Major transformations of the recent past - the dismantling of the welfare state in the West, the collapse of the “communist” parties and Russian bloc, and the emergence of an apparently triumphant neo-liberal capitalist world order, have again brought to the forefront the problem of the historical dynamic and the possibility of world transformation.
The collapse of the Russian bloc, the definitive dissolution of the USSR, and the abandonment of the references to “communism” do not signify the historic end of Marxism, but rather the end of the radical deformations of it, according to which socialism is principally characterized by collective ownership of the means of production and by centralized production, by a mode of distribution regulated in a just and conscious way. This deformed vision of Marxism did not permit the critique of the “socialist” regimes. For those who kept their eyes open, the so-called “socialist” regimes were not a response to the problems of capitalism, since they were different from Western capitalism only by the introduction of centralized planning and state property. Even in the 1930’s, Andre Gide, for example, in his “Return from the USSR” wrote concerning the Stalinist regime: “Yes dictatorship obviously; but that of a man, not that of the unified proletarians, of the Soviets. It is important not to be deluded, and to clearly recognize: that is not what we wanted. Moreover we would even say: it is exactly that which we did not want.” (1)
To keep one’s eyes open today, means to recognize the changes that have occurred since the 2nd world war in the way in which capitalism is valorized, the changes that have occurred in the working class, and the way in which the exploited can develop the revolutionary project, starting from an integration of the themes and the sources of social dissatisfaction: the decline in the number and power of the working class of the most industrialized countries, the dissatisfaction with regard to the existing forms of work, insecurity, flexibility, the increasing importance of the forms of social identity which are not based mainly on class, but also poverty, migrations, the development of xenophobia, ecological catastrophes, genocides, the ever-greater role of science and technology into the process of production, the privatization of what belongs to all, like genetic inheritance, the attempt to privatize collective efforts, like free software, etc. (2)
Hardt and Negri (H&N), in their two works Empire and Multitude, elaborate a theory of these changes, in which they substitute for the old concepts of “nation-state”, of “working class”, of “communism”, concepts such as Empire, (3) the multitude, democracy. It is not our intention here to make an exhaustive criticism of the theories of H&N in Multitude: the scholarship of the two authors, the abundance of compiled references, the extent and the variety of the fields approached, the long intellectual course and militant history of Negri, make these theories both complex and extensive. We will limit ourselves to a discussion of three points: in the post-Fordist period 1) Does the production of value remain the goal of capitalistic production? And how to measure it? 2) Does the revolutionary subject remain the working class or is it the “multitude”? 3) Is the perspective for another society communism or “democracy”? Our approach will consist in showing 1) The specifically capitalist nature of the phenomena mentioned above. 2) The need to return to the theoretical core of Marxism, to the way in which it reveals the profound nature of capitalism, its social relations, its forms of domination, its historical dynamic, so as to account for the changes that have occurred. 3) That the new concepts of Hardt & Negri though radical in appearance, lack critical depth and, finally, only theorize their own impotence.
I: Does Value Remain at the Core of Capitalist Production? And How to Measure It?
