Empire and Multitude
A dialogue on the new order of globalisation.
Antonio Negri and Danilo Zolo
October 2002. Translation by Arianna Bove
1. A debate of exceptional scope
D.Z. I confess that for a long time I've resisted the calls, coming from many sides, to publicly debate Empire, the book that you and Hardt have published in the US two years ago that promoted, on both sides of the Atlantic, a debate of exceptional scope and intensity. What stopped me was a sense of impotence before such a complex, ambitious and ample work.
Any attempt to a critical evaluation of this kind -you define it 'widely interdisciplinary'- entails sharing, somehow, the theoretical ambition that motivated you in writing it. I overcame my initial hesitations because I became convinced that after S11 it would be irresponsible not to take seriously a book such as Empire.
It is a book that, however assessed, invests a large quantity of intellectual resources in the attempt to offer a contribution to the understanding of the world we live in, that denounces the atrocities and risks of the present 'global order' and tries to point towards a direction to overcome it. If not for any other reason, Empire deserves, in my view, the international success it is enjoying.
T.N. Thank you for your substantially positive evaluation of the book and its international impact. The fact remains that now, alongside that surface of 'banality' that the book had from the start (it seems to me almost a film that describes Empire, rather than a book), there also is the fact that it is getting old with respect to the speed of events. The 'great narrative' that made the success of the book, that permitted its reception by the students of american campus around Seattle, and after that a bit all around the world and espectially in Germany, -this great narrative was required. After the 80's, after the defeat of struggles, after the triumph of 'weak thought', a shake was needed: empire provided it.
D.Z. Empire is a difficult book not only for its size and its thematic breadth, but also because its philosophical and politico-theoretical synthax is very original. It is a synthax that transfigures some fundamental marxist categories by intertwining them with elements taken from a great variety of western philosophical literature: classical, modern and contemporary. In this transfiguration a primary role is played by the post-structuralism of authors such as Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Deridda and especially Michel Foucault. My impression is that a careful and demanding reading of the pages of Empire, as the book surely deserves and stimulates to do, in any case leads to interpretative results that are inevitably controversial.
Despite its often prescriptive and assertive tone, it is a book that risks transmitting more theoretical uncertainties than certainties.
T.N. I think the indications you give, on the philosophical categories that sustain the book, are right. On the question of the fact that the book trasmits more uncertainties than theoretical certainties, I confess that I like that.
With Empire, Michael Hardt and I wanted in no way to reach conclusions: the process constituting Empire is still largely open. We were interested in underlining the need to change register: the political philosophy of modernity (and obviously the institutions with which it interacted) is over. The theory that goes from Marsilio to Hobbes and from Althusius to Schmitt is finished. Empire is a new theoretical threshold.
D. Z. Marx's and Foucault's philosophy -to say it in a very generic formula- are divergent theoretical vectors: Marxism prefigures an organic society, solid, egalitarian, disciplined, whilst Foucault is an acute and radical critic of disciplinary power in the name of an individualist and libertarian anthropology.
A.N. We have kept Foucault and Marx together. Or rather, as far as I'm concerned, I can say that I 'washed my clothes' in the Seine, making my operaista marxism hybrid with the French post-structuralist perspectives. I had already started to do this in the years of prison (between '79 and '83), whilst working on Spinoza, a perfect terrain of ontological encounter for this operation. With Hardt in Paris, then, we deepened this analysis and immersed ourselves in that common 'aura' that, however unknown, has since the end of the 60's linked operaismo with post-structuralism but also with many tendencies in the large field of subaltern studies and other post-colonial approaches. This has certainly been a central moment, for me at least, when I realised that Italian operaismo was all but a provincial phenomenon. By publishing a collection of subaltern studies, Spivak provided direct proof of this in the 80's; Deleuze and Guattari in Mille Plateaux already recognised this influence. In this framework we take as fundamental the reading Foucault makes of Marx, extending a genealogy of processes of exploitation from the factory to the social. Unlike you, we interpret Foucault as the author of an anthropology that is certainly libertarian but not individualistic, who constructs a biopolitics inside which it is no longer the individual but a subject (with such singularity!) that is moulded. As far as we are concerned, in Paris, between the 80's and the 90's, we had already fully constructed an awareness of being in postmodernity: a new epoque then, and we were and still are convinced that Marx can be fully integrated within postmodern analytical methodologies. There always is a point when the decision of the strong and the new erupts: what a pleasure to be able to stop with the pale fictions of the modern, with the Rawls or Habermases...What an enthusiasm to recognise, with Machiavelli (and all the others) that class struggle, mutatis mutandis, ruled over thought...
D.Z. I must make another confesson, before discussing with you hte central themes of Empire. The idea of confronting a treatise whose authors proclaim to be 'communists' still causes me discomfort, especially when they declare to have adopted Karl Marx's Capital as their own expository paradigm. I personally have maximum respect for what theoretical marxism has been in the last century -- less so for the experiences of 'real socialism' that referred to it -- but I am not very inclined today to give credit to revisiting or 'refoundations' of marxian phisosophy, however innovative and critical their form. Personally, I dealt with theoretical marxism almost thirty years ago -- I remember debating it intensively with you too -- and I think I did it seriously. The reason I left marxism was that I could not agree with its three theoretical pillars: the dialectical philosophy of history with its 'scientific laws' of development; the theory of labour-value as the critical basis of the capitalist mode of production and as the premise of the communist revolution; the theory of the withering away of the State and the respective refusal of the state of rights and of the doctrine of subjects' rights. Your communism, despite the wealth of its motivation, seems still anchored to the code of marxist orthodoxy.
