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Empire, or multitude

With the publication of Empire,* the oeuvre of the Italian political philosopher and critic Antonio Negri – until recently an intellectual presence confined to the margins of Anglo-American libertarian Marxist thought – has been transported into what is fast becoming an established and influential domain of transnational cultural theory and criticism. Michael Hardtʼs mediating role, as translator of key texts by Negri and other radical Italian intellectuals (such as Paulo Virno), and now as co-author of Empire itself, has been crucial over the years in helping to establish and maintain his reputation. Published by Harvard University Press, the book comes to us with the stamp of approval of important contemporary critics – political philosopher Étienne Balibar, subalternist historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, Marxist cultural critic Fredric Jameson, urban sociologist Saskia Sassen, Slovenian critic-at-large Slavoj Žižek and novelist Leslie Marmon Silko – whose words dazzle the potential reader from the bookʼs dust jacket. Empire is presented by them as ʻan amazing tour de forceʼ (Balibar), ʻirresistible, iconoclastic … [r]evolutionary, even visionaryʼ (Silko), and ʻwith enormous intellectual depthʼ (Sassen). It is ʻone of the most brilliant, erudite, and yet incisively political interpretations to date of the phenomenon called “globalization”ʼ writes Chakrabarty; and more – ʻThe first great new theoretical synthesis of the new millenniumʼ, according to Jameson, ʻa comprehensive new historical narrative, which is both a critique of a wide variety of contemporary theory and a prophetic call for energies to comeʼ. Thus Empire arrives as a prepackaged intellectual event imprinted with its status as both a galvanizing political document and a fundamental critical diagnosis of contemporary global capitalism. Few works of radical criticism have been so well ʻplacedʼ in the intellectual market. For Žižek,

Empire, or multitude Transnational Negri

John kraniauskas

* Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2000. xvii + 478 pp., £21.95 hb., 0 674 25121 0.the authors offer us ʻnothing less than a rewriting of The Communist Manifesto for our timeʼ which ʻring[s] the death-bell not only for the complacent liberal advocates of the “end of history”, but also for pseudo-radical Cultural Studies which avoid the full confrontation with todayʼs capitalismʼ. One effect of such praise, however, is that Empire is freighted with the difficult task of having to live up to itself, as its eulogists have portrayed it.

There is some truth in the words (become advertising) of these critics. On the one hand, Empire is indeed a grand work of synthesis, but a synthesis primarily of the work of Negri himself. Over approximately thirty years of writing, much of it spent in prison and exile, Negri has creatively engaged with: transformations in the forms of capital accumulation, class recomposition and working class ʻself-valorizationʼ; the writings of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, amongst others; and the political philosophy of Spinoza and Machiavelli, as well as subsequent theories and practices of revolution and state sovereignty. This has been largely ignored in the Anglo-American academy. With Hardt, himself an insightful reader of contemporary French philosophy and Italian political theory, Negri has now extended this conceptual labour into the heart of the globalized present characterized, they suggest, by an emerging postcolonial and post-imperialist ʻglobal form of sovereigntyʼ: Empire. [1] On the other hand, although no doubt written enthusiastically and with a rather curious image of the political subject (or ʻmilitantʼ) in mind, the work clearly is not, like Marx and Engelsʼs Communist Manifesto, the founding text of a political party, an organizational form with which – at least in so far as it internalizes an image of the state into its practice – Negri has little sympathy. Moreover, the transformations in the communicative, affective and knowledge bases of ʻimperialʼ capital and labour which Negri and Hardt outline, as well as the critical intentionality of their conceptualization (as they transform Marx on value and Foucault on power), brings the work into close contact with the concerns of contemporary cultural studies. The works of Stuart Hall, Fredric Jameson and Gayatri Spivak immediately come to mind in this regard. Arguably, the work of translation involved in the co-authorship of Empire precisely entails making Negri readable in this new milieu. [2]

Value and refusal

Negriʼs writing comes in large measure from the particular experience of the Italian New Left, characterized by both state and anti-statist political violence, amidst a generalized crisis of political representation that extended into the working class, the perceived betrayals of the Italian Communist Party (the ʻhistorical compromiseʼ), and the mushrooming of a multitude of radical social-movement-based political organizations. Some of these fed into quite powerful armed groups such as the Red Brigades, whilst others created the political movement with which, theoretically at least, Negri is most associated: Autonomia. [3] As is well known, in Italy the events of 1968 actually began in 1967, and lasted well into the 1970s. It was probably the sustained character of the crisis, combined with political marginalization, that brought Negri and his intellectual circle into more or less direct contact with transformations in the labour process that were to be analysed later, elsewhere, as post-Fordism, ʻflexible accumulationʼ or ʻcultural economyʼ. [4] The difference in the approach of Negri and his colleagues, however, is that it constitutes what might be considered a genuine materialist ʻpost-Marxismʼ, a working-through and development of central critical concepts to be found in Capital and the Grundrisse ʻbeyond Marxʼ, rather than an abandonment of their theoretical terrain. From this point of view, for example, the so-called ʻnomadismʼ of contemporary social movements is intimately tied to the socialization of production as well as to contemporary reconfigurations and movements of (abstract) labour. [5]

In Negriʼs work, like that of Paulo Virno, Sergio Bologna, Franco Piperno, Maurizio Lazzarato and Michael Hardt, Marxʼs theory of value is interpreted as being immediately political. [6] In this respect, he clearly belongs to that strand of Western Marxist thought known as ʻpoliticalʼ (rather than ʻculturalʼ) Marxism. But, unlike Nicos Poulantzas, for example, or even Lenin and Gramsci, Negri does not attempt to supplement an incomplete Marx to make good a perceived lack, either with regard to his discussion of labour or, as we shall see below, in his philosophical approach to the state. Rather, first, he restores historical relativity to ideas like ʻvalueʼ and ʻcooperationʼ, transforming them internally so as to address the present – in this case, by extending the idea of social labour (and social capital) beyond the bounds of Marxʼs critical horizon constituted by the factory system of machinofacture. In Negriʼs periodization this, now past, social organization of labour begins in 1848 and ends around 1968. Second, and here Negri reads the Marx of the Grundrisse against the Marx of Capital, he endows the historical subject of both value and social cooperation – living labour – with a founding ontological force.

