Ruptures Within Empire, The Power of Exodus

An Interview by Giuseppe Cocco and Maurizio Lazzarato Traduction de art52, rub36, rub10

Multitudes: In the early 90s, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we
were together in the streets of Paris, demonstrating against the bombing of
Baghdad. International intervention in the Gulf region under the aegis of
the United States seemed to open a period of expansion in imperial
management of international relations. In relation to that period, do the
events in New York constitute a rupture, or is it part of a continuum?
Should we consider the events in New York as bringing to a close a period
opened by the fall of the Berlin Wall? Or, instead, should we consider that
that period had already been drawn to a close by the unilateral positions
taken by the United States in regards to the Palestinian question, the
non-proliferation treaty on bacteriological weapons, on Kyoto, then at
Durban?

Negri: In the early 90s there were really very few of us demonstrating.
Today, we are many more, at least here in Italy. That is in itself a fact to
take into account. But it is equally true of the United States, I believe.
In addition to this important point, the New York events do indeed
constitute a rupture. It is a rupture in imperial management, and one that
takes place within the process of building the imperial network that
collective capital has been putting into place. The construction of this
imperial network started in the early 90s, with the end of the Cold War. It
should be considered a real rupture because it comes from outside, or
rather, outside of this process, which is not to say that it comes from the
exterior of imperial constitution. By this I mean that there has been a
process of imperial constitution, whereby capitalist sovereignty has been
expanded out across the entire fabric of international relations; this has
created a large-scale shift in sovereignty whereby international relations
have been overshadowed by imperial sovereignty. And it was precisely in this
moment that a suspension, a rupture occurred: the attack against the United
States. Thus the rupture came from outside of the process, but at the same
time it comes from within Empire. It involves a suspension of the process, a
setback, a block; it is something that has been imposed. Before this turn of
events there was undoubtedly an American attempt to unilaterally take
control of the process. But now they are confronted by some very serious
difficulties. For the sake of clarity, we’d best make use of an abstraction.
In my opinion, three crises are in progress (I say “three” in order to
simplify, but in fact there are multiple crises). These three crises concern
the characterization of imperial sovereignty.

The first crisis has to do with the military component. The reason for this
crisis is that the sovereignty, this enormous power that the Americans built
up (development of the bomb made such an absolute hegemony possible), today
finds itself confronted by something to which it must face up: kamikazes,
suicidal acts. If in the past this sovereignty held power over life and
death, pushed to the level of a nuclear power extended over the entire
world, today this power no longer exists. Thousands of people can decide to
oppose it with their voluntary death. It?s like the cutter phenomenon [[‘cutter’- a widespread pathological phenomenon in
the USA. There are two million of them, mostly women, but also men, who cut
themselves with razors. Why? It has nothing to do with masochism or suicide.
It’s simply that they don’t feel real as persons and the idea is: it’s only
through this pain and when you feel warm blood that you feel reconnected
again. So I think that this tension is the background against which one
should appreciate the effect of the act.
(Zizek, online interview with Spiked, see
http://www.spiked-online.com/Printable/00000002D2C 4.htm) .
It’s a problem that must be resolved.

The next crisis has to do with currency. Sovereignty also brings the power
to strike currency. This huge crisis stems from the fact that the striking
of currency has been handled within the context of a neo-liberal agenda,
that is to say according to “lex mercatoria”, thus by the capacity of the
private sector to devalue currency. Regulation has ceased to be a function
of the State. Now 80 percent of regulation is carried out directly by the
private sector. Now, after this attack, the problem of insurance has arisen.
Who can insure this private process? They want to exclude the State but
that’s not possible, for it is not possible to dispense with some principle
of measure [[By measure, Negri intends ?a transcendent ontological foundation to
order?. For an in-depth discussion of measure, see Hardt and Negri, Empire,
pp. 354-359. that perforce implies the general interest.

The third crisis is one of communication; this is a crisis linked to the
circulation of meaning, whose complexity becomes dizzying and which almost
seems to get lost. It’s a very intriguing phenomenon, but it is likewise
absolutely dramatic. The communication crisis is catastrophic. The
complexity of meaning, in the context of the situation in which we find
ourselves since September 11th, turns out to be so great as to make the
crisis impossible to manage: some aspects of this sunder once and for all
the framework of normal communication.

