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March 23, 2010 at 3:58 am

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Banksy Sets up Pet Shop with Self-Dipping Chicken Nuggets and Swimming Fish Sticks

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Written by minimal

October 11, 2008 at 1:41 am

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key concepts of Multitude

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Towards an Ontological Definition of the Multitude

by Antonio Negri (Translated by Arianna Bove)

Traduction anglaise de l’article de Toni Negri paru dans le N º 9 de Multitudes

1) The multitude is the name of an immanence. The multitude is a whole of singularities. On these premises we can immediately begin to trace an ontological definition of what is left of reality once the concept of the people is freed from transcendence.

The way in which the concept of the people took shape within the hegemonic tradition of modernity is well known. Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel have, each for his own part and in different ways, produced a concept of the people starting from sovereign transcendence: in those authors’ minds the multitude was regarded as chaos and war. The thought of Modernity operates in a twofold manner on these grounds: on the one hand, it abstracts the multiplicity of singularities and, in a transcendental manner, unifies it in the concept of the people; on the other hand, it dissolves the whole of singularities (that constitute the multitude) into a mass of individuals. The modern theory of natural right, whether of empirical or idealist origin, is a theory of transcendence and of dissolution of the plane of immanence all the same. On the contrary, the theory of the multitude requires that the subjects speak for themselves, and that what is dealt with are unrepresentable singularities rather than individual proprietors.

2) The multitude is a class concept. In fact, the multitude is always productive and always in motion. When considered from a temporal point of view, the multitude is exploited in production; even when regarded from the spatial point of view, the multitude is exploited in so far as it constitutes productive society, social cooperation for production.

The class concept of multitude must be regarded differently from the concept of working class. The concept of the working class is a limited one both from the point of view of production (since it essentially includes industrial workers), and from that of social cooperation (given that it comprises only a small quantity of the workers who operate in the complex of social production). Luxemburg’s polemic against the narrow-minded workerism of the Second International and against the theory of labour aristocracies was an anticipation of the name of the multitude; unsurprisingly Luxemburg doubled the polemic against labour aristocracies with that against the emerging nationalism of the worker’s movement of her time.

If we pose the multitude as a class concept, the notion of exploitation will be defined as exploitation of cooperation: cooperation not of individuals but of singularities, exploitation of the whole of singularities, of the networks that compose the whole and of the whole that comprises of the networks etc. Note here that the “modern” conception of exploitation (as described by Marx) is functional to a notion of production the agents of which are individuals. It is only so long as there are individuals who work that labour is measurable by the law of value. Even the concept of mass (as an indefinite multiple of individuals) is a concept of measure, or, rather, has been construed in the political economy of labour for this purpose. In this sense the mass is the correlative of capital as much as the people is that of sovereignty we need to add here that it is not by chance that the concept of the people is a measure, especially in the refined Keynesian and welfares version of political economy.

On the other hand, the exploitation of the multitude is incommensurable, in other words, it is a power that is confronted with singularities that are out of measure and with a cooperation that is beyond measure.

If the historical shift is defined as epochal (ontologically so), then the criteria or dispositifs of measure valid for an epoch will radically be put under question. We are living through this shift, and it is not certain whether new criteria and dispositifs of measure are being proposed.

3) The multitude is a concept of power. Through an analysis of cooperation we can already reveal that the whole of singularities produces beyond measure. This power not only wants to expand, but, above all, it wants to acquire a body: the flesh of the multitude wants to transform itself into the body of the General Intellect.

It is possible to conceive of this shift, or rather, of this expression of power, by following three lines:

  1. The genealogy of the multitude in the shift from the modern to the postmodern (or, if you like, from Fordism to Postfordism). This genealogy is constituted by the struggles of the working class that have dissolved the “modern” forms of social discipline.
  2. The tendency towards the General Intellect. The tendency, constitutive of the multitude, towards ever more immaterial and intellectual modes of productive expression wants to configure itself as the absolute recuperation of the General Intellect in living labour.
  3. The freedom and joy (as well as crisis and fatigue) of this innovative shift, that comprises within itself both continuity and discontinuity, in other words, something can be defined as systoles and diastoles in the recomposition of singularities.

It is still necessary to insist on the difference between the notion of multitude and that of people. The multitude can neither be grasped nor explained in contractarian terms (once contractarianism is understood as dependent on transcendental philosophy rather than empirical experience). In the most general sense, the multitude is diffident of representation because it is an incommensurable multiplicity. The people is always represented as a unity, whilst the multitude is not representable, because it is monstrous vis a vis the teleological and transcendental rationalisms of modernity. In contrast with the concept of the people, the concept of multitude is a singular multiplicity, a concrete universal. The people constituted a social body; the multitude does not, because the multitude is the flesh of life. If on the one hand we oppose the multitude to the people, on the other hand we must put it in contrast with the masses and the plebs. Masses and plebs have often been terms used to describe an irrational and passive social force, violent and dangerous precisely by virtue of its being easily manipulated. On the contrary, the multitude is an active social agent, a multiplicity that acts. Unlike the people, the multitude is not a unity, but as opposed to the masses and the plebs, we can see it as something organised. In fact, it is an active agent of self-organisation. Thus, a great advantage of the concept of the multitude is that it displaces all modern arguments premised on the “fear of the masses” as well as those related to the “tyranny of the majority,” arguments that have often functioned as a kind blackmail to force us to accept (and sometimes even ask for) our servitude.

From the perspective of power, what to make of the multitude? Effectively, there is really nothing that power can make of it, since here the categories that power is interested in — the unity of the subject (people), the form of its composition (contract amongst individuals) and the type of government (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, separate or combined) — have been put aside. On the other hand, that radical modification of the mode of production that went through the hegemony of the immaterial labour force and of cooperating living labour a real ontological, productive and biopolitical revolution — has turned all the parameters of “good government” upside down and destroyed the modern idea of a community that would function for capitalist accumulation, just as the capitalist desired it from the outset.

The concept of multitude introduces us to a completely new world, inside a revolution in process. We cannot but imagine ourselves as monsters, within this revolution. Gargantua and Pantagruel, between the 16th and 17th century, in the middle of the revolution that construed modernity, are giants whose value is that of emblems as extreme figures of liberty and invention: they go through the revolution and propose the gigantic commitment to become free. Today we need new giants and new monsters who can join together nature and history, labour and politics, art and invention in order to show the new power attributed to humanity by the birth of the General Intellect, the hegemony of immaterial labour, the new abstract passions and the activities of the multitude. We need a new Rabelais, or, better, many of them.

To conclude we note again that the primary matter of the multitude is the flesh, i.e. that common living substance where the body and the intellect coincide and are indistinguishable. Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes: “the flesh is not matter, nor mind, nor substance. In order to designate it we need the old and new term element, in the same sense as this term was used to speak of water, air, earth and fire, i.e. in the sense of a general thing — a sort of embodied principle that brings a style of being where there is a fragment of being. The flesh is in this sense an element of Being.” Like the flesh, the multitude is then pure potentiality, unformed life force and an element of being. Like the flesh, the multitude is oriented towards the fullness of life. The revolutionary monster that is named multitude and appears at the end of modernity continuously wants to transform our flesh into new forms of life.

We can explain the movement of the multitude from the flesh to new forms of life from another point of view. This is internal to the ontological shift and constitutes it. By this I mean that the power of the multitude, seen from the singularities that compose it, can show the dynamic of its enrichment, density and freedom. The production of singularities does not simply amount to the global production of commodities and reproduction of society, but it is also the singular production of a new subjectivity. In fact, today (in the mode of immaterial production that characterises our epoch) it is very difficult to distinguish the production of commodities from the social reproduction of subjectivity, since there are neither new commodities without new needs nor reproduction of life without singular desire. What interests us at this point is to underline the global power of this process: in fact, it lays between globality and singularity according to a first rhythm (synchronic) of more or less intense connections (rhyzomatic, as they have been called) and another rhythm (diachronic), of systoles and diastoles, of evolution and crisis, of concentration and dissipation of the flux. In other words, the production of subjectivity, i.e. the production that the subject makes of itself, is simultaneously production of the density of the multitude because the multitude is a whole of singularities. Of course, someone insinuates that the multitude is (substantially) an improposable concept, even a metaphor, because one can give unity to the multiple only through a more or less dialectical transcendental gesture (just as philosophy has done from Plato to Hobbes and Hegel): even more so if the multitude (i.e. the multiplicity that refuses to represent itself in the dialectical Aufhebung) also claims to be singular and subjective. But the objection is weak: here the dialectical Aufhebung is ineffective because the unity of the multiple is for the multitude the same as that of living, and living can hardly be subsumed by the dialectics. Moreover, the dispositif of the production of subjectivity that finds in the multitude a common figure, presents itself as collective praxis, as always renewed activity and constitutive of being. The name “multitude” is, at once, subject and product of collective praxis.

