Lost in the Crowd? Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Multitude in Argentina

Negri on his favorite subject

Introduction

In their book Empire Hardt and Negri argue that today world capitalism has entered a new stage of development. ‘Empire’ is different from imperialism and is bigger than any particular country including the US. ‘Empire’ is opposed by the ‘multitude’ that is different from, and yet has greater potential for resistance, than pre-existing conceptions of class organisation.[1]

I welcome the challenge posed by Hardt and Negri.[2] But it is necessary to test this theory against the more standard neo-liberal, social democratic and Marxist approaches. Negri has himself claimed that his theory can explain recent events in Argentina. After the World Social Forum of January 2002, he stated that the Multitude is “walking on two legs”; the ‘movements of movements’ represented by Genoa, and the Argentinazo of December 2001. So here we have the opportunity to put Negri’s theory under scrutiny as a ‘new communist manifesto’ and as a political action program. ‘Empire’s’ initial appeal was its ‘fit’ with the eclectic notions of multi-class ‘networks’ or ‘movement of movements’ that is to be found in the World Social Forum of Porto Alegre (Hardt, 2002b; WSF, 2003). This now reverberates back with Negri and Cocco citing the WSF of 2002 as mounting the worldwide struggle of the Multitude against Empire (2002).

When the Argentinazo bursts on the scene in December 2001 it becomes the first clear expression of the Multitude against Empire. Negri and Cocco seize on it to demonstrate the fruitfulness of their concepts. The multitude came out on the streets on December 19 and 20 uniting the middle class and unemployed across class lines as an opposition to Empire (Negri and Cocco, 2002).[3] So the case of Argentina should allow us to see how far Hardt and Negri’s basic theory fits with the reality of a semi-peripheral or ‘developing’ country undergoing an economic, social and political upheaval.

Empire vs imperialism?

Empire puts forward the proposition that Empire is not located in any one imperialist country, especially the US. The US is not about to be replaced by Europe or China. Rather Empire transcends any nation state and is a global power with a legal/political repressive framework. For Negri this is a progressive shift from imperialism to empire created by the Multitude that now has the capacity to end the constituted power of Empire. Any reversion by the major powers back from the historic advance of Empire to ‘oil wars’ is regressive because it reactivates old populisms, fundamentalisms and even fascism, and hinders the formation of the Multitude (Negri and Cocco, 2002).

The strongest argument in Empire is that Empire and Multitude are now facing off directly without mediating institutions. This is posed as the stark opposition of the constituent power of the Multitude confronting the constituted power of Empire (Hardt and Negri, 2000:184-185). The question arises how do we identify the power protagonists on both sides? A problem here is that if Empire has no official nation-state backing what role is left to the various states at the centre and the periphery? Do we ignore the US sponsored invasions of Iraq, Bosnia (Gowan at al, 2001) or Afghanistan (Zizek, 2002b) or are they a manifestation of the regression of US imperialism from the global challenges of Empire? The latter it seems. Hardt and Negri attribute the US war drive to a regression from Empire back to US Imperialism (Hardt, 2002c; Negri, 2002b, 2002e; Negri and Cocco, 2002).

However, if Empire is legal/political framework that succeeds imperialism in the extraction of surplus value for the purpose of capital accumulation, surely it has to have a territorial base i.e. states. Negri talks of the ‘global aristocracies of multinational capitalism’. The closest he comes to defining this is to talk of the leaders of powerful states, such France and Germany, opposed to Bush’s ‘imperialist’ reaction (2002g). Hardt counsels these ‘elites’ to resist the US war drive in the name of the ‘Empire’ (2002). Here we have a clear statement of the inchoate, progressive Empire against the backward and outmoded imperialism.[4]

It seems that it is ‘international institutions’ such as the IMF/World Bank, and the UN Security Council as well as the ‘global aristocracies’ who own the multinational firms and banks that constitute the power of Empire.[5] On the face of it this is a new ‘ultra-imperialism’ where it is supposedly rational for capital to unite and dissolve national antagonisms. However, like the earlier theory of ultra-imperialism, these propositions seriously misunderstand the inbuilt nature of the rivalry between the major powers for a zero-sum repartition of the world.[6] In the post September 11 2001 world, it seems that these epochal rivalries have re-asserted themselves over fundamental questions of which imperialism should control the world. The question is, which set of social relations, imperialist, or of the Empire, manifests itself in Argentina?

Multitude vs proletariat

Second, who or what is the Multitude and how does it resist Empire on the ground? What has happened to the concept of class? Where have the old sites of class struggle gone? Hardt and Negri argue that the proletariat has been reconstituted as the Multitude in which ’communication workers’ who produce immaterial labour are the core.[7] The relationship of the urban middle class to the unemployed worker is rewritten. Both become included in the overarching concept of biopower that says that all whose bodies cooperate in production part of the Multitude.[8] It seems that a class alliance between the unemployed and the ruined middle class is no longer necessary because they are two elements of the same ‘class’ united in the common production of immaterial labour. Does this mean the Empire extracts most of its surplus from immaterial labour? The theoretical status of immaterial labour has been unclear because it lacked application (Blunden, 2001). Now that it has been apparently concretised in Argentina we have the opportunity to put this concept to a reality test. (Negri, 2002; Negri and Cocco 2002)

Let’s summarise the main arguments in Empire as they apply to Argentina. Empire is the product of the tendential shift from US imperialism under pressure from the Multitude below. US imperialism has exhausted its power to extract surplus value by dominating countries like Argentina as semi-colonies or client states (which is why the current warlike regressions are seen as episodic exceptions). The ruling classes (of the non-American powers and multilateral sectors of the US ruling class) are now the proponents of Empire. Empire is de-territorialized so Argentina is not a separate sovereign state but part of Empire. Its locus of constituted power is the multinationals and multinational organisations that displace national institutions. The Argentinean Multitude is recomposed around biopower relations of oppression and exploitation to now unite former class opponents. This Multitude confronts Empire unmediated by the Argentinean state. Rather UN sanctioned policing ultimately regulates the extraction of the collective, creative, biopower of the Argentinean Multitude. In the Argentinazo the Multitude revolts and attempts to create its own constituent power.

Let us now see if Hardt and Negri’s conception of the Multitude up against Empire can explain the Argentinazo which opened a period of pre-revolutionary ferment. Does Hardt and Negri’s conception of the Multitude account for the uprising and subsequent events? Less than a year-and-a-half later the election of the left-liberal Peronist Kirchner in May 2003 has seen the Argentinean working class contained within the frame of national politics. This seems to be the result of the return of the radicalised middle class to the left Peronism of Kirchner, and the cooptation of large sectors of the unemployed into the state apparatus by the labour bureaucracy. Was the failure of the Argentinazo to complete its mission the result of a weakness of the Multitude against the constituted power of the Empire? Or perhaps Argentina remains trapped as a semi-colony of US and EU imperialism so that its crisis has been contained by the traditional institutions of the Peronist national bourgeoisie in alliance with the bureaucratic union leaders. Where is the evidence that Empire has displaced Imperialism in Argentina?

Argentine nation state displaced by “Empire”?

