= concept and practice of political governance, book, and specific software tool
For the concept, see:
- J30 Assembly Movement - UK
- Duncan Crowley on the 2011 Assembly 15M Movement in Barcelona
- NYC General Assembly ; How the NYC General Assembly Works
- Argentine Assembly Movement ; Disappearance of the Neighborhood Assembly Movement in Buenos Aires
- United States General Assembly
- People's Assembly Against Austerity
- General Assembly Guide ; General Assembly Process Guide
- Introduction to the Facilitation Methods at the Occupy Atlanta General Assembly
- Book: Assembly. By Toni Negri and Michael Hardt.
Interview of Negri conducted by Pascal Gielen and Sonja Lavaert:
* Q: In your book Assembly we detect a similar idea: assembly characterizes the aesthetic style and strategy of the commons. Likewise, in Commonism, we oppose the aesthetic figure with the abstraction that we associate with exchange value, finance capitalism and neoliberalism. What does the ideal assembly look like, in your view? What are the conditions for its realization? How can non-humans (things, nature) be involved in an assembly? What instruments or strategies are needed? In short, how should assembly be practically organized in order to function well, in your view?
A: We argue that the assembly is already there. It is already there in the structure of the present-day economy in which labour has transformed itself in language and in cooperation that is largely autonomous. The assembly is what we are confronted with. The problem therefore is how these labour forces or subjects / people who produce subjectivity can become political subjects. This is demonstrated by the recognition of the common, by the transition to the common and being together, by the transition of the mere finding of being together to being aware of it. The transition of collaboration and being-in-common to the production of common subjectivity is the central element of the assembly.
The comrades and activists who take part in the fight of the movement, from Occupy Wall Street to the Indignados in Madrid, have attempted to bring about such a transition, especially from the condition of people producing under capitalism and whose situation simply happens to them to a free condition in which the common is built and formed. This transition is fundamental and in addition it demonstrates that commonism is much more feasible today than in the previous situation, in which the workers were organized and brought together by capital. Before, the workers were brought together, they did not come together of their own initiative. This is no longer the case and precisely this means an enormous boost for the possibilities. The possibility for liberation is infinitely larger and wider today, because there is this being-together, an ontological fact that is also a point of departure.
The assembly is an ontological fact that must become political, that is the heart of the matter.
Marx has said of the working classes that they were made by capital and that therefore it was necessary for them to become aware of their situation through a political party, an external organization, an ideology, et cetera, in order to become political. Today we see a maturity and an original organization, so to speak, thanks to the transformation that occurred in labour and society. Labour today is no longer a labour under command. The aspect of the command is becoming increasingly alienated from the possibility to work together subjectively. What is important, is that the language that is formed by the worker comes before the command, precedes it. The importance of neoliberalism, by the way, is that it understood that this autonomous use of language can be reversed and can be made use of by capital. This is why the most important political work of today is to recognize this subjective and special use of language and to reverse again what capitalism and neoliberalism have reversed, and to bring about the liberation.
* Q: We are still not quite convinced, in the sense that we miss a concrete definition of what assembly exactly is. Looking at this as a sociologists, we look at examples of assemblies such as the Ex Asilo Filangieri in Naples, and we think: assembly is a tool, a meeting method, a more democratic way of organizing things, of taking autonomous decisions, of achieving self-governance. Can we say that assembly is a formula for organizing direct democracy?
A: What Michael and I have in mind is exactly the type of phenomenon like L’Asilo in Naples, where sovereignty has been reversed: to the common, to a space and a series of shared goods (beni communi) in the widest sense, both material and immaterial goods. In other words, where a series of remarkable initiatives is undertaken for the common good. The concept of common is always a production, something that is invented, made, shaped. The assembly is this: a body of people, a small multitude that manages well the shared (material and immaterial) goods and thereby constitutes a common. The fundamental concept of assembly is that the political and social are again joined and today we have a chance, an opportunity to do this. Unlike Lenin, we no longer find ourselves in exceptional conditions like it was with the Russian Revolution when there was only hunger, war and catastrophe and everything had to be torn down in order to create a new force. Now, today, we have the opportunity to transform the assembly into a force. Because that is politics: lending force. Or, that is aesthetics, if one wishes to use that term: lending form and force. There is no form without force. Politics is force, power – and that includes the aspect of violence. In politics it is about the force (the power, sometimes violence) to construct peace.
