Saturday, August 9, 2008

For the Love of the Multitude: A conversation with Michael Hardt

by Dimitris Gourdoukis

In 2000 Antonio Negri’s and Michael Hardt’s book “The Empire” was published to what proved to be a very warm welcome. Their analysis of the system of global domination, the ways that it functions and operates, was indeed an effort long anticipated and much needed. Four years later, in 2004, their second collaboration was published in the form of “The multitude”. This second book is standing in several ways at the opposite side of the Empire. Of course it continues from where the later stops while it shares the same principles. However, while the Empire was looking at the dominating system, trying to analyze it and understand it, the Multitude is looking at the alternatives that we can have, or we are already having, to that system. At the same time, the more academic style of the first book gives its place to a more ‘pop’ – in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms – approach. The Multitude moves from passages about the Golem or Dostoyevsky’s Demons to pages that could have been part of ‘city guerilla’ brochure. Being true to its Spinozian roots, it goes through war and the analysis of the Multitude itself to end in a very positive and optimistic way with democracy.

Here the t-machine is presenting a discussion that we had with Michael Hardt almost a year after the publication of the book, in the spring of 2006.

DG: To begin with, you have a new book, co-written with Antonio Negri, the Multitude, which, if I am not mistaken, is the first after the Empire, right?

MH: Yes, right.

DG: How is it situated in relation to the Empire?

MH: Well, while in the Empire we were relatively satisfied with how we treated the present global system, or the system of domination, it had relatively little to say about the possible alternatives to that. So we thought that this book should develop more the possibilities or the alternatives to the Empire. And not only the alternatives that we could imagine, but the alternatives that are already happening, like what are the movements today, what are their poles and directions and what kind of alternative global world today point to us. So that is generally the distinction between the two projects.

DG: So in relation to the Empire you are trying to take a step forward.

MH: Trying to take a step forward and rather than describing the system of domination, describing the alternatives to that. Even the title, in the Empire we talked a little about the Multitude, but we had to say little about the Multitude, so now we thought that the idea will be to articulate the Multitude philosophically and politically.

DG: And you begin your book with war.

MH: Yes.

DG: You dedicate one third of the book to describe what you call war in the society today. By ‘war’ I suppose you don’t mean only the armed combat, right?

MH: Yes.

DG: And you also inverse the Clausevich formula, which is interesting. I am wondering why you choose war to describe the situation today.

MH: Well, there is a first and maybe it is not a good reason, but it is an immediate reason, that is hard to think today, after September 11, or really after the US reaction to September 11, it became increasingly difficult to think about making for a better world. Because of the state of war, that the US declared on terror, and various other kinds of real military combats, in addition to the other things we are saying. Whereas it might have been difficult but it seemed easier in 1999 to think about how a better world could be, suddenly it seems like we are lost in the mist of a horrible situation, so war was like an obstacle that we had to deal with before we can actually talk about. Like I said, this might not be the best reason, but nonetheless I think is really true also, which is thinking of the reader who says “how we can even imagine a democratic world today when we face with Bush?” And so it seemed to us like what we had to talk about at first. Part of the effort of that third of the book is to try to articulate how the problem is not only Bush. And the problem is not only the US war on terror. That is much larger… one needs to think about war as a kind of obstacle that opposes to political projects or alternatives, as something that is much broader, that does unfortunately include military repression but also is a broader political and social obstacle. One of the things that we are trying to confront in that first chapter and then came back to it later and I think is one of those things that we don’t yet understand or have an answer to, is the problem of the relationship between force of violence and political activism. I mean, it seems to me at least, that it makes no sense today to talk about a war of liberation in the way we talked about it 20 or 30 years ago, that makes no sense to talk about it in that way today. But neither does it seems to me that political activism should exclude the use of force. I think that we have to rethink, and as I say I don't have a way of, and maybe the general way of saying this today, we have to think what the relation between force and the politics of liberation is. So in addition to thinking what war is, we start to think what war for liberation is today. And is not an easy answer it seems to me.

DG: And the actual wars or armed combats how are situated inside this idea? They are part of it.

