A multitude of possibilities: the strategic vision of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt

Posted: May 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

My PhD. thesis – A multitude of possibilities: the strategic vision of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt – is available via the link below.

This thesis explores and analyses the strengths, limitations and relevance to contemporary political practice of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s strategic vision, their theory of revolutionary self-liberation, as outlined in their collaborative books Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth. These books have achieved critical acclaim and have become international bestsellers. Their ideas are a major influence on academic and social movement thinking about contemporary class composition and struggle and are important for the future of anti-capitalist theory and practice. While some argue that Hardt and Negri have no strategic vision, I show that it is more accurate to see Hardt and Negri’s strategic vision as open-ended and dependent on the praxes of the multitude. The struggles of the multitude are at the centre of their communist vision, and they advocate a common strategy of collective action to develop democracy, peace and love.

Specifically this work investigates how Hardt and Negri’s strategies for democracy, peace and love can assist the multitude to refuse, confront and challenge capitalism and to create communism. In it I analyse theory and practice to better understand the relationship between Hardt and Negri’s strategic vision and the praxes of the multitude. To grasp the political processes and projects of the multitude as ‘a new proletariat’, the thesis explores how the class’s struggles have demonstrated, created and developed common praxes that exist as democratic, peaceful and loving alternatives to Empire. I argue that Hardt and Negri’s work can assist the praxes and understanding of contemporary struggles between the proletariat and capital and that the multitude’s development of democracy, peace and love are crucial to any serious challenge to the power of capital and to the advancement of post-capitalist society.

a vital task is to make “hope practical, rather than despair convincing”

Although I find Hardt and Negri’s revolutionary optimism challenging, I agree with Raymond Williams that a vital task is to make “hope practical, rather than despair convincing” and I wish to support what Hardt describes as “an attempt to recast the Marxist framework: from critical Marxism to . . . ‘projective Marxism’”. Instead of arguing against capitalism, this thesis focuses on dismantling and replacing it. In considering the strengths and weaknesses of Hardt and Negri’s strategic vision, I do look at the obstacles to the multitude’s political projects yet also explore beyond them, arguing that society is not and can never be totally dominated by capitalist social relations and that contrary to much social and political theory, the proletariat has not disappeared, surrendered or been broken. I do not use the term ‘proletariat’ to denote labour power for capital, the ‘working class’ or a class formed by capital. Instead I use it to mean the class composed in struggle against capital. Hardt and Negri describe the proletariat of ‘alter-modernity’ as the multitude. Explaining this new class concept, they state that “class is determined by class struggle” and that “class is and can only be a collectivity that struggles in common”.

Although at times Hardt and Negri do not, throughout this thesis, I use the terms ‘proletariat’ and ‘multitude’ interchangeably, to describe the class that struggles against capital and that produces communism. Marx explained that capitalism is a social relation, in which the vast majority of people have to sell their labour power in order to live and in which they struggle to free themselves from this form of exploitative, alienating ‘wage-slavery’. For Marx, class struggle is the engine of social progress and the proletariat is the key actor in his theories of class struggle. The relationship between capital and labour is inherently conflictual and results in class struggle. Capital prevents the working class from reaching its potential and the development of the proletariat threatens capital’s power. Marx saw the proletariat, made up of those who struggle against capitalism and in the interests of humanity, as the universal class, for it is only through the self-liberation of humanity and the destruction of class itself that the proletariat can be free.

to produce and self-organise democratic, peaceful and loving social relations

Since traditional Marxism often lacks relevance to, or misunderstands much class struggle, this thesis employs autonomist Marxist perspectives. Autonomist Marxism, generally referred to as autonomism, is complex and contains contradictory ideas and practices but its perspectives are centred on the agency of the proletariat and affirm proletarian power. They recognise capitalism’s limited ability to fully integrate labour and advocate the self-emancipation of the proletariat. Hardt and Negri are the most well-known and widely-read contemporary theorists of these perspectives. Although autonomist theory explains that proletarian struggle precedes capital, Hardt and Negri have often reflected on the power of capital before considering the power of the proletariat, and their analysis of Empire comes before their analysis of the multitude. In order to follow and clarify Hardt and Negri’s work, the thesis at times does likewise. This may seem to be the wrong way round, but throughout this thesis I have also followed Tronti’s advice that theoretical work that is part of the class struggle should focus not on “the development of capitalism, but the development of the revolution”. While acknowledging the impediments to revolution this thesis highlights the immanent ability of people to act autonomously of capital, to produce and self-organise democratic, peaceful and loving social relations.

