Virtual Issue — “Antonio Negri and Antipode”

Joel Wainwright (Department of Geography, Ohio State University)

The passing of the Italian communist philosopher Antonio Negri (1933-2023) provides an opportunity to reflect upon his imprint on Marxist thought and the pages of this journal.

Associated with the journals Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia in the 1960s, Negri first came into international prominence in the 1970s as one of the central thinkers of the Italian potere operaio or workers’ power movement (“operaismo”). He produced outstanding studies of the ideas of Spinoza (Negri 1991a, 2013), Keynes (Negri 1988), Pashukanis (Negri 2017a), Foucault (Negri 2017b), as well as a reading of the Book of Job (Negri 2009). Grounding these works and unifying Negri’s oeuvre were his studies of the economic texts of Karl Marx, particularly the Grundrisse and Capital (Negri 1991b, 2009). These highly original readings of Marx laid the groundwork for the remarkable trilogy for which Negri—and his coauthor Michael Hardt—would be best known: Empire (2000), Multitude (2004), and Commonwealth (2009). Alongside his philosophical research, Negri was a committed communist militant. In April 1979 he was arrested and imprisoned for ostensible involvement in the kidnapping and murder of a politician (no evidence linked Negri to these crimes and he was exonerated). In 1983, while still imprisoned, Negri was elected to the Italian legislature as a member of the Radical Party. Negri was released, claiming parliamentary immunity; he fled to France, where he taught for many years at the University of Paris VIII / Vincennes. In 1997 he returned to Italy, where he was reimprisoned until 2003. Some of the philosophical works for which he is best known were written in the two periods of imprisonment. Solitary confinement, he once said, facilitated close attention to philosophical texts.

These are only the spare details of a fascinating life lived emphatically on the left. Interested readers may consult Negri’s three-part autobiography for details: Volume One (of three, with 720 pages), Story of a Communist, will be published in translation in 2024 by Columbia University Press. Negri’s passing generated thoughtful eulogies and positive commentaries in left-leaning outlets like Sidecar and The Wire. Even the lengthy obituary in the New York Times is largely celebratory.

Negri is not a widely cited figure among anglophone geographers (radical or otherwise); he never attended the AAG nor received any awards for his contributions to geographical thought. Nonetheless, for several years in the 2000s, Negri’s ideas were keenly debated by human geographers. The publication of Empire coincided with the peak of the anti-globalization movement. From the “battles in Seattle” (1999) to the debates over US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11/2001, Empire provided a foundation for examining the prospects of revolutionary subjectivity amidst global capitalism.[1] These were a touchstone for human geographers of that era.

This Virtual Issue is intended not as a comprehensive assessment of Negri’s potential contributions to radical geography but as a collection of engagements with his thoughts in the pages of Antipode. It begins with a digest of conversations between Negri and Sandro Mezzadra from 2014-2015, followed by a forum on Empire published in 2003; finally, a quintet of research articles from Antipode that engage with Negri’s thought by Valentina Castellini, Neil Gray,[2] Sook-Jin Kim and Joel Wainwright, Sara Nelson, and Ugo Rossi. All articles will be free to download for the next three months.

These are partial and critical engagements. There have been (as far as I can find) no articles published in Antipode that offer anything like a full survey of Negri’s thought, nor a straightforward affirmative application of it to geographical problems. The references to Negri in Antipode are largely to Empire and mainly to quibble with its arguments. The criticisms boil down to the claim that Hardt and Negri overstated the decline of the nation-state (the USA in particular) and that they were too optimistic about the potential of the multitude to overcome capital. These are fair criticisms but perhaps worth revisiting.

One of the hallmarks of Negri’s thought was his unrelenting optimism. He never seemed to see anything but revolutionary prospects. As Alberto Toscano notes in a perceptive essay, Negri “had a reputation for optimism verging on fancy, especially when it came to his vision of the multitude”. I joined the list of critics who passed judgement on Negri, once characterizing him as the philosophical equivalent of a revolutionary cheerleader (Wainwright 2011). It was easy to mock his revolutionary optimism. Negri was wrong, after all, since—despite his best efforts—the revolution of the multitude did not come to pass and, on realist premises, revolutionary prospects are nonexistent today. Nevertheless, in retrospect, I want to acknowledge how much I always appreciated his relentless optimism. For it was not the capricious result of a sunny personality, but the logical consequence of a commitment to communism. It was this commitment to communism that also brought Negri back, again and again, to read and write on Marx’s texts. In one of his last essays, Negri (2018: 3) wrote:

Communism sustains the belief that this world is intolerable because it forces us to work in order to enhance the power and wealth of a master, and shows us that the contradictions of capitalist expropriation can never be “fixed”, and ultimately lead to war, environmental destruction and the misery of workers. But it also sustains the belief that it is possible to subvert this world, to liberate the productivity of workers from the slavery of labour, create common institutions of freedom, peace and wellbeing.