MH: Yes, I mean this is like a sort of our way into the discussion for us, which is to try to understand in the various kinds of armed combats, I mean I am not sure which ones you mean, I am thinking of the obvious wars where both sides are bad in some way, like India-Pakistan, Sierra Leone-Haiti, you know, we have those ongoing wars throughout the world, and what seems to me as a first obligation or task for thinking about this is to recognize how each one has its own specific causes. They are also related to one another as a global system of warfare. Warfare that functions as a kind of social repression.

DG: Yes, because those wars seem like they are more like ‘traditional’ wars, with specific causes.

MH: They are but I think that in many ways there is a, not a danger, but there can be a miscomprehension when something that looks like it is repeating something old but in fact is masking its new relationships. Like for instance, and that's something different, outside Mexico, and I mean mainly in Europe and the US, when the Zapatistas started in 1994 the first reaction was “well that is just an old guerilla army, its just a repetition of the old” while in fact it was something new, it takes quite a while to recognize the novelty of that old form.

DG: This idea of war, its seems that there are other thinks interested in that too, for example Virilio… or Manuel DeLanda… There seems to be a certain proximity between those ideas and your ideas. Is there such a proximity or do you see those ideas as a different approach?

MH: Well both of those books, the Virilio book…

DG: Pure War…

MH: I was thinking of an earlier one, but things are also repeated in that one, and then the first DeLanda book. Yes there are a lot in common with those books. The one hesitation that I have is with the kind of statement that “war or the military drives history”. I think that this is a point which… I don’t know, I prefer to like machiavellian thinking, where force for Machiavelli is important of course, violence is important, but its really on its own the weakest form of power. And I think that's important to recognize today too. The US military is incredibly important and does horrible things, but on its own it’s really a weak form of power. I think what one has to recognize when trying to understand the global system of repression is how this military elements only function when being embedded within, and collaborating with, force of power in various other fields. And I think that even in the thinking of the US military, it can be very instructive to read the things produced by the advisors to the military instructors, a little bit like reading the diary of a psycho killer, you know, its disturbing but at the same time its interesting to see how they think. Well, I was thinking in this regard that what I find most interesting, and it’s not really new, movements within the military is this notion of a full spectrum dominance. I think that is interesting because what they mean by ‘full spectrum dominance’ is that the military has not only to dominate in terms of violence and force, it also has to affect all the other domains, so that's what the full spectrum is, it has to dominate also the economy, has to do it politically, culturally. The US military used to say, during the Vietnam era, that they have to win the hearts and minds, not just kill the Vietnamese, but also to defeat them culturally, or form them culturally. This is really an expansion of that, because now the US military has been involved in nation-building which is dominating them politically. So it’s dominating politically, culturally, economically, this all the charges of the US military, and in Iraq we’ve seen that task and the failures of that task. And one theoretical thing that interests me about this and which I was formulating wrong few minutes ago, because their charge is not so much to dominate them culturally, is to produce them culturally. The form of power is required to be productive rather than simply a kind of repression. Like in Iraq, is obscure when you see it because they recognize that this is a task that they are completely unprepared to do it. The military’s task is to produce an Iraqi political system. It turns out to be an incredible disaster. Nonetheless that's what they see as their charge. And I think in this sense they are lucid, recognizing that it is not just a matter of military power, as even being the foundation, it only functions when it is in coordination with this various other spectrums. All this because I was hesitating with the notion of military force guiding history. I think that it is easy to put too much weigh on the military power of the US today. And I don’t want to say… I mean in military I assume that it is far more powerful than any other military. But the military isolated is insufficient for its task.

DG: And then we have Deleuze and Guattari’s war machines. Could we say that what you are describing here is a war machine that became too big and too powerful, that finally is taking, or already took, the place of the state?