Q: What we see in the practical functioning of assembly, for example, is that the practice of language becomes very important. After all, people have to speak to each other and try to convince others through dialogue. Now this mechanism has two problems: 1) those who speak more and better have an advantage in winning the debate; and 2) there is a class phenomenon. In the situation of an assembly the middle class becomes dominant: those who are white, educated and can speak well have the floor, so there is an element of selection. My question to you is: how can the assembly be organized in such a way that there is no such selection or that this shortcoming is compensated for by letting basis-democratic principles prevail? How does one give a voice to those who remain silent?
We are of course discussing examples and I think that especially in Naples, if one looks at the periphery, in the surrounding region, in all those places where the casa del popolo are strong and many initiatives are taken by the people, one definitely sees a direct proletarian use of language, and in quite dominant forms. There are also initiatives such as L’Asilo that already have quite a tradition, that have statutes and a legal structure. And yes, in those cases a certain political class is involved. However, I think that the assembly is both cause and product of a break with class distinction. The obvious objection one could have against these assembly initiatives is that not everything has been properly defined. We are after all speaking of a process that is not free of contradictions and downfall, but it is an extremely important process and it has begun.
The problem is that we have to develop a different model than that of parliamentary democracy, or, rather, we need a post-parliamentarian model of democracy.
* Q: In Assembly you regard the new leadership of the commons as a possible strategy of the multitude and as a tactic of the leader. The leader can only temporarily – and depending on her or his expertise – make certain tactical moves in the general strategy of the multitude. How can this be organized and in how much is your reversal of attribution of the strategy (to the multitude) and of tactics (to the leader) different from a representative democracy where leaders are also only appointed temporarily?
I think that we are faced with the problem of removing or eroding the political relationship between movement and leader. What is at stake is decision authority. What exactly was the formula of political parties? A party gathered a great number of people along a certain political line that was decided upon by the top, by the leader, and which was literally imposed on or taught to the people in a top-down fashion. In our work, Michael and I take the critique by movements as our starting point, because these movements reject the existing institutions. Today, we have to reject leadership but not necessarily institutions as such. So we are now faced with the problem of the institutions and we have to solve this, we have to face this, and study it together. Or, in other words: we have to bring back the leadership to the movement and it is within the movement that the hegemonial strategy of leadership must be developed. We have to take the decision authority away from the leader, or rather, take the abstraction and transcendence of the decision away from the leader.
* Q: In Assembly you defend the hypothesis that the institutions or the leader don’t need a centralized rule but that they can be realized by a multitude in a democratic manner. The examples you provide for the future of the movements are in line with this hypothesis: for example, Black Lives Matter. But isn’t this notion and aren’t these examples at odds with or even contrary to your criticism of the ‘horizontal leader-lessness’?
Well, many movements are leaderless, but that is not the issue. What is problematic, or what these movements need, is institutions. What we are trying to say is not so much that movements need leaders – as, again, they should take charge of leadership themselves – but that they do need institutions. It is a mistake for these movements not to have an institution, to not adopt an institutional framework. However, Michael and I are convinced that within the movements there is a tendency to do this, to form institutions – these are not anarchist groups – and thereby realize this horizontal hegemony. Our work is about searching for a type of institution that is not sovereign and is not connected to ownership. How this works out in practice, well, that is exactly what we need to discuss, think about, try out… .
* Q: In Assembly you quote Hegel: ‘Everything turns on grasping and expressing the True not only as a Substance, but equally as Subject’.2 What exactly is subjectivity to you? Does subjectivity take on a different form today and if so, what does it look like?
