Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 17, 2012

The Hardt-Negri declaration

Filed under: anarchism,autonomism,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

Michael Hardt

Antonio Negri

It was to be expected that Toni Negri and Michael Hardt would eventually weigh in on the protests sweeping the world, from Tahrir Square to Wall Street. Their Declaration can be read on http://www.scribd.com/doc/93152857/Hardt-Negri-Declaration-2012 and is well worth the trouble. (I found it impossible to print but that might have just been a problem on my own computer.) Even if you disagree with much of it (as I do), it is necessary reading because of their influence. Furthermore, I detect a positive evolution in their thinking—especially a willingness to reconsider the merits of state power, albeit in a highly qualified manner. Like someone saying that though broccoli tastes like shit, it might be good for you.

Published in 2000, their “Empire” was widely seen as a generalized expression of the nascent anti-globalization movement that had a preponderantly anarchist leadership (an oxymoron?) Although Hardt and Negri come out of the autonomist tradition, there is enough of an affinity between the two movements that it was possible for them to serve as spokesmen. Now, just over a decade later, the anarchist movement has new winds blowing in its sails. While David Graeber is rightfully seen as a kind of patron saint to the Occupy movement, I am sure—well, mostly sure–that he would not resent Hardt and Negri playing the role of elder statesmen. (Did I say statesmen? No insult intended…)

To start off, I was very pleased to see that Hardt and Negri take note of the particular dynamics of debt today, something that I have written about recently.  In my view, debt tends to isolate us and make struggle more difficult. Instead of confronting a boss as a unified group of employees, such as sit-down strikers in Flint, Michigan in 1938, the battle is between the individual and the bank or collection agency. (In their words, “No longer is the typical scene of exploitation the capitalist overseeing the factory, directing and disciplining the worker in order to generate a profit.”)

Turning to chapter one, I found these words particularly illuminating:

Whereas the work ethic is born within the subject, debt begins as an external constraint but soon worms its way inside. Debt wields a moral power whose primary’ weapons are responsibility and guilt, which can quickly become objects of obsession. You are responsible for your debts and guilty for the difficulties they create in your life. The indebted is an unhappy consciousness that makes guilt a form of life. Little by little, the pleasures of activity and creation are transformed into a nightmare for those who do not possess the means to enjoy their lives. Life has been sold to the enemy.

Another feature of life today that Hardt and Negri get right is how much it is defined through security, such as cameras, cops and prisons:

You are not only the object of security but also the subject. You answer the call to be vigilant, constantly on watch for suspicious activity on the subway, devious designs of your seatmate on the airplane, malicious motives of your neighbors. Fear justifies volunteering your pair of eyes and your alert attention to a seemingly universal security machine.

The sections on debt and what they call “the securitized” are much better than the one that follows, titled “The Represented”. Like Zizek, another celebrity, they are utterly disdainful of bourgeois democracy:

So many of the movements of 2011 direct their critiques against political structures and forms of representation, then, because they recognize clearly that representation, even when it is effective, blocks democracy rather than fosters it. Where, they ask, has the project for democracy gone?

They hail the Spanish protestors for not getting involved in electoral politics:

The indignados did not participate in the 2011 elections, then, in part because they refused to reward a socialist party that had continued neoliberal policies and betrayed them during its years in office, but also and more importantly because they now have larger battles to fight, in particular one aimed at the structures of representation and the constitutional order itself—a fight whose Spanish roots reach back to the tradition of antifascist struggles and throw a new and critical light on the so-called transition to democracy that followed the end of the Franco regime. The indignados think of this as a destituent rather than a constituent process, a kind of exodus from the existing political structures, but it is necessary’ to prepare the basis for a new constituent power.

One is not sure why participating in the 2011 elections was identical to supporting the Social Democrats. While I am no expert in Spanish politics, it would seem to me that there is some use in challenging the ideological status quo through the kinds of campaigns that Syriza ran since 2004. Who knows? Such a party might be capable of getting elected if the people get “indignado” enough.

For Hardt and Negri, just as was the case in 2000 when they wrote “Empire”, politics is only effective when it is local, in a kind of post-Marxist tip of the hat to the late ward-heeling Congressman Tip O’Neill. And no other group exemplifies this purer approach to social change than the EZLN in Chiapas:

The clearest contemporary example of the communicative capacity of an encampment is perhaps the decades-long experiment of the Zapatista self-rule in Chiapas, Mexico. The EZLN was renowned early in its existence for its novel use of the media, including electronic communiques and Internet postings from the Lacandon jungle. Even more important and innovative, though, are the communicative networks and political truths created in the Zapatista community practices of collective self-government.

The allure of Zapatismo, at least for me, wore off quite time ago. While the struggle was instrumental in helping the anti-globalization movement to get off the ground, it has failed to materially change the conditions of life for the poor in Chiapas. As I stated in a critique of John Holloway’s “How to Change the World without Taking Power”:

In a February 3, 2003 Newsday article titled “Infant Deaths Plague Mexico”, we learn that the Comitan hospital serves nearly 500,000 people in Chiapas. Burdened by inadequate staffing and supplies, babies die at twice the national rate. Meanwhile, the February 21, 2001 Financial Times reported on a study conducted by the Association for the Health of Indigenous Children in Mexico in the village of Las Canadas, Chiapas. It found that not one girl had adequate nutritional levels compared with 39.4 per cent of boys. Female malnutrition has actually led to physical shrinking over the last decade from an average height of 1.42 meters to 1.32 meters. At the same time, more than half of women who speak an indigenous language are illiterate – five times the national average.

By contrast, Cuba’s medical system allowed its people to live longer than other Spanish-speaking nation in the Western Hemisphere, including Puerto Rico. Infant mortality in Cuba was seven deaths per 1,000 live births, much lower than the rest of Latin America.