A.N. Since the discussions of thirty years ago, probably many things have changed. However, if we could reduce marxism to these three theoretical pillars that you mention, I would not be a marxist (and I think I would not have been one thirty years ago). However, it seems to me that you throw the baby out with the more or less dirty, often filthy, bath water. I on the contrary want to recuperate marxism, that for me is synonimous with modern materialism, expression of a critical trend that has traversed modernity and always been fought against: the path that from Machiavelli leads to Spinoza and to Marx. For me, the recuperation of marxism and its renewal has the strong significance that the patristic apologetics had in the first centuries of the history of Christianity: it is a 'return to principles' in the sense that Machiavelli ascribed to this dispositif. In order to operate in this direction we need to advance on some essential points of Marxist theory: to construe, against the dialectics of history, a non teleological theory of class struggle; beyond the theory of labour value, analyses of valorisation through the general intellect, in the period of (complete) real subsumption of society under capital; as far as the theory of the state is concerned, it is a question of capturing in the critique of sovereignty (as the point of coincidence of the economic and the political), the central moment of the exercise of exploitation as well as of mystification and destruction of subjects' rights. Whilst proposing to do so, Marx never left us a book on class struggle, nor, and especially, the book on the state. In fact his book on the State missing from Capital could only have been written once the space of sovereignty had become as great as the world and hence once it would have been possible to confront the multitude and empire. The only nation state Marx could have talked about was a mixture of middle ages and modernity, that even capitalist development had difficulty in attacking... Only an international and internationalist proletariat could pose the problem of the State. Many delays in the marxism of state and legal theory are more linked to the limits of capitalist development than to Marx himself: only today, when capital advances and structures itself on the global market, can revolutionary theory correctly take up the problem of the state.
2. Empire, not Imperialism
D.Z. The part of Empire that seems to me to be the best one and poses the need for a new 'strategic' reflection on the structure and functions of processes of global integration is the one that deals with the very notion of 'Empire'. As we know, you and Hardt think that the new 'global order' imposed by globalisation has lead to the disappearence of the Westphalian system of sovereign states. There are no longer national states, apart from their dying formal structures that still survive within the juridical ordering of international institutions. The wolrd is no longer governed by state political systems: it is governed by a single structure of power that does not present any significant analogy with the modern state of European origin. It is a political system that is decentered and deterritorialised, that does not refer to ehtnic-national traditions and values, and whose political and ethical substance is cosmopolitan universalism. For these reasons, you believe 'Empire' to be the most appropriate denotation for this new kind of global power...
T.N. One must add that we are not nostalgic of nation states at all. Moreover, it seems to us that this development, both real and conceptual, that you illustrated so well, is provoked by an engine that is that of workers' struggles, of anti-colonial struggles and finally of the struggles against the socialist management of capital, for freedom, in the countries of 'real socialism'. The last third of the 20th century is dominated by these movements.
D.Z. It would be wrong then to think that Empire -- or its central and expansive core -- is constituted by the USA and their closest western allies. Neither the US nor any other nation-state, as you and Hardt strongly assert in your book, 'constitute at present the centre of an imperialist project' (p. 15 italian edition). According to you, global Empire is something other than classical imperialism and it would be a great theoretical mistake to confuse the two. Do I interpret your position on this correctly?
T.N. Correct interpretation. I add that, in Porto Alegre in particular, one felt the extent, size and gravity of the danger that the construction of a 'movement of movements' might rely on nation States. In such a case, no-global thought would end up adopting equivocal forms of nationalism and populism. Anti-americanism and the faith in the nation states always go hand in hand: this the latest mess we inherit from third-worldist socialism - that always seemed to me to be as serious a deviation as Soviet marxism.
D.Z. This is a very delicate point that raised numerous reservations that I partly share. In your pages Empire seems to fade into a sort of 'category of the spirit': it is, like God, present everywhere because it coincides with the new dimension of globality. But one might object that if everything is imperial nothing is imperial. How do we individuate supra-national subjects bearing imperial interests and aspirations in order to make them the object of a global struggle? Against whom do we enact anti-imperialist [sic] critique and resistance, if states and their political forces are not the objects to focus on? Is it an empire that does not exercise political-military power? Does it express itself merely through instruments of economic or, eventually, ideological constraint?
T.N. The process of imperial constitution is in place. It is the limit towards which the instruments that global capital already concretely makes an operative trend: they are sovereign, economic, military, cultural instruments. Now it is undoubtable that in this phase Empire is fundamentally characterised by a great tension between an institutional non-place and a series of global (though partial from the point of view of sovereignty) instruments used by collective capital. You rightly say that if everything is imperial, nothing is imperial. However, we identify, following Polybius' example, certain places or forms of imperial government: the monarchic function that the US government, the G8 and other monetary institutions have ascribed themselves (taken up for themselves); the aristocratic power of multinationals that extend their web on the global market. The global movement of the multitude (born after Seattle) has certainly had many doubts in identifying in the continuous creation of misery and exclusion and in the violent and military response to protests the points against which to exercise critique and resistance: these are very real and consist in the distortion of economic development, in the destruction of the planet earth and in the growing attempts to appropriate what is 'common' to humanity, in between earth and sky... The paradox of the present moment (and its dramacity) consists in the fact that Empire will be able to form its structures only by responding to the struggles of the multitude: but all of this, a la Machiavelli, is a process of clash of powers. We are only at the beginning of a 'thirty years war', the modern State took that long to formalise its birth...
