Is capitalism losing its
progressive dimension, turning destructive instead? Is it perhaps
even coming to its end? This line of reasoning sounds familiar, but
the question is more widely discussed today than has been for a long
time. Michael Hardt and Samir Amin, two of the main critics of
today's capitalism, talk about the future of the system, the
movements resisting it and the alternatives they propose.
C. A. Lundberg & M. Wennerhag: Many
leftist intellectuals attended the World Social Forum in Porto
Alegre. You both were also there. Why?
Michael Hardt: My
interest in Porto Alegre was from the perspective of the
globalisation movements, which have suffered from two great
limitations this far. First, the movements of North America and
Europe have not been able to extend to movements in other parts of
the world, which are similarly opposed to the politics of the IMF,
the World Bank and the WTO. Porto Alegre was an opportunity to
expand these movements, transforming them in order to link them into
a larger network. The other limitation is that they have primarily
been protest movements. I think the majority of people involved
recognise that it has to be a constructive movement as well, that it
has to construct alternatives. In this respect too, I think Porto
Alegre was something very positive.
Samir Amin: I think
Porto Alegre is an important event because it indicates the
possibility of building a global Left, which could contribute in a
changing of the present balance of forces in favour of capital,
which has been established as a result of a historical development
which started a number of decades ago. The target of the World
Social Forum is to move beyond the fragmentation of all kinds of
protests and to build an alternative to neo-liberal globalisation.
It is stated in the final document that what is needed is regulation
of capitalism, where one must take into account the social interests
of the labouring classes and the people. The second point is that
global militarisation is deeply related to the neo-liberal,
transnational strategy. Therefore, the struggle against war is part
and parcel of the struggle against neo-liberalism.
L&W: You both stress unity. Do you think
that the Left should try to reach a common understanding of
MH: I am not sure that we should
agree. These questions should be debated, and are being debated, and
there are big differences among those who participated in Porto
Alegre. One should not assume that everyone agrees. The goal should
not be unity and agreement, but interaction and discussion.
SA: I totally agree. It would be dangerous and
unproductive to try to agree on everything, even on the most
important questions. The Left must build what I have called
"convergency with diversity". This is a point in time where there
are many movements - local, regional and so on - representing
different types of resistance and protest. Their visions of society
and the future do not necessarily converge, but can be conflicting.
Therefore, I have suggested three dimensions of this convergency
with diversity: criticism of capitalism, criticism of the
imperialist dimension of capitalism, and the radicalisation of
democracy. When it comes to democracy, it is important to reach a
mutual understanding on the dangers of what I call low-intensity
democracy, where you can vote one way or the other, but it does not
really matter. I think many people - everyone who is the least
progressive - are against this and want something more. It does not
mean that they agree on what the alternative should be. There are
different analyses of where the contradictions are and which the
most efficient strategy may be. This difference has to be respected.
L&W: It seems that something has happened
during the recent years. There is now a broader discussion about the
vulnerability of capitalism, even among commentators on the right.
Do you see a breakdown of the capitalist system as we know it in the
MH: I share the view of those saying that
capital has crises; capital constantly has crises, but crises do not
mean collapse. One thing one has to understand about the functioning
of capital traditionally, and probably even more so today, is how
crises function instrumentally, how crises function to support the
system. I think this is also true about the various wars today. Wars
do function as crises of the world system, but as crises that
reinforce the global order rather than pose its vulnerability or its
collapse. I have no idea what is going to happen in 30 years, but I
do think there are ways of working towards the transformation of the
contemporary capitalist system. I am very hesitant to hold any view
on the collapse of capital in an "objective" way. When there is a
transformation of the capitalist system, it will be through the
constructions of alternatives to it, rather than through its own
weakness and dissolution. So this is something we have to do; the
system will not die for us.
SA: I fundamentally agree. It
has happened in history that systems have broken down suddenly, such
as the Soviet Union. But I do not find it a useful analytical tool
to claim the break-down of a system on the basis of its internal,
growing contradictions. There are internal, growing contradictions,
but the system usually has the capacity to take advantage of them,
thereby transforming itself and surviving.
