Thursday, September 4, 2014

Critique of the 'Declaration' (Hardt and Negri)


This essay has had a bit of a torturous history, it was denied publication due (they said) to legal issues of 'copying' (implied plagiarism) by the new editors of Rethinking Marxism after it had already passed through the lengthy academic review process and been accepted and 'signed off'. I was not given an opportunity (at least to date) to revise the text any further and they did not reply to my following (3) emails; it was stated with finality. I worked on it some more and below is the outcome. I had written an introduction that explained the details of all this, putting my 'case', even including the original text, but it made the whole thing too cumbersome and self indulgent.

One problem was sufficient attribution: the difficulty with Hardt and Negri's Declaration is that as an electronic text it does not have (at least in the versions I have accessed) page numbers, so here I have had to merely repeat the first attribution citation where I refer to their work (it is freely available).

See here (or you may have to do a search if these have changed):

RM's current editor, Marcus E. Green, is a specialist on Gramsci (e.g. he edited the book Rethinking Gramsci, Routledge, 2011, the same publisher as the journal). My gut feeling was that the editors took the decision to rescind publication for reasons of allegiance, and to avoid actual human responsibility they resorted to a software system (called SafeAssign). This may be ungracious, I may be wrong, there can be other reasons of course, I can only speculate. RM is an excellent journal. But time is not neutral here and I cannot leave the 'accusation' just hanging, if I did not know better I would think this was censorship and an attempt to discredit me.

Whatever, I take this opportunity to expand my theme a little:

Our (Gary Tedman's and Iona Singh's) work derives from and is a small tributary of a tradition of anti-humanist, Althusserian Marxism (and where it intersects with art specifically), a variant that came into some conflict with Gramsci in the past, via Althusser; e.g. (keeping things in proportion) I share Althusser's reservations on the concept of hegemony, and this 'overflows' to concepts such as the 'subaltern' (correctly conceived or misconceived) that Negri etc glean from Gramsci. In the below critique I was criticizing (as you will see) Hardt and Negri, and Antonio Negri may be construed as a part of this Italian tradition. I regard the Gramscian derived concept of the 'subaltern', cited in the book above, as often used as a way to 'shove out' the Marxist concept of class, which I aim to defend here. And subaltern is very like the concept of multitude put forward by Hardt and Negri. I also think, like some, that taking the concept of subaltern from Gramsci and using it in a declassed fashion, and from a Gramsci who was probably using it as code for 'working class' while in prison, is perhaps unfair to Gramsci, the communist.

Academic rewards are always held out for segueing away from the concept of class and nearer to the concept of 'the people' as a general category. And the mixing up of such ideas with Marx is often at least disingenuous (it 'social democratizes' Marx). The concept of class, with its materialist and non essentialist base in economics, reigns supreme for communists, it is part of the science of Marxist economics (and it has lots of deep ramifications for ideas of democracy and the State). The concept of subaltern, multitude, etc, at least in this kind of usage, is not therefore Marxist; - respectably anarchist perhaps, interesting certainly, worthy of attention yes, but a rethinking of Marx? No. Not unless a rethinking means a complete ditching of a central founding concept of its economic theory and the political extrapolation of that economic theory. This is throwing Marx out while pretending to be including him in.

I do not really like the term 'revisionist' because some things do need to be revised sometimes, and it seems to fix Marx in stone forever; but we must add, is it not the way of science to build on solid foundations? It seems to me there is a way to be scientifically interested in truth without Biblical connotations, and, this dislike of old terminology ('revisionist') should not prevent us from recognizing unnecessary, tendentious revisions, e.g. the ways of treating texts that are considered in some way dangerous to the established order. And, in this regard, there is also what I would call 'gatekeeping' (of which the decision to not publish this text may be an example); - I mean the policing of how radical ideas are to be received (i.e. Marxism), actually a subtle censorship employed in the context of our (in advanced capitalism) supposed 'media freedom', indeed it is even a part of the surfeit of information that Hardt and Negri refer to as being negative for freedom, rather like hyperventilating is bad for breathing. I will never forget going to see Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People in the Louvre and walking a gauntlet of bunting and souvenirs which made you think what lay at the end of the tunnel might be a market stall rather than a painting, this was its visual gateway, its 'framing'. In this supposedly 'free' space, in the myth, it is never that something is not 'out there' because it is censored, but because it is not popular and/or lacks quality in the 'free market'; the 'free market' has decided, no political agency is involved, this is (again, in this myth) just the 'facts' and the 'data' (we get endless 'polls' to 'prove' this, endless repeated 'litmus tests' of sentiment).

But then, sometimes people 'vote with their feet'. And sometimes the bourgeois media like this, when it is in their interests, on other occasions however it is taken as the extreme of anti democratic behavior. We have witnessed this ambivalence with regard to two places now in recent history, Libya and Ukraine. The degree to which even the critical-left-liberal media has been biased to bourgeois class interests has been truly astonishing and, for once, badly disguised. E.g. the very pro attitude towards the violent demonstrations by the 'EuroMaidan' (it could not be called 'Occupy Ukraine' of course), while the other encampment by protesters outside the Ukrainian parliament was almost totally ignored, which led to Odessa, and a rather cold response to the firebombing of another non-compliant protest camp by thugs.

