Hardt-Negri's "Empire": a Marxist critique

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's "Empire" is best understood as a *turn* within the ideological/political current known as "post-Marxism". Although this movement has been closely identified with protests against globalization--albeit not within classical Marxist parameters--Hardt and Negri will have nothing to do with any movement that makes concessions to the idea that "Local differences preexist the present scene and must be defended or protected against the intrusion of globalization." (Empire, p. 45)

Before turning to part one of "Empire", it would be useful to say a few words about the emergence of post-Marxism. As a theory, it tries to reconcile Marx with postmodernism. From Marx it borrows the idea that capitalism is an unjust system. From postmodernism it borrows the idea that "grand narratives" lead to disaster. While postmodernism had been around since the mid-80s (Lyotard's "Postmodern Condition" was published in 1984), the disenchantment with the traditional Marxist project reached a crescendo after 1990, when the Soviet bloc began to collapse and after the Central American revolution had been defeated.

Since a large part of the postmodernist turn within Marxism had to do with the futility of organizing socialism on the basis of the nation-state, the collapse of existing socialism--based on such states--would necessarily deepen the conviction that old-school Marxism was passé. However, what deepened this pessimism even more was the belief that a 'globalized' economy made the nation-state itself a dying species, like the brontosaurus. What good what it do to make a socialist revolution if multinational corporations and international lending institutions violated porous real or virtual borders?

Perhaps no other leftwing figure expressed these moods better than Roger Burbach, a Berkeley Latin American studies professor who had been heavily invested in the Sandinista revolution. In 1997, he wrote "Globalization and its Discontents: the rise of postmodernist socialisms" with Orlando Núñez and Boris Kagarlitsky (Kargalitsky would eventually disown the book). Burbach writes:

"The left has to accept the fact that the Marxist project for revolution launched by the Communist Manifesto is dead. There will certainly be revolutions (the Irananian Revolution is probably a harbinger of what to expect in the short term), but they will not be explicitly socialist ones that follow in the Marxist tradition begun by the First International." (Globalization, p. 142.)

Socialists would have to lower their expectations. Instead of proletarian revolution, they should shoot for "radical reforms", especially those that have modest geographical and economic ambitions. On the high end of the scale, you have a struggle like Chiapas, which has tended to function iconically for the post-Marxists as 1917 Russia functioned for a generation of classical Marxists. At the low end, you have soup kitchens, housing squats, and even homeless men selling "street newspapers" in order to raise the funds for their next meal or a night's stay at a flophouse. Burbach's program comes across as a leftist version of George Bush's "thousand points of light":

"In both the developed and underdeveloped countries, a wide variety of critical needs and interests are being neglected at the local level, including the building, or rebuilding, of roads, schools and social services. A new spirit of volunteerism and community participation, backed by a campaign to secure complimentary resources from local and national governments, can open up entirely new job markets and areas of work to deal with these basic needs." (ibid, p. 164)

Although Hardt and Negri share many of Burbach's assumptions, which we will detail momentarily, they could care less about community participation, either in Chiapas or northern urban neighborhoods. For them, what is key is the very process that Burbach was reacting against, namely globalization or what old-school Marxists have called imperialism. They have their own word for it, which serves them eponymously: Empire.

Part of the problem in coming to terms with "Empire" is the lack of an economic analysis, which is surprising given the self-conscious attempt by the authors to position the book as a Communist Manifesto for the 21st century. Not only had Marx written a seminal economics treatise to anchor his political program, so had Lenin a generation later. When Lenin was gathering together the forces that would eventually constitute the 3rd International, he already had "Imperialism, the Final Stage of Capitalism" under his belt. This work not only was dense with detail about the emergence of corporate trusts, it was written only after Lenin had familiarized himself with hundreds of books and articles on economics, especially those written by J.A. Hobson and Rudolf Hilferding. Going through the notes of "Empire" you find abundant references to Baudrillard, Celine, Arendt, Polybius et al, but very few to economics studies.

This failure leads the authors to make bald assertions that scream out for verification, but which are not forthcoming. For example, in the preface they state that "The United States does indeed occupy a privileged position in Empire, but this privilege derives not from its similarities to the old European imperialist powers, but from its differences." Those who expect those differences to revolve around investment patterns, etc. will be disappointed, for in fact Hardt and Negri are referring to the United States constitution which was inspired by an imperial (but not imperialist) idea going back to the Roman Empire.

In the absence of hard economic facts, indeed much of "Empire" devolves into discussion of the role of ideas in shaping history. Of particular note is their definition of Empire itself. While "imperialisms" were very much defined by place and time ("an extension of the sovereignty of the European nation-states beyond their borders" as they put it), Empire is timeless and omnipresent. "It is a *decentered* and *deterritorializing* apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers". While to some of us, this comes across as nothing more than a fancy description of U.S. imperialism's 'new world order', let us accept this definition on its own terms for the time being.

In order to give this definition some substance, the authors unfortunately allow their idealist method to run away with itself. This is most particularly notable in their discussion of the United Nations, which is a lynch-pin of Empire. Although--like much of Empire--the UN has nasty side-effects, it is still a breakthrough in terms of pointing in the direction of establishing a *global* order. From this standpoint, the work of one Hans Kelsen is critical. As "one of the central intellectual figures behind the formation of the United Nations," Kelsen sought in "Kantian-fashion" a supreme ethical idea that could provide an organization of humanity.

While not taking a position here on ethics, it is incumbent on us to look at the underlying class dynamics that led to the formation of the United Nations. As such, categorical imperatives never entered the picture.

To start with, before the UN ever ended up as a group of buildings on Manhattan's East River, it pre-existed as the wartime alliance of England, the United States and the USSR. Moreover, these three great powers always saw their alliance within the context of diplomatic jockeying over how to divide the spoils of WWII. These discussions took place at Yalta and Potsdam, and influenced completely the decisions shaping the character of the UN. Behind all of the human rights and democracy rhetoric accompanying the creation of the UN, power politics lay beneath the surface.

