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Re: Politics of the Common


Michael Hardt’s work, along with Toni Negri, has received wide spread attention and so it is a privilege to be able to interact with Hardt in this Reimagining Society Project (RSP). For the purposes of this project’s aims to develop points of shared agreement and clarifying points of disagreement for furthering mutual understanding I offer my assessment of Hardt’s ideas as presented in his RSP paper "Politics of the Common." I’ll focus on what I believe is the core of Hardt’s presentation.

 

Michael Hardt begins by arguing that a "central task for reimagining society today is to develop an alternative management of the common wealth we share." He then offers two separate but related conceptions of "the common." For Hardt, the first conception refers to "the earth and all of its ecosystems, including the atmosphere, the oceans and rivers, and the forests, as well as all the forms of life that interact with them." The second refers to "the products of human labor and creativity that we share, such as ideas, knowledges, images, codes, affects, social relationships, and the like." The crux of Hardt’s argument for the centrality of the common "relies on the hypothesis that we are in the midst of an epochal shift from a capitalist economy centered on industrial production to one centered on what can be called immaterial or biopolitical production." Putting aside Hardt’s meaning of what he calls "immaterial or biopolitical production" until the following paragraph, his focus is on these two conceptions of the common and their implication for resistance and activism. I believe Hardt places too much emphasis on the specific type of "epochal shift" he says is unfolding and so consequentially, overemphasizes the implications of his analysis while underemphasizing others I think are important.

 

What Hardt means by "immaterial or biopolitical production" is explained by jumping ahead in Hardt’s argument where he writes:

 

The final element of the hypothesis, however, is more complex and requires extended argument and qualification. In short, the claim is that there is emerging today in the central position that industry once occupied the production of immaterial goods or goods with a significant immaterial component, such as ideas, knowledges, languages, images, code, and affects. Occupations involved in immaterial production range from the high to the low end of the economy, from health care workers and educators to fast food workers, call center workers, and flight attendants. Once again, this is not a quantitative claim but a claim about the qualities that are progressively being imposed over other sectors of the economy and society as a whole. In other words, the cognitive and affective tools of immaterial production, the precarious, non-guaranteed nature of its wage relations, the temporality of immaterial production (which tends to destroy the structures of the working day and blur the traditional divisions between work-time and nonwork-time), as well as its other qualities are becoming generalized.

 

 

That change has occurred in industry and manufacturing is widely accepted. That, what Hardt calls, "immaterial goods" or goods with a "significant immaterial component" is taking industry’s place is not. Nor do I believe the two are as different as he seems to think nor are the workplace conditions or empowerment of fast food workers or flight attendants. But let’s see how Hardt arrives at the above conclusion.

 

The first part of Hardt’s claim is that "for much of the last two centuries the capitalist economy has been centered on industrial production." Hardt writes that "Industrial production has been central…in the sense that the qualities of industry – its forms of mechanization, its working day, its wage relations, its regimes of time discipline and precision, and so forth – have progressively been imposed over other sectors of production and social life as a whole, creating not only an industrial economy but also an industrial society." The second part of Hardt’s claim is that "industrial production no longer holds the central position in the capitalist economy." He reasons that "This does not mean that fewer people are working in factories today but rather that industry no longer marks the hierarchical position in the various divisions of labor and, more significantly, that the qualities of industry are no longer being imposed over other sectors and society as a whole."

