Negri/Hardt chat about Empire
Wed, 3 May 2000 16:32:40 -0300
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from bn.com, the online discussion with Michael Hardt and Toni
Negri (MH and AN).
moderator from bn.com: Thank you both for joining us this
Before we sign off, do you have any final thoughts for the online
AN: The concept of Empire and all the other hypotheses that we
make are meant to reveal the present state of order, but this isn't
what's really important. What's really important is the Augustinian
idea of two cities; that is, Exodus on one hand (fleeing the corrupt
city of power), but also constructing a new city. Now we're in the
stage where we can't yet see its outline, we are crossing borders
and haven't yet arrived.
Moderator from bn.com: Can you please explain for us the concept
of Exodus as it has been discussed this and in your work?
AN: By Exodus we want to indicate the form of struggle that is
based not in direct opposition but in a kind of struggle by
subtraction-a refusal of power, a refusal of obedience. Not only a
refusal of work and a refusal of authority, but also emigration and
movement of all sorts that refuses the obstacles that block
movements and desire. And thus the fact if recognising ourselves
as citizens of the world. And not only that, but also to recognise
ourselves as poor (in the sense of a slave leaving Egypt-Peter).
<laughter> There is not only weakness in such poverty but a great
Moderator from bn.com: I'd like to know what's on the horizon for
both of you. What can we expect next from Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri-either as a collaborative effort or solo?
AN: I just published a book entitled ALMA VENUS, which was
written in prison, which is a reflection on some of the concepts that
emerged in EMPIRE. Together, however, our present problematic
has to do with bio-politics and how within the bio-political order, we
can understand the concept of organization; that is, in what way
we can understand the new social struggle or revolution. The
question then is a matter of recognising the emergence of powerful
organisations, and really a question in our terms of how to organise
MH: In addition to that, I'm working on my own study of the work of
Pier Paulo Pasolini.
Peter from bn.com: 4. We tend to associate empire historically with
rise, decline, stability, break-up. But you seem to suggest that a
true return to the local is no longer possible or desirable. Do you
think that there are forms of social organisations that can be
non-exploitative and yet function globally?
AN: I'm not sure I understood the question, but it seems to me that
the defence or return of the local on one hand, and the proposition
of a global alternative on the other, are not really contradictory. They
could perhaps become contradictory,but for the moment the
struggles against the centralisation of imperial power have kept this
dynamic open, as Seattle demonstrated, and as also
demonstrates the struggles in Italy in recent days.
MH: The demonstrations in Seattle and Washington DC were
remarkable for the way they brought together what seemed
previously to be unrelated or antagonistic perspectives: anarchists,
environmentalist groups, organised labor. In these demonstrations
we sought and perhaps haven't yet understood how the local and
the global today manage to coincide. -- (Negri continues): The
Chinese shouldn't be allowed to deal only with their local
questions, they should be brought into the global market. When we
say the Chinese, we mean the struggles of the Chinese, and to
bring them to a global level.
Ken from New York: Empire is an impressive book which
challenges much of what we have understood as important in
postcolonial theory and a variety of critical marxisms from the third
world. In your book there is little discussion of accumulation, a
topic that postcolonial and third world intellectuals have insisted is
important. Can you tell us about what the new dimensions of the
process will become?
AN: We didn't write a treatise on political economy, but tried to
grasp the general outlines of our post-colonial and post-national
realities. Therefore, the concept of accumulation was not at the
centre of our analysis. Certainly one can and should imagine a
concept of accumulation within our framework that would be
defined as the entire ensemble of social labor, both material labor
and immaterial labor that is organised today. To me it seems that
at this point we can only understand accumulation as a pre-em to
a communist constitution of society. To be frank and clear: Empire
exploits the maximum co-operation of society for accumulation; it
exploits the foundation of communism.
margo from rockville: What steps would you like to see the IMF and
World Bank take?
MH: There are two elements that seem most interesting to me
about the demonstrations in Washing against the INS and the
World Bank. The first is the new intelligence of the protesters: the
fact of choosing these supranational organisms as the object of
protest is something fundamentally new. While many of those
unsympathetic were critical of the protesters lack of knowledge of
the inner workings, I find it impressive and hopeful that such a large
group of young people have identified these agencies as the object
of protest. The second thing I find interesting: the protest, though
not united, are by and large not about globalization, despite news
reports; the protesters instead are asking for an alternative
globalization, a democratic globalization. And that in fact is primary
goal of our project too. So in this sense we watch the protesters
with great interest.
AN: What seems to me fundamental is to make an exodus away
from these institutions and to lessen their power by moving away
from them in order to struggle for a different kind of relationship.
The problem is not to try to make these institutions democratic but
to construct democracy otherwise.
Ron Day from Univ. of Oklahoma: In the section of Empire
published recently in Multitudes, you write of communication
guiding and channelling the imagination and modernity as a whole.
I'm wondering if you can elaborate on this. Does "communication"
here mean communicational devices? An ideology of
communication/information? A rhetorical/aesthetic form that may
be understood today as "communication" or "information." thanks
for your work.
MH: Indeed, we understand communication in a very broad sense to
include not only technological apparatus, but also human
exchanges. One concept that is fundamental to us in considering
this problematic is Marx's concept of general intellect. By general
intellect we understand the social co-operation of knowledge that
extends well beyond the level of the individual that is directly
productive in many of today's production practices. We can
understand the productivity of communication in collective and
Thomas Atzert from Frankfurt (Germany): A great hello to both of
you! - Slavoj Zizek, in an essay that was published also here in
Germany, wrote about your book, that it is nothing less than the
Communist Manifesto for the 21st century. So do you think that
the immaterial workers of today are an universal class as well as
the proletarians Marx had before his eyes back in 1848?