From this point of view, labour power is both heteronomous and autonomous, object and subject: it is made (as labour), but it makes (as power). Together, political ontology bolstered by historical critique produce Negriʼs metaphysical re-vision of Marxism, which goes so far as to suggest that the form of value – as the ʻmaterial representationʼ of social cooperation, exploitation and the positivity of labour – is ʻthe transcendental material of a determinate societyʼ, and that as a critical concept it has ʻa higher ontological intensity than the simple mode of productionʼ. This is because in it the economic, the juridical and the ideological are all ʻgathered under the category of the politicalʼ. Gramsciʼs attempts at thinking across, rather than between, base and superstructure in the idea of ʻhegemonyʼ is probably influential here. Negri, however, refers to Marxʼs analysis of money in the Grundrisse, where, in a context of financial crisis ʻthe modern function of value is transformed into a function of commandʼ, that is, monetary policy. Since the ʻstuffʼ of value is abstract labour, the critique of political economy becomes in Negri a ʻcritique of labourʼ. [7]

The work of Mario Tronti was crucial in conceptualizing this double dimension of living labour as ʻlabourʼ and ʻpowerʼ, especially his reflections on the ʻstrategy of refusalʼ. ʻThe working classʼ, he writes, ʻdoes what it is.ʼ8 In this sense, thinking about what is always the case, in the first instance, rather than in the last – that is, the ontological primacy of living labour – is central to Negriʼs thought. Even at its most prophetic, he writes, historical materialism ʻruns the risk of constituting a natural historyʼ of accumulation rather than ʻshowing the movements of class struggle in [the] light of catastrophe and innovationʼ. This is Negriʼs subjectivist (and ontologizing) criticism of the objectivist trend in the Marx of Capital. [9] What Tronti calls ʻthe workersʼ articulationʼ is fundamental in providing such a view with a historical dimension. The working class ʻis, at one and the same time, the articulation of capital [as abstract labour] and its dissolution [as class]ʼ. At one level this is obvious. But, he goes on to write, ʻcapitalist power seeks to use the workersʼ antagonistic will-to-struggle as a motor of its own development … exploitation is born, historically, from the necessity of capital to escape from its de facto subordination to the class [of] worker-producers.ʼ And more: ʻit is the directly political thrust of the working class that necessitates economic development on the part of capital.ʼ He refers to this ʻpolitical thrustʼ as ʻrefusalʼ: ʻWhat are workers doing when they struggle against their employers? Arenʼt they, above all, saying “No” to the transformation of labour power into labour?ʼ The always-already-given potentiality for refusal is the living reminder that, in fact, the working class, while not the ruling class, is most definitely the historically dominant one; it simultaneously ʻprovokesʼ the bourgeoisie into existence as a class beyond competition and ʻprovidesʼ capital with its labouring subject. Capital, meanwhile, responds to refusal ʻwith continual technological “revolutions” in the organization of workʼ, that is, by generating ʻdevelopmentʼ – because, for capital, less (class) is more (value). [10] This may be thought of as Trontiʼs version of the romantic notion, associated with the young Lukács, of the proletariat as ʻthe identical subject-objectʼ of history. It is also, more clearly, his version of workingclass ʻautonomyʼ. Finally, it is the place where, via Tronti, Negriʼs thought joins the tradition of ʻleft-wingʼ communism. [11]

Value and exodus

The central topos of Empire is the idea of ʻpassageʼ. Working at both geo-historical and theoretical levels, it is an example of what Bakhtin calls a ʻchronotopeʼ, embedding representations into crystallized spatiotemporal realities. In Empire these realities are what are conventionally known as ʻtransitionsʼ – to and from modernity – that are fought over politico-historically and/or negotiated conceptually. Although it is used in the book, in truth – at least for Negri – the idea of passage replaces that of transition, which, because it narrativizes from the point of view of given or ideal state forms, he regards as a ʻbastardʼ concept. [12] The most important chronotope for Bakhtin is what he calls ʻthe wayʼ, a figure mapping life as formation and associated with the path (or passage) of the hero of the Bildungsroman through the socio-cultural and linguistic heterogeneity of their world. [13] Conceptually, Empire is such a travel-and-learning-book too: it navigates and explores a new world of value – that is, new social configurations of capital, labour and power. And although the processes referred to by the idea of ʻrefusalʼ remain at work in the passages to the new imperial order as described by Hardt and Negri, they have also been transformed and transnationalized. (Refusal in Tronti, like the form of value in Marx, remains tied to factory machinofacture and the real subsumption of labour power to capital.) Even so, politically and philosophically, in Empire the idea of refusal still works conceptually to mark the power of living labour in valorization (the production of value):

Theories of the passages to and beyond imperialism that privilege the pure critique of the dynamics of capital risk undervaluing the power of the real motor that drives capitalist development from its deepest core: the movements and struggles of the proletariat. … History has a logic only when subjectivity rules it, only when (as Nietzsche says) the emergence of subjectivity reconfigures efficient causes in the development of history. The power of the proletariat consists precisely in this.

