"Barbarians: The Disordered Insurgence"
A Critique of Hardt & Negri’s Empire
By Crisso and Odoteo
[editor's note: for a response to this article:
"Barbarians" by Crisso and Odoteo is a text of some importance for anarchists and anyone else who sincerely desires the destruction of this social world of exploitation and domination. It presents a devastating critique of a book that has become one of the most significant theoretical influences on a major part of the so-called anti-globalization movement, Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. When one reads these two texts together, two opposing ways of using language are exposed. Hardt and Negri use a language that is obviously meant to conceal at least as much as it reveals, and that should immediately tip one off to the recuperative nature of their text. Crisso and Odoteo, on the contrary, use direct language as sharp as a barbarian’s sword to cut through the murky web of Hardt’s and Negri’s postmodern doublespeak to reveal the essentially anti-revolutionary core of their perspective.
For example, Hardt and Negri claim to be post-dialectical and post-Marxist. It merely takes a slight rip of the veil to expose a historical determinism and a rigid dialectic of class struggle that reflects one of the crudest versions of Marxism. Negri and Hardt, in fact, justify the horrors of the present not merely as historically necessary for the development of communism, but as actual reflections of the power of the “multitude”, their historical subject.
It is particularly useful that, as Italians, Crisso and Odoteo are familiar with the various movements that have been influenced by Negri, as well as with recent works of his that are not available in English. This allows them to place Empire in a context that further exposes its recuperative significance.
Crisso and Odoteo clearly expose the love Hardt and Negri actually have for the Empire and its methods of homogenizing the world. This love, in fact, reaches the point of support for the European Union. Negri recently co-edited a collection of texts by leftists in praise of the political unification of Europe (choosing however to ignore the fact that this unification is a reality mainly in terms of the needs of the ruling class: a free flow of capital, the unification of policing networks and so on).
More frightening is Negri’s and Hardt’s unquestioning support of the totality of technological development –- proclaimed to be expressions of the desires of “the multitude”. They go so far as to call for the “recognition […] that there are no boundaries between […] the human and the machine” (Empire, p. 215) and, thus, the acceptance of ourselves as cyborgs (see for example, Empire, p.92). For them the project of technologizing life –- i.e., biotechnology integrated with cybernetics –- is desirable and necessary, simply because it exists.
Crisso and Odoteo also clearly expose the nature of the “subjectivity” Hardt and Negri speak of repeatedly. This term, as the professors use it, has nothing whatsoever to do with individual choice, will, desire or self-activity. Instead it refers to the production of relationships which subject us to the needs of the social institutions. This is why “the production of subjectivity” must be grounded “in the functioning of major institutions, such as the prison, the family, the factory, and the school” (Empire, p.195).
In fact, Hardt and Negri absolutely reject the individual, seeing the very concept of individuality as contrary to their project. On page 388, they tell us that “No ontology, except a transcendent one, can relegate humanity to individuality”, and two pages later they say, “…there is corruption as individual choice that is opposed to and violates the fundamental community and solidarity defined by biopolitical production”. Thus, singularity is not a trait of individuals, but of “groups and sets of humanity”* biopolitically singularized by “the multitude” (p. 395). And “the multitude” to which they refer repeatedly is finally defined on page 316 of their book as “the universality of free and productive practices”. To put it more clearly: the forces of social production. The Marxist-leninist roots of their perspective are clearly exposed. For them the subject of liberation is precisely the productive apparatus for which we are mere cogs.
With a notion of liberation that, in fact, means the absolute subjection of individuals to the productive apparatus, Hardt and Negri are correct to see their path as going “through Empire”, because their project is that of Empire. But once the barbaric sword of Crisso and Odoteo cut through the professors’ convoluted language, it becomes clear that those of us who desire our own liberation as individuals, who want the freedom to create our lives on our times have a project “absolutely other”: the total destruction of the Empire here and now.
The time of the barbarians is at hand. [Translator.]
"Barbarians: The Disordered Insurgence"
Crisso and Odoteo
Someone has noted that one of Marx’s greatest tricks was that of having invented Marxism as a lingua franca*. Since ancient times it has been known that the art of persuasion consists of being able to use speaking or writing to cause a precise psychological effect in the one who listens or reads that goes well beyond the contents developed in the reasoning. The Greeks said that persuading meant to “lead minds to oneself”. Many Marxian expressions –- and, one could say, the “insidious clamor” of his prose –- have enchanted, terrorized, produced thousands of competing readings. Expressions such as “Historically determined social conditions, extraction of surplus value, objectively counter-revolutionary elements”, certain journalistic techniques and the famous genitive inversions (“philosophy of misery, misery of philosophy”): this jargon has supplied many aspiring bureaucrats and true dictators with a reservoir of pre-made phrases with which to justify their power. And it has supplied just as many social democrats with a smoke-screen with which to please anyone who is satisfied that capitulation in practice is connected to radicality in style. The important thing was and is to assume the attitude of one who knows what he/she is talking about with scientific precision.
Antonio Negri’s texts play the same role today, if you will. In fact, there are two “theoretical centrals” of the thing which journalistic newspeak describes as the anti-globalization movement: the Le monde diplomatique collective and our Paduan professor to be precise. The monthly publication named after the collective, the organization of conferences and seminars, the publication of books and the creation of the so-called movement for the Tobin tax* (Attac) – various Italian sections of which now exist – owe their existence to the former. From the latter, who was one of the original founders of Workers’ Power and then Workers’ Autonomy, came much of the Italian workerist ideology and now the theory for which the White Overalls (Tute bianche), the Disobedient (Disobbedienti) and so many other global citizens are little soldiers. Reading any flyer from any social forum, one will indubitably find the following expressions: civil society, multitude, movement of movements, citizenship income, dictatorship of the market, exodus, disobedience (civil or civic), globalization from the bottom and so on. Likewise, having a more or less extensive history, these concepts, assembled in various ways, constitute the present-day Cliff Notes for the alternative recuperator and ideal reformist. One of the managers of this “ontological factory”, one of the technicians of this “linguistic machine” is, once again, Toni Negri.