The problem then is in terms of multiple crises. I said already that in the
early 90s we were small in number and that today we are larger. There are
many more people who are aware of this crisis, a crisis internal to the
construction of Empire and through which we have come to these three
fundamental problems: the three fissures which I just brought up. What must
be emphasized is that the Americans have tried to be underhanded as regards
the Palestinian question, the treaty on non-proliferation of bacteriological
weapons, the ecological issues at Kyoto, the question of racism at Durban.
At present they find themselves suddenly thrust into this accentuation of
contradictions, into this triple crisis.

Multitudes: After the events in New York, the most powerful country in the
world, its imperial center, declares war on one man. What meaning do you
attribute to this new rhetoric of war and its political, military and
diplomatic articulations? What type of war will this one be? Does the change
in the concept of sovereignty equally imply a change in that of war?

Negri: The press seems to be in turmoil over one question: Who can tell us
this is not a war without end? What does it mean to wage war, certainly with
high tech instruments, but in the valleys and mountains of Afghanistan,
where we know there is a risk of this turning into a guerilla war that will
go on forever? In other words, don’t we run the risk of a “vietnamisation”
of the conflict? The concept of war has changed. The reaction in face of
this crisis seems to fall within a strategic framework that assumes war to
be a key element in management and discipline. When violence no longer has
an “outside”, when language is no longer a bearer of meaning, when measure
cannot be found, it’s clear that they must be imposed with extreme force and
violence. Here we are in the middle of the problem of sovereignty. I am
convinced that sovereignty, as a concept, is an utter mystification; there
is no instance of sovereignty, which is not at the same time a rapport, a
relationship. The concept of sovereignty, as Luciano Ferrari-Bravo rightly
said, is always two-sided: it is a sort of hegemony, which paradoxically
integrates something that it does not manage to subsume. It’s impossible to
exclude either of the two terms when dealing with the concept of the State
or politics. The powers of Empire, on the other hand, are constrained to
exclude; they are required to think that war is the constituent,
institutional form of the new order. What this means precisely is to extol
violence, measure , and language: make violence a norm, impose measure and
create linguistic signification. They want to turn sovereignty into a
constituent machine.

Multitudes: Empire is a “non-place”. However, is a battle for this non-place
possible? Is what we are living through now not this battle? How does the
relationship Empire-United States — a relationship that causes so many
misunderstandings about the concept of Empire– manifest itself in light of
the New York events? How do you interpret the formation of the “Euro” within
the context of this process?

Negri: I cannot say of the world capitalist leadership that it is American.
For those who are used to linking the rules of power back to those of
exploitation, it is only in the second instance that one can, if need be,
speak of people. That was still possible when there were imperialist powers.
What do we mean by imperialism? It was the possibility to widen the field of
exploitation out on an international scale. If today all that is finished,
or partly finished or is tendentiously on the verge of finishing, it is no
longer possible to speak of “American imperialism.” There exists quite
simply groups, elites who hold the keys of exploitation and, as a
consequence, the keys to the war machine; it is these same groups who are
attempting to impose themselves on the world. Naturally, this process is
rife with conflict and will necessarily be so for a long time. For the
moment, it is above all the North American bosses who exercise this
domination. Immediately behind them are the Europeans, the Russians, and the
Chinese. They are there to support them, make trouble for them, or even to
take on a new position if there is a change in centrality; however any such
change would remain superficial seeing as in the end, what is still, as
always, at work is collective capital. From the perspective of political
science, we can see who is succeeding along with the Americans. It’s the
Russians. On the other hand, the Europeans are losing out. Since the early
70s, every time Europe — and I’m not talking here about the big European
capitalists who always march in step with their American peers, but rather
the European class of leaders– every time Europe tries to build up, as it
sometimes does, its institutions (monetary or military), it gets
systematically dragged down into an international crisis.

Multitudes: So you think there is a hegemony of American capital.

Negri: There is a hegemony which might look like the hegemony of American
capitalism, but I am convinced that Italian capitalism, German capitalism,
French capitalism are likewise implicated in this operation.

Multitudes: With the collapse of the Towers, men and women of one of the
most cosmopolitan places in the world were massacred; it wasn’t only upper
management or chiefs of big financial firms, but also immaterial laborers
and immigrants of all nationalities. Should we consider the suicide attack
against the City as an attack against cosmopolitanism, against the power of
liberty and exodus?

