Porto Alegre Sad Empire
Stephane Mandard interviews Antonio Negri for Le Monde (26.01.02)
Translated by Arianna Bove
On the eve of the World Social Forum, which will take place from the 31st of January till the 5th of February in Porto Alegre, we have interviewed the Paduan philosopher Toni Negri, condemned for armed insurrection and currently at home arrest.
Numerous representatives of the liberal anti-globalisation movement have turned Empire, the book you wrote with Michael Hardt, into their 'little red book'. Do you agree with them?
Porto Alegre is not the Paris Commune! However, the World Social Forum is an important moment, a place where a generosity and militant ability out of the ordinary are about to meet. I am in agreement with the spirit and the objectives of the movement: to construct, at a global level, an opposition to liberalism and to develop a possible alternative, within the framework of globalisation. It is a fundamental stage in the construction of a counter-Empire. The anti-liberal movement, on the other hand, gives expression to many different positions. And I don't agree with all of them.
Are you referring to the anti-Americanism that tempts some parts of the movement?
My impression is that these associations are made by the adversaries of the movement. To be anti-American is completely idiotic. One needs to overcome the false view that makes of the American government the sole enemy. The American government is the most important amongst the powers to contest, but it isn't the only one. It wouldn't exist if the ruling classes of world capitalism didn't give it their complete support. The most important struggle, for the anti-liberal movement, is to manage to mobilise American workers.
What positions do you distance yourself from?
From the fact that we really need to break with Third Worldism, and Porto Alegre must do it. Third Worldism is a pernicious illusion: it hasn't struggled against capitalism because it's never seen it as only one thing at the global level. If we wanted to put together a world forum and a world workers organisation we'd need to deal with a very precise awareness: there no longer is a North-South separation, because there are no more geographical differences amongst Nation-States.
How do you explain then the presence of a current that supports national sovereignty, and its representation at Porto Alegre by Jean-Pierre Chevenement?
I think that this is precisely the weak point of the movement. A weakness that cultivates the illusion of going back to a pre-globalisation era. The Nation-State is overcome. Globalisation was not caused by the will of American power. Moreover, the real anti-Americanism is that of the makers of national sovereignty.
Empire, globalisation, derives from the fact that Nation-States can no longer control within their borders the movements of capital and conflicts.
For three or four centuries the nation-state has been a formidable locus for the development of capital and the regulation of society. This historical situation is surpassed because not even the Americans manage to preserve the nation-state form.
We find ourselves in the paradoxical situation where the US president is elected with foreign investments: the capital of Saudi oil barons is so completely integrated with the government of American affairs that we can really no longer say that the nation-state still functions.
Does the war undertaken by the west against terrorism risk to criminalize the anti-globalisation movement?
I'm afraid so. What's happening at this moment is neither a war nor a police operation. It could well be a new form to exercise imperial force. It is a war that becomes less and less destructive and increasingly ordering and constituent. It is obvious that there will be an extension of liberticidal laws. Having said that, I am fairly optimistic, because there is a resistance to organise, counter-powers to oppose to this phenomenon.
Does the struggle of the Porto Alegre opponents inaugurate what you call 'a new phase in the struggle of the exploited against the power of capital'?
I believe so, I hope so. But the problem isn't just a matter of fighting capital; it is also one of organisation. I hope that Porto Alegre will allow it. We must say that we don't want to live in a world like this, that we want to get away from a power that tries to manipulate even our lives, our affects, our desires. Today the exploited are not just the manual workers, but also the social multitudes: workers, surely, but also students, flexi-workers, unemployed, immigrants, women, black market workers, interns. It is important to be well aware that we find ourselves faced with new political subjects. The new left cannot but emerge from the anti-liberal movement.
In Italy, for example, the rebirth of the left will come from the movement: more and more ex-militants of the Italian communist party are approaching it.
But there are groups, such as Attac, that refuse to become a political movement.
I think that the movement has no intention of limiting itself to contestation: it is a movement of counter-power. It certainly isn't fascinated by power, and the liberation from this flattery has been a painful process. Nonetheless power must be subverted. How? Once we used to distinguish between different stages: first a workers and unionist resistance, then an insurrectional phase and finally the constituent one. Today there is neither a distinction nor transition; there is simply the movement. The new political subject that the movement embodies is increasingly a constituent subject of resistance, a subject of struggle and creation. It opposes proposing alternatives. It chooses to flee from power and it designs another world. That world is possible, but the multitude needs to get organised.
The movement is almost co-substantial to the Internet. Is it its best weapon?
The Internet is a tool, certainly a precious one but it can fall under the control of the capitalist system. On this terrain, today, the conflict is evident.
But it is not only a question of control, there is that of property, in the case of Internet that of patents and intellectual copyrights. Amongst the militants I know the problem is increasingly not only that of private or public property, but also the definition of a new common good. People start thinking that all services -education, health, and transports, social welfare - must be considered collective good, even those linked to intellectual labour. It is a question of defending the Internet function as a tool of the movement, but it is also the material problem of organisation of a new society.