The echoes of Tronti are evident here. For this reason, the imperial order itself is also a kind of socioeconomic and juridico-political reaction formation, but one in which, according to Hardt and Negri, the recomposition of value is ʻoutsideʼ or ʻbeyond measureʼ, and characterized by the real subsumption of the social to capital. Meanwhile, one way of beginning to think the power of labour power in this new context has been through the idea of ʻexodusʼ: ʻMobility and mass worker nomadism always express a refusal and a search for liberation.… Desertion and exodus are a powerful form of class struggle within and against imperial postmodernityʼ, they write. [14] Empire, however, does not present us with a detailed account of the globalized imperial present. Rather, it traces its pre-history, the multiple passages that have led to its formation, including the conceptual ones that have reflected critically on its making. Part One sets out the legal and bio-political coordinates of the new imperial order as it is ʻcalled into beingʼ, whilst Part Four, looking to its possible fall, sets out an anti-imperial politics grounded in the potentiality of the ʻmultitudeʼ – in their view, the political correlate of living labour. Parts Two and Three make up the main body of the text and narrate the history of Empire in and out of modernity in processes of political decolonization, economic recentring and globalized administration, at the levels of sovereignty and production, respectively. Of course, sovereignty and production continuously move across each other, but, given that Empire is primarily thought as being a ʻglobal form of sovereigntyʼ, it is the political dimension of the analysis that dominates – although, it should immediately be added, in the form of a critique of sovereignty. Particularly important here are Empireʼs strategies of ʻuniversal integrationʼ, the affirmation of cultural differences and their hierarchical administration. The form of value of Empire, and thus its existence as a globalized capitaland-state formation, is not really discussed.

Prolonged or detailed discussion of transformations in the transnational social organization of labour, the world market, or the imperial accumulation of capital is noticeably absent. This is because of the simultaneous de-differentiation of the political and the economic moments of exploitation, on the one hand, and the dispersal and socialization of production beyond the factory, on the other: ʻexploitation is therefore the production of an armory of instruments for the control of the time of social cooperationʼ, writes Negri elsewhere. [15] In Empire, however, this is not reflected upon directly as a question of value but, rather, and this is the distinctive contribution of the book (and, arguably, its major achievement), of value as it is transformed by bio-power. The juridical and ideological ʻare gathered under the category of the politicalʼ but the economic loses its real and theoretical specificity. The dominance of finance capital within a world of globalized production and circulation is taken as given and its terrain politically re-described: first, according to new logics of segmentarity, flows and command; and, second, as ridden with the ever-present potentialities of crises (or ʻcorruptionʼ). [16] The limits of modern imperialism, for example, so important in Rosa Luxemburgʼs account of the necessity of an ʻoutsideʼ for the realization of capital, have been breached, such that now capital has no limits or outsides except for those that have – always already – been internalized. Conceptualizations of trans-, multior international capital are, in Empire, confined to the past. But there is very little engagement with contemporary alternatives: world systems theory or reinvigorated dependency analyses, in which the globalized world is described as a process of complex recentring – for example, around a China–Japan East Asian axis – or for which the economic power of the USA is still thought to be dominant. There is, however, a highly polemical affirmation of the centrality of US history and sovereign politics: Empire is the historical realization of the US constitution beyond and through US neocolonialism (both internal and external), emerging out of Independence, expansive nation-formation (and the ideology of the frontier), slavery and Civil War, immigration and violent class conflict, and the Cold War. Such arguments similarly displace and confine alternative explanations, as well as the politics of radical nationalist anti-imperialisms associated with them, to the past as pre-imperial. [17] Changes in processes of production are, however, still present and narrativized under the idea of ʻpostmodernizationʼ, in which the social and cultural effects of contemporary technologies on labour – informatization, networking, spectacle, communication – are foregrounded. Essentially, they involve the technological harnessing of the superstructure by the economic base, a ʻcultural turnʼ in production putting entertainment, the symbols and electronic syntax of computer systems, the speed of information highways, social knowledges and affect to work. All this clearly involves changes in the contents of value, the characteristics of labour power – now mainly intellectual, communicative and affective – and the transnationalization of the parameters of social cooperation. The factory can no longer provide the model for thinking about either exploitation or the subjective power of labour power (and thus class politics). Two related concepts come to the fore here: ʻgeneral intellectʼ, a concept used by Marx to describe the social organization and use of knowledge in labour; and ʻimmaterial labourʼ, which describes its communicative and cultural inputs. As Hardt and Negri note, these ideas have, in the main, been developed by Italian critics such as Paulo Virno and Maurizio Lazzarato. However, although fundamental to the new recompositions of capital and labour, in their view, they lack embodiment in the terrain of the bio-political. This criticism is extended to Virnoʼs notion of ʻexodusʼ, the selfvalorizing strategy of labour power which he derives from the post-Fordist real subsumption of the social by capital. [18]

Virnoʼs political theory of exodus extends refusal into ʻnew timesʼ as a line of flight. It is an attempt to develop ʻthe publicness of Intellect outside of Work, and in opposition to itʼ; that is, to recapture the intellectual and communicative labour power appropriated by capital and state in immaterialized abstract labour and technocratic administration.

The subversion of capitalist relations of production henceforth develops only with the institution of a non-State public sphere, a political community that has as its hinge general intellect.