Back in 2000, Hardt and Negri were so deep into their anti-statism that they would have seen no benefit from Hugo Chavez or any other state leader attempting to devote the nation’s resources to the benefit of the people. The “national liberation” project was dead from the start:

The perils of national liberation are even clear when viewed externally, in terms of the world economic system in which the ‘liberated’ nation finds itself. Indeed, the equation nationalism equals political and economic modernization, which has been heralded by leaders of numerous anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles from Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh to Nelson Mandela, really ends up being a perverse trick…The very concept of a liberatory national sovereignty is ambiguous if not completely contradictory. While this nationalism seeks to liberate the multitude from foreign domination, it erects domestic structures of domination that are equally severe.

I was pleased to see that they now see some benefits in what they call progressive governments in Latin America. From the section titled “Progressive governments and social movements in Latin America” in chapter 3:

From the 1990s to the first decade of this century, governments in some of the largest countries in Latin America won elections and came to power on the backs of powerful social movements against neoliberalism and for the democratic self-management of the common. These elected, progressive governments have in many cases made great social advances, helping significant numbers of people to rise out of poverty’, transforming entrenched racial hierarchies regarding indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, opening avenues for democratic participation, and breaking long-standing external relations of dependency, in both economic and political terms, in relation to global economic powers, the world market, and US imperialism. When these governments are in power, however, and particularly when they repeat the practices of the old regimes, the social movements continue the struggle, now directed against the governments that claim to represent them.

So the basic approach outlined here amounts to critical support. In Bolivia, for example, one assumes that Hardt and Negri would find some merit in the election of Evo Morales while identifying with the protestors who “continue the struggle”. The only question, of course, is whether it makes sense for Bolivians to follow the example of the EZLN and Spain’s indignados, who tend to abstain from electoral politics.

These questions take on some urgency in light of the recent election results in Greece that prompted many leading Spanish leftists to write an open letter to Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras:

We want you, the members of your organization and the Greek citizens who, as political activists, trade unionists or participants in broad social movements, share the project of creating a common life truly based on freedom and solidarity, to know the hope with which we throughout Europe anticipate the possibility that, soon, a new Greek government of popular unity will confront the dictatorship of the financiers and bureaucrats who have hijacked Europe.

We see the current conjuncture in Greece as a turning point which could lead to a radical transformation of the European political and economic order. We need a new Europe, a Europe of and for its citizens and all its inhabitants, free of the brutal austerity policies that prioritize the payment of an odious, illegal and illegitimate debt, which prevents the human development of our communities. This is the call heard today throughout the squares of Europe, from Puerta del Sol in Madrid to Syntagma Square in Athens, squares scattered all over the European geography, liberated places that are the seeds and the constituent basis of the real democracy that women and men in Europe want to build together.

Would it make sense for the Greek left to hold Syriza at arm’s length? I think not. No matter the weakness of the leadership on one point or another, the election of Syriza holds out the promise that the Greek people will finally begin to turn back the monstrous austerity drive being imposed on it by Germany and its international allies in the big bourgeoisie. Class society will not be abolished in the ballot box, but we should never stand on the sidelines when issues of whether or not pensions should be slashed in half are at stake.

If Hardt and Negri remain hostile to what they call “socialist governments”, they do—for the first time, I believe—hold out hope for what Marx (and Lenin) described as the building blocks of true democracy, the Paris Commune or Soviet type formation:

Several twentieth-century’ socialist initiatives, for example, sought to spread power in a federalist manner by putting power in the hands of workers and constructing the means for workers to make political decisions themselves. Workers’ councils constituted the central proposition of all streams of socialism that, contrary to the authoritarian currents, consider the primary’ objective of revolution to be democracy, that is, the rule of all by all. At least since the Paris Commune, the workers’ council in its many variants, such as the German rat or the Russian soviet, has been imagined as the basis for a federalist legislative power. Such councils and the forms of delegation they institute serve not so much to represent workers but instead to allow workers directly to participate in political decision making. In many historical instances, of course, these councils functioned in a constituent way only for a brief period.

Of course, the Paris Commune is the gold standard for practically everybody on the hard left, from Marxists to autonomists to anarchists. Like the classless society, how can anybody object to it? The big difference appears to be over transitional formations like the “progressive governments” in Latin America or the USSR, even before Stalin’s rise.

There are also differences over coordinated political action through the medium of a revolutionary organization. Since Leninism has become so compromised, there is a tendency for some on the left to make a principle out of “localism” or what has been called “horizontalism”.

In a politically backward country like the USA, it matters little if you are a “horizontalist” or a dyed-in-the-wool Leninist. We are not in the ninth month of a pregnancy so your ideological affinities with Bakunin or Marx could matter less. What matters most is being effective and on this score the anarchists were a credible force early on.

However, in Greece such questions have a bit more urgency whether or not the country is in the fifth month or the ninth. By the time you get to the fifth month of a pregnancy, you have to be damned careful or else you will end up with a de facto abortion if you don’t take care of yourself.

Politics, especially electoral politics, does matter in such conditions. It matters that the KKE has taken such a suicidally sectarian position. It is, with all proportions guarded, akin to the position that the German CP took during the rise of Hitler, when it opposed the social democracy as “social fascist”. Leftists in Greece have an obligation to counter the bourgeoisie on all fronts, including the electoral front.

On May 13, the NY Times wrote about the support that Greeks gave Syriza. For some, the election was a chance to put a “progressive government” in power of the kind that Hardt and Negri gave critical support to:

But it is Europe, fearful of encouraging more policy slippage by Greece, that has been pushing the austerity line. And the danger of such an approach is growing by the day, he said.

“For whatever reason, the hard-liners in Europe are saying that we deserve it,” Mr. Hardouvelis said. “They have destroyed the political center here, and the possibility of creating another Hugo Chavez is not zero.”

For the moment, it seems unlikely that Greece will get the chance to see if Mr. Tsipras — with his talk of repudiating the country’s debt and opposing privatization — will become as radicalized as Mr. Chavez, the Venezuelan leader.

But his message that Greece can stay in the euro and reject Europe’s budget-cutting terms has struck a chord, however contradictory that may seem.

