Brief notes on Hardt, M. and Negri, A.  (2000) Empire.  London: Harvard University Press

[I have largely skimmed through this, but taken detailed notes on chapters that seem particularly significant.  There is a marvellous online version here, with chapter summaries. My own view is that combines a number of themes from recent Marxist theory, and some older ones as well including the prediction of eventual polarisation and crisis.  I was particularly interested in the links with Deleuze, and found the usual pattern, of some acknowledgement, followed by a drift further away from the basic concepts.  For example, although the authors admire the reading of Nietzsche, and occasionally refer to notions such as rhizomes and desire, they also think that the ideas expressed in Anti Oedipus are too chaotic and require some sort of Marxist framework.]

1.2 Biopolitical production

This is the source of material power, both for capitalist production and for assistance.  Foucault is one of the first to develop the notion, with his concentration on disciplinary institutions.  Deleuze moves on in The Society of Control to argue that discipline is increasingly interiorized.  ‘Power is exercised through machines that directly organise the brains (in communication systems and informal networks etc) and bodies…  towards a state of autonomous alienation from the sense of life  and the desire for creativity’ (23).  This goes on beyond special disciplinary institutions.  It is biopolitical, integral, about the reproduction of life itself.  Only the notion of the society of control realises how deep this goes.  Biopolitical power penetrates into consciousness and bodies.

All social forces and levels are now combined (with a reference to critical theory on the integration of culture and the state).  However, there are still forces of pluralism and multiplicity producing new singularities, as in Deleuze and Guattari, and this is a paradox. [Perhaps it is just that the society of control also has a liberal and pluralist appearance?].  There are still centralised concentrations of armed force, but also increasing legal rights.  Overall, there is a residual element of biopower which cannot be contained.

Foucault saw biopower as operating at the economic, cultural and social levels, but his analysis was still too structuralist, with an insufficient grasp of the dynamics and vitality which opposed it.  Deleuze and Guattari give a better account, noticing very little fixity, and also pointing to the machine metaphor which constantly generates flows and creativity.  However, their notions are too unfocused and chaotic.

Some Italian Marxists [including Hardt] had a better grasp in seeing the potential of the development of intellectual and creative labour.  These economic developments also produced new figures of subjectivity, including revolt and insubordination.  However, there are still other aspects of labour, including affective labour.  The masses have emerged, the multitude, and it is now collective, tapping all aspects of life and reality, and representing 'the very unfolding of life itself' (30).

Transnational corporations have developed effective networks, and national states had developed affective forms of domination.  Capitalism monetarized everything.  These processes produced characteristic objective needs, social relations and subjectivities, and forms of communication.  Together these 'channel the imaginary' and 'integrate the imaginary and the symbolic' (33), in an attempt to legitimate the new order.  Control merges with the biopolitical, replacing Habermas’s notion of separate levels with separate human interests.  As a result, 'this external standpoint no longer exists'(34).  The system self-validates.  It proposes universal citizenship as a form of integration.  It offers a master narrative that survives postmodern skepticism.

The system is supported by occasional demonstrations of massive and effective force – interventions, which can be monetary and physical or military, or juridical via NGOs, including well intentioned ones such as Amnesty International.  These all help to pacify populations, and extend the notion of [bad] universal needs and rights.  Often they take on a moral tone and publicly denounce local sinners.  They ignore the unintended effects of such intervention, including setting the stage for subsequent military intervention.  Commentary on local disputes and wars support the notion of 'just wars’, and the duty to police drug terrorism, and intensify moral campaigns.

There is now a new supranational State, with new justifications for action rather than the old ones of sovereign right.  It offers a new 'discontinuous’ sovereignty, 'in the final instant' (39).  It operates in the machinic way, at a virtual level, and spreads like a rhizome.

1.3 Alternatives within Empire

Hoping to base resistance on radical localism does not work [this was fashionable once in the 1990s especially in British Marxism, where all sorts of support given to local ethnic minorities, and their struggles against colonial powers, including the Soviet bloc, were seen as a revolutionary assertion of identity].  There is no point outside the system, and the local is already produced by the global.  The same arguments apply to the nation state.  Thus there can be no going back to earlier systems, and resistance must operate on the global level. 

