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Antonio Negri

This article is about the scholar. For the poet, see Antonio Negri (poet).

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Antonio Negri
File:AntonioNegri SeminarioInternacionalMundo.jpg
Born (1933-08-01) 1 August 1933 (age 82)
Padua, Italy
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Autonomism · Marxism
Main interests
Political philosophy · Class conflict · Globalization · Commons · Biopolitics
Notable ideas
Philosophy of globalization · multitude · theory of Empire · Constituyent power · Immaterial labour · Post-fordism · Alter-modernity · Refusal of work

Antonio "Toni" Negri (born 1 August 1933) is an Italian Marxist sociologist and political philosopher, best known for his co-authorship of Empire, and secondarily for his work on Spinoza.

Born in Padua, he became a political philosophy professor in his hometown university. Negri founded the Potere Operaio (Worker Power) group in 1969 and was a leading member of Autonomia Operaia.[1] As one of the most popular theorists of Autonomism, he has published hugely influential books urging "revolutionary consciousness."

He was accused in the late 1970s of various charges including being the mastermind of the left-wing terrorist group[2] Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse or BR), involved in the May 1978 assassination of Aldo Moro, two-time Prime Minister of Italy, and leader of the Christian-Democrat Party, among others. Voice evidence suggested Negri made a threatening phone call on behalf of the BR, but the court was unable to conclusively prove his ties.[2] The question of Negri's complicity with left-wing terrorism is a controversial subject.[3] He was indicted on a number of charges, including "association and insurrection against the state" (a charge which was later dropped), and sentenced for involvement in two murders.

Negri fled to France where, protected by the Mitterrand doctrine, he taught at the Université de Vincennes (Paris-VIII) and the Collège International de philosophie, along with Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.[1] In 1997, after a plea-bargain that reduced his prison time from 30 to 13 years,[4] he returned to Italy to serve the end of his sentence. Many of his most influential books were published while he was behind bars. He now lives in Venice and Paris with his partner, the French philosopher Judith Revel.

Early years

Antonio Negri was born in Padua, Italy in 1933. His father was an active communist, and although the father died when Negri was two years old, his political engagement made Negri familiar with Marxism from an early age. He began his career as a militant in the 1950s with the activist Roman Catholic youth organization Gioventú Italiana di Azione Cattolica (GIAC). Negri became a communist in 1953–54 when he worked at a kibbutz in Israel for a year. The kibbutz was organised according to ideas of Zionist socialism and all the members were Jewish communists.[5] He joined the Italian Socialist Party in 1956 and remained a member until 1963, while at the same time becoming more and more engaged throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s in Marxist movements.

He had a quick academic career at the University of Padua and was promoted to full professor at a young age in the field of "dottrina dello Stato" (State theory), a peculiarly Italian field that deals with juridical and constitutional theory. This might have been facilitated by his connections to influential politicians such as Raniero Panzieri and philosopher Norberto Bobbio, strongly engaged with the Socialist Party.

In the early 1960s Negri joined the editorial group of Quaderni Rossi, a journal that represented the intellectual rebirth of Marxism in Italy outside the realm of the communist party.

In 1969, together with Oreste Scalzone and Franco Piperno, Negri was one of the founders of the group Potere Operaio (Workers' Power) and the Operaismo (workerist) Communist movement. Potere Operaio disbanded in 1973 and gave rise to the Autonomia Operaia Organizzata (Organised Workers' Autonomy) movement.

Arrest and flight

On 16 March 1978, Aldo Moro, former Italian prime minister and Christian Democrat party leader, was kidnapped in Rome by the Red Brigades. His five-man body guard was murdered soon after. While they were holding him, forty-five days after the kidnapping,[4] the Red Brigades called his family on the phone, taunting Moro's wife about her husband's impending death.[4] Nine days later his body, shot in the head, was found dumped in a city lane.[4] The conversation was recorded, and later broadcast and televised. A number of people who knew Negri and remembered his voice identified him as the probable author of the call, but the claim has been since dismissed: the author of the call was, in fact, Valerio Morucci.[6][7]

On 7 April 1979, at the age of forty-six, Antonio Negri was arrested for his part in the Autonomy Movement, along with others (Emilio Vesce, Luciano Ferrari Bravo, Mario Dalmaviva, Lauso Zagato, Oreste Scalzone, Pino Nicotri, Alisa del Re, Carmela di Rocco, Massimo Tramonte, Sandro Serafini, Guido Bianchini, and others). Padova's Public Prosecutor Pietro Calogero accused those involved in the political wing of the Red Brigades, and thus behind left-wing terrorism in Italy. Negri was charged with a number of offenses, including leadership of the Red Brigades, masterminding the 1978 kidnapping and murder of the President of the Christian Democratic Party Aldo Moro, and plotting to overthrow the government.[8] At the time, Negri was a political science professor at the University of Padua and visiting lecturer at Paris' École Normale Supérieure. The Italian public was shocked that an academic could be involved in such events.[4]

A year later, Negri was exonerated from Aldo Moro's kidnapping after a leader of the BR, having decided to cooperate with the prosecution, testified that Negri "had nothing to do with the Red Brigades."[2] The charge of 'armed insurrection against the State' against Negri was dropped at the last moment, and because of this he did not receive the 30-year plus life sentence requested by the prosecutor, but only 30 years for being the instigator of political activist Carlo Saronio's murder and having 'morally concurred' with Lombardini's murder during a failed bank robbery.[2]

His philosopher peers saw little fault with Negri's activities. Michel Foucault commented, "Isn't he in jail simply for being an intellectual?"[9] French philosophers Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze also signed in November 1977 L'Appel des intellectuels français contre la répression en Italie (The Call of French Intellectuals Against Repression in Italy) in protest against Negri's imprisonment and Italian anti-terrorism legislation.[10][11]

In 1983, four years after his arrest and while he was still in prison awaiting trial, Negri was elected to the Italian legislature as a member for the Radical Party.[12] Claiming parliamentary immunity, he was temporarily released and used his freedom to escape to France. There he remained for 14 years, writing and teaching, protected from extradition in virtue of the "Mitterrand doctrine". His refusal to stand trial in Italy was widely criticized by Italian media and by the Italian Radical Party, who had supported his candidacy to Parliament.[12][not in citation given]

In France, Negri began teaching at the Université de Paris VIII (Saint Denis) and the Collège International de Philosophie, founded by Jacques Derrida. Although the conditions of his residence in France prevented him from engaging in political activities, he wrote prolifically and was active in a broad coalition of left-wing intellectuals. In 1990 Negri with Jean-Marie Vincent and Denis Berger founded the journal Futur Antérieur. The journal ceased publication in 1998 but was reborn as Multitudes in 2000, with Negri as a member of the international editorial board.

Negri was released from prison in the spring of 2003, having written some of his most influential works while behind bars.

In the late 1980s the Italian President Francesco Cossiga described Antonio Negri as "a psychopath" who "poisoned the minds of an entire generation of Italy's youth."[13]

Political thought and writing