This essay now seems to me to have been quite prescient in regard to the Ukraine 'EuroMaidan' and the ensuing civil war and the presence of Neo-Nazis being supported into government by the EU/USA. I did feel some urgency to publish (probably not wise in the academic context), given the intimations of this that were occurring before it erupted, now perhaps events have overtaken some of the value that the essay might have had here, which has given, I think, a concrete demonstration of the negative aspects (especially for communists, but it has wider ramifications) of the theory in the Declaration that I have highlighted.

By the way, both myself and my colleague and partner Iona Singh (2012) are "precarious workers" (Hardt and Negri's famous term is the 'precariat' of course), and have always been such, so it is, to us, not something that we don't also live and feel. There is some irony in that, perhaps. (Academic plaudits from journal publishing in this sense loses some of its allure anyway).

I have necessarily concentrated on the negative in this critique, but I hope this is taken as a constructive contribution to the debate, and that my comrades treat it this way rather than as some kind of attempt at 'damnation' (there is little danger of this in reality, H n' N are of course world famous, we are mere minions of the blogosphere's unruly democracy, voices destined to be lost in the very fullness of the wind).

Gary Tedman (edited by Iona Singh)

Critique of the 'Declaration'

by Gary Tedman

The concept of multitude (1) in Empire (2000) has "revolutionary potential" to establish what Hardt and Negri say Spinoza called an absolute democracy, to subvert the "post-disciplinary" societies of control and their concomitant "biopower' (Foucault 1984), and to attack "post-industrial capitalist hegemony" with (this) weaponry. This essay seeks to cast a critical Marxist eye over this project (2000, 2005, 2011) by mainly focusing on the text that some have called the Communist Manifesto of the 21st Century, their Declaration (2012).

The point of critical attack in Declaration ((Hardt and Negri 2012) note that due to the lack of page numbers in this electronic text, I have been unable to reproduce them in the following citations, as would be normal) is the dominant forms of subjectivity produced in the current crisis. They engage four primary subjective figures—the indebted, the mediatized, the securitized, and the represented. The hegemony of finance and the banks has produced the indebted, control over information and communication networks has created the mediatized; the security regime and the generalized state of exception have constructed a figure prey to fear and yearning for protection: the securitized, while the corruption of democracy has forged a "strange, depoliticized figure," the represented (Hardt and Negri 2012). The discourse begins from the subjective position; they also presuppose the movements of revolt, which subsequently provides them with the means to "refuse repressive regimes" and also to "invert these subjectivities in figures of power." (Hardt and Negri 2012) They discover new forms of independence and security on economic as well as social and "communicational" terrains, which together create the potential to throw off systems of political representation and assert their own powers of democratic action (Hardt and Negri 2012).

They see three aspects:

a) The strategy of encampment or occupation.

b) The movements' refusal to have a leader.

c) The struggle for 'the common'.

Their new 'meanings' in the struggle for the commons now becomes part of 'a new common sense'; they are foundational principles that they take to be inalienable rights, like those that were heralded in the course of the seventeenth century bourgeois English revolutions (Hardt and Negri 2012).

On this basis they construct their concept:

Once upon a time, they imply (Hardt and Negri, 2012), there was a mass of wage workers; today there is instead a multitude of precarious workers: the former were exploited by capital, but that exploitation was masked by the myth of a free and equal exchange among owners of commodities, the latter continue to be exploited, but the dominant image of their relationship to capital is now no longer configured as an equal relationship of exchange but rather as a hierarchical relation of debtor to creditor: note, what has changed is the status of the myth about this exploitative relation. Capitalist work relations have shifted, they say, and the center of gravity of capitalist production no longer resides in the factory (we slip from abstract relations to talk of mere buildings to justify another abstraction) but has drifted outside its walls; society itself has now become a factory, or rather, capitalist production has 'spread' such that the labor power of the whole society tends to be subordinated to capitalist control. Capital increasingly exploits the entire range of our productive capacities, our bodies and our minds, our capacities for communication, our intelligence and creativity, our affective relations with each other, and more; life itself "has been put to work." But now, it is no longer just a question for them of a shift in mythology: the actual economic relations have changed: the capitalist accumulates wealth primarily through rent, not 'profit'—this rent most often takes a financial form and is, they say (Hardt and Negri, 2012), guaranteed through financial instruments; this is where debt enters the picture, as a weapon to maintain and control the relationship of production and exploitation.

Whilst we can see that one tendency of advanced capitalism is increasingly to make all products also services which you pay for continuously, it is a different thing to claim this relation has overtaken that of capital to labor. Yet according to Hardt and Negri (2012) the entire basis of capitalism has gone from the process of expansion of capital through exploitation to obtain a profit, to that of the process of extracting rent, and thus to the relation of tenant to landlord. Essentially this is a reversal of Marx's discovery in the 1844 Manuscripts that rent of land is another form of profit on capital. It seems this theory of debt has to be backed by some theory of rent, but the relation between rent and debt is left obscure. Nonetheless the crux of Marx's mature theory, of capital as surplus value derived from unpaid labor time, seems to have been ejected, even while referring to Marx throughout in a complementary fashion.