MH: Yes. Well, the way I see Deleuze and Guattaris’ war machines… you know the insistence that the war machines are exterior to the state. They are different things. But nonetheless the state always requires a war machine, and there is a support between the two. And it seems that what we are trying to do in way is to describe the war machine that coordinates its functions with the Empire. If someone thinks of the Empire as form of sovereignty, not really state, but nonetheless a new form of sovereignty, it too has a war machine. A war machine that is exterior to it. That might be a way to pose it in their terms. They say in the end of that chapter, now I am getting very academic about it, but the last pages of the chapter on nomadology, or the apparatus of capture, I am not sure, either 12 or 13 to get Deleuze and Guatarrian about this, the last pages almost seem to me as an exact proposition of our hypothesis of the empire, when they are talking about the war machine and the global integrating of capitalism, I thinks it’s Guattari’s turm.

DG: I think it's the nomadology chapter. What I was thinking is that they think of the war machine not only like something big, and they say that it can be a multinational company, but it can also be a small group of people, which in your idea comes to be the multitude, right?

MH: Right. And my question would be, and I don’t have a answer yet, is that if we agree, and I think that most of us agree, that there are times that the use of force is necessary in politics, so what is the appropriate use of force today, against the system that is repressing us? I think the answer is that what we had years ago are so clearly not appropriate today. Urban armed struggle, in the sense of taking weapons, like in the 70s, rural guerilla movements, and I am thinking of the 70’s in latin America mostly, these seem to me, on one sense counterproductive and suicidal, on the other sense seems to me like today they are martial fantasies. But once we recognize the difficulty, what is that kind of force that is useful today? And that is what I am not sure about. I said that because when you mentions Deleuze and Guattari’s war machine… you know a war machine can be a line of flight. They can be the band of outsides that become a war machine as a kind of escape. So it’s not clear for me what that could mean. It reminds me of another line, and I think it’s in the dialogues book, where he says, I think they were talking about the line of flight as an escape, and I think it sounded too pacific to him so he says something like “yes the line of flight always fly but as you are leaving, grab a gun”. Which is a nice line, I think is a reference to George Jackson actually, and you know, I too know that gesture, but I also know that for me if we were to think what we should do today, to think of ways employed in the 70’s, I don’t thinks that that is productive. Anyway, I shouldn’t go on with that, but for me, part of the question about war is this.

DG: In this work we have on one hand the Empire and on the other hand we have networks. You write somewhere that “it takes a network to fight a network”. Does it mean that the Empire might transform itself into a network and it might also get rid of its center or of its hierarchy?

MH: Well, not necessarily get rid of its hierarchy. Again, when you say that, it makes me think of these Hollywood movies like Terminator where the dominant thing is this network of machines, the imagination is something like that, but I think again if we read the literature within the US military about how their theorists think it needs to transform, they are arguing that it needs to become more like a network. Networks don’t yet say anything about hierarchy. Because what they argue for in the US military, by these reformers of the military, is not that it will lose its authority, but that it will not be structured as a traditional direct hierarchy, and in a way that there will be teams of soldiers that cooperate together. But they are still of course under a hierarchy. Networks of course, they don’t even have to have a center to have a hierarchy. To the extent at which the Empire doesn’t have a center, and I think there are some ways in which it does and some ways in which it doesn’t, to the extent that it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean at all that it doesn’t have a hierarchy. It's a hierarchy that functions in a different way. Like for instance: when we were talking, even in the initial part of our hypothesis, when we were saying that the Empire is form by a network of the dominant states plus the dominant capitalist corporations etc. Those dominant nation - states, there is already a strict hierarchy, for instance between the US and France. But they can still function as a network even with that hierarchy. And it does seem to me that the US military is recognizing the ways in which it has to become more like a network in order to combine the kinds of challenges that is facing.

DG: So, you are saying that despite this war and despite the Empire being so powerful, we have hope.

MH: Right.

DG: And we have hope not only because of the Multitude, but also because of the Empire itself, because it is the Empire that gives rise to various forms of resistance. And much like the Empire, the Multitude is also like a network. Which are the ways in which it gets organized or what are the reasons for which these singular units are coming together in order to form the Multitude?

