Antonio Negri's commentary on French Socialist presidential candidate Benoît Hamon's proposal for a universal income first appeared in
EuroNomade. Translated by David Broder.
There is something strange about taking interest in an electoral campaign again: it is a long time since this happened to me. When I saw Benoît Hamon on TV after he won the French Socialist primaries I felt — with a certain surprise — something of a breath of fresh air. Hamon won the Socialist primaries promising an unconditional citizen income, at a decent level. I will say right away: it is impossible that this proposal could determine a definitive break with this rotten system. Indeed, a series of interventions by friends and enemies alike implacably told us how alone he is on this score. They said, one after the other: Hamon talks about robots and automation; he says we need only go to the supermarket in order to realise the extent and depth of the rarefaction of work; and who denies it?; but that this is something quite different from asserting the need to set as the objective for labour governance not full employment, but citizen income... But where does he want to take us? What he is saying is just tall tales, unrealisable utopias, naïve fables.
1912 Lawrence Textile Strike
Mired in the recurrent nightmare that is Trump, it is hard to look back and take stock of what happened last week, let alone three months ago. Yet, looking back at Hillary Clinton’s defeat, one may not only see the rising tide of Trump’s hordes, but also the tragic fate of a liberal era. Nowhere is this clearer than in the contradictions embodied by Clinton’s deeply personal but nonetheless strained relation to feminism. Not surprisingly, a broad group of radical and internationalist women are showing the way forward with a call for a feminism of the 99% and coordinating in the U.S. on March 8th with the International Women’s Strike.
Even viewed from a radical perspective, responding on one hand to Clinton’s loss and on the other to Trump’s continuous appalling attacks, we can see Hillary Clinton defeat as having the features of a contemporary tragedy.
Published as part of Verso's Haymarket Series in 1996, Alex Lichtenstein's Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South was the first book-length history of the convict-lease and chain gang systems of penal servitude in the Southern United States. Focusing on Georgia in the years between Reconstruction and the Great Depression, Lichtenstein traces the interwoven development of the region's notoriously brutal carceral forms and it's industrial and commercial expansion. "The postbellum history of Georgia's penal system," Lichenstein writes, "offers a clear illustration of how convict labor helped forge the peculiar New South 'Bourbon' political alliance, by accommodating the labor needs of an emerging class of industrialists without eroding the racial domination essential to planters."
In the text below, the book's epilogue, Lichtenstein expands on his findings in a broader historical consideration of the relation between coerced labor and economic development.
A Georgia road gang in Rockdale County in 1909, shortly after the state abolished convict leasing. (Vanishing Georgia Collection, Georgia Department of Archives and History).
“There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” –Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History”1
Diverse forms of forced labor have been found in many societies, under many conditions. Slavery and penal labor both existed in the ancient world. Serfdom shaped much of the character of premodern European social relations, and persisted well into the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe and Russia. As European societies shook off the last vestiges of feudalism, forced labor was carried to the New World, in a vast arc encompassing both the highlands and plantations of the Americas. In colonial Africa as well, European domination brought with it forms of coercive labor new to a continent that had long known indigenous slavery; and labor relations in industrialized South Africa under apartheid were clearly shaped by colonial strategies of labor extraction up until yesterday. Finally, Stalin's Gulag, and the Nazi labor and extermination camps, stand as horrific examples of forced labor in the modern world.
The most influential large-scale political action of the ’60s was actually in 1971, and you might not have heard of it. It was called the Mayday action, and it provides invaluable lessons for today.
An excerpt from Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism, by L. A. Kauffman, on sale February 21.
This piece originally appeared in Longreads.