Rather than delinking production from relations of production and exploitation as it is transformed by new knowledges, the media and communication, Virno and Lazzarato, like Negri, extend and reformulate the idea of exploitation so as to take into account the socialization and transformation of labour power (including symbolic manipulation, computerization and the creation of new human–machine hybrids), as well as the reconfiguration – that is, the speeding up – of production–consumption feedback loops, and the relocation of the processes of valorization along new lines of social cooperation. (According to Lazzarato, immaterial labourʼs cycle of production operates ʻoutside in the society at large, at a territorial level that we would call “the basin of immaterial labor”ʼ). In particular, concrete labour is subjected to new forms sovereign power of bio-political command (as value ʻlooksʼ to accumulation) and, on the other, to the constituent power of the multitude (as value looks to labour power). Third, underlining the importance for the authors of the writing of Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari, the idea of affect brings the work into the conceptual field of cultural studies.

In Hardt and Negriʼs account of the postmodernization of production, the communicative and linguistic dimension of immaterial labour is complemented by affective labour. They insist that ʻ[t]he danger of the discourse of general intellect is that it risks remaining entirely on the plane of thought, as if the new powers of labor were only intellectual and not also corporeal.ʼ It remains ʻtoo pure, almost angelic.ʼ Affective labour, in contrast, is labour in the ʻbodily modeʼ, a labour of ʻhuman contact and interactionʼ. It includes not only the ʻcreation and manipulation of affectʼ by the entertainment industries but also the feminized care-work provided in domestic labour and by welfare industries and services (public and private). It is this kind of work ʻentirely immersed in the corporeal [and] the somaticʼ – affective labour – that meshes social reproduction into the forces of material production. The growing importance of the service industries bares witness to this transformation. Life as contact and interaction becomes not only the object of production but also a powerful productive resource (ʻlivingʼ labour power) and source of value:

Intelligence and affect (or really the brain coextensive with the body), just when they become the primary productive powers, make production and life coincide across the terrain on which they operate, because life is nothing other than the production and reproduction of the set of bodies and brains.… [L]ife is what infuses and dominates all production. In fact, the value of labor and production is determined deep in the viscera of life.

The crossing of production and reproduction in affective labour thus throws up life for ʻpostmodernʼ bio-political command in ways that far exceed the disciplinary regimes described by Foucault. As was the case for both Marx and Tronti, in Foucaultʼs account of the disciplinary regimes of bio-power, factory machinofacture also acts as a determining sociopolitical horizon; and, as we have seen, production and command have been radically dispersed into what Deleuze and Guattari have called a ʻsociety of controlʼ – a society of permanent education, of deskilling and reskilling, in which social identity is emblematically given (and monitored) of digital abstraction, whilst the university becomes established as a key knowledge–capital interface in the organization of ʻgeneral intellectʼ. In this context, exodus consists in the creation of an alternative ʻproletarian public sphereʼ or, in Virnoʼs words, the ʻfoundation of a Republicʼ that takes its leave from the state. [19]

Exodus is thus a form of self-valorization constituted by ʻmass intellectualityʼ or the now ʻsocializedʼ worker, characterized by Negri as ʻa bundle of knowledge, power and love, the likes of which have never been seen before. Science, the artificiality of knowledge, ethical deterritorialization and communism constitute the elements of an irreducible ontological determination – that is, a decisively new, highly original, ontological breakʼ. [20] Once again, the power of labour power. Indeed, Hardt and Negri also refer to a ʻmachinic exodusʼ. And this picture is globalized in Empire by the introduction of not only the transnational flows of capital and structures of command (ʻThe establishment of a global society of control that smooths over the striae of national boundaries goes hand in hand with the realization of the world market and the real subsumption of global society under capitalʼ) but also the ʻmobile multitudeʼ (ʻMass migrations have become necessary for productionʼ). The pathways ʻforged, mappedʼ and ʻtravelledʼ by such labour are, moreover, in the view of Hardt and Negri, full of the promises of autonomy: ʻ[a] new geography is established by the multitude as the productive flows of bodies define new rivers and ports … their paths are what brings the “earthly city” out of the clouds and confusion that Empire casts over it.ʼ [21] In Empire exodus becomes a transnational passage to ʻglobal citizenshipʼ, the ʻright to a social wageʼ and the ʻright to appropriationʼ – the three concrete political demands made in the book. The first two are reformist, establishing, in their demand for recognition, the parameters of a global participatory political arena within Empire; the third, however, transgresses imperial right in its demand for the autonomous pursuit of (and passage to) communism. [22]

Value and affect

The idea of ʻaffectʼ plays a decisive and multifaceted role in Empire. First, it separates Negri and Hardtʼs thoughts on immaterial labour from those of their Italian colleagues. Second, as mentioned above, affect pulls value and living labour into the domain of the bio-political (pulls economics into politics). Here, affect is Janus-faced, looking, on the one hand, to the in the recording powers of the magnetic strip of both credit and identity cards. Labour is no longer buried in factories, but travels through the gleaming surfaces of what Marc Augé calls ʻnon-placesʼ. [23] In this context of the ʻimmaterializationʼ of labour beyond the factory bio-power is, for Negri and Hardt, ʻanother name for the real subsumption of society under capital.ʼ ʻ[B]othʼ, they continue, ʻare synonymous with the globalized productive [and simultaneously reproductive, one might add, thinking of United Nations policy in the so-called developing countries] orderʼ. For globalization in Negriʼs view is both extensive and intensive: it extends capitalʼs domain transnationally through markets whilst absorbing, and thus transforming, the social. With affective labour, labour power and the production of value are radically dispersed and located in what the authors of Empire will also call a ʻnonplaceʼ beyond measure: ʻ[t]he sublime has become normalʼ. [24]

Like refusal, affect is an idea with a double dimension, both revealing the new all-pervasive powers of imperial capital and pointing to the founding and autonomous power of living labour in its political mode – what in Empire is referred to as ʻthe collective bio-political bodyʼ of the multitude. In this regard, affect becomes, after Spinoza, the ʻpower to actʼ. This is where, first, it begins to turn away and against bio-political power and, second, it becomes locked into the history of those practices of sovereign power Hardt and Negri trace in their work about the dawn of the modern secular state. In extending value ʻbeyond measureʼ, affect brings labour into contact with its own historical potentiality and power as ontological ground, with what Deleuze and Guattari called ʻdesiring productionʼ: 25the vitality of the productive context, the expression of labor as desire, and its capacities to constitute the bio-political fabric of Empire from below. Beyond measure refers to the new place in the non-place, the place defined by the productive activity that is autonomous from any external regime of measure.