D.Z. The 'imperial constitution', you claim, is different from that of the state in its functions: the objective of imperial sovereignty is not the political-territorial inclusion or assimilation of subaltern countires and peoples, as it was the case with imperialism and statist colonialism between the 19th and 20th century. New imperial command is exercised through political institutions and juridical apparatuses whose objective is essentially the maintainance of global order, i.e. a 'stable and universal' peace that would allow the normal functioning of the market economy. You refer in several places to functions of 'international police' and even to juridical functions eexercised by Empire. I basically agree with you, but have a reservation: if not the political-military apparatus of the great western power -- inprimis of the US -- who exercises these imperial functions?
T.N. In fact, it doesn't seem strange to me that Empire presents itself to guarantee the global order through a stable and universal peace by means of all the political-military instruments it disposes of. Bush's gang makes these declarations of peace and engages in acts of war on a daily basis. However, we must not confuse Bush's gang and the political military apparatus it uses with the government of Empire. I actually think that the present imperialist ideology and practice of Bush's government is rapidly taking a path of collision with other capitalist forces that, at the global level, work for Empire. The situation is completely open. I believe that in time, in the course of this conversation, we will return on the question of war, as a specific form of imperial control: for now I just want to insist on the fact that military the function of war and that of the police are, at the level of Empire, increasingly confused. However, apart from specifying with some reasonings and evaluations, I would like to insist again on the fact that anti-Americanism is a weak and mystifying attitude in the present phase of critical definition of new world constitution. Anti-Americanism confuses the American people with the American state, it does not realised that the states are inserted in the global market just as much as Italy and South Africa, that Bush's policy is strongly minoritarian within the global aristocracies of multinational capitalism. Anti-Americanism is a dangerous state of mind, an ideology that mystifies the data of analyses and hides the responsibility of collective capital. We should get rid of it, just as we finally abandoned the Americanism of Alberto Sordi's movies.
D.Z. You sustain that it is not of marginal importance that the juridical imperial order is essentially engaged in a juridical or quasi-juridical arbitrating function. Imperial power is even invoked by its subjects for its capacity of solving conflicts from the universal point of view, i.e. neutrally and impartially. It is of significance -- you acutely note in your book -- that after a long peiord of eclipse, the doctrine of bellum justum has reflourished in the last decade. This is a medieval doctrine, typically universalist and imperial. Is this the case? I fully share these analyses, also given that they recuperate theses that I have sustained years ago, in Cosmopolis in particular. But, I insist, in my view they have a meaning only if the 'imperial constitution' is conceived as a political constitution, and this today still largely means a constitution and a power (potestativa) structure of the state type. As such, it not only functions as 'cohercive pacification' but it also adopts classical forms of war of aggression. I think that there cannot be any doubt that the United States -- i.e. the cognitive, communicative, economic, political and military powers that are concentrated in the geopolitical space of the American superpower -- are today the central engine of this global strategic project, whether one calls it 'hegemonic', as I prefer, or 'imperial', as you prefer, or something else.
T.N. I disagree. I really can't understand how you (who taught us, from Cosmopolis and Chi dice umanita [who says humanity], how the political and juridical categories of modernity were not only obstacled but definitely stamped on) could propose a definition of the current process of government of the world market that still centres around modern categories of imperialism. Here it is my turn to pose some questions: what does a potential capacity of the state mean now in the face of the lex mercatoria, i.e. of that substantial modification of international private law where surely law firms, rather than nation states, become legislators? (on this issue I could add lots of questions but I hope we can save them). As far as international public law is concerned: how is it possible not to feel pityful in front of the pathetic attempts to relaunch the UN in this situation? The thing is that talking about the United States as the central engine of a global strategic imperialist project entails all sorts of contradictions the moment the US government claims for itself an exclusive capacity for command (as it is implicitly in modern theories of national sovereignty and imperialism).
D.Z. In my view, the fact that the power of command and influence of the US radiate on the entire world to become a global power, as the recent Quadrennial Defense Review Report of the State Department claims, does not contradict the fact that this power is territorially and culturally placed in the United States and that it can be identified with the American superpower also at the symnbolic level. The S11 terrorist attack expressed transparently also this identification: it intended to hit on the symbols of economic, political and military power of the US as new imperial power. One cannot forget that the US is also the centre of the television, information and intelligence network that envelops the world today.
T.N. I don't question the fact that the US is a global power, I only insist on another concept: the same US is subjected (or in any case forced to dialogue and/or contestation) to economic and political structures other than itself. The terrorist attack on S11 was, amongst other things, also the demonstration of an open civil war between forces that intend to be structurally represented in the imperial constitution. Those who destroyed the Twin Towers are the same 'leaders' of mercenary armies who were hired to defend petroil interests in the Middle East. They have nothing to do with the multitudes: they are internal elements of the imperial structure in its coming into being. We absolutely need not to underestimate the civil war that is unfolding at the imperial level. I think we could say that the American leadership is deeply weakened precisely by the imperialist tendencies that it occasionally expresses. It is obvious that neither in the Arab, nor in the European, nor in the socialist world, not to mention that 'other continent' called China, these tendencies are accepted. The military superpower of the US is, as we know, largely neutralised by the impossibility of being used in its nuclear potential. And this is good news. From the monetary point of view, the US is increasingly exposed and weakened on financial markets: and this is another great news. In other words, with all probability, the US will soon be forced to stop being imperialist and recognise themselves in Empire.
