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The multitude

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Anonymous
Feb 21 2007 17:44
The multitude

I've been studying a fair bit of Hardt & Negri for some of my courses, and I'm kind of struggling to get the concept of the multitude. It just seems to be a word they've adopted to use instead of the phrase 'working class', and I can't really see how much of it is really breaking with other autonomist theories of class. I think I understand why they've chosen to use the word 'multitude' instead of w/c due to the way work has changed, and they want to stress the creative potential of the class/multitude. So what do people think, are they just catching up with anarchism, being innovative, or what?

smile

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 21 2007 18:11

N&H seem to use it as a replacement for the working class ('the multitude is all those who produce and are exploited'), presumably thinking 'working class = blue collar' in the public mind if not theirs, hence a new term to describe a more heterogeneously composed class. and they oppose 'the multitude' to 'the people' (following Hobbes).

From what i've read, Virno is a bit more articulate, describing multitude as 'a mode of being of the working class', saying that the working class has always been viewed in the mode of 'the people' and so has had the goal of seizing state power (which is bollocks, it ignores all the libertarian currents in the workers movement (spain etc), the fact lenin had to adopt the slogan 'all power to the soviets', Joe Hill's century-old aphorism 'the people and the working class have nothing in common' etc).

I suspect they're pitching it at liberals who don't like the word working class, given how they both oppose it to 'the people'. so yeah, to a certain extent denying the existence of the anarchist/libertarian currents of the last hundred years, then presenting a précis of their ideas as radically new. i think N&H also claim that "only now" is such a thing possible, so the diverse worker-peasant membership of the CNT didn't happen wink

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Feb 21 2007 18:18

REply yeah virno and H & N 's 'Multitude' seem pretty different in many ways. There's a section in the book 'Multitude' where H&N explain what they mean by the term a bit better. It's the one where they tackle their left wing critics.

There's some stuff on here that may help. In particular see 'Multitude or working class' by Paolo Virno. It's very short so you could read it quicker that a libcom thread.

admin edit: link libcomised black bloc

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Feb 21 2007 18:45

if i was being cynical i'd say they were trying to flog books to naive 'unity in diversity' alter-globalists and radical liberals. like that guy who posted 'act 4 a radical europe' manifesto

Spikymike
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Feb 21 2007 19:19

There is an interesting short critical article on this called 'Working Class or Mutitude' in the archive section of 'internationalist-perspective.org' website, which site I mentioned in another context in the Mouvement Communiste thread a while back.

Sorry I haven't mastered the link attachment yet.

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Feb 22 2007 11:41

Also I think it might be a language issue. Negri's Italian, in Italian working class is "classe operaia", and "operaia" means blue collar, factory or manual worker.

But I would think Hardt goes along with it to flog books to liberal "civil society" types.

Luther Blissett
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Feb 22 2007 11:58

mulitude=masses in everyday language

i.e those who are exploited

however, i notice negri uses 'multitude' to distinguish from the masses who are seen as a passive force that can be manipulated, and uses multitude, to describe an active social agent of self-organisation

it seems as though he/they are moving toward an anarchist ontology, coming from a marxist dialectic

danger here is from mulitude of active self-organisers, a new elite can arise

this is post-marxist theory, right?

ftony
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Feb 22 2007 16:44

[slight detour]

can anyone recommend a short but decent introduction to autonomist ideas in general?

[/slight detour]

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Feb 22 2007 16:47
ftony wrote:
[slight detour]

can anyone recommend a short but decent introduction to autonomist ideas in general?

[/slight detour]

You can't go wrong with the introduction to Harry Cleaver's Reading Capital politically, IMO.

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Joseph Kay
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Feb 22 2007 16:48
ftony wrote:
[slight detour]

can anyone recommend a short but decent introduction to autonomist ideas in general?