We will not fall into the banal error of believing that certain theories are unilaterally influencing the movement. The theories spread insofar as they serve specific interests and respond to specific needs. Empire by Negri and Hardt is an exemplary book in this sense. Together with the elaborations of their “diplomatic” French cousins, its pages offer the most intelligent version of the left wing of capital. The groups that refer to it are the globalized version of the old social democracy and the gaseous variants of Stalinist bureaucracy that have replaced the rigid hierarchy of functionaries with the model of the network (or the rhizome) in which the leader’s power seems more fluid. In short, the communist party of the third millennium, the pacification of the present, the counter-revolution of the future. Built on the decline of the workers’ movement and its forms of representation, this new method of doing politics no longer has privileged fields of intervention (like the factory or the neighborhood) and offers a more immediate terrain than that of the old party secretariats to the ambitions of aspiring managers: the relationship with the mass media. This is why the parties and unions of Left pose as allies of this new “movement” and often go in tow to its initiatives, knowing well that beyond the piercings of whatever little leader and certain slogans from rhetorical guerrillas, the political disobedient represent the basis (electoral, as well) of the democratic power to come. It maintains the Stalinist role intact, but its future is inscribed above all in its capacity to set itself up as a force of mediation between subversive tensions and the necessities of the social order, leading the movement into the institutional riverbed and carrying out a function of denunciation of the elements that escape its control.*
On the other hand, after having progressively absorbed the social, the state managed to suffocate all creativity under the institutional burden; when forced to expel it again, it called this refuse civil society, decorating it with all the ideologies of the middle class: humanitarianism, voluntary service, environmentalism, pacifism, anti-racism, democracy. In the overflowing passivity, consensus needs continuous injections of politics. The disobedient politicians with their citizens serve this purpose. Indeed, for the orphans of the working class, it is the abstract figure of the citizen that now has all virtue. Ably playing on the meanings of the word (the citizen is at the same time the subject of the state, the bourgeois, the citoyen of the French revolution, the subject of the polis, the supporter of direct democracy), these democrats address themselves to all classes. The citizens of civil society oppose themselves to the passivity of consumers as much as to the open revolt of the exploited against the constituted order. They are the good conscience of the state (or public, as they prefer to say) institutions, those who will always invite the police to “isolate the violent” in any Genoa out of civic duty. With the complicity of the democratic mobilizations of the “disobedient”, the state can thus give greater force and credibility to its ultimatum: one either dialogues with the institutions or one is a “terrorist” to hunt down (the various agreements signed since September 11 are interpreted in this way). The “movement of movements” is a constituent power, i.e., a social surplus in relationship to constituted power, an institutionalizing political force that encounters and intervenes in established politics – in Negri’s conception, the militant version of Spinoza’s concept of potency*. Its strategy is the progressive conquest of institutional spaces, of an increasingly enlarged political and union consensus, of a legitimacy obtained by offering its capacity for mediation and its moral guarantee to power.
In the Negrian account, the true subject of history is a strange beast of a thousand metamorphoses (first mass-worker, then social laborer, now multitude) and a thousand tricks. In fact, it is this being that has power even when everything would seem to bear witness to the contrary. All that domination imposes is really what this being has desired and won. The technological apparatus embodies its collective knowledge (not its alienation). Political power favors its thrusts from the bottom (not its recuperation). The legal Right formalizes its power relationship with the institutions (not its repressive integration). In this edifying historical vision, everything happens according to the schemes of a most orthodox Marxism. The development of the productive forces – authentic maker of progress – continually comes into contradiction with social relationships, modifying the order of society in the direction of emancipation. The arrangement is the same as classical German social democracy, to which the privilege of having broken a revolutionary assault in blood and then thrown the proletariat into the hands of Nazism is owed. And the illusion of opposing the power of political institutions to that of the multinationals is a social democratic illusion, one that Negri shares with the leftist statists of Le Monde Diplomatique. If both denounce “savage capitalism”, “fiscal paradises”, the “dictatorship of the market” so often, it is because they want a new political order, a new government of globalization, another New Deal. It is in this sense that one reads the proposal for a universal income for citizenship. Thus, the less “dialectical” Negrians have no scruples in openly presenting this demand as a recasting of capitalism.
Despite two decades of heavy social conflict, capitalism succeeded in turning the revolutionary threat around through a process that reached its completion at the end of the 1970’s with the dismantling of the productive centers and their spread over the territory and with the complete subjection of science to power. This conquest of every social space corresponds to the entry of capital into the human body, as the final frontier that remains empty, through the very life processes of the species itself. Necrotechnologies are the latest examples of its longing for an entirely artificial world. But for Negri, this is the expression of the creativity of the multitude. For him, the total subordination of science to capital, the investment in services, knowledge and communications (the birth of “human resources” according to managerial language) expresses the “becoming-woman” of labor, i.e., the productive force of bodies and of sensibility. In the epoch of “immaterial labor”, the means of production that multitude must secure for itself as common property are the intellects. In such a sense, technology increasingly democratizes society, since the knowledge that capital turns to its account surpasses every waged sphere, in fact coinciding with the very existence of the human being. This is what the demand for a minimum guaranteed wage means: if capital makes us produce at every moment, then it should pay us even if we are not employed as wage workers and we will make money for it by consuming.
The conclusions of Negri and his associates are the complete overturning of the ideas of those who, already back in the 1970’s, maintained that the revolution passes through the body, that the proletarian condition is increasingly universal and that daily life is the authentic place of social war. The aim of recuperators is always the same. In the ‘70’s, in order to gain their place in the sun, they spoke of sabotage and class war; today they propose the constitution of civic lists, accords with the parties, entry into the institutions. Their jargon and their linguistic acrobatics show that the Marxist dialectic is capable of every gallantry. Passing from Che to Massimo Cacciari*, from the peasants of Chiapas to the small Venetian endeavors, it now justifies snitching just as it justified theoretical dissociation yesterday. On the other hand, as they themselves recognize, it is not the ideas or the methods that are important, but rather “the peremptory words of command.”