To Hegel, subjectivity meant synthesis and overcoming. Think of Alexandre Kojève’s interpretation of the master-slave dialectic: the slave overcomes the master in as far as he serves him and at the same time constructs him. Also think of the concept of the proletariat in relation to capitalism in the work of the young Marx: the proletariat forms itself and realizes its project in as far as it becomes a fully integrated part of the bourgeois society. In Capital we no longer find this interpretation, and it is also gone from or at least nuanced in our analysis of the reality of workers today. Today, the subjectivity of the worker is that of singularity, of a particularity that is being produced in the construction of the common. This particularity is invention, is immaterial and serves to construct the common, that is, a bringing together of all these things. The (worker’s) subjectivity of today is a production of ‘being’, as it is an innovation and a surplus. It is a practice of freedom and therefore the production of subjectivity is something that transcends any identity. The subject is non-identic, is not an identity (hence the impossibility of providing exact definitions for it). The subject is formed in the collaboration, in being social, and it is something historical.
* Q: How do you see the role of art and the art world in the organization of assembly? On the one hand we state that the art world today indeed has a role by creating a space for exchange and debate, which is lacking in mainstream media, at exhibitions and during biennales. On the other hand we conclude that it doesn’t go any further and that these initiatives remain limited to the domain of the discursive. Also, these initiatives are often used as PR tools, turning the debate into a commodity. In light of this, what role can the art world – and art itself – play according to you, and can it have a role at all in shaping and strengthening the commons?
As I have tried to clarify in my book Art and Multitude (1989), art can always be linked to its mode of production. Art is production. Its dignity is derived from the fact that it is production of ‘being’, of meaningful images. In other words, of images that shape ‘being’, that take ‘being’ out of a hidden condition and transform it into an open and public condition. This always happens during a process of production. This is why there is an analogy between how goods are produced in general in a certain historical context and how art is produced in that same context. In art there is always a ‘making’ in the sense of constructing something. Art is always a form of building, a bringing together, a productive gesture. When looking at things from this point of view, it becomes clear that it is all about making distinctions within this world. There is beautiful art and there is ugly art, useful art and useless art; likewise there is art that markets itself as a commodity and there is art that is a form of productive artistic making.
Like language, art produces communication, it makes connections. Especially nowadays, art is like the practice of language in constructing connections, becoming event. Art is getting rid of materiality and is increasingly linked to immaterial production. It follows the same trend as the immaterial production and makes connections in fluid, unstable, and new images, in unexpected forms and figures. In this way art affiliates itself with the present-day mode of production and, like this mode of production, it interprets behaviour that is related to special events and passions. We are in a phase of metamorphosis of art, just like we are in phase of the production mode in which labour is completely transforming itself.
With regard to art I would like to underline two things. First, I assume that art is a form of making and working that is therefore completely linked to the production mode of a specific historical situation. Second, I assume that art has the capacity to produce ‘being’. Of course not all art always produces real ‘being’. By this I absolutely do not mean that there is good and bad art; that is not for me to say. But I do think a distinction can be made between art that serves the market and that is produced and circulates within the market, and art that is absolute production, meaning that it produces ‘being’.
* Q: In Assembly you emphasize the importance of language and communication. You mention the changing of meaning of words, speaking, and translation, and the appropriation of words as important political action. In this context you posit the idea of entrepreneurship of the multitude. Is this at all possible with a term like ‘entrepreneurship’, which has been associated with capitalism in all its guises for over 200 years? Is there not a risk that critique will wither and distinctions become blurred with such an act of appropriation?
I don’t think so, and frankly I don’t understand why such a polemic arose around specifically this issue as soon as our book was published. We, Michael and I, have always recuperated and reused words, and reversed their meaning in our work. For example, ‘empire’ may be the most academic and traditional term in the history of political science. Not that we were the first to do so: the word ‘capital’ as the title of Marx’s three-part book on the critique of political economy is about as capitalistic as can be. There is nothing wrong in appropriating words that are part of the tradition and ethics of the capitalistic bourgeoisie and assign them a new meaning. On the contrary, this is what we should do. The problem with regard to this form of language practice is to understand the force of reversal.