The theory of imperialism would point to Argentina being in a similar situation in Latin America to that of Russia in Europe in 1917. If not the ‘weakest link’ in those countries exploited by imperialism, the severity of its crisis is undoubted. Clearly this conception pits nations against nations. Argentina is a semi-colony oppressed by imperialism and is engaged in a struggle for self-determination. The Argentinean people recognise national oppression and this shapes their anti-imperialist politics. The Argentinean bourgeois have a class interest in acting as agents of imperialism, and this role includes containing the resistance of the popular masses by appearing paradoxically as defenders of the nation against imperialism. Peronism balanced these conflicting class interests for the Argentine bourgeoisie in the post-WW2 period in the form of the popular or patriotic front that drew the working class into a cross class nationalist alliance.

But, says Negri, the crisis of neo-liberalism and the shift to the post-modern global Empire is in part a response to successful colonial struggles against imperialism. The result is that the national (or local) is now re-constituted by the deterritorialised Empire that exploits biopower globally. This means that colonial and semi-colonial sovereign states no longer exist and that the national revolutions are transcended by a post-modern globalisation that obliterates national borders. The Empire now exploits the labour of the Multitude without the mediation of the nation state. Thus, for Negri, wars of re-colonisation are the backward aberration on the part of rogue ‘imperialist’ states that must be opposed. Not by equally backward national liberation struggles as advocated by some elements in the WSF, rather by a ‘vertical’ anti-globalising ‘movement of movements’ expressed by more progressive elements of the WSF.[9]

By contrast, the Marxist account of ‘neo-liberal globalisation’ does not posit the end of national politics. On the contrary, the crisis and restructuring of international capital requires the state to impose the law of value by means of neo-liberal austerity measures.[10] The state is required to devalue capital and measure both constant and variable capital in order to re-create the conditions for restoring the rate of profit.[11] Abstract labour as the measure of value is necessarily material combining both manual and mental labour in the production of commodities. Capital drives state policies that creates unemployment, underemployment, flexibilisation and casualisation in manufacturing, services, communications and knowledge industries.

Neo-liberal restructuring therefore means national state deregulation and restructuring of national capitals in all industries (including the privatisation of state owned assets) as part of the ongoing concentration and centralisation of capital globally to increase surplus-extraction and revive profits. This process requires that the global market directly asserts itself in national economies eliminating all barriers formerly managed by the nation state. It also requires that the nation state remains very active in managing the social and political ‘crises’ that result within the frame of national politics. Does this hold for Argentina?

Finance capital ‘re-cycles’ Argentina

At the beginning of the 20th century Lenin once referred to Argentina as a ‘British commercial colony’.[12] Despite its nominal political independence its economy was largely ‘owned’ by British banks. A large share of export earnings from Argentina’s internationally competitive primary production sector was exported as profits on foreign investment. In the post WW2 period, rising export earnings allowed Argentina to partially insulate its domestic economy, but this failed when prices slumped. The world capitalist crisis that began in the 1970’s exposed Argentina’s semi-colonial structural dependency and its indebtedness grew rapidly. The neo-liberal policies of the 1990s were designed to allow international capital to restructure the economy, buying up the best performing assets and closing down the least efficient. The cycle was complete. At the dawn of the 21st century, Argentina’s finances were once more recolonised by the international financial institutions.

I argue here that Argentina has always been semi-colony of British, and more recently, of US and EU imperialism, all of which are now trying to solve their economic crises at the expense of the Argentinean people. Argentinean workers and oppressed are in turn, ‘resisting’ being made the ‘fall guys’ of these imperialist plans. Not to recognise the persistence of imperialist crisis and anti-imperialist struggle is to ignore the main thrust of the Argentinazo – its nationalism –and to fail to confront the reactionary consequences of an anti-imperialist struggle that does not transcend nationalism.

In Argentina we have a fairly classic crisis of a breakdown of the economy due to the relentless extraction of surplus value. Was this caused by the policy failures of the multilateral financial institutions of Empire? In which case, Hardt and Negri are in the same camp as the neo-liberals and Blairites who propose a regulation of international finance to overcome such defaults to imperialism. Or was the crisis caused by deep-seated and continuous imperialist domination of Argentina?

In the case of the former, it is true of course that the so-called global finance institutions oversaw this process. Stiglitz argues that the crisis is one of financial mismanagement of the IMF and World Bank (2002, 69-70). Argentina went from IMF ‘showcase’ to IMF ‘basket case’. Bhagwati says that this was the deliberate policy of the Clinton administration to impose the rule of Washington and Wall St on the world economy (2000). They propose liberal humanitarian (Blairite-type) solutions to reform the international financial institutions and to ‘rescue’ Argentina.

Yet what if the crisis was not one of a mere failure of these institutions to implement the correct policies. Perhaps they acted exactly as they were supposed to in pumping profits back home in the interests of their shareholders i.e. the US (and to a lesser extent European) imperialist ruling class. In the final analysis the policies of these institutions are designed to serve the interests of international finance capital based exclusively in the imperialist countries. Any ‘rescue’ of Argentina on their part would therefore be designed to protect their longer term investments. Therefore, to project onto these institutions a global rationality that puts them in the service of a deterritorialised international capital is utopian.

Argentina as client state

Nor can we blame the favourite target of the intellectual apologists and media in the US and EU –the failure of Argentine national institutions. This neo-liberal modernisation theory ignores Argentina’s structural dependency. The military regime and the Alfonsin and Menem regimes, whatever policies they adopted, were increasingly incapable of acting independently of the world economic crisis and its worsening impact on Argentina.[13] These regimes were driven mainly by external pressures and shocks, principally the debt crisis (Rock, 2002) into adopting neo-liberal crisis management policies that generated a worsening crisis of political legitimacy.

For these reasons the state could not resolve the successive crises that resulted from the inability and refusal of Argentinean workers to create more surplus value to make more profits and pay back yet more debt. In the 1980s this led to falling profits. The Banks and firms in Argentina started to fail. The IMF and World Bank stepped in to rectify this with the whole structural adjustment package, demanding balanced budgets, cuts in social spending, wages and conditions for workers, and privatisation of state assets as conditions for more loans.[14]

International investors continued to prop up the bankrupt economy right up to the Argentinazo. In the period since, Duhalde and Kirchner have tried to do deals with the IMF and World Bank that will require Argentine workers to continue to pay the debt albeit in easier instalments. Far from the Argentinean state being sidelined by Empire, it remains a ‘client state’, firmly in centre stage as the repressive instrument of imperialism in the financial re-colonising process.[15]

What we see in reality is US imperialism, re-colonising its semi-colony Argentina (not an abstract case of the ‘global reconfiguring the local’) to take more direct control of the economy using the local client state as its agent. This poses clearly the solution: that of anti-imperialism against both the US and its local/national agents. This fact is the foremost political lesson in Argentina today. The single most popular demand raised by the unemployed, the occupying workers and the ruined middle class is “they all most go”! This refers to the ‘political class’ of the right and left who are all perceived as being the servants of imperialism.[16]

This is hardly a case of the Argentinean ‘multitude’ bypassing the state and acting directly, and vertically, against Empire. The ‘national question’ becomes increasingly posed as the social question i.e. class against class. It is against this pressing reality that we have to consider the question of whether Hardt and Negri have provided an analysis of the power of the Multitude able to replace that of the working class and oppressed people to complete this historic task.