D.Z. Obviously, we all know that great corporations, including those of the new economy, operate according to strategies that are largely autonomous from the political command of states and that this is also true for the US. Multinational companies are becoming increasingly powerful, because they are capable of drastically reducing labour costs as well as of escaping from the duties of fiscal impositions of nation states. But as Paul Hirst and G. Thompson persuasively argued in Globalisation in Queston, there is still a complex synergy between the economic policies of industrial powers and the economic-financial strategies of corporations whose headquarters are in their geopolitical space. The US president is elected because he is financially supported by multinational corporations -- I am thinking of the oil, arms and tobacco industries -- and they then influence with good arguments the decision of the administration. But evidently the big companies have very indirect political functions, that they cannot do without the intermediation of the political-administrative -- and especially military -- power of the states.
T.N. That multinationals participate in the elections of American presidents is an argument in favour of Empire. What is described in your last question is for me largely acceptable. I would add to Hirst and Thompson's book that of Mittelman, to underline how complex not only the synergy among actors but also the hierarchy among imperial spaces is. Having said that, I believe that the autonomy of capitalist global strategies is still rather broad, or, at least, largely independent from nation states. I am not a Leninist, I am simply a Machiavellian, when I think for instance that today the only concrete and close possibility to make Bush's gang fall is to be found in the aristocratic power of multinationals. This is auspicable because it would provide the movement of global multitudes with time and space to advance in the process of configuration of a democratic power in Empire.
3. Imperial dialectic: Empire as a 'step forward'
D.Z. there is another aspect of your theory of Empire that raises doubts for me. It is an aspect that I attribute to the implicit 'ontology' (to use your term) that works as metaphysical counterpoint to your analyses: the dialectic of history, in an acception that is typical of Hegelian-Marxism and Leninism. According to you, global Empire represents a positive overcoming of the Westphalian system of sovereign states. Having ended states and their nationalism, Empire has also ended colonialism and classical imperialism and opened a cosmopolitan perspective that must be favourably welcomed. Any attempt to let the nation state re-emerge in opposition to the present imperial constitution of the world would express a 'false and dangerous' ideology. The no-global philosophy and any form of naturalist environmentalism and localism must then be rejected as primitive and anti-dialectical position, in other words, substantially reactionary. You show little sympathy even to the so called 'people of Seattle' and the network of NGO linked to it.
T.N. I don't think that the accusations leveled against us are sustainable. As anyone who read the book knows (and you surely have read it), we don't know any dialectics, we only know class struggle. It is class struggle (a dispositif a la Machiavelli: open, indeterminate, a-teleological, risky) that constitutes the basis of our method. There is nothing dialectical here, unless one uses this epithet to include any analytical approach to historical development. Our narrative deals with a concrete telos, with the risk and struggle of men against all exploitation, to make life joyous, to eliminate pain...Our political problem then is that of proposing an adequate space to all the struggles that start from below. In this framework there is no room for nostalgia and the defense of the nation state, of that absolute barbarism which Verdun, the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and (if you will allow me) Auschwitz have been proof of. I don't know how the nation state can still be considered something more than a false and dangerous ideology. On the contrary, the networks of the movement of movements are, as all that freely occurs in the world, polyvalent: they intertwine and in this way they can build unitary movement without difficulty, as they have done. Any attempt to prevent this unification and the consequent recognition of common objectives is reactionary, or rather, it expresses sectarian and inimical operations. The no-global philosophy and the Seattle movement are internationalist and global. As far as our antipathy for some NGOs is concerned (an antipathy that the movements amply share) it is not to be mistaken for the forms of charity and methods of the new militancy.
D.Z. Communists, you say, are universalists, cosmopolital, 'Catholic' by vocation: their horizon is that of the whole of humanity, of the 'generic human nature' (species being), as Marx said. During the last century, as you recall, working masses have always counted on the internationalisation of political and social relations. For this reason you assert that 'global' powers of Empire must be controlled, but not demolished: the imperial constitution is to be preserved and aimed to other objectives. Even though it is true that police technologies are the hard core of the imperial order, this order has nothing to do, according to you, with the practices of dictatorship and totalitarianism of the last century. From the point of view of the transition to a communist society the construction of empire is a step forward: Empire, you write, 'is better than what came before it' because 'it eliminates the cruel regimes of modern power' and 'offers enormous possibilities for creation and liberation' (pp56., 208). I cannot share this dialectical optimism of obvious Hegelian and Marxist ascendancy.