MH: If the immaterial workers are to be conceived as a universal
subject of labor today, one has to work hard to expand the notion of
what it means to be immaterial labor. It refers only to the fact that
for many products or many elements of products remain immaterial-
not of course that labor itself has become completely immaterial.
Today production takes place equally across our body, our brains,
our affects, and indeed all the forces of life.
michele genchi from roma - italia: Caro Professore, essersi arresi al
mercato,mi fa pensare che molte delle lotte dei nostri anni hanno
avuto il sapore amaro di un annuncio triste lasciato perdere, e che
molte delle cose che abbiamo gridato per strada hanno avuto un
senso. l'eredit positiva e' quella di aver educato i nostri figli alla
solidariet e a un'atteggiamento distaccato verso la povert
intellettuale di questi tempi. Non crede, Professore, che avremmo,
forse, potuto fare di pi ? Osare di pi ? (Dear Professor, many of the
struggles of our years had the bitter taste of a sad announcement,
and that meany of the things that we yelled in the streets had a
sense. The positive heritage is that we educated our children in
solidarity and an attachment toward the intellectual povery of our
times. Don't you think, professor, that we could have perhaps done
more? Dared to do more? )
AN: It doesn't seem to me that the question deals with Empire
specifically, but one can respond. If the question is simply could
one do more? Then the answer is yes, one could, and one could
push Empire further. Pushing Empire further first meant making the
Soviet Union fall; it means making international struggles stronger
from the beginning; and it means attacking the nation-state and it's
abilities to block the movement of people; it means opening
borders, etc. etc. We have only been able to do this partially. But
at least in Europe we were able to bring about the collapse of the
factory regime, and this was a fundamental factor driving towards
b. weber from austria: You define Empire as the universal rule of
capital, without a center. But the European Union and the US still
seem to be engaged in a struggle for dominance against each
other, as one can tell from the introduction of the Euro as a rival
international currency and the european attempts to create their
own European defence body. How do you interpret this battle? (I
must admit that up to now I just got to the middle of your book, so
excuse me if you tackled that question anyway in your work)
MH: When we understand Empire as a global constitution that
does not exclude the fact that there remains today national and
international entities that control currency, economic flow and
production. Our concept of Empire is based on the notion of mixed
constitution that incorporates national, local and international
organisms within a super-national and in fact global order. Itis still
of extreme importance to struggle with and against powers of
nation-state and the international entities, such at Eupropean
Union. But also, we have to recognize the ultimate sovereignty of
the new order on a global scale.
franca giordano from milano: non ho letto il libro (sar tradotto in
italiano?) una domanda a entrambi: sono una mamma di 45 anni e
molti anni sono stata comunista. Ha ancora senso oggi credere in
una idea che ha mosso milioni di uomini e donne in tutto il mondo?
(I have been a communist for many years. Does it still make sense
to believe in an idea that has moved millions of men and women
acroos the world?)
AN: I can't answer a question of faith or belief, but I think it is
reasonable to be communist today - today more than ever. When
our society lives off of a common sense-that is, a common
constitution. Today relationships of labor and social relationships
are more common than they were before. And that's the
commonality that lives within both intellectual labor and other labor-
becomes ever important.
Cynthia P. Kelly from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: How can Socialis (and
Marxism in particular) help us reach a praxis of absolute
AN: We first have to make a distiction. Socialism means simply
"from each according to his capacity." And communism, in
contrast, "to each "according to his needs."
MH: In this sense aboslute democracy is the foundation of
communism. This is the sense in which we understand a non-
representativ form of communism, or rather a communism that is of
Peter from bn.com: I am struck by how eclectic, in a positive
sense, the conceptual field of Empire is in terms of the multiple
sources it draws on - from Spinoza to Marx and A Thousand
Plateaus. At the same time, it is so positive, wasting so little time
on the direct critique of liberal ideology. How would you like to see
others use your concepts?
AN: First the question of how the concepts would be used, we have
nothing to say or dictate how readers respond. This should be left
up to them. Regarding eclecticism: Eclecticism today has taken
on a new critical value. It is something like what Kant described as
the struggle among the faculties. And thus this struggle translates
today as a struggle among the academic discipline to destroy and
communication. It develops in such a way that the various
disciplines - mathematics, economics - have developed boundaries
so that it is impossible for them to communicate. I mean that today
one has to intervene to destroy and confound the differences and
distinctions among them. One example of the mathematical
structure and how it has become completely detached from the
ability to understand the economy, and thus our entire insistence
on "bio-politics" - our concept of bio power follows strictly
Foucault's conception of Kant's conflict among the faculty. I think
we need to open a new discussion about the faculties, even the
academic faculties, and that all problems of bio-politics lead us
toward overcoming the old academic divisions.
MH: Re; positivity: It is certainly our intention to present a positive
critical account because we think that what contemporary
discussion needs to do is not only criticque the present state of
affairs but to outline an emerging alternative.
Peter from bn.com: I am interested in the process of collaboration
between the two of you, especially in the light of the
transcontinental connection. Is their any reason you choose to
have the book come out in American English?
MH: We worked together on all of the texts in the sense that we
didn't divide up chapters. What we did was exchange drafts so that
all of the material in the end was written equally by both of us.
Because of Toni's legal situation, this required my going to Europe
several times a year. First France, and then Italy-in order to
collaborate face to face.
AN: I think that the problem with collaboration is defined by the way
we had already worked together, for and from the beginning,
principally on American questions. Simply the fact of working on
American material for a European intellectual is enriching from both
perspectives. Why the book came out in English, the response is
very banal. American English is the most simple and direct way to
have one's ideas circulate at a world.
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