The Argentinean ‘multitude’

If Empire is still US imperialism behind the ‘face lift’ of multilateral agencies, what of the opposition to Empire – the multitude? Let us see how Negri and Cocco view the role of the main sectors in struggle.

Negri and Cocco (2002) identify three elements that constitute the Argentinazo. First, are the unemployed. The Argentinazo happened despite, or rather because of, the rise of unemployment and the ‘dissolution of the fundamental wage relation’. “…the almost complete disappearance of the actively employed workforce represented by the Peronist unions and the state did not stop the recent, solid and radical social mobilisations.” Therefore, say Hardt and Negri, the Argentinazo was not caused by a classic workers uprising but by the ‘social movement’ of the unemployed, separated from the wage relation, and now part of the Multitude.


[a] The Unemployed

The piquetero movement[17] is a major development. Originating in the north of Salta around Mosconi and other towns in 1991, these protests threatened to spread all over Argentina. Police repression used against the piqueteros generated a rising militancy and armed defence by the movement. To contain this militancy, successive governments have handed out job programs administered by the traditional union leadership and by new layers of bureaucrats thrown up by the movement. The effect of this has been to dampen down the movement, but it has not quelled a series of national assemblies that have continued to make militant demands, challenge the bureaucratic leaderships, and develop a range of effective tactics. James Petras commented that after the Argentinazo the nature of the demands were very ‘left’. The original piqueteros 21 point program of July 2001 included demands to repudiate the national debt and nationalise the banks and industries, and subsequent assemblies have raised the demand for a ‘workers and peoples government!

How to explain the militancy of the leading layers of the reserve army of labour? The unemployed industrial workers figure strongly in Negri and Cocco’s analysis. They are evidence of the demise of the industrial proletariat as Empire has moved from industrial production to the social production of immaterial labour in Argentina. They are no longer in the capital wage labour relation, and nor are they citizens so represented, so this cannot explain their political role. Yet they have staged massive insurrections in the north of Argentina that have spread to other parts of the country. For Negri and Cocco then they are part of the Multitude, because of the ‘dissolution of the wage relation’, and because of their inclusion in the bio-political reproduction of production, where ‘marginalised’ workers complement the ‘flexibilisation’ of social production.[18]

Negri and Cocco explain the inclusion of the piqueteros in the Argentinazo as the ‘unity of singularities’ in the collective self-creation of the Multitude. Here they abstract from the concrete condition of unemployment to the imputed collective interests of the Multitude. This ignores the immediate interests of unemployed for work and for a living food basket. It overlooks the ability of the Duhalde regime to divide unemployed from employed on the basis of workfare schemes that tie the unemployed into the state welfare apparatus. Most important it glosses over the class barriers between unemployed industrial workers and the urban middle class. The irony is that the cross class alliance that emerged during the Argentinazo was motivated not by collective social labour, but by a spontaneous uprising against the regime for abandoning the interests of Argentineans as ‘social citizens’ constituted by the semi-colonial nation state. Negri and Cocco idealise the end of class differences brought about by Empire against the reality of different classes taking common refuge in the utopia of the failed patriotic front of Peronism. In the process Negri and Cocco divert attention from the real class alliances that have to be painstakingly built out of the wreckage of nationalism as the basis for socialism in Argentina.

Most Marxists would say that the nature of the crisis shows that the capital relation is still dominant. The neo-liberal program de-industrialised Argentina creating massive pools of unemployed especially in working class neighbourhoods of the big cities and the remote regions such as Salta in the north. More than 1200 companies have gone bankrupt and cast hundreds of thousands onto the scrap heap. These firms cover a range of domestic industries from steel, petrochemical, potteries, to more everyday food and textiles etc. Over 30% of Argentineans are now unemployed (and another 30% are ‘underemployed’) creating a reserve army of mainly displaced industrial workers who have recently and militantly entered national politics to demand jobs and decent welfare payments. The reality is that the unemployed see themselves as part of the working class aligned with employed workers.

For Marxists, unemployed industrial workers do not signify an end to the capital relation. Their role as a reserve army reinforces the capital relation. Thus at the level of appearances (distribution) they are divided from employed workers. By themselves they do not have a direct lever on the productive apparatus.[19] While road-blocks may bring transport, and some production, to a halt, they expose the piqueteros to state violence isolated from the employed workers organisations. For that reason, piquetero politics has been economistic in making immediate demands on the national state, even if using increasingly militant means of making them.[20] This means that unemployed are a force that can have only a limited progressive role. Traditionally Marxists have argued that the success of workers’ struggle must be decided one way or the other by the intervention of organised workers power at the point of production. Rather than idealise the unity of unemployed and employed as collective singularities (the ‘absolute democracy’ of the Multitude), Marxists find ways to unite the unemployed in defence of exiting jobs so that workers can use their labour to fight for jobs for all.[21]

[b] The Middle Class

Negri and Cocco’s second element of the Argentinazo is the ‘middle class’ which unites with the unemployed in the Multitude. “How was it possible to politically ally side by side the unemployed piqueteros excluded by the neo-liberal restructuring and suffering from job cuts and cuts in social spending, with the ‘ahoristas;’ –the small savers and private urban service workers whose wages were artificially inflated by monetary policy of the currency board? This was possible because these two elements have many more things in common than the traditional theory of classes [Marxism] reveals and in fact tries to conceal.” (Negri and Cocco).

In other words, what did the unemployed and the ‘ruined middle class’ have in common? In Argentina the term middle class is used loosely to mean well-paid professional workers, as well as self-employed and even small bourgeoisie.[22] It was the urban middle class, especially in Buenos Aires, that prospered under the economic nationalism of the post-war period, and managed to survive relatively intact during the neo-liberal years. But with the onset of the current crisis this middle class has been massively squeezed. It was hit hard by the collapse of the banking system in late 2001 and it is the ruined urban middle class that is the main force behind the formation of the Popular Assemblies (Assembleas Populares or PAs), and the massive rallies that brought down de la Rua in December 2001.

According to Hardt and Negri the rise of immaterial labour is displacing the traditional industrial factory worker and is now the leading edge of the Multitude (2000:53). This means also that the immaterial workers are the vanguard of the Multitude against Empire. Negri and Cocco make much of the failure of classic Marxism to explain the ‘cross class’ alliance of the unemployed and urban middle class. Implied in this is that the ‘urban middle class’ is comprised mainly of immaterial workers who have a strong identity of interest with the unemployed. We can test this by looking at the class composition of the Popular Assemblies and the demands raised by the PAs. Here we have combined salaried workers whose salaries were paid via the banks with self-employed and small employers. Hardt and Negri define immaterial labour in terms of provision of services that do not produce a material commodity such as intellectual, communications and linguistic work. Since such ‘immaterial’ or service workers are a significant element in the urban class structure, did they play a distinctive role in the PAs?