 

Just because there is a shift towards less industry, factory, or manufacturing jobs and infrastructure, which many attribute to outsourcing to countries with lower labor, tariff, and environmental standards, and which also includes high-tech jobs, does not mean that the workplaces that people work in are not governed by corporate divisions of labor and class rule where those at the top have more decision-making power than those at the bottom. That the vast majority of workplaces, indeed probably all, are organized along hierarchical divisions of labor and these hierarchies are "being imposed over other sectors and society as a whole," even as they shape and are shaped by the rest of society, make corporate divisions of labor one of the defining features of today’s economy. This observation points to the existence of class struggle where bosses, capitalists, and what I and others call the coordinator class, and workers still have opposing objectives and interests. Capitalists want to exploit labor and save costs in the productive process in order to gain profits and bargaining power while maintaining their dominant position. Workers want to increase wages, improve working conditions, shorten the work day, and have more control over the productive process. The coordinator class is positioned below the capitalist but above the worker, doing mostly empowering and conceptual tasks, and is motivated by a desire to retain its class position and control as opposed to capitalist ownership and worker subservience. Each class has its own self-perceptions and class contoured social and cultural relations. Acknowledging this is to recognize deeply rooted class antagonisms and the need for a classless society where workers and consumers self-manage their own economic activity through the council organization of a collectively planned participatory economy and with accompanying revolutionary changes in other spheres of life.

 

However, even assuming that industrialization is being displaced to the extent that Hardt suggests, no longer retaining a hegemony over our other social structures – and by implication that "immaterial or biopolitical production" is replacing material production – this does not translate into people having less need for a material means of life nor that workers will produce less products, infrastructure, or services needed for our material existence. Goods "with a significant immaterial component" should not be elevated in importance above material goods, nor vice versa, because they are actually not very different from one another – all use material inputs, all are mutually entwined, and all are dependent on one another for their realization or appreciation. Sure the process of material production can have positive or negative external social or ecological effects just as production and consumption can also produce and shape more or less desirable social relations, behaviors, personalities and skills. But this points towards a clearly needed transformation of any mode of production towards a new one if it is not already directed by workers and consumers themselves to serve human needs and sustainability.

 

While Hardt’s argument for the centrality of "the common" seems to escape classical Marxist economic determinism by implication, I believe it is problematic in that he places heavy emphasis on changes in the material means of life, for example property relations and industrialization, to arrive at his conclusion that an "epochal shift" from material production to "immaterial or biopolitical production," which reproduces social relations, is occurring rather than looking at the defining features of those social relations themselves in a way that shows their interdependence and reproduction of one another. At the same time, by implication, Hardt does not address the importance of class. I argue that our understanding and strategy to change society as well as our efforts at imagining what that future society may look like requires class analysis and similar understandings and revolutionary hopes for race, gender, and power relations that are both social and material. I arrive at this belief through the understanding that the reproduction of social and material relations across society occurs as people are both "subject and object" as well as "subject and subject" of society and history. That is, as "subject/object" people interact with the material world and as they do they shape that material world and are also shaped by it. Although limited by its own theoretical and materialist constraints, this is consistent with the classical Marxist view of relations between Base and Superstructure where the struggle between classes is crudely viewed as the predominant force shaping the rest of society. However, as "subject/subject," people as subjects interact with other subjects, for example other people, in a variety of defining social settings, affecting socialization, cultures, and identities, and likewise people are in-turn shaped by them. More, even though we are comprised of an evolutionary process and genetic make-up, human beings are also beings of "praxis" with the capacity to act self-consciously to change our historical circumstance and in-turn change ourselves. The implication is that we need to not only transform work relations but also familial, community, and power relations in their core defining institutions. This perspective is elaborated on in my book Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century (AK, 2008). Hardt may even agree, but even so, I think his path to that conclusion, if he does, is a convoluted one.

 