While everybody can understand the need for the revolutionary movement in Greece to apply pressure to a Syriza government from the left, in accord with the formulations in the Hardt-Negri article, it should be obvious to all that such an outcome hinges on Syriza taking power. In revolutionary politics, the final outcome—communism—rests on the outcome of many, many skirmishes and battles along the road to the final conflict. As such, keeping an open mind about electoral politics and every other medium of struggle is imperative.

40 Comments »

  1. The parallels with the KPD and the COMINTERN “irrtum” of equating social democracy with “social fascism” are nonsensical. A better analogy would be the “Barcelon May Days”.

    However, regarding “social fascism”; the party of Kautsky and Bernstein, the party which made its “Burgfrieden” with the imperialists in 1914 when it voted for war credits, the party of Friedrich Ebert and Phillip Schedemann, who sent Luxemburg and Liebknecht to their deaths and who strangled the revolution in 1919, might rightly be seen as a party where “social fascists” had a home. Nevertheless, it was also the party of a large section of the German working class and of many conscientious, well-intentioned, activitists. Therefore, the “Realpolitik” which informed a Stalinised COMINTERN, because it divided the working classes, constitued a monumental mistake which paved the way for Nazism.

    However, although we might find similaritiies between PASOK, and the SPD in the thirties, the traditional Greek right and the DNVP, and even the Golden Dawn and the NSDAP, the position adopted by the KKE vis a vis SYRIZA is more akin to the position adopted by the PSUC towards its opponents during the “May Days” in1937. This is unfortunate for if the KKE had shown the necessary political will there might have been a real possibility of Mr. Tsipras getting the chance to repudiate Greece’s debt and oppose privatisation.

    Comment by sanculottist — May 17, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

  2. No doubt some on the left will soon apply the “lesson” they have learnt from Latin America and accuse Syriza (and others) of dampening the class struggle by deflecting street protests into the boring arena of “electoralism”.

    Clearly Latin America has had some impact on Negri and Hardt, however their position has draw sharp criticism from Holloway. Read the entertaining debate here
    http://www.herramienta.com.ar/revista-herramienta-n-49/creating-common-wealth-and-cracking-capitalism-cross-reading

    Comment by fredfuentes — May 18, 2012 @ 1:33 am

  3. What smacked me between the eyes the most about this excellent article was the juxtaposition of the Zapatista idealism and the reality that in Latin America the thing that most effectively reduces infant mortality is the Cuban State.

    Res ipsa Loquiter

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 18, 2012 @ 2:34 am

  4. A number of things – One I am glad for the balanced tack on Hardt and Negri. I have often thought they deserved a better reading than many on the hard Marxist left have given them. I should also preface things by saying that, ‘I am not a Negri-ite’ (or an autonomist or an anarchist, I come out of the Trotskyist left) since saying anything positive about them might get oneself labeled. There are many things I disagree with them about, but I find their work more interesting one the whole than say that of Zizek or Badiou (to name two comparable figures).

    Two quibbles. One – you place them in an ‘anti-statist’ camp. I have never read them as being anti-statist. This actually comes out fairly clearly if you look at their collaborative work written -before- Empire, ‘Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State-Form’. A lot of their project has been about reconceiving both communism and the state by going back to the roots of political theory in Spinoza, Machiavelli, etc. One shouldn’t read ‘Critique’ as being a simple negative any more than one would when say Kant or Marx use the term.

    The other quibble is that you seem to put them in the ‘all politics is local’ camp. I actually think that they would disagree pretty vehemently with that characterization. It is true the the ‘anti-globalization’ (many of us preferred the term ‘global justice’) movement contained many who held to some variation of localism, but Hardt and Negri were really spokesman for the opposite camp, those that believed that the problem was not globalization tout court but the particular sort of globalization that capitalism was bringing on. ‘Empire’ was precisely an attempt (a profoundly flawed but also visionary attempt) to imagine what this ‘other’ globalization could look like and how it might emerge out of the globalization driven by capitalism. Their attraction to the Zapitistas was/is multifaceted and had more to do with their contention that politics should be prefigurative, their interest in how local struggles like this globalized themselves, and the way the Zapatistas seemed to question Marxist verities about power and organization.

    Looking back ‘Empire’ represented an interesting moment that might be worth revisiting. One, it did what Sokal could not do, it made ‘pomo’ uncool in the academy. It did not eliminate it of course and in some ways it was itself heavily ‘poststructuralist’, but Empire spelled the terminal eclipse of poststructuralism in the academy. It also revived academic discussion of communism (and thus also Marx). It attempted, in a loose way, to imagine a way forward that was neither the sterile ‘anti-imperialism’ of much of the Marxist left or the then fashionable localism or primitivism of many of the anarchists.

    Most importantly it raised the question of what is the character of capitalism in the present age, the same question that Lenin had asked in ‘Imperialism’ and it came up with the answer that, in fact, things have changed since then, in a way that needs to be registered. This of course sparked immense debate in many Marxist and left publications that were simultaneously excited that this book had, along with the global justice movement, suddenly rendered them relevant once more and at the same time they were intent on disproving its fundamental thesis that things have really changed since Lenin’s time.

    Empire, unfortunately, while being great at provoking debate was terrible at resolving or even clarifying it. There is little in the way of visible empirical research and the analysis has an airy, hand-wavy feel to it making it easy to question how well grounded it was. Too make things worse, the paperback came out just a few day after the 911 attacks. The 911 attacks and US response to them were taken as a disconfirmation of the work’s fundamental theses, and proof that what we needed was a theory of the ‘new imperialism’ rather than one of ’empire’.

    I remember those days. I had read Empire with interest and puzzlement when it came out and I remember dismissing it after the response to the 911 attacks and agreeing with the analysis of the theorists of the ‘new imperialism’. Ten years later I think Hardt and Negri were maybe a little closer to the truth and the theorists of the ‘new imperialism’ were (mostly) wrong. In fact if you look at a number of them now, such as Callinicos and Harvey, they all seem to edging towards a more Hardt/Negrish position on the nature of global capital. As honest and serious analysts they cannot ignore what the current crisis has revealed about the present system.

