I haven’t read Tronti before. Like Kim, I haven’t read Marx before, either. (I have, however, read Adam Smith, so I have a tiny foundation to build on.) Since Hugh has already produced very thorough notes on Tronti’s “The Strategy of Refusal,” I’ve chosen to compile notes on Long Sunday’s blogweave responses, which I read to compensate for my lack of background. I’ll provide some summary, but mainly I’ll highlight what I found most interesting/helpful and what I think might generate discussion.
Beasley-Murray, “The new barbarians”: B-M identifies Tronti’s influence on later writers, but what I found most interesting was his analysis of Tronti’s writing style, which he characterizes as “brash, iconoclastic, sweeping, taking no prisoners.” Apparently writing forcefully without a trace of doubt in what you’re saying was a revolutionary new form of intellectual engagement, at least in labor/political writing. I, myself, observed Tronti’s confidence in his statements, but I wasn’t blown away by it. Perhaps modern-day philosophers of science (the people I usually read) are barbarian writers too.
Beck, “Minor refusals”: B explains that Tronti is concerned about the middle position of the working class, between the beginning where the workers are a class for itself and the end when the workers are a party demanding total power. B points out that the middle is also occupied by “other political minorities, women, ethnic and racial minorities, migrants, the disabled” which tend to connect and support each other, much to the fear of the capital. Since I identify more as a woman than a worker (does ‘grad student’ even count as a job?), I appreciate B’s observation since I now have a slightly better feel for what this middle position – the position of refusal – entails. The women’s movement, broadly interpreted, can be seen as refusing many things: male dominance, gender essentialism, etc. Do you agree that women can be seen as a class of refusal?
Ciccariello-Maher, “Class and Subalternity”: C-M’s theoretical discussion of the “radical character of Tronti’s position on class” is well over my head, but he concludes with a couple interesting questions, in particular: “Does a rejection of objective social class lead automatically to the multitude?” I don’t fully understand the notion of “the multitude” beyond it being contrary to the working class, but I assume C-M views it as a negative, so a reformulation of his question could be “Is a rejection of objective social class necessarily a bad thing?” My gut says no, but I don’t know how to explain why.
Dean, “2 Questions on Tronti”: As her title states, D questions the truth of two of Tronti’s claims. (Q1) Is it true that whoever controls and dominates production controls and dominates everything? (A1) D argues that control and domination of finance capital appears more important today than control and domination of production. (Q2) Is it truth that captitalists have not and cannot invent a non-institutionalized political power? (A2) D questions what Tronti means by institution. If it’s just the narrow sense of state institutions, then – D argues – capitalist power is already exercised through non-institutionalized groups, such as markets and families.
Johnson, “Intellectuals, the refusal of power, office workers’ unions”: J observes, “For most of us, taking Tronti seriously would mean a refusal of a university job” since professors command respect and are sanctioned to (try to) shape minds. Interesting; I hadn’t thought about the power of the professorate before, but I guess it is quite large. J also observes that, in the US, “the office is replacing the factory as the site of the proletarian work force.” Will there be a future office workers revolution?
McFarlane, “Refusing to engage”: M asks, “Is boredom not the form of a passive refusal to engage with something – if not the world in its entirety?” A commenter responds that Tronti’s notion of refusal doesn’t include complete passivity; it requires some action. Do you agree?
Neilson, “Five theses on Tronti”: Elaborating on Tronti’s notion of refusal, N identifies two ways of saying no: “The first is to abstain, to renounce the objects of desire. The second is to abandon the fruits of action, which is importantly not to abandon action itself. It is to organize without ends.” N equates this second “no” with Tronti’s refusal. Do you agree? Follow-up question: What does it mean to organize without ends? Isn’t there always a goal to organizing, even if it’s only the goal to refuse something? Or is refusal merely a means and not an end-in-itself (to borrow from Kant)? But then, it’s still a means to some other end, isn’t it? Or am I thinking of the wrong notion of “end” here?
Squibb, “Strategy of Refusal of Strategy”: S argues that Tronti’s strategy of refusal is both practical and theoretical: “I would assert, perhaps foolishly, that it is impossible to consider ‘the strategy of refusal’ as simply one refusal or the other, as either the refusal of work, or reconciliation, or any participation in the capitalist system, or as the refusal of Hegelian-Marxism, the dialectic, class consciousness, history.” Do you agree that Tronti is encouraging the working class to actively refuse the above theoretical strategies, or is Tronti the one performing the theoretical refusal by creating/promoting his strategy of refusal so the working class can actively adopt this strategy and thereby only passively refuse the other theories?