Beyond measure refers to a virtuality that invests the entire bio-political fabric of imperial globalization. By the virtual we understand the set of powers to act (being, loving, transforming, creating) that reside in the multitude.

Hardt and Negri continue, now reconnecting affect back, via the powers of the multitude, to the power of living labour:

The passage from the virtual through the possible to the real is the fundamental act of creation. Living labour is what constructs the passageway from the virtual to the real; it is the vehicle of possibility.

The echoes of Trontiʼs heterodox Marxism are still apparent here, rewritten according to Deleuze and Guattariʼs neo-positivist ontology of becoming. In many ways Empire – and the lattersʼ A Thousand Plateaus, which Hardt and Negri explicitly take as a model – reads somewhat like a natural history, positing the potenza of life in living labour against, for example, the spirit of negation. But this constitutes its challenge. Affect ʻbeyond measureʼ thus presents the power of the ʻnew proletariatʼ. The proletariat, they explain, in a definition that is, characteristically for Negri, centered on value-and-labour (rather than property-and-mode-of-production) ʻis the general concept that defines all those whose labour is exploited by capital, the entire cooperating multitude.ʼ At last, with Empire, the ʻwide landscape of bio-political production allows us to recognize the full generality of the concept of proletariat.ʼ In the oneness-in-dispersal that is Empire, the multitude and the new proletariat have become one; but one that is not one. The multitude only exists as ʻsingularitiesʼ. [26]

In his recent book Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries (reviewed in RP 100) Warren Montag writes of a rhetorical strategy used by Spinoza which he calls ʻthe operation of the siveʼ. Sive is the Latin conjunction ʻorʼ and figures a critical strategy of ʻtranslation and displacementʼ. Spinoza used this operation most famously, Montag tells us, in the phrase ʻDeus, sive Naturaʼ (God, or Nature). In this operation, he ʻsimultaneously affirms and denies that it affirms the radical abolition of transcendenceʼ. [27] In other words, he tells three stories at once: the story of God, the story of Nature and the story of God-as-Nature, or, the story of transcendence, the story of immanence and the story of transcendence-as-immanence. This is what happens in Empire too. It tells the story of imperial sovereignty, the story of the multitude and the story of imperial sovereignty-as-multitude.

The ʻmultitudeʼ is both a political and a philosophical concept. Anti-sovereign and anti-dialectical, in Empire it is the ʻbody without organsʼ of politics. From this point of view, the relation between Empire and the social is one of fundamental incommensurability. If the multitude exists ʻwithin Empire and against Empireʼ, there is, however, ʻalways a surplusʼ: ʻ[t]he first head of the imperial eagle is a juridical structure and a constituted power, constructed by the machine of bio-political command.ʼ This is contemporary sovereign power. ʻThe other head of the imperial eagle is the plural multitude of productive, creative subjectivities of globalization.… They are in perpetual motion and they form constellations of singularities and events that impose continual global reconfigurations of the system.ʼ The multitude is not a negative power, they rather ʻnourish, and develop positively their own constituent projects; they work toward the liberation of living laborʼ. As in Trontiʼs ʻworkersʼ articulationʼ, the multitude is the historically dominant political power, and Empire ʻa mere apparatus of capture that lives only off the vitality of the multitude.ʼ Thus, characterized by an ʻontological lackʼ, the constituted power of Empire may be seen as ʻa simple abstract trace of the constituent power of the multitude.ʼ The Deleuze and Guattari of Anti-Oedipus might add their version of fetishism here, suggesting that the power of Empire nevertheless ʻfalls back onʼ the multitude to ʻmiraculateʼ them (that is, write their juridico-political scripts) and ʻontologizeʼ itself by appropriating and transforming the living constituent power of the multitude into state constitution and bio-power. [28] This is sovereignty. In the words of Hardt and Negri:

Little by little, as the administration develops, the relationship between society and power, between the multitude and the sovereign state, is inverted so that now power and the state produce society. [29]

Reading from below?

Empire gravitates around the political and conceptual core of ʻthe multitudeʼ. The stories of sovereignty that are told, centred historically on political revolution and philosophically on the concepts of ʻtranscendenceʼ and ʻrepresentationʼ, are all stories of, on the one hand, the containment of ʻthe immanent forces of the desire and cooperation of the multitudeʼ and, on the other, of the transference of their powers. In Negri and Hardtʼs view, modern sovereignty is a secular inflection, into a plane of immanence, of absolutist monarchy (transcendence within immanence), such that it is possible to speak of monarchical, aristocratic and democratic monarchy – hence their radical republicanism of the multitude, nourished by the work of Machiavelli and Marx, but especially of Spinoza. [30]