Hardt and Negri’s work is part of what Negri describes as rescuing communism from its own disrepute. The value and viability of this rescue mission and the relevance of their strategic vision to it is the subject of this thesis. Hardt and Negri rely on the capacities and potentials of the multitude, the power and promise of the proletariat’s praxes to dismantle capitalism and to construct a classless society. Following Marx and Engel’s advice that “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things”, Hardt and Negri consider communism an active force in the present. They explain that this means that communism is “not only a destruction of the present values, but also a creation of new values; not only a negation of what exists, but also an affirmation of what springs forth”. My analysis is therefore based on an understanding that communism already exists and that its advancement is the key factor in contemporary class struggle.

Reclaiming and speaking of communism in a positive sense recognises the genuine communist heritage, which opposes authoritarianism, repression, war and terror, and illuminates its praxes of freedom, democracy, peace and love. Communism has been the enemy common to many neo-liberal, social democratic, fascist and socialist regimes and those identified as communists have been targeted and murdered in their millions during the global class war to break proletarian power. Today these communist victims and the victims of ‘communism’ ‘haunt the world’. But communism is not a ghost, not even “a positive ghost”, rather communism is a movement, or movement of movements, and is very much alive. It is this living movement of movements that continues to threaten, challenge and go beyond capital.

“Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”

When I began this thesis, the world was at war and the people of the globe had been told: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists”. As terror and fear spread, there were growing threats to ‘academic freedom’ and ‘freedom of speech’ from those backing the Bush administration’s agenda. When Negri was invited to speak at an academic conference in Sydney in 2005 he was publicly denounced as a terrorist in and by major media outlets and the event was cancelled. Just as Negri was dragged in 1977 from the academy in a previous ‘state of emergency’, to rot in jail under preventative detention for alleged terrorist activity, in the current global ‘war on terror’ others have fallen victim to a continuous ‘strategy of tension’. Dr Andrej Holm and Dr Matthias B were arrested in Berlin in 2007 under anti-terrorist laws and alleged by police to have written, in academic publications, ‘phrases and key words’ also used by a militant group and of being intellectually capable of authoring the group’s ‘sophisticated texts’. Liliany Oblando, a Colombian sociologist, was charged in 2008 with ‘rebellion’ and ‘managing resources related to terrorist activities’ while investigating right-wing death squads. As explained in my article State of Emergency, a few days before the Sydney 2007 APEC meeting began, the NSW Police Minister and mainstream media outlets announced that they had uncovered a ‘rioters training manual’ which they claimed “openly declares an intent to commit violence”. The evidence provided for this claim of violent intent were articles in the counter-APEC conference ‘FLARE in the Void’ reader that the initial form of  State of Emergency appeared in. Those attending the ‘FLARE (For Liberation, Autonomy, Resistance, Exodus) in the Void’ convergence, which included the article’s co-authors Alexander Brown, Mark Gawne and myself, were described in the media as “rioters”. According to media outlets, the FLARE in the Void reader called for violence by advocating “direct action” and by stating; “It is important to defy police attempts to frighten us”. Both within the academy and outside it, this was a dangerous time to choose the latter option of ‘either with us or against us’ and to challenge those who seek to silence dissent, curtail critical debate and label opponents of capital, war and repression as ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’, while they defend an established order that is in fact terroristic.

Hardt and Negri assert that today “the majority of political scientists are merely technicians working to resolve the quantative problems of maintaining order, and the rest wander the corridors from their universities to the courts of power, attempting to get the ear of the sovereign and whisper advice”. Negri has also argued that “it is more interesting and more useful to make revolution than to write about it”. Yet Hardt and Negri are interested in the kind of academic strategic investigations that have “been forged by professors and students who take their work outside the universities both to put their expertise at the service of the social movements and to enrich their research by learning from the movements and participating in the production of knowledge developed there”.

Struggles are the great teachers

The role of the communist intellectual is to embark “on the project of co-research aimed at making the multitude. The intellectual is thus not ‘out in front’ to determine the movements of history or ‘on the sidelines’ to critique them but rather completely ‘inside’” where strategic investigation can be “a form of militancy”. Marx’s conception of proletarian praxis, that is the relation of theory and practice, explains how change comes about as people act and learn by taking action. “Struggles are the great teachers” about social developments, the “engines of revolutionary theory” and Hardt and Negri advocate the “strategic production of knowledge” through a variety of routes as an “active engagement with the production of subjectivity in order to transform reality, which ultimately involves the production of new truths”. They explain that “although Marxism is born as sociology, the fundamental task is to translate that sociological perspective into not just political science but really the science of revolution” and “revolutionary research constantly has to follow and be redefined by the forms of social movements”. Following this advice, I look to the social movements of the multitude, to a wide variety of praxis as well as to theory, to understand Hardt and Negri’s strategic vision, interweaving communist hypotheses with the proletariat’s multitudinous struggles.

A multitude of possibilities: the strategic vision of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt

  1. […] A multitude of possibilities: the strategic vision of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt […]

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