Are the immaterial workers the most politically advanced sector of struggle? The evidence so far suggests that this is not so. The PAs were formed spontaneously after the Argentinazo around the demands “all of them out”, non-payment of the national debt and the nationalisation of the banks. But these demands do not have a clear anti-capitalist content. They express an opposition to the ‘political class’ who are perceived as ‘in the pay’ of imperialism. At one level they also express nostalgia for a return to a national populist politics since abandoned by Menem and de la Rua. In the last analysis these are populist statist demands made on the basis of all citizens’ right to have their small savings protected by the national state from the multinational banks.

The PAs have in general also taken a strong stand against political party representation of the ‘left’ as well as the ‘right’ rejecting socialism as a solution to the national crisis. The broadening of the PA’s political demands to include solidarity with other sectors has been slow in developing and usually only in those PAs where the initiative of a minority linked to workers’ movements or political parties has outweighed the more traditional petty bourgeois elements. Most important, however, since the Argentinazo, among those PAs in the working class neighbourhoods, political alliances have formed with the piqueteros but also with the occupied factories. This reflects a differentiation between those PAs who have reverted to negotiations with the state, and those who have rejected ‘negotiations’ and ‘pacts’ with the state, and now fight for radical demands including the nationalisation of workplaces under workers control. Rather than supporting Hardt and Negri’s immaterial middle class as a new vanguard, we see here the ‘radicalised middle class’ recognising its common interest with the left wing of the industrial labour movement (self-organised as a unity of employed and unemployed) – a reality that appears to throw the concept of the Multitude completely out of play.

[c] Multitude as revolutionary subject

The third and last element of the Argentinazo put forward by Negri and Cocco (2002) is the role of the Multitude as revolutionary subject. Since they reject any revolution arising out of the capital-labour relation, the self-emancipation of the Multitude has no relationship to the classic struggle between workers and capitalists over ownership and control of the means of production. Therefore there is no perspective of building unions, occupying factories, taking over production and generalising this movement into strike committees, general strikes, and ultimately a seizure of state power.[23]


“The politics of the Multitude is constituent of the work of the Multitude and vice-versa, definitely outside the dialectics of ‘capital and wage labour’ whose synthesis is always the development of capital. Indeed, the constitutive power has nothing to do with the outdated interests of power: unity of the subject (people), the forms of their composition (social relations between individuals) and ways of government (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, simple or combined).”

In other words, the constituent power of the Multitude will not contest ownership of the factory, challenge the bourgeoisie in parliament, or seek to overthrow governments. Rather its power is to resist and exit Empire by transforming it from within. So what has been transformed in Argentina since the Argentinazo? I would argue that the development of the factory occupations is the only significant transformation to take place in the development of the revolution. Not only is Negri completely blind to this, he cannot recognise that the other sectors or ‘movements’, the Popular Assemblies, and the Madres, are increasingly recognising the occupations as the key to the success of the revolution.[24]

As we have seen, Argentina was subjected to vicious neo-liberal restructuring of its protected industries. As the bankruptcies mounted in the last years, many employers simply walked out and abandoned their plant. Rather than accept that they had lost their jobs and join the unemployed masses, workers began to occupy the factories, shops and clinics to keep them producing. There are over 100 factories under occupation and they constitute a major advance as centres of potential workers control over production, but also organised community services including self-help, self-defence, and of cultural activities.

What began as sheer basic survival mode for most workers has proven to be a huge political school for revolution. This has produced a real challenge to the system of private property. Employers are trying to regain control and many attempts by police and hired thugs to break up the occupations have taken place. The workers have called on support from the piqueteros and the PAs and this has seen most occupations successfully defended. The defence of the occupations has become a catalyst for unity across all the sectors of struggle. Some have created jobs and are backing the call of the Subte (underground railway) workers for a 6 hour day and an extra shift. We now see the beginnings of a real unity of employed, unemployed, the ‘ruined middle class’, the ‘mothers’ and the students, coming together.

For Negri and Cocco, however, the occupations (some like Zanon go back over a year before the Argentinazo) do not figure in their analysis, since they are the old ‘horizontal’ backbone of the industrial proletariat and are an impediment to the emergence of the Multitude. As we shall see, this single omission renders their concept of the Multitude totally unreal as a revolutionary subject.

The key role of factory occupations

Of all these sectors in struggle, clearly the factory occupations pose the biggest challenge to capital. The occupations have now become the ideological testing ground for the whole movement. We do find a coexistence of production and politics here, but one in which production relations are determinant. Basic issues in this debate are: First, the workers have control over means of production. Second, they are proving that they can produce essential commodities without employers or managers. Third, this has inspired other elements to defend these occupations uniting sectors of resistance. Fourth, the political question of who should own and control these factories is being debated.

The state authorities and no doubt the US imperialists are alarmed by the threat posed by the occupations. It is trying to find a way to return the factories to their private owners by allowing workers to lease the factories and pay outstanding debts before they retain any of the proceeds. This is opposed by some of the key occupations like Brukman[25] and Zanon[26] where there is a campaign to get the state to nationalise factories under workers control and without compensation to the private owners.

What is at stake here surely is the classic Marxist concept of ‘dual power’ rather than Hardt and Negri’s misconception of ‘constituent power’. The new power that workers constitute is not against the constituted power of Empire, but is the power over the means of production owned and controlled by imperialism and backed by local state power. This can be the only meaning of ‘constituent power’ for the working class – i.e. workers’ power. In Argentina it is spoken of clearly, as does Hebe de Bonafini, as the basis for a workers and people’s power over their own lives. “If we win Zanon, we can win them all… we can be an example to the world”. [27]

Why have these sectors of struggle emerged? Returning to the question posed at the start, can they be explained (even predicted) on the basis of the Marxist theory of imperialism, or is it necessary to develop a new theory of Empire to do so? I suggest that what we find in Argentina today is a classic class struggle argued by Marxists for more than a century. Argentina is a semi-colony whose infrastructure has been largely destroyed by restructuring its productive base. But it is those traditional workers displaced by the neo-liberal de-industrialisation that have formed the powerful piquetero movement.

Similarly, the factory occupations are not the response of immaterial labour to a global empire, but the life and death struggle of manual workers for survival when their factories close down. The ruined middle class is partly composed of communications and social workers. Are they leading the ‘resistance’ to Empire? They have been politicised but their politics does not of itself go beyond radical opposition to the ‘political class’. It requires a radicalisation of the PAs on the part of those worker or ruined petty bourgeois elements in support of the leading sectors in struggle. A growing reserve army of impoverished industrial workers and a ‘declassed’ middle class, formerly united by a Peronist populism, and now united around the defence of production, are both symptoms of crisis-ridden semi-colonial capitalism and not Empire.

While the divisions within the proletariat and middle class are historically deep and wide (the legacies of the dictatorship and Menenism) the severity of the crisis has radicalised some sectors of the middle class into an alliance with employed and unemployed workers against the US, IMF and the Argentine ‘political class’. Again, these historic divisions are those we would expect from the theory of imperialism. Peronism was a system of national patronage in which large segments of the labour movement were clients of the national bourgeoisie. It is the inability of the Argentine bourgeoisie to use its political patronage to buy off the more militant sectors in struggle that has created the ‘crisis of Peronism’.[28] So the Multitude in Argentina looks very much like the old proletariat rising up against its long-time local and imperialist exploiters and oppressors and raising the possibility of a socialist solution to the crisis.