For “disobedient” theorists, the political institutions are hostage of a multinational capital, mere registration chambers of global economic processes. In reality, the development of technological power is the material basis for the thing defined as globalization; and from the nuclear to the cybernetic, from the preparation of new materials to genetic engineering, from electronics to telecommunication, this development is linked to the fusion of the industrial and scientific apparatus with the military apparatus. Without the aerospace sector, without the high-speed railroad, without the connections through fiber-optic cables, without ports and airports, how could a global market exist? We add the fundamental role of military operations, the continuous exchange of data between banking, insurance, medical and police systems, the state management of environmental pollution, the increasing spread of the net of surveillance, and it becomes clear that it is a mystification to speak of the decline of the state. What is changing is merely one specific state form.
Unlike other social democrats, for Negri the defense of the “social” national state is no longer possible, inasmuch as it is a political formation that is already surpassed. But this opens an even more ambitious prospect: European democracy. In fact, from one side, power is posed the problem of how to pacify social tensions caused by the crisis in representative politics. From the other side, the “disobedient” seek new paths for making the institutions democratic, rendering the movement more institutional. Here is the possible encounter: “Who then has an interest in the politically united Europe? Who is the European subject? They are those populations and social classes that want to build an absolute democracy on the plane of Empire. What they propose is counter-Empire. […] Thus the new European subject does not refuse globalization, but rather builds the political Europe as a place from which to speak against globalization in globalization qualifying itself (starting from the European space) as counter-power with respect to the capitalistic hegemony of the Empire.” (from Political Europe: Reasons for a necessity, edited by H. Friese, A. Negri, P. Wagner, 2002).
We have come to the end. Under a dense smokescreen of slogans and catch phrases, under a jargon that both flirts and terrorizes, here is a program that is simple for capital and magnificent for the multitude. We’ll try to summarize it. Thanks to a guaranteed wage, the poor could be flexible in the production of wealth and the reproduction of life and thus relaunch the economy. Thanks to the common ownership of the new means of production (intellect), the “immaterial proletariat” could “begin a long Zapatista march of the intellectual labor force through Europe”. Thanks to new universal citizenship rights, power can pass through the crisis of the nation-state and socially include the exploited. The masters don’t know it, but finally left free to develop themselves, the new means of production will actually realize that which they already potentially contain: communism. It is only necessary to come to terms with obtuse capitalists, reactionaries, neoliberals (in short with “bad” globalization). The entire thing seems to be purposefully conceived to confirm what Walter Benjamin ascertained more than seventy years ago, a few weeks after the non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler: “There is nothing that has corrupted German laborers as much as the belief in swimming with the current. For them technological development was the benefit of the current with which they decided to swim.”
But the agitated waters of the current hide dangerous traps, as Negri himself warns: “now we find ourselves in an imperial constitution in which monarchy and aristocracy struggle between them, but the plebeian assemblies are absent. This creates a situation of imbalance, since the imperial form can only exist in a pacified manner when these three elements are counter-balanced among themselves.” (from MicroMega, May 2001). In short, dear Senators, Rome is in danger. Without the “dialectic” between social movements and institutions, governments are “illegitimate”, thus unsafe. As first Titus Livy and later Machiavelli demonstrated wonderfully, the institution of the plebeian tribunal served to counterbalance the continual Roman imperial expansion with the illusion of popular participation in politics. But the famous fable of Menenius Agrippa – who addressed the mutinous plebeians telling them that only thanks to them Rome lived, as a body lives only thanks to its limbs – effectively risks coming to an end. The Empire seems to have less and less need for the poor it produces, left to rot by the millions in the reserves of the mercantile paradise. On the other hand, the plebeians could become dangerous as a horde of barbarians – and descend from the hills to the city, but with the worst intentions. For the restless and unreasonable exploited, the mediation of the managers might be as hateful as the powers in office and as ineffective as a lesson in public spirit made to one who already has his feet on the table. Police, even in white overalls, might not be enough.
WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
Today the barbarians are coming.
Why is the Senate so idle?
Why do the Senators pass no laws?
Because today the barbarians are coming.
What laws could the Senators pass?
When the barbarians come, they will make them.
Why did the emperor rise so early,
to sit at the main gate of the city, solemn,
on his throne wearing the crown on his head?
Because today the barbarians are coming,
and the emperor waits to receive their chief.
Indeed, he has prepared a scroll to give to him
on which many names and titles are inscribed for him.
Why have our two consuls and the praetors appeared
This morning in their embroidered, crimson togas;
why are they wearing bracelets studded with amethysts,
and rings with brilliant, glistening emeralds;
and why are they carrying their costly canes today,
wonderfully carved with silver and gold?
Because today the barbarians are coming,
and such things dazzle barbarians.
Why don’t the eminent orators turn up as usual
to have their say?
Because today the barbarians are coming,
and barbarians disdain eloquence and long speeches.
Why this sudden uneasiness and confusion?
(How serious the faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so quickly,
As everyone turns homeward, deep in thought?
Because it is night, and the barbarians have not arrived.
And some people have come from the borders
saying that there are no longer any barbarians.
And now what will become of us, without any barbarians?
After all, those people were a solution.