Production relies, in these passages of theirs, increasingly on socialized, not individual, 'figures of work', that is, on workers who immediately cooperate together prior to the discipline and control of the capitalist. The 'figures of work' are considered as prior to capitalist control, they 'immediately cooperate' (why?); the suggestion is of a spontaneous subjective tabula rasa preceding the social subject.

This subject is mediatized in a fashion that corresponds to Deleuze (1994), where repressive forces do not stop people from expressing themselves, but rather, force them to express themselves. They (Hardt and Negri, 2012) are more concerned, therefore, about the ways that today's mediatized subjects suffer from an opposite problem: stifled by a surplus of information, communication, and expression, the problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, as Deleuze apparently explains, but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. They ask (Hardt and Negri, 2012): is it possible that in their voluntary communication and expression, in their new social media practices, people are contributing to, instead of contesting against, repressive forces? Media and communications technologies are 'increasingly central' to all types of productive practices and are "key to the kinds of cooperation necessary" for today's biopolitical production, they say (Hardt and Negri, 2012); the mediatized is a figure “caught in the web, attentive, and enthralled”; the media is increasingly becoming the means of expression for the rich and powerful.

─Whilst it is hard not to see some naivety in this implied notion that there was once a time when media (such as it was) was not restricted to the rich and powerful, the crux of the meaning of the term 'mediatized' becomes clearer when we see that it is opposed to Marx's concept of alienation: so whereas the consciousness and feelings of the alienated worker is disenfranchised, the consciousness of the mediatized is subsumed or absorbed in 'the web'.

Throughout it is clear we are always talking about consciousness. The subjective consciousness of the mediatized (Hardt and Negri 2012) is not a split but understood as fragmented and dispersed. The media, furthermore, do not really make you passive; actually they constantly call on you "to contribute your opinions, to narrate your life." (Hardt and Negri 2012) In return you are attentive; the mediatized is therefore a subjectivity that is paradoxically neither active nor passive but rather absorbed in attention.

We cannot refer to feelings based in alienation from sensual labor (Marx) here. It also implies a dispensing with Freud's materialist theory of affects (1985). We lose alienation in Marx's sense, the psychological and affective (felt) 'metamorphosis' of the real economic relations, to become an absorbed but dispersed (mental) subjectivity. The concept of alienation is replaced by the 'mediatized' multitude, which has in turn replaced classes.

As well as mediatized, they see society as increasingly totally securitized, always under a regime of surveillance, and we are all also a part of this surveillance─the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 have arrested a promising development in anti-capitalist insurrection by enabling the state to defend itself against the multitude through the production of a “culture of fear.” So Multitude (Hardt and Negri 2005) went back to the subject of Empire (Hardt and Negri 2000). Post 9/11, multitude is seen as having the possibilities to work through institutions that create a mode of social organization that is not based on imperial sovereignty or anarchy. After 9/11 war is now a matrix for all relations of power and techniques of domination (Foucault 1980). Wars have traditionally initiated 'states of exception' (Schmitt 2008, Agamben 2005) in which civic rights are suspended and extraordinary emergency powers are adopted by governments. In that the War on Terror supplied the U.S. government with a permanent/general state of exception in which the war has to be won repeatedly, war has become little different to general police activity, and this new constant meant a rethinking of the concept of democracy was needed "to confront the leap of scale" necessary when considering globalization; so now they focus more on the global apparatuses of governance, organizations such as the United Nations and the IMF, and on broad democratic principles such as 'representation' as such (Hardt and Negri 2005).

Here (Hardt and Negri 2005), the concept of biopolitical power is merged with multitude, which they see appearing in the 'carnival and mimicry' (shades of Bakhtin, 1941) of protests, as well as in the 'decentralized intelligence' of the new social networks. Singularities are defined by being multiple internally and finding themselves externally only in relation to others. The communication and expression of singularities in networks, then, is not individual but 'choral', and it is always operative, linked to a "making of ourselves while being together". This is the episteme of the singular subject, ideal for the concept of the multitude because it is 'internally a multitude' and always requires the other singularity, not to make whole because the whole is described as a constant process, no conclusion may become a unity different from the singularity-multitude. Biopower is accordingly anti-capitalist insurrection "using life and the body as weapons"; examples include flight from power and suicide bombing, the latter understood as the opposite of biopower, which is "the practice of sovereignty in biopolitical conditions". The precise link between Hardt and Negri's use of the concept-term and Foucault's is unclear mostly because in Foucault it is also rather loose; for some, such eclecticism is deemed positive, it allows for 'slips' to be made, perhaps in the Lacanian (1977) sense of undercutting the mastery of your own discourse.

The multitude's (Hardt and Negri 2005) central role in challenging current threats to democracy is the production of 'the common'. The possibilities of the common are most visible, they say, in the realm of 'immaterial labor'. Immaterial labor in turn must be understood as a form of 'biopolitical labor' the example given is that of communication, which can be understood as 'symbolic-analytic' work. Hence we get the biopolitical force of immaterial labor, and this is coupled with the refusal to separate the economic, the political, and the social, so there is a collapsing down of certain classical concept structures, such as, markedly, the notions of levels and practices of the social formation from Althusser (1971) and/or the concept of base and superstructure of classical Marxism (Marx, 1981), or indeed the concept of social classes. Because of this, the lived reality of labor and the abstract reality of globalization are seen to, somehow, meld together. The multitude depends on the becoming common of multiplicity, while each form of labor is assumed to be able to retain its singularity. The concepts of the possibilities of the common derive from immaterial labor in the new forms of communication.