L&W: So, what are the growing contradictions
or conflicts within contemporary capitalism?
growing distance between wealth and poverty and the increasing
"uselessness" of parts of the world. Capital has increasing
difficulties with making productive the global population. I am
hesitant to use the old Marxist concept of "surplus army of labour",
since I do not think it is a question of that specifically. It is
true, though, that capital has an increasing difficulty with making
the world productive.
SA: I would like to reformulate
this point. During a long period of time, capitalism was a
progressive force in the history of humanity, which was also the
view of Marx. This could be stated as follows: the expansion of the
market was integrating more than it was excluding. Now, we have
reached a point where this relation between integration and
exclusion is being reversed, not only temporarily due to a lower
rate of growth, but due to deep structural reasons. An increasing
part of the population of the world is useless, just as Michael
said. This is what I mean when I say that capitalism has entered the
age of senility. Its progressive dimension is shrinking and its
destructive dimension is expanding. Therefore, another pattern of
organisation is needed to ensure growing wealth for everybody. But
even if my assumption is correct, it does not mean that this senile
system will die by itself. These processes could lead to something
even worse than capitalism, if it is possible to imagine something
L&W: In the book you, Michael, have written
together with Antonio Negri you introduce the concept of "Empire".
What is the difference between this and a simple continuation of
MH: One of the fundamental characteristics
of the imperialisms of the 19th century was their competition.
Today, competition between the dominant nationstates is less
important than the co-operation among them. This is one way in which
the traditional model of imperialism no longer defines our
contemporary era. Two of the fundamental differences between
imperialism and Empire are that the latter has no centre and no
outside. But to say that there is no centre does not mean that there
are no hierarchies within the global system. The real question one
eventually has to answer is: What is the relationship between the
United States and Empire? In the book, we say that Empire is defined
by the bomb, money and ether (meaning the communicative spectacle),
and that Washington, New York and Los Angeles pose the poles of
these three elements of imperial power. However, one should not
overestimate the power of the United States; I do not think the
United States is capable of controlling global affairs as a nation
state. That is not to say that there are no great differences
between the United States and other nation states, but one must
relativize the differences in order to understand complex
hierarchies rather than locate the United States as pinnacle of the
system. I also think that the US are less powerful than they think
they are. We are often confused by the US' conception of itself.
In any case, this is what we are proposing with the concept of
Empire. Rather than a centre of global power, we propose a
distributive network of powers that is no less oppressive, in fact
in many ways more oppressive. This requires a different kind of
political strategy. There are certain times when it is rhetorically
useful to say that the United States is in control, and thus to be
anti-US. But thinking, as I do, that that is not really true, one
has to develop different strategies. The structure of
anti-Americanism as political practice and orientation inside and
outside of the United States, has been very strong. And that is not
enough, that is not adequate.
L&W: Samir, do you share this view?
SA: In some respects, but I find the analysis
insufficient. Capitalist expansion was imperialist from the
beginning. I am critical of the traditional view that imperialism
appeared at a later stage of capitalism. That is why I insist on
continuing to label the system, Empire or not, imperialist. Reading
history as a succession of hegemonies, as Immanuel Wallerstein does,
implying that one hegemony must replace the other, is a very
doubtful viewpoint. Real hegemony has always been relative, much
more so than the leaders of the hegemonic powers think. The rule is
not hegemony but lack of hegemony, which is not to say that there
are no hierarchies. However, we have reached a new stage in which
there will be fewer and fewer contradictions among the various parts
of the centre. One could speak of the formation of a collective
imperialism. But that does not mean that there is no hierarchy, not
even that there is no specific US imperialist project. It is
important to mobilise, not against the people of the United States,
but against the US military hegemonic project. This project has
occupied the front seats since 1990, with a series of wars which
will continue, judging from recent announcements. Here it is
important to make a distinction between Europe and the United
States. It is not that the European transnational capital has
different interests than that of the US. But as a result of history,
the American society emphasises liberty and disregards equality,
which is not the case in Europe. This is the reason why socialism
was invented in Europe, not in the US. There is a possibility for a
serious Left to be rebuilt in Europe, and that is why I consider
Europe - more than the US, and much more than Japan, for different
historical reasons - to be a weak link in the global imperialist
system. Within the Third World Forum Network, we have started some
discussions on this with representatives of the European Left. These
forces can form the nucleus in a re-built Left in Europe. I think
the question of imperialism is fundamental. If the imperialist
dimension is overlooked, there will be no European Left.