Evidently, the origins of the discourse on the multitude are found in a subversive interpretation of Spinoza’s thought. We could never insist enough on the importance of the Spinozist presupposition when dealing with this theme. First of all, an entirely Spinozist theme is that of the body, and particularly of the powerful body. “You cannot know how much a body can.” Then, multitude is the name of a multitude of bodies. We dealt with this determination when we insisted on the multitude as power. Therefore, the body comes first both in the genealogy and in the tendency, both in the phases and in the result of the process of constitution of the multitude. But this is not enough. We must reconsider all the hitherto discussion from the point of view of the body, that is to say we must go back to points 1), 2), 3) of the preceding section, and complete them in this perspective.

  1. Once we define the name of the multitude against the concept of the people, bearing in mind that the multitude is a whole of singularities, we must translate that name in the perspective of the body and clarify the dispositif of a multitude of bodies. When we consider bodies, we not only perceive that we are faced with a multitude of bodies, but we also understand that each body is a multitude. Intersecting the multitude, crossing multitude with multitude, bodies become blended, mongrel, hybrid, transformed; they are like sea waves, in perennial movement and reciprocal transformation. The metaphysics of individuality (and/or of personhood) constitute a dreadful mystification of the multitude of bodies. There is no possibility for a body to be alone. It could not even be imagined. When man is defined as individual, when he is considered as autonomous source of rights and property, he is made alone. But one’s own does not exist outside of the relation with an other. Metaphysics of individuality, when confronted with the body, negate the multitude that constitutes the body in order to negate the multitude of bodies. Transcendence is the key to any metaphysics of individuality as well as to any metaphysics of sovereignty. On the other hand, from the standpoint of the body there is only relation and process. The body is living labour, therefore, expression and cooperation, therefore, material construction of the world and of history.
  2. When we speak of multitude as class concept, hence of multitude as subject of production and object of exploitation — at this point, it is immediately possible to introduce the corporeal dimension, because it is evident that in production, in movements, in labour and in migrations, bodies are at stake, with all their vital dimensions and determinations. In production the activity of bodies is always productive force and often primary matter. In fact there could be no discussion of exploitation, whether it is concerned with commodity production or with life reproduction, that does not directly touch upon bodies. Then, the concept of capital (on one side the production of wealth, on the other the exploitation of the multitude) must always be realistically looked at also through the analysis of how far bodies are made to suffer, are usurped or mutilated and wounded, reduced to production matter. Matter equals commodity. We cannot simply think that bodies are commodified in the production and reproduction of capitalist society; we also have to insist on the reappropriation of goods and the satisfaction of desires, as well as on the metamorphoses and the empowerment of bodies, that the continuous struggle against capital determines. Once we recognise this structural ambivalence in the historical process of accumulation, we must pose the problem of its solution in terms of the liberation of bodies and of a project of struggle to this end. In other words, a materialist dispositif of the multitude can only start from the primary consideration of the body and of the struggle against its exploitation.
  3. We talked of the multitude as the name of a power (potenza), and as genealogy and tendency, crisis and transformation, therefore this discussion leads to the metamorphosis of bodies. The multitude is a multitude of bodies; it expresses power not only as a whole but also as singularity. Each period of the history of human development (of labour, power, needs and will to change) entails singular metamorphoses of bodies. Even historical materialism entails a law of evolution: but this law is anything but necessary, linear, and unilateral; it is a law of discontinuity, leaps, and unexpected syntheses. It is Darwinian, in the good sense of the word: as the product of a Heraclitean clash and an aleatory teleology, from below; because the causes of the metamorphoses that invest the multitude as a whole and singularities as a multitude are nothing but struggles, movements and desires of transformation.

By saying this we do not wish to deny that sovereign power is capable of producing history and subjectivity. However, sovereign power is a double-face power: its production can act in the relation but cannot eliminate it. At first, sovereign power (as relation of force) can find itself confronted with the problem of an extraneous power that obstructs it. Secondly, sovereign power finds its own limit in the very relation that constitutes it and in the necessity to maintain it. Therefore, the relation presents itself to sovereignty firstly as obstacle (where sovereignty acts in the relation), secondly as limit (where sovereignty wants to eliminate the relation but does not succeed in doing so). On the other hand, the power of the multitude (of the singularities that work, act, and sometimes disobey) is capable of eliminating the sovereign relation.

We have two assertions here. The first is: the production of sovereign power goes beyond the obstacle whilst not being able to eliminate the limit that consists in the relation of sovereignty. The second is: the power of the multitude can eliminate the sovereign relation because only the production of the multitude constitutes being. These can ground the opening to an ontology of the multitude. This ontology will start being exposed when the constitution of being that is attributed to the production of the multitude will be practically determinable.

It seems possible to us, from a theoretical point of view, to develop the axiom of the ontological power of the multitude on at least three levels. The first one is that of the theories of labour where the relationship of command can be demonstrated (immanently) as groundless (insussistente): immaterial and intellectual labour, in other words knowledge do not require command in order to be cooperative and to have universal effects. On the contrary: knowledge always exceeds with respect to the (trading) values that are meant to contain it. Secondly, a demonstration can be directly provided on the ontological terrain, on that experience of the common (that requires neither command nor exploitation), which is posited as ground and presupposition of any human productive and/or reproductive expression. Language is the primary form of constitution of the common, and when living labour and language meet and define themselves as ontological machine, then the experience that founds the common is realised. Thirdly, the power of the multitude can be exposed on the terrain of the politics of postmodernity, by showing how no conditions for a free society to exist and reproduce itself are given without the spread of knowledge and the emergence of the common. In fact, freedom, as liberation from command, is materially given only by the development of the multitude and its self constitution as a social body of singularities.

At this point, I would like to reply to some of the criticisms that have been levelled against this conception of the multitude, in order to move forward in the construction of the concept.

A first set of criticisms is linked to the interpretation of Foucault and its use made in the definition of the multitude. These critics insist on the improper homology supposedly given between the classical concept of proletariat and that of multitude. Such homology, they insist, is not only ideologically dangerous (since it flattens the postmodern onto the modern: just as the authors of Spat-modernitat do, who sustain the decadence of modernity in our time), but also metaphysically so, because it poses the multitude in a dialectical opposition against power. I completely agree with the first remark, we do not live in a “late modernity” but in “postmodernity” where an epochal rupture is given. I disagree with the second observation, because if we refer to Foucault, I cannot see how we can think that his notion of power excludes antagonism. On the contrary, his conception has never been circular, and in his analysis the determinations of power have never been trapped in a game of neutralisation. It is not true that the relation amongst micropowers is developed at all levels of society without institutional rupture between dominant and dominated. In Foucault, there are always material determinations, concrete meanings: there is no development that is levelled onto an equilibrium, so there is no idealist schema of historical development. If each concept is fixed in a specific archaeology, it is then open to a genealogy of a future unknown. The production of subjectivity in particular, however produced and determined by power, always develops resistances that open up through uncontainable dispositifs. Struggles really determine being, they constitute it, and they are always open: only biopower seeks their totalisation. In reality, Foucault’s theory presents itself as an analysis of a regional system of institutions of struggles, crossings and confrontations, and these antagonistic struggles open up on omnilateral horizons. This concerns both the surface of the relations of force and the ontology of ourselves. It is not the case to go back to an opposition (in the form of a pure exteriority) between power and the multitude, but to let the multitude, in the countless webs that constitute it and in the indefinite strategic determinations that it produces, free itself from power. Foucault denies the totalisation of power but not the possibility that insubordinate subjects endlessly multiply the “foyers” of struggle and of production of being. Foucault is a revolutionary thinker; it is impossible to reduce his system to a Hobbesian epistemic mechanics of equipollent relations.