MH: Well, someone will say “look, you say that the Empire is a network and then the Multitude is a network, so what is the difference?” So, one has to say that it is not the network form in itself, but the kind of network, the relations within the networks that define the difference. I would say that there are certain qualities of relationships that define the Multitude. The singularities are existing subjects so much as a political project. And it will be a political subject formed by the equality of the cooperating singularities, but they are different and they are remaining different. They‘re not merging into a single agenda, a single form of authority etc. They are rather a horizontal network. Then you say why or how do these singularities come together? Maybe there are two ways of approaching such questions. On the one hand one could, and I am sure that we do, try to address it theoretically, but sometimes its better to say “what is it that the people are doing?” “What are the people that are coming together, what are the kinds of projects in which this is happening” and look at that. Like I said before, rather than asking what is it to be done, start by asking the question “what the people are already doing?”. Because there is throughout the world a numerable amount of horizontal movements that are forming. Using them as a point of departure might be the easiest way of addressing these kinds of questions. Like movements in India or in Brazil, or like the assembly movements in Argentina. These are all, in their own ways, with their own peculiarities, they are different experiments in the formation of a local kind of Multitude. What’s interesting about those political reflection, is that it’s not really talking about a world that could be, it’s trying to give a name to what’s happening today. I will give you another example that is purely anecdotic or personal: I’ve been very involved, as I was coming to political consciousness, with the Italian notion of autonomy and that movements from the 70’s in Italy, and so I was interested during the last years that I was traveling in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and each time meeting with activists that their primary term is autonomy, I mean like the picateros in Brazil or the Zapatistas in Mexico, and each timed I asked them “where does this idea of autonomy come from?” and they said “it comes from our own experience, from what we doing”, and I believe them. And it is a interesting phenomenon, I don’t know the answer to why, but it is an interesting phenomenon that, first having the absolute coincidence of using the same word, but it is more general, why today throughout the world are there being form alternative movements that are working with this process, that are trying to experiments with the concepts of autonomy and independence, or a horizontal network formation. My initial assumption or reaction is that “is it throughout the world activism or reacting to similar kinds of situations and challenges and that this notion of autonomy comes from that” I don’t even know why I went into that… oh the formation of multitude and how those things come together, yes, maybe its not so much in theory, “why they should do this” but maybe trying to realize “why they are doing this”.

DG: Also, the way that you describe the Multitude, it brings in mind the idea of the rhizome, as described again by Deleuze and Guattari. What do you think about that?

MH: Yes, I think that it reminds of it. But then again, the further complexity that you are already pointing to is that, you know when you read the beginning of “A Thousand Plateaus” you can think “ok, rhizome is good, tree is bad” and then its turns out that there are good rhizomes and bad rhizomes and that's in essence what we were talking about here. You can say the US military might organize itself as a network but that is not going to make it good, in fact it’s going to make a more “evil” kind of enemy. And so someone has to look at the criteria. But yes, I think that the notion of the rhizome, or the line of flights. In fact one of the most important it seems to me Deleuze and Guattari’s idea that's central for us here is that, when we think of the multitude as formed by an assemblage of singularities, now I sound like Deleuze and Guattari, and the most important thing is that these singularities are not fixed identities, they are always and each becoming different. And they are always and each multiplicities. And that will be a different from, now in the US context, it might not make sense from the Greek point of view, a difference from a certain perspective of identity in politics in which the assumption of identity is fixed and stable. Where the notion of becoming different is already part of the Multitude.

DG: At the same time those singularities are without knowledge of the Multitude, right?

MH: Right, that's another difference with the national identity.

DG: So there is no model to explain how people come together; each time they come together in their own ways and they form the Multitude.