    If Empire had been a more grounded and less visionary work, a work full of serious-minded Marxism (like say the work of William Robinson) maybe the left debate about Empire would have differently. Maybe too if history had gone differently and 911 had not happened or had not happened when it did. However the debate that they originally provoked with this work seems to me more relevant than ever, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it revisited.

    Comment by dave x — May 18, 2012 @ 5:02 am

  5. Fred Fuentes @2 writes:
    > No doubt some on the left will soon apply the “lesson” they have learnt from Latin America and accuse Syriza (and others) of dampening the class struggle by deflecting street protests into the boring arena of “electoralism”.

    Who, exactly, has said that the problem with “electoralism” is that it is ‘boring’? I thought that the problem with electoralism is that it doesn’t deal with the problem of state power, but only with the facade of that power. But having followed ‘Federico’ Fuentes’ utterances a bit on various lists and such, I’m not surprised that he tries to trivialize the positions of his left opponents.

    Fidel Castro and his comrades did not come to power via elections. The reason Cuba could do so much with so little resources and against the active hostility of the world’s most powerful terrorist state is that the Cuban capitalist state was violently smashed in 1958-1959.

    Comment by Red Snapper — May 18, 2012 @ 7:53 am

  6. Re @1: “[…]the party of Kautsky and Bernstein, the party which made its “Burgfrieden” with the imperialists in 1914 when it voted for war credits[…]

    Yes, the SPD was “the party of Kautsky and Bernstein” and it was ‘the party which made its “Burgfrieden” with the imperialists in 1914 when it voted for war credits’. But it should be noted that both Kautsky, a leader of the SPD’s political center, and Bernstein, a leader of its right wing, voted against war credits, at least in 1915, and actively opposed Germany’s role in that war!

    Comment by Red Snapper — May 18, 2012 @ 8:32 am

  7. Correct ….. but Bernstein voted for war credits in 1914 at a time when Kautsky suggested abstaining. The war “old bean” was already raging and if Kautsky and Bernsteinwere naive enough to believe that they would all have been home by Christmas ….. well, that would have required the type of myopia that neither can be accused of.

    Moreover,while we would like to credit them for “drifting” to the USPD, it has to be remembered that by 1920 both had gone back to Ebert’s SPD and it also has to be remembered that by that time Luxemburg and Liebknecht had been murdered on Ebert’s watch. Bernstein, in particular, with his belief that “der Weg ist das Ziel” (the journey is everything, the goal nothing) was all too aware of the nature of the bandwagon upon which he had jumped. Kautsky is a more tragic figure.

    However, the point in my comment is quite simply that the KKE’s strategy smacks more of the Barcelona “May Days” than it does of any analogy with the COMINTERN’s social democracy = social fascism equation.

    Comment by sanculottist — May 18, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  8. I dissent from Negri/Hardt’s idea of the psychology of debt. The idea that it is chiefly a matter of pathological guilt-tripping is far too simplistic. If people had only one stereotypical response to indebtedness, then debt problems would be relatively easily dealt with policy-wise, with suitably targeted sanctions. In reality, there is no shared morality about the rights and wrongs of debt, and how people personally respond to it (with shame, anxiety, nihilism, avoidant behaviour etc.). Indeed, that is precisely one cause of the debt problems, and what makes the debt problematic so complex: the moral ambivalences of debt, wellknown in debt marketing.

    It’s rather meaningless anyway to talk about “debt in general” as a principle, since different kinds of debts involve very different sorts of obligations for the contracting parties. And from a materialist point of view, how you respond to debt will depend greatly on the amount of assets you really own. Moreover, the focus on guilt-tripping sidesteps various issues which are essential to the debt problematic, first of all, who is really responsible for debts, the consequences of reneging on debt repayment, and who says who is creditworthy (or not). Debt is not simply or only forced on people by nasty, greedy capitalists – people also have some choices about it, and ought to take responsibility for their choices.

    It would be more accurate to say that, in the last two decades, people were goaded into believing that they shouldn’t feel guilty about debt, that it was alright to “live now, and pay later” – and now, that there is excess debt, they are goaded into believing that debt is a bad thing, and they should have less or little of it (but this campaign is failing rather spectacularly, for the great mass of people).

    I regret to say that, although Hardt/Negri are very sophisticated with language, and display an immense leftist verbosity, their case is once again badly lacking in clarity and cogency. If in addition they publish a text against a splotchy background which makes it difficult to read, one might well conclude that “you are a tool if you even bother to read it”, or at least that Hardt/Negri regard their readers with contempt (at least if they themselves chose that design). How such an obscurantist text can lead the way forward, is beyond me. It is, if anything, a distraction from solid moral reasoning.

    Comment by Jurriaan Bendien — May 18, 2012 @ 11:01 am

  9. About left participation in the electoral process, I am agnostic. In Greece, there is a political system that provides an opportunity for such participation, and it makes sense to do so. Even the most radical leftists should acknowledge that Syriza has done more to force Europe (and, even the US) to confront the consequences of austerity than years of violent street protest. It is obvious that the EU and US don’t believe that Syriza is dampening the class struggle in Greece, quite the contrary. And, surely, the workers of Europe must have noticed that, in planning for the consequences of a possible Greek departure from the euro, the central banks have stated that they have trillions at the ready for a qualitative easing to prevent a depressionary cycle, trillions that, in accordance with neoliberal policy, have not been used to stimulate growth in the interim.

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 18, 2012 @ 5:56 pm

  10. When I think of Toni Negri’s politics, I always have to think of that Chuckberry track “Too pooped to pop.” He and Hardt like to hang out as the supersuave, streetwise, superradical ahead-of-the-pack vanguard, they cultivate a sort of allure of highly creative, but rather secretive Marxist cognoscenti, but they really aren’t anything like that. In reality, they are just reactionary misleaders, sowing confusion about what it means to be progressive – courtesy of Harvard University Press and similar outlets. Their language is poison, it sows confusion and disorients people. It is just a descriptive verbiage which enlightens nothing. In addition, they are elitist to the core. They will discourse on something like the relevance of Spinoza for the class struggle, even although few people even know who Spinoza was, nevermind imagining what the relevance of Spinoza for the class struggle could be.

