Turning Historical Materialism on Its Head
Posted by Jack Stephens on November 22, 2007
The brilliance of Autonomist Marxism, which began to emerge out of the revolutionary experiences in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s, was that it turned historical materialism on its head. No longer was capital ironically seen as a progressive force; as the “motor of history”. Rather, desire came to be seen as primary, and capital came to be seen as merely reactive, and on the back foot. In other words, it is desire which becomes the engine of history, not capital or its a-social laws. So, according to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire, the neoliberal restructuring of capitalism, which we are currently experiencing, first began as a response to the revolutionary upheavals of 1968. Capitalism was forced to find new ways to contain the exploding lines-of-flight which threatened its very existence. Thus, sovereignty shifted from the national to the global level. So 1968 marked a real watershed, but I would add that the capitalist restructuring was also a response to all of the many victorious national liberation movements. This is what I argued in my honours thesis.