A second group of criticisms is directed against the concept of the multitude as potency and constituent power (potenza e potere costituente). The first criticism to this conception of powerful multitude is that it involves a vitalist idea of the constituent process. According to this critical point of view, the multitude as constituent power cannot, be opposed to the concept of the people as figure of constituted power: this opposition would make the name of multitude weak rather than strong, virtual rather than real. The critics who defend this point of view also assert that the multitude, once detached from the concept of the people and identified as pure power, risks of being reduced to an ethical figure (one of the two sources of ethical creativity, as seen by Bergson). Concerning this theme (but from an opposite side) the concept of the multitude is also criticised for its inability to ontologically become “other” or to present a sufficient critique of sovereignty. In this critical perspective, the constituent power of the multitude is attracted by its opposite: therefore, it cannot be taken as radical expression of innovation of the real, nor as thematic signal of a free people to come. So long as the multitude does not express a radicalism of foundation that subtracts it from any dialectics with power, — they say — it will always risk being formally included in the political tradition of modernity.

Both these criticisms are insubstantial. The multitude, as power, is not a figure that is homologous and opposed to the power of exception of modern sovereignty. The constituent power of the multitude is something different, it is not only a political exception but also a historical exception, it is the product of a radical temporal discontinuity, and it is ontological metamorphosis. Then, the multitude presents itself as a powerful singularity that cannot be flattened in the Bergsonian alternative of a possible and repetitive vitalistic function; neither can it be attracted to its pressing opponent, i.e. sovereignty, because the multitude, by existing, concretely dissolves the concept of sovereignty. This existence of the multitude, does not seeks a foundation outside of itself, but only in its own genealogy. In fact, there is no longer a pure or naked foundation or an outside: these are illusions.

A third set of criticisms, of a sociological rather than philosophical character attacks the concept of multitude by defining it as “hypercritical drift.” We let the fortunetellers interpret what this “hypercritical” means. As far the “drift” is concerned, this consists in seeing the multitude as fixed in a place of refusal or rupture. As such, it is incapable of determining action, whilst destroying the very idea of acting since, by definition, starting from a place of absolute refusal, the multitude would close the possibility of relations and/or mediations with other social agents. The multitude, in this view, ends up representing a mythical proletariat or an equally mythical pure acting subjectivity. It is obvious that this criticism represents the exact opposite of the first set of criticisms. In this case, then, the response can only recall that the multitude has nothing to do with the reasoning logic dependent on the friend/enemy couple. The multitude is the ontological name of full against void, of production against parasitical survivals. The multitude does not know instrumental reason either on its outside nor for its use within. And since it is a whole of singularities, it is capable of the maximal amount of mediations and compromising constitutions within itself, when these are emblems of the common (whilst still operating, exactly as language does).

This article was published in the journal Multitudes numero 9 (may june 2002) as “Pour une definition ontologique de la multitude,” pp. 36-48.

original –

related reading book review ‘The Deleuze Connections’  on Multitued website.

Written by minimal

September 28, 2008 at 10:29 am

Posted in Marx_related

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a summary of the arguments in ‘Empire’

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Marx’s mole is dead! – Globalisation and communication

– Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri

This text is effectively a summary of the arguments in Empire, in particular Negri & Hardt’s contention that Marx’s conception of class struggle is obsolete and that globalisation can be understood as capitalism’s response to class struggle (7,000 words).

In our book[1], we propose a single concept, Empire, which is meant to name the political form of globalisation. Our primary question is, what is the political constitution of global order?

We use Empire to name the new form of sovereignty, a new form of political rule. Many argue that the globalisation of capitalist production and exchange means that economic relations have become more autonomous from political controls, and consequently that political sovereignty has declined. Some celebrate this new era as the liberation of the capitalist economy from the restrictions and distortions that political forces have imposed on it; others lament it as the closing of the institutional channels through which workers and citizens can influence or contest the cold logic of capitalist profit. It is certainly true that in step with the processes of globalisation the sovereignty of nation states, while still important, has progressively declined. The primary factors of production and exchange – money, technology, people and goods – move with increasing ease across national boundaries; hence the nation state has less and less power to regulate these flows and impose its authority over the economy. Even the most dominant nation states should no longer be thought of as supreme and sovereign authorities, neither outside nor even within their own borders. The declining sovereignty of nation states, however, does not mean that sovereignty as such has declined! Throughout the contemporary transformations, political controls, state functions and regulatory mechanisms continue to rule the realm of economic and social production and exchange. Our basic hypothesis, then, is that sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule. This new global form of sovereignty is what we call Empire.

We reject two hypotheses:

1. that there is a single, locatable source that dictates global order, that rules the globe: Washington, New York, Geneva, Tokyo (conspiracy theory);
2. that global order arises spontaneously from the anarchic interplay of global exchanges, from market forces (invisible hand) – in effect that there is not global order, only an economic dynamic that has finally freed itself from the regulation of the nation states and all other political fetters.

Between these two extremes we try to read the contemporary global political order as a mixed constitution. Mixed constitution is the term that Polybius uses to describe (and celebrate) the ancient Roman Empire. The ancient Roman Empire was a mixed constitution, according to Polybius, in that it brought together in a single constitution all three primary forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. In other words, in Empire monarchic, aristocratic and democratic powers all function together. Today, it sometimes appears that there is a single monarchic power that rules the world: during the Gulf War, for example, it seemed that the Pentagon was a monarchic global power; at other times the IMF might appear that way; at others Hollywood? On the other hand, sometimes it appears that aristocratic forces rule the world. Not the rule of the one but the rule of the few. Transnational corporations are aristocratic in this sense, as are often the nation states. Finally, there are those “democratic” powers, those that at least claim to represent the people. Nation states often fill this role too on the global scene, but the most interesting and complex democratic forces in Empire are the NGOs. In any case, a theory of mixed constitution allows us to recognise all of these powers within one coherent global constitution, but does not force us to claim that these forces are uniform or univocal. A theory of mixed constitution is a theory of difference within the constitution that allows for various separations of powers within the framework of a single order. The challenge then for our notion of the contemporary Empire as a mixed constitution is to discover what the various powers are and how they interact and negotiate with or dominate each other, in concert and in conflict. That’s the difficult part. Mixed constitution only names the problematic; it doesn’t really describe the dynamics of rule. But I hope it gives you a first approach to the framework in which we conceive Empire.

The declining sovereignty of nation states and their increasing inability to regulate economic and cultural changes is in fact one of the primary symptoms of the coming of Empire. The sovereignty of the nation state was the cornerstone of the imperialisms that European powers constructed throughout the modern era. By “Empire”, however, we understand something altogether different from “imperialism”. The boundaries defined by the modern system of nation states were fundamental to European colonialism and economic expansion: the territorial boundaries of the nation delimited the centre of power from which rule was exerted over external, foreign territories through a system of channels and barriers that alternately facilitated and obstructed the flows of production and circulation. Imperialism was really an extension of the sovereignty of the European nation states beyond their own boundaries. Eventually nearly all the world’s territories could be parcelled out and the entire world map could be coded in European colours: red for British territory, blue for French, green for Portuguese and so forth. Whatever modern sovereignty took root, it constructed a transcendent Leviathan that overarched its social domain and imposed hierarchical territorial boundaries, both to police the purity of its own identity and to exclude all that was other.

No limits

The passage to Empire emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty. In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial centre of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorialising apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers. Empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command. The distinct national colours of the imperialist map of the world have merged and blended in the imperial global rainbow.

We should emphasise that we use Empire here not as a metaphor, which would require demonstration of the resemblances between today’s world order and the Empires of Rome, China, the Americas and so forth, but rather as a concept, which calls primarily for a theoretical approach. The concept of Empire is characterised fundamentally by a lack of boundaries: Empire’s rule has no limits.

