The Appropriation of Fixed Capital: A Metaphor?

  • Antonio Negri
Keywords: Karl Marx, fixed capital, digital machines, appropriation, algorithms, machinic subjectivities


In the debate on the impact of digital technology on society, considering that digital technologies have profoundly changed the way we learn and communicate, and especially the “mode of production”, and remembering that this transformation takes place in an era of capitalist economic hegemony – the hypothesis often arises that the producer is transformed by the use of this machine. There is speculation that the user incorporates the instrumentality of the digital machine. Furthermore, when one recognizes that capitalist production develops its process of value creation by using cognitive labour power (and that this form of value production becomes more and more prominent) the technological incorporation of the cognitive cooperation of workers, seems to become ever more central to capitalist exploitation. Consequently, in the Marxist debate, people have started talking of an “appropriation of fixed capital” by the digitized worker and by the cognitive producer.

This article asks: Are these simply metaphors? It discusses the relationship of living labour and digital machines. It stresses that digital machines do not determine society and human fate but can be appropriated by social struggles for the commons. It grounds the analysis of the digital in Karl Marx’s works on technology and fixed capital. It concludes that autonomous spheres of digital self-valorisation can be established through social struggles that aim at advancing social co-operation and the commons.

Acknowledgement: This article was translated from Italian to English by Michele Ledda with editorial support by Christian Fuchs, David Chandler, and Sara Raimondi. The paper is based on a talk that Antonio Negri gave at the 7th ICTs and Society Conference “Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Activism, Research & Critique in the Age of Big Data Capitalism” on May 20, 2017, at the University of Westminster in London. The video of this talk is available here:
The video of the commenting and Q&A session that followed can be watched here:
The manuscript of Negri’s talk was published as part of a conference volume. It is reprinted based on a Creative Commons licence.
Acknowledgement: Negri, Antonio. 2019. The Appropriation of Fixed Capital: A Metaphor? In Digital Objects, Digital Subjects: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Capitalism, Labour and Politics in the Age of Big Data, edited by David Chandler and Christian Fuchs, 205-214. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: License: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0. The original article was published in Italian in the journal EuroNomade and translated into English with permission:

Author Biography

Antonio Negri

Antonio Negri (1933-2023) taught at the University of Padua and the University of Paris VIII. He was one of the central figures of Italian autonomist Marxism. His work was devoted to studies of political philosophy and the analysis of capitalism and globalisation. His autobiography, published in English posthumously, is titled Story of a Communist: A Memoir (London: Eris Press, 2024). Together with Michael Hardt, he published the books Labor of Dionysus (1994), Empire (2000), Multitude (2004), Commonwealth (2009), Declaration (2012), and Assembly (2017). Their books are considered to be among the most influential works in political philosophy today. Further works in English by Antonio Negri include: The End of Sovereignty (2022), Marx in Movement: Operaismo in Context (2021), Spinoza: Then and Now (2020), From the Factory to the Metropolis (2018), Marx and Foucault (2016), Factory of Strategy: 33 Lessons on Lenin (2014), Pipeline: Letters from Prison (2014), The Winter is Over: Writings on Transformation Denied, 1989-1995 (2013). Art and Multitude (2011), Diary of an Escape (2009), In Praise of the Common (2009, together with Cesare Casarino), The Labor of Job: The Biblical Text as a Parable of Human Labor (2009), Empire and Beyond (2008), Reflections on Empire (2008),The Porcelain Workshop: For a New Grammar of Politics (2008), Goodbye Mr. Socialism (2008), Political Descartes: Reason, Ideology and the Bourgeois Project (2007), Books for Burning: Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970s Italy (2005), Subversive Spinoza: (Un)Contemporary Variations (2004), Negri on Negri: In Conversation with Anne Dufourmentelle (2004), Time for Revolution (2003), Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State (1999), Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse (1991), The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics (1991),Communists Like Us (1990, together with Félix Guattari), The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century (1989), Revolution Retrieved: Selected Writings on Marx, Keynes, Capitalist Crisis and New Social Subjects, 1967–83 (1988).

Reflections (Non Peer-Reviewed)