How to be a contortionist, by Michael Hardt

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Dec 18 08:12:43 MST 2002

Michael Keaney wrote:
> I'm looking forward to the Proyect commentary on this...

Glad to oblige.

> Folly of our masters of the universe
> Global elites must realise that US imperialism isn't in their interest
> Michael Hardt
> Wednesday December 18, 2002
> The Guardian
> Some of the worst tragedies of human history occur when elites are incapable
> of acting in their own interest. The waning years of ancient Rome, for
> example, were full of misguided political and military adventures that
> brought death and destruction to the elites, their allies and their enemies
> alike. Unfortunately we are again facing such a situation.

I think this dramatizes the liberalism that underlies much of Hardt's
thinking, despite all the revolutionary phrase-making. The notion of
"folly" permeates the Nation Magazine, which is constantly advising the
ruling class and its politicians how right-minded, mature human beings
should act--as if it was a question of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton
for that matter being cajoled into behaving like Alan Alda or Phil
Donohue. During the Vietnam war, especially during LBJ's administration,
many decent people tried to analyzed it as a series of mistakes--like
wrong moves in a chess game.

In fact "death and destruction" will not come to the "elites", but to
the working-class soldiers who are dragooned into carrying out these
imperialist adventures. The fact that Hardt can even speak in these
terms betrays his class confusions, no doubt a product of his isolation
from working people. He is much happier blathering about some amorphous
"multitude" than connecting with the living mass movement in North
Carolina, where black and antiwar activists are fighting the good fight.

> These military adventures are one sign that the US is fast becoming an
> imperialist power along the old European model, but on a global scale. It is
> imposing itself as the active and determining centre of the full range of
> world affairs, military, political, and economic. All exchanges and
> decisions are being forced, in effect, to pass through the US.

What idiocy. The US was an imperialist power since the late 1880s, when
it brought Hawaii, Cuba and the Philippines successively under its
control. Furthermore, the original intention was to carve out an empire
(as opposed to Hardt-Negri's 'Empire') if you read Thomas Jefferson's
arguments on behalf of Manifest Destiny and study the development of
internal colonization of the indigenous peoples.

> Many political and economic elites around the world, however, do not favour
> the creation of a new US imperialism. One common view is that European
> political leaders generally oppose US unilateralism because it excludes them
> and prefer instead multilateral political and military solutions. What are
> most significant, however, are not the conflicting interests that separate
> US elites from others, but rather their common interests.

I guess this his way of reformulating the rather boneheaded notion found
in "Empire" that there is no hegemon. However, while there are "common
interests", there is only one power that can dictate whether there is a
war against Iraq, namely the USA. It is in effect the lion standing over
the carcass of the gazelle, while Great Britain and all the rest stand
at the side like vultures eyeing the possible remains.

> The common interests of the global elites are most visible in the economic
> sphere. Business leaders around the globe recognise that imperialism is bad
> for business because it sets up barriers that hinder global flows. The
> potential profits of capitalist globalisation, which whet the appetites of
> business elites everywhere only a few years ago, depend on open systems of
> production and exchange. This is equally true for the captains of capital in
> the US. Even for the US industrialists drunk on oil, their real interests
> lie in the potential profits of capitalist globalisation.

Has Hardt ever read any Marxist economics? If so, it doesn't show from
the above gobbledy-gook. No member of the bourgeoisie thinks in terms of
imperialism being "bad for business". Imperialism is a system that is
forced to construct barriers while simultaneously creating global flows
of investment and trade. This was the whole point of Lenin's polemic
against Kautsky's concept of a 'super-imperialism', which stressed only
one side of the dialectic--in much the same fashion as Hardt-Negri.

> Their common interests are equally visible from the perspective of security.
> It is foolish to believe that the removal of a few malefactors, such as
> Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, will provide security. Not even the US
> leaders have the illusion that this war will bring peace. They see it rather
> as a long-lasting and perhaps interminable war driven by continually
> emerging threats.

No, they don't. That's what they tell the American people as an excuse.
Their real agenda is plunder, just as it always was.

 From Policy Planning Study 23, written by George Kennan for the State
Department planning staff in 1948:

"we have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its
population....In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy
and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a
pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position
of disparity....To do so, we will have to dispense with all
sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be
concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives....We
should cease to talk about vague and...unreal objectives such as human
rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The
day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power
concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."

> However, there is an alternative to US imperialism: global power can be
> organised in a decentred form, which Toni Negri and I call "empire".


> We can be confident that in the long run their real interests will lead
> global elites to support empire and refuse any project of US imperialism. In
> the coming months, and perhaps years, we may face a tragedy that we read
> about in the darkest periods of human history, when elites are incapable of
> acting in their own interest.
> · Michael Hardt is professor of literature at Duke University, North
> Carolina, and co-author with Antonio Negri of Empire

Well, Hardt puts his cards on the table finally. He is for capitalist
rule that is shared equally among all the various vultures, rather than
socialism. This knucklehead should stick to literature and leave
revolutionary politics to those who understand that the working-class
and the bourgeoisie have no interests in common.


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