Autopsy Interview with Michael Hardt

January 2005

Many thanks to Nate Holdren

In Labor of Dionysus, you and Negri write that the definition of labor is a political matter. Part of what is attractive in your most recent work is the expansion of the definition of labor. How does this expansion work? Is it that some non-labor has become labor? Or is that we have realized that certain activities which weren't called labor actually were labor after all?

I found very useful in this regard something that Diane Elson wrote several years ago about "the value theory of labor," and I think socialist feminism in general is the field in which these questions have been most clearly thought out. Determining what activities are accorded economic value is often a political struggle. This was at stake in many of the past feminist struggles to recognize domestic labor or caring labor or kin work as productive. And, to take a very different perspective, one might consider the entire notion of productive externalities that economists talk about as activities productive of capital but not recognized as such. We should note too, and this has historically been a strong part of the feminist debates, that there can be negative consequences to claiming certain activities as labor. Some would say that calling labor what I do for those I love (reproductive labor for children, partners, etc) degrades the activity. Or, others might say, if everything I do is labor then I can never escape from capital.

Another way to approach this question would be with Deleuze and Guattari. In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, all is production. Think of desiring-production as a way of expanding what is considered labor.

One other aspect to emphasize is that capital too progressively modifies what counts as labor. In general, my view is that capital follows behind the instances of refusal in this regard. I remember that Toni and I made an argument – or, really not an argument, a claim – in chapter 3.4 of Empire that the primary qualities of the refusal of work of the 1960s and the corresponding expansions of what was considered productive – including intellectual, affective, communicative activities – were subsequently the primary bases for the reorganization of capitalist production in the 1980s. This is just another example of the general hypothesis of the active and creative nature of the working classes and their refusal of work and the reactive nature of capital.

- How does the formation of new kinds of labor relate to the becoming of the multitude you identify? Is there a becoming-multitude linked to a becoming-productive, or 'realization of being multitude' linked to a 'realization of being productive'?

Yes, this is exactly what we are trying to explore with this notion of a becoming-common of labor. In question here is not only the expansion of what is considered labor but also the possibility of communication and cooperation among the various different forms of labor. This is one way in which you might think of our notion of multitude as being very close to a traditional notion of proletariat, that is, the class of all those who produce, once the notion of production itself has been sufficiently revised and expanded.

I should note also that "productivity" might not always be the right way to think of this. Sometimes "creativity" seems like a better term, but that doesn't always do either. Because we want to be able to include in this not only coming up with a new idea in the shower or lying in bed, but also sitting down for a cup of tea with a friend. We need to think about what is productive of social relationships, of society itself.

* We understand some of your writing to say that all of social life-time is productive. This concept is attractive in that it expands the definition of labor and of who can be a political subject. On the other hand, do you mean that literally all of social life-time is productive for capital? If we are always already productive for capital, how can we think and practice ruptures and breaks? What sense can Exodus have here, if we are always within Pharaoh's Egypt?

In general I think of this as being "inside and against." Not all of what the factory worker does while in the factory is directly productive of capital. There is authorized and unauthorized time off, and there are a thousand tiny subterfuges, and then there is sometimes coordinated sabotage and revolt. I think it is in general terms the same for all of us in capitalist society. Remember, of course, that the capital that we are producing is not just commodities; they are really only a midpoint in the process. The capital produced is primarily a social relation. So we need to try to understand how in all social life-time, as you say, through innumerable activities we are producing and reproducing the social relation that is capital. Of course, there is time off in this process, there are a thousand tiny subterfuges that we invent, and sometimes we manage to mount coordinated sabotage and revolt. My notion is that all this goes on from the inside, if my topological imagination makes sense to you. Our exodus or our nomadism is one that never leaves that inside, and yet nonetheless manages to mount an opposition and pose an alternative.

* Do you intend the concept of 'always-already multitude' to be a critique of the idea that only the one can rule, that the many can not rule itself (that is, the social and political body has always been multiple, the many has always been able to rule itself, and now we understand this) or a diagnosis of historical exhaustion of the rule of the one (that is, the rule of the one was the only possibility before, earlier attempts to produce multitude were pre-mature, only now is the era of the one's rule passing)?

I would tend to agree with your latter formulation, that the exhaustion of the rule of the one and the formation of the multitude are only possible today for the first time. The "always-already" is meant to refer to the virtual existence of multitude. But I wonder if there really have been earlier attempts to produce multitude or rather if only today in retrospect we can read our history in those terms. Maybe it's something like that line of Marx in the Introduction to the Grundrisse about the anatomy of the human preceding the anatomy of the ape.

- Following up on this question, if you intend the term multitude as a form of criticism, how does it become action? On the other hand, you are articulating the historical exhaustion of the one, is there an avant-garde, a spearhead that leads the process?

The second question is kind of self-contradictory, isn't it?