    Comment by Jurriaan Bendien — May 18, 2012 @ 9:17 pm

  11. This is a really thought-provoking article. The list of sensible and timely statements that Louis P. has rescued from the Deleuze-ional mass of Hardt’s and Negri’s theorizing speaks for itself, and can be read profitably even if one has little or no sympathy in general with the authors and their tendentious postmodernism.

    I intend to reread and study Proyect’s discussion of the Hardt and Negri text in the context of current developments in Greece and Latin America. This kind of thing is at the opposite pole from the reflexive international revolution-mongering that one gets from so many leftists.

    It’s possible, however, both to appreciate Louis P.s approval of the very clear statements about various topics of current concern–especially debt–that he finds in the Hardt/Negri piece and also to welcome, for example, Juriaan Bendien’s critique of the weak psychologism implied in the Hardt and Negri debt discussion, and by extension, the extreme theoretical weakness of the piece as a whole.

    It seems that the more H&N address themselves to practical issues, the less impressive and coherent their theorizing becomes. At the same time, the less sense their theory makes, the more they insist on it.

    “Horizontal, democratic assemblies,” H&N tell us, “do not expect or seek unanimity but instead are constituted by a plural process that is open to conflicts and contradictions. The decisions of the majority move forward through a process of differential inclusion or, rather, through the agglutination of differences. The work of the assembly, in other words, is to find ways to link different views and different desires such that they can fit together in contingent ways.”

    “Agglutination of differences.” The gluing together of those who disagree? Or is this merely an instinctual post-modern reach for the intellectual sex-appeal of linguistics without any analysis of its relevance (some languages [i.e. Turkish] have what is called an agglutinative grammar.)

    This is double-talk worthy of Sokal himself. Compare it with the idea of democratic centralism, which can be debated but at least makes sense on a basic linguistic level. I am no Occupy veteran or insider, but I have attended more than one General Assembly in Washington, DC, and the linguistico-metaphysical mind-meld H&N describe was nowhere in evidence on those occasions.

    Let us by all means give credit to anarchist methods and results, but the kind of anarchism that gets results is in no sense leaderless as A&N absurdly try to claim. It’s leaders like Durruti and Berkman and Joe Hill–as well as intellectual leaders like Chomsky and Graeber (but not, in the case of Occupy, H&N)–to whom the successes of anarchism, and therefore its persistence, are due.

    The fact that Occupy has no Mussolini or Lenin–or, as yet, no Durruti–does not mean the movement has no leaders; merely that it has no acknowledged head and no established bureaucracy. I leave aside the very pertinent question of Marxist leaders in Occupy, since the topic here is anarchism.

    Who was Mohamed Bouazizi, on the “flames” of whose suicide Hardt and Negri rhapsodize so opportunistically, but a leader or at least a “prophet”? If Moncef Marzouki is not a “revolutionary leader” by H&N standards, his presidency–and the creation of a Constituent Assembly–nevertheless was the principal result of the “leaderless revolution” in Tunisa that H&N keep trying to sell along with the jealously guarded intellectual property of their books. No metaphysical/semiotic quiddity in that–it’s all very plain.

    Nothing can be more absurd than the Yuppie cult of Wael Ghonim and his iPod, but it is by no means clear that Ghonim himself is to blame for this, or that he was not in some sense (along with others whom our media have chosen not to know) a leader of some sort. There were and are certainly leaders in Egypt–and to the extent that leadership and organization may have been lacking, weak, or too bourgeois, one can readliy make the case that the current military government owes its not-so-revolutionary staying power to that weakness.

    Louis P. observed in passing that he had difficulty in printing the H&N piece. Certainly the elaborate precautions taken to preserve H&N’s intellectual property play a role in this. It’s amusing to point to the following notice at the end of the piece:

    ****************************
    “Copyright 2012 by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.

    For more information contact the Melanie Jackson Agency at 41West 72nd St. #sF, New York, NY 10023

    Distributed by
    Argo Navis Author Services
    http://www.argonavisdigital.com

    *************************************************

    Nothing revolutionary chez Hardt and Negri when it comes to safeguarding their intellectual capital. Doesn’t sound like Occupy to me.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 18, 2012 @ 10:04 pm

  12. Regret: Abbreviating Hardt and Negri as “A&N” at one point; also misspelling “readily.” Sigh.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 18, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

  13. Regret: sticking Mussolini in there. This is a leftover from a digression that went away. I am not making a case for Mussolini.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 18, 2012 @ 10:26 pm

  14. sanculottist @7 wrote:

    However, the point in my comment is quite simply that the KKE’s strategy smacks more of the Barcelona “May Days” than it does of any analogy with the COMINTERN’s social democracy = social fascism equation.

    I can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, see the analogy here. Who, exactly, is playing the role analogous to that of the Stalinist PSUC in organizing and leading the violent counter-revolutionary attack on the radical working class of Barcelona in 1937? What other parts of the analogy might I be missing?

    I await your explanation, sanculottist !

    Comment by Red Snapper — May 18, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

  15. A little bit more caution on my part might be advisable, or at least some explaining.The analogy, however, does hold to the extent that the KKE, like the PSUC, are hindering what might be change of a genuinely revolutionary nature. Of course, it might be going too far to imply that the KKE would want to take on the role of the PSUC. Nevertheless, when you talk about the “Stalinist” PSUC, don’t you think that the use of the adjective can be applied to the KKE?

    Even if, there appears very little in the constellation at the moment to suggest that it is hardly likely that the KKE are going to physically murder the revolutionary left, and there I am giving SYRIZA the benefit of the doubt for the time being, the reality implied by its refusing to work with them is that they are capable of silencing it none the less. Or, at least, preventing it for the time being from forming a revolutionary left government.