There are alternative currents in stories of globalization.  There has been a massive extension of the commodity form and of control, but there are also new radical demands.  The radical consequences of international capitalism were seen in early proletarian organizations advocating that 'workers of the world unite'. 'When one adopts the perspective of the activity of the multitude, its production of subjectivity and desire, one can recognise how globalization, insofar as it represents a real deterritorialization of the previous structures of exploitation and control, is really a condition of the liberation of the multitude' (52).[Much depends on that 'insofar' though]

However, the classic proletariat alone is no longer capable of demolishing the system—Marx's 'old mole’ is dead.  Instead, we have a number of complex local struggles, and these are incommunicable between themselves.  They often look nostalgic and based on the 1960s.  They have no horizontal links with each other, but they do strike at the heart of Empire directly.  They represent a live activist tradition, and can be built upon, but there is a need to communicate between them, and build up various new social movements.  This will require a manifesto.  Apparently, good manifestos need both a revolutionary subject and object

Overall, this radical current is an ontological feature, not arbitrary and definitely capable of creating new situations.  it has a voice via res gestae [typical philosophical mysticism].  '[T]he …  turbulence that accompanies the process [of globalization and the destruction of national frameworks of law] are [sic] all symptoms of a properly ontological lack...  Power seems to be deprived of any real ground beneath it, or rather, it is lacking the motor that propels the movement' (62).  [a version of legitimation crisis, and close to Lyotard on the move from performativity to playing games].

3.4 Postmodernization and the informatization of production

Industrial development is usually seen in terms of the three stage model—primary, secondary and tertiary production—but the emergence of information as a factor in its own right is now crucial.  Even those stages were too simple.  For example, when the industrial revolution happened, agriculture remained but was transformed and industrialised itself.  New hierarchies emerged nationally and globally between the sectors.

The notion of international development is also debatable.  There is probably no single path to development.  Above all though, developing countries also participate in a global system.  It is a myth to see them as autonomous regions, developing in isolation as the first industrial societies did.  Autonomy and delinking are no longer possible.

Modernization tends to be seen in terms of the industrial model, with the service industries indicating  postmodernization.  Of course, complex societies need all levels, including industrial sectors.  However, there is a transformation under way following informatization.  This has already turned conventional production into the production of services [the experience economy would be a good example].  Service industries and industrial production are already connected differently different developed countries—for example the Financial Services are more autonomous in the UK and USA.  Different levels of productivity and machinery are exported all at once to industrialised countries, producing very mixed economies in India or China, and very mixed stages in development in Italy.

There have been considerable changes in labour and production, as in the change from fordism to toyotism [commonly referred to as post fordism, and implying much more rapid feedback between consumers and producers, flexible production, computerised stock control and on].  Computerisation has brought about the development of ‘immaterial labour’.  Artificial intelligence has developed.  Symbolic value has been added to production.  There has been a greater homogenization of labour connected to computers.  There has also been a growth of affective or emotional labour as well.

This new form of production creates communities and networks.  In all cases, labour is coordinated in a cooperative and interactive network [the disruptive potential of links in these lengthened chains of dependency has long been discussed].  Decentralisation and the growth of networks replaces the production line, and there has been deterritorialization too.  There is instant communication around the network, with less friction.

However, there has also been a tendency to try and control these networks at the centre, using devices such as surveillance and monitoring.  An example is the information superhighway, which is now as important as was the railway, and is immanent to production.  There is a struggle between democratic and oligopolistic directions, or between the net as a rhizome (299), or the persistence of a broadcasting structure, like a tree.  Most actual networks are hybrids.

There is a good deal of privatisation of hitherto publicly owned assets.  Nature is increasingly dominated.  Welfare systems increasingly privatized.  So what remains of the common or public interest?  It is stronger than ever!  (302).  It is expressed in the form of coproduction, cooperation and networking.  These make private property ‘nonsensical’ , and it is ‘to a certain extent [!] dissolved in the postmodern mode of production’ (302).  Private property remains, but becomes increasingly detached and abstract.  There is a new notion of the ‘commons’ emerging.  Deleuze and Guattari, in What is Philosophy?  argue that the construction of concepts is ontological as well as epistemological.  Constructing ‘common names’ is necessarily cooperative, and therefore constructs a community [sounds exactly like change management!].  The multitude is inevitably involved.  Thus ‘the commons is the incarnation, the production and the liberation of the multitude’ (303).