While placing less emphasis on class structure and struggle, an additional problem is that Hardt’s proposal for the centrality of the commons, even if he doesn’t mean to or is unaware of it, consequentially affects class agency in a negative way. By implication of elevating his concept of "immaterial production" over material production, or at least the type of goods workers may produce that have a less material character, elevates the importance of a small but privileged sector of the workforce above the majority of the working class. For example, returning to the final part of his claim, Hardt writes that "the cognitive and affective tools of immaterial production, the precarious, non-guaranteed nature of its wage relations, the temporality of immaterial production (which tends to destroy the structures of the working day and blur the traditional divisions between work-time and nonwork-time), as well as its other qualities are becoming generalized." If Hardt has in mind workers only in the realm of what he calls "immaterial production" than, compared to the rest of the workforce, these workers are a small segment of the overall workforce. If he is arguing that the character of work itself is becoming less material that is also hard to see. If he is arguing that new forms of work and products are emerging that have less material cost, that may be true, but it does not follow that these less costly products or the workers that produce them are gaining autonomy from their material counterpart. And finally, how does any of this bear on the positive project of reimagining society – specifically, envisioning a desirable redefinition of social and material relations and institutions across race, class, gender, and power? Personally, I would like to see more of Hardt’s thinking on these matters.

 

Additionally, it is difficult to fathom how working day structures are being destroyed or how distinctions between work and nonwork-time are blurring when every day the vast majority of people who have to sell their labor at great cost to themselves wake up and go to work mostly at times and places determined outside their control by bosses and managers. This section of the workforce, perhaps 80 percent of it, want higher wages, better working conditions, a shorter workday or week, and more control over the productive process. Capitalists, who comprise perhaps 2-5 percent, want to buy labor as cheap as possible while saving costs in the productive process or pushing costs onto others in an effort to increase profits and bargaining power over workers. The rest form a separate class, around 20 percent of the workforce, and constitute what I and others call the coordinator class. The coordinator class does largely creative and empowering conceptual labor over workers and under the capitalist and they have more power and control over their work circumstances. The class distinctions are clear and all three classes have their own conflicting objectives and the struggle that ensues to meet their diverging interests is the class struggle which is generalized. In the event that there was a shift in the mode of production towards the "biopolitical" as Hardt suggests, this would actually constitute what Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel have called a "coordinator mode of production" where the 20 percent of "immaterial" coordinator class workers would have an interest in gaining class power over capitalists. In light of classless goals it would be in the working class’s interest to gain power for themselves so as to replace the hegemony of class rule with the autonomous objectives of a self-managing classless society.

 

However, and perhaps luckily, for what Hardt describes as coming into being, immaterial production occupying the place of material production, to be generalized, is literally impossible. I have to wonder if Hardt means this literally or figuratively. Yet his claims seem to be proposed for the reader to understand them in the literal sense. Even if half of all labor time went into immaterial production, if this shift in production was truly happening, for example, workers coming up with ideas, thinking about language or writing code or producing art, great social catastrophe would set in by way of lack of production and distribution of important material means of life, for example food or medicine. How can the immaterial become divorced or take precedent over the material or how could the reverse happen? It can’t.

 

Hardt also couches his argument for the centrality of immaterial production in historical terms exploring "historical changes in the hierarchy of forms of property." In the process Hardt skips from what he calls "immobile property" such as land in the 19th Century, to the dominance of "mobile property" such as commodities through industrialization, and he concludes that "Today we are in the midst of a similar transition, one in which immaterial property is taking the dominant position over material property." In my opinion Hardt’s transition from "mobile to immobile property" is a conflation that yields confusing conclusions for our understanding. For example, when discussing these property relations, why not clarify terms using "productive assets" as it is in many ways more generalizeable and provides insight into many different kinds of economies — all with property relations? For example, private, state, social, or no ownership of productive assets. The idea that there is private ownership of productive assets is just as true in the 21st Century as it was for land ownership before mass industrialization. And more, seeing ownership relations of productive assets instead of through "mobile or immobile property" sheds more light on the real world conditions of dispossession and disempowerment of the vast majority of today’s labor force than focusing on a very small segment who are engaged in "immaterial production."