T.N. I wouldnt say at all that this position expresses dialectical optimism. It is clear that you are intransigent on the term dialectics: anything you don't like is dialectical. I suggest to you an author who is certainly not dialectical yet capable of looking forward: Spinoza. Here, in his philosophy, optimism has nothing to do with Hegel: it has to do with the freedom and joy of liberation from slavery...But I don't want to keep joking with the saints. I prefer knaves. Now, these are the multitude, i.e. a multiplicity of singularities, already mixed, capable of immaterial and intellectual labour, with an enormous power [potenza] of freedom. This is not dialectics but sociological analysis, factual and punctual, of the transformation of labour, of its organsiation and of the political subjectivity that this entails. I cannot believe that you prefer archaic, peasant and artisan traditions embodied in ineffectual myths or the misery of the mass worker, bound to his chains, to the global mobility and time flexibility of life and labour. The lenghtening of life prospects and the enrichment of moral and intellectual life of workers seem to me a good thing. It is here that Empire is proposed as good in itself. But from here to becoming good for itself, it is up to the movements to say (not to the Geist). But here I can add something else: the movements that in Empire and its becoming present themselves as antagonistic, do not posit claims or thematics that are homologous to imperial power. The most interesting thing that the reading of the movements shows is that today, to the formation of imperial power, is not opposed a discourse of 'seizure of power', but rather of 'exodus'. Negative dialectics? You could accuse me of this, but I cannot name in this way such a colossal phenomenon of distantiation from political power that runs through people, especially young people, today's multitudes. This change is even deeper than the one we mentioned at the level of political categories from modernity to postmodernity. Careful: great suffering awaits this 'city of men' that here begins its path...It is the continuation (and at the same time the transfiguration) of the sometimes democratic, sometimes socialist, always rebel movements that ran through modernity.
D.Z. I am more convinced by post-colonial analyses -- I am thinking in particular of Subaltern Studies -- that outline the path of continuity between classical colonialism and the current processes of hegemonic globalisation. Today, after the parenthesis of the Cold War and the ephemeral liberation of colonial countries from direct political subjection to European powers, the West is newly engaged in a strategy of control, military occupation, mercantile invasion and 'civilisation' of the non western world. The bloody and impotent response of global terrorism fights against this strategy, and it is not a case that it aims almost exclusively at the US.
T.N. I think I can only agree with you on this issue. Surely a thread of continuity between classical colonialism and the current processes of imperial globalisation is visible. But I would be careful not to call ephemeral the liberation of colonial countries and to think that the cards on the geopolitical table have radically changed. First, Second and Third World have not changed their collaboration in a superficial, but in a fundamental manner: they have mixed, and you find the First World at the bottom of Africa as in the republics of Central Asia, as you find the Third world in the European or American metropolis. If you look at all this from a spatial point of view, the situation, though changed, is static; if you look at the same phenomena and these dislocations from the standpoint of their intensity, then you can perceive (and this is what above all subaltern studies narrate) the transformative power of these processes, the fact that they are mines put everywhere on the global space. In this perspective, whilst global terrorism is part of the 'civil war' for imperial leadership, resistance and exodus movements constitute the new real threat for the global capitalist order.
D.Z. The processes of globalisation have sped up since the end of the 80's, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of bipolarism. Since then, western countries, guided by the US, have engaged in a new politics of power that has been perceived by non western countires -- especially in the islamic world and East Asia -- as a growing challenge to their own territorial integrity, their political independence and their own collective identity. US military bases and their espionage centres are spread in a capillary manner on the whole planet and especially around the territories of regional sub-powers. Thus are expressed and affirmed, in my opinion, the new colonialism and the new imperialism in the era of globalisation, in linear continuity with its classical forms, state based and territorial. The whole series of military interventions decided by the US since the Gulf War has demonstrated the growing division between the military potential (hence economic, scientific, technological, informational) at American disposal and that of the rest of the world. Perhaps never before in the history of humanity has the power of a single country appeared as overwhelming on the political plane and as invincible on the military one. In this hegemonic scenario I cannot see any factual element that could give 'objective' foundation to a perspective of collective emancipation operating within Empire, that could thus leave the structure of 'cosmopolitical' power intact without constrasting its universalist ambitions.
T.N. Evidently in the framework of the situation as you describe it, any rupture is impossible. The continuity of the old and new imperialism, the persistence of colonialism, the US superpower determination and fixing of the extension of exploitation and military technology: well, here nothing can be done. We are in the middle of a new-Marcusian vision of globalisation. It is obvious in my view that your standpoint is in constrast, in principle, with that at the basis of the analysis of Empire.
In fact, at the basis of the methodological presuppositions already announced, i.e. on the basis of a conviction that imperial biopowers, whatever their depth, are always contrasted and taken into the terrain of conflict and biopolitical antagonism, so, on that methodological premise we cannot accept the neoimperialist framework you depict. The fact is that wherever biopower, i.e. the capacity of power to extend itself on all aspects of life, is exercised, it opens itself to microphysical dynamics of resistance, and there the proliferation of conflicts is often impossible to contain. When, after to looking at Empire from above, we look at it from below, we can see its fragility, we can think of intervening on its constitutive passages. The precariousness of the imperial structure was also confirmed by the analysis of its genesis: Empire is the product of workers' and anticolonialist struggles, and of the revolt against Stalinist totalitarianism. This is why the fight within against Empire is possible. Allow me a bad joke: don't you think you are the one about to give us, with these images of classical neoimperialism, an example of bad totalitarian dialectics?
D.Z. It is rather against Empire that in my view the struggle needs to be directed, by contrasting global expansionism and cosmopolitan ideology. Unlike communitarian republicanism, I am not thinking nostalgically of a return of 1800's nation states, even though I am not convinced that nation states are now just historical relics. I share Ulrich Beck's idea that they are changing into 'transnational' states, and that a number of agencies and multinational institutions such as big businness, financial markets, information and communication technologies, the culture industry etc., all run through their civil society. It is clear to me that states are redefining their functions, concentrating more on questions of security and internal public order, as Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant assert. According to Thomas Mathiesen we are going from the 'panoptic' state to the 'synoptic' one, thanks to the great potentiality for control offered by new technologies and electronic data base that are constituted behind the backs of citizens. But states are very far from 'extinction'. Some of them are even getting stronger.