The United States sought to capitalize on its impending victory in the Pacific. Sumner Welles, under heavy criticism, disavowed charges in March 1943 that "the Pacific should be a lake under American jurisdiction..." Great Britain, for its part, sought to maintain its imperial power. Churchill wrote Eden at the time, "If the Americans want to take Japanese islands which they have conquered, let them do so with our blessing and any form of words that may be agreeable to them. But 'Hands Off the British Empire' is our maxim." Stalin's goal was more modest. All he desired was a series of buffer states between Western Europe and the Soviet Union that would be under its sphere of influence. To get a flavor of United States thinking at the time of formation of the UN, let's eavesdrop in on a telephone conversation between War Department official John J. McCloy and the State Department's Henry L. Stimson:

McCloy: ...the argument is that if you extend that to the regional arrangement against non-enemy states, Russia will want to have the same thing in Europe and Asia and you will build up these big regional systems which may provoke even greater wars and you've cut out the heart of the world organization.

Stimson: Yes.

McCloy: That the whole idea is to use collective action and by these exceptions you would…

Stimson: of course you'll, you'll cut into the size of the new organization [ie., the UN] by what you agreed to now

McCloy: Yes, that's right. That was recognized...and maybe the same nation that had done the underhanded stirring up might veto any action any action by the regional arrangement to stop it--to put a stop to the aggression. Now that's the thing that they [Russia] are afraid of, but, and *it's a real fear* and they have a real asset and they are a real military asset to us.

Stimson: Yes,

McCloy: but on the other hand *we have a very strong interest in being able to intervene promptly in Europe* where the--twice now within a generation we've been forced to send our sons over some…

Stimson: Yes

McCloy: relatively minor Balkan incident, and *we don't want to lose the right to intervene promptly in Europe* merely for the sake of preserving our South American solidarity because after all we, we will have England, England's navy and army, if not France's on our side, whereas the South American people are not particularly strong in their own right, and the armies start in Europe and they don't start in South America. However, I've been taking the position that we ought to have our cake and eat it too; that *we ought to be free to operate under this regional arrangement in South America*, at the same time intervene promptly in Europe; that we oughtn't to give away either asset...

Stimson: I think so, decidedly, because in the Monroe Doctrine and in- -and that runs into hemispherical solidarity

McCloy: Yes

Stimson: we've gotten something we've developed over the decades

McCloy: Yes

Secretary: and it's in, it's an asset in case, and I don't think it ought to be taken away from us....

(Gabriel Kolko, "The Politics of War")

Of course, now that the Soviet Union no longer exists, the United Nations is more than ever a tool of territorial and economic ambitions by the USA and its allies. Put in old-school Marxist terms, the UN is not an expression of Empire but imperialism. Power grabs by big fish in the ocean at the expense of smaller fish--rather than Kantian pieties--is the only way to understand the United Nations.

Of course, if one sweeps the nasty realities of the formation of the United Nations under the rug, it becomes that much easier to convince oneself that Empire might not be such a bad thing after all. Even after Hardt and Negri admit that globalizing tendencies involve a lot of "oppression and exploitation," they still maintain that the process must continue. Why? "Despite recognizing all this [bad stuff], we insist on asserting that the construction of Empire is a step forward in order to do away with any nostalgia for the power structures that preceded it and refuse any political strategy that involves returning to the old arrangement, such as trying to resurrect the nation-state against capital." In other words, socialism defended by armed working people who would sacrifice their lives at places like the Bay of Pigs in order to build a better future for their children and grandchildren is a waste of time.

Leaving no doubt whatsoever about their intentions, they declare, "Today we should all clearly recognize that the time of such proletarian revolution is over." With this declaration, they stand side-by-side with Roger Burbach who, as cited above, believes: "The left has to accept the fact that the Marxist project for revolution launched by the Communist Manifesto is dead."

Unlike Burbach, Hardt and Negri have little interest in or sympathy for local struggles against the ravages of globalization:

"We are well aware that in affirming this thesis we are swimming against the current of our friends and comrades on the Left. In the long decades of the current crisis of the communist, socialist, and liberal Left that has followed the 1960s, a large portion of critical thought, both in the dominant countries of capitalist development and in the subordinated ones, has sought to recompose sites of resistance that are founded on the identities of social subjects or national and regional groups, often grounding political analysis on the *localization of struggles*." (Empire, p. 44)

Hardt and Negri now regard such local struggles as they would tainted meat on a supermarket shelf because they "can easily devolve into a kind of primordialism that fixes and romanticizes social relations and identities."

Although their prose, as is universally the case, hovers ethereally above real people and real events, it is not too hard to figure out what they are referring to. They obviously have in mind struggles involving the Mayan people of Chiapas or, before them, the Mayans of Guatemala who looked to Rigoberta Menchu for inspiration and guidance.

Don't Hardt and Negri have a point? Isn't it self-defeating to rally people around 'primordial' texts like the Popul Vuh, the Mayan sacred text that figures heavily in "I, Rigoberta Menchu." Wouldn't such people be better off assimilating themselves as rapidly as possible into a global network of political and social relations on the basis of what they have in common, rather than what distinguishes them?

In reality, local struggles have exactly that dynamic. A study of Menchu's career would verify that. Starting out as a simple Mayan peasant with a desire to defend local communal lands against the onslaughts of agri-business and the Guatemalan army and death squads, she transformed herself into a global figure connected to indigenous movements everywhere as well as somebody committed to progressive social transformation.

