Goodbye Mr Socialism by Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi

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Goodbye Mr Socialism by Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: The ideas discussed are definitely worth exploring, and anybody with the slightest left-leaning tendencies is bound to find this a breath of fresh air. But the obscurity of the language, clumsiness of translation and the onslaught of post-modernist terminology for the most part lacking explanation means that it comes only cautiously recommended for the general readers most committed to exploring political philosophy.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 192 Date: November 2008
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1852429522

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Goodbye, Mr Socialism is a collection of conversations in which Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi explore what it means to be 'left wing' today and whether the word "socialism" still has a political space. Starting with an analysis of possible reasons for both the monstrosities of Stalinism and the actual collapse of the 'real socialism' in general and the Soviet Union in particular, Negri defines the challenge of the left as finding the answer to the question how development can occur in the future for people who have been liberated from capitalism to then move to discuss the newly re-emerging sense of the bio-political common as distinctly different from both the public (state) and the private.

For this reviewer, neither a specialist reader of political philosophy nor somebody familiar with radical Leftist thought (and considering that, apart perhaps from some pockets of the Academia, in the UK and the US any questioning of the current neo-con, neo-classical economy consensus is considered to be radical and bordering on revolutionary communism), Goodbye Mr Socialism was a stimulating, refreshing read.

Negri takes as given that the productivity in the post-modern era is of a cognitive kind resulting from intellectual labour (and this labour is inherently free by default) and he sees a great hope, including a real possibility of liberation from labour dreamed in this new, cognitive, Internet-networked, post-Fordist phase.

Negri's perspective hinges on the notion of the multitude, a 'swarm' of diverse individuals and sub-groups (or, as Negri would have it, singularities) with often varying interests and needs, expressed in biological as well as social modes, often part of the precariat (employed in time and space flexible, often non-physical jobs) and accompanying activism of movements, fighting for basic, biological almost, rights of life (and possibly including what's been termed an income of citizenship) as opposed to old-fashioned notions of class, trade unions and wage demands.

These are the main themes running though Goodbye, Mr Socialism, but the book is incredibly dense with meaning and ideas. Scelsi and Negri cover subjects ranging from the role of religion in democratic mobilisation of the multitudes to the newly emerging forms of governance and activism as tried in Latin America to the (hopefully final) crisis and demise of the American imperial project to very insightful comments on the Chinese experience post the Cultural revolution, in a passionate appeal for the Left to reinvent itself for the new, post-modern and post-industrial conditions.

The most exhilarating aspect of Goodbye, Mr Socialism is the profound belief in the possibility of radically alternative organisation of society, despite the failure of the Soviet socialist project in the horror of Stalinism and despite co-optation of the capitalist paradigm by the mainstream parties of the Left (with Britain's New Labour being the key if not extensively analysed example). Negri is convinced that it is now possible to begin to think that to be productive can coincide with being free, that a genuine development is not predicated on capitalist accumulation and exploitation, and that the now-being-born, networked, post-modern world of the twenty first century will bring a chance for a new understanding of the common.

It's a dense book, bursting with ideas expressed often in a complex and unfamiliar terms. Negri is a political philosopher, hailed as one of the most significant figures of current political thought, a guru of the post-modern left, an effortless erudite deeply connected to the whole European tradition of thought, from Machiavelli and Spinoza to Marx.

His is a post-modernist philosophy (and like seemingly all of them he both references Foucault and uses and develops some of his concepts) and this is reflected in language as well as the whole conceptual framework of the book. This is what would make Goodbye, Mr Socialism difficult and demanding for a non-specialist reader: the terminology itself, only a very limited part of it explained, offers enough of a challenge.

But reading Goodbye, Mr Socialism requires considerable effort not only because of the language and the conceptual tool kit of the left-wing, post-modern political philosophy and sociology that both Negri and Scelsi often use, but also because the translation leaves, I think, something to be desired.

Some ideas are indeed expressed in unfamiliar terms, and require concentration, but after the hurdle of terminology is passed are clear. But there are many paragraphs - far too many - which are unnecessarily obscure due to the choice of terms and the syntax.

It's not technically incorrect (I can't really judge this anyway as I don't know – and couldn't read – the original Italian), but because there is an awkwardness to the rhythm of the discourse, superficiality to the structure of sentences and a frequent odd choice of terms.

I often felt that of all the possible words the one that was the most obscure and least accessible was chosen to express what was essentially a simple idea. I suspect it's a result of mirroring the melody of the original Italian. I may be entirely wrong though, and it might be me being unused to the style of post-modern political philosophy.

Is it, then, ultimately, worth the effort?

The insights and ideas discussed by Negri are definitely worth exploring, and although one might not agree with everything (or even the majority) of what he suggests, anybody with the slightest left-leaning tendencies is bound to find Goodbye, Mr Socialism a breath of fresh air.

But the obscurity of the language, a seeming clumsiness of the translation and the onslaught of post-modernist terminology for the most part lacking definition or explanation means that Goodbye, Mr Socialism comes only cautiously recommended for the general readers most committed to exploring political philosophy.

Noam Chomsky explores the radical response to the challenges of US foreign politics in Interventions while Frank Furedi's Politics of Fear offers a completely different, but in many ways also radical, interpretation of the current state of political flux and crisis of traditional forms of participation.

The review copy was sent to the Bookbag by the publisher - thank you!

Buy Goodbye Mr Socialism by Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Goodbye Mr Socialism by Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Goodbye Mr Socialism by Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Goodbye Mr Socialism by Antonio Negri and Raf Scelsi at Amazon.com.

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