 

Additionally, focusing on "mobile property" leads Hardt to claim that "patents, copyrights, and other methods to regulate and maintain exclusive control over immaterial property are subject of the most active debates in the field of property law. The rising importance of immaterial property can serve as evidence for or at least indication of the emerging centrality of immaterial production." But here, Hardt is again overstating the importance of "mobile property" over the "immobile" i.e. productive assets. Sure the examples he gives of patent and copyrights are important for relations of ownership and control and that they dispossess others of power who should have decision-making say over both "immaterial" and material products where they are affected. But the point should be to clarify the defining features of capitalism that need to be changed not cloud them. We should want self-managed control over production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services to serve our own needs. In the sphere of economics, the institutions that I propose be transcended or abolished are private or state ownership of productive assets, corporate divisions of labor in the workplace, markets, and remuneration for luck, output, or brute force. Instead, I propose along with others, social or no ownership of productive assets; balanced job complexes for classless divisions of labor; remuneration for onerousness, duration, and intensity of labor, tempered by need; self-managed worker and consumer councils, and decentralized participatory planning.

 

Yet, Hardt continues:

 

Whereas in the earlier period of transition the contest between dominant forms of property turned on the question of mobility (immobile land versus mobile commodities), today the contest focuses attention on exclusivity and reproducibility.  Private property in the form of steel beams, automobiles, and television sets obey the logic of scarcity: if you are using them, I cannot.  Immaterial property such as ideas, languages, knowledges, codes, music, and affects, in contrast, can be reproduced in an unlimited way.  In fact, many such immaterial products only function to their full potential when they are shared in an open way.  The usefulness to you of an idea or an affect is not diminished by your sharing it with me.  On the contrary, they become useful only by being shared in common.

 

 

Here again, rather than have a balanced perspective, Hardt seems to overemphasize the importance and autonomy of "immaterial production" over the material. Hardt is correct that changes in technology have historically changed the costs of production and distribution of things people want – from centuries ago, to now. And, yes, the costs of information, etc., are way down, just as the cost of seeing a symphony performed was reduced by, say TV, or the cost of travel, by means of transport, etc. But none of his examples of "immaterial property" such as "ideas, languages, knowledges, codes, music, and affects" can be "reproduced in an unlimited way" as he thinks they can. Doesn’t language and knowledge in fact require people, indeed, many people, who need food and shelter to exist and means of communication, etc.? Doesn’t "code," as in computer programming code, need computers and therefore complex material inputs and outputs that are likewise mutually interdependent on the ideas of people? Doesn’t music, unless we believe we can think hard enough to make it heard, require, not only ears, but instruments? Isn’t sharing an "idea or an affect" as much dependent upon a social relation as it is on the material world to appreciate its existence? Or are all ideas supposed to stay only in our heads and never be put into action? More, to the extent that some things do become less costly and even nearly free, others, as Hardt also points out, like water and air, are privatized and made more expensive.

 

Hardt writes that this is what he means when he wrote "at the outset that the common is becoming central in today’s capitalist economy.  First, the form of production emerging in the dominant position results generally in immaterial or biopolitical goods that tend to be common. Their nature is social and reproducible such that it is increasingly difficult to maintain exclusive control over them." Still, I’m not convinced that the core defining features of capitalism – private ownership of productive assets, corporation divisions of labor, remuneration for luck or output or brute force, and market allocation — are at all being displaced or their character transformed to the extent that Hardt suggest they are. Microsoft and Bill Gates will not lie down or step aside when an alternative threatens their hegemony unless a social movement builds enough power to force them to do so and the exact same could be said of any other capitalist and their enterprise. Even today elites are increasing both the financial and legal costs of violating their control. For example the so-called anti-piracy laws to stop downloads of proprietary digital movies, music, and software or the raising of prices on the technology used to gain access to digital media. But even if it is true that the "immaterial production" that has emerged, that didn’t exist two centuries ago, were to evolve to threaten displacement of the dominant mode of production, that still doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t have to sell their labor to produce "immaterial products" that could be shared, that they still don’t need control over the productive process or distribution, or that their own objectives are being fulfilled rather than the objectives of someone else, or that they are still not producing in a debilitating and life draining hierarchy. To the extent that these "immaterial workers" don’t have to sell their labor or they do have control over their products, services, and distribution, they are a very small part of the population and have a degree of class power over their lives that most do not. Yet, it is also in these "immaterial" workers interest to work for societal transformation that will derive classless and self-managing outcomes for themselves and all others.

