his more recent publications. Negri has put the question of the constitutive capacity of labor at the forefront of contemporary marxist debates, and the remarkable collaborative essays by him and Hardt post this question in the context of what is now called ‘the postmodern’.

Kenneth Surin, Duke University

Hardt and Negri have compiled a collection of excellent essays that traverses three decades of neo-Marxist and post-Marxist political theory. A fascinating attempt to bridge neo-Marxist and postmodern theory with a concept of postmodern capitalism.

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