T.N. I am largely in agreement with you on what you say and I appreciate the literature you mention. I think too that nation states have not disappeared: this is obvious. It is also evident that the articulation of functions of universal command and internal public order are trained by nation states, whilst keeping their continuum. But believing that many nation states functions survive, does not entail thinking that nation states persist in this tendency or that they are even getting stronger. On the contrary, I think that the nation state associations, even invested by transnational dispositifs (a la Beck), must be seen within processes of hierarchisation and of specialisation of Empire. What I mean to say is that the theme of universal guarantee of global order has been posed in irreversible terms. The epochal passage is now given. It is within this flux and faced with this problem that we need to characterise our political and theoretical choices. Surely you can accuse me at this point of opting for a doctrinarism, rather than of putting my hands into the reality of international relaitons. If I do it, I do it to shorten the discussion. But in fact I could, just to make one example, go and see what happens in Latin America and there, where US direct mishandling seems the greatest, I could grasp the deep connection and the alliances between capitalist ruling classes, beyond nation states. But we have already said enough on this.
D.Z. My opinion is that we ought to think about and act towards new forms of world equilibrium in the name of a multipolar regionalism capable of balancing and then reducing and defeating the aggressive strategic unilateralism of the imperial power of the US. And a Europe that is freed from the suffocating Atlantic embrace, a Europe that is less Western and more Mediterranean and 'oriental' - could have an important role in this sense. It is in this direction that South-East Asia and the North East Chinese-Confucian block are quietly moving.
T.N. New forms of global organisation articulated on a multipolar regionalism are desirable. In fact, this is already happening within the world market, in the process that leads to the construction of imperial sovereignty. I cannot understand what this process is preferable to since it is actually what is already happening. If anything the problem would be to act, from any point in Empire, to open scenarios of global destabilisation. It is only in this framework that a transformation of the rules of domination and exploitation could become possible. It is obvious that I do not accept the very name 'equilibrium', product of other periods of thought (that are allow me, as disenchanted as too often ineffectual: as Musil teaches!). Whether or not it is organised in regional terms, in fact, it will always be about hierarchy rather than equilibrium, multifunctionality rather than multipolarity. I personally believe what I wrote on this for a conference at the European Institute of Fiesole, published in Europa politica. Ragioni di una necessit�, a cura di H. Friese, A. Negri, P. Wagner, Manifestolibri, 2002). This is that in the framework of Empire, a united Europe could be a terrain to exercise a subversive function for the global order. But this function can only be created and expanded from below, mobilising the multitudes. For instance, I have faith in the democratic force of people's American insitutions, at least more than I have in the European ones.
D.Z. I add that a multipolar equilibrium is the condition for international law to exercise a minimal function of containment of the most destructive consequences of modern war. The condition for an international normative system to exercise effects of ritualisation and containment of the use of force, of a submission to predetermined procedures and to general rules, is that no subject of the order should regard itself or be considered by the international community as legibus solutus, due to its overarching power. One needs, in other words, that 'imperial constitution' is abolished. Empire and international law negate one another.
T.N. I think all you say is true: Empire and international law nckepticism for the cold comfort of UN internationalism. There is an enormous literature (that you have perfectly studied) around the reinvigoration of the United Nations, and the construction of a global 'civil society' as the potential interlocutor of the sovereign of the new global order...Even the World Bank has often used this terrain, unlike other global institutions. However, the attempt to reactivate a participative and normative 'international' system (in the Westphalian sense) has not had any effect. Even when it goes in the direction of corresponding to subjective rights of citizens and nations, of groups and associations, like for instance in the case of the constitution of great world tribunal, juridical reformism has overcome classical international law. It is only on this terrain that one can fight.
D.Z. After S11, the situation of international disequilibrium has increased. A hegemonic strategy of permanent war, without territorial borders, or temporal deadlines, largely secret and more than ever uncontrollable on the basis of international right is affirmed. Never as today western political-military elites seem aware that in order to ensure the security and well being of industrialised countries it is necessary to exercise an increasing pressure on the whole world. It is now certain that the war in Afghanistan has only been the beginning of a total war against the axis of evil: surely Iraq will be attacked too, in a scenario of high conflictual potential.
The Palestinian people will keep being cruelly persecuted by the colonialism of Zionist imperialism. In my view the strategic objective of the US goes much further than the repression of 'global terrorism'. The aim of the American superpower is to consolidate his planetary hegemony, securing itself a stable presence in the heart of Central Asia. The project entails controlling the great energy resources present in the ex-Soviet republics of the Causasian, Caspian and Transcaspian area, and above all to complete the double surrounding of the Russian federation on the west and of China on the east. Then, the perspective of relaunching a particularly aggressive neo-colonial strategy, justified by the need of fighting terrorism, is of alarming urgency today. In the meantime, thanks to the globalisation of markets, the abyss that separates the rich and powerful from the poor and weak countried widens on a daily basis. More than a billion people live in absolute poverty, whilst a billion people live in conditions of growing comfort, in a more and more limited world that is more and more at their disposal. From this point of view I don't see traces of an objective historical dialectics that makes easier the overcoming of the present world order.