As to the semantic series of words such as ‘entrepreneurship’, ‘enterprise’, ‘entrepreneur’ in relation to the common – because we never just speak of ‘entrepreneurship’ but about the ‘entrepreneurship of the common’ – the word ‘enterprise’ admittedly is rather ambiguous. Enterprise is something like Christopher Columbus who crossed the Atlantic Ocean and demonstrated a huge capacity for invention. So on the one hand the word refers to a heroic, fantastic project. Columbus engaged in an improbable and completely new undertaking in the space of his time. On the other hand, the term ‘enterprise’ also refers to that with which it is commonly associated, namely a project aimed at financial profit and at generating income.
What we try to do in Assembly is to appropriate words that belong to tradition. We see it as our task to gain words for the common, to recuperate the words. Again, we do not speak of entrepreneurship tout court, but of entrepreneurship of the common. Speaking of the entrepreneurship of the common has the same potential and power as speaking of refusing to work: it leads to a re-appropriation of the common. So the power of this language use lies in this action of re-appropriation and in this the reversal is crucial.
Q: In Assembly you imply that revolution is ontological and not a contingent event – that revolution is not aimed at seizing power, nor that it brings you to power, but that it changes power, or that it can bring you to power but that it changes the nature of power in doing so. You call upon the multitude to seize power in the sense of Machiavelli at the end of The Prince (1532): a call for a new leader who emerges from the multitude, and to not waste the opportunity. What is essential here is the phrase ‘to take power differently’, by which you mean, with Spinoza, that the ‘common’ or ‘freedom, equality, democracy, and wealth’ are guaranteed. ‘Differently’ here does not mean repeating the hypocrisy of freedom (without equality) as a concept of the right, nor that of equality (without freedom) as a proposal by the left. The formulation therefore is inspired by Spinoza to whom the ‘common’ was the basic idea that can also be summarized as: there is no freedom without equality and there is no equality without freedom. Common is an ontological and logical category that assumes and unites an internally contrasting multitude of singularities. Our question is twofold. Why speak of ‘commonism’ instead of simply calling it ‘communism’? And where is solidarity in all this?
Why we don’t call it ‘communism’? Perhaps because that word has been all too much abused in our recent history. In Italy, in the 1970s, there was a group of situationists who called it commontismo (rather a sympathetic lot, these situationists, but it all ended very badly: they turned out to be activist robbers, went to prison or became drug addicts; it all ended tragically).
I have no doubt that one day we will call the political project of the common ‘communism’ again. But it’s up to the people to call it that, not up to us.
Where is solidarity in our discourse? In everything we say there is solidarity because solidarity is in the principles of our discourse. To say it in Aristotelian terms, there is solidarity as in three of the four types of causes: as material cause in the rejection of loneliness, as efficient cause in the collaboration to produce and as final cause in love. In other words, everything that we propose, our entire theoretical building, has its material, efficient and final cause in solidarity. The ‘commontism’ is drenched in solidarity. One cannot live alone, in loneliness, one cannot produce alone, and one cannot love alone.
Our proposals cannot be read in any other way but as proposals of solidarity, or how to escape from loneliness. We have to escape from loneliness in order to define a solidary, close community, as we cannot survive alone in a barren desert. We must escape from loneliness in order to produce, because alone we would never have the means or the time. We must escape from loneliness in order to love, because on your own and without someone else there can be no love. This is the only way to understand this radical transition of / to the common, a transition that we are evolving towards, by the way. There is truly a developing tendency towards solidarity and towards an escape from loneliness.
We live in times of great crisis and terrible emptiness but at the same time these are also times of great expectations. We are facing a void between that which is finished and that which still has to begin. Especially in talking to young people one becomes aware of this terrible loneliness, but also of this great longing. The desert caused by neoliberal capitalism is insufferable in every regard.
Q: Our next question is about that. As in your previous writings, in Assembly you start from the optimistic thought that the Occupy movements demonstrate a rebellion of the multitude, that the ‘possible is a given’, that the ‘common is a given’. But in Assembly you also pose the question, perhaps for the first time, regarding why the revolution of the Occupy movements failed. Does this indicate a turn in your work, a turn away from the earlier optimism? And what does this mean for the idea of revolution?