The 'securitized' is a creature that lives and thrives in the state of exception (Hardt and Negri 2012). For them the motivation is fear, fear of the 'outside'. We might want to suggest people like to know 'the other', and this is why 'a people' are social, so that any fear is always accompanied, if it is the case, by a certain comfort in making communal association. They pre-empt this possible objection: we must not confuse this state of exception with any natural condition of human society, and must not imagine it as the essence of the modern state or the end point toward which all modern figures of power are tending. The state of exception is a form of tyranny, they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), one that, like all tyrannies, exists only because of our voluntary servitude. They are suddenly quite forceful on this question, that this servitude is voluntary; i.e. we have decided upon it and so are in this sense responsible for it in terms of conscious will. But has the 'natural' actually been dealt with theoretically here? Consider the problem of democracy versus tyranny in Ancient Greece; it is not so obvious which is the most oppressive system, given the existence of slavery.

Most important to the subject of democracy for them (2012) is 'representation': they see that many of the Occupy movements refuse to be represented and direct their strongest critiques against the structures of representative government. They claim that to understand their critique we must recognize that representation is not a vehicle of democracy but instead an obstacle to its realization (Hardt and Negri 2012). The figure of the represented "gathers together" the figures of the indebted, the mediatized, and the securitized and epitomizes the end result of their subordination and corruption. Their (Hardt and Negri 2012) synthetic critique of representative democracy is biting, but it comes to rest with Rousseau and Carl Schmitt (2008), and the social contract and state of exception, which are not so much criticized, now, as by-passed, for (they argue (Hardt and Negri 2012)) it "does not matter if they are right" (are they? It must certainly be nice to be self-absolved of this responsibility), the political conditions to which they once referred (apparently) are no longer so potent: today, they say, and even if we were to believe the modern myths of representation and accept it as a vehicle of democracy, the political context that makes it possible "has radically diminished" (Hardt and Negri 2012). The new protests make challenges in this context. Where, they ask, has the project for democracy gone? "How can we engage it again and what does it mean to win back, or, really, to realize for the first time the political power of the citizen-worker?" (Hardt and Negri 2012)

They see a path that these movements teach, which passes through the revolt against the impoverished and depotentialized subjective figures that they have outlined: democracy will be realized only when a subject capable of grasping and enacting it has emerged, and this subject is their subject (Hardt and Negri 2012). And their subject is a version of Hannah Arendt's subject (Matynia, 2009, Arendt 1973, 1999). The 'kairos' is the anarchic impulse now linked to Arendt's democratic humanism and Aristotelian notion of action, where "Making the truth is a collective linguistic act of creativity." It is figured as the collective power of singularities, so the concept of collectives is not abandoned, and neither is individuality, but both appear 'squashed together' as if the mere act of placing them near each other suffices to overcome all theoretical obstacles, and so there is a kairos of resistance as well as a kairos of community. Almost nonsensical phrases ensue, like: "It becomes singular, because becoming singular, in contrast to becoming individual, means finding once again the subjective force in being together", "The will is born positively from the impulse to affirm a plenitude not a lack, the urge to develop a desire", "We flee those bonds and those debts in order to give new meaning to the terms bond and debt, and to discover new social relationships", "we need to make new truths, which can be created only by singularities in networks communicating and being together." (Hardt and Negri 2012) At work is perhaps Deleuze's epistemology of difference as opposed to Marxist dialectics.

Now we come to the most central question for Hardt and Negri (2012): how can people associate together in the common and participate directly in democratic decision making? How can the multitude become prince (Machiavelli, 1992) of the institutions of the common in a way that reinvents and realizes democracy?

They see this as the task of a "constituent process" (Hardt and Negri 2012).  Every revolution needs a constituent power—not to bring the revolution to an end but to continue it, guarantee its achievements, and keep it open to further innovations. A constituent power is necessary to organize social production and social life in accordance with 'our' principles of freedom, equality, and solidarity.

So, we see some form of power or authority is envisaged as necessary (constitution), but this is understood in a specific philosophical manner: constituent processes are "dispositifs of the production of subjectivity." (Hardt and Negri 2012) Because, they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), even if there were some original or primordial human nature to be expressed, there is no reason to believe it would foster free, equal, and democratic social and political relations: political organization always requires, according to this schema, the production of subjectivities: "we must create a multitude capable of democratic political action and the self-management of the commons." Believing that only a constituent process based in the commons can provide a real alternative, they therefore maintain "these truths to be self-evident, that all people are equal, that they have acquired through political struggle certain inalienable rights, that among these are not only life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but also free access to the common, equality in the distribution of wealth, and the sustainability of the common." (Hardt and Negri, 2012) It is equally evident to them that to secure these rights, democratic governance must be instituted, deriving its 'just powers' from the participation of the governed and the transparency of governmental organization.