The question of state power

The demand ‘all of them out, not one should remain ‘ is interpreted by some as a full-scale challenge to the bourgeois state, and by others as an invitation for workers’ leaders to contest elections. This difference of opinion was recently centred on the question of boycotting the upcoming elections for the Presidency called by Duhalde,[29] and the question of the Constituent Assembly. Everyone, whatever their political colour, sees the Argentinean state as the locally constituted power. How appropriate that the debate over who should hold state power should be so clearly posed as a test of Hardt and Negri’s ‘constituent power’!

The militant piquetero assemblies with the backing of the more radical PAs and factory occupations have consistently called for workers to organise independently of the state and put forward the demand for “workers to power”. This amounts to the demand that the workers and the oppressed people replace the bourgeois state with a new state. Yet it is not widely perceived as the classic Leninist/Trotskyist ‘Workers’ government’ or workers’ ‘dictatorship.[30] There is widespread confusion about the form of such a state. Yet there is a serious move towards dual power as the class struggle tendency calls for mass actions such as more road blocks, indefinite general strikes and the formation of self-defence committees. The question of power is being posed also by those who advocated an ‘active boycott’ against the forthcoming elections to bring Duhalde down.” [31]

Some left reformists, for example the ‘Citizens’ Forum’ sponsored by Elisa Carrio, Luis Zamora and CTA chair de Gennaro, see the elections as an opportunity to put forward a Constituent Assembly under the existing constitution. This of course cannot be a challenge to constituted power. Others want the Constituent Assembly to come out of an active boycott which either means that the ‘active boycott’ is expected to fail or they know in advance that organs of dual power will fail (PO-Workers’ Party). Yet others want the mobilisation of workers direct action to result in a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly (PTS-Socialist Workers Party).[32]

What we have here is a case of old-fashioned class politics, where the various currents on the left contest the leadership of the proletariat. Those who want to contest the elections short of an active boycott and general strike to bring down Duhalde are falling into the electoral trap. After a year of pre-revolutionary struggles and the gradual uniting of the sectors in struggle, Duhalde is using the elections to steer the workers’ movement into a blind alley. It is no accident that those on the left who take this line are those who have historically taken a stage-theory approach to national liberation.[33]

For this reason it is crucial for those on the class struggle left to take a lead in organising and mobilising all the sectors in struggle under the banner of direct democracy. This is necessary to establish the political independence of the working class as the revolutionary class subject capable of leading and winning a socialist revolution. This class independence will grow out of the struggle for national congresses of rank and file delegates of all the sectors in struggle dedicated to putting forward and acting on a program of demands such as the piqueteros 21 demands of 2001. It is also expressed in the formation of self-defence organisations to defend the interests of the workers and oppressed people from state and military reaction.

The independence of the working class is the key to the fate of the ruined middle class whose politics can easily be drawn into radical right or fascist movements directed at the working class. The remains of the Peronist movement can easily turn into a fascist front backed by the military to smash any new Argentinazo. Yet the stronger the proletarian movement the more will the ruined middle class gravitate to its leadership. But because this poses the question of state power and private property, the middle class has to be convinced that its survival as petty bourgeois is no longer possible, and that socialism will at least provide them with a future less than barbaric.

This is why the program of the proletariat and oppressed people should include demands that allow the ruined middle class and self-employed farmers, artisans etc to keep what petty property they have, so that they can be included in the future plans for the economy. Further, demands that seek to nationalise the big banks and big factories, agricultural co-operatives and small farms should be integrated into the plan to ensure that food and other necessities are produced. It will become clear through this experience that small holders, and the self-employed, were never exploited by the workers but by the rich owners of capital.

The unfinished national revolution

I argue that the analysis above demonstrates is that it is not Hardt and Negri’s Empire or the Multitude that figure in the Argentinean crisis, but the class forces found in Lenin’s ‘imperialism’ and Trotsky’s ‘uneven and combined development’. Argentina’s crisis can be understood as one that results from US imperialism attempting to solve its own crisis at the expense of the workers and people of not only Argentina but of the oppressed workers and peasants of Latin America.

In the first instance a successful Argentinean national revolution must be a workers’ and poor peoples’ revolution in one country. In the process is will become clear that this revolution must become a socialist revolution to succeed. This is because national revolutions do not miraculously transform themselves into international movements that can transform and disarm Empire from within, but come face to face with the armed reaction of imperialism. Nor will such a revolution survive without the support of a federation of socialist republics in Latin America – at least Chile and Brazil, or Mexico and Venezuela. But that alone will not be sufficient. It will not overcome the problem of backwardness and economic scarcity that remains the hallmark of the colonial and semi-colonial world. Unless one or more imperialist states forms the basis of such a socialist federation, LA ‘revolutions’ will succumb to sustained imperialist military and economic embargos and to their own relative economic backwardness.[35]

The US has a history of military intervention in Latin America. Its ‘new world order’ requires a stepping up of that intervention. That is why it promotes the various counter-revolutionary wars it calls ‘Plans’ such as the Plan Colombia. It has recently included these incursions as part of the ‘war on terror’ to change ‘regimes’ in so-called ‘failed states’. The outcome of the revolution in Argentina will be decided in the last instance by the international solidarity of workers in the advanced capitalist states refusing to allow their ruling classes to use the ‘war on terror’ as a pretext for ‘preventative wars’ to smash the popular and workers revolution against imperialism and capitalism.

References

Balakrishnan, Gopal (2000) ‘Hardt and Negri’s Empire’. New Left Review, 5 Sept/Oct. http://newlefreview.net/NLR23909.shtml

Beasley-Murray, Jon (2001) ‘Lenin in America’. Review of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 2000

http://www.art.man.ac.uk/SPANISH/Writings/empire.html

Bhagwati, Gadget (2000) The Winds the Hundred Days. The MIT Press, Cambridge.

Blunden, Andy (2001) ‘Negri & Hardt’s Concept of Immaterial Labour.’ http://home.mira.net/~andy/blackwood/empire03.html

Brown, Nicholas and Mire Szeman/Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (2002) ‘Subterranean Passages of Thought’: Empire’s Inserts.’ Cultural Studies 16 (2) 193-212.

Callinicos, Alex (2001) ‘Toni Negri in Perspective’ International Socialism Journal, No 92

http://www.isj1text.ble.org.uk/pubs/isj92/callinicos.htm

Chingo, Juan and Gustavo Dunga (2001) ‘Empire or Imperialism? A debate with Giovanni Arrighi’s “Long Twentieth Century” and Michael Hardt’s and Toni Negri’s “Empire”. Estrategia Internacional No 17 Abril

Chomsky, N (2003) article on ‘preventative war’

Day, Ronald E. (2002) ‘ Social capital, Value, and Measure: Antonio Negri’s challenge to capitalism’ in Journal of American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53 (12).

http://www.lisp.wayne.edu/~ai2398/socialcapital.html

Edvinsson, Rodney and Keith Harvey (2002) ‘Beyond Imperialism? a journey through Empire. LRLCI, London. www.workerspower.com

Gowan, Peter (2001) ‘Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism’ New Left Review, Sep/Oct. 79-93.