Sadly, what Hardt and Negri miss entirely is how socialist consciousness is formed. It is not on the basis of abstract socialist propaganda but rather the dialectical interaction between experiences based on local struggles, either at the plant-gate or the rural farming village, and ideas transmitted to fighters by Marxist activists, the "vanguard" in Lenin's terms. The construction of such a vanguard remains as urgent a task as it was in Lenin's days, a period not unlike our own which faced thinkers not unlike Hardt and Negri. Part two of Hardt-Negri's "Empire" is a rather lofty defense of an argument that has been around on the left for a long time. It states that all nationalism is reactionary, both that of oppressor and oppressed nations. While the argumentation is studded with references to obscure and not so obscure political theorists going back to the Roman Empire, there is a complete absence of the one criterion that distinguishes Marxism from competitive schools of thought, namely class.

Key to their stratagem is a reliance on the Karl Marx India articles that appeared in the New York Tribune in 1853. Putting this defense of British colonialism into the foreground helps shroud their arguments in Marxist orthodoxy. In effect, the Karl Marx of the Tribune articles becomes a kind of St. John the Baptist to their messianic arrival: "In the nineteenth century Karl Marx...recognized the utopian potential of the ever-increasing processes of global interaction and communication." (Empire, p. 118) In contrast to the bioregionalist pleas of anti-globalization activist Vandana Shiva, perhaps the best thing that could have happen to India is deeper penetration by the WTO, based on this citation from Marx that appears in "Empire":

"Sickening as it must be to human feeling to witness, we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, and they restrained the human mind, within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath the traditional rules depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies."

It is indeed unfortunate that Hardt and Negri are content to rest on this version of Marx even though they have to admit that he "was limited by his scant knowledge of India's past and present." Not to worry, since "his lack of information...is not the point." (Empire, p. 120) In other words, this Marx of scanty knowledge fits perfectly into the schema being constructed in "Empire" since it too is generally characterized by a lack of concrete economic and historical data.

As Aijaz Ahmad points out (In Theory, pp 221-242), Marx had exhibited very little interest in India prior to 1853, when the first of the Tribune articles were written. It was the presentation of the East India Company's application for charter renewal to Parliament that gave him the idea of writing about India at all. To prepare for the articles, he read the Parliamentary records and Bernier's "Travels". (Bernier was a 17th century writer and medicine man.) So it is fair to say that Marx's views on India were shaped by the contemporary prejudices. More to the point is that Marx had not even drafted the Grundrisse at this point and Capital was years away.

On July 22nd, Marx wrote a second article that contains sentiments that Hardt and Negri choose to ignore, even though it is embedded in a defense of British colonialism. In this article, Marx is much less interested in the benefits of "global interaction and communication" than he is in the prospects of kicking the British out: "The Indian will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the new ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindus themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether." So unless there is social revolution, the English presence in India brings no particular advantage. More to the point, it will bring tremendous suffering.

Furthermore, there is evidence that Marx was becoming much more aware of how the imperialist system operated late in life. In a letter to the Russian populist Danielson in 1881, he wrote:

"In India serious complications, if not a general outbreak, are in store for the British government. What the British take from them annually in the form of rent, dividends for railways useless for the Hindoos, pensions for the military and civil servicemen, for Afghanistan and other wars, etc. etc., -- what they take from them without any equivalent and quite apart from what they appropriate to themselves annually within India, -- speaking only of the commodities that Indians have to gratuitously and annually send over to England -- it amounts to more than the total sum of the income of the 60 million of agricultural and industrial laborers of India. This is a bleeding process with a vengeance."

A bleeding process with a vengeance? This obviously does not square with the version of colonialism found in "Empire".

Within a few years, the Second International would become embroiled in a controversy that pitted Eduard Bernstein against the revolutionary wing of the movement, including British Marxist Belford Bax and Rosa Luxemburg. Using arguments similar to Hardt and Negri's, Bernstein said that colonialism was basically a good thing since it would hasten the process of drawing savages into capitalist civilization, a necessary first step to building communism.

In a January 5, 1898 article titled "The Struggle of Social Democracy and the Social Revolution," Bernstein makes the case for colonial rule over Morocco. Drawing from English socialist Cunningham Graham's travel writings, Bernstein states there is absolutely nothing admirable about Morocco. In such countries where feudalism is mixed with slavery, a firm hand is necessary to drag the brutes into the civilized world:

"There is a great deal of sound evidence to support the view that, in the present state of public opinion in Europe, the subjection of natives to the authority of European administration does not always entail a worsening of their condition, but often means the opposite. However much violence, fraud, and other unworthy actions accompanied the spread of European rule in earlier centuries, as they often still do today, the other side of the picture is that, under direct European rule, savages are *without exception better off* than they were before...

"Am I, because I acknowledge all this, an 'adulator' of the present? If so, let me refer Bax to The Communist Manifesto, which opens with an 'adulation' of the bourgeoisie which no hired hack of the latter could have written more impressively. However, in the fifty years since the Manifesto was written the world has advanced rather than regressed; and the revolutions which have been accomplished in public life since then, especially the rise of modern democracy, have not been without influence on the doctrine of social obligation." (Marxism and Social Democracy, p. 153-154)

It is of course no accident that arguments found in Bernstein are now making a re-appearance in "Empire" a little bit over a century later. We have been going through a fifty-year economic expansion in the imperialist world that tends to cast a shadow over the project of proletarian revolution. From a class perspective, it is not too difficult to understand why the new challenge to Marxism--in the name of Marxism--emerges out of the academy just as it arose out of the top rungs of the party bureaucracy in the 1880s. From a relatively privileged social position in the bowels of the most privileged nations on earth, it is easy to succumb to defeatist moods.

In a few years, the complacency of the revisionist wing of the Social Democracy was shattered by the greatest blood-letting in human history, as the nations of Europe demonstrated that capitalism produced nothing like "global interaction and communication". The pressures of bourgeois nationalism caused socialist parliamentarians to vote for war credits. In reaction to this kind of social patriotism, Lenin and the Zimmerwaldists fought for proletarian internationalism and withdrawal from the war. In their most signal victory, the Leninist wing of the socialist movement led working people and peasants to victory in Russia in 1917.