The problem of guaranteeing democratic rights for minorities, often tied up with the relation of indigenous peoples to the 'common land', is approached: how can we guarantee tolerance toward the rights of powerless minorities? First of all, they say (Hardt and Negri, 2012), we should recognize that contemporary social movements are experimenting with "new practices of majority rule" that result in "new conceptions of tolerance." Tolerance in this scheme must give everyone the power to participate as different and to work actively with others; this tolerance is an essential feature of their understanding of the internal multiplicity of a ruling majority. There is a denegated force in this imperative must, in the insistence of this as the a priori principle. The 'glue' that holds these struggles together, as implied already, appears to be for them fundamentally linguistic, in the manner they grasp cognitive immaterial labor.

This double relation of constitutional action is seen as something like the relationship established in the thirteenth century at the foundation of the British legal system when the declaration of the Magna Carta was accompanied by a Charter of the Forest which establishes rights to access the commons.

The multitude subjectivity is in effect a Lockeian-Leviathan made up of singularities who each reflect as multitude-singularity the Leviathan as a multitude-singularity. In terms of political philosophy we have returned to questions of the common land and the enclosures (Locke, 1998).

John Locke (1632–1704) was an empiricist, for him knowledge about the world begins with sense perception. He is famous for his idea that the mind is like a blank sheet of paper, in contrast to Cartesian rationalism, wherein God is a foundational principle and necessary to thought and self. Concepts could be examined, like a doctor examines a patient, and reduced to their most basic sense components. Locke nevertheless distinguished ideas that represented 'actual qualities' of objects, such as size, shape, or weight, from ideas that represented 'perceived qualities', which for him do not exist in objects except as they affect observers, such as color, taste, smell, by calling the former primary and the latter secondary qualities (quite like Deleuze's intensive and extensive). Knowledge of 'Man's' own existence is intuitive; 'Man' exists as material and immaterial substance, he is not clear though and plays with the notion that 'Man' is simply material substance to which God has superimposed 'immaterial' thinking. But Locke could not give a good account of the idea of substance, essential to his entire epistemology, it is not a simple idea given in sensation, and it cannot be derived from given principles, but he carries on anyway; moreover his source of information on human sense is more often introspection, i.e. thinking, than actual empirical observation.

Locke's most important contribution on political philosophy, his Two Treatises of Government (Locke, 2013) is a refutation of Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha (1991), the first a defense of the divine right of kings, the second a refutation of the absolutist theory of government as such. He makes a general argument against the concepts of Absolute Monarchy or power, particularly as espoused by Thomas Hobbes (1982), but like Hobbes he is not ultimately definite. Government is a trust, which can be forfeited by any ruler who does not secure the public good; the individual does not give up all his rights when he enters civil society, he has established his right to property by 'mixing his labor' with things originally given to people in common, but now made his own by his labor. This individual has the right to expect political power to be used to preserve his property, in his own person and in his possessions, and the right to freedom of thought, speech, and worship.

Note, this 'labor' has an abstract rather than sensual quality; the 'mixing' assumes a 'making of his own' as happened in the acts of enclosure of the commons, so more an abstract 'labor' of the landowning capitalist's decisions, rather than that of the peasants who sensually worked the common land. The commons is seen as not 'owned', and thus 'waste' lands open to owning by 'industry'. In 1671 Locke was a big investor in the English slave-trade, and his participation in drafting the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas meant he had useful insider knowledge. Locke's constitution established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves; his statements on unenclosed property have been seen as an attempt to justify the ejection of Native Americans, and because of his opposition to aristocracy and slavery in his major texts he is accused of hypocrisy, caring for liberty, certainly, but mainly for English capitalists. These ideas influenced the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution (Farr 2008).2

For Hardt and Negri, the existing powers are seen to represent threats to the common land, what is then envisaged to act as a counter-power are the various ecological movements, which are understood as guardians of the commons, as a kind other state emerging within the existing. They see democratic counterpowers must be able to force the corporations and the nation-states to open access to the commons, to divide the wealth 'equitably' so all can meet their basic needs, and repair the damage to social and ecological systems.

Hardt and Negri's notion (2012) of the 'new meaning' given by recent protests is that the common is figured as a kind of debt-in-common which, not moral obligation, functions through an ethics based on the "reciprocal recognition of the social debts that we are understood to owe to one another and to society", this is a positive, for them, side of the socialization of debt. That people have debts that they might need to be guilty of is assumed.

─We know, of course, long before even capitalism but at all stages of society in which there has been class struggle, the relation of debtor to creditor has existed, but it is always secondary to the primary economic relation, production: slavery, serfdom, and the wages system. Their theory seems to challenge this.

An irony of Hardt and Negri's conception of debt is that today in the crisis it is not necessarily the working class which is the most indebted, as may be construed from their analysis, but the bourgeoisie and their banks and corporations, this is why, in fact, the working class are supposed to have to pay, via their future taxes, to bail-out the bankrupt private banks and thereby 'socialize the debt' of their masters. Debt may be a way to exploit the subject on a greater scale than ever before, there is no doubt, it also helps poor consumers to continue to purchase the overproduced commodities, but the very scale of the debt shows that the biggest are incurred by the largest entities, in many cases these debts have certainly been transferred from 'too-big-to-fail' entities to their governments, and then passed to the population of humble workers, but did the workers, whose hard labor power generates value, also initiate all this debt while being exploited? A worker may borrow certainly, but she has had surplus value expropriated by working for periods without pay, and so often is in need of loans. The capitalist in this circumstance (as banker or loan shark, etc) is loaning value to the worker that has already been expropriated from them in the production process. This lending is therefore a further extension of the existing exploitation.