[What this lacks is any reference to excellent sociological analysis of the commercialism inherent in postmodern culture and identity.  It is far too concerned with work, as with postfordist analyses generally.  It seems deeply paradoxical, admitting on the one hand that the communication in networks between customers and producers is often reduced to market feedback, while holding out hope for some new communal definitions].

4.1 Virtualities

Empire is all absorbing, there is no outside.  Politics now becomes a matter of ontology.  Empire invents a whole ontological fabric, so that the transcendent is unthinkable.  There is no way to establish objective measurement either, and the system depends on regulated contingency.  Humanity’s powers of innovation are the only possible basis of change.

Values are still important, however, and these are found in wider forms of productivity than just the production of economic value.  Labour itself becomes a ‘vehicle of possibility’ (357).  What labour produces is excessive from the point of view of capitalism.  Capitalism itself produces excess by encouraging knowledge and creativity.  [This discussion reminds me of Marx’s example of an English entrepreneur who moved his entire factory and labour force to Australia, and then expected to re-establish the system of production and its class relations exactly as before.  Unfortunately, the wage labourers seized the chance to go off and produce materials for themselves].  This new knowledge and creativity is common, or shared.  What we see are combinations of ‘labour, intelligence, passion and affect’ (358).  This can no longer be regulated: it is also beyond measure in the Nietzschean sense. It is ‘the virtuality that seeks to be real’ (359).

Imperial institutions become parasites on this creativity, although they are are still dominant.  However, they survive through simple oppression [no authority], with no ontological depth.  These institutions monopolise the destructive, but exercising their destructive power simply weakens their warrant further.  They are increasingly reactive to the resistance of the multitude.

Mobility of labour is creating a new sense of global citizenship.  Nomadism and miscegenation should be seen ‘as figures of virtue’ (362).  They represent the universal made concrete, the development of a common species rather than different nationalities.  They express the desire to make the human community.  This is a post colonial movement, breaking out of the old colonial enclaves.  The liberation promised is much more than legal emancipation.  Labour mobility represents a more general circulation than simply international exchange.

We are seeing the emergence of a ‘general intellect’ [a Marxist phrase], a combination of labour, science and knowledge.  It is emerging as a material force, producing culture and other social products.  This force exceeds the needs of national economic production, which it underpins—language precedes the circulation of commodities.  We have the growth of social intelligence rather than economic calculation.  It is an expression of life as such, ‘naked life’ (366).  Production is to be reappropriated.  A new harmony between humans and machines will develop, one not dominated by capitalism as before, but to be the subject of a struggle.

In some ways we are seeing the end of capitalism, but first we must conduct ‘a phenomenological and historical analysis of the relationship between virtuality and possibility’ [typical bloody philosophers!] (368).  However, we cannot use traditional metaphysics to do this [partly because it’s far too pessimistic].  We must pursue a material and revolutionary analysis.  It is a matter of seeing what happens when virtualities accumulate and realise themselves.  Only the res gestae* have these capacities and are capable of producing singular virtualities, ‘machines of innovation’ (369).  These machines are both destructive/revolutionary, and positive/constituting.  [Presumably, these strange terms and arguments relate to traditions in metaphysics which have to be overcome?]

* The term res gestae refers to 'what actually happened', apparently, as opposed to the [ideological] historia rerum gestarum,  stories which put a gloss on what happened [thanks God for schoolboy Latin -- and Wikipedia!]. It means a firsthand account when associated with the memoirs of Augustus, and also a category of legal evidence. Here it is a popular account, the multitude's own account? It also refers to actual singularities rather than events considered as ideological cases or examples?

4.2 Generation and corruption

There are lots of analyses of the inherent crisis of current social arrangements, including empires, their rise and fall and their immanent decadence [shades of current discussion about Murdoch and the decline of News International!].  Founding myths of empires tend to falter eventually, and universal claims are soon exposed as partial [shades of Habermas on legitimation crisis].  Universal appeal is only possible when there is an open competition between emerging classes, said Machiavelli [compare with the views that the State can be a referee only in imperfect competition, and gets illegitimate once it has to prop up monopolies].  In those circumstances, state intervention looks like it will lead to universal freedom.  Eventually though its sacred basis declines and it takes on an obvious civic power and role.  This in turn implies immanent revolutionary possibilities.