Key to this victory was an understanding that oppressed nationalities had the right to self-determination, even if this meant separation from the new Soviet state. In one of the most important advances in Marxist thought, Lenin came to the understanding that peoples such as the Crimean Tatars, the Irish, the Chinese, the Indians, etc. deserved freedom even if they were being led by bourgeois elements. In the epoch of imperialism, such struggles had a revolutionary dynamic that Marxists should push to the full conclusion.

Hardt and Negri dispense with this tradition altogether. They take sides with Rosa Luxemburg who "argued vehemently (and futilely) against nationalism in the debates in the Third International in the years before the First World War." (BEFORE the First World War? It is a sign of Hardt and Negri's unfamiliarity with this terrain that they allude to debates in the Third International years before it came into existence. The Third International was formed in the aftermath of the Bolshevik victory in 1917, which itself was sparked by WWI among other factors.) In their eyes, Luxemburg's "most powerful argument...was that nation means dictatorship and is thus profoundly incompatible with any attempt at democratic organization."

While Rosa Luxemburg was one of the greatest revolutionary thinkers and activists of the twentieth century, their can be little doubt that her views on such matters were colored by her experience in the Polish revolutionary movement. Her differences with Lenin were part of a debate taking place prior to WWI that had to do with relatively localized concerns over whether assimilation of Polish workers into the Russian economy would hasten the prospects of proletarian revolution. Her untimely death at the hands of the German state in 1919 prevented her from seeing the revolutionary dynamic of the colonial revolution. That being said, her article on the Russian revolution was written in prison where access to information was severely limited. It is, however, in this article where some of her most extreme anti-nationalist feelings are vented. She writes:

"Lenin and his comrades clearly calculated that there was no surer method of binding the many foreign [sic] peoples within the Russian Empire to the cause of the revolution, to the cause of the socialist proletariat, than that of offering them, in the name of the revolution and socialism, the most extreme and unlimited freedom to determine their own fate." (Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, p. 379-380)

Somebody--I can't recall who--once said that there is "Their Rosa Luxemburg and ours." If this is the Rosa Luxemburg that counts with Hardt and Negri, they are welcome to her.

Not only would Hardt and Negri have been opposed to struggles for formal independence from colonialism, they are just as unrelenting in their opposition to any struggle against neocolonialism that would rely on defensive measures by the nation-state of the oppressed group. For example, while Cuba achieved formal independence after the Spanish-American war, the July 26th movement was organized around many of the nationalist themes found in José Marti's writings. Even if the Cuban flag flew over Havana in the late 1950s, the guerrilla movement quite rightly saw sovereignty as resting in the American embassy.

Not only would Hardt and Negri would have been opposed to any movement that sought to achieve formal independence like the Portuguese colonies in Africa in the 1970s and 80s, they would have also condemned efforts to achieve genuine economic independence in Sandinista Nicaragua in the same period. As anti-nationalist purists, the only political entity worth struggling to take over is that which exists on a global basis even though the forces of repression exist within the borders of the nation-state. When Somoza's National Guard was throwing radical youth out of helicopters during the civil war, Hardt and Negri would have urged the FSLN to shun overthrowing the US-backed butchers and creating a new state based on the armed peasantry and working class.

Their arguments, although formulated in over-inflated jargon, boil down to the sentiments found in the Who song "Won't Get Fooled Again." They write:

"The perils of national liberation are even clear when viewed externally, in terms of the world economic system in which the 'liberated' nation finds itself. Indeed, the equation nationalism equals political and economic modernization, which has been heralded by leaders of numerous anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles from Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh to Nelson Mandela, really ends up being a perverse trick...The very concept of a liberatory national sovereignty is ambiguous if not completely contradictory. While this nationalism seeks to liberate the multitude from foreign domination, it erects domestic structures of domination that are equally severe." (Empire, p. 132-133)

As is the case throughout "Empire," there is a paucity of historical data to support their arguments. If you read the above paragraph, you would be left with the conclusion that the problem is mainly theoretical in nature. By embracing nation-state solutions rather than global solutions, national liberation movements have been suckered into accommodation to the status quo. Not only that, the new boss is just as bad as the old boss--won't get fooled again.

Furthermore, if Marx's main contribution was a dialectical approach to history and society, Hardt and Negri's binary opposition between "foreign domination" and "domestic structures of domination" leads one to wonder whether they have read the Eighteenth Brumaire, which states that people make history but not of their own choosing. In the recent past, the failure of national liberation movements has less to do with the bad faith of leaders, personal greed or theoretical error. It has much more to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of low-intensity warfare, two key factors that are conspicuously absent from their discussion.

In the 1980s, the Portuguese ex-colonies and Nicaragua were subjected to intense economic and military pressure in the almost total absence of Soviet support of the kind that was forthcoming in the 1950s. Perestroika and glasnost meant the Soviet Union was much more willing to turn a blind eye to contra terror. In exchange for US trade deals, the US got a green light to torment peasants in Africa and Central America. One can assume that "domestic structures of domination" are foreordained only if one brackets out this real history and the economics that underpinned it. When the Nicaraguan government adopted a 'concertacion' in 1989 that had all the earmarks of neo-liberalization, it happened in the context of nine years of punishing warfare, a devastating hurricane that had left the country on the ropes economically, back-stabbing by the Soviet Union well on its road to capitalism, and immense pressure from the FSLN's European social democratic "allies" who would soon forsake the welfare state themselves. When guerrillas who had put up with torture, mountain leprosy, isolation and aerial bombing decide to opt for a market economy, the fault is not so much theirs as it is imperialism's. Or Empire, if you prefer.