Many of the colossal debts actually emerged as fictitious capital in the midst of speculative deals that ballooned in the trading back and forth of high finance. That some of these bundles included 'sub-prime' residential mortgages was highlighted by the press, implying citizens with a supposed innate greed were the originators of the global crisis, and then used to justify greater exploitation as the answer. But the key factor originating the crisis is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (Marx Capital Vol. III Part III, Chapter 13. 1977, or see Moseley 2013). It appears to the capitalist that it is lazy workers that are the problem, but the capitalists very success usually means the falling rate of profit, which is exacerbated now because often he also has debts to bigger capitalists, e.g. the big banks, which now rise with the interest faster than the rate of growth of the profit on his capital. Indeed this slowdown in capital expansion was one main source of the vastly expanding debts. The problem today is not a lack of value in the hands of investor institutions, but a glut of wealth, including 'stimulus', that is now stashed unproductively because of the fear of investing in the declining market, leaving just the huge debts to play out or be socialized.

How do Hardt and Negri find their way out of their own debt impasse? We must apparently remember the basic recognition of the nature of power explained by Foucault and, before him, Machiavelli (1992): power is not a thing but a relation. No matter how mighty and arrogant seems that power standing above you, we must know that it depends on us, feeds on our fear, and survives only because of our willingness to participate in it. We must consequently look for an escape door. One escape door is messages spread virally "through the neighborhoods and a variety of metropolitan circuits." (Hardt and Negri 2012)

─After all the talk of action, of weapons and riots, we are back to mere messages, to ideology. Media becomes the tools for our collective 'self-production': we are able to create 'new truths' only when we stop being individual and constitute ourselves in our relationships to others, opening ourselves to an apparent "common language", the project of liberation is a question of contested meanings.

And communication among "singularities in networks" requires an encampment, where the kind of self-learning and "knowledge production" can take place. Still, for all the talk of physicality, they tend to forget (although I'm sure they have not) that over 800 revolutionaries lost their lives in the 2011 January revolution in Egypt, and that there were violent, sustained, confrontations over long days and nights with the state and parastatal forces. It is also notable they ignore the case of the uprising in Libya and the violent civil war there. The idea that "We have little interest…in heroes and martyrs" is rather denied by the fact that the martyrs of Tahrir were a constant figure of justified symbolism to aid in the furtherance of the aims of the Egyptian Revolution. Wanting (rightly) to avoid the cult of personality is clearly not the same thing as denying the role of your own heroes. Significantly, the bourgeois media tended to ignore the large working class contribution to the achievements of the Egyptian (mainly bourgeois democratic) revolution, even notably Al Jazeera, and such interpretation could help this along. Will it not be the case that these genuine heroes will be the ones that get forgotten while we dismiss 'cults', especially if we also dismiss classes at the same time?

─In the Declaration Hardt and Negri tend (I suggest) to repeatedly mix up, specifically, the protests in Britain that took place after the police killing of a black man, Mark Duggan, a local, in Tottenham, London, who was shot dead on 4 August 2011, with the riots which began on 6 August 2011, failing to see the distinction that many did in the UK between such protests and the later criminal opportunism and nihilism, the latter assisted by peculiar 'backing off' by the police, or between this and other 'non riot' mass protests. They reject any 'old Bolshevik' theory of a passage of political consciousness from spontaneity to organization (e.g. Lenin 1977), because they want no apparent "moralizing about how the rebellions of the poor should be better organized, more constructive, and less violent" (!), and on this basis they see the supposed absence of struggle for socialism as evidence of a struggle 'for the common'. What they have noticed is the very real lack of a proper understanding among today's rebellious groups of class and class power, but this lack is taken as a positive.

The concept of class in Marx is not a category imposed 'by science', but a discovery, that the mode of production of a society, such as capitalism, divides people into broad social groups based in their differing relationship to the means of production; to be a wage worker and seller of labor as a commodity is not the same relation to the means of production as an owner of capital and employer of labor. The economic concept is thus a way to avoid identity politics and the essentializing of difference, since class can be fixed while its content (individuals) may change. The absence of a concept of class in 'rebel' discourse therefore tends to return us to identity, but deferred by constant difference, since the resolution can never be final because any coming to rest will end in essence; they forget that constant absolute difference simply becomes the new essence.

Irrespective, one aspect of Hardt and Negri's interpretation of the protest encampments is where they refer to the way affects are expressed at those sites, where "they are produced and trained." The constituent experiences they refer to see them as animated and permeated by flows of affects, and indeed there is "great joy", here. Physical proximity facilitates the common education of these affects, the intense experiences of cooperation, the creation of mutual security in a situation of extreme vulnerability, and the collective deliberation and decision-making processes: a "great factor for the production of social and democratic affects". We would not want to overemphasize ' Kraft durch Freude' of course, but nonetheless, are not these tent cities also reminiscent of army encampments, with their 'field hospitals' and supply lines, etc? And could not the sense of joy also stem from the sudden feelings of empowerment that proximity of the mass gives? The military nature of such entities does not so easily partner the populist concept of democracy, but it may the class feeling, which is being overlooked here (as probably too 'Bolshevik').

