Review of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s ‘Assembly’

Assembly, by Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Published September 2017, Oxford University Press, 368 Pages

It’s all a question of assembly: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri know how really productive work can break the common good.

Yes, they did it again: after “Empire”, “Multitude” and “Common Wealth”, now comes “Assembly”, the latest delivery in the series of subversive feel-good books from H & N. For almost two decades now, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, literary and political scientists from the United States and Italy, are now a pair of authors who use the omnipresent diagnoses of an all-encompassing, even totalitarian neo-liberalism as a four-sided ressurection and the good news announces that in the false capitalist life there is indeed the communalist right.

It would be easy to go on snobbishly and ironically, dismiss the duo’s continued efforts to create another, friendlier picture of the post-Fordist financial capitalist present-and, above all, the future of “late-modern” societies-as a would-be revolutionist thinker. In this sense, one could refer to the redundancy of the expansive argumentation, which becomes more apparent from work to work. Or on the often difficult bearable Messianism, which condenses into allegorical turns that sound difficult to fantasy philosophy: “The mighty dragon, has become the multitude of work force, drives out any St. George, who wants to kill him.” And for a long time there is still a sound in the forest: Dragon live high!

On the other hand, the stubbornness with which the two protagonists pursue their intellectual liberation project is impressive, their stupendous erudition scarcely less, and their unyielding optimism of the will almost contagious. In addition, her series of works is evidently following a red (or rather black) thread: her reinterpretation of the age of “globalization” was followed by the rediscovery of the revolutionary subject, the inspection of the metamorphoses of the economic, and the exploration of the possibilities of transformative politics. Possibilities that, it is believed, Hardt and Negri are designed in times of empire in the empowerment of the “multitude” for the co-operative production of “Common Wealth”; Possibilities, of course, which now also have to be realized organizationally.

The book builds on the political experience that the latest social movements – notably the Occupy movement which it notes is failing for the time being in their historical stabilization and institutional consolidation. And for the historical optimist, of course, they are failing successfully, because the movement never learns. Above all, in the current constellation of struggles around the globe, the movement has to learn how to organize the diverse and the living, without unifying, suffocating, and reformatting them. Typical of Hardt and Negri, the book never shies away from the rhetoric of the Occupy movement as a neoliberal reaction: the governance of the multitude can be accomplished.

To solve the problem, the authors offer the assembly as a political form of articulation – in the double sense of utterance and linkage. In doing so, they are struggling in an almost physically tangible way to make the idea of ​​leadership palatable to the movement. A leadership, which of course may not be such or may appear as such. Since the multitude is thoroughly against the posture and joints of strong men, she should imagine her being led as one of the possibly semi-autonomous, but in the best case imperatively transmitted pseudo-leadership.

For Hardt and Negri, the diverse crowd has to be a political entrepreneur in their own right, who practices in organization without hierarchy and institutionalization without regulation, in rule-less rule, as it were. For the normal social scientist, all constitutive contradictions (and, in case of doubt, performative) contradictions, for the skeptical critic intellectual upheaval. Probably daring to choose for the non-leading leadership of the productive community the potential stimulus designation of the “new prince”. But Hardt and Negri are just self-confessed and incorrigible (though radically progressive) Machiavellians.

Not only the current idea of ​​the assembly, but also many other things, as with the previous works, would be critical: Is there a historical dynamic of the transition from profit to pension capitalism – as if the Fordist mode of production had not parasitically lived? Is classic-industrial capitalism in fact gone or disappearing, superseded by “production through intellectual, cognitive, affective and cooperative relationships”? Is this true for the supposed knowledge economies of this world? Gar on a global scale?

According to Hardt and Negri, “Everywhere, there is a socialized mode of production of networks and cooperation, of images and codes, of knowledge and intelligence:” from law firms in Delhi to grocery stores in Stockholm and automobile factories in São Paulo to Semiconductor manufacturing in Oregon “. And of course, that would be fine, in Brazilian ore mines and Vietnamese sweatshops, at the recycling centers on the waste dumps of Abidjan and the nanny container workers in the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. Realistic pessimists like Heiner Müller knew better: somewhere bodies are broken, so that we can work cognitively in our beautiful new office worlds.

But as far as the politics of the multitudinous subjects and their assembly in diversity are concerned, the crucial question is: where do all the existing and emerging social cooperativities come from in Hardt and Negri?Everything’s so colorful here! But was not there soon half a social life of the material and symbolic rule of “neo-liberalism” that could have cast a spell over the knowledge and the will of many? In fact, are the values ​​of the exhaustive reindeer of financial market capitalism on one side of the battle order, and on the other the creative-productive masses in all their communal intellectuality? “We have not experienced yet,” says Hardt and Negri conspiratorially-clueless, “what is possible when the multitude gathers together.” One is tempted to say: Well, actually already – for example, on the Sunday on sale in the shopping center close to the motorway.

So what to do? Looking up at H & N certainly can not hurt. But it will also be honest to say that her ruling, based on Rousseau and cohorts, that “the contradictory aspects of the theory also reflect the contradictions of the class struggles” of their time, is just as valid for the present theory of a gathering of common masses. True, capital always only celebrates Pyrrhic victories; but that’s about all it does.

Assembly, by Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Published September 2017, Oxford University Press, 368 Pages

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