Hardt & Negri affirm that: “In the final decades of the twentieth century, industrial labor lost its hegemony and in its stead emerged ‘immaterial labor,’ that is, labor that creates immaterial products, such as knowledge, information, communication, a relationship, or an emotional response . . .… Our claim … is that immaterial labor has become hegemonic in qualitative terms and has imposed a tendency on other forms of labor and society itself. Immaterial labor, in other words, is today in the same position that industrial labor was 150 years ago. …. Just as in that phase all forms of labor and society itself had to industrialize, today labor and society have to informationalize, become intelligent, become communicative, become affective.” (4) “We will argue …that exploitation under the hegemony of immaterial labor is no longer primarily the expropriation of value measured by individual or collective labor time but rather the capture of value that is produced by cooperative labor and that becomes increasingly common through its circulation in social networks.” (5)
The ideas of Hardt & Negri are close to those of Andre Gorz, according to whom “…the expression ‘knowledge economy’ signifies fundamental upheavals in the economic system. It implies that knowledge has become the principal productive force. Consequently, that the products of social activity are no longer, mainly, crystallized labor but crystallized knowledge. That the exchange value of commodities, material or not, is no longer determined in the final analysis by the quantity of general social labor that they contain but, mainly, by the content of the knowledge, information, intelligence that they contain. It is the latter and no longer the abstract social labor, measurable according to a single standard, which becomes the principal social substance common to all commodities. It is that which become the principal source of value and of profit, and thus, according to a number of authors, the principal form of labor, and of capital.” (6) “The heterogeneity of the activities of labor termed 'cognitive,’ of the immaterial products which they create and the capacities and knowledge that they imply, renders non-measurable both the value of the labor-power as well as that of its products . . .… The crisis in the measurement of labor inevitably entails a crisis in the measurement of value. When the socially necessary labor time for a given production becomes uncertain, that uncertainty cannot but be reflected in the exchange value of what is produced. The increasingly qualitative character, less and less measurable, of labor, puts in crisis the relevance of the concepts of 'surplus labor’ and 'surplus-value'. The crisis of the measurement of value puts in crisis the definition of the essence of value.” (7)
It is easier to intuitively understand exploitation (and thus surplus labor, and surplus-value) when one sees images of lines of workers sewing trousers into jeans as in fact is the case currently in China, than when one sees images of robots who form assembly lines in a car industry, supervised by workers watching their computer screens. However, if one takes the broader vision of the total production of commodities, linked to the collective worker, and not the production of material or immaterial commodities related to the individual labor of each worker, there is no reason to doubt that capitalist production is still based on value linked to the extraction of surplus labor. The doubt and the incredulity of H&N (and Gorz) related to the concept of value in the period of the formal domination of capitalism would find an equivalent in the fact of doubting the theory of gravity when one saw the first planes taking off.
An essential concept in approaching the evolution of capitalism in the 20th century is that of the passage from the formal domination to the real domination of capital. Marx had already, in his unpublished chapter of Capital, the “Results of the Immediate Process of Production,” traced in broad outline the essential characteristics of the passage to the real subsumption of labor to capital, which he calls the “specifically capitalist mode of production”, and implications of this passage for the social character of production and the emergence of the “collective worker”. “The social productive forces of labour, or the productive forces of directly social, socialized (i.e. collective) labour come into being through co-operation, division of labour within the workshop, the use of machinery, and in general the transformation of production by the conscious use of the sciences, of mechanics, chemistry, etc. for specific ends, technology, etc. and similarly, through the enormous increase of scale corresponding to such developments (for it is only socialized labour that is capable of applying the general products of human development, such as mathematics, to the immediate processes of production; and, conversely, progress in these sciences presupposes a certain level of material production).” (8) “With the real subsumption of labour under capital a complete (and constantly repeated) revolution takes place in the mode of production, in the productivity of the workers and in the relations between workers and capitalists.” (9) “At the same time capitalist production has a tendency to take over all branches of industry not yet acquired and where only formal subsumption obtains. Once it has appropriated agriculture and mining, the manufacture of the principal textiles etc., it moves on to other sectors where the artisans are still formally or even genuinely independent.” (10) “If the production of absolute surplus-value was the material expression of the formal subsumption of labour under capital, then the production of relative surplus-value may be viewed as its real subsumption.” (11) “The material result of capitalist production, if we except the development of the social productive forces of labour, is to raise the quantity of production and multiply and diversify the spheres of production and their sub-spheres. For it is only then that the corresponding development of the exchange-value of the products emerges – as the realm in which they can operate or realize themselves as exchange-value.” (12) “It is a form of production not bound to a level of needs laid down in advance …. (Its contradictory character includes a barrier to production which it is constantly striving to overcome. Hence crises, over-production etc.) This is one side, in contrast to the former mode of production; if you like, it is the positive side. On the other hand, there is the negative side, its contradictory character: production in contradiction, and indifference, to the producer. The real producer as a mere means of production, material wealth as an end in itself. And so the growth of this material wealth is brought about in contradiction to and at the expense of the individual human being. Productivity of labour in general = the maximum of profit with the minimum of work, hence, too, goods become cheaper. This becomes a law, independent of the will of the individual capitalist. And this law only becomes reality because instead of the scale of production being controlled by existing needs, the quantity of products made is determined by the constantly increasing scale of production dictated by the mode of production itself. Its aim is that the individual product should contain as much unpaid labour as possible, and this is achieved only by producing for the sake of production. (13)
Through these extensive citations, we can see that in the sketch of the broad outlines of the development of the specifically capitalist mode of production (the antagonistic character of production, the incorporation of science and technology into the productive process, etc.), Marx gives a central role to the law of the value, to the fact that “each product contains as much unpaid labour as possible”.