There is no turn from optimism to pessimism in our work. What we attempted to do is to understand the problem in a realistic manner and to think about possible solutions. The problem as we see it is that of the limits and limitations of movements, both of Occupy and other movements we have seen over the past decade. The most important limitation, in our analysis, is that these movements have not been willing or not been able to translate themselves into institutions and that where they did attempt to do so and in those cases where they actually formed institutions, it all ended in a betrayal of the movement. We see this for example in a part of the Indignados that founded Podemos, who eventually betrayed the situation from which they departed. Having followed all the debates from close up, my opinion of Podemos is negative. They have not succeeded in maintaining the reversal of the relation between strategy and decision or between tactic and strategy, leaving only the tactic.
So it is not about being more or less optimistic, but about grasping the problem in a realistic manner and about thinking of ways to solve the problem and this is what we try to do in our work. We try to see the limits and limitations of the political common-movement. Our conclusion is that power should be seized, but that in and with that operation power should be changed. Therefore, as you quote and as we expressed it in Assembly, it is all about ‘to take the power differently’ and then maintain this radical transition / reversal.
Q: You also deal with populism in Assembly. Shouldn’t we discard the term ‘people’ anyway?
Yes, that’s what the common is all about. The term ‘people’ stays within the logic of Hobbes and the bourgeois line of sovereignty and representation. It is a fiction that violates the multitude and has only that purpose: the multitude should transform itself into one people that dissolves itself in forming the sovereign power. Think of the original frontispiece of Hobbes’ Leviathan, which perfectly illustrates this. But it was Spinoza who, against Hobbes, emphatically used the concept multitudo and underlined that the natural power of the multitude remains in place when a political ordering is formed. Actually, Spinoza, in elaborating these concepts of multitudo and comunis encapsulates the entire issue of politics and democracy, as I have attempted to demonstrate in my book L’anomalia selvaggia and to which we refer again in part in Assembly. Crucial in the transition of singularity to the common, Spinoza teaches us, are imagination, love and subjectivity. Singularity and subjectivity becoming common and translating themselves into newly invented institutions, is one way of summarizing commontism." (https://www.onlineopen.org/the-salt-of-the-earth)
The Software Platform
= Assembly is a platform for creating crowd-founded, open source startups built and owned by their makers.
URL = https://assembly.com/
"using the service, he was able to set rewards for different tasks and distribute them onto the web where anyone who felt they were right for the job could pick it up" (http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/21/7258667/assembly-collaborative-work-open-source)
via Ben Popper:
"the strength of Assembly will come from its community, which currently includes designers, engineers, marketers, and even lawyers. These folks might contribute to a half dozen different projects, all remotely, based on what draws their interest.
"I think Assembly is the next step for the open source movement. Instead of contributing to just software and getting better and free software in return, people can now contribute to an entire company," wrote Wesley Lancel, a developer from Belgium, who has contributed to a number of projects on Assembly. "It's not just contributing code, but also setting the direction and strategy of an actual company and helping out to make that company a success. And in return you don't just get better software or people using your code, but a real share in a company."
Assembly is leveraging technology from the world of Bitcoin to help create a shared ownership structure for each product. "App Coins (the ownership in a product on the blockchain) is not equity in the traditional company sense," explained Assembly founder Matthew Deiters. "They can't be transferred or sold. Instead they are used to determine an individual’s monthly earnings as well as verifiable ownership control used in voting decisions."
Each project has a core team the brings the original idea to the Assembly platform. That team decides what tasks need to be done and how many App Coins they are worth. Anyone can contribute towards that work without permission, the model borrowed from open source, and just like many big open source projects, the core team approves or declines the final work. Assembly serves as the platform for all this and also a financial and legal steward." (http://www.theverge.com/2014/11/21/7258667/assembly-collaborative-work-open-source)
... of Open-Source Startups:
- Everyone has ownership
- Everyone contributes where they are most effective
- Collaboration can happen around-the-clock by people everywhere
- Revenue is split equitably between contributors, monthly