“The dream of the formation of a world empire is not only found in ancient history: it is the logical outcome of all the activities of power, and it is not limited to any specific period. Though it has gone through many variations, the vision of global domination connects with the rise of new social conditions and has never disappeared from the political horizon…” —Rudolf Rocker “The servitude to which the subjects of Rome were subjugated was not slow to extend itself to the Romans themselves […]. There was no way to avoid the servitude, and those who were called citizens were ready to get on their knees even before they had a master. […] In Rome, it was not before the emperor as a man, but before the Empire that everyone submitted; and the strength of the Empire consisted in the mechanism of a very centralized, perfectly organized administration, in a large, mostly disciplined permanent army, in a system of control that extended everywhere. In other words, the state, not the sovereign, was the source of power.”—Simone Weil “A single law, the law imposed by Rome, reigned over the Empire. This Empire was not in any way a society of citizens, but only a herd of subjects. Up to now, the lawmaker and the authoritarian admire the unity of this empire, the unitary spirit of its laws, the beauty – in their opinion – and the harmony of this organization.”—Peter Kropotkin (Page numbers in parentheses following quotes refer to Empire by Hardt and Negri) EMPIRE A nightmare torments the servants of the Empire – the nightmare of its collapse. All the courtiers scattered around the world, political celebrities and generals, administrative delegates and advertisers, journalists and intellectuals, are asking themselves how to avert this terrible threat. The Empire is present everywhere, but doesn’t govern anywhere. Its military invincibility shines in the sun dazzling its obsequious admirers. But its foundations are rotten. The social order within its borders is constantly called into question. In 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall was presented as the symbolic act that would ratify the end of the “cold war” between the two opposed super-powers, the dawn of a new era of peace and stability. The unification of the planet under a single model of life, the private capitalist model, was supposed to guarantee the definitive banishing of all conflict. In a certain sense, one could say that the very opposite has happened. In modern history, there have never been so many violent conflicts bathing the world in blood as after 1989. If up to then, the various armies were in a state of permanent readiness, now they are in continuous mobilization. The military forces no longer spend their time training, but rather fighting on the field. War has gone from cold to hot, in some places boiling, and it is generalizing itself. Only now the slaughter dictated by the state is no longer called war, but rather police actions. Having extended itself everywhere, the Empire no longer has external enemies from which to defend itself, only internal enemies to control and repress. As the servants of the Empire love to remind us, there is no longer an outside; there is only an inside. But this inside is literally imploding. In order to make space for itself, the Empire has swept away the old model of the nation-state. But how does one convince entire populations that were held together and rendered tame up to now by the glue of popular identity that – for example – Serbs and Kosovars, or Israelis and Palestinians, no longer exist, that instead there are only subjects made similar through obedience to a single social system? Thus, in the moment of its triumph, the Empire stirs up and renews fierce civil wars. In order to consolidate itself, the Empire has fused political and economic power, scientific and military power in a single apparatus. But how can it do without the specific political activity indispensable to maintaining equilibrium – the mediation that is above all moderation – without rushing at full speed into the unbridled search for maximum profit? Thus in the moment of its triumph, the empire rouses strong social tensions. In order to take root the Empire has imposed the religion of money everywhere. But how could anyone think that the transcendence of the rites and traditions of thousands of years, which have saturated every sphere of social life and given meaning to the existence of millions of devotees, could abandon its place to the immanence of the commodity without rousing rebellions? The sacred book of Christianity itself, the Bible, records the fury of Christ before the presence of merchants in the temple and their violent removal: “It is written: My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). Thus, in the moment of its triumph, the Empire rouses religious fundamentalism. We find ourselves facing a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the reign of capital has succeeded in conquering an absolute domination in uniting East and West under a single banner, in annulling every vision of human existence that is not based on the laws of the economy. But on the other hand, with all the power acquired, with its Praetorians spread to every corner to protect profits, capitalism is demonstrating that it is not in a position to control anything. The Empire is feared, but it is not loved. It is endured, not chosen. It possesses force, not consent. If it wants to remove the threat of collapse as far as possible, it has only one path to travel: that of making people accept it not through imposition, but through participation, that of being recognized as right, necessary, inevitable. But how can the Empire – synonymous with a social order based on tyranny and arrogance, cause of cruelty and suffering – manage to make itself loved by its subjects? It imposes control with weapons. It obtains consent with blandishments. If the Empire wants to instill its reasons into its subjects with the aim of making them accept and appreciate these reasons, it must play tricks, having recourse to the aid of emissaries. Those who shine only in the art of adulation are certainly not among the most cunning since they would quickly be unmasked for what they are – servants among servants. No, such a complex and delicate task could only be brought to term by those who know how to display the limits of imperial order. Biting observations with regard to the Empire always fascinate the quarrelsome subjects who are drawn into a fictitious complicity by these emissaries and therefore don’t realize that the critique of imperfection is functional to the achievement of perfection, transforming the Empire from something we need to get rid of into something we need to correct but that we cannot do without. As evidence of the urgency with which the labors of restructuring and enlargement of the imperial edifice must be carried out, its emissaries are making themselves increasingly numerous. Two of them, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, have recently published a book that is gaining a reasonable success. Flaunting their academic jargon in order to subdue the ignorance of the subjects, the usual stale and blunted intimidating weapon of intellectual terrorism in search of approval, these two professors put the finger on the festering spots of the Empire, seeking at the same time to explain to their reader why they really cannot do without accepting it. The title of this masterpiece of Empire-loving dissent is a homage to its beloved parent: Empire. UNWILLINGLY How is a condition of dispossession, of alienation, of exploitation made acceptable without rousing some feeling of rage and rebellion? The answer is only apparently impossible. It is sufficient to instill the belief that what they are living through, governed by a tragic as well as fatal necessity, is unavoidable in anyone who suffers this condition. The instilling of dominant values, in fact, forms the basis of social reproduction. Etienne De La Boetie, in his immortal Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, makes note of how the servile acceptance of the power of the few by the many can be traced back to coutume, the meaning of which fluctuates between that of historical-traditional custom and that of psychological habit: it points to a process of adaptation to the form of society into which the human being finds her/himself inserted, a process that ends up determining a great portion of her/his behavior. The main reason why people accept their submission to power is because they are born and raised as servants. “It is still true” – La Boetie argues – “that at first man serves unwillingly, constrained by a greater power; but those that come later, having never seen freedom, and not even knowing what it is, serve without any regrets and willingly do what their ancestors