Immaterial or “non-material production” is outlined by Marx, but in a very succinct manner. See “The Results of the Immediate Process of Production,” pages 1047-1048. Marx, in his own time, thought that that kind of labor, by its very nature, was located outside the relation between labor and capital. But that is no longer the case today.
Marx also tackled the question of the incorporation of science, and of knowledge, within the production process: “… science, which is in fact the general intellectual product of the social process, also appears to be the direct offshoot of capital (since its application to the material process of production takes place in isolation from the knowledge and abilities of the individual worker). And since society is marked by the exploitation of labour by capital, its development appears to be a productive force of capital as opposed to labour. It therefore appears to be the development of capital, and all the more so since, for the great majority, it is a process with which the drawing-off of labour-power keeps pace.” (14)
The implications for the definition of productive labor and more generally the working class are clearly shown by Marx: “… with the development of the real subsumption of labour under capital, or the specifically capitalist mode of production, the real lever of the overall labour process is increasingly not the individual worker. Instead, labour-power socially combined and the various competing labour-powers which together form the entire production machine participate in very different ways in the immediate process of making commodities, or, more accurately in this context, creating the product. Some work better with their hands, others with their heads, one as manager, engineer, technologist, etc., the other as overseer, the third as manual labourer or even drudge. An ever increasing number of types of labour are included in the immediate concept of productive labour, and those who perform it are classed as productive workers, workers directly exploited by capital and subordinated to its process of production and expansion. If we consider the aggregate worker i.e. if we take all the members comprising the workshop together, then we see that their combined activity results materially in an aggregate product which is at the same time a quantity of goods. And here it is quite immaterial whether the job of a particular worker, who is merely a limb of this aggregate worker, is at a greater or smaller distance from the actual manual labour. But then: the activity of this aggregate labour-power is its immediate productive consumption by capital, i.e. it is the self-valorization process of capital, and hence, as we shall demonstrate, the immediate production of surplus-value, the immediate conversion of this latter into capital.” (15)
These lengthily quotations show that the increasing place of “immaterial work”, in the development of capitalistic production is thus not a new phenomenon, but rather a phenomenon which was accentuated at the end of the 20th century, and the beginning of the 21st. The question actively discussed today is to know if (and how?) immaterial work changes the concepts of value, of surplus labor, etc. Putting this question in perspective, it seems necessary to us to clarify the contradictory tendencies, namely (a) generalization of the law of the value and the tendency to valueless production; (b) the generalization of wage-labor and the tendency to automated production, production “without workers.”