[/slight detour]

haven't read this in full yet, but steve wright's pretty good usually:

http://libcom.org/library/there-and-back-again-mapping-the-pathways-with...

edit: also, what button said. which is also in the library.

Luther Blissett
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Feb 22 2007 16:49
the button wrote:
ftony wrote:
[slight detour]

can anyone recommend a short but decent introduction to autonomist ideas in general?

[/slight detour]

You can't go wrong with the introduction to Harry Cleaver's Reading Capital politically, IMO.

http://www.eco.utexas.edu/%7Ehmcleave/

admin: *ahem* http://libcom.org/library/reading-capital-politically-cleaver
;)

Luther Blissett
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Feb 22 2007 17:01
invisible librarian wrote:
admin: *ahem* http://libcom.org/library/reading-capital-politically-cleaver
;)

i love this invisible librarian thing we got going on here wink

ftony
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Feb 22 2007 17:15

thanks folks for the tips. i amit to genuine ignorance on all but the absolute basics of this stuff.

anyway, now i've sucessfully ruined the flow of this thread, lets go back to the multitude... tongue

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Feb 22 2007 18:02
Luther Blissett wrote:
it seems as though he/they are moving toward an anarchist ontology, coming from a marxist dialectic

i'm pretty sure they've abandoned dialectics for a deleuzian approach, saying the multitude has always-positive active desire and Empire is purely reactive. but i've only read Empire, not Multitude, so maybe they're more nuanced than that.

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Feb 22 2007 19:10
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I really like Lenin In England by Mario Tronti.

georgestapleton wrote:
There's a section in the book 'Multitude' where H&N explain what they mean by the term a bit better. It's the one where they tackle their left wing critics.

Is that the bit titled 'Excursus 2: Organisation: Multitude on the Left'?

Yeah, it was something like that. I lent my 'Multitude' to antrophe ages ago and haven't seen it since so I couldn't check but it was something like that yeah.

Also funny by the way in the book is the way he talks about Berlin in '53 and describes how the workers council was grew out of a strike fund committee contrasting it with the soviets. But the 1905 pertrograd soviet also grew out a strike fund committee. The silly academic geese.

----------

Other intros are ‘Autonomist Marxism and the Information Society’ by Dyer Witheford at http://libcom.org/library/nick-dyer-witheford

And for the actual movement the prole.info pamphlet is great

But yeah go with Tommy Ascaso recomendation theorywise Lenin in England is deadly.

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Feb 22 2007 19:11
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
I thought this article was pretty interesting.

Oh revol won't like that. smile)

Luther Blissett
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Feb 22 2007 21:37
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Luther Blissett wrote:
this is post-marxist theory, right?

I've heard it being described as neo-marxist.

Whenever I've seen Negri describing what the multitude is he's been stressing that it includes women and other non-factory worker types, which fits with John's point about language. But I can't see how this is any different from any social factory theories, or the anarcho-communist analysis of class. So yeah, I think they are kind of arriving at anarchism via marxism but I don't think it's really as simple as that, or that it really is anarchism that they're arriving at.

I thought this article was pretty interesting.

sure, i'll read that, thanks

Joseph K. wrote:
Luther Blissett wrote:
it seems as though he/they are moving toward an anarchist ontology, coming from a marxist dialectic

i'm pretty sure they've abandoned dialectics for a deleuzian approach, saying the multitude has always-positive active desire and Empire is purely reactive. but i've only read Empire, not Multitude, so maybe they're more nuanced than that.

try this, y'all: http://www.eco.utexas.edu/%7Ehmcleave/mbmhmcintro.html
Introduction to Antonio Negri, Marx Beyond Marx (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1991) by Harry Cleaver

i'll have to read it before i make any further comments
(waits for the invisible librarian...)