This is discussed in various ways as patterns of crisis and decline and their inherent location in imperialism, or the challenge facing Europe in the rise of new powers like America—European notions of civic virtue become obviously tied  to old elites and there is an open fear of the masses (and sometimes discussions of the death of God).  Behind the struggles it is possible to detect a positive force—the desire of the multitude to transcend European notions of modernity.

European social theory tended to be pessimistic, overwhelmed with the consequences of war.  One result was that dangerous valorization of irrationality as the only source of hope [and the examples  are Weber on charisma and German existential decisionism].  Nietzsche does not belong in there, thanks to the characteristic French reading [Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault are mentioned], who see him or as a theorist of the production of subjectivity.

[There also some mysterious remarks about the new materialism ending the reliance on the dialectic.  I’m not sure if this means as a philosophical method, where it is necessary always to seek for countervailing trends, or the end of Marxist dialectic.  Again, there seems to be some criticism of pessimism, of the limits of positivity in dialectical thinking].

Themes expressed in Wittgenstein, and in Critical Theory— refusal, resistance, escape and deterritorialization—have somehow been taken up by the multitude and their movement towards the ‘realization of a singular and collective subject’ (380).  This is seen best in the decline of the old territorialism.

America became a utopia for fleeing populations of Europe and later intellectuals, offering pluralism and freedom, deterritorialization via the expanding frontier.  America was seen to rescue Europe, militarily and culturally/politically—for example America became the centre of modern art, and American production systems were exported to Europe [the examples of Lenin’s new economic policy, Gramsci on fordism, and the fewer the USA as some natural system at the end of history after the collapse of the USSR].

However, Empire is more than just the USA.  The USA offers no sanctuary faced with declining crisis of the global system.  Modern global production overrides the division between bases and superstructures, it produces as well as consumes, it has no outside.  There is still exploitation, though, and so still resistance, on a synchronic basis.  Conflict is always possible.  Technological development is still uneven and so is a source of conflict.  Subjectivity itself is in crisis.

What are the positive implications?  Capitalism still seems natural, as the only alternative to chaos, but this omits the productivity of the multitude, which is uncontrollable and produces a new biopolitical space.  Human beings regenerate the world.  The biopolitical world is necessarily productive  or generative, and can no longer be controlled by fear or despotism.  We must celebrate this productivity in a new politics.  It is the basis of communication.

There is still corruption.  This is negative and punctures the fabric of social relations rather than being generative.  It is also everywhere.  However, it is also easy to perceive and can clearly be recognised as violence, an insult.  [Types of corruption are listed 390f].  Capitalism is always implicated.  Corruption follow when capitalism becomes abstracted from human values [very similar to the discussion about Murdoch and police corruption].  However, such an abstraction is inevitable once the ideology of progress is dispelled, and capitalism is seen as necessarily supported by force and command.  The system therefore becomes seen as limited, and not natural, a denial of productivity.  Empire eventually has to deploy a number of ways of limiting  this excess productivity (392) [and corruption seems to be one of the ways to do it—not a bad description of the role of organized crime in Italy].

4.3 The multitude against empire

Social conflicts become political ones directly [compare with Habermas and the idea of the escalation of crises].  [There is a strange detour via various philosophical traditions, including Augustine and the notion of the two cities].  The formation of the multitude operates from below, and takes place through struggle and revolution.  The revolutions of the 20th century can be seen as cumulative, developing the new revolutionary subjectivity to which Empire cannot respond.  The multitude is too dynamic.  The new singularity emerges from the history of the old revolutions.  The multitude is still not an active political agent, but it is not ‘an insuperable obstacle’ to become one, because there is already a definite ‘telos, a material affirmation of liberation’ (395).  Technologies are to be directed to enhance the joy of the multitude.  A new material mythology or religion will break the power of the old ones.

The mobilities of the multitude exceed capitalist regulation and become an autonomous movement.  They develop new spaces as rhizomes (397).  Mass migrations are necessary for production and can therefore not be prevented.  They already take the form of persistent trails of migrants, say from Mexico to the USA, or from Pakistan to the Arab Gulf.  Empire responds by trying to regulate these flows specifically, and generally to ‘manage and orchestrate various forces of nationalism and fundamentalism’ (399).  This is a typical negative power, though.  Multitudes  will eventually be able to confront these repressions, and collectively unify their experiences—but how concretely?

We can construct a political programme of demands, such as (A) global citizenship to reflect the real economic situation; (B) the right to control our own movements [very naive given the anxieties about citizenship and immigration and their uneven impact, and, as Zizek says, who are we making these demands to?].