(a) Generalization of the law of the value and the tendency to “valueless production”
Value always indicates the exchange-value of one commodity against other commodities. It indicates the various quantities of various commodities against which a quantum of given commodities is exchangeable, i.e. the relation of equivalence of commodities compared to others. This relation is expressed in units of a standard commodity that is exchangeable against all others: money. In recent decades, a great number of activities or common goods have been transformed into commodities. This phenomenon was already outlined by Marx: “In capitalist production the tendency for all products to be commodities and all labour to be wage-labour, becomes absolute. A whole mass of functions and activities which formerly had an aura of sanctity about them, which passed as ends in themselves, which were performed for nothing or where payment was made in roundabout ways … -- all these become converted into wage-labourers, however various their activities and payment may also be. And, on the other hand, their valuation – the price of these different activities from the prostitute to the king – becomes subject to the laws that govern the price of wage-labour…. Now the fact that with the growth of capitalist production all services become transformed into wage-labour, and those who perform them into wage-labourers means that they tend increasingly to be confused with the productive worker, just because they share this characteristic with him.” (16)
Housework, care of children, maintenance of gardens, psychological consultations, tutoring, preparation of take-out food, the examples are not lacking of work at one time expended without pay or remunerated in an indirect way, which today are the objects of commodity exchange. (17) Even the common goods that, a priori, are not commodities, because are not produced for exchange, are confiscated by means of artificial barriers that restrict their use to those who pay for the right of access. That includes oxygen in very polluted cities, or the human genome code. Thus, for Gorz: “The privatization of access allows the transformation of natural wealth and common goods into quasi-commodities that procure a rent for the sellers access rights. The control of access is ... a privileged form of the capitalization of immaterial wealth” (18) Immaterial work (for example in the form of software) constitutes one of the expressions of the trajectory of capitalism towards value-less production. This tendency results from the introduction of science and technology into the very core of the productive process. The introduction of technology into production makes it possible to save much more work than it costs. It reduces the potential for the creation of value, by saving enormous amounts of paid socially necessary labor, and thereby destroying or reducing the exchange-value of a growing number of products. This tendency has destructive consequences: destruction of stocks, unemployment, etc. It has also a positive side: the very trajectory of capitalism tends to make exchange-value obsolete, and creates, within the relations of production, a tension, a contradiction which calls for a resolution by a system of production which is no longer based on value.
b) Generalization of wages and the tendency to production “without workers”
Within the capitalist system of production, more and more people appear as sellers of the only thing that they possess: living labor, i.e. their labor power. This is the consequence of the generalization of the law of value to all aspects of society. We have seen this process, for example, very clearly in China during the last decade, where peasants are driven from their land or abandon part of their family, to seek work in the cities.
In the last century, living labor could be generally integrated into the productive process and become wage-labor, taking part in the production of surplus-value and the self-valorization of capital. For Marx: “Thus productive labour is labour which for the worker only reproduces the value of his labour-power as determined beforehand, while as a value-creating activity it valorizes capital and confronts the worker with the values so created and transformed into capital. The specific relationship between objectified and living labour that converts the former into capital also turns the latter into productive labour. The specific product of the capitalist process of production, surplus-value, is created only through an exchange with productive labour. What gives it a specific use-value for capital is not its particular utility, any more than the particular useful qualities of the product in which it is objectified. Its use to capital is its ability to generate exchange-value (surplus-value).” (19)
In addition, the development of the productivity of labor has as a consequence an increasingly large proportion of “sellers of labor-power” who find no buyers, and are thus excluded, temporarily or definitively from the productive process: the unemployed over the age of 50 in the European countries, youth, etc. Even in countries like China, unemployment and under-employment is widespread and growing. This contradiction between the generalization of the status of “seller of labor-power” and the contraction (relative, not absolute) of the possibilities for the incorporation of this labor-power into the process of production is significant, because it is one of the elements that may propel the development of a consciousness as to the obsolescence of the capitalist system.
The reason why H&N define the production of immaterial goods as “relations” or even “emotional reactions”, and value as something which is produced by “co-operative work”, “circulating within social networks”, are twofold: a confusion between value and social wealth, and a confusion between the production of social relations, emotions, and production of value. It is important to disentangle these confusions because that will make it possible to grasp essential aspects of present-day society.