As in Negriʼs reading of Marxʼs theory of value (inspired by Tronti and Virno), so Hardt and Negriʼs reading of Foucaultʼs account of the dynamics of biopower (inspired in part by Deleuze and Guattari) is theoretically inflected ʻfrom belowʼ. In large measure, this is a result of the idea of affect: it transports the power of living ʻimmaterialʼ labour into the heart of bio-political command and management, and subjects it to ʻworker articulationʼ, the powers of the multitude. Their evocations of the British and Southern Asian historiographical traditions of ʻhistory from belowʼ and ʻsubalternismʼ thus make both political and conceptual sense. Such theoretical intentionality also characterizes cultural studies, which, from this point of view, is characterized not just, pace Žižek, by a postmodern concern for the media and the politics of cultural identity, but also by a radical critique of both the mass mediatic transformation of cultural forms (postmodernization in Jamesonʼs account) and a theory of ideology that reinstalls domination at the heart of illumination. The ʻideology critiqueʼ of the Frankfurt School and Althusser provides examples of such intellectual ʻre-subalternizationʼ. [31] For Hardt and Negri, however, critique ʻfrom belowʼ, as negation, remains prone to dialectical recuperation. The idea of the multitude thus also involves dispersal of negation into singularity and ʻno-placeʼ. [32] Here, however, it meets Empire as immeasurable value, the time of networked command and dispersed abstract labour: ʻthe topography of power no longer has to do primarily with spatial relations but is inscribed, rather, in the temporal displacements of subjectivities. Here we find again the non-place of power.ʼ [33] Empire is a daring and polemical work, inviting critical responses as it makes its ʻwayʼ through the new world order. But, arguably, it is its founding philosophico-political concept of the multitude that constitutes its main weakness. A melancholic, rather than a joyous, science might suggest that the logic of refusal the multitude stages merely feeds imperial capital with new material; and that the surplus that takes the multitude beyond the measure of dispersed immeasurability is just ʻmore of the sameʼ. The multitude here might still be constitutive, but only as what Ernesto Laclau and Judith Butler have theorized as a ʻconstitutive outsideʼ, capitalʼs phantasmatic double which is always located ʻinsideʼ, and productive of, subjectivity. [34] Historically, the idea of the multitude emerges with the rise of the bourgeoisie at a moment of historical ʻmutationʼ, a process of generalized and violent dispossession and capitalist recomposition Marx refers to as ʻso-called primitive accumulationʼ. [35] This is the nightmarish terrain of limitless, almost suicidal, bourgeois possibility – the war of all against all – where there are always more potential capitalists, and more labour to abstract. For the conservative Hobbes, it was the bourgeois multitude that had to be managed and tamed. Riding on the back of refusal, Empire is this historical imaginaryʼs final realization. For their part, literary and cultural studies might note the images of vampires and saints – specifically, St Francis of Assisi – that appear in Empireʼs pages: the first (as in Marxʼs Capital) as a sign of the miraculating powers of capital; and the second as the figure of the future communist ʻmilitantʼ offered up by the text as it ends. Another exemplary representative of proletarian struggle mentioned also comes from the past: the International Workers of the World (IWW) militant. But at this point the multitude threatens to become a sentimentalized, authoritarian other, allegorized and individuated as either heroic or charismatic. Sovereignty threatens to return here as decisionism. In Empireʼs more literary figurations, dispersed subjectivity is recuperated and re-made in a return to immanence of transcendence – that is, in the resacrilization of the political. From this point of view, liberation theologyʼs ʻoption for the poorʼ, which is also evoked, verges on melodramatic excess. (ʻThe poor is god on earth. . . The poor itself is power.ʼ) Finally, apart from noting the redeployment of images from the Christian side of imperial reason (members of the Franciscan Order were some of the first to arrive in the New World to save souls), a subalternist critique of Empire might highlight the temporality of its politics. What happens to all those whose labour is subsumed to imperial capital but who have not been postmodernized? As suggested above, the topography of contemporary imperial command, like the multitude, disperses value to the non-place of dialectically irrecuperable time. This is the time of imperial politics, structured by the flows of transnational capital and living labour – the ʻnew barbariansʼ. According to Hardt and Negri,

Being republican today, then, means first of all struggling within and constructing against Empire, on its hybrid, modulating terrains. And here we should add, against all moralisms and all positions of nostalgia, that this new imperial terrain provides greater possibilities for creation and liberation. The multitude, in its will to be-against and its desire for liberation, must push through Empire to come out the other side.

However, their description of the ʻhybrid constitutionʼ of the emerging imperial order turns out to be only a hybridized system of monarchic, aristocratic and democratic functions that remains socially abstract and temporally homogenous. [36] In contrast, Manuel Castellsʼs version of network capitalism is brokenbacked, constituting a fundamentally disjunctive order – a hybridized system combining the ʻtimeless timeʼ of the space of flows, and other, more ʻcrystallizedʼ, times of the space of places. [37] From this point of view, politics is temporally hybridized according to the social relations of specific capital–state formations, producing the contemporary neo-liberal imperial state as a complex system of assemblages constituted across spaces, times and singularities – mediated by self-representation. Such a terrain, where the spaces of flows are crisscrossed by spaces of places, also produces the political times of resistance and liberation. To reduce a concern for other times to ʻnostalgiaʼ would thus be to re-impose the narrative of development – that is, the abstract time of imperial capital – in the guise of revolution.


I would like to thank Alberto Moreiras, Peter Osborne and Carol Watts for their help in writing this article.

1. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, p. xii.

2. ^ See Empire, p. 415, note 5, which, apart from Jameson and Spivak, relates the work to that of Arjun Appadurai, Giovanni Arrighi, Arif Dirlik, David Harvey and Edward Said. It is noticeable that none of Negriʼs Italian or French colleagues is mentioned in this list. This underlines the importance of the Left US academy as a relay point for the transnationalization of theoretical production. The chapter on postmodernist and postcolonial theory, however, apart from bolstering the workʼs antidialectical argument and containing an uncharacteristically favourable reading of the work of Homi Bhabha, is one of the most cursory of the book.

