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Antonio Negri | Obituary

Antonio Negri Dies at 90

Antonio Negri, an Italian philosopher whose essays and activism calling for a new workers’ revolution landed him in prison in 1979, and who two decades later became a global intellectual celebrity for writing Empire, a book hailed as the new “Communist Manifesto,” died on Saturday in Paris. He was 90. The philosopher Judith Revel, his wife, confirmed his death, in a hospital.

Throughout his career, Mr. Negri was among the few academic thinkers who had the talent and charisma to make their ideas accessible to a broad audience. As a leading figure of the Potere Operaio (Workers’ Power) movement of the 1960s and ’70s, he inspired followers not just with his forceful essays but also with his willingness to go out to the streets and factories of northern Italian cities, organizing workers and calling for revolution.

Empire (2000), which he wrote with Michael Hardt, a literature professor at Duke University, did something similar for a new generation of the left, offering what many found a compelling Marxist interpretation of globalization after the Cold War.

Mr. Negri emerged as a leading intellectual figure in Italy in the late 1960s, when he was a philosophy professor at the University of Padua. The postwar generation was coming of age, and many on the left were looking for new answers beyond the traditional socialism and communism of their parents. Not content to remain in the classroom, he helped organize Potere Operaio, a movement that in its ideology went beyond the labor politics of traditional communism to call for an end to wage labor itself.

The movement picked up speed, and in 1969 it exploded into a series of sometimes violent strikes at factories in industrial cities like Turin, as well as into street battles in Rome and Milan.

The Italian government, sometimes in alliance with neo-fascist organizations, fought back, setting off a decade-long quasi-civil war known in Italy as the Years of Lead. The left’s violence, which Mr. Negri neither condemned nor condoned, continued in response. In 1978, a splinter faction, the Red Brigades, kidnapped Aldo Moro, a former prime minister who was the chairman of the centrist Christian Democratic Party. Nearly two months later, he was found murdered.

Mr. Negri returned to Italy in 1997, believing that he would receive amnesty. Instead, he was sent to prison, having been found guilty in absentia. He and Mr. Hardt completed the book while he was behind bars and published it in 2000.

Antonio Negri, known as Toni, was born on Aug. 1, 1933, in Padua. He was released from prison in 2003. He did not return to the University of Padua but instead became an independent intellectual, speaking at conferences and writing for both academic and general audiences. He lived in Paris.

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