First and foremost, then, the concept of Empire poses a regime that effectively encompasses the spatial totality, or really that rules over the entire “civilised” world. No territorial boundaries limit its reign. Second, the concept of Empire presents itself not as a historical regime originating in conquest, but rather as an order that effectively suspends history and thereby fixes the existing state of affairs for eternity. From the perspective of Empire, this is the way things will always be and the way they were always meant to be. In other words, Empire presents its rule not as a transitory moment in the movement of history, but as a regime with no temporal boundaries and in this sense outside of history or at the end of history. Third, the rule of Empire operates on all registers of the social order extending down to the depths of the social world. Empire not only manages a territory and a population, but also creates the very world it inhabits. It not only regulates human interactions, but also seeks directly to rule over human nature. The object of its rule is social life in its entirety, and thus Empire presents the paradigmatic form of biopower. Finally, although the practice of Empire continually bathered in blood, the concept of Empire is always dedicated to peace – a perpetual and universal peace outside of history.

A methodological point

The relationship between Italian politics and French philosophy is an interesting one, specifically the relationship between the Italian tradition of operaismo( = workerism) and autonomia (자치제 wiki )on one hand and the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze on the other. There is a central point of commonality( 대중 =multitude) here and that is a methodological point, or really an axiom of research. On Deleuze’s side, this axiom is that desire is active and power is reactive. Or rather, with respect to power, “La résistence est première”. Resistance is temporally and ontologically prior to power.

Operaismo builds on Marx’s claim that capital reacts to the struggles of the working class; the working class is active and capital reactive.

Technological development: Where there are strikes, machines will follow. “It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt.” (Capital, Vol. 1, Chapter 15, Section 5)

Political development: The factory legislation in England was a response to the working class struggle over the length of the working day. “Their formulation, official recognition and proclamation by the State were the result of a long class struggle.” (Capital, Vol. 1, Chapter 10, Section 6)

Operaismo takes this as its fundamental axiom: the struggles of the working class precede and prefigure the successive re-structurations of capital.

We will present an example of this methodology or this axiom in the relationship between social struggles and globalisation, or rather, the relationship between international cycles of struggles and capitalist globalisation.

Call to globality

Flirting with Hegel, one could say that the construction of Empire is good in itself but not for itself. One of the most powerful operations of the modern imperialist power structures was to drive wedges among the masses of the globe, dividing them into opposing camps, or really a myriad of conflicting parties. Segments of the proletariat in the dominant countries were even led to believe that their interests were tied exclusively to their national identity and imperialist destiny. The most significant instance of revolt and revolution against these modern power structures therefore were those that posed the struggle against exploitation together with the struggle against nationalism, colonialism and imperialism. Through these events, humanity appeared for a magical moment to be united by a common desire for liberation and we seemed to catch a glimpse of a future when the modern mechanisms of domination would once and for all be destroyed. The revolting masses, their desire for liberation, their experiments to construct alternatives and their instances of constituent power have all at their best moments pointed toward the internationalisation and globalisation of relationships, beyond the divisions of national, colonial and imperialist rule. In our time this desire that was set in motion by the multitude has been addressed (in a strange and perverted but nonetheless real way) by the construction of Empire. One might even say that the construction of Empire and its global networks is a response to the various struggles against the modern machines of power and specifically to class struggle driven by the multitude’s desire for liberation. The multitude called Empire into being.

Saying that Empire is good in itself, however, does not mean that it is good for itself. Although Empire may have played a role in putting and end to colonialism and imperialism, it nonetheless constructs its own relationships of power based on exploitation that are in many respects more brutal than those it destroyed. The end of the dialectic of modernity has not resulted in the end of the dialectic of exploitation(착취). Today nearly all of humanity is to some degree absorbed within or subordinated to the networks of capitalist exploitation. We see now an ever more extreme condition of radical separation of a small minority that controls enormous wealth from multitudes that live in poverty at the limit of powerlessness. The geographical and racial lines of oppression and exploitation that were established during the era of colonialism and imperialism have in many respects not declined but instead increased exponentially(기하급수적으로).

Despite recognising all this, we insist on asserting that the construction of Empire is a step forward on order to do away with any nostalgia for the power structures that preceded it and refuse any political strategy that involves returning to that old arrangement, such as trying to resurrect(소생시키다) the nation state to protect us against global capital. We claim that Empire is better in the same way that Marx insists that capitalism is better than the forms of society and modes of production that came before it. Marx’s view is grounded on a healthy and lucid(명쾌한) disgust(혐오) for the parochial(편협한) and rigid hierarchies that preceded capitalist society as well as on a recognition that the potential for liberation is increased in the new situation. In the same way today we can see that Empire does away with the cruel regimes of modern power and also increases the potential for liberation.

We are well aware that in affirming this thesis we are swimming against the current of our friends and comrades on the Left. In the long decades of the crisis of the communist, socialist and liberal Left that has followed the 1960s, a large portion of critical thought, both in the dominant countries of capitalist-development and in the subordinated ones, has sought to recompense sites of resistance that are founded on the identities of social subjects or national and regional groups, often grounding political analysis on the localisation of struggles. Such arguments are sometimes constructed in terms of “place-based” movements or politics, in which the boundaries of place (conceived either as identity or territory) are posed against the undifferentiated(차별화되지 않은) and homogeneous(같은 성질의) space of global networks. Other times such political arguments draw on the long tradition of Leftist nationalism in which (in the best cases) the nation is conceived as the primary mechanism of defence against the domination of foreign and/or global capital. Today the operative syllogism at the heart of the precarious(불확실하고 위험한) forms of “local” Leftist strategy seems to be entirely reactive: If capitalist domination is becoming ever more global, then our resistances to it must defend the local and construct barriers to capital’s accelerating flows. From this perspective, the real globalisation of capital and the constitution of Empire must be considered signs of dispossession and defeat.

We maintain, however, that today this localist position, although we admire and respect the spirit of some of its proponents, is both false and damaging. It is false first of all because the problem is poorly posed. In many characterisations the problem rests on a false dichotomy(이분법) between the global and the local, assuming that the global entails homogenisation and undifferentiated identity whereas the local preserves heterogeneity and difference. Often implicit(맹목적인) in such arguments is the assumption that the differences of the local are in some sense natural or at least that their origin remains beyond question. Local differences pre-exist the present scene and must be defended or protected against the intrusion(침입) of globalisation. It should come as no surprise given such assumptions that many defences of the local adopt the terminology of traditional ecology or even identify this “local” political project with the defence of nature and bio-diversity. This view can easily devolve into a kind of primordialism that fixes and romanticises social relations and identities. What needs to be addressed, instead, is precisely the production of locality, that is, the social machines that create and recreate the identities and differences that are understood as the local. The differences of locality are no pre-existing nor natural but rather effects of a regime of production. Globality similarly should not be understood in terms of cultural, political, or economic homogeneisation. Globalisation, like localisation, should be understood instead as a regie of the production of identity and difference, or really of homogenisation and heterogenisation. The better framework, then, to designate the distinction between the global and the local might refer to different networks of flows and obstacles in which the local moment or perspective gives priority to the reterritorialising barriers and the global moment privileges the mobility of deterritorialising flows. It is false, in any case, to claim that we can (re)establish local identities that are in some sense outside and protected against the global flows of capital and Empire.

The Leftist strategy of resistance to globalisation and defence of locality is also damaging because in many cases what appear as local identities are not autonomous nor self-determining but actually feed into and support the development of the capitalist imperial machine. The globalisation or deterritorialisation operated by the imperial machine is not in fact opposed to the localisation or reterritorialisation, but rather sets in play mobile and modulating circuits of differentiation and identification. The strategy of local resistance misidentifies and thus masks the enemy. We are by no means opposed to the globalisation of relationships as such – in fact, as we said, the strongest forces of Leftist internationalism have effectively led this process. The enemy, rather, is a specific regime of global relations that we call Empire. More importantly, this strategy of defending the local is damaging because it obscures and even negates the real alternatives and the potentials for liberation that exist within Empire. We should all be done once and for all with the search for an outside, a standpoint that imagines a purity for our politics. It is better both theoretically and practically to enter the terrain of Empire and confront its homogenising and heterogenising flows in all their complexity, grounding our analysis in the power of the global multitude.