L&W: In the aftermath of September 11th, the
power of the nation states seems to have been strengthened, at least
when it comes to the control over citizens. How do you think this
will affect the role and the power of the state, which is nowadays
often claimed to be diminishing?
SA: We should be careful
in saying that the power of the nation state is being reduced; all
of this is contradictory and ambiguous. We should agree on the basic
principle that there is no economy without politics. Imagining that
capitalism operates without politics, without states, is pure
nonsense. But if we look at the forms of organisation of power
today, there is something to the view that the power of the nation
state as it has been built up historically, is being reduced by the
deepening of globalisation.
MH: It might be better to
think about the transformation of state regulatory elements, rather
than their diminishing. We can have the same figures, the same
offices, and the same institutions, although they play a different
role, or are differently oriented. When one says that the nation
state is withering away, one thinks of it actually shrinking,
whereas of course the state structures - certainly from Reagan and
Thatcher on - did not shrink, they in fact grew. The question should
be about the orientation of the transformation. Then, one does not
run the risk of thinking that politics is diminishing, or that
political control is diminishing, because they are certainly not.
L&W: In the history of socialism, the role
of the state has always been ambivalent, oscillating between
proletarian internationalism and the right to national sovereignty.
Is there any room for the nation state today, from a leftist point
MH: The social democratic project, in its ideal
form, has always involved use of the state for institutions of
welfare, and certain - although always limited - democratic channels
of participation. One part of the question is the extent to which
there remain possibilities for such a project today - not whether
its desirability has diminished but whether its possibility has
diminished. The question of national sovereignty is slightly
different. I agree with the view that there is, in a way, a
progressive value in the subordinated state insisting on national
sovereignty, but in the dominant state, nationalism is always and
everywhere an ugly thing.
SA: I never liked the word
nationalism. To me, being an internationalist, it has always been
nasty, associated to the defence of the bourgeois nation and of
imperialism. An awareness of the national dimension, which is
something different, is important. There is a naïve tendency in the
European Left, especially among the youth, to negate this dimension.
The national arena is still important for class struggle and
political consciousness. These people want to move beyond the
nation, and for good reasons. But under the present circumstances,
this abnegation can be instrumentalised by the dominant capital,
which is already the case. This is also true for sub-nations, like
Egypt where I come from. The weakening there of the national
dimension has led to something even worse than nationalism, namely
Islamism. That is because people need to relate to some sort of
sub-collectivity, which makes sense to them in the global system.
The Egyptian Arab nation had a very positive dimension, despite its
contradictions and limits, and despite the fact that it was partly
used by the ruling classes. But Islamism is completely destructive.
The US establishment understood this at an early stage, and their
alliances, not only with the Taliban but with all kinds of Islamist
movements, reflect an awareness of that. And therefore it is very
dangerous to underestimate the political significance of nations.
L&W: Michael, you seem more inclined to
stress the qualities of anti-nationalism.
Benedict Anderson has this slogan about the nation as an imagined
community. It seems to me that it is sometimes useful to reverse
that formulation. Unfortunately, sometimes the nation is the only
community people can imagine. I think that there are other ways of
constructing collectivities. If one says that one wants to struggle
against all sorts of nationalism, and if the only other
possibilities are an Islamist internationalism or the
internationalism of neo-liberal capital, I agree that there has to
be some other alternative. But I think that the nation is not the
only other locus of identity.
SA: Class is one.
MH: Class is certainly one.
SA: And hopefully
it can be even more important than nations. Anderson is right when
he says that nation is an imagined community, but once it is
imagined it becomes real, it is a real community.
course it is real, but isn't it a poverty of the imagination if that
is the only community we can imagine? What I am saying is that we
can imagine other communities, and that is what I think these
globalisation movements are doing.
