Thursday, March 1, 2007

A short review of Michael Hardt's and Antonio Negri's, “Multitude”

Hardt's and Negri's last work, Multitude, appeared in 2004 and became a penguin mass market edition by 2006. As the authors themselves admit this is the sequel of Empire which came out in 2001, offering a novel analysis of the transformations of sovereignty in the context of globalisation. With Multitude, the authors turn their attention to the social movements that resist the imperial order. Written in a simpler language, and in a conscious effort to avoid academic jargon as far as possible, Hardt and Negri, attempt to describe the “project of the multitude” as “the possibility of democracy on a global scale is emerging today for the very first time”.
The book was written in the period leading up to the Iraq war and thus logically starts with the current state of affairs: war. War today is global in nature and civil in form. It takes place across the globe but within sovereign territories. “War is becoming a permanent social relation” while it has already become “a regime of biopower”. The all inclusive edge of the “war against terrorism” is precisely intended to depict its absolute dimension. It is neither a religious nor a moral war. It is not against Islam, or about justice. It is a war amongst mercenaries. And for the purposes of the social movements, we should remember that mercenaries cannot stand up “to the patriotism of those who have no nation”. The authors proclaim the primacy of resistance, in this new world characterised by the hagemony of immaterial labour and proceed to review the transformations from the people's army to guerilla warfare. Hardt and Negri argue for the need to invent network struggles, Zapatista style and utilise the “swarm intelligence” in the move “from biopower to biopolitical production”.
The multitude is “a class concept”, the authors remind us and hence constituted in the realm of production. Its terrain is “the becoming common of labour”, in the processes of class struggle that accompany the post Fordist shift. Anticipating criticisms, the authors state that the hegemony of immaterial labour is not quantitative but qualitative in form and concerns the character of work itself. As a hegemonic form of production it represents a tendency that “no statistics can capture”. The organisation of production is transformed “from the linear relationships of the assembly line to the innumerable and indeterminate relationships of distributed networks. Information, communication and cooperation become the norms of production, and the network becomes its dominant form of organisation.” The dominance of immaterial labour is conceptualised as the twilight of the peasant world. The authors proceed to review the processes by which industrialisation brought a decline in the political significance of the division between town and country, and how the peasantry was extinguished as a separate social class. The concept of the multitude is meant to include those usually excluded from the socialist and communist discourses of the “working class”: “the poor, the unemployed, the unwaged, the homeless, and so forth”. The becoming common of labour means that everybody participates in the production of value, in the creation of wealth. The authors speak about “the wealth of the poor” because “the poor embody the ontological condition not only of resistance but also of productive life itself”. The global phenomenon of migration is central in the analysis here and in the proclamation “we are the poors”.
Taking the “trip to Davos” Hardt and Negri describe the new mechanism of capital accumulation by means of “law through contracts”. Multinational corporations are able to circumvent state authority and regulation or to put it in their words: “Law here is not an external constraint that regulates capital but rather an internal expression of agreement among capitalists”. This capitalist utopia however, is not the absence of government but the return of big government. We should not forget that “military force must guarantee the conditions for the functioning of the world market”. And that it is on the productive flesh of the multitude that the global political body of capital is constituted. The multitude is simultanesously the production and the mobilisation of the common. Is the multitude a historical agent? It is more than that. It is the unfinished democratic project of modernity.
Before proceeding to the democracy of the multitude, the authors speak about the unrealised democracy of socialism, about the transition from democratic representation to global public opinion and finally about the global demands of democracy including grievances of representation, grievances of rights and justice, economic and biopolitical grievances, as they converged in Seattle 1999. The democracy of the multitude is beyond sovereignty, it is a kind of exodus “fleeing the forces of oppresion, servitude and persecution in search of freedom”. And “without the active participation of the subordinated, sovereignty crumbles”. In their search for a science of this democracy, Hardt and Negri turn to Madisson and Lenin, ending their book with the call to repoliticise love.