They the people

You have asked for current thinking about different concepts and forms of political collectivity. If I were speaking as an academic, I would, I suppose, look once again at the implications of ‘multitudes’, as conceived by our colleagues and allies Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. Speaking as an activist, however, I am obliged to say that the bold and indeed brave and intriguing notion of the multitude does not quite match up yet to the practical fact of the transformation of Antonio Gramsci’s Modern Prince into what is too easily called international civil society. I will speak about the world’s ‘people’ as constructed by this haphazardly put together episteme, ‘international’ by default.

The developmental logic of the expression ‘international civil society’ might be taken to run as follows: first step, ‘social’ as opposed to ‘political’ – in other words, movement as opposed to party; second step, non-governmental, effective social engagement as opposed to party politics; third step, a management-style decision not to use the negative (‘non’-governmental), but to invent a positive, not-state-therefore-civil-society. The crucial political-theoretical fact that the emergence of ‘civil society’ presupposed a certain type of social contract, which linked it to the production of an urbanity in a controlling relationship with a specific state, is completely ignored here. The importance of the bürgerliche Gesellschaft to the bourgeois state is therefore precisely forgotten, as the possibility of the welfare state as accountable is closed off more and more in the interest of a globalization that alter-globalization must accept in order to come into existence. This potted possible history is always in my mind as I use the expression ‘international civil society’.1

It is well known that Gramsci thought of the Party as the Modern Prince.2 As Laclau and Mouffe, and before them Christine Buci-Glucksmann, have pointed out, the ideas in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, which he circled around in many different ways, are most often what Derrida has called pharmakon.3 Ideas like hegemony, the Party and indeed the state have the ambivalence of something that can be both poison and medicine. Gramsci’s work is a blueprint for practical and epistemological activism. Parties still have a degree of archaic importance in local and national politics, with their local and national traditions, spiced by human intrigue. After the failure of state and revolution, in this era of world governance, the importance that Gramsci perceived in the intellectual formation called the Party, belonging to a democratic international socialism, has displaced itself. The mood of the Left is altogether in favour of what, twenty years ago, Immanuel Wallerstein, Giovanni Arrighi and Terence Hopkins called ‘anti-systemic movements’ – the then newish social movements – extra-state collective action to attend to problems neglected by state and party alike.4 Wallerstein’s fear then was that they would seek state power. Now, these movements have gained so much strength that they bypass the state almost completely and provoke us into asking if they should take the helm of world governance. My title today is directed to their clientele.

What is called terrorism can also be defined as extra-state collective action. George W. Bush attempted to take up arms against this from the point of view of the state. I will not here be able to consider how the ‘war on terror’ haphazardly took the shape of international governance, in spite of the petulant and self-centralizing role of the USA. I would, however, like to draw a parallel between the war on terror and the control of migration. For just as the violent management of international extra-state violence was undertaken nationally by the United States of America and became internationalized, so migration is provoked by globalization in a heterogeneous way, as can be seen in Amit Bhaduri’s critical focus on what the Right calls ‘the managerial state’, brought into being by the pressures of globalization.5 We live in an uneven world, determined by global and state-based imperatives, with geopolitical difference determined by history and geography, not yet inhabited by a multitude. Into this world steps the international civil society, ‘we the saviours’, with its clientele of ‘they, the people’, and a jubilant cry: ‘Another world is possible.’

After Bernard Cassen’s 2003 interview in New Left Review,6 we all know that the ATTAC (Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’Aide de Citoyens) – the French organization at the helm of alter-globalization or the international integration of globalization – spawned the World Social Forum. But it is also possible to say that the World Social Forum is a necessary outcome of that slow failure of state and revolution, by internal and external forces, which is one of the major narratives of the past century. This décalage, between the efficient and the necessary cause of the World Social Forum, has created a radical philosophy that can allow for only a sentimental version of auto-critique, if at all; far indeed from the systemic goals of Marxism. The difference between ‘Another Europe is Possible’ and ‘Another World is Possible’ is a crucial part of this.


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