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Feb 22 2007 22:37
Luther Blissett wrote:
(waits for the invisible librarian...)

i'll try and nab that tomorrow black bloc

tongue

though Negri was far less post-structuralist influenced back then, it's probably a good intro to autonomia proper as opposed to the modern pomo-influenced stuff.

john
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Feb 23 2007 02:03
Joseph K. wrote:
i'm pretty sure they've abandoned dialectics for a deleuzian approach, saying the multitude has always-positive active desire and Empire is purely reactive.

I don't understand! please tell me more!

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Feb 23 2007 07:33

basically, a dialectic approach would see every action of the working class as to some extent a reaction (to living standards, wages/conditions etc), and every action of capital as to some extent an reaction to the working class (e.g. restructuring militantly unionised industries, relocating to where labour is more easily exploited etc). there's a contradiction between the interests of capital and workers, which plays itself out as the ebbs and flows of class struggle.

Negri however, who initially (in the 60/70s) reacted to the crude objectivist marxism which saw only the active 'objective laws' of capital and a reactive working class awaiting their historical destiny, has inverted this to say that the working class (sorry, multitude) is always active and capital (sorry, Empire) always reactive, leaving him unable to theorise working class defeats.

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Feb 23 2007 09:18

and what i mean by deleuzian, is that deleuze adopts nietzsche's (ontological) notion of the world as an interplay of clashing forces, which always resolve to active/reactive, master/slave pairs, i.e. someone is either one or the other. for example nietzsche saw christianity as a 'slave morality' because it took the values of the powerful and inverted them, praising poverty, asceticism and the like, rather than creating values of its own like masters do. i'd agree with that. however, he also saw anarchism and socialism in the same light, seeing them based on envy of the rich and powerful. i think this is often bollocks, as they don't (always) simply praise the opposite of capitalist values, but set out alternate values which require the destruction of capital to implement. i don't envy the rich, but in true nietzschean fashion i want to meet their 'force' with 'force' and overcome them. not however in order to take their place but to restructure the world according to different values. if you've read raoul vanegeim's 'the revolution of everyday life', i think this is what he means by 'masters without slaves.'

anyhow, deleuze's focus on the localised interplay of forces/desires is what he calls 'micropolitics', as opposed to the 'macropolitics' of classes, nations etc1. iirc, negri pretty much adopts this view, which in my opinion misses the fact that micropolitical forces are arrayed within macropolitical frameworks (or 'assembleges' in deleuze-speak), so while there are all sorts of power relations within and between classes, there are still classes and with them the contradictions of simultaneous action/reaction in varying degrees. while negri claims the multitude as a "class concept", it's very much in the deleuzian micropolitical vein, defined as a 'multiplicity of singularities', by diversity and difference rather than commonality. the only commonality he sees is that it is always active, and capital (sorry, Empire) is always reactive, which i think is the theoretical of spraypainting 'WE ARE WINNING!' inside a police cordon (actually happened at the edinburgh g8 protests wink)

  • 1. The analogy i've heard used is that micropolitics is like quantum mechanics to macropolitics' newtonian physics. i mean it turns out newton's clockwork universe doesn't exist, but for the purposes of everyday life - e.g. kicking a football - his system is perfectly adequate, and only breaks down over very large distances or on a very small scale. likewise, while class can't explain everything, particularly at an individual level, it's still an eminently useful concept in everyday life and for understanding history/society etc.
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Feb 23 2007 09:25

if that all sounds like psuedo-intellectual giberish, say so and i'll explain without the casual references to quantum mechanics (which i have no clue about beyond pop-science books ) wink

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Feb 23 2007 13:22
Joseph K. wrote:
and what i mean by deleuzian, is that deleuze adopts nietzsche's (ontological) notion of the world as an interplay of clashing forces, which always resolve to active/reactive, master/slave pairs, i.e. someone is either one or the other.

