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This chapter outlines and origins and stakes of the current debates surrounding autonomous thought and practices. It also provides an overview of the book’s structure and contents. The editors argue that in autonomous movements around the world, whether in the European traditions of operaismo and post-operaismo, or in the Latin American movements for local or indigenous autonomy, new paradigms are challenging earlier critiques of political economy that have universalized the political subject of the proletariat, the overarching Leninist-Marxist emphasis on the state apparatus, and the liberal emphasis on individual freedom and rights.

This chapter traces the genealogical line connecting European (and especially Italian) autonomist movements to the diverse struggles for, and debates about, autonomy in current decolonial movements in North and South America. De Bloois argues that the Italian movements of the 1970s understood their position as a point of transition between older Marxist-Leninist models of State-oriented politics and an emerging post-autonomist political anthropology that resists the dominant liberal democratic Western consensus. Following theorists of operaismo and autonomia such as Franco Berardi and Mario Tronti, de Bloost asks whether the 1970s signaled the end of the modern emancipatory ideal and concurrent modes of struggle, precipitating the emergence of a new kind of political subject, one that demands the overcoming of the socio-political anthropology of the liberal democratic homo economicus. By drawing on Pierre Clastres’ savage ethnography, these approaches to autonomy have challenged the Hobbesian conception of a violent, pre-political state of nature, the Rousseauian myth of political consensus, and the Kantian ethic of a self-disciplinary citizenship. Whereas for Hobbes the savage is a negative limit-condition of permanent war, for Clastres the savage becomes the guarantor of the social, an affirmative subject that obstructs the advent of the repressive apparatus of the nation State. Most significantly for de Bloois, the theorization of a society-for-war and its alliance with post-liberal notions of multitude are currently most fully expressed in the burgeoning post-Leninist, local autonomist movements in North and South America.

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