    Of course, drawing analogies can be fatal, especially when they don’t apply and mine is at least incomplete. There is, of course, no comparison at the moment between the” Barcelona May Days” and the KKE’s rejection of SYRIZA. However, the fact remains that by working with SYRIZA a genuine left wing government might be possible in Greece and in 1937 the same might have had a better chance of surviving in Spain had it not been for the COMINTERN’s u-turn. Moreover, the social fascism equation regarding the KKE’s position just doesn’t hold ground. Historically, in 33 it was crucial that the Social Democrats and Communists work together, but I think most people can agree that it would be absurd to contemplate any cooperation with PASOK. Or, at least, not contemplating it until PASOK reject the austerity measures.

    Comment by sanculottist — May 18, 2012 @ 11:11 pm

  16. A couple notes based on the comments above.

    The first is there’s something quite telling & odious about an article from alleged revolutionaries (whatever their theoretical merits) that ends, as J. Vaugn illustrates, with the legalease: “Copyright 2012 by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by [bourgeois] law.”

    Just imagine the incongruity of Lenin, Trotsky or even Pham Binh penning a revolutionary tract on socialist revolution that ended with a caveat about the sanctity of bourgeois copyright law — for crying out loud!

    The world’s most famous revolutionary pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, spins in his grave like a cheap county fair carnival ride.

    The second point is this, when SAN (which linguistically should be SANS) writes in #15 that: “it is hardly likely that the KKE are going to physically murder the revolutionary left” he or she should change the phrase “hardly likely” with “IMPOSSIBLE” considering the Soviet Union, that is, a Stalinist State, isn’t around anymore to materially back such an onslaught.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 19, 2012 @ 12:16 am

  17. not sure where you are from, but the “hardly likely” is “english english” written discourse; a bit like saying she isn’t very intelligent, which, of course, means …. well, i am sure you know what it means. the “san” by the way was a personal choice for a user name, which i don’t deem that important and the blog is http://sansculottism.wordpress.com/ . of course, “linguistically” that should be “sansculottisme”, but … hey! anyway, good article here on the topic at hand – http://links.org.au/node/2863 – as the evidence would appear to suggest that we are all going off on a little bit of a tangent.

    APOLOGIES, …. have just re-read my comment and the anaphoric reference – “even if, there appears very little in the constellation at the moment … ” does suggest that the kke would/might if they could, physically decimate the left in greece. no, unlike the free syrian army and other strange “liberation forces” here, there and everywhere, who are backed by the west, the kke would have a bit of a problem getting the necessary backing and we might doubt that the rank and file would fall into line on that one.

    finally, a good point made here – http://www.redpepper.org.uk/the-choice-facing-greece/ – and, while we can accuse the kke of a number of things they are, at least, consistent

    Comment by sanculottist — May 19, 2012 @ 12:37 am

  18. I particularly liked the point you made about exploitation and debt. After my brain injury in 2005 and the complications that have worsened today years later, I’ve taken on serious debt and deal with daily harassment. Fortunately now I have an advocacy group representing me since it’s common for brain injured people to have declining memory issues decades later. I think this this type of exploitation is the worst because the creditors victimize people who often cannot help themselves like the elderly and disabled. I used to be able to work and get around my limitations, but over the past several weeks my short term memory has become more limited. It’s very hard and the creditors I must deal with make my daily living much worse. Just giving you a personal glimpse into the new breed of exploitation of the little man. It’s not just the employers in on the act. Only in America do they kick you hard when you are down.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — May 20, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

  19. “Only in America do they kick you hard when you are down.”

    Apart from everywhere else!

    On a general point, I think some Marxists have a problem with the concept of cumulative progress, knowledge. The assumption is that lessons cannot be learned from history, that materialism means scarcity or abundance. So economic configurations are limited by productive powers alone. To a point this is true, but the trial and error of history needs to be factored in. The soviet models need to be viewed critically but not entirely discarded, we need to learn the lessons on why and where things went wrong. Humans have the capacity to improve upon previous experiments without abandoning the experiment entirely. Cumulative knowledge becomes part of the materiality.

    Politically this means that central planning will need to play a part in the future socialist society.

    Comment by Steve — May 20, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

  20. Sounds like Hardt and Negri are actually capable of learning and evolving politically, unlike some of the Marxists in this thread who persistently try to forcibly fit the reality we live in today into their favorite historical analogy or preferred modus operandi (complaining that General Assemblies do not operate along lines of “democratic centralism”!).

    Fuentes is absolutely right. I wonder if SYRIZA manages to form a government after the June election if they’ll be slandered for “reconstituting neoliberalism” as Morales/MAS have been by some on the left despite the fact that life for workers and peasants in the country is tremendously better than it was in 2005 and before. Already some Marxists are chomping at the bit to label SYRIZA as “traitors to the working class”.

    If the anarchists are capable of growing and learning in this period while the Marxists merely repeat well-worn dogmas and phrases, we shouldn’t be surprised when more and more radicals identify as anarchist rather than Marxist.

    Karl, you might be pleased to read this since you mention Paine: http://tinyurl.com/c5h7jk6 Instead of berating folks for not using my preferred methods to struggle, I decided to try to build a bridge to them by finding common ground with them in the hopes of strengthening Occupy’s anti-capitalist/revolutionary elements.

    Comment by Binh — May 21, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

  21. I hope I’m wrong about this, but it seems that Binh may be indirectly accusing me or others who think somewhat as I do of “complaining that general assemblies do not operate along the lines of democratic centralism.”

    I said absolutely nothing of the kind, and nor has anyone else here as far as I can tell.

    Hardt and Negri are using gibberish worthy of George Sokal when they talk about “agglutination” and the rest of that. My point in saying this is not to depreciate Occupy but to point out that H&N do not succeed in describing the actual functioning of GAs or of anything else.-and that they present no intelligible framework for doing so.

