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Rethinking Marxism versus Hardt-Negri
by Louis Proyect
18 March 2002 19:31 UTC
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As a Columbia University employee, I have access to the online version of a
number of left journals, including Rethinking Marxism, which is edited by a
group of Althusserian professors up at the U. of Mass. and their allies. I
urge everybody to ante up the change and get the latest issue (Volume 13,
Number 3 -- September 1, 2001) that is dedicated to Hardt-Negri's "Empire."
The response is at odds with the fawning hype found in the bourgeois press.
RM luminaries Stephen Resnick, Richard Wolff complain that the book lacks a
class analysis. Zizek advises them to read Lenin, which is a little bit
like Pee-Wee Herman telling Paulie Shore to quit fooling around. There's an
absolutely excoriating article by David Moore titled "Africa: The Black
Hole at the Middle of Empire?" that I take great pleasure in quoting:

>>Africanists worry about what "paths" Africa is following-or wonder if
there are any "paths" at all as opposed to meaningless meanderings of pain.
How can we be sure that Africa's paths of "development" are linear, or that
they are en route to something approximating "modernity" at all? The more
pessimistic among them ask if "modernity" has not passed Africa by. Yet
when Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri consider the continent at all, it is
hoist by some petards of postmodernity and its hypercrises. Empire pours
needed (although dialectical) scorn on those believing in the oxymoron of
national liberation but then wishes its contemporary problems away. It is
as if Africa and the rest of the "third world" had joined with the
borderless multitude in advanced capitalist corners of the world.

One has only to come down to earth to remember that the millions of African
refugees constitute a qualitatively different realm of existence than that
lived by those rendered borderless by jets and cyberspace. The latter's
subjectivities are formed in the merging of superstructure and structure
occurring when communications become a means of production, and their
differences are sublimated by Internet expertise. Yet in Africa, we see the
deep, deep crises of modernity deferred-but now, perhaps, accelerated, thus
more disruptive than ever in our post-cold war era. Borderlessness in
Africa is due to poverty, war, and famine and is subject to the mentalities
of "tradition" (often invented, to be sure, but nevertheless counter to a
strategy of Gramsci's "good sense") rather than a combination of supercool
calculation and cyborgian connectivity. Does that mean that Africa (as
always, we often end up thinking in spite of ourselves) is dependent on
what the hyperadvanced multitude in the West decides for it? Is the
discourse articulated in Empire yet another version, along with the various
strands of development and underdevelopment theory over which we have pored
in the past, yet another strand of academic "trickle-down"?

One wonders, then, if Empire, based on the European-let's face it,
white-experience, can adequately recognize the African multitude? Can it
outline the ways in which those at the peak of Empire (but whose radical
nomadism contradicts it) can extend a difference-based solidarity with it?
Or does the book, almost in spite of itself, place the continent on
Fukuyama's (1992) wagon? "Sure," Hardt and Negri can almost be heard to
say, 'Africa's struggles bear the marks of nobility and tragedy, but their
ends are almost predetermined, and maybe even farcical. Let's get back to
Europe and America, where all the marches to Seattle or Prague really point
to the heart of empire' (and remember, 747 flights and the Internet
mobilization came first). Are Africans' struggles-for affordable food in
cities, for land in the country, to avoid war and famine all over-on the
same plane as the multitude's "insurrectional event[s] that erupt within
the order of the imperial system provok[ing] a shock to the system in its
entirety"? How can they be, if Africans are not yet really "people" because
the contradictions of nation-statehood have not yet been carried through on
their soil? How can they be, if their struggles are not waged on the
capitalist terrain furrowed by the ploughs of primitive accumulation, so
that they can push capitalism forward-against its own will-into the heights
of informatized productivity? Can the new mode of production propel Africa
into these realms of efficiency and extraenlightened consciousness?<<

BRAVO to Rethinking Marxism.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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