Refrains(자중,자제)of the Internationale

There was a time, not so long ago, when internationalism was a key component of proletarian struggles and progressive politics in general. “The proletariat has no country”, or better, “the country of the proletariat is the entire world”. The Internationale was the hymn of revolutionaries, the song of utopian futures. We should note that the utopia expressed in these slogans is in fact not really internationalist, if by internationalist we understand a kind of consensus among the various national identities that preserves their differences but negotiates some limited agreement. Rather, proletarian internationalism was anti-nationalist, and hence supranational and global. Workers of the world unite! – not on the basis of national identities but directly through common needs and desires, without regard to borders and boundaries.

///Internationalism was the will of an active mass subject that recognised that the nation states were the key agents of capitalist exploitation and that the multitude was continually drafted to fight their senseless wars – in short, that the nation state was a political form whose contradictions could not be subsumed and sublimated but only destroyed. International solidarity was really a project for the destruction of the nation state and the construction of a new global community. This proletarian program stood behind the often ambiguous tactical definitions that socialist and communist parties produced during the century of their hegemony over the proletariat. If the nation state was a central link in the chain of domination and thus had to be destroyed, then the national proletariat had as a primary task destroying itself insofar as it was defined by the nation and thus bringing international solidarity out of the prison in which it had been trapped. International solidarity had to be recognised not as an act of charity or altruism for the good of others, a noble sacrifice for another national working class, but rather as proper to and inseparable from each national proletariat’s own desire and struggle for liberation. Proletarian internationalism constructed a paradoxical and powerful political machine that pushed continually beyond the boundaries and hierarchies of the nation states and posed utopian futures only on the global terrain.

Today we should all clearly recognise that the time of such proletarian internationalism is over. That does not negate the fact, however, that the concept of internationalism really lived among the masses and deposited a kind of geological stratum of suffering and desire, a memory of victories and defeats, a residue of ideological tensions and needs. Furthermore the proletariat does in fact find itself today not just international but (at least tendentially) global. One might be tempted to say that proletarian internationalism actually “won” in the light of the facts that the powers of nation states have declined in the recent passage toward globalisation and Empire, but that would be a strange and ironic notion of victory. It is more accurate to say, following the William Morris quote that serves as one of the epigraphs for this book, that what they fought for came about despite their defeat, but then turned out to be not what they meant – and perhaps now we have to fight for what they meant under another name.

The practice of proletarian internationalism was expressed most clearly in the international cycles of struggles. In this framework the (national) general strike and insurrection against the (nation-)state were only really conceivable as elements of communication among struggles and processes of liberation on the internationalist terrain. From Berlin to Moscow, from Paris to New Delhi, from Algiers to Hanoi, from Shanghai to Jakarta, from Havana to New York, struggles resonated with one another throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A cycle was constructed as news of a revolt was communicated and applied in each new context, just as in an earlier era merchant ships carried the news of slave revolt from island to island around the Caribbean, igniting a stubborn string of fires that could not be quenched. For a cycle to form the recipients of the news must be able to “translate” the events into their own language, recognise the struggles as their own and thus add a link to the chain. In some cases this “translation” is rather elaborate: the way in which Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century, for example heard of the anti-colonial struggles in the Philippines and Cuba and translated them into the terms of their own revolutionary projects. In other cases it is much more direct: how the factory council movement in Turin, Italy, was immediately inspired by the news of the Bolshevik victory in Russia. Rather than thinking of the struggles as relating to each other like links in a chain, it might be better to conceive of them as communicating like a virus that modulates its form to find in each context an adequate host.

It would not be hard to map the periods of extreme intensity of these cycles. A first wave might be seen as beginning after 1848 with the political agitation of the First International, continuing in the 1880s and 1890s with the formation of socialist political and trade union organisations, and then rising to a peak after the Russian revolution of 1905 and the first international cycle of anti-imperialist struggles. A second wave arose after the Soviet revolution of 1917, which was followed by an international progression of struggles that could only be contained by fascisms on one side and reabsorbed by the New Deal and antifascist fronts on the other. And finally there was the wave of struggles that began with the Chinese revolution and proceeded through the African and Latin American liberation struggles to the explosions of the 1960s throughout the world.

These international cycles of struggles were the real motor that determined the development of the institutions of capital and that drove it in a process of reform and restructuring. Proletarian, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist internationalism, the struggle for communism, which lived in all the most powerful insurrectional events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, anticipated and prefigured the processes of the globalisation of capital and the formation of Empire in this way the formation of Empire is a response to proletarian internationalism. There is nothing dialectical nor teleological about this anticipation and prefiguration of capitalist development by the mass struggles. On the contrary, the struggles themselves a are demonstrations of the creativity of desire, utopias of lived experience, the workings of historicity as potentiality – in short, the struggles are the naked reality of the res gestae. A teleology of sorts is constructed only after the fact, post festum.

The struggles that preceded and prefigured globalisation were expressions of the force of living labour, which sought to liberate itself from the rigid territorialising regimes imposed on it. As it contests the dead labour accumulated against it, living labour always seeks to break the fixed territorialising structures, the national organisations and the political figured that keep it prisoner. With the force of living labour, its restless activity and its deterritorialising desire, this process of rupture throws open all the windows of history. When one adopts the perspective of the activity of the multitude, its production of subjectivity and desire, one can recognise how globalisation, insofar as it operates a real deterritorialisation of the previous structures of exploitation and control, is really a condition of the liberation of the multitude. But how can this potential for liberation be realised today? Does that same uncontainable desire for freedom that broke and buried the nation state and that determined the transition toward Empire still live beneath the ashes of the present, the ashes of the fire that consumed the internationalist proletarian subject that was centred around the industrial working class? What has come to stand in the place of the subject? In what sense can we say that the ontological rooting of a new multitude has come to be a positive of alternative actor in the articulation of globalisation?

The mole and the snake

We need to recognise that the very subject of labour and revolt has changed profoundly. The composition of the proletariat has transformed and thus our understanding to it must too. In conceptual terms we understand proletariat as a broad category that includes all those whose labour is directly or indirectly exploited by and subjected to capitalist norms of production and reproduction. In a previous era the category of the proletarian centred around and was at times effectively subsumed under industrial working class, whose paradigmatic figure was the male mass factory worker. That industrial working class was often accorded the leafing role over other figures of labour (such as peasant labour and reproductive labour) in both economic analyses and political movements. Today that working class has all but disappeared from view. It has not ceased to exist, but it has been displaced from its privileged position in the capitalist economy and its hegemonic position in the class composition of the proletariat. The proletariat is not what it used to be, but that does not mean it has vanished. It means, rather, that we are faced once again with the analytical task of understanding the new composition of the proletariat as a class.

The fact that under the category of proletariat we understand all those exploited by and subject to capitalist domination should not indicate that the proletariat is a homogeneous or undifferentiated unit – it is indeed cut through in various directions by differences and stratifications. Some labour is waged, some is not; some labour is limited to eight hours a day and forty hours a week, some expands to fill the entire time of life; some labour is accorded a minimal value, some is exalted to the pinnacle of the capitalist economy. We argue in our book that among the various figures of production active today the figure of immaterial labour-power (involved in communication, co-operation, and the production and reproduction of affects) occupies an increasingly central position in both the schema of capitalist production and the composition of the proletariat. Our point her is that all of these diverse forms of labour are in some way subject to capitalist discipline and capitalist relations of production. This fact of being within capital is what defines the proletariat as a class.

In the second place we need to look more concretely at the form of the struggles in which this new proletariat expresses its desires and needs. In the second half of the twentieth century, and in particular in the two decades that stretched from 1968 to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the restructuring and global expansion of capitalist production have been accompanied by a transformation of proletarian struggles. As we said, the figure of an international cycle of struggles based on the communication and translation of the common desires of labour in revolt seems no longer to exist. The fact that the cycle as the specific form of the assemblage of struggles has vanished, however, does not simply open up to an abyss. On the contrary, we can recognise powerful events on the world scene that reveal the trace of the multitude’s refusal of exploitation and that signal a new kind of proletarian solidarity and militancy.