T.N. But who's seeing the dialectics!? In this process (that you describe more or less correctly), I only see the need to resist a capitalism that is increasingly parasitical and predatory, whereby the legitimacy for itself and for the state and imperial instruments with which it is identified becomes fully based on war. Foucault and Deleuze have amply narrated that from disciplinary regimes (on individuals) of classical capitalism we have shifted to control regimes (of populations) of mature capitalism. Today that kind of legitimation integrates war. Misery and emargination are hence not only maintained but also continuously reproduced by imperial wars. New borders, both territorial and racial, are determined by imperial war. My only problem in the face of all this is to understand what resistance -- to war, misery, exploitation -- can be exercised. To your geography of domination, however correct it might be, must be opposed a topology of resistence: the subcomandante Marcos is from this point of view more important than the whole American revolution in military affairs. What interests me is the David in front of Goliath, of each imperial Goliath: the military would call it 'the resistance of the asymmetric'. For this reason the global frame of resistance becomes powerful: because despite the relentless and continuous fencing operation that the imperial armies produce, in globalisation free spaces, holes and folds through which exodus and resistance can be given are always found.
4. The revolution of the multitude
D.Z. I propose to conclude our discussion touching on a last theme: the question of the subject or the subjects of what for you and Hardt should be a revolution within Empire. I use the term 'revolution' in all its anthropological significance, since this is the understanding, I think, your communist project entails. You think, classically, of a transformation in the world that is not only political, but also cultural and ethical.
T.N. Apart from thinking revolution in ethical and political terms, we think it also in terms of a profound anthropological modification: of mixing and continuous hybridification of populations, of biopolitical metamorphosis. The first terrain of struggle is, from this point of view, the universal right to move, work and learn on the whole global surface. The revolution that we see is then not only within empire but also through empire. It is not something that fights against a Winter Palace (it's only the anti-imperialists who want to bomb the White House) but is spread against all the central and peripheral structures of power, to empty them and substract productive capacity from capital.
D.Z. You denominate the subject of this revolution within empire 'multitude'. I use the expression 'denominate' with a critical intention: 'multitude' is for me a slippery concept, the worst chosen of the whole conceptual arsenal of empire. Nowhere in your book you propose an analytical definition of it -- on the basis of political sociological categories -- that could help the reader to identify this collective subject in determined socio-political contexts, however open to globalisation. In plase of the analysis in many pages of your book (in particular on p. 329-43) one finds enphatic exhaltations of the 'power of the multitude' -- its power to 'be, love, transform, create' -- and its 'desire' of emancipation. I fear that here you are indebted to Marxist messianism and its grandiose political simplifications. The multitude appears to me to be an evanescent synopia of 1800's proletariat, the class that Marx had turned into the demiurge of history. I say this with bitterness and without any ironic inflection.
T.N. You are right in denouncing the lack of an a sufficient analytical definition of the multitude in Empire. I happily do self criticism, more so since Hardt and I are allready working on this term at the moment. I believe however that the concept of multitude, in the book can be understood at least according to three prospective lines. The first is the polemics with respect to the two definitions that have been given of populations inserted in the frame of sovereignty in modernity: 'people' and 'mass'. We think that multitude is a multiplicity of singularities, that can in no way find a representative unity; the people is on the other hand an artificial unity that modern state needs as the basis of the fiction of legitimation; whilst mass is a concept that realist(ic) sociology assumes at the basis of the capitalist mode of production (both in the liberal and the socialist figures of management of capital), in any case, it is an undifferentiated unity. On the other hand, for us, men are singularities, a multitude of singularities. A second meaning of multitude derives from the fact that we oppose it to 'class'. As a matter of fact, from the standpoint of a renewed sociology of labour, the worker increasingly presents himself as bearing immaterial capacities of production. He reappropriates the instrument/tool of labour. In immaterial productive labour, this instrument is the brain (and in this way, the Hegelian dialectics of the tool (instrument) is terminated. This singular capacity for labour constitutes the workers in a multitude rather than a class. Consequently, here we find a third terrain of definition, that is more specifically political. We regard the multitude as a political power sui generis: it is with respect to itself, i.e. in relation to a multitude of singularities, that new political categories must be defined. We think that these new political categories must be identified through an analysis of the common rather than through the hypostasis of unity. But this is not the place to advance any further with analysis: I say this very ironically.
D.Z. In my opinion, your book leaves the problems of new spaces and new subjects of global contestation unsolved, the issue of 'new militants', to quote Marco Revelli. Your indications go in the direction of a recuperation of political struggle at the global level, after the loss of meaning and efficacy of the engagement with political arenas of nation states. But it seems to me that you have not paid sufficient attention to the theme of the depoliticisation of the world by means of the great powers of technology and the economy, on which Massimo Cacciari recently insisted in his Duemilauno. Politica e futuro. On the contrary there are pages in your book that seem animated by a real technological and industrialistic fervour -- labourist, one might say -- in relation to the network society, to use Manuel Castells' lexicon. It is as if for you the technological and information revolution was the providential vector of a near communist revolution.
