Comments on a Michael Hardt NLR article
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 26 08:58:48 MDT 2002
These are comments on selected passages from Michael Hardt's article on
"Porto Alegre: Today's Bandung" that appears in the online edition of the
New Left Review 14, March-April 2002.
HARDT: Rather than opposing the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre to the
World Economic Forum in New York, it is more revealing to imagine it as the
distant offspring of the historic Bandung Conference that took place in
Indonesia in 1955. Both were conceived as attempts to counter the dominant
world order: colonialism and the oppressive Cold War binary in the case of
Bandung, and the rule of capitalist globalization in that of Porto Alegre.
The differences, however, are immediately apparent. On one hand the Bandung
Conference, which brought together leaders primarily from Asia and Africa,
revealed in a dramatic way the racial dimension of the colonial and Cold
War world order, which Richard Wright famously described as being divided
by the 'colour curtain'. Porto Alegre, in contrast, was a predominantly
REPLY: I suspect that the event was predominantly white because most third
world activists of color are preoccupied with the problem of state power.
As long as one's country is ruled by a coalition of the military, local
compradors and the US Embassy, vaporous discussions of "global democracy"
seem practically beside the point. One can only imagine what a delegation
of Palestinians would make of this NGO carnival. While pie in the sky is
being promoted from the podium, their homes are literally being bulldozed
from beneath them.
HARDT: The Porto Alegre Forum was in this sense perhaps too happy, too
celebratory and not conflictual enough. The most important political
difference cutting across the entire Forum concerned the role of national
sovereignty. There are indeed two primary positions in the response to
today's dominant forces of globalization: either one can work to reinforce
the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control
of foreign and global capital, or one can strive towards a non-national
alternative to the present form of globalization that is equally global.
The first poses neoliberalism as the primary analytical category, viewing
the enemy as unrestricted global capitalist activity with weak state
controls; the second is more clearly posed against capital itself, whether
state-regulated or not. The first might rightly be called an
anti-globalization position, in so far as national sovereignties, even if
linked by international solidarity, serve to limit and regulate the forces
of capitalist globalization. National liberation thus remains for this
position the ultimate goal, as it was for the old anticolonial and
anti-imperialist struggles. The second, in contrast, opposes any national
solutions and seeks instead a democratic globalization.
REPLY: Why does Michael Hardt so stubbornly ignore the question of CLASS
when discussing "National liberation"? The "sovereignty of nation-states"
is a category so wide that one could easily navigate an aircraft carrier
through it while blindfolded. For example, Cuba is one expression of the
need to achieve the "sovereignty of nation-states," while Malathir's
Malaysia is another. If so-called communists cannot distinguish between two
such radically different models, then they need to stop abusing the word
HARDT: The first position occupied the most visible and dominant spaces of
the Porto Alegre Forum; it was represented in the large plenary sessions,
repeated by the official spokespeople, and reported in the press. A key
proponent of this position was the leadership of the Brazilian PT (Workers'
Party)-in effect the host of the Forum, since it runs the city and regional
government. It was obvious and inevitable that the PT would occupy a
central space in the Forum and use the international prestige of the event
as part of its campaign strategy for the upcoming elections. The second
dominant voice of national sovereignty was the French leadership of ATTAC,
which laid the groundwork for the Forum in the pages of Le Monde
Diplomatique. The leadership of ATTAC is, in this regard, very close to
many of the French politicians-most notably Jean-Pierre Chevènement-who
advocate strengthening national sovereignty as a solution to the ills of
contemporary globalization. These, in any case, are the figures who
dominated the representation of the Forum both internally and in the press.
REPLY: Between the Brazilian PT and ATTAC, there's not a lot to choose from
if you are a Marxist. In an exchange with Patrick Bond on the Marxism list,
Brazilian sociology professor and revolutionary Carlos Rebello described
Porto Alegre as "an event that has been now thoroughly instrumentalized by
French Social-Democracy, the moderates of the PT, and others which
represent the most hollow and noxious kind of 'Left' possible."
HARDT: The non-sovereign, alternative globalization position, in contrast,
was minoritarian at the Forum-not in quantitative terms but in terms of
representation; in fact, the majority of the participants in the Forum may
well have occupied this minoritarian position. First, the various movements
that have conducted the protests from Seattle to Genoa are generally
oriented towards non-national solutions.
REPLY: It appears to me that not only do they orient to non-national
solutions, they orient as well to non-planetary solutions. Generally
speaking they are not happy with the world we live in. Unless they learn
how to think strategically, their unhappiness will remain disappointingly
HARDT: Indeed, the centralized structure of state sovereignty itself runs
counter to the horizontal network-form that the movements have developed.
Second, the Argentinian movements that have sprung up in response to the
present financial crisis, organized in neighbourhood and city-wide delegate
assemblies, are similarly antagonistic to proposals of national
sovereignty. Their slogans call for getting rid, not just of one
politician, but all of them- que se vayan todos: the entire political class.
REPLY: This is truly laughable. A crisis of confidence in the existing
parties does not mean that people are looking for global solutions to their
problems. THEY WANT TO CONTROL THEIR COUNTRY AND DEVELOP ITS ASSETS FOR THE
COMMON GOOD. The traditional parties have no program that can address this
desire, but the Argentine people will eventually be forced to create one or
else continue to live in misery. This is called POLITICS. To assume that
they must wait until communism is instituted on a world scale is
REACTIONARY. There is HUNGER in Argentina today. It can be overcome TODAY.
One must not postpone such solutions because they fall short of a Duke
professor's IDEAL WORLD.
HARDT: The division between the sovereignty, anti-globalization position
and the non-sovereign, alternative globalization position is therefore not
best understood in geographical terms. It does not map the divisions
between North and South or First World and Third. The conflict corresponds
rather to two different forms of political organization. The traditional
parties and centralized campaigns generally occupy the national sovereignty
pole, whereas the new movements organized in horizontal networks tend to
cluster at the non-sovereign pole.
REPLY: In reality, the two poles you are considering have something in
common. They both reject socialist revolution.
HARDT: In a previous period we could have staged an old-style ideological
confrontation between the two positions. The first could accuse the second
of playing into the hands of neoliberalism, undermining state sovereignty
and paving the way for further globalization.
REPLY: Sounds to me like you're reacting to the criticisms that "Empire" is
a leftwing version of Thomas Friedman's "Lexus and the Olive Tree".
HARDT: One of the basic characteristics of the network form is that no two
nodes face each other in contradiction; rather, they are always
triangulated by a third, and then a fourth, and then by an indefinite
number of others in the web. This is one of the characteristics of the
Seattle events that we have had the most trouble understanding: groups
which we thought in objective contradiction to one
another-environmentalists and trade unions, church groups and
anarchists-were suddenly able to work together, in the context of the
network of the multitude. The movements, to take a slightly different
perspective, function something like a public sphere, in the sense that
they can allow full expression of differences within the common context of
open exchange. But that does not mean that networks are passive. They
displace contradictions and operate instead a kind of alchemy, or rather a
sea change, the flow of the movements transforming the traditional fixed
positions; networks imposing their force through a kind of irresistible
REPLY: The only thing a network cannot do is seize power. It can protest
injustice until the cows come home, but in order to put food on peoples'
table, to house them, to provide jobs, to keep them healthy, to educate
them, you need a STATE. Furthermore, you need working class power in order
to defend clinics and schools from counter-revolutionary attacks. Of
course, some people are happier thinking about the ideal world of the
future when there will be so much food that hoarders would be treated for
psychiatric disorders rather than jailed. Burl Ives sang a song about this.
It is called "Big Rock Candy Mountain".
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