Assembly (Heretical Thought)

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri
In recent years "leaderless" social movements have proliferated around the globe, from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe, the Americas, and East Asia. Some of these movements have led to impressive gains: the toppling of authoritarian leaders, the furthering of progressive policy, and checks on repressive state forces. They have also been, at times, derided by journalists and political analysts as disorganized and ineffectual, or suppressed by disoriented and perplexed police forces and governments who fail to effectively engage them. Activists, too, struggle to harness the potential of these horizontal movements. Why have the movements, which address the needs and desires of so many, not been able to achieve lasting change and create a new, more democratic and just society? Some people assume that if only social movements could find new leaders they would return to their earlier glory. Where, they ask, are the new Martin Luther Kings, Rudi Dutschkes, and Stephen Bikos? With the rise of right-wing political parties in many countries, the question of how to organize democratically and effectively has become increasingly urgent. Although today's leaderless political organizations are not sufficient, a return to traditional, centralized forms of political leadership is neither desirable nor possible. Instead, as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue, familiar roles must be reversed: leaders should be responsible for short-term, tactical action, but it is the multitude that must drive strategy. In other words, if these new social movements are to achieve meaningful revolution, they must invent effective modes of assembly and decision-making structures that rely on the broadest democratic base. Drawing on ideas developed through their well-known Empire trilogy, Hardt and Negri have produced, in Assembly, a timely proposal for how current large-scale horizontal movements can develop the capacities for political strategy and decision-making to effect lasting and democratic change. We have not yet seen what is possible when the multitude assembles.


Reviewed: 2020-05-21
have i read movement studies before? when the zapatistas turn up early on in michael hardt's and antonio negri's activist self-help book, what keeps it from feeling like they actually, haptically, know what they're talking about? throughout the matter of political organizing feels dissociated, like an aside, but not always in a bad way: i appreciated the time to reflect upon autonomous governance, or assembly, outside a deeper direct reference, the socialization of labor which represents the world's transformation into fixed capital, but i'm not sure how useful that time will be for everyone. if this is the modus operandi of movement studies i can see where it gets its bad reputation. the first mistake is negri and hardt making the idea, perhaps accidentally, of political organizing novel and quaint. they cram too much in. that's what the peripheralization of political organizing here for the sake of abstract universalization accomplishes. it's a shame because i didn't really disagree with the centaur tactics-leadership inversion thing until like the very end. it was too pat, meant to be general advice, and what organizing experience are you speaking from precisely? i do wonder whether it is truly possible to undertake an anthropology of self-administration given how this polymorphous autonomy in every instance would of necessity precede likeness: magic words to conjure a riot? this problem could be overcome if hardt and negri could write from the positionality of actual zapatistas, you know, as if they really were zapatistas. or: at least through some deft rhetorical artifice accomplishing a similar effect. the problem is that they want to be one of those little annoying semiotext(e) books while also making the subject matter accessible, dumbing it down. but is this no more than rhetorical strategy or a confession of negri and hardt's ethical commitments? i don't want the right and the left to meet in the middle, i don't want a left or a right. these limits to the imagination emerge despite the emphasis on social relation a little glissant. these confessions of an "extreme center" additionally come along multiple times with fucking machiavelli and schmitt. the topics requiring this reach across the aisle rubs a current resident of san francisco the wrong way, particularly the talk about "entrepreneurship". i can not only see this text being taken up by over-enthusiastic students on campuses nationwide, but techies looking for the lingo to pass astroturf off as the wild kingdom. particularly, the extended engagement with money as social relation sounds like a paean for cryptocurrency.
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