The multitude and the many-headed hydra: Autonomist Marxist theory and labor history

Verity Nancy Burgmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The autonomist Marxist critique of determinist Marxism offers even more valuable insights for labor historians than that mounted by earlier antideterminists, such as Sartre and Thompson, who emphasized proletarian agency to counter determinist orthodoxy in which the accumulative logic of capital unilaterally shapes the world. Autonomist Marxism is more far-reaching. It places labor at the very beginning of the labor-capital dialectic: Labor can exist independently of capital, but capital needs to command labor to ensure profit; therefore, capitalist development does not occur due to internal momentum but in reaction to labor s tendency to unloose itself from capital. Linebaugh and Rediker offer a similar hypothesis in exploring the myth of the many-headed hydra - and demonstrate the fruitfulness of such an approach. By contrast, the notion of the multitude in Hardt and Negri s Empire has not been well received by labor historians due to its inexplicable abstraction when read in isolation from other autonomist texts. This article attempts to rescue the ideas of autonomist Marxist philosophers, especially Toni Negri, from the enormous condescension of labor history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170 - 190
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Labor and Working-Class History
Issue numberSpring
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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