On Formulation in Hardt and Negri’s ‘Declaration’

Among the various bits and pieces circulating about Hardt and Negri’s new Declaration, Jason Read’s blog suggests a tension between the newer, constitutionalist tones of their project and the sentiments of Negri in an older text, Insurgencies. For Read, Declaration is somewhat overly fascinated with “the US constitution”, whereas the younger Negri was much less interested in dictating formulations:

“A great current of modern political thought, from Machiavelli to Spinoza to Marx, has developed around this open alternative, which is the ground of democratic thought.  In this tradition, the absence of preconstituted and finalized principles is combined with the subjective strength of the multitude, thus constituting the social in the aleatory materiality of a universal relationship, in the possibility of freedom.”

via Unemployed Negativity: Revolution in Theory/Theorizing Revolution: On Hardt and Negris Declaration.

But interestingly its their openness to the non-formulative approach of the movements that draws ire. For example, Doug Henwood was rather critical on his FB page about H&N’s reference to the Israeli tent protest being pretty hushed on the topic of Palestine (Loc. 41/1506), thus reading H&N as saying this topic was treated was somehow correctly expendable in the interests of unifying the movement. Others chimed in on occupy being shallow on the topic of war in general, and not letting Cyndi Sheehan speak. But this seems to be missing the point. The movements of course likely contain sizable numbers of people who would wish to express solidarity with the Palestinians. That they don’t do so is no sign of lack of interest or solidarity. As the pamphlet argues, the movement does need to be strategic about its longevity. To accomplish this, the movement is experimenting with ways of finding an effective common platform. Of course, if not mentioning an issue necessarily means that you don’t care about it, then this is indeed a concern. But it could also mean that you you just want to avoid getting bogged down in an intractable debate. This is a common technique adopted by the GAs in the OWS movement where minimal common principles can be agreed as a consensus position and then returned to later. OWS movements are themselves careful on this. While they do express solidarity with other ‘occupy’-style movements around the world, they do not offer expressions of solidarity with people involved in armed conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Uganda).

What is interesting about H&N’s new work is the extent to which they balance observation with evaluation. The general tendencies of the movements are examined for their ‘commonality’ but also for their potential to live up to their promise. They’re establishing criteria of what, in their view at least, would likely constitute a Princely strategy of success, all the while saying its too soon to tell what will come of it all. I need to give the book a much more detailed reading so these comments are necessarily somewhat sophomoric at this stage, but the initial intellectual reactions to this question of formulation are interesting. Commenting on the book more from the perspective of the activist, Mirzoeff summarizes the valences of domination that H&N suggest confront the populations of the world, and agrees with the way the book poses the ‘counter powers’ to these valences as necessarily exterior to ideology or centralized political leadership. The task of developing a new, open constitution against such an array of forces is a daunting one, to be sure. But Mirzoeff seems to get the point. As he concludes, “the next steps won’t be found in a pamphlet but in the sometimes arduous, sometimes exhilarating process of communing.”