Hardt-Negri and Argentina
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Dec 7 07:52:58 MST 2002
(Bedggood is an ultraleft sectarian, but this is a useful article.)
"Empire and the Multitude: the Case of Argentina."
David Bedggood, Sociology Department, University of Auckland.
dr.bedggood at auckland.ac.nz
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire has posed a challenge to right and
left to rethink the nature of the global economy. However, the main
concepts of 'Empire' and 'Multitude' are difficult to define and apply to
the realities of class exploitation and oppression. This paper is part of a
research project that attempts to put these concepts to the test in the
case of Argentina a country currently undergoing a major economic and
social crisis. Can it be said that Empire is able to explain the momentous
events in Argentina better than other theories including that of the
Marxist theory of Imperialism?
Michael Hardt and Toni Negri's book Empire (2000) has created a stir in
academia in the last two years on both right and left. It argues that today
world capitalism has entered a new stage of development. 'Empire' is
different from imperialism and is bigger than any particular country
including the US. 'Empire' is opposed by the 'multitude' which is different
and yet has greater potential for resistance than most former conceptions
of class organisation.
Most of the commentary from the 'left' has been welcoming. Hardt and in
particular Negri are seen as reviving an optimism of the intellect that has
been overcome by pessimism in recent years (Beasley-Murray, 2001). Zizek
asks if Empire is perhaps the Communist Manifesto for the 21st century
(2001). The return to a forthright and even enthusiastic focus on class
struggle is regarded as healthy, even if doubts remain about Negri's failed
workerist politics of the 1970's (Sheehan, 1979, Wright, 1996) carrying
over to the new millenium and underestimating Capital's power to impose its
will (Holloway, 2002).
Others have criticised Hardt and Negri for developing concepts that are not
directly related to actually existing anti-capitalist struggles (Munck,
2001). There is an almost unhealthy idealisation of 'America'
(Beasley-Murray, 2001) but no real reality testing when the US bombs
Afghanistan (Negri, 2002; Zizek, 2002b). There is no real test of
constituent power against constituted power. Yet the book is seen as a
challenge to both left and right that demands a response. In particular it
demands a response from those who would see in Hardt' and Negri's 'Empire'
a dangerous diversion from opposition to the 'US Empire' (Gowan, 2001).
I too welcome the challenge posed by H&N. I have major problems with H&N
method of analysis which owes more to Spinoza and Deleuze than Marx on the
question of constituent power (Negri, 1999). This is particularly so in the
idealist and utopian attitude towards 'resistance' that fails to spell out
the actual nuts and bolts of class struggle. For that reason part of H&N'
appeal seems to be its 'fit' with the eclectic notions of multi-class
'networks' or 'popular frontism' that is to be found in the World Social
Forum of Porto Alegre (Hardt, 2002b; WSF,2003). For me, the WSF is part of
the problem, not the solution, so if H&N are in fact providing a new brand
of reformism for the WSF project, then they are to be opposed and not
However, rather than indulge here in a wide-ranging and discursive
questioning of the political uses of H&N theory, my purpose in this paper
is to test some of its central propositions of Empire against the Leninist
concept of imperialism: in particular the manner in which Empire extracts
surplus value differently from imperialism, and the composition and
resistance of the Multitude compared with that of the more familiar
international proletariat. But to do that it is necessary to look closely
at a real example of Empire (Imperialism?) and Multitude (proletariat?) in
I have chosen the current crisis in Argentina as a case study. Why? Because
Argentina today is in a similar situation to that of Russia in 1917. It is
a 'weak link', if not the 'weakest link', in imperialism. Argentina is in a
state of pre-revolutionary crisis as has been evident since the
'Argentinazo' of last December. I argue here that Argentina is a classic
semi-colony of British, and more recently, of US imperialism, which are
trying to solve their own economic crises at the expense of the Argentinean
people. The Argentinean workers and oppressed are in turn 'resisting' being
the 'fall guys' of US imperialist plans. So casing Argentina should allow
us to see how far Hardt's and Negri's basic theory fits with the reality of
a semi-colonial country undergoing an economic, social and political upheaval.
PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.
More information about the Marxism