However, one can not condemn the Sandinista revolution because it was destroyed by capitalism. The Paris Commune was also destroyed, but it serves as a paradigm for the kind of state power that Marx and Engels strove for. Rather than thinking in terms of amorphous global struggles that would leave torture states like Somoza's or Batista's in place short of final victory, Marxists understand that a state that operates in the interests of the poor and the working people is a step forward, *even* if it is compromised by the global economic environment it is forced to operate in. Basically this is the difference between Cuba and countries like Jamaica or Haiti. While Cuba is now forced to put up with foreign investment, tourist hotels and the like, a campesino in the countryside does not have to worry about his baby dying of diarrhea. One supposes that such mundane matters are unimportant to Hardt and Negri who are consumed with the desire to lead the planet toward universal communism as rapidly as possible, even if they lack the rudiments of an understanding how to get there.

Cuba, which is not even listed in the index of "Empire" does receive an offhanded dismissal on page 134: "From India to Algeria and Cuba to Vietnam, the state is the poisoned gift of national liberation." Now a separate book written by different authors might examine the concrete class differences between these countries and how their respective social and economic differences might explain how a peasant gets treated one place or another, but Hardt and Negri could be bothered less by such minutiae. These places are far away and filled with people who are all being oppressed by "domestic structures of domination". That is all they need to know.

In the one area that more than other cries out for a deeper analysis, they are content to pontificate from the mountain-top. I refer here to the global pandemic of AIDS which interests them in Foucauldian terms, as one might expect:

"The contemporary processes of globalization have torn down many of the boundaries of the colonial world. Along with the common celebrations of the unbounded flows in our new global village, one can still sense also an anxiety about increased contact and a certain nostalgia for colonialist hygiene. The dark side of the consciousness of globalization is the fear of contagion. If we break down global boundaries and open universal contact in our global village, how will we prevent the spread of disease and corruption? This anxiety is most clearly revealed with respect to the AIDS pandemic." (Empire, p. 136)

This gob of self-conscious postmodernist prose addresses everything except that which matters most to socialists, namely the problem of the intersection of class and public health. We are not only facing a pandemic of AIDS but other diseases that represent the consequences of an assault on public health that occur under the neo-liberal regime. The one country that seems immune to this process is exactly Cuba, that Hardt and Negri are all too willing to write off. You can find an entirely different attitude from Paul Farmer, the Harvard physician who has not only been running an AIDS clinic in Haiti for many years but who has tried to explain the relation between class and disease in works such as "Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues". Although the distinction between Haiti and Cuba might be lost on the likes of Hardt and Negri, it surely is not lost on Farmer, whose attitude was characterized in a memorable profile that appeared in the July 3rd, 2000 New Yorker magazine:

Leaving Haiti, Farmer didn’t stare down through the airplane window at that brown and barren third of an island. "It bothers me even to look at it," he explained, glancing out. "It can’t support eight million people, and there they are. There they are, kidnapped from West Africa."

But when we descended toward Havana he gazed out the window intently, making exclamations: "Only ninety miles from Haiti, and look! Trees! Crops! It’s all so verdant. At the height of the dry season! The same ecology as Haiti’s, and look!"

An American who finds anything good to say about Cuba under Castro runs the risk of being labelled a Communist stooge, and Farmer is fond of Cuba. But not for ideological reasons. He says he distrusts all ideologies, including his own. "It’s an ‘ology,’ after all," he wrote to me once, about liberation theology. "And all ologies fail us at some point." Cuba was a great relief to me. Paved roads and old American cars, instead of litters on the 'gwo wout ia'. Cuba had food rationing and allotments of coffee adulterated with ground peas, but no starvation, no enforced malnutrition. I noticed groups of prostitutes on one main road, and housing projects in need of repair and paint, like most buildings in the city. But I still had in mind the howling slums of Port-au-Prince, and Cuba looked lovely to me. What looked loveliest to Farmer was its public-health statistics.

Many things affect a public’s health, of course—nutrition and transportation, crime and housing, pest control and sanitation, as well as medicine. In Cuba, life expectancies are among the highest in the world. Diseases endemic to Haiti, such as malaria, dengue fever, T.B., and AIDS, are rare. Cuba was training medical students gratis from all over Latin America, and exporting doctors gratis— nearly a thousand to Haiti, two en route just now to Zanmi Lasante. In the midst of the hard times that came when the Soviet Union dissolved, the government actually increased its spending on health care. By American standards, Cuban doctors lack equipment, and are very poorly paid, but they are generally well trained. At the moment, Cuba has more doctors per capita than any other country in the world—more than twice as many as the United States. "I can sleep here," Farmer said when we got to our hotel. "Everyone here has a doctor."

Farmer gave two talks at the conference, one on Haiti, the other on "the noxious synergy" between H.I.V. and T.B.—an active case of one often makes a latent case of the other active, too. He worked on a grant proposal to get anti-retroviral medicines for Cange, and at the conference met a woman who could help. She was in charge of the United Nations’ project on AIDS in the Caribbean. He lobbied her over several days. Finally, she said, "O.K., let’s make it happen." ("Can I give you a kiss?" Farmer asked. "Can I give you two?") And an old friend, Dr. Jorge Perez, arranged a private meeting between Farmer and the Secretary of Cuba’s Council of State, Dr. José Miyar Barruecos. Farmer asked him if he could send two youths from Cange to Cuban medical school. "Of course," the Secretary replied.

Again and again during our stay, Farmer marvelled at the warmth with which the Cubans received him. What did I think accounted for this?

I said I imagined they liked his connection to Harvard, his published attacks on American foreign policy in Latin America, his admiration of Cuban medicine.

I looked up and found his pale-blue eyes fixed on me. "I think it’s because of Haiti," he declared. "I think it’s because I serve the poor."

Part three of "Empire" is devoted to an explanation of the new realities facing the radical movement, which--swimming bravely against the stream of academic fashion--they dub postmodernist. They also explain the crownpiece of autonomic-Marxism strategy, a clever and powerful form of proletarian resistance called "refusal to work". This plays as much of a role in their movement as 'focos' played in Guevarist guerrilla struggles in the 1960s or that the general strike played in anarcho-syndicalism. Let me hasten to add at this point that refusal to work is something entirely different than a general strike. What it is exactly--in all its glory--will be detailed momentarily, but first let us turn out attention to this thing they call postmodernism.