Gowan, Peter, Leo Panich and Martin Shaw (2001) ‘The State, Globalisation and the New Imperialism: A Roundtable Discussion’, Historical Materialism, Vol 9 (1) (3-38)

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri (2000) Empire. Harvard University Press. Cambridge.

Hardt, Michael (2002a) Zagreb Interview with Michael Hardt. Broadcast on Croatian Radio, Third Program, 12/5/2002. A-INFOS NEWS SERVICE http://ainfos.ca/ and generation_online digest, Vol 1 #138 –1 msg

Hardt, Michael (2002b) ‘Porto Alegre: Today’s Bandung?’ New Left Review, 14, March-April.

Hardt, Michael (2002c) “Global Elites must realise that US intervention isn’t in their interests” The Guardian, December 18, 2002.

Holloway, John (2002) ‘Going in the Wrong Direction Or Mephistopheles: Not Saint Francis of Assisi’. Historical Materialism, Vol 10 (1)

Klein, Naomi (2003) ‘Argentina: a new kind of revolution: Out of the Ordinary.’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/weekend/story/0,3605,880651,00.html

Kraniauskas, John (2000) ‘Empire, or multitude’ Radical Philosophy 103, Sept/Oct. 29-39.

Lovink, Geert (translator) (2003) ‘Bible Lessons: The Empire Debate – Audit after 3 years of discussion of Hardt and Negri’s ‘Empire’

http://www.generation-online.org/ 2/February 2003

Michaels, Kevin (2002) ‘The non-dialectical Marxism of Hardt and Negri’, News & Letters, April. http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2002/April/essay_apr02.htm

Montag, Warren (2001) ‘Review of ‘Antonio Negri, Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State.’ Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Historical Materialism, Vol 9 (196-204).

Munck Ronaldo (2001) ‘Review of Hardt, M and Negri, Empire,’ Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press. Capital Logic 3 (1) 2001 http://eserver.org/clogic/3-1&2/munck.html

Negri, Antonio (1999) Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis

Negri, Antonio ‘ (2000) Alma Venus: Prolegomena to the Common’

http://www.generation-online.org/t/almavenus.htm

Negri, Antonio (2002a) ‘S11 the class in the Western mind/the Imperialist backlash on Empire. Interviewed by Ida Dominijanni

generation_online digest (16 September)

Negri, Antonio (2002b) ‘Ruptures Within Empire; The Power of Exodus. An Interview with Toni Negri by Guiseppe Cocco and Maurizio Lazzarado

http://www.generation-online.org/empireruptures.htm

Negri, Antonio (2002c) ‘Value and Affect’

http://www.generation-online.org/t/valueaffect.htm

Negri, Antonio (2002d) Approximations: Towards an ontological definition of Multitude. http://www.generation-online.org/t/approximations.htm

Negri, Antonio (2002e) ‘The Imperialist backlash on Empire: S 11 a clash in the Western mind. Interview by Ida Dominijanni

http://www.generation-online.org/t/backlash.htm

Negri, Antonio (2002f) ‘Porto Alegre, Sad Empire: Stephane Mandard interview Toni Negri’ http://www.generation-online.org/t/portoalegre.htm

Negri, Antonio (2002g) ‘ ‘Empire and the Multitude: A dialogue on the new order of globalisation. Antonio Negri and Danilo Zolo.

http://www.generation-online.org/t/empiremultitude.htm

Negri, Antonio and Giuseppe Cocco (2002) ‘O Trabalho Da Multidao e o exodo Constituinte: o “Quilombo” Argentino’ http://www.generation-online.org/t/17December 2002 My translation from Portuguese.

Petras, James (2002a) ‘The Unemployed Workers’ Movement in Argentina’ Monthly Review, 53 (8) January.

Petras, James (2002b) ‘US Offensive in Latin America: Coups, Retreats and Radicalization’ Monthly Review, 54 (1) May.

Proyect, Louis (2001) ‘Hardt-Negri’s ‘Empire’: a critique.’ http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/modernism/hardt_negri.htm

Rock, David (2002) ‘Racking Argentina’ New Left Review, 17 Sep/Oct. 55-86

Sheehan, Thomas (1979) Review ‘Italy: Behind the Ski Mask’ New York Review of Books August, 16. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/7727

Stiglitz, Joseph E (2002) Globalization and its Discontents. W.W. Norton, New York.

Trotsky, Leon (1969) The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects. Pathfinder, New York.

Trotsky, Leon (1974) Writings of Leon Trotsky [1938-39],. Pathfinder Press, New York.

World Social Forum (2003) “WSF 2003- January 23 to 28, 2003 – Porto Alegre, Brazil”. http://www.forumsocialmundial.org.br

Wright, Steve (1996) ‘Negri’s Class Analysis: Italian Autonomist Theory in the Seventies’ Reconstruction 8 (Winter/Spring) http://lists.village.virginia.edu/~spoons/aut_html/opsoc.html

Zizek, Slajov (2001) ‘Have Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Rewritten the Communist Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century?’ Rethinking Marxism, Vol 13 (3/4).

Zizek, Slajov (2002a) ‘Seize the Day: Lenin’s Legacy’ Review of Lenin by Helene Carrere d/Encausse, Holmes and Meier, 2001.

http://books.guardian.co.uk/lrb/articles/0,6109,761903.00.html

Zizek, Slajov (2002b) ‘Taking on America’ Spiked online

http://www/spiked-online.com/printable/00000006DAA75.htm


[1]Most of the commentary from the ‘left’ has been welcoming. In particular, Negri is seen as reviving an optimism of the intellect that has been overcome by pessimism in recent years (Beasley-Murray, 2001). Zizek asks if Empire is the Communist Manifesto for the 21st century (2001). He then has second thoughts and returns to his rediscovery of Lenin as messiah (Zizek, 2001). The return to a forthright and even enthusiastic focus on class struggle is regarded as healthy, even if doubts remain about Negri’s failed workerist politics of the 1970’s (Sheehan, 1979, Wright, 1996) carrying over to the new millennium and underestimating Capital’s power to impose its will (Holloway, 2002). Others have criticised Hardt and Negri for developing concepts that are not directly related to actually existing anti-capitalist struggles (Munck, 2001). There is an almost unhealthy idealisation of ‘America’ (Beasley-Murray, 2001) but no real reality testing when the US bombs Afghanistan (Negri, 2002; Zizek, 2002b). Where is the evidence that the multitude can constitute power against constituted power? Yet, despite these reservations, the book is seen as a challenge to both left and right that demands a response. In particular it demands a response from those who would see in Hardt’ and Negri’s ‘Empire’ a dangerous diversion from opposition to the ‘US Empire’ (Gowan, 2001).

[2] I have major problems with their method of analysis. This is particularly so in the attitude towards ‘resistance’ that substitutes capitalist class relations for the collective ‘singularities’ of the Multitude on a global scale. Ultimately, Hardt and Negri employ a non-Marxist method that rejects dialectics and the contradiction between use-value and exchange value underpinning capitalist social relations. History becomes the result of the ‘accumulations of class struggles’ (Chingo and Dunga, 2001). Negri tries to intellectually override the historic barrier of capital to labour by investing in the Multitude the spontaneous capacity to free its use-value from exchange value (the market) in act of collective subjective resistance.

