By David Bates
To what extent is it possible to situate Hardt and Negri’s thought? Are they best regarded as ‘anarchists’, ‘socialists’, ‘communists’, ‘marxists’, ‘leninists’, ‘postmarxists’ or ‘postanarchists’? Answering this question is no mere intellectual exercise. As Wittgenstein once remarked, ‘words are deeds’. On the radical left, much blood has been spilt through those deeds, careers ended and reputations shattered. Of course, today a great deal is made of the claim that we live in ‘postideological’ times, ‘new times’ where ‘class struggle’ does not have the importance it once had; postmodern times, where meanings and identities are constantly subject to the contestation of ‘discourse’. Now, while the costs of labelling are not what they once were, there are still costs. Labelling instigates a kind of ‘symbolic violence’ over discursive space. Rival ideologies are constructed as ‘straw men’, as ‘crude’, ‘naïve’, as ‘elitist’ or ‘authoritarian’ etc. This process neglects any philosophical sophistication, common ground, or indeed the interpenetration of ‘rival ideologies.’ One danger of labelling is that we move beyond healthy criticism to a desire to relegate our theoretical interlocutors to the status of the ‘other’. Accordingly, they become an opponent we seek to dismiss, in order to give positive identity to ourselves, rather than a potential ally in the struggle against the exploitative mechanisms of global capitalism.
Where labelling is also connected with the construction of orthodoxies, it can lead to what Skinner has termed a ‘mythology of coherence’ (and of incoherence) produced often by those wishing to defend the integrity of their specific ideological projects. While seeking to avoid the excesses of such ‘symbolic violence’, this chapter aims to locate Hardt and Negri’s work within the cross-cutting currents of modern socialism, and crucially to understand the labelling strategies which they themselves deploy in the field of revolutionary politics. Why specifically, do they find it necessary to reject the label of ‘anarchism’? Why do they make often rather cryptic reference to ‘leninism’? What game are they playing, and why do they feel a need to play it? What are their intentions? How can we read Hardt and Negri? Antonio Negri has paid a higher price than most in the struggle against global capitalism and we can learn a great deal both from his work and activism. That said, in what follows I will subject his work – along with Michael Hardt’s – to a robust critique, drawing on marxist, anarchist, postmarxist, and postanarchist thinking, so as to assess the cogency of their…