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Michael Hardt Interview, "New Forms of Power"

Michael Hardt Interview, "New Forms of Power"

Zagreb Interview with Michael Hardt

by Ognjen Strpic

[broadcast on Croatian Radio, Third Program, 12. 5. 2002]

While we wait for the publishing of the Croatian translation of Hardt-Negri's
Empire, Michael Hardt visited Zagreb, where he gave two lectures,
by past.forward (theory module of net-club mama) and performing arts
magazine Frakcija. Between the lectures, we talked about some of the
discussed aspects of their work in Empire.

OS: How do you think the theory you and Toni Negri proposed in the book
relates to protestors in Genoa or Porto Allegre? They seem to have
your theory as their own. At the same time, you are, say, very
towards the protestors' efforts.

MH: The way I see it, these globalization movements and our book have
proceeded on sort of parallel paths, in fact they've both been
the same questions and reality and coming to the same conclusions. And
is at least in two regards: one central aspect of our concept of empire
that there is no center to power or rather that form of global power has
changed, that it's no longer based on dominant nationstate on its own
that it is now composed of a network of powers. This is our notion of

I think similarly these movements have not been organized around, say, a
notion of US imperialism. Had they thought that, all of these protests
should have been at the White House, or at the Pentagon, or on Wall
Rather, the way I think is that they've been experimenting with the new
form of power. In other words, they've targeted international
like the G8, and supernational organizations like the WTO, or the IMF,
the World Bank. So in this way they've been trying to understand the new
form of power, the way a movement understands something, which is some
of experimental form. I think that in fact none of these organizations
they have targeted with the protests is itself the center of global
In other words, IMF is not in control of globalization, in itself. And
we were to destroy the IMF tomorrow, it wouldn't make the world
a better place, in fact, probably worse. So I think that one shouldn't
to read the protesters as they've identified the new sources of power,
rather, it's a much more distributed and therefore seemingly amorphous
system of power that they are trying to confront. So in a way each
is sort of an adding experiment to that. It's in that sense I think that
our analysis of the new form of power as empire and the movement's
of the new form of power is proceeding along the parallel path.

The other way in which our argument seems to me very similar to these
movements' is that one of the political results of our analysis is that
think that the only adequate way to confront, say, the problems of
globalization, or the forms of global domination under which we suffer
is not by creating isolated local zones of protection, or even
the powers of nationstates, we think that rather an alternative have be
proposed at an equally global level.

I think that's also true of at least what I understand as the dominant
elements within these globalization movements. I don't think that the
dominant elements are the ones that are properly anti-globalization.
Rather, the movements themselves have been globalizing, constructing
relationships. In that sense, it doesn't make sense to call them
anti-globalization movements, they're more properly understood as
alternative globalization movements. In other words, they are protesting
against the current forms of globalization, but in the name of, or in
desire for, alternative forms of globalization. So I think that in those
two regards our argument which is conducted in a very philosophical
and the workings of these movements, which is obviously conducted both
theoretically and practically in a different register, that they've been
moving on parallel paths, and that's why they in a way agree well with

OS: Your idea of empire, at least in my reading, doesn't bear any
particular ideological baggage by itself. It's reception however,
it as distinctively Leftist. How do you see it in this respect?

MH: Well, OK. The book _is_ primarily an attempt of the analysis of
contemporary form of power, and in that way it can in simply naming the
forms of power today, which is I think the primary object of the book,
could be appreciated by people of many different ideological formations.
conceive it as a communist project, we present it as a communist
thinking here of "communist" in the tradition, let's say of democratic
globalization, the communist tradition that is not oriented towards
formation of states and even of national control, but as a movement of
increasing non-national democracy.

In any case, there is a certain ideological position that defines our
efforts, but I think that such a book is not restricted to those of that
ideological position. And in fact, what seems to me interesting about
reception of the book, is that it runs counter many of assumptions about
Left and Right, and that's why it has been a useful analysis for many
say, disrupt what had seemed like the commonplace assumptions about
globalization. Just for instance, many have assumed in the US that those
who are on the Left are necessarily against globalization. Any in many,
sort of basic or profound ways, our perspective is completely _for_
globalization. But the problem with our contemporary world in many ways
not that we have too much globalization, the problem is we have not
That really we need to globalize equal relationships, democratic
relationships, the problems with our contemporary form, say, the control
dominant corporations, the control of the US military, of various other
forms that constitute this imperial power, the problem is that in many
regards that it blocks globalization, it blocks the possibility of
constructing democratic relationships across the globe. So, in that
sense I
think it's not ? the first moment, I think, of a Left, or I would say
democratic position, should not be against globalization, what interest
much more are the possibilities of globalization. I just presented it in
one way which I think the perspective of the book has run counter to
people thought were necessary Left and Right positions, and that has
allowed them to appreciate the argument even without of course agreeing
with our perspective, which I think is not necessary for a book like

OS: In what respect, then, it is a communist project?