First of all, postmodernism replaced something called modernism. Modernism is made up of three characteristics:

1. Fordism: this refers to the wage regime of such as the kind that existed in Detroit auto factories; Henry Ford's in particular, who combined relatively higher pay with brutal anti-union policies.

2. Taylorism: this refers to Frederic Taylor, the father of time-motion studies, whose views on efficiency found support not only in Detroit auto factories but in Lenin's USSR.

3. Keynesianism: Once you have the first two planks nailed down, you create deficit spending techniques, welfare state legislation, etc. in order to maintain relatively low levels of unemployment and high levels of class peace.

With postmodernism, everything changes--at least this is the authors' conviction. Not only does this include the decline of basic industry such as automobile and steel production in favor of computer-based services, it also involves the re-engineering of such traditional industries as "information-based" entities. In a postmodernist factory, workers not only program machines to do work, they also participate in nodes in a global network of inter-related production and planning facilities. Whether any of this has any connection to the economic processes identified by Karl Marx is an entirely different matter. As far as one can tell, it seems that surplus value is being created in the same way it always has.

Part of the problem, as is the case throughout "Empire", is the lack of solid economic data to support their arguments. In their definition of modernism, Hardt and Negri take note of the transformation of family farms into corporate industrial farms, a sign that "society became a factory." As it turns out, the reality is far more complex. The penetration of capital into agriculture took a much different form than that of the classic case of industrial production such as textiles in the 18th and 19th century, according to Richard Lewontin (Monthly Review, Jul-Aug, 1998). Not only are there still about 1.8 million independent farms in the USA today, with over 100,000 separate enterprises producing more than half of all the value of the output. "Furthermore, roughly 55 percent of farmland is now operated by owner-renters who are for the most part small producers." With the absence of such hard economic data, we are left with gossamer abstractions in "Empire," relying all too frequently on novelists like Robert Musil to buttress their points rather than graphs or charts.

For everybody operating in the Marxist framework broadly speaking, except for the sectarian "Marxist-Leninist" left, the question of the industrial working class in the advanced capitalist countries remains problematic. Except for some outbursts in the late 1960s in western Europe, the period following WWII has been characterized by the sort of class peace that existed in the long expansionary period leading up to WWI. That period, of course, gave birth to "revisionism" in the social democracy while today's long expansion has generated its own kind of responses, ranging from Marcuse's Frankfurt school inspired New Leftism to the "radical democracy" of Laclau-Mouffe. In general, this involves looking to other forces besides the industrial working class, ranging from the "social movements" to the lumpen proletariat.

Hardt and Negri have their own peculiar take on this question. Rather than seeing a weakened labor movement co-opted by bourgeois parties and making ideological concessions to imperialism of the sort noted by Engels in the British labor movement of his day, they see an internationalist working class on the offensive putting capital on the ropes. They write:

"We can get a first hint of this determinant role of the proletariat by asking ourselves how throughout the crisis the United States was able to maintain its hegemony. The answer lies in large part, perhaps paradoxically, not in the genius of U.S. politicians or capitalists, but in the power and creativity of the U.S. proletariat. Whereas earlier, from another perspective, we posed the Vietnamese resistance as the symbolic center of the struggles, now, in terms of the paradigm shift of international capitalist command, the U.S. proletariat appears as the subjective figure that expressed most fully the desires and needs of international or multinational workers. Against the common wisdom that the U.S. proletariat is weak because of its low party and union representation with respect to Europe and elsewhere, perhaps we should see it as strong for precisely these reasons. Working-class power resides not in the representative institutions but in the antagonisms and autonomy of the workers themselves." (Empire, p. 268-269)

This alleged expression of the needs of the international working class obviously is something I missed during George Bush's war against Iraq but it is entirely possible that I was napping. Also, I happen to be one of those paleo-Marxists who views low party and union representation as weakness, not strength. What gives me hope is the fighting spirit of Los Angeles janitors fighting for union recognition. Eventually that fighting spirit might be expressed on the electoral front through working class candidates running on a clear class basis. However, Hardt and Negri have and had their sights elsewhere.

What they call "antagonism and autonomy" resides not in trade union struggles, but in a phenomenon they call "refusal to work." For those of us old enough to have danced to Janis Joplin, this phenomenon would be as familiar as an old pair of bell-bottom jeans. Just to make sure that everybody gets the message, this section includes an epigraph by Jerry Rubin: "The New Left sprang from … Elvis's gyrating pelvis."

(Jerry Rubin was a co-leader with Abby Hoffman of the so-called "Yippie" movement that tried to fuse the new left and the counter-culture. It consisted of about a dozen publicity hounds who used to hold press conferences promoting their provocative actions on the eve of major demonstrations that poor shmucks like me passed out tens of thousands of leaflets to build. After the Vietnam war came to end, Rubin re-invented himself as a stockbroker and "networker" who hosted parties for young urban professionals looking for love and business connections. It is entirely likely that Rubin coined the term "yuppie".)

So what was this "mass refusal of the disciplinary regime, which took a variety of forms" and which "was not only a negative expression but a moment of creation" but "what Nietzsche calls a transvaluation of values." This mouthful of ungainly academic prose amounts to praise of the following:

--Going to live in Haight-Ashbury.

--College students experimenting with LSD instead of looking for a job.

--"Shiftless" African-American workers moving on "CP" (colored people's time).

(Empire, p. 274)

According to Hardt and Negri, these seemingly personal gestures of "refusal to work" were actually expressions of "subjectivity" that embodied "profound economic power" that mounted a serious challenge to the stability of the system. Well, what is one to say.