Consider the most radical and powerful struggles of the final years of the twentieth century: the Tiananmen Square events in 1989, the Intifada against Israeli State authority, the May 1992 revolt in Los Angeles, the uprising in Chiapas that began in 1994, the series of strikes that paralysed France in December 1995 and those that crippled South Korea in 1996. Each of these struggles was specific and based on immediate regional concerns in such a way that they could in no way be linked together as a globally expanding chin of revolt. None of these events inspired a cycle of struggles because the desires and needs they expressed could not be translated into different contexts. In other words, (potential) revolutionaries in other parts of the world did not hear of the events in Beijing, Nablus, Los Angeles, Chiapas, Paris, or Seoul and immediately recognise them as their own struggles. Furthermore, these struggles not only fail to communicate to other contexts, but they lack even a local communication and thus often have a very brief duration where they are born, burning out in a flash. This is certainly one of the central and most urgent political paradoxes of our time: In our much celebrated age of communication, struggels have become all but incommunicable.

This paradox of incommunicability makes it extremely difficult to grasp and express the new power posed by the struggles that have emerged. We ought to be able to recognise that what the struggles have lost in extension, duration and communicability they have gained in intensity. We ought to be able to recognise that although all of these struggles focused on their own local and immediate circumstances, they all nonetheless posed problems of supranational relevance, problems that are proper to the new figure of imperial capitalist regulation. In Los Angeles, for example, the riots were fuelled by local racial antagonisms and patterns of social and economic exclusion that are in many respects particular to that (post)urban territory, but the events were also immediately catapulted to a general level insofar as they expressed a refusal of the post-Fordist regime of social control. Like the Intifada in certain respects, the Los Angeles riots demonstrated how the decline of Fordist bargaining regimes and mechanisms of social mediation has made the management of racially and socially diverse metropolitan territories and populations so precarious. The looting of commodities and burning of property were not just metaphors but the real global condition of the mobility and volatility of post-Fordist social mediations. In Chiapas, too, the insurrection focused primarily on local concerns: problems of exclusion and lack of representation specific to Mexican society and the Mexican State, which have also to a limited degree long been common to the racial hierarchies throughout much of Latin America. The Zapatista rebellion, however, was also immediately a struggle against the social regime imposed by NAFTA and more generally the systematic exclusion and subordination in the regional construction of the world market. Finally, like those in Seoul, the massive strikes in Paris and throughout France in later 1995 were aimed at specific local and national labour issue (such as pensions, wages and unemployment), but the struggle was also immediately recognised as a clear contestation of the new social and economic construction of Europe. The French strikes called above all for a new notion of the public, a new construction of public space against the neo-liberal mechanisms of privatisation that accompany more or less everywhere the project of capitalist globalisation. Perhaps precisely because all there struggles are incommunicable and thus blocked from travelling horizontally in the form of a cycle, they are forced rather to leap vertically and touch immediately on the global level.

We ought to be able to recognise that this is not the appearance of a new cycle of internationalist struggles, but rather the emergence of a new quality of social movements. We ought to be able to recognise, in other words, the fundamentally new characteristics these struggles all present, despite their radical diversity. First, each struggle, although firmly rooted in local conditions, leaps immediately to the global level and attacks the imperial constitution in its generality. Second, all the struggles destroy the traditional distinction between economic and political struggles. The struggles are at once economic, political and cultural – and hence they are biopolitical struggles, struggles over the form of life. They are constituent struggles, creating one public spaces and new forms of community.

We ought to be able to recognise all this, but it is not all that easy. We must admit, in fact, that even when trying to individuate the real novelty of these situations we are hampered by the nagging impression that these struggles are always already old, outdated and anachronistic. The struggles at Tiananmen Square spoke a language of democracy that seemed long out of fashion; the guitars, headbands, tent and slogans all looked like a weak echo of Berkeley in the 60s. The Los Angeles riots, too, seemed like an aftershock of the earthquake of racial conflicts that shook the United States in the 1960s. The strikes in Paris and Seoul seemed to take us back to the era of the mass factory worker, as if they were the last gasp of a dying working class. All these struggles, which pose really new elements, appear form the beginning to be already old and outdated – precisely we because they cannot communicate, because their languages cannot be translated. The struggle do no communicate despite their being hyper-mediatised, on television, the Internet and every other imaginable forum. Once again we are confronted by the paradox of incommunicability.

We can certainly recognise real obstacles that block the communication of struggles. One such obstacle is the absence of a recognition of a common enemy against which the struggles are directed. Beijing, Los Angeles, Nablus, Chiapas, Paris, Seoul: The situations seem all utterly particular, but in fact they all directly attack the global order of Empire and seek a real alternative. Clarifying the nature of the common enemy is thus an essential political task. A second obstacle, which is really corollary to the first, is that there is no common language of struggles that could “translate” the particular language of each into a cosmopolitan language. struggles in other parts of the world and even our own struggles seem to be written in an incomprehensible foreign language. This too points toward an important political task: to construct a new common language that facilitates communication, like the languages of anti-imperialism and proletarian internationalism did for the struggles of a previous era. Perhaps this needs to be a new type of communication that functions not on the basis of resemblances but on the basis of differences: a communication of singularities.

Recognising a common enemy and inventing a common language of struggles is certainly important political tasks and we will advance them as far as we can in the course of the book, but our intuition tells us that this line of analysis fails to grasp the real potential presented by the new struggles. Our intuition tells us, in other words, that the model of the horizontal articulation of struggles in a cycle is no longer adequate to recognise the way in which contemporary struggles achieve global significance. Such a model in fact blinds us to their real new potential.

Marx tried to understand the continuity of the cycle of proletarian struggles that were emerging in nineteenth-century Europe in terms of a mole and its subterranean tunnels. Marx’s mole would surface in times of open class conflict and then retreat underground again – not to hibernate passively, but to burrow its tunnels, moving along with the times, pushing forward with history so that when the time was right (1830, 1848, 1870) it would spring to the surface again. “Well grubbed old mole!”[2] Well, we suspect that Marx’s old mole has finally died. It seems to us, in fact, that in the contemporary passage to Empire the structured tunnels of the mole have been replaced by the infinite undulations of the snake. This is the image that Deleuze gives in his analysis of the passage from disciplinary societies to societies of control. (Deleuze claims that contemporary society had gone beyond the disciplinary forms that Foucault analysed. Today the disciplinary institutions, the school the family, the prison, the factory, are all in crisis. This doesn’t mean that disciplinary logics are breaking down; what is breaking down rather are the institutional boundaries that once defined and limited their application to one social space. The disciplinary logics spread out across society, they are generalised and in some respects intensified. The generalised disciplinarity is what defines the society of control.) “The old mole”, Deleuze writes, “is the animal of closed environments, but the snake is the animal of the societies of control. We have passed from one animal to another, from the more to the snake, in the regime we live under, but also in out way of living and our relations with others.” The depths of the modern world and its subterranean passageways have in postmodernity all become superficial. Today’s struggles slither silently across the superficial, imperial landscapes. Perhaps the incommunicability of struggles, the lack of well-structured, communicating tunnels, is in fact a strength rather than a weakness – a strength because all of the movements are immediately subversive in themselves and so not wait on any sort of external aid or extension to guarantee their effectiveness. Perhaps the more capital extends its global network of production and control, the more powerful any singular point of revolt can be simply by focusing their own powers, concentrating their energies in a tense and compact coil, these serpentine struggles striking directly at the highest articulations of imperial order. Empire presents a superficial world, the virtual centre of which can be accessed immediately from any point across the surface. If these points were to constitute something like a new cycle of struggles it would be a cycle defined not by the communicative extension of the struggles but rather by their singular emergence, by the intensity that characterises them one by one. In short, this new phase is defined by the fact that these struggles do not link horizontally but each leap vertically, directly to the virtual centre of Empire.[3] From the point of view of the revolutionary tradition, one might object that the tactical successes of revolutionary actions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were all characterised precisely by the capacity to blast open the weakest link of the imperialist chain, that this is the ABC of revolutionary dialectics, and thus it would seem today that the situation is not very promising. It is certainly true that the serpentine struggles we are witnessing today do not provide any clear revolutionary tactics, or maybe they are completely incomprehensible from the point of view of tactics. Faced as we are with a series of intense subversive social movements that attack the highest levels of imperial organisation, however, it may be no longer useful to insist on the old distinction between strategy and tactics. In the constitution of Empire there is no longer an “outside” to power and thus no longer weak links – if by weak link we mean an external point where the articulations of global power are vulnerable. To achieve significance, every struggle must attack at the heart of the Empire, at its strength. That fact, however, does not give priority to any geographical regions, as if only social movements in Washington, Geneva or Tokyo could attack the heart of Empire. On the contrary, the construction of Empire and the globalisation of economic and cultural relationships means that the critical centre of Empire can be attacked from any angle. The tactical preoccupations of the old revolutionary school are thus completely irretrievable; the only strategy available to the struggles is that of a constituent counter-power that emerges from within Empire.