"How can such democratic counterpowers get constructed", they ask (Hardt and Negri 2012), and where will they get their force? We are thrown back to the past to try to grasp what is happening. They could have referred to the early Marx articles on democracy and the Debates on the Theft of Wood (Marx 1842, see also Tedman 2013), and one wonders why they chose instead to go to a much earlier point in history (Magna Carta). Nevertheless, because of this avoidance, unfortunately they bar themselves from answering their own question and come to the Lockeian impasse. ─How this resistance will come about is not clear; the only obviousness is the urgent needs of humanity/the earth, and the incapacities of all the existing powers to fulfill these needs. The best they can say is that it requires what they call a 'leap' from the individual to the collective in order to become an autonomous and participating political subject, a decision that must be both singular and common.

In this 'leaping' a host of theoretical difficulties are simply evaded. In order to define the kind of deliberative democracy that this leap allows, they make another distinction between the common and the public, as in ownership. Public ownership is still state ownership via the public (e.g. taxes) while 'the common' is a different kind of ownership or non-ownership, not private and not public. But what is it, communist, or communal freedom? Not exactly, it is not projected forwards in time as a final goal of socialism, because it is deemed as possible now: common ownership requires citizens' democratic rights and this is defined pragmatically as when free access to a resource, like water for example, is enabled. Again, here the task, by not seeing itself as being in any way enacted by the contradiction in the present state and its public ownership of utilities, a romantic idea of an unsullied type of non-state ownership, a pre-capitalist commonality, is implied as existing and possible.

In this manner perhaps the concept of indignation may also be the expression of a (sometimes) misplaced sense of princely nobility and an essentially aristocratic view of the soil. For them, deliberative democracy enhances and enables this kind of commonality over resources like free access to free water because, they say, it would be necessary for all to understand the methods, rules and regulations of water supply to really maintain this as a democratic freedom., a common good that all citizens must manage and make decisions about democratically is not, they argue, transcendental, like the general will, but immanent to the community.

Materialist immanence indeed seems to open up a route out of the 'princely' view, but whether and how this route is to be taken remains obscure. Rousseau managed to establish the general will as a concept of authority only by imagining that it has to stand above them all and belong to no one, this is why, they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), Rousseau's notion of the general will is susceptible to statist and even authoritarian interpretations. A common good, in contrast, they argue (Hardt and Negri 2012), is something that must be constructed, possessed, managed, and distributed by all. But what, we must ask, prevents this process from ossifying precisely into another kind of state standing above the people (see Althusser 1977, 1976)? Is it merely the fact it is a process? Becoming common is for them (Hardt and Negri 2012) a continuous activity guided by reason, plus the desire of the multitude, which itself must undergo an education of its knowledge and political affects. Yet presumably this education would be by an existing power. No amount of imagining this as a process can hide this simple fact.

Hardt and Negri do of course recognize some of these difficulties and that they have been approached before: they refer to the Soviets who, battling capitalist domination thought they were headed for a new democracy, but 'ended up in a bureaucratic state machine'. They ask, therefore, what kind of bargain are we making when we struggle for the common but settle for the rule of public property and so state control?

It seems that once we succeed, we are again stuck with state rule, which brings us no closer to the desired democratic management of the common. As a solution they propose (Hardt and Negri 2012) two 'paths': the first is theoretical and modeled on the 'difference principle' that they say John Rawls (1999) proposed in his theory of justice. The second is more active and practical than the first, and involves a 'double combat': many social movements for the common and against neoliberalism struggle for the public to overthrow the rule of private property and, at the same time militate against that public power in the interests of the common and mechanisms of 'self-management'. Throughout the twentieth century, socialist practices are seen as establishing a typology of such relationships as internal to the political structure: in the dynamic between trade union and party, for instance, this was internal to the functioning of the party, and when in power, socialist governments configured the activities of social movements as within their ruling structures, as the state apparatus. They charge (Hardt and Negri 2012) that this internal relation derived from the assumption that the union, the party, social movements, and the government all operated according to a single ideology, the same understanding of tactics and strategy, and even the same personnel. The slogan, they say, "fighting and in government" promoted by socialist parties conceived these two functions as compatible and internal to the party.

This analysis however glosses over the fact that for Lenin this stage of the working class holding state power would not have been under one singular 'perfect ideology', but be seeking to contain another competing ideology, that of the old exploiters (though see Althusser's 'left' critique of Stalinism, 1976). But for these writers, the socialist tradition that posits such an internal relationship between social movements and parties or ruling institutions has now been broken, for example, in South America, where they see (Hardt and Negri 2012) a decisive externality and thus separation of the social movements with regard to organizational practices, ideological positions, and political goals. The 'identity', they argue, of the movements is grounded in specific local situations, but at the same time the movements maintain cooperative or antagonistic relationships or both simultaneously, with the government, so that they can apparently act autonomously "on specific economic, social, administrative, and constitutional issues."