1) The confusion between value and social wealth
For H&N, everything is productive. There is production of “value” everywhere and all the time. Value is produced by everyone, whether they are integrated or not into the productive process, including the unemployed, the clandestine immigrants (who find ways of managing to live). They see “production” as everything that is made in society, the production of cars, as well as the smile (or the absence of a smile) between the supervisor and his employees. If I speak, I produce value; if I keep silent, I produce value (the value of silence). We are all like Molière’s M. Jourdain, who composed prose without even knowing it. Does this framework really clarify anything? H&N make no distinction between value and material and social wealth. However, this distinction is essential to understanding why the enormous gains in productivity generated by capitalism led neither to increasingly high general levels of abundance nor to a fundamental reorganization of social labor, involving significant general reductions in labor time. As Moishe Postone has written: “On the one hand, the tendency of capital to permanent gains in productivity creates a productive apparatus of enormous technological sophistication that makes the production of material wealth essentially independent of the expenditure of direct human labor time. On the other hand, that tendency creates the possibility of a reduction of labor time on the scale of the whole society and of fundamental transformations in the social nature and organization of work. However, under capitalism those possibilities are not realized. Although there is less and less recourse to manual labor, the development of a technologically sophisticated production does not free the majority of humankind from fragmented and repetitive labor. Moreover, labor is not reduced on the scale of the whole society, but rather unequally distributed, with an increase for many. The present structure of labor and the organization of production, therefore, cannot be understood solely in technological terms: the development of production under capitalism must also be understood in social terms. Together with consumption, it is shaped by social mediations expressed through the categories of commodity and capital.” (20)
The trajectory of growth under capitalism is determined by the fact that the ultimate goal of production is to increase surplus-value, ant not the amount of goods. As Postone puts it: “In other words, the trajectory under capitalism must not be confounded with ‘economic growth’ as such; it’s a matter of a determinant trajectory that engenders a growing tension between ecological preoccupations and the imperatives of value as a form of social wealth and mediation.” Labor under capitalism only appears to respond to human needs (“concrete labor”); in reality, as a true end in itself, it essentially serves the increase of value for its own sake (“abstract labor”). To cite Postone: “The abstract nature of the social mediation that underpins capitalism is also expressed by the form of wealth that prevails in that society. Marx’s labor theory of value has often been understood in a mistaken way as a labor theory of wealth, that is to say, as a theory that purports to explain the market mechanism and to prove the existence of exploitation by claiming that labor – always and everywhere – is the sole source of social wealth. But Marx’s analysis is not an analysis of wealth in general. It analyzes value as an historically specific form of wealth, a form linked to the historically unique role of labor under capitalism: as a form of wealth, value is also a form of social mediation. Marx explicitly distinguished between value and material wealth, and he linked those two distinct forms of wealth to the dual nature of labor under capitalism. Material wealth is determined by the amount of goods produced, and it depends on several factors, such as knowledge, social organization, and natural conditions, in addition to labor. Value, according to Marx, is only constituted by the expenditure of human labor time, and it is the dominant form of wealth under capitalism.” (21)
Value, the goal of capitalist production, thus remains completely bound to the extraction of surplus-value from human labor.
A direct derivative of the conception which assimilates value and material and social wealth is that which is used as the basis for demands for a “social wage”, or a “guaranteed wage”, like that put forward by L Guilloteau: “Against insecurity, it is for a social wage, one uncoupled from the labor time paid in an enterprise, that power within the conditions of wage-labor can manifest itself. Everyone knows that the raises and the conditions under which the existing allocutions are made, like the whole hierarchy of wages guaranteed by the state, are completely arbitrary. We need to find a form of access to material and social wealth that responds to the needs of occasional workers, those on reduced time, or still being trained. Since the creation of the SMIC in 1967, the socialization of a wage detached from one’s individual productive role has become evident. Production is directly social. Thanks to struggles against work, its character as a collective activity is in part remunerated. Social cooperation then ceases to be a free resource. If struggles for a guaranteed income follow the secular movement for a reduction in labor time, it is because they alone base themselves on the muddling of the old boundaries between time to live and time to work, transcending the classic distinction between production and reproduction. They alone respond to the reduction in labor time that characterizes insecurity.” (22)
As Gorz emphasizes, the justification of demands for a “guaranteed wage” is contradictory. It is first of all a question of meeting “the needs of occasional workers”, detaching wages from “individual productive implication”. But we then quickly slide towards the idea that production has “become social.” (23) The wage then ceases to be unconditional, but is related to the remuneration of a “collective” activity, “social co-operation”. This example shows indeed to what extent these ideas lack a cutting edge, are not sufficiently radical, fail to put in question the capitalist system.