did under duress. And so people who are born with the yoke on their neck, nurtured and raised in servitude, without raising theirs eyes even a little before themselves, are satisfied to live as they were born, without managing to imagine good and right things different from those that are to be found in front of them, they take the conditions in which they are born as natural.” This means that we can only become aware of the lack of freedom if we have had a way of experiencing or knowing it. The experience of prison is only a tragedy if we are able to compare it with an experience of freedom, however supervised and conditioned it may be, from which we were snatched at the moment of our capture. Our desire for escape, for revolt, springs from the profound difference that exists between these two lived experiences. But if we are born and grew up in prison, if the walls of a prison formed our entire horizon, filled all our dreams, marked all our actions, how could we desire a freedom we had never known? Since detention had been our sole and customary condition of life, perhaps we would consider it natural and, finally accepting it willingly. Or even thinking, as Orwell warned, that slavery is freedom. Like other forms of domination, the Empire bases its continuity on the supposed naturalness of the power that it wields. The critique of Empire as such, in its totality and not in its individual aspects, is made to appear as a form of madness or aberration. But this objectification of domination requires further support, more solid and convincing, beyond that of habit. As the same La Boetie recalls: “There is no heir so thoughtless and indifferent that at some time he doesn’t take a look at the family register to see if he enjoys all the rights of succession or if instead there has not been some machination against him or his predecessors.” Habit by itself is not enough. Someone might end up getting bored with it and abandon this individual psychological mechanism. Therefore, it is necessary to fix the “family registers” with a collective historical mechanism, in such a manner that their reading decrees a univocal and definitive result for everyone. But how? It is easy to comprehend that a total censure of our rights, the exclusion of any of us from the registers to the exclusive profit of the one who holds power would appear at least suspicious and might provoke a furious reaction: and us, who are we? If nothing is given to us, we will take it all! Rather, it is more intelligent to include us in the legacy, to integrate us attributing the responsibility for what happens to us, to deceive us with the request of participation in the events of the family, in such a way as to make us perceive the reality that surrounds us not as something that dominates us, but as a product that we resolutely desire and to which we have directly contributed with our activity and that consequently belongs to us. If “when the state prepares to kill it calls itself the fatherland,” as Durrenmatt said, it is because it wants citizens to fight, believing that they are doing it for themselves, without noticing that they die “for the bank vaults” (Anatole France, quoted on p. 93). In the same way, the reason that the bosses call it a company when they prepare to make profit is because they want their “subordinates” to work, thinking that they do it for themselves, without noticing that they are exploited exclusively for the bosses’ benefit. Obedience becomes absolute, sheltered from doubt, when it is no longer seen as coercion or hereditary weakness, but as the expression of a social will. In this regard, the two emissaries seem exceedingly bashful in affirming that “Flirting with Hegel, one could say that the construction of Empire is good in itself but not for itself” (p. 42). In reality, their relationship with the father of dialectics is not mere coquetry; it is an authentic love story. Their analysis of the Empire is carried out in conformity with the Hegelian dialectic. This is no accident. Hegel was convinced that his philosophy would represent the spirit of the time in which it had emerged. Therefore, thanks to its superiority over philosophies of the past, he felt compelled to claim as its task the demonstration that the society in which it arose (i.e., the historical reality of the Prussian state) constituted the peak of all previous civilizations. On careful consideration, it is the same ambition that moves the two emissaries with regard to the Empire. One of Hegel’s peculiarities, that for which the shrewdest functionaries of domination should remember him with gratitude, consists in his understanding that unity – to which every form of power aspires – would appear invincible if, rather than basing itself on the exclusion of the multiplicity – i.e., the opposition – it found its realization in the assimilation of the latter. In other words, for Hegel, concrete unity could be achieved by reconciling differences, not by exterminating them. It is only through the differences between the multiplicity of things and through their conflicts that one can achieve concrete, lasting unity. Thus, for Hegel, unity really springs forth from the continuous struggle between the multiplicity of things that compose it. His lie is manifest: if this unity doesn’t suppress the multiple, it doesn’t realize it either, since it is limited to domesticating it in order to place it in the service of the initial thesis. This is the meaning of the dialectic to which Hegel entrusts the task of revealing the most intimate processes of reality. In the Hegelian dialectical process, the affirmation of a concept forms the thesis; its negation forms the antithesis. From the conflict between the thesis and the antithesis, the synthesis will be born, which coagulates thesis and antithesis in a higher unity in which both are conceived as different moments. But the synthesis represents in a particular way a return to the thesis, in fact being a matter of a return enriched by all the things that have been contributed by the antithesis. It seems clear that the pure existence of two contraries is not enough to generate a dialectical relationship. To achieve such an end, something more is needed: mediation between the two contraries. To mediate two contraries means to take away their irreducibility, to bind them together, to create a communicative bridge between them. It means to pacify them through reconciliation, but to the advantage of one particular side – the one that was strongest from the start. According to Hegel, the dialectic was not just “the nature of thought itself”. Maintaining the identity of the rational and the real, he interpreted the dialectic as the law of reality as well. All reality would move dialectically, following an objective mechanism. In such a way that what is at the same time constitutes what must be, i.e., it is self-justified in all its manifestations that are therefore “necessary” in the sense of not being able to be different than what they are. For Hegel, to oppose that which is something other to reality means to abandon reason in favor of self-interest or individual free will, a thing utterly mad since, in his opinion, only the rational is real. Under the gears of this determinist mechanism, history becomes the realization of a providential plane, and the state becomes nothing less than the incarnation of the world spirit – a kind of realization of God on earth. What Hegel, as an honest subject of the Prussian state, never takes into consideration is the possibility of a completely autonomous, sovereign, uncompromising opposition – a multiplicity that does not allow itself to be enrolled in any synthesis. It is necessary to acknowledge that Hegel was an excellent emissary of the Empire. His recognition of the role developed for the opposition in the production of reality rendered him attractive to the left. His synthesis that mediated contraries to the benefit of the original thesis, i.e., the existent, rendered him attractive to the right. This cheerful bourgeois man taught at the university of Berlin due to the gracious permission of the king, not failing to celebrate the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille each year with a bottle of wine. The fact remains that the internal dynamic of the dialectic as he conceived it is inseparable from the ideological proposition of the justification of the status quo – it is enough to consider the ironic observation of Bataille according to which “it is not romantic poetry, but ‘obligatory military service’ that appeared to guarantee the return to that common life without which, in his opinion, no knowledge was possible.” The Hegelian supercession is nothing other than a movement of conservation, of validation, of ratification of the past. In a few words, Hegel was an important philosopher