[3] “It is exactly in the tragedy of Argentina that we find, in a way still more powerful, the work and politics of the Multitude. In Argentina, the Multitude appears as the contender against the Empire. The uprisings of 19 and 20 December 2001 knocked down not only the government, but opened up a formidable period of experimentation and political, economic and social innovation. The blockading of roads by the piqueteros, the carcerolazos of the urban middle class, the systematic siege of the banks by the ahorristas, the neighbourhood and inter-neighbourhood assemblies, the self-management of the occupied factories by the sacked workers and the supportive economic networks, constituted a new configuration of the movement of movements.” (Negri and Cocco, 2002)

[4] Negri: ‘I think we could say that the American leadership is deeply weakened precisely by the imperialist tendencies that it occasionally expresses…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 also great news. In other words, with all probability, the US will soon be forced to stop being imperialist and recognise themselves in Empire.” (2002g).

[5] Perhaps these might develop further into the international agencies proposed by Stiglitz (2002) or Soros (1998) to regulate the anarchy of international finance? These writers are neo-liberals who have ‘converted’ to a post-Keynesian or ‘Third Way” position that owes much to the revival of ‘ultra-imperialism’. (See note below).

[6] The classic debate on ‘Ultra-imperialism’ was between Kautsky and Lenin. Kautsky argued that the imperialist powers did not need to be rivals, but could unite as an ‘internationally united finance capital’ i.e. ‘ultra-imperialism’ Lenin (1964:271). Thus the workers movement could prevent wars by appealing to capital’s interest in global integration. This theory foreshadows Hardt and Negri’s view that the ‘multitude’ can force imperialism to mutate into Empire. Lenin’s response to Kautsky serves as a response to Hardt and Negri. “Ultra-imperialism” is ‘ultra-nonsense’ because monopolies (MNCs today) are driven to compete economically by means of trade and military wars. To suggest that global finance capital can overcome the unilateral divisive tendencies of industrial capital and create global peace makes it out to be a progressive force, very similar to the way Hardt and Negri put forward the possibility of Empire as a multilateral transcending of imperialism.

[7] “It is in that sense that the Multitude is a class concept. It is always productive and in movement. Considered from the point of view of the movement, the Multitude is exploited in the process of production; seen from a spatial point of view, the Multitude is still exploited as part of productive society i.e. in the social cooperation of production. The concept of the Multitude as a class should be seen as different from the concept of the working class. Indeed the working class is a limited concept, from the point of view of production (essentially industrial workers) and that of social cooperation (not many assembly workers left). If we make the Multitude the new class concept, the notion of exploitation will be redefined as the exploitation of cooperation: not cooperation of individuals, but of singularities, exploitation of the assembly of the singularities, of the movements that compose the assembly of the assemblies that makes up the movements.” (Negri and Cocco 2002)

[8] “In the Argentinazo, the end of the political neo-liberalism appears as the end of constituent power and the political potential of the Multitude. A traditional analysis of its social composition would bump immediately into its fragmentary and irreconcilable elements: urban middle class on one side, and unemployed proletarians from the periphery on the other. Can such an analysis explain the peculiar conjunction and composition of interests arising from the neo-liberal period? Can it explain the complete ending of any form of representation and delegitimising of all instances of constituted power? For beyond the difficulties that the Argentine movement may be facing and will face, these constituent elements remain and they will remain like an essential launch pad for the movement of movements itself to think its own concept of the Multitude. This includes the possibilities to link together in the development of constituent power of the cooperative Multitude its work and its capacity to oppose capitalist power. The Argentine movement constituted itself in an event without defined (pre-determined) purpose, in a rupture with the collective perception. ”(Negri and Cocco 2002)

[9] Hardt and Negri seem to have swallowed whole the neo-liberal ‘globalisation thesis: the description of the surface features of the economic crisis of world capitalism since the early 1970s that does not penetrate to the underlying causes of crisis. Thus they see the penetration of national economies by international capital as evidence of Empire, and the breakdown of economic nationalism as loss of sovereignty and evidence of the Multitude. However, the superficiality of such a view has been exposed to tough rebuttals from Marxists as ‘globalony’. Globalisation is still imperialism, if somewhat ‘recycled’ (Petras and Veltmeyer, 2002).

[10] At its heart neo-liberal economics merely assert the primacy of the operation of the law of value by which commodities exchange at their value determined by the socially necessary labour time required to produce them. This requires an attack on economic nationalism that regulates to protect the home market from international competition, thereby suppressing the law of value. In the case of Argentina, deregulation and the operation of the currency board, forced Argentina to open up to flows of finance and trade, and removed controls over its money supply. Instead of economic ‘development’ it created indebtedness and austerity policies to pay the debt.

[11] Hardt and Negri assert that value and its measurement are unimportant. See Day (2002), Wright (1996) and Callinicos (2001) for an analysis that traces this approach back to the Autonomist Marxist movement in Italy in the 1970s. The unreality of this approach to value is given by the fact that the national debt is nothing but a measure of value owed to external creditors and paid for by increasing the rate of surplus value by means of post-fordist flexibilisation and by cuts in working class consumption of value.

[12] This was one of the ‘transitional forms’ of state, neither colonies proper, nor imperialist, but “diverse forms of dependent countries which, politically, are formally independent, but in fact, are enmeshed in the net of financial and diplomatic dependence, typical of this epoch.” Lenin, (1964:263).

[13] The 1990s under Menem saw Argentina exposed to structural adjustment. The IMF/WB etc imposed a policy of balanced budgets and privatisation of state assets. Who benefited? The owners of capital invested in Argentina and their local agents. Repayments on the national debt were kept up which meant that the shareholders in the IMF, World Bank continued to profit. Who are these owners? The big multinational banks and the US Treasury!

[14] State assets were bought up cheaply by US and EU MNCs. Who where these MNCs? An example: Enron. The opening up of Argentina was engineered by the IMF/WB institutions but on behalf of the big banks and big MNC conglomerates. So it seems that finance capital was the big beneficiary. And that finance capital has one main location, the USA.

[15] Who oversaw this profiteering? The local state policed this process, backed up by multinational police operations under the name of the ‘war against drugs’ or ‘terrorism’, as well as UN convened military exercises (in Salta in the north of Argentina). While multinational and UN resolutions were used to mount these ‘police operations’, it was always US intelligence and troops that were in control. So despite the appeal to UN and multilateral agencies, it was always the US unilateral interests that underpinned this policing. No Empire here please, we’re Yankees!

[16] There is a very strong link between the Argentinean ruling class and the US as well as some of the EU states. The political regimes act as the direct local agents of imperialism, either in the form of Menem’s neo-liberal regime, or the reactionary crisis regimes of de la Rua and Duhalde, and now the left Peronist Kirchner. These regimes are nationalist ‘client’ regimes balanced between the masses and imperialism. Yet as their role in serving imperialism becomes clearer their ability to pose as anti-imperialists becomes weaker.