 

Hardt asserts the emerging dominance of immaterial production without explaining how it is we are less reliant on or have escaped our need for the material existence that our societies and everyday lives depend upon. Saying that immaterial production is displacing material production doesn’t make it true just as me saying that "the nutritional value of air has increasingly improved so much that it is displacing food" also doesn’t make it true. I cannot comprehend how we are in an "epochal shift from a capitalist economy centered on industrial production to one centered on what can be called immaterial or biopolitical production" nor do I understand his conclusion that "capital paradoxically increasingly relies on the common." That industrialism has changed – okay. That new technologies requiring less material cost, however not no cost because the person producing music, code, or art, unless they have enough material means to volunteer or materially subsidize their own effort and time still need food and shelter, have emerged — okay. That jobs have changed to include a more "immaterial character" I doubt is significant. But private ownership relations have only become more concentrated not less, corporate hierarchies more generalized not less, remuneration more degrading not less, and productive capacity in the last 40 years has yielded more not less.

 

The logic of Hardt’s analysis leads him to propose that the common, in both ecological and social domains, each "defy and are deteriorated by property relations." He reasons that "There is emerging a powerful contradiction…at the heart of capitalist production between the need for the common in the interest of productivity and the need for the private in the interest of capitalist accumulation." As Hardt points out, plants, seeds, and other forms of Life can be privatized just as public services such as transportation, and just as natural resources can be in Uganda, Sierra Leone, or Bolivia. But these insights are not novel and one does not have to believe in his claimed emerging "biopolitical" displacement of material production to arrive at them. Rather, our understanding of the world to transform it should provide practical possibilities and direction for revolutionary change. In fact, we should require it from our theory.

 

Most critics of capitalism have long pointed out that it is the greed and power inherent in the capitalist system of private ownership of productive assets, not industrialization, that pushes the commodification of everything, that ownership and control over the means of production is, not only a source of alienation, but a fundamental determinant of the use and needs assets, inputs, and outputs are put to, and still others have argued that market bargaining power exercises itself through the roles of buyer and seller where each is inherently pitted against the other, reproducing class rule and warping human and natural resources on a society-wide scale. And while few have articulated it in theory, it is intuitively believed by most that economic determinism and class struggle is only one part of changing society and the agents of social change are, not only workers, but people whose lives are carved out, not only by class, but also by race, community, gender, sexuality, and power. These perspectives, together addressing the Totality of social and material relations, not only empower people by providing a tangible theory that is intentionally presented so that most can understand and shape it themselves so as not to be dominated by an elite, but also points to practical goals on which to organize around for the revolutionary transformation of society.

 

I agree with Hardt when he writes that "Today, with the disasters of neoliberal privatization becoming ever more evident, the task of discovering alternative means to manage and promote the common has become essential and urgent." Although I remain unconvinced of his argument that "immaterial production" is taking precedent over the material, I think his urgency should be applied to both equally as our social and material existence not only depends on it but so does the possibility for realizing a classless and stateless society where oppression in our social and cultural relations are replaced with diversity, mutual-aid, and solidarity. Again, I would like to hear more from Hardt about the "alternative means" he thinks is best suited for our common purpose.