2) Confusion between immaterial production and production of relations, emotional reactions
The fact that capitalism stresses social relations more and more, including within companies, or in relations with the potential buyer, as well as emotional reactions, is undeniable. However, can one say that when the ticket taker punches your ticket with a smile rather than with a sad air, there is production of value? Are advertisements for Nike, showing men or women running without being concerned about the state of the roads a direct production of value? Of what “value” do we speak? Of exchange-value, money and commodities, which is the only thing political economy knows? Or of what is intrinsically desirable, and, by definition, non-exchangeable as a commodity against other commodities?
Brand labels, advertising slogans, only affect the distribution of value, and not its production. They influence the choices that consumers make, within the limits of their purchasing power, which is determined by the value of what is produced. They stimulate needs, longings, self-images, the most adequate expression of which the commodity is supposed to represent. The importance of this phenomenon has been well analyzed by Naomi Klein in her book No Logo (see also the detailed criticism made by Aufheben of H &N’s concept of immaterial labor in no. 14, 2006).
II: The Revolutionary Subject: The Working Class or the Multitude?
H&N very clearly recognize the changes that have affected the working class in the Western countries, like the United States, and see in job insecurity, and flexibility, the new characteristics of labor power today. Thus, “… the compact identities of factory workers in the dominant countries have been undermined with the rise of short-term contracts and the forced mobility of new forms of work ….” (24) To the question of who will be the revolutionary subject of the future, they respond with the concept of the “multitude:” “One initial approach is to conceive the multitude as all those who work under the rule of capital and thus potentially as the class of those who refuse the rule of capital. The concept of the multitude is thus very different from that of the working class, at least as that concept came to be used in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Working class is fundamentally a restricted concept based on exclusions. In its most limited conception, the working class refers only to industrial labor and thus excludes all other laboring classes. At its most broad, the working class refers to all waged laborers and thus excludes the various unwaged classes.” (25) “… there is a potentially infinite number of classes that comprise contemporary society based not only on economic differences but also on those of race, ethnicity, geography, gender, sexuality, and other factors.” (26) According to H&N, the economic determination of resistance has given way to a political determination: “An investigation of economic class, then, like an investigation of race, should not begin with a mere catalog of empirical differences but rather with the lines of collective resistance to power. Class is a political concept, in short, in that a class is and can only be a collectivity that struggles in common.” (27)
The merit of this step is to want to break with an economic determinism that sees the possibilities of the emergence of revolutionary consciousness only as a reaction to economic attacks. But if the economic determinations are less apparent in society today that were right after the 2nd world war, they still exist, though on a more abstract level. Against capitalism, the working class consists of all those who have only their labor-power to sell.
We have already evoked the way in which Marx considered the consequences of the passage from the formal domination to the real domination of capital on the agent of the process of global labour, that is no longer the individual worker, but the collective worker. The passage from Fordism to post-Fordism had important consequences on the “self-awareness” of this “collective worker”. The development of job insecurity, the growing numbers of those working outside the law, the replacement of assembly line production by robots monitored by workers, etc, make the emergence of the consciousness of a common destiny difficult. But, rather than an “infinite number of classes”, modern society is moving towards a simplification: a growing percentage of humankind is being proletarianized, i.e. have only their labor-power to sell. The category of “labor” thus remains paramount, and, as long as capitalism exists, it will be the mediating category of social relations, as Postone points out: “Marx sought to situate the most basic form of the social relations that characterize capitalist society. That basic form is the commodity: a historically specific form of social relations,” one constituted by labor. “In a society where the commodity is the fundamental structuring form of the totality, labor and its products are not socially distributed through the means of non-disguised power relations, bonds, and norms, and traditional forms of domination – as is the case in other types of society. On the contrary, it is labor itself that replaces those relations by serving as a quasi-objective means through which one acquires the products of others. A new form of inter-dependence emerges in which no one consumes what he/she produces, but where the labor or the product of the labor of each serves as the necessary means to obtain the product of others.” Postone continues: “Thus, in the work of the mature Marx, the idea according to which labor is central to social life is not a trans-historical proposition. It is not linked to the fact that material production is a necessary condition for any social life. Nor does it mean that material production is the most essential dimension of social life in general or even of capitalism in particular. In capitalism, material production is linked to the historically specific constitution by labor of a form of social mediation that fundamentally characterizes that society. It is on that basis that Marx established the socially essential traits of modernity.” (28)
The question of those “excluded” from production must also be considered. The increase in labor productivity related to the introduction of technology and science into production results in a reduction in necessary labor time, and, therefore, in increased numbers of the unemployed, a greater mass of whom will never be integrated into the productive process, but who form part of the working class. The question of labor, far from having decreased in importance, remains, on the contrary, at the core of resistance to capitalism, and at the heart of the struggles to come. “Neither worker, nor unemployed”, was the slogan in the assemblies of young students (March-April 2006, France). We saw the emergence of a consciousness, among young people, future workers, concerning the system of exploitation based on labor, outside of which one is only trash, together with a refusal to blindly enter into that logic.
