4.1.E. New conceptions of social and political struggle

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4.1.E. New conceptions of social and political struggle

The change in political practices has been reflected by new thinking in the field of political theory. Among the thinkers that come to mind are Toni Negri and Michael Hardt, with their books Empire and Multitude, Miguel Benasayag with his book “Le Contre-Pouvoir", and John Holloway with ‘Revolution Without Power’.

Negri/Hardt have (re-)introduced the concept of Multitude. Unlike the earlier concept of People or proletariat, multitudes do not have a synthetic unity. They exist in their differences. What is rejected is abstract human identity in favor of the organization for common goals of concrete humanity in its differences .

Their concept is derived from the Enlightenment debate between Hobbes and Spinoza. Hobbes, pioneering thinker moving away from conceptions of divine order towards those of natural order, said that society consists of multitudes of equals, marked by different and contradictory desires and interests making them unable to constitute a society by themselves. In the state of nature, it’s war of all against all. Thus, to constitute society, they have to give away their power, to a sovereign to whom they give the power to rule and to create social order. This eventually becomes ‘uniting as a people’, in order to create a “nation-state", with representative democracy. But the unity comes at a price, not only does inclusion in the nation-state imply exclusion of others, but within, those who partake had to give away their power. Thus, political power is transcendent vs. the immanent power of the multitude, it rules ‘over them’. It is this characteristic of modernity which is falling away today: taking his clue from the more positive description of the multitude and their desires by Spinoza, which represents a counter-trend and thus a ‘alternative modernity’, Spinoza and Negri maintain that the multitudes can rule themselves, in a fully immanent way, by themselves, refusing any transcendence of their power. Theirs is a politics without representation, centered around the notion of non-representationality.

Unlike the concept of People, which unifies but also rejects the non-People, the multitude is totally open and global from the outset. In terms of political strategy, they develop concepts like ‘Exodus’, which means no longer facing the enemy directly (in a network configuration of social movements, there is no direct enemy and in Empire ‘there is no there there’, i.e. the enemy cannot be precisely located as it is a network itself), but to route around obstacles and more importantly to refuse to give consent and legitimation by constructing alternatives in real-time, through networks. It is only when the multitudes are under direct attack, through reforms that are experienced as ‘intolerable’, that the network is galvanized into struggle, and that the very format of organizing prefigures already the society to come.

Essential components of the multitude are the knowledge workers, affective ‘service’ workers, and other forms of immaterial labor. Miguel Benasayag similarly argues that ‘to resist is to create’, and that political struggle is essentially about the construction of alternatives, here and now. Current practice has to reflect the desired future, and has to emerge, not from the ‘sad passions’ of hate and anger, but from the joys of producing a commons. The Hacker Manifesto is another important expression of this new ethos.

John Holloway frames a very similar sensibility it into a new conception of temporality. The traditional left used 'capitalist time-frames' he charges. First waiting, for the next reform, for the revolution, and 'then' all will be different. But instead of taking power, which makes 'us' become like 'them', and creates new asymmetries, we should be 'building power', combining two temporalities: first, the temporality of refusal, the 'exodus' if you like, but simultaneously, build the world you desire 'now'. Capitalism exists not because it was once created, but because we are making it every day. He stresses that what is needed is not 'counter-power', but 'anti-power'.

Though none of these authors explicitly use the peer to peer concept, their own concepts reflect its philosophy and practice, and they are generally in tune with the themes of the peer to peer advocates (such as favoring an information commons, support for free software and open source methodologies, etc…).

A recent explicitly participatory political philosophy is being developed by a group of authors such as Mitch Ratcliffe, and is called Extreme Democracy . It is neither representative nor direct democracy but a proposal to have totally open participation in networks responsible for policymaking. The concept of 'Extreme' in this context, is related to the concept of 'extreme programming', a rapid, small-team like P2P process of producing software.