Negri: Your question is interesting because it helps us think about the war.
Indeed this confrontation is being played out between those who are in
charge of Empire and those who would like to be. From this point of view it
can be asserted that terrorism is the double of Empire. The enemy of both
Bush and Bin Laden is the multitude. I don?t think that we can all say that
we are all Americans. I do think though that we are all New Yorkers. This
seems of great importance to me. If we are all New Yorkers, it is not
because we embrace American culture but because we embrace the culture of
New York…. the mongrel culture, the Big Apple full of worms.

Multitude: Before the G8 summit, you spoke of two alternatives (a Roman form
and a Byzantine form) within the development of Empire. How is the Byzantine
form taking shape?

Negri: It is quite evident that the Byzantine approach was the basis of the
first plan that the Bush group advanced: the Missile Defense Program. This
approach is yet again one of viewing war as a constituent machine: a machine
established in fact on what was a sort of technological innovation pushed to
extremes. This design, which was already old, aimed to create an automatic
defense and likewise give a post-fordist form to the military development
itself. What are the components? Above all, the automated nature of the
Space Shield?s response. It involves on the one hand a huge accumulation of
fixed capital and, on the other, extreme mobility in the art of war, the
manner in which war is conducted. It’s what’s being called Revolution in
Military Affairs (RMA) [[For background on RMA, see http://www.comw.org/rma/ , concretely put into place in the 90s, and
founded on these two pillars. It involves a post-fordist military
organization. Now the events of September 11th have thrown a monkey wrench
into this mechanism. Here’s how it’s been reversed: The RMA will continue to
move forward full-throttle in favor of utilizing the military as an
international police force — which is what the Americans are currently in
the process of doing in Afghanistan– but at the same time, the Missile
Defense issue which divided the capitalist elites of various regions in the
world — and particularly the confrontation between the US and Russia —
this obstacle has been cleared. The ruling class of the American Right has
sacrificed the Missile Defense Program in order to deepen the alliance, this
“great alliance,” in order to build a unitary world power[[This interview was conducted before the Russian and American “agreement”
on the Missile Defense Program.. From this
perspective, a new form is emerging.

Multitudes: The United States seems to have definitively come to the close
of a neo-liberal phase. The American initiatives to boost the economy and
financial sector have been characterized as “keynesian”. But how is
keynesianism possible if there isn’t fordism? There seems to be ever more
insistent talk of the return of the State and policy, though over-determined
by the war-buildup. But war, as you recently noted, has always been the
foundation of the State. What might then be the multitude’s political stance
toward this? Elude the war?

Negri: The United States is once again making military organizational
strength a central theme…a military structuring of the world according to
a sort of authoritarian neo-liberalism, rather than keynesianism. It is true
that once again the State is to intervene and in a very big way, but this
question takes us back to the subject of sovereignty. The State is
intervening as one of the nodes in the sovereignty relationship, not as a
force with the capability of single-handedly reconstituting social processes
in the political sphere. I would say that authoritarian neo-liberalism feels
it has free-rein with regards to sovereignty, has an open conception of
sovereignty, in the same way as the relationship that linked stalinism to
socialism. It’s this aspect which is particularly disquieting.

Multitudes: Up to now you’ve been speaking about the crisis of Empire. Now
let’s look at the other side, the crisis of the multitudes. How has the
Italian movement of movements reacted to the events of New York? How can the
multitude’s movement get out of the deadly clamps that have been placed upon
it? What does exodus now mean? To stick with the metaphor, are the
multitudes the Christians or the barbarians?

Negri: I am going to proceed very carefully with these questions. My feeling
is that the reaction of the movement has been without a doubt very good but
it is as of yet quite fragile. And this latter is quite negative. This
renewed cycle of struggles, outlined in Seattle and Porto Alegre and most
recently in Genoa, has been interrupted. Since the end of the 70s we have
unfortunately become accustomed to such ruptures in cycles. In Empire, we
describe several struggles — those in Los Angeles, those in Chiapas, the
one in Tiananmen — as well as the struggle that led to the fall of the
Berlin Wall. These involve real struggles but it is absolutely impossible to
discern a common thread of any sort running through them. But after Seattle,
to the contrary, we were able to get our hands on a genuine cycle of
struggles. There is no doubt that, on that level, we have now come to a
stop. That’s not because there will be no reasons for demonstrating again.
There’s a real problem in envisioning how to move forward in the future
(what should the slogans be? How is it possible to link the issues up on a
world-scale?), but it’s no less true that “quod factum infectum fieri
nequit”, what’s been done cannot be undone. This movement had established a
high degree of ontological consistency; today there’s a block in all that,
there is an obstacle. It’s like water coming down a mountain. If at first it
whirls around an obstacle, it always ends up burrowing a new path past the
obstacle. We are in a situation of this sort. We are in a situation where
there is a block we must find our way around before we can continue on our
way.

