MULTITUDE: MONSTER OR MASTER
Often we suspect there is something ‘rotten’ in our global order and only an urgent adjustment can save us from calamity. But we are unable to articulate or convert our suspicions into logical concepts expressed in the context of past and current political and economic evolutions.
In their brilliant analytical volume ‘Multitude’ two leading modern philosophers, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, have come to our aid. Their book not only debunks the perilous policies of our runaway capitalism but exposes the blatant injustices of a global order designed to make the rich richer at the expense of an ever growing multitude of poor and marginalized. This excluded multitude constitutes a surplus of labor and intelligence, a reservoir of revolutionary energy that will, sooner or later, confront the neo-colonization of the United States, a country once considered the champion of liberty but now a fierce opponent of any democratic or environmental reforms.
Unlike Marxism ‘Multitude’ does not advocate a revolution in which one class (the industrial working class) becomes the dominant power but advocates a universal movement in which the multitude finds a truly representative voice through new legal frameworks and the inversion of the neo-liberal ideology to privatize or patent what really belongs to all humanity. This movement of the multitude must not aim for yet another concentric power structure but for the right to diversity.
Such vision is anathema to ‘globalization’ which basically sees the world guided by a Consortium of dominant nations led by the U.S. Yet the diversity concept and the right to ‘common’ ownership of human knowledge already propel the anti-globalization movements. Theirs is not a protest against closer global co-operation but against the dominance of global affairs and the acquisition of global resources and markets by the Consortium and its corporate backers.
Negri and Hardt are not naïve. They realize current power structures will not yield passively to a reduction or loss of absolute dominance. But their vision of power of the Multitude rests on the concept of diverse ‘movements’ propelled by the growing plight and restlessness of the world’s poor, the unemployed and unemployable, the millions of underpaid workers, the movement of labor and migrants, in short the multitude of human beings exploited by political and economic policies designed to impose ever tighter private ownership over the world’s resources, virtually designating those left on the fringe, whether in Asia, Africa or the ghettoes of American cities, to the garbage bins of our system.
There is no doubt, even though the philosophers do not spell this out, the system will defend itself, as it already does, through a ‘permanent war’ that can be extended at unilateral level to combat not only so-called ‘terrorists’ but any group or movement threatening the system’s dominance by clamoring for a more egalitarian distribution and the sharing of ‘the common’. It is no accident our western governments mobilize special security forces to beat up demonstrators at global economic forums where the serfs of power elaborate new methods to regulate and increase the wealth of the few. Nor is it an accident, as Negri and Hardt point out, that these serfs gravitate between the board rooms and politics.
The inevitable result of the ‘war’ against any opposition will galvanize even more resistance, as we have already seen by the snowballing anti-global and Social Forum movements or in Iraq where a conflict peddled as a war of liberation and pro-democratic values has unshackled a wave of new ‘terrorism’ and with it the threat to the very lifeblood of the capitalist system – the supply of oil.
There are two important concepts that permeate ‘Multitude’: The degeneration of pseudo-democratic capitalism and the creativity and growing political consciousness of the poor, the exploited labor force, in short the multitude.
History teaches us most empires imploded long before ‘barbarian’ forces gave them the coup d’ grace. Today, the life span of imperial existence has been shortened by the revolution in communications. Easy contact now unites the globe. One protest stimulates another elsewhere. Ideas are quickly transmitted and transplanted.
Negri and Hardt point out a significant sign of imperial decline is when an empire employs mercenaries to fight its wars and preserve its security. Such wars are no longer fought with patriotic fervor but with unfettered material ambitions. The fighting forces are no longer subjected to a central discipline.
Perusing the list and images of U.S. troops killed in Iraq one can not help but wonder at the number of Hispanics and African-American casualties from the poor sector of society, soldiers who have obviously joined the military as a means to obtain a sponsored education and an income. At the same time the bulk of supplies and infrastructure of the war machine in Iraq is protected by civilian mercenaries (security guards) recruited from around the world or by Iraqi hirelings dubbed ‘collaborators’ by the insurgents.
On the other hand the world’s poor at the bottom end of society have developed, through necessity and marginalization, an individual ingenuity and creativity. This offers them a superior armor for survival and better assets as achievers. These qualities become utilized when such people move into more affluent societies as migrants or short-term workers. As they did in their own environment - where they often lived from what nature could provide - these newcomers can rake out an existence on a basic fare that would doom most ‘civilized’ beings in the industrialized nations. But once offered an image of ‘the other’ world through communications and migration the poor feel justified to demand their share and a more egalitarian distribution. In fact the ‘import’ of labor and South-North migration is certain to play a major role in the reforms if not in the ‘revolution’ facing our current and, hopefully, moribund global order.
With the empirical logic that characterizes their work, Negri and Hardt subtly warn of the ‘monster’ within Multitude, the unleashed fury of a Frankenstein who, like other monsters, basically wants to be loved, to share in the common welfare, in short be part of the rest of humanity.
This ‘monster’ has many faces.
“Al-Qaeda attacks the global political body in order to resuscitate older regional social and political bodies under the control of religious authority, whereas the globalization struggle challenge the global political body in order to create a freer, more democratic global world,” the two men write.
The clash between those anxious to preserve the status quo and those clamoring for reform or change has already been pioneered in Argentina, in Chiapas and in the global social forums whose numbers grow each year despite ever more brutal repression. Their struggles are contagious, mobilized by communication.
But the ‘monster’ can be brutal. The warning signs are already there in the violent ethnic bloodbaths in Yugoslavia where ethnic majorities fought against dominance by ethnic minorities in a monstrous war of fratricide along ethnic lines. The same kind of war, even more vicious, exploded in Rwanda. In Asia economic recession in the late 1990s led to the mass rapes and killings of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and the kidnap-for-ransom of ethnic Chinese in the Philippines as the multitude took out its frustration on the dominant economic class, the ethnic Chinese minority, the so-called Bamboo Network that controls the bulk of production and wealth in South-East Asia. (It has been estimated some seven per cent of ethnic Chinese in the Asia-Pacific region control two thirds of that region’s wealth and assets.) In South America a similar disproportionate division of property has already swept to power new populist governments in Venezuela and Brazil and smashed the seven decade long power of the ruling party in Mexico.
“Deprivation may breed anger, indignation and antagonism,” ‘Multitude explains: “But revolt arrives only on the basis of wealth - that is a surplus of intelligence, experience, knowledge and desires. When we propose the poor as the paradigmatic subjective figure of labor today, it is not that the poor are empty and excluded from wealth but because they are included in the circuits of production and full of potential, which always exceeds what capital and the global political body can expropriate and control. This common surplus is the first pillar on which are built struggles against the global political body and for the multitude.”
Like most critics of the global order ‘Multitude’ argues at the root of this global imbalance are the trade policies of the dominant nations coupled with new laws of copyright and patents. These are responsible for amassing ever more wealth and ‘common’ resources in the hands of transnational corporations and private individuals...
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