Speaking as somebody who used to try to sell the socialist newspaper "The Militant" to barefoot people wearing tie-dyed t-shirts and smoking pot at antiwar rallies, I have to confess that my views might be overly prejudiced. So, to be fair, I will instead invoke another expert on the counter-culture whose views I share, namely Thomas Frank, publisher of "The Baffler" and author of "Commodify your Dissent", a collection of articles from this fine publication. Frank writes:

"The ways in which this system are to be resisted are equally well understood and agreed-upon. The Establishment demands homogeneity; we revolt by embracing diverse, individual life-styles. It demands self-denial and rigid adherence to convention; we revolt through immediate gratification, instinct uninhibited, and liberation of the libido and the appetites. Few have put it more bluntly than Jerry Rubin did in 1970: 'Amerika says: Don't! The yippies say: Do It!' The countercultural idea is hostile to any law and every establishment. 'Whenever we see a rule, we must break it,' Rubin continued. 'Only by breaking rules do we discover who we are.' Above all rebellion consists of a sort of Nietzschean antinomianism, an automatic questioning of rules, a rejection of whatever social prescriptions we've happened to inherit. Just Do It is the whole of the law." (Commodify Your Dissent, p. 32)

This pretty much encapsulates the notion of "refusal to work" put forward by Hardt and Negri. In contrast, Frank regards personal rebellion as just another empty gesture that can be exploited by the capitalist system.

"Consumerism is no longer about 'conformity' but about 'difference'. Advertising teaches us not in the ways of puritanical self-denial (a bizarre notion on the face of it), but in orgiastic, never-ending self-fulfillment. It counsels not rigid adherence to the tastes of the herd but vigilant and constantly updated individualism. We consume not to fit in, but to prove, on the surface at least, that we are rock 'n' roll rebels, each one of us as rule-breaking and hierarchy-defying as our heroes of the 1960s, who now pitch cars, shoes, and beer. This imperative of endless difference is today at the heart of American capitalism, an eternal fleeing from 'sameness' that satiates our thirst for the New with such achievements of civilization as the infinite brands of identical cola, the myriad colors and irrepressible variety of the cigarette rack at 7-Eleven." (Commodity Your Dissent, p. 34)

Like a hot air balloon detached from its moorings, part four of "Empire" sails into the stratosphere with empty metaphysical speculation even more divorced from the material world than the preceding three parts.

There are extensive references to "ontology" and "the ontological" with apparently no recognition that Marx and Engels dispensed with these sorts of categories. Hart and Negri write:

"In Empire, no subjectivity is outside, and all places have been subsumed in a general 'non-place.' The transcendental fiction of politics can no longer stand up and has no argumentative utility because we all exist entirely within the realm of the social and the political. When we recognize this radical determination of postmodernity, political philosophy forces us to enter the terrain of ontology." (p. 353-354)

Every effort to expand on their definition of ontology only leads to more confusion. Supposedly postmodern capitalism is distinguished from plain old capitalism by its tendency to create surplus value all over the world rather than a single country like in the good old days. Because capital is now everywhere (and implicitly nowhere), the creation of value takes place *beyond measure*. In other words, we lack the epistemological basis to quantify prices, wages, interest rates, inflation, etc. I suppose this explains the rather embarrassing lack of economic data in "Empire". By supplying something as mundane as a graph illustrating capital flows between the core and the periphery, they would be guilty of failing to comply with the postmodernist rule against trying to know the unknowable.

Just to make sure everybody understands what this 'beyond measure' thing means, they say, "Beyond measure refers to *the new place in the non-place*, the place defined by the productive activity that is synonymous from any external regime of measure. Beyond measure refers to a *virtuality* that invests the entire biopolitical fabric of imperial globalization." Oh, I see. Can you imagine the chore that the editor at Harvard Press had on her (most likely, right?) when wading through this kind of squid-ink prose. After now having spent the better part of a month reading and writing about "Empire", I think I have mastered this stuff myself:

"With the advent of the epistemological break wrought by global telecommunications, biopolitical relations are inverted on the basis of network forms that are rhizomic in nature. The hierarchical ties of the Fordist world are exchanged for a *informational* structure that approximates the reciprocal relations between gods and men in Ovid's Metamorphosis. From the Myth of Sisyphus we begin to understand the despair felt by Walter Benjamin who took his life in protest against the Nazi regime of localized ultra-Fordism."

Interspersed among their high-falutin' metaphysical speculations, you have attempts to sketch out some kind of practical politics, which leave more to be desired than the ontology. Their practical politics can be summarized as "going with the flow" insofar as the flow is defined as the process known as globalization. Rather than showing solidarity with the likes of Jose Bove, the French farmer who busted up a Macdonalds, they believe that capitalist homogenization is not a bad thing at all. This kind of resistance against fast food and all it stands for is fundamentally reactionary because it promotes a attachment to national sovereignty, including cuisine. Who knows, a crepes suzette might lead to a swastika if you don't watch out. (This does not even begin to address questions of how global capitalism is devastating peripheral agri-export based nations.)

They write "The multitude's resistance to bondage--the struggle against the slavery of belonging to a nation, an identity, and a people, and thus the desertion from sovereignty and the limits it places on subjectivity--is entirely positive." Of course, with the IMF and World Bank trampling national sovereignty underfoot across the planet from Argentina to Yugoslavia, it is not too difficult to understand why the NY Times would play up "Empire". Where else would you get a "Marxist" defense of the notion that *all* efforts to defend national sovereignty are reactionary. It is one thing to defend this notion with respect to Great Britain or the United States, it is another to defend it with respect to a nation that is being raped by multinational corporations. Under such circumstances, old-fashioned slogans like "Vietnam for the Vietnamese" still have resonance.