New temporalities are being generated as well as geographies.  These do not work according to the classic definitions of time, but are based on collective experiences, rather than objective measures.  It is now impossible to measure labour, and time itself is collective.  Immanence triumphs over measurability [incomprehensible to me.  Must be some reference to some arcane philosophical discussion about whether or not objective measures can be apply to ‘naked life’?]

There is a new expanded proletariat not just the industrial working class.  There is no split between productive and unproductive labour, for example, and no splits in time between work and leisure.  Instead, there is general production ‘all day long’ (403).  This leads to further demands: (C) the demand for a social wage and guaranteed income, instead of the present wage structure, which offers, for example ‘family wages’.  Social wages are meant for everyone, including the unemployed, since they take part as well in the general creativity of the multitude.  There is to be ‘equal compensation’ (403).  [Marx certainly realised a few problems there!].

Class struggles will break out potentially everywhere, but they need to be configured.  This should be done through communication, as Habermas says, although he was wrong to divide off the life world as a privileged segment, or to separate the different human interests.  There is now a whole struggle over language, ideology and production, and experience.  This needs a new philosophy to reappropriate and deconstruct these connected elements.  We must realise that human beings are themselves machinic and take a new stance towards technology, recapturing machines from capitalist use, and constructing new ones as a ‘lasting corporeal progression of desire in freedom’ (405).  We are experiencing a collective and real telos or becoming, and this can be directly experienced, with no dialectic categories of mediation required (405) .  A new notion of the biopolitical will connect politics with life, and produce transformations through creative production.  This leads to the fourth demand: (D) the right to reappropriation, not just of the fruits of production, but free access to knowledge, information, communication, and affects.

We are still within Empire, though there are already clear signs of resistance and infiltration, and ‘becoming – subject’ is an emerging issue (407).  We need to discuss posse, in the sense of active power.  This term emerged in European philosophy [with examples 407 F].  It now appears even in ‘contemporary U.S. rap groups’ (408) [surely one of the daftest examples of naive optimism in the whole piece!  The authors know that this term probably refers to sheriff’s posses, but that use ‘does not interest us much…  [We prefer to]…  trace back a deeper hidden etymology of the term’ (408).  And how did this hidden philosophical term get connected to U.S. rap groups?  Through a ‘strange destiny…  a grain of madness’ (408).  Really, of course through the entirely imaginary optimistic speculations of a couple of philosophers desperate to see some activist resistance even in the most unlikely places].

The term posse rather than public reminds us of the central ontological role of the multitude.  The old industrial struggles were over rights to reappropriate skill, and the characteristic agent was the trade union of skilled workers.  Then organizations of mass and less skilled workers emerged to present alternatives to capitalism, especially communism.  There are now social workers, and their goal is to demand the intellectuality and productivity be reappropriated to constitute a new society, an ‘organisation of productive and political power as a biopolitical unity, managed by the multitude, organized by the multitude, directed by the multitude—absolute democracy in action’ (410).

This vision is on the way.  [Lots of ‘musts’ enforce this optimism—for example ‘Exploitation must not only be negated…  but also annulled in its premises’ (410).] Cooperation must annul private property, which is obviously now obsolescent.  Eventually, these episodes will reach a threshold and become real, although [!] ‘We are still awaiting  a construction or rather the insurgence of a powerful organization’ (411).  It is just a matter of the maturation of the multitude.

The new militant can express the life of the multitude.  The prototype here is probably a wobbly [member of the American Institute of Workers of the World].  Rank and file militants have always raised aspirations and engaged in the long march to resist and construct a counterpower.  They have often been destroyed, but they are still there [a bit like the ‘old mole’ after all?].  They cannot claim to represent the multitude, however, but they can demonstrate productive activity, cooperation.  An example is Saint Francis [!]—poor but joyful.

‘This is a revolution that no power will control, because biopower, and communism, cooperation and revolution remained together, in love, simplicity, and also innocence.  This is the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist’ (413).  [I would like to believe, honest,  but the whole thing looks rather more an enduring phantasy that no amount of imprisonment has affected for Negri, who still possesses this ecstatic pleasure in speculating about a communist dawn.  Every time the price of bread goes up he must leap out of bed thinking that the day has arrived].

link to Deleuze page