Although to be fair the master/slave pairing has a pedigree which is neither Deleuzian nor Nietzschean. wink

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Feb 23 2007 13:24

indeed, though isn't it more a contradiction that resolves in a 'higher form' or something in Hegel, as opposed to an endless struggle of forces?

i'm not too up on the relationship between nietzsche's master/slave morality and hegel's master-slave dialectic, so please tell ... tongue

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Feb 23 2007 13:29
Joseph K. wrote:
indeed, though isn't it more a contradiction that resolves in a 'higher form' or something in Hegel, as opposed to an endless struggle of forces?

This is true. Although it kind of depends on what standpoint you think the Phenomenology of Spirit is written from. The tension's there in Hegel's own attitude to his project, so it's a tricky one.

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Feb 23 2007 13:34

i resolve that problem by not thinking about the Phenomenology of Spirit. i love idealism cool

seriously though, never read any hegel and only a few bits and pieces of secondary stuff, so i have no idea. or the Idea doesn't have me. or something.

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Feb 23 2007 13:38
Joseph K. wrote:
i'm not too up on the relationship between nietzsche's master/slave morality and hegel's master-slave dialectic, so please tell ... tongue

I think the real difference between them is in their conception of the political. As you say, Deleuze is following Nietzche in having an agonistic notion of the political (NB this is wankerspeak for "politics is somewhere where conflicts happen, and not somewhere where conflicts are resolved). Whereas Hegel has (or is taken to have) an dialectical-idealist* thing going on. Personally, I reckon the Hegel doesn't see the master/slave dialectic as ever coming to an end. This means that they're not as different as you might think, although their framing of "the political," and their conception of the nature of conflict are pretty wide apart.

You have to keep in mind that the Preface to the Phenomenology was written a while after he'd finished the main body of the text, so he's pretty much trying to hammer it into the framework of his later stuff.

* Idealist in the "as opposed to materialist" sense, rather than the "why can't we all be nice to each other, and then the world will be a kinder place" sense.

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Feb 23 2007 13:43

that's what happens when you get your Hegel via a bearded commie professor sad

i have to catch a train now, cheers button wink

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Feb 23 2007 13:46
Joseph K. wrote:
that's what happens when you get your Hegel via a bearded commie professor sad

i have to catch a train now, cheers button ;)

Always glad to be of service.

I lent my copy of the Phenomenology of Spirit to revol, and now the pages are all stuck together. cry

wink

SatanIsMyCoPilot
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Feb 24 2007 12:12

Perhaps the best way into Negri's idea of the multitude is through Spinoza. Try and get hold of his Subversive Spinoza, in which he talks about Spinoza's multitude as being essentially communist (pretty much anarchist in fact). he does this through two sense of the word power, lost in English: potesta (translated as Power) and potentia (translated as power). The multitude has the power to create and also to contest social Power. Power (potesta) is always subject to power (potentia); while social power may dominate the multitude, it is the multitude that creates and has the capacity to overthrow that power.

...and 've only skimmed through the other replies to the original question, but some people here are talking about Hegel. Negri's Spinozism is absolutely set against dialectics, largely because of Negri's poor reading of Hegel; for him (Negri) the dialectic is a process in which the particular is subsumed by the universal, and translated into Negri's terms this means that potentia (power) becomes subsumed by potesta (Power). This might be useful as a way of talking about Soviet diamat, but it has fuck all to do with Hegel, or with any progressive reading of Hegelian dialectics.

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Feb 24 2007 13:46

I'd like to add something about that old wrist-raiser, Friedrich N.

I've recently read Nietzsche's "Good and Bad", "Good and Evil" from the Geneology of Morals, and have made my own commentary. The gist of it is that, in my opinion, Nietzsche criticizes bourgeois morality from an anachronistic absolutist point of view. He correctly detects a shifting in perspective in moral philosophy, but cites this as a degeneration into slave morality, instead of realizing that there's an entirely new ruling class calling the shots and forming the prevalent morality.

I want to go over the whole of tGoM and write further commentary. Then I'll probably put the whole thing online somewhere. I don't know, would it be appropriate for the libcom library?