National Sections of the L5I:

Antonio Negri

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Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire is a comprehensive, if dense, account of the economics, politics and culture of the present era of global capitalism. Since its publication in 2000 it has gained unexpected resonance within the anti-capitalist movement. Yet it is in its view of the nature and goals of the resistance to modern capitalism that Empire jars most completely with the world since the anticapitalist movement came into existence.

In fact, it is a text that has found favour with one specific wing of the movement, the “horizontals”, because it opposes the identification of the productive core of the working class as the engine of social change and denies that the organised labour movement should be the centre of the process of resistance.

Empire speaks to, and for, the horizontals because it opposes all concepts of representational leadership in political struggle (i.e. the party) and trusts to a spontaneist development of the political consciousness of all those exploited and oppressed by capitalism. Finally, the ultimate test of any political analysis is its ability to generate a programme that can be used to achieve is goals and realise its values. Yet despite the implied radicalism of its analysis, it adopts a minimum reformist programme.

According to Empire, a new militancy has arisen in recent times. Examples from the 1990s include Los Angeles (1992), Chiapas (1994), France (1995), and South Korea (1996) and what sets these struggles apart from the earlier (1960s and 1970s) generation is that “Each of these struggles was specific and based on immediate regional concerns in such a way that they could in no respect be linked together as a globally expanding chain or revolt. None of these events inspired a cycle of struggles, because the desires and needs they expressed could not be translated into different contexts. . .revolutionaries in other parts of the world did not hear of these events . . . and immediately recognise them as their own struggles.” (54)

The best refutation of this view of the post-Cold War struggles lies in recent developments in the real world. There is no mention, not even a hint, of the anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist movement in Empire. The book was no doubt put to press shortly before the momentous events in Seattle at the end of 1999 etched the arrival of this global movement into every progressive’s mind.

Although embryonically present in various struggles from the mid-1990s, the anti-capitalist movement came of age in the Seattle demonstrations against the WTO ministerial which announced the arrival of a new “subjectivity” – a consciously, organised global movement of resistance to global capital, its governments and its multilateral agencies.

Ironically, given the book’s reference to Chiapas, one whole strand of the anti-capitalist movement traces its roots back to the first mass international assemblies organised by the EZLN in Mexico to co-ordinate an international movement of resistance inspired by the Zapatistas. This fact alone refutes the claim by Negri and Hardt that the main obstacle to the communication of these post-modern struggles “is the absence of a recognition of a common enemy against which the struggles are directed.” (56)

The anti-capitalist movement is “founded” on the recognition that what the landless peasants of Chiapas, the workers of the French public sector, and the workers of South Korea struggling against IMF austerity plans have in common is a fight against the interlinked web of big corporations and their guardians in the IMF, World Bank and WTO, as well as a myriad of subaltern pacts and agencies.

Towards the end of their book, Negri and Hardt consider how the multitude develops a collective consciousness so that it becomes aware of its mission to destroy Empire. They are sure of one thing: what form this subjectvity must not take:

“The demonstration of this becoming cannot consist in anything but the experience and experimentation of the multitude. Therefore the power of the dialectic, which imagines the collective formed through mediation rather than through constitution, has been definitively dissolved.” (405) In short, there can be no political party of the multitude, or within the multitude, that represents it or sections of it (e.g. vanguards).

For the authors, the globalised market and the diffuse character of modern labour have destroyed meaningful boundaries between all labourers who, thus, become part of the seamless “multitude”.

In fact, under modern globalised capitalism, contrary to the authors’ beliefs, the working class is divided, along national, political, ethnic and other lines. This “striation” has not disappeared with “the completion of the world market”.

The purpose of an international party of revolution is to distil out a scientific programme that represents the genuine interests of the whole working class, embodies the memory of the class and draws the lessons of its struggles. It codifies this into a manual of action for power. It is a gross slander by anarchists and others to suggest that a revolutionary party sets itself up against the working class, that it is “an outside”. Parties are made up of the working class; their militants are a part of the working class and exist within its communities.

Negri and Hardt cannot envisage how a revolutionary party’s members can be at one and the same time both part of the working class community they live in and a representative of its revolutionary minority. They cannot see how a party can make a creative contribution to ongoing struggles and yet, at the same time, embody the lessons of the past and outline the key signposts for bringing about a revolutionary future.

At the end of the book, Negri and Hardt outline three demands designed to challenge the ability of Empire to segment the multitude: the right of all to migrate and not to be divided spatially; the right of each person to a common wage and hence refusal to be segmented along economic lines; and finally, the right of the multitude to common control over production/communication and not to have their co-operative labour harnessed and put to work for capital.

The first demand, therefore, is for “global citizenship” which means, “all workers be given the full rights of citizenship” which they call “a fundamental modern constitutional principle that links right to labour.” (400) More specifically, this turns out to be a demand “that each state recognise juridically that migrations are necessary to capital”. (400) So, this “global” citizenship turns out, in fact, to be something altogether more mundane and yet revealing – the demand for national citizenship.

That they should be obliged to make a demand upon the nation-state, which they have taken 400 pages to prove has been made redundant by Empire and the world market, is to invite ridicule.

Their second demand is for a “social wage”. This is justified by reference to the postmodern concept of time; there being no objective measure of time in the postmodern world, a “before” and an “after”, time is the property of the multitude’s collective experience. The past and future are dissolved into an eternal present, which is the experience of the multitude. As a result, there is no measure of labour time; nor are the distinctions between types of labour meaningful (inside or outside the factory, productive or unproductive). On this basis, arises the slogan “social wage and guaranteed income for all”.

No difference between work and leisure time? Well, a couple of extra hours in the factory or mine is fine then? No differences between any kinds of concrete labour? Equal pay for everyone then – but who, in the existing world, is going to decide on its level? How is it to be calculated if there is no measure of value? How can we know where the boundary between necessary and surplus labour exists and thereby tell what constitutes a minimum wage?

Which brings us to the third demand – the right to reappropriation. This means “free access and control over” the means of production. It is “autonomous self-production”. (407) Negri and Hardt do not tell us how this autonomy from those who presently control (and own) the means of production is to be achieved and then be defended from attack. They are aware of the existence and record of the repressive forces but are silent on how the multitude is to confront them, much less defeat them.

Later, they tell us that “ the multitude reappropriates wealth from capital...cooperation annuls the title of property”. (410) Is this meant to suggest expropriation? But control over the production process does not, in itself, “annul the title of property”. For this an alternative power is required, a state, that can forcibly overthrow the existing state which recognises, and enforces, the right to private property in the means of production. At the very end of the book, the authors observe, “Certainly, there must be a moment when reappropriation and self-organisation reach a threshold and configure a real event” and “This is the point when the modern republic ceases to exist. . .”. (411) They cannot, however, tell us what this “real event” will look like or, indeed, how, in a “seamless world” where civil society and state are already intermixed, there can be one at all!

While Marxists support the right of free movement of labour and the right to citizenship, neither undermines the foundations of capitalism, indeed, both have their supporters in sections of the capitalist class. Only the right to control production processes challenges a vital aspect of capitalism and even this is posed inadequately.

In the end, none of these demands can question the existence of the capitalist system or show how the struggles of today can lead to its overthrow.