Garrett — Counseling the aristocrats

Topic(s): Negri/Hardt | Comments Off on Garrett — Counseling the aristocrats

from The Marxism List -www.marxmail.org
Over the past five years, no Marxist theorist except for Zizek has been
lionized as much as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, the co-authors of
“Empire”. In 2001, at the height of their fame, the two were chatted
up in a NY Times article titled “What Is The Next Big Idea? The Buzz
Is Growing.”
As if writing about a trendy restaurant in NYC, reporter Emily Eakin
focused on how they had arrived.
“It comes along only once every decade or so, typically arriving
without much fanfare. But soon it is everywhere: dominating
conferences, echoing in lecture halls, flooding scholarly
journals. Every graduate student dreams of being the one to think it
up: the Next Big Idea.
“In the 1960’s it was Claude Levi-Strauss and structuralism. In the
1970’s and 1980’s it was Jacques Derrida and deconstruction, Michel
Foucault and poststructuralism and Jacques Lacan and psychoanalysis,
>followed by various theorists of postcolonialism and New Historicism.
“And now scholars are wondering if the latest contender for academia’s
next master theorist is Michael Hardt, a self-effacing, 41-year-old
associate professor of literature at Duke University and the co-author
of ‘Empire,’ a heady treatise on globalization that is sending
frissons of excitement through campuses from Sao Paulo to Tokyo.”
For some readers, including myself, the notion of “frissons of
excitement” seemed to have more to do with a watercress vichyssoise
than Marxist theory. For a moldy old fig trained by Trotskyist
militants in the 1960s, perhaps history was passing me by in the fast
It all had a lot to do with the excitement over “anti-globalization”
protests which seemed to have “anarchism” or “autonomism” (practically
indistinguishable when you really get down to it) stamped all over
them. Instead of targeting state power according to some hopelessly
misguided Leninist schema, the emphasis would be on challenging
capitalism everywhere at the same time through the power of the
“multitudes” rather than workers or peasants.
In some ways, the autonomist rejection of state power at the national
level (a poisoned pill according to Hardt-Negri) was a funhouse mirror
of the long-standing Marxist insight that socialist revolution must
triumph worldwide if it is to have any long-term prospects for
success. Unfortunately, this became transformed into a kind of fuzzy
call for revolution everywhere and nowhere in autonomist terms. For
John Holloway, it was changing the world without taking power, which
for me was something like getting pregnant without having sex
For Hardt and Negri, the notion of world communism was even fuzzier
than it was in Holloway. Somehow, protests like the ones that occurred
in Seattle or Genoa would lead to communism. At the time, I said to
myself that I would be pleased if they would only lead to the
cancellation of IMF debts in someplace like Argentina, but then my
imagination has always been somewhat limited.
Emily Eakin informed her NY Times readers that others besides me had
questions along these lines. For example, Zizek “complained that for a
book that preaches revolution, it had an unforgivable omission: no
how-to manual.” The always genial, tow-haired Michael Hardt agreed: “I
wrote him an e-mail and said, ‘Yes, it’s true we don’t know what the
revolution should be.’ And he wrote back saying, ‘Yeah, well, I don’t
know either.'”
Just when Hardt and Negri were at their pinnacle of their fame and
being interviewed on Charlie Rose and other high-profile media, a
bunch of terrorists came along and messed things up. After September
11, 2001, the anti-globalization movement went into a tail-spin as the
more mainstream NGO component decided that it was too risky to be
associated with violent demonstrations. Since for the
balaclava-wearing set, there was no other way to protest, it would
naturally mean that their ranks would be thinned. This was especially
true in the new situation facing the left after the US invaded
Iraq. The last thing that seasoned Marxists in the leadership of the
antiwar movement would put up with is temper tantrums against
Starbucks, when the stakes were so much higher.
In a February 21, 2003 op-ed piece in The Guardian, Michael Hardt
waxed nostalgic for the good old days before the war in Iraq messed
things up:
“The globalisation protest movements were far superior to the anti-war
movements in this regard. They not only recognised the complex and
plural nature of the forces that dominate capitalist globalisation
today – the dominant nation states, certainly, but also the
International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, the major
corporations, and so forth – but they imagined an alternative,
democratic globalisation consisting of plural exchanges across
national and regional borders based on equality and freedom.
“One of the great achievements of the globalisation protest movements,
in other words, has been to put an end to thinking of politics as a
contest among nations or blocs of nations. Internationalism has been
reinvented as a politics of global network connections with a global
vision of possible futures. In this context, anti-Europeanism and
anti-Americanism no longer make sense.
“It is unfortunate but inevitable that much of the energies that had
been active in the globalisation protests have now at least
temporarily been redirected against the war. We need to oppose this
war, but we must also look beyond it and avoid being drawn into the
trap of its narrow political logic.”
In the year or so since this article was written, events have
conspired to make the “Empire” paradigm of a multitude-led communist
takeover worldwide that much more unlikely. Young people seem far more
interested in challenging *imperialism* than in mounting
ill-considered adventures against an ill-defined *Empire*.
In the meantime, Hardt and Negri seem to be having second thoughts
about whether Empire is such a bad thing to begin with. In the current
issue of Global Agenda magazine, they explain “Why we need a
multilateral Magna Carta.” Just as the aristocrats of the 1215 were
progressive in relationship to the King, so are the lesser powers
today that might stand up to Washington. They write:
“The primary challenge facing these global aristocracies is to
reorganize the global system in the interest of renewing and expanding
the productive forces that are today thwarted by poverty and
marginalization. To do this, a new agreement is needed Ôø‡ a Magna
Carta contract for the age, that todayÔø‡s aristocracies are in the
position to demand of the monarch.”
Only 5 years ago they were rapturous over the multitudes. Now it is
“global aristocracies” that they are wooing. To be sure, there is
always the possibility that the black bloc and the Mitterands of the
world might make common cause:
“Taking the lead from the governments of the global South in this
manner is one way for the aristocracies to orient their project of the
renewal of productive forces and energies in the global economic
“A second source of orientation is provided by the multitude of voices
that protest against the current state of war and the present form of
globalization. These protestors in the streets, in social forums and
in NGOs not only present grievances against the failures of the
present system, but also numerous reform proposals ranging from
institutional arrangements to economic policies.
“It is clear that these movements will always remain antagonistic to
the imperial aristocracies and, in our view, rightly so. It might be
in the aristocraciesÔø‡ interest, however, to consider the movements
as potential allies and resources for formulating todayÔø‡s global
full: http://www.globalagendamagazine.com/2004/antonionegri.asp
In a thoroughly Machiavellian manner, Hard and Negri counsel that the
movements can be “potential allies” and “resources” to the
aristocrats. Somehow this smacks of the attitude of traditional
liberalism more than anything else. During the 1960s people like Ted
Kennedy or Eugene McCarthy always saw youthful protestors as
“resources” to be drawn upon in election campaigns for ringing
doorbells or collecting ballot signatures. Now that we are in a
similar period in which the “lesser evil” candidate John Kerry has
stressed to the point of terminal ennui that he seeks a “multilateral”
approach in contrast to the implicitly monarchical style of George
W. Bush, it might occur to some that the Hardt-Negri article is a
contribution to the ABB effort. They would be right.