3. ^ By 1967 Negri was, ironically, Professor of Doctrines of the State at Padua University, where he had taught philosophy of law since 1959 and been an active participant in local politics and journalism as a member of the Italian Socialist Party. In 1963 he left the Socialist Party and became involved in the local workersʼ movement on the margins of the Communist Party, running a Capital reading group with his wife Paola Meo and Massimo Cacciari (now an important philosopher known for his writings on architecture and, until recently, mayor of Venice) amongst local petrochemical workers at the Porto Marghera plant. That same year the journal Potere Operaio (Workersʼ Power) made its appearance. At first a supplement of the local Socialist Party journal, it later became the organ of the Porto Marghera plant workers.

By 1967 Negri was also contributing to a number of other journals such as the influential Quaderni Rossi, associated with an emerging ʻautonomousʼ workersʼ movement and publishing the work of heterodox communist theoreticians such as Mario Tronti. At the University of Padua, meanwhile, he was at the centre of a group of radical intellectuals based at the Institute for Political Sciences, including Sergio Bologna, Alisa del Re and Maria Rosa Della Costa. After the ʻhot summerʼ of 1969 a host of organizations to the left of the Communist Party were formed, including Potere Operaio, now not just a journal, Avantguardia Operaia and, most famously perhaps, Lotta Continua. With the ʻhistorical compromiseʼ between the Communist Party and Christian Democrat Party of 1973, however, Potere Operaio went into self-dissolution. The years that followed saw the emergence of student and youth movements, such as the ʻMetropolitan Indiansʼ, criss-crossed in a host of alliances with working class groups, which began to turn their back on the ʻsixty-eightersʼ. Many former political militants, meanwhile, gravitated towards urban guerrilla organizations. But the movement known as ʻAutonomiaʼ also emerged, working amongst the unemployed and young migrant workers ʻrefusingʼ to work. For the historical and political background, see Paul Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943–1988, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1990; and Robert Lumley, States of Emergency: Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978, Verso, London, 1990. For Negriʼs personal background, see the translatorsʼ introductions to Antonio Negri, Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the ʻGrundrisseʼ, trans. H. Cleaver, M. Ryan and M. Viano, ed. J. Fleming, Autonomedia/Pluto, New York and London, 1991 (1979).

4. ^ See Empire, p. xvi: ʻIn the imperial world the economist, for example, needs a basic knowledge of cultural production to understand the economy, and likewise the cultural critic needs a basic knowledge of economic process to understand culture.ʼ

5. ^ Empire, p. 213. British Communismʼs own response to ʻpostmodernismʼ, ʻpost-Fordismʼ and ʻNew Timesʼ was to reassert orthodoxy rather than subject such discourses to a more materialist ʻsymptomaticʼ reading.

6. ^ See the articles by these authors in Paulo Virno and Michael Hardt, eds, Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, trans. M. Boscagli et al., University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1996.

7. ^ Antonio Negri, ʻTwenty Theses on Marx: Interpretation of the Class Situation Todayʼ, in Saree Makdisi, Cesare Casarino and Rebecca E. Karl, eds, Marxism Beyond Marxism, Routledge, New York and London, 1996, p. 150, and Marx Beyond Marx, p. 25. This is the point of Derridaʼs reply to Negriʼs criticisms of Specters of Marx: in Negriʼs demand that philosophical discourse take on a dimension of practicality, Negri, Derrida insists, reontologizes a now spectralized ʻvalueʼ in both exploitation (the social organization of labour) on the one hand, and communism (constitutive resistance) on the other.

Negri, for his part, insists that his is ʻa new – post-deconstructive – ontologyʼ. See Antonio Negri, ʻThe Specterʼs Smileʼ, and Jacques Derrida, ʻMarx & Sonsʼ, in Michael Sprinker, ed., Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derridaʼs ʻSpecters of Marxʼ, Verso, London and New York, 1999, pp. 5–16, 213–69.

8. ^ Mario Tronti, ʻThe Strategy of Refusalʼ, trans. Red Notes, in Italy: Autonomia. Post-Political Politics, Semiotexte, vol. 3, no. 3, 1980, p. 29 (originally published in Quaderni Rossi in 1965). Tronti was to remain a member of the PCI.

9. ^ Negri, ʻTwenty Theses on Marxʼ, p. 151.

10. ^ Tronti, ʻThe Strategy of Refusalʼ, pp. 29, 31, 32,

30. ^

ʻIt is the workersʼ struggle that materially imposes reformism on capitalʼ, says Negri in ʻLabor in the Constitutionʼ, written originally in 1964, but not published until the mid-1970s. In this essay Negri develops the political side of the effects of refusal: ʻLabor, as a source of complete social production, becomes a source of the State.… Not even right and law can escape its power.ʼ In Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Labour of Dionysus: A Critique of State Form, University of Minnesota Press,

Minneapolis and London, 1994, p. 82.

11. ^ Lukácsʼs phrase continues as follows: ʻthe subject of action; the “we” of the genesis: namely the proletariatʼ, Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, trans. R. Livingstone, Merlin Press, London, 1971, p. 149. Tronti then, and Negri subsequently, hold strong anti-socialist positions – which the latter regards fundamentally as the planned administration of capitalism (and labour).

12. ^ Antonio Negri, ʻConstituent Republicʼ, in Virno and Hardt, eds, Radical Thought in Italy, pp. 219–20.

13. ^ Mikhail Bakhtin, ʻForms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novelʼ, in The Dialogical Imagination, trans. C.

Emerson and M. Holquist, University of Texas Press,

Austin, 1981, pp. 84–258.