[17] The piqueteros are unemployed workers who ‘picket’ (block) roads in protest at their lack of jobs and decent unemployment benefits.

[18] Though Negri and Cocco don’t spell this out they are here referring to the effects of unemployment in disciplining social labour. I.e. one third of Argentina’s workers are casualised to different degrees, in job schemes, part-time jobs, and the ‘black economy’. This is Empires regime of accumulation and mode of regulation.

[19] cf Petras (2002a) more optimistic view of the capacity of the piqueteros to interrupt production.

[20] There is a huge debate in Argentina today among the left parties about the best way of uniting the unemployed with the employed (and other sectors as well).

[21] This is the politics of the class struggle pole in the movement around the occupied factories as I discuss below.

[22] This term is not scientific as it includes members of different and opposed classes i.e. salaried employees along with the self-employed and small employers.

[23] Negri: “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’ (2002g)

[24] The ‘Madres de Plaza de Mayo’ (Mothers of the Plaza of May) who rally in national independence square in Buenos Aires every week and have been a major force in bringing other sectors in struggle together. This has challenged some of the traditional left organisations who see the killing of some 30,000 by the military dictatorship as a ‘human rights’ issue. There has been a reluctance on the part of the Peronist unions (who were implicated in the military regime as was the Communist Party) to join forces with the Madres. The result has been separate marches and protests dividing the mass movement. In October 2002, Hebe de Bonafini visited the Zanon factory occupation in Neuquen and forged an important link between the mothers and the occupying workers independently of the collaborationist bureaucrats.

[25] Brukman is a relatively small clothing factory in Buenos Aires that is important because its workers have been in the leadership of many struggles and are leading the fight for the factories to be nationalised under workers’ control rather than be ‘cooperatised’ or handed back to owners with no guarantees for workers. Brukman was retaken on April 18, 2003. Thousands of workers rallied in support, but were repelled by police armed with tear gas and live ammunition. A police cordon was set up for several blocks but this did not stop 30,000 supporters marching in defence of Brukman on May 1. These supporters were drawn from local popular assemblies, from unemployed organisations, the Madres of the Plaza, students, and the left parties. On May 3 the Brukman workers met with their supporters to launch a campaign to rally support nationally around 4 points to defend the occupations and retake Brukman. These are: 1) Freedom for the jailed Salta piquetero leaders; 2) the retaking of Brukman by the workers; 3) A living wage for employed and unemployed on work plans (work creation); 4) Genuine and worthwhile jobs for all!

[26] Zanon is a ceramics factory situated in the province of Nequen to the west of Buenos Aires. It has been subjected to a number of attempts by bosses, police and union thugs to evict the workers and sell off the factory to Chilean interests. It was the factory recently visited by Hebe de Bonafini (see footnote above). Zanon is a shining example to all. Zanon ceramics are being used everywhere. In Patagonia (extreme south) peasants have occupied land and the Mapuche indigenous people have occupied land designated as a golf course. One old woman said “Here we are working the land, and no one is going to get us out. Not even the police or army”. The Tigre Supermarket in Rosario had dedicated its top floor to culture, drama and a library.

[27] For Negri and Cocco the Mothers add a strong moral force to the Multitude, that does not draw directly on the proletariat, but which provides an example of collective action vitally necessary to unite all the sectors in struggle. How is this conceived in terms of resistance to constituted bio-power? First, the ‘mothers’ are rendered outside class as ‘human rights’ activists. Empire cannot explain the origins of the Mothers as a class response to a former military counter-revolution against the revolutionary uprisings of the 1960s and 1970s. Klein points out that the Mothers now openly declare that their children were not only ‘innocent’ but political opponents of the dictatorship (2003). These origins are clearly vindicated when Hebe de Bonafini visits Zanon and says workers’ power is in workers production! Hardt and Negri should visit Zanon! What are the historic precedents of the role of women in socialist revolution? The day after the recent December 20, 2002 anniversary of the Argentinazo, the occupied Brukman factory hosted a Brecht play ‘The Mothers’. Here Brecht pays homage to the role of women during the 1905 revolution in Russia. It is one of many such homages in the communist literature in particular the February and October revolutions in Russia. They represent ‘mothers’ not as reproducers of biopower in the historical abstract, but mothers as workers, and of workers, who reproduce wage labour under capitalist social relations. That is why the worker-actors who performed “The Mothers’ at Brukman substituted some Argentine characters for the original Russian. The ‘Mothers’ are the women workers of Argentina today. The owner of the factory becomes Mr Brukman. In this way revolution today discovers its history in the heat of struggle. And it is not lost in the ‘crowd’; it is conscious capitalist class struggle.

[28] The so-called ‘crisis of Peronism’ could be interpreted by H&N as evidence of the end to national governance, and the direct confrontation between Empire and the Multitude. But Hardt and Negri still have to show why we need their theory of Empire when the theory of imperialism predicts this outcome.

[29] Originally called for March 2003, these elections have been postponed by Duhalde as it looked like his right-wing Peronist rival Menem was gaining support.

[30] While it is used to include petty bourgeois and liberal bourgeois on the right, on the left ‘people’ means all those oppressed by capitalism and imperialism. In that sense it is used in the same way the Lenin used ‘people’ to mean workers and poor peasants.

[31] ‘Active Boycott’ means to stop the elections by overturning Duhalde’s government in favour of a workers’ and popular government and that has become a call to overthrow Kirchner.

[32] This is not the place to enter into the debate on the Constituent Assembly in Argentina. For an exchange on this question see the archive of Argentina Solidarity where PO-Workers Party supporters defend the Constituent Assembly as a necessary stage in the national revolution to prepared the way for socialist revolution against the Socialist Workers Party that favours a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly called after a workers revolution, and those who say that the question of the Constituent Assembly is secondary to the struggle for dual power in the workers organisations, the general strike and formation of self-defence committees. See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Argentina_Solidarity/

[33] Most left parties in Argentina have a history of adapting to the national bourgeoisie in ‘patriotic fronts’ or ‘popular fronts’ on the basis that before socialism is possible, first a nation must unite across classes to overthrow imperialism. This approach is based on the Stalinist theory of stages Stalin used to justify popular fronts with Western bourgeoisies who were friendly to the Soviet Union and would ally with it against its enemies. It is in direct opposition to the Leninist and Trotskyist position of ‘permanent revolution’ that holds that only workers and poor peasants can make a successful national revolution, because the national bourgeoisie have more interests in common with imperialism than with the working class. This means that national independence from imperialism must also be a socialist revolution against the national bourgeoisie (Trotsky, 1969).

[34] These attacks have radicalised the masses in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia that demonstrate that anti-imperialist resistance to imperialism has the potential to become continent wide. See Petras (2002b)

[35] The 2nd Congress of the Comintern recognised that national revolutions in the semi-colonies cannot defeat imperialism alone. The struggle of the Argentinean masses (and in the rest of LA) to survive and to take power at home must have the support of workers in the US heartlands and the other imperialist powers. Otherwise the US military will succeed in reversing if not defeating the revolution and re-imposing a client state of its own choice following the long tradition of US intervention in Latin America, and most recently extended in the Middle East to a policy of ‘preventative war’ against Iraq.

 

Advertisements