This is all well and good in this social context and with this particular history. However, local socio-economic conditions underpin this, rather than any specific notion of special subjectivities, and this loose 'space' may also enable returns to the old capitalist norms of exploitation. An "open laboratory of consensual interventions and plural creations of legislative norms" is fine but with the continuation of vicious class struggle, both external and internal, what are its chances? Have we not also had the lessons of World War II and the rise of fascism? (It is in my view a peculiarity of these times that this episode of human history is being erased from popular memory (Tedman 2008) by the same process that removes the concept of class). Possibilities of resistance are always clearer when there is an obvious, more immediate, colonial, imperial past to overcome, to which other struggles may be subordinated at every class level. It is also conspicuous that they (Hardt and Negri 2012) do not mention which Latin American countries they are referring to; because in each situation there are differing circumstances (for instance Venezuela has oil). In any case, nothing is said about any emancipation of the working class from exploitation here, so in that sense its class interests are ignored. We might be tempted to say, if they want water, and recognize that for water to become common requires pipes, pumps, and management systems, whereas for ideas to become common requires education, publication forums, and so forth, they also need to realize that to get water and build schools requires working class sweat and toil, and often blood (South African miners know this).

They ask if it is possible to make these 'post-state' aspects of federalism the basis for a legislative power that is not closed and centralized. We have to assert that this circumstance in no way shape or form represents a stage of 'post-state existence', and that this is pure idealism. In fact we are definitely instead in a 'post-encampment' stage of struggle when the state everywhere has reasserted its dominion, not exactly back to where we were before, we have certainly moved on, but talk of post-state environments is exceedingly premature, like talking of 'post state' after the encampments of Resurrection City in the Poor Peoples' campaign in the late 1960's. The lament over the traditional 'parties of the Left' that Hardt and Negri develop comes from not seeing their agency in the false dialectic of cartel democracy, and perceiving this reactionary structure as a remaining possibility for furthering democracy. On the other hand, they see the socialist struggle for state dominance, when it is successful in asserting itself, as a false imagining of the basis of a workers' dictatorship that would, after a transitional period, "somehow give way to democratic governance"; this assumes for some reason that workers councils were not democratic in the first place, which seems to be simply a prejudice, ─why would it need to 'give way' to democratic governance if it was such governance in workers councils?

In Marxist theory democracy itself is a part of the state and so superstructural anyway; democracy therefore 'withers away' when the state does. While they do grasp the vital element of workers' councils in their attempt to incarnate, as they say (Hardt and Negri 2012), legislative power in the field of production, destroying the separate realm of politics and politicians, and instead "spreading the circuits of political decision making widely through the networks of workers" they do not propose to resurrect workers' councils 'in their twentieth-century form' (Hardt and Negri 2012), for one of their obvious (to them) limitations is that they were apparently restricted to a portion of society, i.e. the working class (the majority); even the participation of all industrial workers would leave out of the political process, they argue, waged workers in other sectors, the families of workers, the unemployed, and others. Yet this seems to be a rather artificial obstruction. Why should there not be councils for all forms of labor in a socialist system?

The new social movements probably reveal the desire to move towards new associations that may embrace those who are as yet uncovered by such institutions as unions, but also, quite differently in terms of the stage of class struggle, find them lately to be stagnated organs. There is certainly a tendency within some of these movements to see their political position as one of indignation (i.e. the Indignados) because their petty bourgeois rights are being eroded by the strictures of the crisis. Many small bourgeois are being thrown down into the ranks of the working class or straight into the 'underclass', and when they see and feel their rights being withdrawn this way, it is natural to wish to 'take the square' back into 'their' ownership, to assert their site. However, for the working class and peasants the 'commons' as far as it existed never was theirs, and especially in the age of capitalism they were always excluded from these spaces anyway if not precisely by written law, by custom, tradition, manners and taboo.

To conclude, we seem to have been returned, by default, and as with Arendt, to the founding of the U.S. republic as the nadir of democratic political development here, social problems tend to be declassed so that not to recognize class becomes the individuality of the atoms of the multitude and seen as democratizing as such. the main concept that 'immaterial labor' overshadows appears to be the labor theory of value of Marx (et. al.), which locates the source of value (other than that which is given in nature) in material-sensual labor power; this is substituted by 'its debt'. Its 'debt' appears to be owed to a subjective force: perhaps capital in disguise. Broadly, the concept of multitude mixes the complex global international class struggles and interconnections between different national conflicts at different stages of historical development and on different levels (economic, aesthetic, ideological and political) into a single homogenized aggregate which overlooks/conflates important and subtle differences, which can cause a cascade of tactical errors. They tend to reject socialism as having any real answers in its proposal for a state, but at the same time still assert that 'management' is necessary. The constant refrain is for democratic immanence as a process, but this seems inadequate so far to base any furtherance of the 'project' on, which needs unity with the working class to go forward. The references to affects and immanence are to this author nevertheless interesting because they overlap with materialist concepts of the aesthetic level of practice (Singh 2012, Tedman 2012), in other words, there is definitely an unexplored space to open up here that they have, I think, located and are 'working around'.


1. For Marx the concept of multitude would probably fall under the same strictures as 'population', as explained in the section on method in the Grundrisse. See:

Karl Marx: Outline of the Critique of Political Economy (Grundrisse) 1. Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation) [Abstract] (3) The Method of Political Economy. [accessed 27 August 2014]

2. Wikipedia entry: “John Locke” :

“In addition, he participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina while Shaftesbury's secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves. … Because of his opposition to aristocracy and slavery in his major writings, he is accused of hypocrisy and racism, or of caring only for the liberty of English capitalists.”


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