A related problem raised by H&N is the fact that the working class is recognized only when it is in action and it can measure the effect of its actions. Action indeed makes it possible to be perceived as subject, and to be distinguished from others. However action is not sufficient alone. When the young people of the suburbs were in action (November 2005), the young people of the universities and the workers did not recognize this movement as forming part of the working class (see the text of Rose). Convergence in actions of resistance, of opposition to capitalism, necessitates a collective consciousness of that which unites, that is to say, a refusal of the exploitation through labor.
In addition, the tendency of the law of the value to invade all aspects of social life is accompanied by the social basis of capitalism becoming ever-more fragile: cultural conflicts, ecological catastrophes, the demands of homosexuals, youth, students, all give the impression that revolt is everywhere (with very little in the factories). The question is posed of knowing who is the subject of the revolution to come. Is the notion of the working class a concept outmoded by history? What are the paths that revolutionary change will take?
III: Change: Revolution or Seizure of Power from Within?
H&N form part of a tendency that believes that revolution is no longer indispensable, that it is possible to change the world without seizing power, “… by voiding it of its substance, and de-legitimating the power of the institutions and the powers that run them, by removing the growing space of autonomy from the planetary control of capital, and by re-appropriating that of which populations have been dispossessed. Everything happens as if the movement for free software and other movements, like “Reclaim the Street,” “Ya Basta,” “People’s Global Action,” “Un autre monde est possible,” “Via campesina,” or like the “Zapatista Liberation Army” -- which has never fired a bullet, but has succeeded in uniting dozens of other movements around a common charter – were components of the same movement in a process of perpetual differentiation and re-composition, whose free networks would constitute a common matrix…. There would be no revolution thanks to the overthrow of the system by external forces. The negation of the system would burst forth from within the system through the practical alternatives that it generated….” (29)
This conception is close to that of H&N in the third part of their book, entitled “democracy”. H&N identify three types of demands (which they prefer to call “grievances”) which cause oppositions: those concerning representation (i.e. the lack of representation of total institutions like the Security Council of the United Nations, the IMF; those concerning right, justice, and economic poverty: “The average income of the richest 20 countries is thirty-seven times greater than the average in the poorest twenty – a gap that has doubled in the past forty years. Even when these figures are adjusted for purchasing power … the gap is astonishing. The construction of the global market and the global integration of the national economies has not brought us together but driven us apart, exacerbating the plight of the poor;” (30) and the biopolitical demands, among them ecological demands, which are necessarily of a global nature: movements against pollution, against rising sea levels which would entail the re-location of populations of several hundreds of thousands, or even millions, against the privatization of the human genome, of nature, and of the knowledge necessary to the production of drugs. H&N accomplish in this section a real effort of integration of the topics and sources of social dissatisfaction existing on a world level.
We think that these movements emerge in reaction to the trajectory of capitalism in its phase of decadence, which destroys the planet, accentuates economic inequalities, that plunders the resources of the countries of the Third World or those that are developing. These movements testify to the emergence of a consciousness that the “solution” can be only global, that a world government is necessary, which is concerned with the needs of humanity, and not capitalism’s needs for profit. It is the new utopia, the new social project, which tends to be popularized through all these movements. But the idea that we could arrive there by an evolution that “would burst forth from within the system,” by way of existing international democratic authorities who would make the economy function on the basis of a conscious revolution, clear on the principles of the abolition of capitalism, of wage-labor, seems to us to sow confusion more than anything else.