of recuperation: power becomes stronger if, rather than closing itself in its castle and putting dissidents to death – blind intolerance capable of fomenting social hatred –, it welcomes their innovative ideas and even puts them partially into practice, after proper sterilization, with the aim of reinforcing its own legitimacy. Hardt and Negri are scrupulous disciples of Hegel, as we will see. But their analysis draws inspiration from other thinkers as well, some of whom passed into history as subversives, although the effort to justify the necessity of authority and the order it imposes is evident in their work. Hegel’s most famous student, the Marx who was so convinced that “the bourgeois has had a highly revolutionary function in history” is another constant point of reference for the two emissaries of the Empire, especially in the elaboration of political perspectives. In fact, interpreting the entire history of humanity in light of the Hegelian determinist philosophical mechanism, Marx openly supported the progressive growth of capitalism as the way to reach communism: “the development of big industry, thus, removes the very terrain on which it produces the products and appropriates them for itself from under the feet of the bourgeoisie. First of all, it produces its gravediggers. Its decline and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” For Marx and for his crony, Engels, revolution did not constitute the negation of the civilization of capital, a breaking point in its deadly progression, but rather its felicitous final outcome. In the certainty that the triumph of the bourgeoisie would automatically provoke the triumph of the proletariat, he ended up supporting the development of capitalism and fighting against those who opposed it. This sort of disguised fatalism led him to assume rather reactionary positions such as, for example, hoping for the victory of Prussia in the war with France, in the conviction that the foundation of the German empire by Bismarck would bring about the political and economic centralization of Germany, a factor that in his opinion formed the initial condition for the advent of socialism. Moreover, his idea of social transformation as completion rather than rupture pushed him to advocate the necessity of modeling the means and ends of proletarian struggle on those of their adversary, theorizing that the workers would have to organize in a party in order to conquer state power. From this point of view, the analysis of the two emissaries is rigorously Marxist. And given the nature of their mission, they could certainly not do without the valuable suggestions of the counselor of the Prince, the “democratic Machiavelli” who is considered the father of modern politics, that is to say the Reason of State, expert in swindling the people and keeping them in chains. They sing his praises, omitting to mention his maxim according to which there is “nothing […] more vain and insolent than the multitude”. Even a theologian who smells of heresy like Spinoza proves to be of use to them, both for his philosophical reflections on the concept of potency and for his theological-political reflections on the relationship between democracy and the multitude. The family portrait is finished with the philosophers known as post-structuralists, those French thinkers who, in order to defend this society from the subversion caused by the death of God – that in May ’68 had found a way to concretize itself in their country in the form of the largest wildcat strike in history – announced the death of man in every sphere, with the aim of spreading resignation by making the individual into a mere lump of social, political, technological and linguistic devices. The influence of the “desiring machines” of Deleuze and Guattari is particularly strong. A certain involuntary sincerity in the two emissaries about the true nature of their mission takes us be surprise when. In dealing with a possible social transformation, they invite us to abandon the old metaphor of the revolutionary mole in favor of the snake. In fact, they expound, feeding the suspicion that “Marx’s old mole has finally died. It seems to us, in fact, that in the contemporary passage to Empire, the structured tunnels of the mole have been replaced by the infinite undulations of the snake.” (p. 57) The mole has done its time. Its extinction in the sphere of political zoology will be caused by its blindness that renders it immune to calculation. And yet, if this animal inspires sympathy, it is precisely because it is incapable of intrigues. Armed only with stubbornness and guided by intuition, the mole keeps on digging without ever losing its spirit, in hope of emerging at the right place. The snake is a completely different beast. It doesn’t dig, but crawls. It advances with “undulations”, from right to left, from left to right (the image of opportunism). Furthermore, since the time of Adam and Eve, it is known for its forked tongue (symbol of the lie). Thus, at best, it represents the dual nature of the two emissaries and their supposed fathers, prodigals with bundles on their backs and broad smiles for the subjects insofar as these latter intend to remain such.
GO TO WORK!
The two emissaries describe the subjects as “multitude”, a neutral term of the quantitative sort taken from some scholars of the past that is useful for avoiding the encumbrance of using a qualitative description of sides. Their aim is to convince the subjects that although it may be true that the Empire shows many defects, it is also true that its existence is the result of a right and inevitable necessity. That if the Empire is the One that represents the Many, it is only because it expresses them in a precise arithmetical sum, not because it annihilates them inside itself. That its functioning is not something that the multitudes now suffer, but that they themselves have determined, intentionally or not. In a word, that the will of the Empire is not, in fact, opposed to the desires of the multitude, but that, on the contrary, it is their expression and realization, even if lacking -– which is why there is no reason whatsoever for wanting its destruction. Quite so!
But let’s consider how the emissaries liquidate Etienne De La Boetie’s critique. They are aware that “when the boss hails you on the shop floor, or the high school principle hails you in the school corridor, a subjectivity is formed. The material practices set out for the subject in the context of the institution (be they kneeling down to pray or changing hundreds of diapers) are the production processes of subjectivity” (pp. 195-6) and that consequently “the various institutions of modern society should be viewed as an archipelago of factories of subjectivity” (p.196). But, in fact, the two emissaries do not denounce the process of the reproduction of the existent with its social division that, in everyday actions, in their serial repetition, in the daily habit that accompanies us from birth to death, day after day, without giving us a moment of autonomy, is the thing that destroys the uniqueness of the individual. Rather they hail the thing that constructs its subjectivity. The extraordinary mystifying power of words! The misunderstanding is created through the use of the concept of “subjectivity”, which they clearly prefer over that of “individuality”. In themselves, the observations of the two emissaries are accurate, but the meaning that is drawn out of them is totally distorted, since the subjects are led to look with benevolent eyes upon these “factories of subjectivity”. But ultimately, what is so bad about this? Isn’t subjectivity “the quality of one who is subjective”? And isn’t the subjective “that which is relative to the subject, that which derives from the way of feeling, thinking and deciding proper to the individual as such”? Any dictionary could testify to this without uncertainty, but let’s take our consultation further, to the bottom. What is the subject? The subject is “the person or thing taken into consideration”, but it is also “one who is subordinate, submissive, subjugated.” Indeed, these terms derive from the Latin subiectus, past participle of subicere, or to subject. To affirm that subjectivity is relative to the individual means rendering submission natural, transforming a historical event into a biological fact. So subjectivity expresses the quality of one who is underneath, subordinate, submissive, subjugated. And what is the quality of one who is subjected if not that of obeying, something that one will do so much more willingly if one thinks that this is included in the nature of the individual as such? This is how it is possible to use the persuasive force of rhetoric to push the subjects to go to work in these “factories of subjectivity”, i.e., of servitude, rather than blowing them up.