T.N. We pay much attention to the information revolution. Evidently this is because we remain Marxists and believe that if the law of value does no longer work as a law of measure of capitalist development, nonetheless labour remains man's dignity and the substance of his history. The technological and information revolution provides the possibility for new spaces of freedom. At the moment, it also determined new forms of slavery. But the worker's reappropriation of the instrument, the concentration of valorisation on cognitive workers' cooperation, the extension of knowledge and the importance of science in productive processes, all this determines new material conditions that must be positively considered from the perspective of transformation. The problem of political organisation must deal now with this multitude, just as the development of the trade union and socialist party had dealt with different and successive figures of the proletariat. The depoliticisation of the world operated by the great powers is not just a negative operation, when it is aimed at getting rid of and/or unmasking old powers and forms of representation that have no longer any real referent. Today is the moment of construing a 'new part', i.e. a 'new everything/all' (nuovo tutto) of the workers. With banality, one says a new left: the problem is unfortunately much deeper and the perspective desperate. But time is running out.
D.Z. In my view, your adoption of the term 'multitude' is also a an assertion of radical political anti-individualism. Empire entails the refusal of the tradition of possessive individualism. But I do not believe that this entails removing the liberal-democratic European tradition, in so far as through the concept of the multitude what is called for, a la Spinoza, an 'absolute democracy'. As for Spinoza, our problem isn't to bring isolated individuals together, but rather to construe in a cooperative way forms and instruments of the common and to lead to the (ontological) recognition of the common. From air to water up to the information production of networks, this is the terrain on which freedom lays: how is the common organised?
...Even though I can grasp the courage and theoretical originality you show in confronting thematics that I consider hard, I am not satisfied with the proposals of 'nomadism' and of 'miscegenation' as instruments of cosmopolitical struggle to be carried out within the parasitical crysalis of Empire. Nomadism and miscegenation, you claim, are weapons to use against the subjection to reactionary ideologies such as nation, ethicity, people and race. The 'multitude' becomes powerful thanks to its capacity to circulate, 'navigate', contaminate. I tend to think that there is in your views here an underestimantion of the fact that nomadism, miscegenation and cultural creolisation are effects of great fluxes of migration that were induced by the increasing international waste (sperequazione) of power and wealth. Serge Latouche has claimed that due to these 'deculturation', 'deterritorialisation and planetary 'unrootedness' effects, one might talk of a real failure of the project of modernisation, of a check (scacco) of its Promethean universalism.
T.N. I am very pleased that you feel, with adequate theoretical enthusiasm, the efficacy of our theses on nomadism and miscegenation: I think I can interpret your words this way. However, your judgement is inclined to pessimism. I have often confronted Serge Latouche on these issues and I must tell you that, even though I don't accept his position, this isn't becuase I don't this that it is true on many points, but simply because it is full of omnivorous and catastrophic dimensions.
I don't understand why one must ridicule as 'promethean universalism' the fact that many people around the world run away, migrate in the search for hope. I don't think migrants only escape from misery, I think they also search for freedom, knowledge and wealth. Desire is a constructive power and it is all the stronger when it is rooted in poverty: poverty, in fact, is not simply misery, but also possibility of many things that desire points to and labour produces. The migrant has the dignity of those who searches for truth, production, happiness. This is the strength that breaks the enemy's capacity of isolating and exploiting, and eliminates, together, with the supposed prometheanism, any heroic and/or theological bent to the behaviour of the poor and the subversive. If anything, the prometheanism of the poor and of the migrants is the salt of the earth and the world has really changed by nomadism and miscegenation.
D.Z. I would like to ask you, finally, -- even if I realise the extreme difficulty of replying -- what are the institutional forms and the normative modalities of what you call 'counter-Empire', i.e. the 'alternative political organisation of global fluxes and exchange'? This is the political organisation that, you claim, the 'creative forces of the multitude are capable of autonomously construct'. (p.17) What does this consist of, concretely? All I managed to infer from a careful examination of your pages is that it will have to be an imperial political form. This, I think, is not very satisfying both on the theoretical and political plane. But it is particularly symptomatic of your adherence to a position that closely recalls the Marxist theory of the withering away of the state. Empire is the institutional shell within which states and their juridical ordering will be dissolved, will 'fall asleep' (otmiranie), as Lenin said. In line here also with Marxist orthodoxy -- from the Jewish Question onwards -- the whole doctrine of the 'state of right' and of the defense of fundamental freedoms is ignored in your book, together with the issues of respect for political minorities and people's self-determination. In your pages the power of the mutlitude is conceived as an unlimited constituent energy, global and permanent: a collective energy that expresses 'generative power, desire and love'. The 'multitude' is a sort of historical uterus from where a new mode of life and a new species will emerge: 'toward homohomo, a humanity square, enriched by the collective intelligence and the love of the community' (p.193).
Dont you think that all this is too full of prophetism, of generous wishful thinking, to be able to found a concrete perspective of resistance and struggle against all that seems, to me as much as it does to you, unacceptable in the globalised world we live in?
T.N. I don't know how to reply to your last questions. I almost feel that, tired, we propose for confrontation perceptions and fixed ideas rather than argumentative lines. You have surely studied 'the withering of the state' in marxist classics more than I have, since I was more concerned with problems of transition. In telling you that all this seems to me very ridiculous I think I can only meet with your approval. However, I think that the whole doctrine of 'state of right' has grown very old, and that one needs to get one's hands on its substance of freedom unless one wants to end up like so many Don Ferrantes who keep philosophising in the void of meaning. On what the multitude will do against Empire, I willingly put my trust in what the militants of global movements think and do. Believe me, they are much more capable and intelligent than we were when we were young.
*Published on Reset, October 2002.
An improved version of this translation by Arianna Bove was published in Radical Philosophy 120, July/ August 2003