As for the first part, Multitude isn't just a form of criticism; it is also a mode of social organization. And to answer the question of how it becomes action, perhaps the best thing is to look at what people are doing. In other words, how is it that today people are creating horizontal, multiple organizations of singularities. Here is a time when a theoretical question might be best answered by looking at practice.

* You talk about a not-yet multitude, a multitude to-come. What do you mean by this? How does this relate to Agamben's "coming community?" And how does this not-yet/to-come relate to struggle?

It does relate to Agamben's coming community, if I remember that correctly, especially in the sense that he describes it as not being based on belonging. He was experimenting with the notion of a non-identity way of thinking and making social organization. That too is the project of multitude. In philosophical terms, like Agamben, we are trying to displace the contradictory couple identity/difference and instead work with the common, singularity, and multiplicity.

But our notion of "not-yet" is really very simple. In addition to aluding to Bloch's notion of utopia, we merely want to emphasize that multitude is a project, a political project, that must be brought into existence through collective struggle.

- To follow up, in reading Agamben we get the sense that the only reason the coming community did not erupt in Tiananmen Square was the power of the Chinese government's tanks. This suggests that the primary problem for the coming community or not-yet multitude is how to survive attacks from bosses and the state, a matter of organizing. How does organization relate to the temporality of the multitude, its status as not-yet or to-come?

How to survive attacks is certainly an important question, and more generally the question is how to organize in a way that is powerful enough to destroy the contemporary regimes of power. But I wouldn't say that is the only or even the primary problem. Here is just one other problem: how to deal with conflict within the multitude? The multitude, of course, is not just a field of the common but also a field of conflict. There is no guarantee of agreement among singularities, nor should there be. That is the beauty of the multitude, after all, its real multiplicity and its free expression of differences and even conflicts. I suspect that the question of conflict within the multitude is one of those questions better addressed in more practical terms rather than at this rather philosophical level.

* If multitude is defined as a political project, is this a telos? If so, how is your approach different from those Hegelian marxism which have sought to define the class according to a 'revolutionary' essence, thereby relegating those aspects which are not 'revolutionary' to the terrain of 'false consciousness'?

Toni has talked for a long time about a materialist telos, and this is just what he means; a telos that is constructed through our desires. There is nothing necessary or ideal or pre-given about this telos. Think of is as something like the log-book of our successive collective desires and aims.

The far right in the US today has proven very capable in organizing and mobilizing many people through talk radio, televangelism, and the affective labor of missionaries, youth groups, etc. How does this kind of activity relate to multitude? Can the multitude be or become reactionary? Or is there a reactionary "anti-multitude" built on the same ground as the multitude? What is the relationship between these formations, whether it be 'good and bad' multitude, or 'multitude and anti-multitude'?

First of all (I know you're not asking this but it's useful to repeat), it makes no sense to associate the concept of multitude with that of Nazi masses or crowds, à la Kracauer or Canetti. All the definitions of multitude make this distinction clear.

Some definitions of multitude, however, do leave ambiguous its political nature. If you define multitude in merely formal terms – for example, as a horizontal, distributed network structure – you could have reactionary multitudes. And then it would be important to pose criteria that help us distinguish between them.

I'm more inclined to give a more substantial definition of the concept of multitude that limits these ambiguities greatly. For example, when one poses the free expression of difference (which is included really in any conception of multiplicity or singularity, it seems to me) then you make clear how all of these reactionary phenomena, from US populist formations to terrorist networks, have no relation to multitude.

If the destiny of the multitude lies in global citizenship, then what do you see as the relationship between the project of the multitude and the emergence of a global humanitarian militarism?

I'm not sure I understand this question. Why should citizenship imply militarism? Citizenship, in any case, is a troubled concept and it's not immediately evident what it means. (I've admired, by the way, what Etienne Balibar has made of it.) In Empire we used the notion of global citizenship primarily in a negative way, that is, to indicate the destruction of boundaries and thus the freedom of movement for everyone. Citizenship can also have a positive face to include a whole series of positive rights. But that isn't how we were using it there in Empire.

You have called for a general citizen's income, and recent movements in Europe make similar calls. As we understand you, you justify these calls by saying "we are all productive, all the time, since we are always producing we should be paid a general income." You seem to be posing a general income as a fair and reasonable thing, instead of as a demand to be fought for and imposed upon the bosses (like the eight hour day). Some movements of precarious workers call for a general income with a different tone, they seem to be saying instead "we need this income to live, the present arrangement is not working for us." What is the status of the call for a general income? Do you see it as something that is in the best interest of both capital and the multitude, at least for the moment? Or do you see this as a possible recompositional demand, something that the multitude can rally around to start and spread new struggles going beyond capital?

I do think you're right that a demand for a basic income especially when associated with unemployed or precarious workers is a powerful demand that can help frame and organize struggles. That, as you imply, I think, is the central point.

Our argument was simply that it is also justifiable using only the logic of capital itself, that is, basing income strictly on productive labor. This is a rather ironic argument, but a rather useful one, it seems to me. It's an instance when capital's own logic points beyond capitalist relations.

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