Of course, a factory is more productive when discipline reigns among the worker-subjects, but there is a problem. Far too often, the subjects have the ugly defect of considering discipline a form of domestication. This is why throughout history they have sought to avoid it or shatter it in every way. ‘What ever for then?’ the two emissaries ask themselves, convinced that “discipline is not an external voice that dictates our practices from on high, overarching us, as Hobbes would say, but rather something like an inner compulsion indistinguishable from our will, immanent to and inseparable from our subjectivity itself” (p. 329). It is undeniable that discipline is inseparable from our subjectivity since, as we have just seen, subjectivity indicates submission. But it is the claim that the strict observance of the master’s rules by the slave is due not so much to the fear of the lash as to “an inner compulsion indistinguishable from our will” that Mr. Hardt and Mr. Negri cannot support without admitting on which side of the barricades they are to be found: on the side of those who uphold slavery. Their entire historical reconstruction of the birth and development of the Empire goes in this direction. The slave desires his chains and builds them himself. The subjects desire the Empire and have built it themselves. Its formation is inevitable because it expresses the biological outcome of human nature and the dialectical out come of the history of humanity at the same time.
The preoccupation with legitimating imperial determinism is also manifested in the tiresome mechanistic language used by the two emissaries, ultimately persuaded that they human being must fade into the gear, that autonomy must give way to automatism, and that fantasy must surrender before functionality. What is Empire? “Empire thus appears in the form of a very high tech machine” (p. 39) or to be clearer “Empire constitutes the ontological fabric*” (p. 354). What are the subjects, the “multitude”? “The multitude not only uses machines to produce, but also becomes increasingly machinic itself, as the means of production are increasingly integrated into the minds and bodies of the multitude” (p. 406). What is desire? Desire is described as an “ontological motor” (p. 389). What is language? Unfailingly, the answer arrives: “by language we mean machines of intelligence that are continuously renovated by the affects and subjective passions” (p. 366). These are only a few examples of the technical -– and, as such, above sides -– language that fills this text.
But presenting the evolution of civilization as the mechanism of a megamachine is not enough. In saying this one justifies resignation in the presence of the social pollution it produced, but the rage at being changed into mere cogs is not neutralized. The two emissaries must thus carry out another effort. They must make the subject understand that “In reality, we are masters of the world, because our desire and labor regenerate it continuously” (p. 388) and that consequently we have very little to complain about. We, the masters of the world?
THE REVERSE SIDE OF THE COIN
In our unspeakable ignorance, we thought that the ambition of every power was to consolidate and expand itself to the point where it assumes true and proper imperial significance, but that the final realization of this depends on the relations of existing forces. And of course, this objective can only be achieved by knowing how to generate the shockwaves necessary to disperse one’s adversaries. On the contrary, the two emissaries declare: “The multitude called Empire into being” (p. 43) since “the class struggle, pushing the nation state toward its abolition and thus going beyond the barriers posed by it, proposes the constitution of Empire as the site of analysis and conflict” (p. 237).
We thought that labor was synonymous with human activity only within capitalist society, a bit like animals in captivity are synonymous with nature only in a zoo. An equation that is decidedly repugnant to everyone except for those who think that “work makes us free”, as the Nazis announced at the entrance of concentration camps, or who hold that the bars of a cage serve to protect animals from external dangers. On the contrary, the two emissaries don’t hesitate to argue that: “Living labor… is the vehicle of possibility… labor… now appears as general social activity. Labor is productive excess with respect to the existing order and the rules of its production. This productive excess is … the force of collective emancipation…” (p. 357), which is why “The new phenomenology of the labor of the multitude reveals labor as the fundamental creative activity that through cooperation goes beyond any obstacle imposed on it and constantly creates the world” (p. 402).
We thought the identification of human life with the production of goods was one of the most insipid advertising lies, incapable of conceiving of anything other than economic balance sheets. This is the sort of fraud that has reduced poetry to a source of inspiration for advertising. On the contrary, the two emissaries inform us that “the desire to exist and the desire to produce are one and the same thing” (p. 349).
We thought that the hegemony conquered by the great multinationals over international economic and political life, with the consequent transformation of the world into one huge shopping center had brought about the homogenization of lifestyles as well as the disappearance of all singularity. As a noted American journalist pointed out, the choice today is between Coke and Pepsi. On the contrary, the two emissaries observe that “Far from being unidimensional, the process of restructuring and unifying command over production was actually an explosion of innumerable different production systems. The processes of the unification of the world market operated paradoxically through diversity and diversification…” (p. 252).
We thought that the blackmail which the subjects have to undergo, working to survive or dying of hunger, was the element that forced millions of people to abandon the land of their birth to go in search of a morsel of bread. No one is so idiotic as to confuse emigration caused by lack with the spirit of adventure born from exuberance. On the contrary, the two emissaries hold that uprooting and mobility constitute “a powerful form of class struggle within and against imperial postmodernity” (p. 213) since “ through circulation, the multitude reappropriates space and constitutes itself as an active subject” (p. 397).
We thought that for over half a century technological progress was maintained by research conducted in military experimental laboratories, and was exploited for civilian purposes as well only at a propitious moment. Through it Empire is able to reinforce its war apparatus, perfect social control and maximize economic profit. On the contrary, the two emissaries are convinced that only struggles “constrain capital to adopt ever higher levels of technology and thus transform labor processes. The struggles force capital continually to reform the relations of production and transform the relations of domination” (p.208).