Those who have difficulty accepting the novelty and revolutionary potential of this situation from the perspective of the struggles themselves might recognise it more easily from the perspective of imperial power, which is constrained to react to the struggles. Even when these struggles become sites effectively closed to communication, they are at the same time the maniacal focus of the critical attention of Empire. They are educational lessons in the classroom of administration and the chambers of government – lessons that demand repressive instruments. The primary lesson is that such events cannot be repeated if the processes of capitalist globalisation are to continue. These struggles, however, have their own weight, their own specific intensity, and moreover they are immanent to the procedures and developments of imperial power. They invest and sustain the processes of globalisation themselves. Imperial power whispers the names of the struggles in order to charm them into passivity to construct a mystified image of them, but most important to discover which processes of globalisation are possible and which are not. In this contradictory and paradoxical way, the imperial processes of globalisation assume these events, recognising them as both limits and opportunities to recalibrate Empire’s own instruments. The processes of globalisation would not exist or would come to a halt if they were not continually both frustrated and driven by these explosions of the multitude that touch immediately on the highest levels of imperial power.

Methodology again

Returning to the methodological or axiomatic point we spoke of at the beginning, one can see how this argument about international cycles of struggles and capitalist globalisation is based on the fundamental axiom: that resistance comes before power (in Deleuze/Foucault terms) or that proletarian struggles precede and prefigure the successive forms of capitalist society and rule (in Marxist/operaismo terms).

Now, it is perfectly reasonably to ask if it is in fact true that resistance comes before power and that social struggle precede and prefigure capitalist restructuration. We have not offered an argument for it, really – precisely, we have treated it as an axiom. Our book tries to demonstrate that it is plausible to read the history from below, but that is really not a proof. What is more interesting, though, is the political effect of this axiom, that it highlights the power of resistance and the power of social struggles.

Today, when facing the forces of capitalist globalisation and our new world order, it is all too easy and all too common to feel ourselves and our social movements powerless. This method can work as a kind of antidote to that cynicism and sense of powerlessness. It is not a matter of pretending that we are powerful when we are not, but rather recognising the power we really have; the power that created the contemporary world and can create another.

This text is based on a paper that Michael Hardt presented at SUNY, Buffalo in February 1999. The point of departure is a chapter in Hardt’s and Negri’s book Empire (Harvard University Press 2000).


[1] Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Harvard University Press 2000 (available in the library here)
[2] Karl Marx, , New York; International Publishers 1963
[3] See Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control” trans. Martin Joughin, New York. Columbia University Press 1995 pp.177-182 (available in the library here).

original –

Written by minimal

September 28, 2008 at 8:50 am

Posted in Marx_related

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capitalism crisis

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Sarkozy presses for capitalism summit

By Harvey Morris at the United Nations

Published: September 24 2008 03:26 | Last updated: September 24 2008 03:26

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, called on world leaders on Tuesday to hold a summit later this year aimed at rebuilding a “regulated capitalism” to replace a world financial system that had become unhinged.

Addressing around 100 heads of state and government at the United Nations’ annual General Assembly debate, he said the financial crisis now unfolding was the most serious the world had seen since the 1930s.

It was the duty of leaders of those states most directly concerned to meet to examine the lessons learnt, the French president said.

His words followed those of George W. Bush, in his last address to the UN as US president, who sought to assure world leaders that his administration was on top of efforts to contain the crisis.

“We have taken bold steps to prevent a severe disruption of the American economy, which would have a devastating effect on other economies around the world,” said Mr Bush.

The administration and Congress were working on a bail-out package, he said, “and I’m confident we will act in the urgent timeframe required”.Mr Sarkozy, however, was among those who pressed for a world response, insisting on the reform of international institutions to meet the challenge.

“The 21st century world cannot be governed with the institutions of the 20th century,” he said, reflecting support by France and other governments for reform of the so-called Bretton Woods financial institutions established in the framework of the UN after the second world war.

Mr Sarkozy’s proposed summit would be likely to take place in the context of an expanded meeting of the Group of Eight industrialised states in November, to which the big new economies such as China, India and Brazil would be invited.

A summit in November would come after the result of the US presidential election was known, allowing Mr Bush to be accompanied by his successor.

Mr Sarkozy gave no detailed formula of how to address the crisis, but said the world should find a new system in which “whole swathes of financial activity are not left to the sole judgment of markets operators”.

The role of banks was to finance development and not to engage in speculation. Methods of rewarding executives should not drive them to take unreasonable risks and those who jeopardised people’s savings should be punished.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also called for greater international involvement in addressing financial market turbulence.

“A crisis of such magnitude will not be overcome with palliative measures,” he said. “Mechanisms for both prevention and control are needed to provide total transparency to international finance.”

“The global nature of this crisis means that the solutions we adopt must also be global, and decided upon within legitimate, trusted multilateral forums, with no impositions,” he said.

At the moment, international economic institutions had neither the authority nor the instruments they needed to inhibit what he called the “anarchy of speculation”.The debate over how to tackle the financial crisis has fed into longstanding demands for reform of the UN and its institutions that have re-emerged as the sub-text of this year’s General Assembly.

“Let us act so that our international institutions are more coherent, more representative, stronger and more respected,” said Mr Sarkozy.

Mr Bush left the financial crisis to the last section of his final UN speech. In a text that mentioned terrorism more than 30 times, he said the UN faced as serious a challenge as any since its founding – a global movement of violent extremists.

“By delivering murder, by deliberately murdering the innocent to advance their aims, these extremists defy the fundamental principles of international order.”

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September 26, 2008 at 11:04 am

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Henri Lefebvre – biography

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Henri Lefebvre, 1901-1991

Henri Lefebvre, the most prolific of French Marxist intellectuals, died during the night of 28-29 June 1991, less than a fortnight after his ninetieth birthday. During his long career, his work has gone in and out of fashion several times, and has influenced the development not only of philosophy but also of sociology, geography, political science and literary criticism.

Born in the Landes of South-West France in 1901, Lefebvre went to study philosophy in Paris at the age of twenty, and soon became attracted to Marxism, which was certainly not taught at the university, but was being espoused by many young intellectuals in the aftermath of the October revolution. Along with Paul Nizan, Georges Friedmann, Georges Politzer and other young philosophers, Lefebvre was active in a succession of short-lived journals during the 1920’s and early 1930s, which successfully introduced Marxism into the mainstream of French intellectual life, at least on the Left. He shared some of the artistic avant-gardism of the surrealists, and like them was drawn towards communism as a practical means of implanting his aspirations. Lefebvre joined the French Communist Party in 1928 and for most of the next thirty years he toed the political line, in return for which, he secured a margin of tolerance for his rather heterodox interpretation of Marxism, which sat uncomfortably with the stalinisme ordinaire of the French Communist Party (PCF).

Lefebvre’s great energy and erudition were largely responsible for popularising the early writings of Marx, some of which he translated into French in 1933, and which served to focus Lefebvre’s own humanist interpretation of Marx. He delved deeply into the Hegelian ancestry of Marxism, from which he derived an abiding preoccupation with dialectical thought, and he read widely in German philosophy, finding particular affinities with Nietzsche, on whom he published a book in 1939, but also with Schelling and Heidegger, about whom he was publicly more reticent. This activity, carried out while he was teaching philosophy in provincial lycees, culminated in his influential book Dialectical Materialism. Published in 1939, within a few weeks of Stalin’s infamous Dialectical and Historical Materialism, Lefebvre’s book was the antithesis of diamat, and was therefore pointedly ignored by party circles. Banned during the occupation, it was for many years a bestseller after the war. Lefebvre affirmed the superiority of Hegel’s dialectic over formal logic, based on the dialectic’s attempt to achieve a synthesis of the concept and its content, and therefore a synthesis of thought and being. He accepted Marx’s criticisms of Hegel’s theory of the state, religion and alienation, based on the perception that while Hegel sought to derive the content from the concept, Marx saw the need to enable the content to direct the development of the concept. The resulting ‘dialectical materialism’, in Lefebvre’s view, transcended both idealism and materialism, and oriented the dialectic towards a resolution of contradictions in practical activity, or Praxis. In historical terms, he thought it would eventuate in the practical realisation of the full potential of human existence: Total Man. The patriarchal resonance of Lefebvre’s Marxist humanism was wholly consonant with the intellectual climate of the period, but was scarcely attenuated in later times as he prided himself on a seductive charm and virility that were almost legendary even in his old age.