 

"A second logical characteristic shared by the common in both domains," Hardt writes, "which is more abstract but not for that reason any less significant, is that it constantly disrupts and exceeds the dominant measures of value." And I agree where Hardt writes, "the value of an idea, a social relation, or a form of life always exceeds the value that capitalist rationality can stamp on it." Other examples of this reasoning, where I mostly agree with are where Hardt argues that within the realm of ecology "the value of the common is immeasurable" and again, using carbon trading as his example, where he writes that "just as the different forms of the common both rebel against property relations so too they defy the traditional measures of capitalist rationality." But my agreement here is based on the caveat that in what Hardt is referring to as the common in the domain of ecology, the cost of water or air can be zero, or nearly so, and their value unlimited, yet, even so, there is still benefit of use for people who have access to less clean air or water than others and likewise there are costs in delivering it to them or in cleaning pollution that require  resources that have another cost and could have been otherwise put towards other productive ends equally or more useful. Within Hardt’s social domain, there is still the cost of production for what Hardt calls "immaterial products" or services, just as there is also benefit of use in this domain too. Cost of production and benefit of use are not the same thing however they do affect one another and social value.

 

Likewise, it can actually be useful and meaningful to attach weight, and therefore rank social value, to many things. For example, so we know the difference between a doctor saving a life and an idea for a new video game and therefore attach different importance between a hospital and Nintendo Wii. Assigning value to the social and material, not as capitalists do according to what will return the most profit or power, but according to the social value collectively negotiated by all affected, matters. The collective allocation of resources in a classless and self-managing way through workers’ and consumers’ councils and decentralized democratic planning is the exact opposite of the logic that drives value assigned by class rule. Human and natural resources should be distributed in a socially valuable and democratic way, meaning that it enhances solidarity, mutual aid, classlessness, diversity, and self-management and is done so efficiently. This translates into an appropriate appreciation of both the social and material value for the work that someone produces as well as the inputs needed for outputs. For example, a great piece of art or programming code produced in six hours, that may bring "immaterial" entertainment value to many people is remunerated less than the garbage collector who, by virtue of collecting our waste in more unpleasant work circumstances than the artist or programmer, is saving our lives by curbing the piling up of garbage and the spread of germs and disease. Yet all three types of work carry a social value that deserves not only material reward for their respective effort and sacrifice, but social reward too that is independent of material reward. The inputs needed for our mass means of private transportation, oil and cars, would be valued at a much higher cost, many times higher than today, because the costs of our consuming them would not be pushed onto people in countries far away nor would their social costs such as global warming or pollution be hidden by market prices. Instead, things that have negative costs and consequences are made hard or impossible to get due to their high social cost while things that have positive social value, such as public transit or common spaces for community and socializing, are made more easily available.

 

Using an analogy provided by the Charles Dickens’ character in Hard Times, Thomas Gradgrind, Hardt explains Gradgrind "believes he can rationalize life by submitting to economic measure all aspects of it, including ‘affairs of the heart’ such as his relationships to his children, but, as the reader quickly guesses, Gradgrind will learn that life exceeds the bounds of any such measure." Hardt goes on to write that "Today even the value of economic goods and activity, since the common is increasingly central to capitalist production, exceeds and escapes the traditional measures." Here again, even though Gradgrind learns a valuable lesson, I don’t think it proves Hardt’s point that "immaterial production" or even "affairs of the heart" are displacing material production.

 

Referring to the social and ecological domains of the common, Hardt writes that "These two shared logics are a significant basis…for understanding both guises of the common and struggling together to preserve and further them." Yet, I find his rationale confusing even while he does arrive at conclusions that I would agree with, for example, "The shared qualities of the common in these two domains, which I have analyzed so far, should constitute a foundation for linking the forms of political activism aimed at the autonomy and the democratic management of the common."  Again, while I am yet to be convinced of Hardt’s argument that the common and immaterial are displacing material production I whole heartedly agree with Hardt’s assertion that we need a "foundation for linking the forms of political activism aimed at the autonomy and the democratic management of the common." Although, my conception of the "common" includes both material and less material forms as I don’t believe they are actually all that different from one another nor can they actually be separated.