MH: Yes… I think that's true, there is no original way of doing it and there is not only one way, but one shouldn’t discount how much communication has effect on these things. The old term in communist relations was about “a cycle of struggles”, that in a way the inspiration and translation of what is going on in St Petersburg for instance is translated in Shanghai in a different way and taken up etc. I think that today is not exactly the same thing but there is a kind of communication that does help in the formation of groups elsewhere. I mean that the recognition of how a community in Chiapas is formed does then help in Barcelona thinking in a very different context how these singularities might come together. I wish there were more communication… Let me give you an example: Toni and I were together in China last year and one of the things I was really interested in at the time and I kept talk about with people was the crisis in agriculture, the problem of the land and people having to move from the country to the city etc, and as I was talking to people, that were really intellectuals interested in agriculture, not the peasants themselves, but we kept saying “why don’t you start making contacts with the Lamas movement in Brazil, because it is different but they have a similar situation, especially when China enters into the WTO, and it was very hard for them to understand, we didn’t make much. And it seems very practical to me to seek for the translations of what is going on elsewhere to help in this formation of… I said all this because what I was trying to resist is the notion that it could sound spontaneous. Because I think that what is not spontaneous is in fact communication.

DG: You also write that the multitude has to be productive. It has to be productive in terms of labor, or in terms of politics or networks? Because it looks like this idea of productivity is important to you…

MH: It is. Now, stepping back a minute about this, it seems like there is for the last 30 or 50 years, there is a recognition of a problem, an obstacle, within a certain tradition of Marxism. That is productiveness. That puts such emphasis on the economic productivity, that in a way creates a new kind of prison, or even reinforces the same prison. The classic example of this is the notion of this guy in Soviet Union, (something between a myth and a real person) who was more productive than anybody else, and he was doing the work of ten so everybody should be like him. It seems to me that there two ways of responding to this: Because I too am reacting to this notion of communism as more work. There are two ways theoretically to react to this: one is to refuse the notion of productivity and therefore to seek liberation outside of it. As something that is outside of productivity, that has nothing to do with that. The other is, and this is the one that Toni and I are part of, is to work towards a better conception of productivity. That is not strictly economic, but its much better that what is considers a wage liver. I think that Deleuze and Guattari, since we are talking about them, are relevant to this. When they say at the begging of Antioedipus that everything is production, and when they are talking about all these machines, in a way I am trying to think of a very wide spectrum of productivity, it’s not just the productivity in the factory, but the productivity of desire, all of these things, so these are desiring machines, so all this productivity. That's a long explanation to get to the point where we were thinking… what’s really involved. What’s really requiring the production, and I think that's what politics are, is the production of society. It’s not society as a given formation but is something that is constantly produced or reproduced. So what it would mean for the proletarians to take power, for the Multitude to liberate itself? Would be autonomous to be able to produce society, I mean to produce society every day, to produce social relations. So it is a kind of an extension if you like of the notion that the communist revolution involves the ability of the proletarian to be able to produce without the capitalist class. It is a generalization of that to the entire society. And it is in away that seems to me to at least change that repressive notion of production as obligation. So in a way rather than creating a theory that moves away from labor, it transforms productivity and what it means. It's like Deleuze and Guattari which seems to me as a convenient example of that.

DG: And in the end you think that the Multitude can lead us into a democratic state, which means that it will give an end to the Empire and at the some time it will not give birth to something that will take the place of the Empire. And, I don't know but I keep thinking again of Deleuze and Guattari when they say that at the end of every revolution there is always betrayal and disappointment, and also that it doesn’t matter because what matters is the becoming of revolution… But you are actually saying something different, you are saying that the multitude can actually lead us to something that it will be better.

MH: Yes… I remember that in Marx’s 1844 manuscripts he says two things that are contradictory. In one point he says, and he is giving a dialectical formulation, and he talks about the way that communism will be the result of the contradictions within capitalist society, that will pose an end to history. And because it will resolve all the class conflicts etc, communism will be the end. And there is another point where he says thought, he describes that movement from capitalism to communism where he says communism which will be the next stage, the next step in human history, and then of course there will be something that comes after and something that comes after. So in a way you are asking me about this division here. Are we talking about revolution as the end of human history? And I agree with you: no we are not. It seems to me even undesirable. But also unreasonable. It doesn’t seem as the right way to think about it. That's not to say though that revolution involves just a repetition of the same. It would be in fact a better stage. I think there is not, and I don’t know if I should be critical of myself for this, but I can not think of those things without thinking in terms of progress. And why I say that I might need to be critical? Because I can recognize many critiques of progress scenarios. Which I think is justified. One that shows progress as an inevitable and even objectively proceeding course; and one that shows that progress has a telos and is leading history towards that. I think rather there is a telos, especially the way that Toni and I speak about it, there is a totally immanent telos that's guided by the desire of those who rebel. It is a peculiar kind of telos I think because it just means that we who struggle, want something different. So the construction of that, and the force of that desire, rebellion, etc. will be a better society. And even looking historically, we are reading history as a progression of progress that is the accumulation of the desires of the repressed or the struggles against repression. Which is another kind of progress. But I am ending one and one that's simple the continuing expression of the desire of those who struggle. At any case, I think you are right to point out that the project of the multitude isn’t a project for the end of history…