Just to make sure that everybody understands their drift, they defend "nomadism" and "miscegenation". "Nomadism"--as in Mexican workers being smuggled across the border in oven-like trucks--is contrasted to the "regressive" and "fascistic" desire to reinforce the walls of nation, race, people, etc. So implicitly, the best thing would be for everybody in the world to jump in bed with everybody else so to end up with a "mixed race" population that can go anywhere in the world and take part in the global capitalist informational economy. By this standard, a mulatto data entry clerk in Ghana working for Aetna Life Insurance would be an exemplar of the brave new world of Empire.

Obviously what's missing from this schema is class criteria. For oppressed nationalities like the American Indian or the East Timorese, the desire for sovereignty is progressive. We must be able to distinguish the desire for Blackfoot Indians to transmit knowledge of their endangered language to their children from the desire of US corporations to make English a lingua franca.

In Ziauddin Sardar's "Postmodernism and the Other: the New Imperialism of Western Culture" (Pluto Press), you can find a powerful rebuttal to the sort of nonsense put forward by Hardt and Negri:

"The assumption that the flow of ideas between the west and the non-west is equal and will lead to a richness of cultures at worst and a 'synthesis' of cultures and traditions is widespread in postmodern writings and thought. However, the flow of cultural ideas and products, as those of commodities and goods, is strictly one-way: from the west to the Third World. One doesn't see an Indian Michael Jackson, a Chinese Madonna, a Malaysian Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Moroccan Julia Roberts, Filipino 'New Kids on the Block', a Brazilian Shakespeare, an Egyptian Barbara Cartland, a Tanzanian 'Cheers', a Nigerian 'Dallas', a Chilean 'Wheel of Fortune', or Chinese opera, Urdu poetry, Egyptian drama, etc. on the global stage. The global theater is strictly a western theater, a personification of western power, prestige and control. Those non-western individuals who occasionally get walk-on parts are chosen for their exotica or because they specifically subscribe to western ideas and ideals, or promote a western cause. When non-western cultural artefacts appear in the west, they do so strictly as ethnic chic or empty symbols." (p. 22)

In contrast to "modernist" thinkers who fretted about the crisis and decay of Europe (Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Ortega y Gasset, et al), postmodernists like Hardt and Negri regard the replacement of the old "imperialist" systems based on the nation-state by Empire to be a good thing basically:

"From out standpoint, however, the fact that against the old powers of Europe a new Empire has formed is only good news. Who wants to see any more of that pallid and parasitic European ruling class that led directly from the ancien régime to nationalism, from populism to fascism, and now pushes for a generalized neoliberalism? Who wants to see more of those ideologies and those bureaucratic apparatuses that have nourished and abetted the rotting European élites? And those who still stand those systems of labor organization and those corporations that have stripped away every vital spirit." (p. 376)

One supposes that in a certain sense powerful trade unions in places like Sweden, France and Germany were obstacles to the "refusal to work". When one places the prospects of an apprenticeship in a machine shop side by side with taking heroin in a Berlin squat, the latter would best qualify as an expression of the "vital spirit". With the collapse of social democracy, one will have plenty of opportunities to hail "nomadism" and "refusal to work" all across Europe. Just watch out for the skinheads.

One of the modernist "Europe is sick" thinkers who receives special attention from Hardt and Negri is a bit of a surprise: Ludwig Wittgenstein. Rather than seeing him as others do, as an epistemologist looking for an adequate basis for establishing 'verifiable' propositions, he is the quintessential mystic whose early writings are a search for meaning and transcendence. In the midst of WWI, Wittgenstein wrote, "How things stand, is God. God is, how things stand. Only from the consciousness of the uniqueness of my life arises religion--science--and art."

In contrast to this nearly Kierkegaardian plea, you have other thinkers who "would perpetuate the crisis through an illusory faith in Soviet modernization." While the diligent reader of "Empire" would have become inured at this point to the lack of economic data, one can only be shocked by lack of familiarity with Wittgenstein's real beliefs and attitudes with respect to the Soviet Union. Rather than seeing him as a Christian mystic, it is much more useful to see him as a man of his times. Like nearly every other civilized human being, he looked for alternatives to Nazi barbarism. This involved an engagement with Marxism that was the subject of a paper given to a 'Capital and Class' conference in 1998 by David R. Andrews titled "Commodity Fetishism as a Form of Life".

Andrews notes that according to someone who knew Wittgenstein well in the 1930s, "he was opposed to [Marxism] in theory, but supported it in practice;" and he is reported to have said: "I am a communist, at heart" Also, for some time Wittgenstein explored the possibility of relocating to the Soviet Union to live and at one point the University of Moscow offered him a teaching position in philosophy.

The impact of the theory of Marxism on Wittgenstein's philosophy is also mixed. According to Wittgenstein, in his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations,(Wittgenstein, 1958) Piero Sraffa was the most important influence on his repudiation of the ideas of his earlier Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "I have been forced to recognize grave mistakes in what I wrote in that first book . . . I am indebted to [the criticism that] Mr. P. Sraffa, for many years unceasingly practised on my thoughts.  I am indebted to this stimulus for the most consequential ideas of [the Investigations]." From his letters to Gramsci and from testimony by Joan Robinson and others, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Sraffa was in turn strongly influenced by Marx.

In the final pages of "Empire" you finally get a series of demands that the mass movement is urged to adopt. These include:

1. The general right [of the multitude, a bit of jargon meant to indicate the new working class and its allies] to control its own movement through global citizenship.

2. A social wage and a guaranteed income for all.

3. The right to reappropriation. This means the right of workers to have free access to and control the means of production of knowledge, communication, information, etc.

Of course, the problem with these demands is that they are only meaningful when made on the government of a nation-state, particularly the demand for a guaranteed income. One can not simultaneously dismiss the nation-state as an arena of struggle and prioritize a demand that can only be realized through legislation at a national level. One supposes that this kind of mundane problem never entered the calculations of Hardt and Negri. In reality, the only organized force that can push for such demands in today's world is the organized working class whose trade unions they have already written off.