 

One of the major problems I see in Hardt’s analysis is noted by him where he recognizes opposing logics in the struggles for the common:

 

Ecological thought necessarily focuses on the finitude of the earth and its life systems. The common can only sustain so many people, for instance, and still be successfully reproduced. The earth, especially its spaces of wilderness, must be defended against the damages of industrial development and other human activities. A politics of the common in the economic and social realm, in contrast, generally emphasizes the unlimited character of production. The production of forms of life, including ideas, affects, and so forth, has no fixed limits. That does not mean, of course, that more ideas are necessarily better, but rather that they do not operate under a logic of scarcity. Ideas are not necessarily degraded by their proliferation and by sharing them with other people – on the contrary. There is the tendency, then, for discussions in the one domain to be dominated by calls for preservation and limits, while the other is characterized by celebrations of limitless creative potential.

 

 

It seems to me that Hardt would agree that there is no such thing is zero growth or pollution when it comes to the reproduction of the material means of life and the necessity for a sustainable planet. However, he goes way overboard when he writes "The production of forms of life, including ideas, affects, and so forth, has no fixed limits." Again, how is it possible for ideas to exist without people who need material sustenance? How can music exist without instruments? Programming code without computers? All the things that Hardt refers to as the "immaterial or biopolitical" have social and material costs to a greater or lesser extent and to suggest that they don’t or that they only reproduce social relations is wrong. To suggest that immaterial production has no costs and is taking the place of material production is the equivalent of suggesting that the economy is on its way to becoming a perpetual motion machine, or at least could be. Something that is not possible.

 

Hardt continues, "In simplistic terms, indeed too simplistic, one might say that whereas ecological thought is against development or for curbs on economic development, advocates in the social and economic domain of the common are resolutely pro-development." Except even in simplistic terms the dichotomy that Hardt has set up is one between bad environmentalists and bad advocates of development rather than sensible proponents of either view. Even though I don’t like his method of arriving there, I still agree with his observation that "it is easier to see that calls for preservation in the one case and creation in the other are not really opposed but complementary." But why frame things in such a polarized way that "beats-around-the-bush" by obfuscating things, and not get straight to the point by advocating a society that, through decentralized participatory planning (or some other preferred method), arrives at outcomes both environmentally sustainable and social and materially judicious? In regards to any revolutionary theory that its proponents want others to take seriously, we should demand clarity, usability, and practicality just as much as far reaching insight and implication. Otherwise, we’re speaking only to a few people rather than everyone.

 

Illustrating a "second basic conflict between struggles for the common" in the domains of social/economic and in ecology, Hardt writes that "Struggles for the common in the social and economic domain generally do focus on humanity and indeed one of the most important tasks is to extend our politics successfully to all of humanity, that is, to overcome the hierarchies and the exclusions of class and property, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and others." This perspective, which I partially agree with, is juxtaposed against, "Struggles for the common in the ecological realm are much more likely, in contrast, to extend their frames of reference beyond humanity. In most ecological discourses human life is viewed in its interaction with and care for other life forms and eco-systems, even in cases when priority is still accorded to the interests of humanity. And in many radical ecological frameworks the interests of non-human life forms are given equal or even greater priority to those of humanity." Hardt concludes that his view, which I also agree with, "is that it is beneficial for those primarily focused on the environment to learn more about and be forced to confront the nature of social hierarchies and the means to combat them, at the level of activism and that of theory, just as it is beneficial for those focused on social struggles to learn more about and be forced to confront the limitations of the earth and other life forms both insofar as they interact with humanity and as they exist on their own terms." And while I agree, I wonder if Hardt agrees with my assertion that we need a society that is environmentally sustainable as well as socially and materially judicious? And since I am almost certain he would, since he opened his essay with the claim that, the "central task for reimagining society today is to develop an alternative management of the common wealth we share," I wonder what methods and institutions Hardt would propose for this task. I propose with others in the Reimagining Society Project the participatory economic model defined by decentralized participatory planning, workers’ and consumers’ councils, balanced job complexes, and remuneration for duration, intensity and onerousness of work tempered by need. I wonder what institutional features Hardt believes can arrive at the kind of humanitarian and ecological outcomes he cares about and what he thinks of the parecon proposal for a classless and self-managing economy?

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