    Occupy is not leaderless, nor were the Arab Spring revolutions leaderless. Occupy so far has no Lenin, no Trotsky, and–not that it’s at all the same thing–no Duce or Fuehrer or established bureaucracy either–although the proliferation of corporate-sponsored Occupy offices is an interesting and perhaps ominous development. But they do have leaders–among them, be it noted, Binh himself, if we are to trust his own account.

    The leaderlessness to which H&N unsuccessfully try to point–really as an ontological principle–simply does not exist unless you limit the concept of leadership to the fascist or Stalinist versions. Moreover the theoretical language used to describe the leaderlessness concept is weak, incoherent, impressionistic, and represents to a fault the postmodernist addiction to treating the most ephemeral insights and impressions as apodictic truths from which no dissent is possible.

    This is particularly objectionable in people who, like Negri, have proved themselves willing to suborn murder in the service of their politics.

    Democratic centralism, whatever you may think of it (I said it “can be debated”) has an actual meaning that is graspable and can be talked about and decided on. This is not the case with Hardt’s and Negri’s incoherent theorizing, which obscures its subject rather than illuminating it.

    In any case, H&N-style autonomism has only a very tenuous claim to be the leading current of anarchist thinking, which, as Proyect has pointed out, is not necessarily the same thing. Graeber flirts with autonomism, but is he really an autonomist? Is Chomsky an autonomist? Was Durruti an autonomist, or Berkman? Probably a certain number of unemployed former graduate students in English Lit. are autonomists–but those people go in for drivel as a matter of professional pride–the ranker the better–and are not used to being held accountable for anything they say or do.

    Since anyone can become an anarchist merely by putting on a hoodie and saying. “I’m an anarchist,” there is a wide range of thought in anarchism. I personally find the range from anarcho-synicalism to Council Communism much more interesting and valuable than all this crap about gluing people together when they disagree in meetings.

    Democratic centralism, whatever you may think of it (I said it “can be debated”) has an actual meaning that is graspable and can be talked about. This is not the case with Hardt and Negri’s incoherent theorizing, or with any other form of self-promoting avant-gardism. I am not saying that the GAs–supposing they are still going on–should operate on the principle of democratic centralism.

    Much of Hardt and Negri’s not-a-manifesto simply lays out what amount to policy positions that have more or less appeal on the broader left. Louis P. has done an admirable job of summarizing these. But a few good points on the level of policy do not justify H&N’s alleged philosophy any more than Ron Paul’s antiwar views make Libertarianism a subject worthy of serious discussion.

    For the record, I was once an anarchist myself and have often praised the anarchist role in creating Occupy. I do not think there is any progress to be made by trying to go, in politics, beyond the concept of scientific truth, which is the project of postmodernism.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 21, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

  22. I’m no “Occupy leader.” If I said that, I’m definitely not to be trusted.

    Comment by Binh — May 21, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  23. Regret: I keep getting Alan Sokal’s first name wrong. Don’t ask me why; I know better.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 21, 2012 @ 9:49 pm

  24. Binh: If you are publishing theoretical works about the direction of Occupy and interviewing subjects on Occupy media, etc. you are engaging in a leadership activity by my definition. Teaming up with Proyect, is a leadership activity of a kind.

    If you have no standing to do this, you shouldn’t attempt it.

    But I have no objection to your activities, as such, nor do I believe that just any old Occupier could do as well as you do.

    In other words, I think you area kind of leader–even though I don’t uncritically support your leadership–and I don’t find that fact objectionable, in and of itself. Claro?

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 21, 2012 @ 10:10 pm

  25. Regret: repeating the paragraph about democratic centralism in two different places. Sorry.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 21, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

  26. Vaughn and Friedrich,

    Are you two pointing to the copyright notice as indicative of something about Hardt and Negri or something bigger? And what do you think they (assuming they personally had a hand in deciding to slap that notice on) should have done?

    Comment by Todd — May 23, 2012 @ 4:02 pm

  27. Todd:

    Hardt and Negri ought to have published their manifesto in the public domain. Next question.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 25, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  28. Why?

    (And I take it you believe the fact that it isn’t in the public domain is somehow indicative of their politics?)

    Comment by Todd — May 26, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

  29. Of course it is. They are entrepreneurs of the left who have positioned themselves in a vertical hierarchy (salaried academics, for Christ’s sake) where they tend their intellectual property jealously while preaching horizontalism. It’s rank hypocrisy, though I find it more ridiculous than horrifying.

    Occupy–their great example–doesn’t do that. According to the theory, Occupy couldn’t.

    The contradiction is very plain.

    Lenin was a member of the minor nobility; Trotsky was a petty-bourgeois intellectual; Engels was a coupon-clipping rentier. Because of the way in which Marxists understand history and revolution, these contradictions do not disqualify them from being Marxists. But Hardt and Negri–in an odd way, like the Ayn Rand Society–base everything on ontology, epistemology, and the way in which the individual is constituted in society at the most fundamental level. In the end–even though they disavow claims to prophecy or indeed the possibility of prophecy or leadership-it’s clear that for them one must first participate in a certain process of identification through the group in order to be part of the new social forms it makes possible. Even though for Hardt and Negri, the individual person doesn’t really exist independently of his or her differences, this philosophy nevertheless requires individuals to be exemplary because the whole philosophy depends on this. When H&N themselves fail to pass the test, the contradiction is far more glaring than it would be in the case of a Marxist.

    The subject of Proyect’s article, however, is H&N’s positions on SYRIZA and related matters. They say quite a bit about this, much in the manner of Democratic or Republican politicians putting forward planks in a platform. That is another matter altogether from their revolutionary theory or ideology or philosophy or whatever you want to call it. Probably it would be more fruitful to focus on those “policy” recommendations and let the theory ride, since it doesn’t make enough sense to reward deep study.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 26, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

  30. Vaughn wrote:

    “They are entrepreneurs of the left who have positioned themselves in a vertical hierarchy (salaried academics, for Christ’s sake) where they tend their intellectual property jealously while preaching horizontalism.”

    So they should be poor (or at least should give up their jobs and any right to an income from the use of their intellectual property) because the people they hope to reach are poorer than they are, and they should immediately adjust their lives to live as if they were actually in a pre-existing society of the sort they hope to create.