L&W: Looking at these new collectivities in
connection with the creation of new democratic forms - what are the
realistic possibilities of creating political alternatives?
MH: I am not sure that the new movements at this stage
are ready to propose concrete alternatives, but these experiments
with network structures are very interesting. This is what Toni
Negri and I try to grasp with the term "multitude". It is quite
similar to this "convergency in diversity", with perhaps a different
accent: multiplicity remains in an unreduced fashion in a common
project. The network seems to be a good metaphor for this. A
distributed network in one way never poses contradictions between
different points, since there is always a means of triangulation.
This was one of the things that seemed most puzzling about Seattle.
Here are groups that we thought objectively in contradiction with
each other - trade unionists and environmentalists, but also
anarchists, church groups, lesbian groups, and so on. Yet, they
functioned together in a way that the contradiction did not play
out. All contradictions were displaced within this network
structure. I think this is partly because the geometrical
imagination works. There is a kind of effective triangulation and an
addition of other points in the network, which allow for a common
project. I think this is something fundamentally different from the
united fronts, or coalitions. Our previous conceptions of social
movements have to be altered. We now see something completely new,
in a period of experimentation with democratic forms which are not
yet clearly developed.
L&W: When it comes to the question of
heterogeneity, Marxism, with its focus on class, has long been
criticised for making other forms of oppression invisible. Is it
possible at all to combine a universal, political goal with a notion
of differentiated political subjects?
MH: Yes, that is
what Toni Negri and I refer to when we talk about the politics of
the multitude. During the 1980s, there seemed to be two general
models of political organization in the US. One was based on unity,
and the various older parties functioned in that way. Sometimes this
was posed in that classic Marxist formulation that there is a
primary division in society. There are other struggles, but they are
subordinate and function within this unity. Identity politics
contested this view. It was based on differences, and the autonomy
of different struggles - some about sexuality, some about gender,
some about race, and so on. Today, it seems to me that this division
has been displaced, so that multiplicity and commonality in
struggles do not contradict one another any longer. In Seattle, you
could see this in specific terms. I think that the contradiction
between identity and difference has been displaced by the continuity
between multiplicity and commonality. To come back to your question,
this seems to me a rich field for the experimentation with different
forms of democracy, but one that is not at all mature in the sense
of proposing an alternative social formation.
L&W: In Seattle the trade unions played a
large role, and in many European countries the trade unions have
traditionally been playing a crucial role in the socialist movement,
within the confines of the nation state. However, few of the trade
unions from the first world participated in Porto Alegre. What role
can trade unions play within the Left today?
unions in general can of course play an important role, but certain
trade unions are not progressive at all and have very little
progressive potential. The question for me is not to choose between
trade unions and other social groups, but among trade unions. Some
trade unions are very close to these movements, others are not. Some
are interested in change, some are not at all.
think that trade unions in general are facing a great challenge. The
form of trade unions is the product of a few specific stages in the
history of capitalism, especially the Fordist stage with its big
industries and concentration of workers in big units, and a
clear-cut frontier between blue-collar and white-collar, and so on.
This was a time when the expansion of the market was more including
than excluding. One was operating within this general framework,
which created specific patterns of organisation, within which
targets were formulated and reached - which created credibility,
legitimacy, support, and so on. Now, we are in a period when those
patterns of organisation are being dismantled and the new ones have
not yet crystallised clearly. This is a challenge for the trade
unions. These labouring people have a common, objective interest,
but they are not organised in a way which promotes this interest.
How is one to rebuild a certain degree of unity in this situation?
There are some trade unions in some places that have started to
think about this challenge, for example SUD in France, which was one
of the founders of Attac and active in Porto Alegre. There are also
some branches of trade unions in Italy that are aware of this, and
the question is now being discussed more systematically by CUT in
Brazil, COSATU in South Africa and by KCTU in South Korea. I think
that this is a challenge which is present everywhere, and therefore
one has to open a discussion on this topic, and eventually invent
new forms of organisation that will be able to handle this new
Contribution by Arena