14. ^ Empire, pp. 234–5, 212–13. On the ʻworker attack of the highest intensity directed against the disciplinary regimes of capitalist laborʼ, at least in Europe and the USA, see pp. 260–79. The authors point out that the ʻattack was expressed, first of all, as a general refusal of work and specifically of factory work.… [T]he refusal of the disciplinary regime and the affirmation of the sphere of non-work became the defining features of a new set of collective practices and a new form of life.ʼ

15. ^ Negri, ʻTwenty Theses on Marxʼ, p. 154.

16. ^ Since, as we shall see below, value and labour are defined under Empire according to the new logics of network communication, exploitation is also redefined as ʻthe expropriation of cooperation and the nullification of the meanings of linguistic production.ʼ From this point of view, ʻ[a]ntagonisms to exploitation are articulated across the global networks of production and determine crises on each and every node.ʼ ʻCrisis isʼ, according to Hardt and Negri, ʻcoextensive with the postmodern totality of capitalist production; it is proper to imperial control.ʼ See Empire, p. 385 and, for ʻcorruptionʼ, p. 201.

17. ^ Empire, pp. 44–6, 51–2, 105–9, 227–39, 283–4. On the rise of Japan and China, see Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times, Verso, London, 1994; and André Gunder Frank, ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age, University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles and London, 1998. On the continuing strength of US capital, see Robert Brenner, ʻThe Economics of Global Turbulanceʼ, New Left Review 229, May–June 1998.

David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perratonʼs, Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1999, provides a useful overview of many of the debates concerning globalization.

18. ^ Maurizio Lazzarato, ʻImmaterial Labourʼ, and Paulo Virno, ʻVirtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodusʼ, in Virno and Hardt, eds, Radical Thought in Italy, pp. 133–47, 189–210. See also the essays by Marco Rivelli and Franco Piperno in the same volume, as well as Negriʼs reflection on ʻintellectual cooperationʼ in the era of the ʻsocialized workerʼ in The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century, trans. J. Newell, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 47–60, 75–101.

19. ^ Lazzarato, ʻImmaterial Labourʼ, p. 137; Virno, ʻVirtuosity and Revolutionʼ, pp. 196–7; Hardt and Negri, Empire, pp. 290–92. I have not been able to do justice to the density and complexity of either Virnoʼs or Lazzaratoʼs essays here. For an informative introduction to these debates, see Nick Dyer-Withfordʼs recent CyberMarx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999. Oskar Negt and Alexander Klugeʼs critical adaptation of Habermasʼs notion of the ʻpublic sphereʼ has probably been influential for Virnoʼs conception of exodus (Bob Marleyʼs song also comes to mind).

See Public Sphere and Experience: Towards an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere, trans. P.

Labanyi et al., Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis and London, 1993 (1972).

20. ^ Negri, The Politics of Subversion, p. 73.

21. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, pp. 367, 332, 397–8.

22. ^ Ibid., pp. 393–413.

23. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, pp. 29–30, 292–3, 363–5. For bio-power, see Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge (The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1), trans. R. Hurley, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1998 (1976); and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, ʻPostscript on the Society of Controlʼ, October 59, 1992. For ʻnon-placesʼ, see Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, trans. J. Howe, Verso, London and New York, 1995.

24. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, pp. 364–5; and Antonio Negri, ʻValue and Affectʼ, trans. M. Hardt, Boundary 2, vol. 26, no. 2, 1999, pp. 83, 87.

25. ^ ʻIt is at work everywhereʼ, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H.R. Lane, Viking, New York, 1977 (1972), p. 1.

26. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, pp. 30, 357, 402.

27. ^ Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries, Verso, London and New York, 1999, p. 4.

28. ^ See Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, pp. 10–11.

29. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, p. 88.

30. ^ Antonio Negri, ʻReliqua Desiderantur: A Conjecture for a Definition of the Concept of Democracy in the Final Spinozaʼ, in Warren Montag and Ted Stolze, eds, The New Spinoza, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1997, p. 222. See also his Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State, trans. M.

Boscagli, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1999 (1992), and The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinozaʼs Metaphysics and Politics, trans.

M. Hardt, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and Oxford, 1991 (1981). Empire is a condensation and extension into globalized imperial sovereignty of Negriʼs Insurgencies. For Negri, Machiavelliʼs republicanism is part of a broader Renaissance tradition of revolutionary (anti-humanist) humanism.

31. ^ See my ʻGlobalization is Ordinary: The Transnationalization of Cultural Studiesʼ, Radical Philosophy 90, July/August 1998, pp. 9–19.

32. ^ In this regard, it has the same philosophical function as Deleuze and Guattariʼs notion of ʻmultiplicityʼ, whose invention, they insist, ʻmarked the end of dialecticsʼ.

ʻThe notion of unity … appears only when there is a power takeover in the multiplicityʼ, they write. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi,

Athlone Press, London, 1988 (1980), pp. 483,

8. ^ The anti-Hegelianism of the early philosophical writings of Deleuze is highlighted in Michael Hardt, Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy, University of London Press, London, 1993.

33. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, p. 319.

34. ^ See Ernesto Laclau, New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time, Verso, London, 1990; and Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter, Routledge, London and New York, 1993.

35. ^ Negri, Insurgencies, p. 38. Negri describes Machiavelliʼs work as a political reflection on/of this mutation.

36. ^ Hardt and Negri, Empire, pp. 157, 218, 316–19.

37. ^ Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, Blackwell, Cambridge MA and Oxford, 1997. See Simon Bromley, ʻThe Space of Flows and Timeless Time:

Manuel Castellsʼs The Information Ageʼ, Radical Philosophy 97, Sept/Oct 1999, pp. 6–17.

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