    Do I have that right?

    Comment by Todd — May 27, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

  31. Todd:

    Of course you have it wrong. I never said any of that. I wonder if you even read my entire post–let alone Friedrichs’ and my preceding ones. However, as I am pretty sure by now that you are merely trolling, I’m reluctant to feed you any more ideas.

    You would have made some sort of statement by now if you had any ideas of your own.

    In any case, Louis P. has a good quotation from Max Horkheimer on his home page. It isn’t the same point I was trying to make, but it’s apposite:

    “a revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief.”

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 28, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

  32. Don’t worry, Vaughan, I’ve got ideas already: why do you think I fed you the rope I did?

    And I agree: a revolutionary career (however you want to define that) doesn’t lead to all that stuff.

    But that’s no reason to insist that noses need to be turned up at and hair shirts need to be handed out to people with good ideas, revolutionaries or not, who happen to have high incomes.

    Stuff your moralizing.

    Comment by Todd — May 29, 2012 @ 1:55 am

  33. Save your exemplary writing skills Joe V. for another fight as the Toad is indeed a troll on a stool, personally entrenched in the university Mile, who as a frustrated Assistant English Prof. in Canada is organically incapable of coming to grips with exactly why he will never attain tenure and secure the posh lifestyle he’s always imagined & aspired to, largely, unbeknownst to him, due to the fact that the Pentagon has utterly consumed every North American University into it’s orbit for R&D purposes, which are weaponry & technology toward the aim of furthering it’s predatory mission statement – which is nominally “freedom & democracy” — but is in reality something that needs no further debate here.

    Meanwhile the history, sociology & English departments of every major N. American university system are, in respective order, utterly starved of funds to the point of ruin, yet note Anthropology departments have gotten an influx of cash insofaras they assist the Pentagon with “counterinsurgency” data.

    Just take a glimpse of an old pamphlet Chomsky wrote called: ” What Uncle Sam Really Wants” which anybody with two opposable thumbs can quickly Google, not to disparage those who’ve lost digits in industrial accidents, which I almost did in 1980, but survived with only a crushed and mangled right thumb which still looks grotesque to this day, but hey, at least I got $1300 in Workman’s Comp for it back in 1980. Today a worker with the same injury would likely get shit & then a shove into it.

    What Canuck intellectuals don’t get, but their prols know in their bones, is that thanks to satellite TV owned by the likes of reactionaries like Murdoch their historically distinct culture is being overwhelmed by a propaganda system born in Arlington, VA, that is so sophisticated that, as Chomsky has said more than once: “Goebbels would have been proud.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 29, 2012 @ 4:22 am

  34. And now the waw-waw-waw of Charlie Brown starts . . . .

    “the Toad is indeed a troll on a stool, personally entrenched in the university Mile, who as a frustrated Assistant English Prof. in Canada is organically incapable of coming to grips with exactly why he will never attain tenure and secure the posh lifestyle he’s always imagined & aspired to”

    Wrong on this (as usual).

    Go back to screaming for blood on a global scale; you sound less like you’re copying from a text.

    Comment by Todd — May 29, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

  35. Karl: I hope you enjoyed the weekend. Cheers.

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 29, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

  36. By the way, Karl, can there be anything funnier than this jacked-up little Canadian nutcase proclaiming “I have lots of ideas” and then proceeding to say absolutely nothing?

    He could take out a patent on the Self-Refuting Asshole–what an intellectual property that would be!

    It’s a shame the rest of the bourgeoisie are not so easily disposed of. If they were, it might actually be possible to have a revolution without firing squads!

    Comment by Joe Vaughan — May 30, 2012 @ 12:52 am

  37. Joe: Thanks but not so enjoyable since I had to work Monday in order to get paid plus I had to hear all kinds of moronic bullshit about Memorial Day on the radio & TV, particularly frustrating since Memorial Day began as a tribute to Civil War vets, a righteous cause, but has since been abbrogated by war propagandists to celebrate the plunder of 2 imperialist world wars, Korea, Vietnam and every other Democratic Party slaughter in the 20th century, which was every war in the 20th century insofaras Grenada, Panama & the 1st Gulf War weren’t really wars since only one side was shooting.

    Now all I have to thank this Memorial Day is a President who was elected, thanks to the deep pockets of crooked banksters, wall street swindlers & lots of desperate, hopeful suckers, and whose officially decreed the abolition of The Great Writ of Habeas Corpus by declaring that his admin. is defacto judge, jury and executioner of every living soul on the planet.

    Just read & weep: http://jonathanturley.org/2012/03/07/obamas-kill-policy/

    Meanwhile deluded Yuppie semi-intellectual chumps like Todd attacked me as a “fist pumping leftist” for agreeing with at least about 90% of Ward Churchill’s analysis of the 911 attack of the WTC, for which Churchill eventually got fired, despite tenure, thanks to the real “fist pumping” of pseudo-left liberals like the Toad Stool.

    http://www.commondreams.org/cgi-bin/print.cgi?file=/headlines05/0201-05.htm

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 30, 2012 @ 1:25 am

  38. […] to organize and converse with the state?” While some have lauded Hardt and Negri’s move to accept the positive merits of state power in Declaration, it produces a politically ambiguous set of claims–as does Zizek’s […]

    Pingback by A Brief Comment on the Renewed Emergence of the Demand « Prodigies & Monsters — June 1, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

  39. […] many ways, Zizek’s understanding of the importance of SYRIZA resonates with the recent Hardt-Negri declaration that sometimes it is good to have progressive governments in […]

    Pingback by Debating SYRIZA « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — June 9, 2012 @ 10:16 pm

  40. […] many ways, Zizek’s understanding of the importance of SYRIZA resonates with the recent Hardt-Negri declaration that sometimes it is good to have progressive governments in […]

    Pingback by Louis Proyect: Debating Greece’s SYRIZA « Kasama — June 10, 2012 @ 4:52 pm


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