So, let’s analyze the Italian movement’s reaction. These reactions are quite
interesting. In the first place, the movement is trying to keep afloat, no
matter what, that which it has built. The relationship that was developed
with the Catholics, which is always important in Italy, must be given
particular attention. The question of civil disobedience figures largely in
this relationship. The same thing — keeping afloat what had been built up
— is also occurring in the United States, as well as other countries where
political life is open.

The second point is extremely important: keep the networks open and continue
to broaden them. What takes place nowadays in factories, schools, and
universities is essential as it allows consolidation of alliances, which are
at present becoming alliances of identification, struggles, movements and
tendencies, which were previously inconceivable. All of that does not mean
that we should forget the problems we face today in getting a half-million
people into the streets, as was done in Genoa; nor does it mean that we
should necessarily do it in the way it was done in Genoa. It involves a
passage that is powerful [puissant, and I emphasize this word powerful
[puissant because it truly means, “full of possibilities” [[To clarify this statement it is important for the Anglophone reader to
understand that the French word for power puissance is a direct correlate of
the Latin potentia. Another
thing that seems absolutely fundamental: people have understood. They have
now understood that it is subjectivity that produces and that all activities
have become “production centers”, now that there is no longer a “production
center”. When there is an ever broader and ever deeper consciousness of this
sort, in which pacifists mix with workers movements (both immaterial and
material laborers), who in turn mix with social movements, feminist
movements, and the youth of the social centers, whenever this consciousness
broadens and deepens as powerfully as we see today, certain slogans begin to
become possible, for example, “desertion”.

Now when we speak of “desertion”, we are not invoking a negative slogan! It
was negative when “desertion” expressed itself simply in terms of strikes:
when it was capital, and it alone, which could put at the disposal of all
the means of production, then the strike could only be passive. Today, if we
desert, if we rebel against the relations of power or the nexus of capital,
or the nexus of knowledge or the nexus of language, if we do so, we do so in
a powerful way, producing at the very moment that we refuse. With this
production — not only of subjectivity but immaterial goods as well —
desertion becomes an important keystone of struggle. One must look deep
within the hacker world for a model of this type. It involves models or
networks that kick in at the very moment of “defection”, which is to say at
the very moment that we reject or we elude the capitalist organization of
production and the capitalist production of power.

Multitudes: So, it’s in this way that the discussion of desertion and exodus
should be understood? However, for desertion to be effective, wouldn’t that
require a transmutation of all values?

Negri: It is quite clear that desertion, exodus must be understood as a
political laboratory. But it’s also clear that we are faced with a
fundamental transmutation of values. The problem is to understand that the
private and the public no longer signify anything at all, that they no
longer are of value, that the important point is to manage to construct a
“commons” and that all production, all expression must be made in terms of
“commons”. The big problem then is that the transmutation of values must
exist and must lead to a decision. However, neither the decision nor the
objective can be decided presumptively. They arise from within the processes
of the multitude?s transformation of the world. Or else, none of that takes
place and we go backwards. A cycle of struggles had begun and it allowed us
to start building our very own little war machines?very deleuzian machines.

It’s apparent that we have been delayed in relation to the expectations we
had of this process, which has now come to a “stop”. And yet, this stop, if
it is thoroughly understood and mastered, paradoxically could be very
powerful. The error, the very serious error would be, as certain people are
proposing, to return to national electoral politics, that is to say, return
to the mechanisms of classical political representation, which would
reterritorialize political action. Going back to old ways is therefore an
error that should not be committed. This is all the more true as there is a
strong possibility of finding a niche within the electoral process. The
fundamental idea is the following: at the level of biopower, at the level of
a position of power like ours, it’s not possible to avoid a relationship
with the other, especially a relationship with the other who produces, the
other who thinks. And the other that they are trying to crush, in spite of
pretences to the contrary, is not Bin Laden and terrorism, but rather it is
the multitude. This passage is absolutely essential. The capitalist attempt
to wage this war as a means of crushing the other is a huge mess?for them at
least.

(traduit par Thomas Say et Hydrarchist)