Revolution #85, April 22, 2007
A World to Win Polemic on Hardt and Negri's Empire
We want to call our readers’ attention to the current edition of A World To Win [2006/32] and the article “On Empire: Revolutionary Communism or ‘Communism’ Without Revolution?” (The article is available online at aworldtowin.org/current_issues.)
The article takes up the work of the radical political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, as well as some of the criticisms of their work. Hardt and Negri made a stir with their book Empire, published in 2000, and their follow-up Multitude, which came out four years later. As the article lays out, Hardt and Negri argue that with the globalization of the past several decades, the world has entered a phase of a “fundamentally new form of rule”—which they refer to as “Empire.” Hardt and Negri write that this new form of rule has caused the role of the nation-state to decline tremendously in importance.
Further, they say that many of the new forms of production connected to computerization have made Marxist analysis of political economy outdated. Hardt and Negri envision a communist future growing out of this phase—one without nation-states, in which humanity “will be self-organizing and self-administrating.” And they argue that this future can come about through a variety of different forms of mass action from below—but NOT through a revolution aimed at destroying the power of the old state and creating a new state power fitted to actually making a transition to communism.
The article in A World to Win is a polemic—that is, a comprehensive criticism—of Hardt and Negri. The polemic does not deny the many changes in the world that Hardt and Negri point to. Instead, it goes deeply into their key arguments to examine what those changes do—and do not—mean. It shows the real contradictions and contradictory phenomena that Hardt and Negri attempt to address—and where they get it wrong, and why. In the course of this article, the author addresses:
- the essential characteristics of imperialism;
- whether imperialism is a policy or a system in the U.S., and how to evaluate the democratic history of the U.S.;
- the role, and potential role, of the UN and other international institutions;
- what actually drives capitalist production and expansion forward, and the real causes and character of capitalist crisis;
- the ongoing importance of national liberation struggles, even in a world with a more highly integrated economy, and the complex contradictions that will be faced by future socialist states in such a world;
- the continued importance of the peasantry and the question of land in today’s world—even as the peasantry is being transformed at breakneck pace by today’s capitalism;
- the significance of the new forms of production associated with computerization;
- and what is the way forward to communist society: attempting to “expand democracy” by partial struggles today aimed at reforming (or “transforming”) the institutions of today, or actually preparing for and carrying forward revolution against the current state power?
These are all critical questions. And they are all questions that find expression in the sharpest debates among radicals today. Hardt and Negri, for example, have systematically put forward a theory that justifies and upholds the political stance of forces like EZLN, or the Zapatistas, in Mexico—forces which attract a great many people looking to make fundamental change. The approach of the author of the polemic in A World To Win is NOT to show how Hardt and Negri depart from the “received wisdom” of Marxism—but to go deeply into the changes in reality that they are pointing to and their analysis of those changes, grappling with those changes, and giving a deepened materialist answer to them.
Again, we strongly recommend this polemic to our readers.
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