First of all, one should say that the much of the European modern
Enlightenment thought, but especially communist tradition, especially
certain element of the communist tradition, have been the first and most
vocal proponents of globalization. Think of the slogans of First
International, for instance, not only "Workers of the world, unite", but
"Proletariat has no country, its county is the entire world", there are
least elements of the communist tradition, ones that most interest me,
have always been interested in globalizing relationships as a potential
liberation. This is not also exclusive for the communist tradition, it's
also part of other elements of modern European political thought. So,
are certain ways in which, and we argue that there are certain points
it's in fact not capital, or it's not the forms of liberal national
governments, but in fact it's the force of liberation and in some sense
communist tradition that has been leader in globalization.

The other way in which it is a communist book is that is argues for an
absolute democracy, for democracy founded on relations of equality,
freedom, and social solidarity. I mean, I think that those three ? code
words belong to the French Republican tradition, but also belong, in my
mind, to the best elements of the communist tradition. So, that also
to me that it's the way it's a communist book, but it's demanding an
absolute democracy.

Then, the most fundamental way would be that it's the analysis insists
the fact that while capital has historically brought many possibilities
liberation, that finally the operation of capital prevents the
of democratic relationships. In other words, that it's not an accident
the capitalist relations perpetuate poverty and wealth, disparities of
the wealth and power, and that they prevent democratic social
constructions. It's in fact intrinsic to capital and therefore the
for democracy will ultimately have to be anticapitalist and develop a
social form that is noncapitalist in that sense. That at least is
recognizable as the communist project.

OS: Isn't it Braudelian notion of capital as antimarket, as opposed to
market, the one you really object?

MH: I don't think that any capital functions without state regulation. I
mean, this is just a factual, historical claim. All of the propositions
free market, and of capital based on free market, have been ? false. I
think that free markets are always constructed by political regimes. I
think this is true in the nineteenth century hayday of the ideology of
market, and that this is equally true in our contemporary neoliberal
that it's not, say, the autonomy of the economic, it's not that the
of capital or economic forces, or market forces, function freely. That
always require state, or say, regulatory forms. In the academic
the general reference for this argument I have just made is Polanyi's
"The Great Transformation", which argues precisely that. I would rather
pose it differently; I think it's right to say, at least as an
tool it's useful to think of different elements of the current form of
power, or elements of capitalist rule, some of which are potentially
positive and some of which are clearly negative.

I would rather say that other elements that capital has brought
historically are potentially positive, the one I already mentioned is
extension in that sense of globalization of relationships. Another is
one could call socialization of production or the organization of social
cooperation. I mean, capital has historically operated the function of
bringing together workers, classically in the factory, bringing them
together and having them cooperate together and proposing the terms for
that cooperation. And that social cooperation is, it seems to me, has an
incredibly liberating human potential. What I would say then is that
capital, well ? creating and in certain sense historically proposing
cooperation, also limits social cooperation, and that one could imagine
pushing social cooperation further beyond the bounds which capital can

So, the same way I think with globalization in certain respects. There
certain aspects of globalization that capitalist relations create
globalization, but finally restrict it, and that pushing them further
be the way to move. The same thing with social cooperation, the capital
even obliges us to cooperate socially in certain ways, but then blocks
fuller pursuit of that cooperation.

OS: I'm now interested in two issues you you don't write about in the
One is contemporary discourse on justice in political theory. Another is
multiculturalism. Do you think those two topics relevant to your
I'm talking about the authors such as John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, James
Scanlon, Brian Barry?

MH: I should start by saying that for us, or for me, the concept of
democracy is much more central than the concept of justice. That said, I
think it's not an either/or alternative. I think that much of the work
is done under the rubric of liberalism and therefore the framework of
justice, and therefore the framework of right, and that's the way it's
posed in authors you mentioned, their general project is oriented
towards a
notion of right rather than a notion of good, and that's what defines
liberalism in their general estimation. I think that entire project can
translated in something that resembles our project, I think that they're
not in different universes. When on thinks of the original Rawls
of his first book, A Theory of Justice, it is a procedural
but it is also oriented towards, let's say, tendency toward equality in
terms of both decisionmaking and also distribution. I think it's an
at the constructing the basis of democratic relations. And in that
that I would try to say that two perspectives, one that focuses on
democracy, which is ours, and other, which focuses on justice, are not
totally separate.