After the war, in which he acquired a distinguished Resistance record, Lefebvre took a job in broadcasting in Toulouse, which left him time for a flurry of publications on Marxism and philosophy, including his successful popular account Le Marxisme (1948) in the ‘Que sais-je?’ paperback series. Developing his interpretation of the early Marx, Lefebvre argued that alienation was a fundamental structure of human practice. In broad outline, every human activity was characterised by a three-stage evolution in which initially spontaneous forms of order were shaped into rational organising structures, which finally lent themselves to abuse as a fetishized system of oppression. Lefebvre applied this analysis, for example, to economics, where division of labour eventually turns into the exploitation of workers; to politics, where effective administration (or leadership) decays into a coercive State (or party) apparatus; and even to philosophy where clarity of thinking finally hardens into a rigid ideology which those in power can wield as a blunt instrument.

Lefebvre’s libertarian tendencies made him more popular with the social democratic and Christian democratic Left than with hard-line Stalinists in the PCF. However, philosophical debate in post-war France was not an occupation for the faint-hearted, and Lefebvre was not above accepting his share of the hatchet-work. His L’Existentialisme (1946), which he later disavowed, was probably the low-point of his work. On the one hand it was a virulent attack on Sartrean existentialism, then in its heyday, and therefore on philosophical positions which were in many respects close to his own. On the other hand, it included a posthumous attack on Paul Nizan, who had left the PCF over the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939, and whom Lefebvre ignobly accused of having been a police spy.

The tightening of the Cold War left Lefebvre exposed and uncomfortable. He accepted a research post in sociology and temporarily abandoned philosophy, though not without publishing an obligatory self-criticism. Zhdanov had set the tone and every party intellectual had to take a turn at correcting his or (more rarely) her own previous errors and deviations. Lefebvre’s half-rejection of his earlier neo-Hegelianism was more tortuous than most.

Sociology was in comparison a safe haven. Despite a long intellectual tradition going back to Montesquieu, Comte and Durkhein, French sociology was not regarded as politically sensitive. It was not a secondary school subject, unlike philosophy, and though it was taught in universities it mainly flourished in non-teaching research centres, where it was often linked to the rapidly growing requirements of the national planning agency. Since the French approach tends to be highly theoretical, Lefebvre was one of many philosophers (including Raymond Aron and Edgar Morin) who made a comfortable transition to sociology. Drawing on his Marxist humanist framework, Lefebvre made distinguished and widely read contributions to both urban and rural sociology, to sociolinguistics, and to the sociology of everyday life. To some extent he is now regarded as having been a founder of some of these areas of study, and tributes in French sociological journals have focused on this as his major achievement. He eventually held chairs of sociology in the universities of Strasbourg and then Nanterre.

After the traumatic events of 1956, Lefebvre returned to philosophical debate, directing withering criticisms against the dogmatism of Stalin and his French followers. He diagnosed a fundamental crisis in philosophy, and suggested that it had reached the point at which it was impossible to make any general pilosophical assertions without falling into mystification. He thought it might be prudent for ontological or cosmological statements (about the world, nature, matter, and the place of man in the universe) to be left to poets and musicians rather than philosophers. As for Marxist philosophy, he thought it should eschew systematisation and sharpen the critical edge of the dialectical method. Linking with oppositional movements in Eastern Europe and with non-communist (often Trotskyist) intellectuals in France, Lefebvre became energetically anti-Stalinist in the late 1950s, helping to found the independent Marxist reviews Arguments and Socialisme et barbarie, and developing a criticism of the bureaucratization of societies East and West. His expulsion from the PCF in 1958 surprised no one and stimulated a succession of innovative works, disconcertingly mixing sociology, literary analysis, philosophy and poetry in attempts to break down disciplinary barriers and to free Marxist thinking from its self-imposed limitations. His autobiographical La Somme et le reste (1960) is strikingly original in this respect, anticipating some of the textual strategies of post-structuralism and dealing with his opponents in the manner of Mohammed Ali (‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’).

As the fifties turned into the sixties, the French intellectual scene was divided between the rising power of the structuralist theorists and the flagging inspirations of the existentialists and humanists. Lefebvre became one of the foremost opponents of the structuralo-marxists. Writing in the provocatively named journal L’Homme et la societe, he castigated writers like Levi-Strauss and Foucault for their hypostatisation of theory into an Eliatic System. He regarded them as the apologists of technocracy, and coined the term ‘cybernanthrope’ to describe the new systems-oriented technocracy, which he saw emerging in France under their aegis. But he reserved his most venomous strictures, not surprisingly, for the theoretical anti-humanists of Althusser’s school. Considering Althusser as a renovator of Stalinist dogmatism, he accused him, among other things, of divorcing theory from practice, of constructing a new structuralist ideology, and of recycling the old empirio-criticism that Lenin had so thoroughly demolished sixty years earlier. Althusser’s static and convoluted system seemed to him to demobilise and disarm the creativity of the masses while elevating a small intellectual elite to dangerous and unwarranted supremacy.

The events of May 1968 in France and the upheavals throughout Europe and North America seemed to Lefebvre to vindicate all that he had been arguing. The Stalinists and structuralists seemed to him unable to understand, sympathize with, or even communicate with the insurgent students, whereas Lefebvre saw the students as the victims of social and intellectual alienation, and as the agents of his long term programme of social liberation leading to the creation of the Total Man. As a professor at Nanterre, where the student movement was sparked off, he had a grandstand view of the early days of the May events: Daniel Cohn-Bendit was one of his students. His study of the causes and origins of the events (translated in English as The Explosion) remains one of the most influential. Both the innovative political methods and slogans such as ‘imagination has taken power’ echoed Lefebvre’s own concerns. They also echoed the imaginative anarchism of the situationists, grouped round Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, who had long appealed to Lefebvre. His work was one of their theoretical sources, though his relations with them were often turbulent.

In many respects, the 1970s were the Golden Age of French Marxism. Lefebvre’s many works reached a much wider audience during this period, and began to be translated into English as well as other languages (especially in Eastern Europe). He and those with whom he had worked during the late fifties and sixties (Morin, Chatelet, Axelos, Goldmann, Castoriadis, Fougeyrollas and others) became the senior figures of the non-communist Marxist revival. Reprints of Lefebvre’s shorter accounts were snapped up, though his own energies were turned principally towards a series of innovative studies in urban sociology, in which he argued that the organisation of the urban time and space to fit the lived experience of its citizens and residents could become the focus for a renewal of direct democratic relationships in modern society.

To the surprise and dismay of many of his associates, Lefebvre moved back into a closer relationship with the PCF after 1978. In part he was attracted by its greater independence from the Moscow line, in part by its espousal of decentralising policies of local self-government, and in part by the more dialectical and humanist approach of its leading theorists, especially Lucien Seve. The rather more unbuttoned style of its publications gave him the freedom to develop unorthodox views, which were no longer regarded as threatening, and to deploy the humour and verve which was always a characteristic of his writing. His rapprochement with communism was probably also a reaction against the declining influence of Marxism and the tendency of many former Left-wing intellectuals to drift into political agnosticism.

An assertive and energetic Marxist to the very end of his long life, Henri Lefebvre continued to believe that an undogmatic reading of Marx and Engels provided the best framework for understanding the nature and development of society, and that an ambitious revolutionary project offered the best chance of assisting positive human development through the reverses and uncertainties of history.

Michael Kelly

Two of Lefebvre`s most important works have recently been translated into English: Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Volume 1 (1947; 2nd ed. 1958), translated by John Moore, Verso, London, 1991, ?9.95 hb; Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974), translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1991, ?4.95 pb.

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