We thought that the Internet represented a kind of New World for the Empire: on the one hand the invention of yet another universe to colonize, and on the other hand a way to ease internal social pressures. Navigating in electronic limbo, the subjects can savor a virtual freedom in exchange for real obedience. On the contrary the two emissaries are moved, noting that “in the expression of its own creative energies, immaterial labor thus seems to provide the potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism” (p. 294).
We thought that through information technology the Empire had succeeded in imposing a reduced language based on technological necessity and not on the richness of meaning. The subjects are forced to give up meeting in a real plaza in direct communication, since this is replaced by a virtual plaza with mediated communication; thus, they are no longer able to discuss, expressing ideas and emotions with all their incalculable shading, but only to exchange cold facts and figures. On the contrary, the two emissaries are happy to “participate in a more radical and profound commonality than has ever been experienced in the history of capitalism. The fact is that we participate in a productive world made up of communication and social networks, interactive services, and common languages. Our economic and social reality is defined less by material objects and that are made and consumed than by co-produced services and relationships. Producing increasingly means constructing cooperation and communicative commonalities” (p. 302).
We thought that biotechnology represented the highest point of the triumph of capital over nature, economic reason’s inroad into the organic body. The proposal for genetically reprogramming the human being, for suppressing differences in favor of the dominant normality, made a brief appearance behind the promises of eternal health and happiness (but it has now come in arrogantly). On the contrary, the two emissaries do nothing but applaud this new conquest since “Biopower –- a horizon of the hybridization of the natural and the artificial, needs and machines, desire and collective organization of the economic and the social –- must continually regenerate itself in order to exist” (p. 389).
How many other untimely thoughts could still be expressed? If it has been noted from more than one side how Marx could not hide a certain admiration for the behavior of the bourgeoisie despite his criticisms, for their part, the two emissaries show all their unbridled enthusiasm for the world born from the planetary domination of capital, which they pass off as the planetary triumph of the subjects: “Is it possible to imagine US agriculture and service industries without Mexican migrant labor, or Arab oil without Palestinians and Pakistanis? Moreover, where would the great innovative sectors of immaterial production, from design to fashion and from electronics to science in Europe, the United States, and Asia, be without the ‘illegal labor’ of the great masses, mobilized toward the radiant horizon of capitalist wealth and freedom?” (p. 397). Even the greatness of the Egyptian pyramids could not form a valid justification for the terrible suffering endured by the slaves who built them, let’s just imagine whether transgenic corn, oil wells, the procession of fashion or the microchip could be this justification!
But one last move is allowed to us. We thought that throughout history, subjects, faced with great imperial power and Praetorian arrogance, have always had very few alternatives: to obey or to rebel. In the moments that they obey, the subjects merely reproduce the Empire and guarantee its stability. Therefore, it is only in the times of revolt against the order of the Empire that they can cease to be subjects and determine themselves as free individuals, going to storm the heavens of their aspirations. The two emissaries know this well, but they also know that their task is really to place revolt in the service of the Empire. It’s a matter of putting the unforgotten lesson of Hegel into practice. The two emissaries themselves concede that “The Empire does not fortify its boundaries to push others away, but rather pulls them within its pacific order, like a powerful vortex” (p. 198). Thus, the dialectic shows that the thesis is the Empire and its foul* order; the antitheses are the subjects, the “multitude”, and their struggle; the synthesis is reconciliation, the overcoming of contradictions, which in reality conceals the return to the thesis: the order of the Empire enriched by the creativity expressed in the struggles of the subjects. It’s an outline that isn’t very far from Marx’s interpretation of the servant-master dialectic that is found at the origin of his concept of class struggle.
Interpreted in this way, it is possible for the long process that led to the formation of the existent to no longer be perceived by the subjects as domestication, but rather as liberation. That which is –- that is at the same time also that which must be –- should no longer be seen as a misery, but as a richness. Given that: “The multitude is the real productive force of our social world whereas Empire is a mere apparatus of capture that lives only off the vitality of the multitude” (p. 62), one must deduce from this that “The refusal of exploitation –- or really resistance, sabotage, insubordination, rebellion and revolution –- constitutes the motor force of the reality in which we live, and at the same time its living opposition” (pp. 208-9) The final conclusion of such reasoning is imposed by itself: “The proletariat actually invents the social and productive forms that capital will be forced to adopt in the future” (p. 268). In short, it is not the Empire, through the exercise of power, but the subjects, with their struggle’s against the Empire’s power, who are creating the world that surrounds us. Thanks to their dialectical proceedings, the two emissaries overturn reality and try to make the defeats of the subjects pass for victories in perspective. Thus paradise approaches.
THE HEADS OF THE EAGLE
It is true, however, that in doing so, Hardt and Negri occasionally fall into some significant contradictions. It is not always easy to convince the subjects that “The organization of mass trade unions, the construction of the welfare state, and social-democratic reformism were all results of the relations of force that the mass worker defined and the overdetermination it imposed on capitalist development” (p. 409). Whereas earlier they maintained that “Against the common wisdom that the US proletariat is weak because of its low party and union representation with respect to Europe and elsewhere, perhaps we should see it as strong for precisely these reasons” (p. 269).
Why would the proletariat ever have had to impose its representative forms on capital if its strength is greater without them? Starting from the conception that unions and parties were conceded by power because of the struggles carried out by the subjects, the two emissaries try to interpret this as meaning that these same struggles intentionally imposed them. Despite appearances, these two conceptions are not the same thing. In the first case, the institution of representation is a victory for power, a way to vanquish the combativeness of the rebels; in the second case, it is a conquest of the rebels, the objective attained by their battles. But if the proletariat is stronger without unions and parties, as Hardt and Negri acknowledge, then who benefits in instituting them? Clearly the one who has granted them, i.e., power, that in this way blocks the real threat brought about by a rebellion without mediation.
The first union did not appear until the second half of the 19th century. Any idea of class struggle, of the subversion of the capitalist order, was completely foreign to it since its only purpose was to reconcile the interests of the workers with those of the bosses. By organ