A communist is therefore, for Negri, one who holds onto this belief—the prospect of subversion and collective liberation—even when logically this seems impossible.

It is therefore as a communist and not as a geographer that I think we should reread Negri and salute him with this farewell collection. It does not matter whether a communist thinker fits better into this or that academic disciplinary category. Ultimately Negri was, like all great Marxist thinkers, an anti-disciplinary thinker whose orientation comes not from method, not from disciplinary power, not from institutional tradition, but from a commitment to reading Marx and working towards revolutionary transformation. This is always to be welcomed and helps me to understand why, even when I disagreed with his arguments (as I often did), I always learned from reading Negri’s texts. The final word should therefore go to Negri, writing, as ever, in the affirmative tone of a communism to come:

When I say freedom, I mean common freedom. I don’t need to tell you what I think about the bourgeois definition of freedom—that is, merely formal freedom—because it is precisely what Marx thought about it already a long time ago. This is why in my entire life I have never inflicted philippics in defense of civil rights on anybody—not on my readers, my students, my comrades, or even my judges. During my numerous trials, I never asked the judges that they let me free. I simply discussed with them, rather, whether or not it was advisable to use liberticidal laws against me as well as against the political movement in which I operated. I always tried to make them understand simply that what they were doing was not useful for anybody concerned. I never claimed to be entitled to freedom in absolute terms or argued in the name of freedom from the standpoint of natural law. You ask me what freedom is? Freedom is power. Freedom is power in the Spinozist, Nietzschean, Deleuzean sense of the term. But—and this is crucial—it is power that organizes itself in the common. It is power that constitutes itself at the highest level of equality and in the fullness of solidarity, that is, of fraternity, that is, of love. (in Casarino and Negri 2008: 86)

Mediterranean Movements and Constituent Political Spaces: An Interview with Sandro Mezzadra and Toni Negri” by Glenda Garelli, Alessandra Sciurba and Martina Tazzioli (2018)

Book Review Symposium: Empire” organized by Sharad Chari (2003)

Spaces of Social Recomposition: Resisting Meaningful Work in Social Cooperatives in Italy” by Valentina Castellini (2021)

Rethinking Italian Autonomist Marxism: Spatial Composition, Urban Contestation, and the Material Geographies of Social Reproduction” by Neil Gray (2022)

Battles in Seattle Redux: Transnational Resistance to a Neoliberal Trade Agreement” by Sook-Jin Kim and Joel Wainwright (2008)

Beyond The Limits to Growth: Ecology and the Neoliberal Counterrevolution” by Sara Nelson (2015)

The Existential Threat of Urban Social Extractivism: Urban Revival and the Extinction Crisis in the European South” by Ugo Rossi (2022)

[1] Considerably less attention has been given to his early writings (apart from operaismo proper). This is a pity. His essays on Keynes and Pashukanis (Negri 1988, 2017a) are brilliant. And—notwithstanding my serious disagreements with his treatment of Marx’s value theory (Wainwright 2011)—Negri’s (1991b) reading of the Grundrisse in Marx beyond Marx is incredibly sharp and stimulating.

[2] See also the interview of Neil Gray by Hamish Kallin: (last accessed 30 January 2024).

Casarino C and Negri A (2008) In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Hardt M and Negri A (2000) Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Hardt M and Negri A (2004) Multitude. London: Penguin

Hardt M and Negri A (2009) Commonwealth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Negri A (1988) Revolution Retrieved: Writings on Marx, Keynes, Capitalist Crisis, and New Social Subjects (1967-83). London: Red Notes

Negri A (1991a) The Savage Anamoly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics (trans M Hardt). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Negri A (1991b) Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse (ed J Fleming; trans H Cleaver, M Ryan and M Viano). New York: Autonomedia

Negri A (2009) The Labor of Job: The Biblical Text as a Parable of Human Labor (trans M Mandarini). Durham: Duke University Press

Negri A (2013) Spinoza for Our Time: Politics and Postmodernity (trans W McCuaig). New York: Columbia University Press

Negri A (2017a) Rereading Pashukanis: Discussion notes. Stasis 5(2):8-49 (last accessed 30 January 2024)

Negri A (2017b) Marx and Foucault: Essays, Volume 1 (trans E Emery). Cambridge: Polity

Negri A (2018) Starting again from Marx (trans A Bove). Radical Philosophy 203:3-9 (last accessed 30 January 2024)

Wainwright J (2011) Book review: Commonwealth. Human Geography 4(2):113-121