It seems to me that there's a certain amount of confusion with the term
multiculturalism, and that very different things are included under that
term. Because there are ways in which the term is used in entire
of critical race studies and also therefore race struggles, in addition
gender studies and therefore feminist struggles, are included under the
term multiculturalism and are thought of as streams or currents within
multiculturalism. I think that they are central to our attempts of
analyzing forms of power, especially within a cultural framework of the
empire, but not only cultural, I think the problem with multiculturalism
that it is often assumed, by people using the term both for and against
that we can separate the cultural from the economic and the political, I
think that none of these are merely cultural, both fields of analysis or
fields of political activity. In other words, I don't think that
or studies about and sexuality, gay and lesbian studies, for instance,
feminist studies about sexism, or race studies, I don't think that any
these are cultural in a limited sense, I think that they are all always
already also economic and political questions.

What I'm trying to do is to distinguish certain conception of
multiculturalism from another; there's one conception of it which I
is not accurate, that it's true our analysis our analysis doesn't deal
with. But there's another, which is very important to our kind of
How so? Just for instance, part of analysis is trying to recognize, say,
the new forms of racism that are implied within this new imperial
structure. In other words, that there is a certain paradigm of racial
oppression and therefore racial antiracist struggle that served as a
paradigm in previous stage, what might be called a stage, of imperialism
and that also functioned in the United States throughout much of
century, we think that the form of racial oppression has changed now and
therefore requires different kinds of antiracist struggles. Here we're
drawing directly on work that's done in race studies, in critical race
studies, antiracist movements. So, if that's what is meant by
multiculturalism, than it's certainly central to our analysis.
As a more practical, movement question, it has to do with our concept of
the multitude: there was, especially in the US, but also in Western
and probably elsewhere, there seemed to be a choice between two kinds of
political organizing, an exclusive choice. The one that I experienced in
1980's in the US, see if it resonates with you elsewhere, is that there
were two choices of political organizing: on unity model, or on
model. The unity model is really the one that seemed more traditional;
party structures often function this way. There was really one central
access to political organizing, and it could include different elements,
but they were all subordinated. For instance, one could say class
is central political struggle, and then we could have people interested
sexism and racism, and other social problems, but they were all
to one unity so that's the unity model.

In reaction to that was formed, very powerful in the US, especially
out in the sixties, developing in the eighties, what is often called
identity politics, is really organized around differences, in other
we need a separate movement for black lesbians, separate movement for
Central American gay men, so the difference of one's identity would
determine the difference of one's struggles. Now I think that there was
kind of dead end of political organizing between these two models, and
could, I think, easily see the limitations of each. And both of them,
although in a way they formed polar opposites, they were both
based on the notion of the alternative, of the exclusive alternative, of
identity and difference.

Our attempt with this concept of the multitude is to recognize the
possibility of a different kind of political organizing. Rather than
based on, say, alternative between identity and difference, it's based
continuity between multiplicity and commonality. In other words,
is meant to name a possible form of political organization that is
internally differentiated, in other words it's always a multiplicity,
yet it can act in common, which seems to me to be at least conceptually
different access to these two previous notions. And I think, moreover,
these globalization protest movements have functioned on this model of
multitude, rather then on models of identity and difference, because for
instance groups that we have thought of in a previous way were
antagonistic, even contradictory to each other, say, trade unions and
environmentalists, suddenly, starting in Seattle, function together, and
the contradiction doesn't play out. One could say, as we often say, that
network structure that every opposition is displaced, or is triangulated
third term, and then a fourth, in the web of relationships. So, this
to me again a way the conception of multiculturalism as based on a logic
difference in identity as the primary organizational conception of
isn't exactly the way that it's functioning today, in our analysis. If
that's what one thinks by multiculturalism, then we're thinking of
something very different.

OS: What exactly do you mean by multitude, and what is its role as a
central concept of your book?

MH: The book proposes two concepts, empire as a form of power, and
multitude names both the subject that is exploited by empire, that is
controlled by empire, the subject whose labor and activity supports
but it also is the subject that has the potential to create an
society. Now, it seems to me that the concept of multitude in our book
used in at least two ways that itself constitutes one of contradictions
our book. In certain ways it's a very selfcontradictory book, which is a
good thing, I think.

In one sense, multitude is used to name the multiple human force of
liberation that has always existed. In certain ways, it names that
ontological force of human creativity and liberation that has certainly
existed throughout the modern era, but even previously. It's the force
always refuses domination. This is one of, say, principles of our
that we propose as almost an axiom that we ask others to accept, but I
think most accept this, which is that humans always eventually, and this
one of wonderful things about humanity, refuse authority, refuse
domination, rebel against forms of oppression. And that is in a way the
primary force of the multitude that we use, reading as a sort of guide
history. It is the continual revolt of the multitude against forms of
slavery, exploitation, and other forms of oppression. So, that multitude
always has existed and will always exist, in that sense.
In another, in a very different sense, the multitude functions in our
discourse as something that has never yet existed and it's a project to
construct now. And what multitude means in this sense is this is a
political subject capable of creating a new society. In a way one could
the two together and say that seeds of human creativity, of a democratic
humanity, of a liberated humanity have always existed and they've always
been manifest in this continual revolt against forms of authority.