DG: Or one that will lead us to a stage where we can say “that's it!”

MH: Yes, right.

DG: Another question, that maybe goes back to what we were talking about before, is, since the Empire is a network and the Multitude is a network, how can we say which is which? I mean, aren’t there places where the limits are starting to blur and you can not really say where one ends and the other starts?

MH: Yes, I bet that there are many ways in which you can not tell which is which but that doesn’t mean that conceptually they are not different. Let me try to give an example of that: It’s not like everything in ones life in the whole world is easily categorisable. Like a Hollywood movie, you say that's an expression of the Empire, but there are also elements that pose an alternative to that and a possibility for other things, so I think that in most experiences the portions of repression and the possibilities of liberation can not always be disentangled or separated. But conceptually or in principle there is, you can not risk confusing authority and repression with equality and freedom. It sounds very old fashion but that what’s at stake here.

DG: You have this juxtaposition: transcendence and immanence. It seems important, right? So I was thinking if it is just a way to exclude any possible metaphysical explanation or if there is more into that, if there is another reason…

MH: I think there are several reasons. There is the philosophical perspective where like you say the reason is to avoid metaphysical explanations. Transcended power as a source. But politically, and there are many ways to pose it, transcendence means in many political frameworks the dictation of a central authority. So either in an old tradition of European, political philosophy, think of Hobbes for instance, that the power that stands above society, the state also the party, you know, various other institutional structures that stand above society, and then in a more basic, introductory kind of argument for immanence as part of the tradition of politics of the abolition of the state in its various forms. But also in a more immediate political organizational way. I think the importance for us arguing for immanence is against the politics of vanguardism. That the vanguard stands above. It's a kind of topology, if you know what I mean, because it’s metaphorical in the sense that the vanguard transcends, you know, stands above the political movement. But it is a way of linking in this way, an argument against a philosophy of metaphysics, of metaphysical explanations, of metaphysical powers and the politics of vanguardism and authority. So the proposition of absolute immanence for us tries to bridge those two and finally imagine a politics that doesn’t require hierarchy within a political formation.

DG: I was wondering how you write your books. I mean since you are two, what is the process that you are following?

MH: The process is this: First, after talking about things and feeling like we have something to say, we sit together and make outlines, usually for several days, weeks, until we work it out, at least the first version of what the argument will be, and then we divide up sections and each person writes a first draft of that section. But then we exchange the drafts and the other person rewrites what the first person wrote. Usually goes back again, rewrite again. Generally it ends up that we don’t remember who wrote what because it gets changed so much. And Toni writes in Italian and I write in English which also makes the things, you know, its gets translated and confused.

DG: So it is already something multiple…

MH: It’s already something multiple, yes. I love the first line of “A Thousand Plateaus”…

DG: That's exactly what I had in mind…

MH: I remember someone saying to me once “but don’t you sometimes disagree with what Toni says?” And I said “well, I often disagree with what I say”, which is like Deleuze and Guattari saying “we were each already many when we came together, so there was already a crowd”. It’s also true that sometimes Toni doesn’t understand what I am saying and sometimes I don’t understand what he is saying, but sometimes I realize I don’t understand what I am saying. You know when you try to work out an argument…

DG: Thank you very much.

MH: Thank you.

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