Alex Callinicos rightly emphasizes to what extent the autonomist ideology largely contributed to reducing the pacifist demonstrators against the G8 in Genoa in 2001 to the state of passive victims of police terror. (31) The Tutti Bianchi (32) had announced, before the Genoa summit, the obsolescence of the traditional left and the overcoming “of all the traditional oppositions of the 20th century: reformism versus revolution, the avant-garde versus the movement, intellectuals versus workers, the seizure of power versus the exodus, violence versus non-violence.” (33) On July 20, 2001, the demonstrations of the Tutti Bianchi were the prey to violent police attacks that prevented them from reaching the red zone where the G8 summit was held: teargas, armored vehicles, tanks, bullets. One dead, several seriously wounded.
By praising the anti-globalization movements that “void power of its legitimacy without firing a shot,” because they only describe the visible movement and not the abstract contradictions that animate them, H&N risk finding themselves with affinities for ... the Social Democratic left. This latter can find in the theories of H&N a theory of globalization close to their own thinking, which helps them to transform them into public policy, since suddenly equipped with unexpected patents of nobility. And so the ideas of H&N easily be recuperated: “Thus, Mark Leonard, a particularly crass Blairite ideologue, published an enthusiastic interview with Negri in which he praised the latter for arguing that globalisation is an opportunity for a left wing concerned with liberty and the quality of life, rather than for a reductive quest for equality between groups, which sounds more like Tony Blair than Toni Negri.” (34)
Other assertions show that H&N have less a revolutionary concern, i.e. for the radical change of society, than a concern to please the greatest possible mass. On the question of “reform or revolution”, H&N maintain that: “There is no conflict between reform and revolution. We say this not because we think that reform and revolution are the same thing, but that in today’s conditions they cannot be separated. Today the historical processes of transformation are so radical that even reformist proposals can lead to revolutionary change. And when democratic reforms of the global system prove to be incapable of providing the bases of a real democracy, they demonstrate ever more forcefully that a revolutionary change is needed and make it ever more possible. It is useless to rack our brains over whether a proposal is reformist or revolutionary; what matters is that it enters into the constituent process.” (35) Worse still, they defend international courts, like those which were established to prosecute war crimes, “…as the first institutions of a global system of justice ….” !!! (36)
The analysis of Marx affirms in an explicit way that revolution is necessary and possible. Emancipation from capitalism means neither to free labor nor to redistribute wealth, but emancipation from those real abstractions, which are labor and value. Exchange-value tends to diminish, following the introduction of science and technology into production. It becomes possible to liberate oneself from value, from the concrete forms of labor, and the concrete forms of production and social life shaped by the abstract social structures based on value. We share Moishe Postone’s view here: “Marx’s analysis implicitly affirms that the form of industrial production based on the proletariat as well as on a crazy [folle] form of economic growth are shaped by the commodity form, and shows that the forms of production and growth would be different in a society where material wealth replaced value as the dominant form of wealth. Capitalism itself engenders the possibility of such a society, of a different structuration of labor, of a different form of growth, and a different form of complex global inter-dependence but at the same time it structurally undermines the realization of its own possibilities” It’s not just – as the reformists think – a matter of reducing the duration of labor or installing a society of free-time. The slogans of the youth revolt in the anti-CPE movements that proclaimed “neither unemployed, nor worker,” that rejected exploitation in and by labor, are more clear than that, and have as their thrust a rejection of capitalism.
Some Concluding Words
To recognize the changes that have occurred since the 2nd world war in the way in which capitalism has developed, to recognize the re-composition of the working class, to integrate the topics and the sources of existing social dissatisfaction in the advanced industrial societies, here are a series of objectives to which Marxism must be harnessed if it wants to contribute to the emergence of class consciousness. The groups and tendencies that try to theorize these changes are not lacking, and Hardt & Negri’s Multitude is a real contribution to this process. But it is necessary to locate this effort within the framework of Marxism, by returning to the core of it, under penalty of blunting the edge of criticism. Failing that, H&N are likely to be only fashionable theorists, acclaimed at the time of their new publications, but quickly forgotten when the radical revolutionary movement develops.