So, the second notion of multitude is really a realization of those
you now, the realization of those potentials that have always existed.
that means, slightly more concretely, this project of construction of
multitude is possible today, what multitude would mean in this sense,
the construction of the multitude would mean is what I would call a
becoming communal struggles. In other words, rather that seeing the
forms of liberation as separate form one another, or even sometimes
antagonistic to, or contradictory to each other, recognize how they can
become common. Just in a way we were talking of traditional language of
multiculturalism, that struggles against racism, struggles against
struggles against class structures, could be posed not as irrevocably
different and separate, but recognize their common project. I guess what
multitude as fundamental concept is asking is that difference can exist
within a society, even within a political subject, and that political
subject can nonetheless act, without being unified, that it can remain a
multiplicity, and still govern itself and that's what I think
democracy and freedom require, that we can find a way to govern
without reducing the differences among us.

OS: One more issue remains to be addressed: the question of terrorism,
political violence in its standard usage as killing or harming someone,
probably innocent, as a means to express political views.

MH: I think another element of terrorism in a standard usage, which
should be criticizes, I mean, I perfectly agree with you that one should
condemn the use of violence against innocent persons out of frustration
inability of political expression, that is certainly for one. The other
thing I think is characteristic of terrorism as it's commonly conceived,
and equally should be opposed, which is symbolic acts of violence,
this seems to me characteristic of both Right and Left terrorism through
the last twenty or thirty years. It's not just violence, it's that the
violence is highly symbolic, and I think that those symbolic acts,
and nonviolent ones too, first of all have very dangerous implications,
because they are really not directed at the act, they are directed at a
symbol. And also they don't construct anything, they're completely
acts in that sense. In both of those ways I think you're right, if I
understand your suggestion, that one should in unreserved and
way oppose to terrorism.

One should also say, however, that we I think I speak with the vast
majority in this we are not opposed to political violence. Political
violence, is seems to me, it's not so simple that we can say in a
categorical or principled way, that we are against political violence,
because there are times, historically, in which political violence is
necessary, not just justified. The struggle against fascism during the
Second World War, for instance, it required the form of violence. Most
the modern revolutions, revolution in the US, French Revolution, the
Chinese Revolution, Algerian Revolution, these required, I think,
violence. I would in such situations advocate use of violence and I
that vast majority of other would also.
The reason I point this out is that I think that the question of
has to be decided in specific contexts; sometimes it's appropriate and
useful and sometimes it's not. That's a matter of political debate,
unfortunately it seems it would simpler if we could answer the
philosophically and in a principled way, but I think rather it's always
political question. For example, there are many discussions within these
globalization protest movements about use of violence. We find it's here
the destruction of property and the purposeful confrontation with the
police. These are the two things that those advocating use of violence
these protest propose or insist on. And I think it's a difficult
I argue against use of violence in these cases, not because I have any
great devotion to Starbucks or McDonald's or their windows, but because
think that it poses divisions between a movement that are false
that it destroys the common projects of those involved and that's why it
seems to me inappropriate and I argue against it.

On the other hand, those who argue for it have many convincing points.
first is that they argue that they should be free to do what they want,
other words, I or others who do not favor the violence shouldn't be able
tell them what to do. They should be able to do what they want as long
they do it in a way that doesn't endanger the others. I think one should
remain in discussion about this, but ultimately one is free to do what

A more powerful and unfortunate argument they have, though, is that the
media, mainstream media especially, is really on their side, in the
that the media only reports acts of violence, this is especially true in
the US, but it's also true elsewhere, there can be a demonstration of a
hundred thousand people, and if it's peaceful it won't get reported in
US media. If there are windows broken, it will get reported. In fact,
great media success of these movements so far has been precisely because
there's been violence, and even when there's been serious injury, as in
Gothenburg or death as in Genoa, that's what the media actually reports,
those advocating the violence say: "Look, this is the way the system
our entire struggle would be useless unless there were violence and it's
reported." I think that's unfortunately a very convincing argument. My
argument against it is that the representation in the media is not the
important aspect of these movements, that the internal construction of
community, common projects, that their constituent aspects to the
are much more important than their media representation. But in any
case, I
think that this, like many cases, in this instance the question of
violence, and here not violence against persons, but violence against
property, is a complicated one and one that requires political
discussion rather than principled objections.