FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt published a bold treatise in 2000 titled Empire. They followed it with two other titles. These three books made up a trilogy. Empire and the other two texts were an attempt to understand the blossoming global capitalist economy within a Marxist framework informed by the Italian operaisti/workerist and other European autonomist movements. Although there were flaws in terms of some of the authors’ analysis—especially in regards to the role of nations in this latest phase of capitalism—the trilogy proved prescient on other matters. No matter what, it provoked a good deal of discussion. Negri and Hardt’s latest book, titled Assembly, is a detailed discussion of the various movements and manifestations since Empire was published opposed to global neoliberalism. After briefly examining the movements, notably Occupy, the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, Podemos, etc., the authors spend most of the text discussing how to organize and take down neoliberal capitalism.

Assembly is an honest, practical and visionary application of Marxist thought to the situation we find ourselves in. Like and unlike other attempts to figure out how to organize for radical, indeed revolutionary, change, there are no certitudes in this text. However, there are plenty of possibilities. It is fairly simple to understand the current crisis when one applies Marxist thought. Figuring out how to change it is considerably more complicated.  The project these men are attempting seems straightforward: they want to convert the social sphere political in order to affect a fundamental change in current social relationships. These are relationships determined by money in such a way that it seems nothing else matters. It is this element of the dynamic, argue the authors, which has rendered the social movements of the past twenty years essentially impotent. It is also the latter element that makes their goal of outlining the project for revolutionary change without optimism or despair an optimistic goal in and of itself.

The book describes a present where humanity is told reasonable security no longer exists, where capital so determines every facet of existence that many cannot conceive of a life experience without a dollar sign attached.

Intrinsic to this reality is the privatization not only of public space, but of public experiences; where Disneyland is real and parks charge admission fees. It is a society where social cooperativism is discouraged if not economically impossible, replaced by an all-powerful individualism whose power is determined by how much money an individual has the more their power is multiplied. It is an economy where self-management is transferred from the collective to the individual, thereby replacing a potential genuine autonomy with an illusory one controlled more by financial institutions driven by profit from speculation than by individuals.

Hardt and Negri discuss certain aspects of the current economic and political situation fundamental to its ability to tighten the grip it has on human existence. One of those is what they see as the separation of the social from the political. What this means in practice is that in today’s world humanity’s political maneuverings exist in a sphere separate from the social sphere we live in. This dynamic means that political decisions affecting our lives are made in a realm that most humans have little to do with—wiith voting being foremost among those interactions.

Consequently, they argue revolutionary organizing needs to take place in human social spaces, not political ones. It was this understanding that created some of the more popular (and arguably successful) protests like Occupy and those of the Arab Spring, in which the occupation of public social spaces was crucial to their existence.

Assembly is an intellectually stimulating analysis of the realities of neoliberal capitalism, that goes beyond analysis and agitates for revolutionary change. Although occasionally contradictory in its attempts to unravel modern reality and suggest new modes of relationship between capital and labor, workers, and communities, Assembly’s essential message seems to be that private property must be eliminated in favor of the commons. Marxist in its inspiration and motivation, the text rejects vanguardism as surely as it rejects bourgeois electoral politics, seeing in them a millenarian impulse not up to the challenges modern capitalism imposes. Instead, argue Hardt and Negri once again returning to the Occupy and Arab Spring protests, the trend towards non-hierarchical protests needs to be refined to prevent the lack of hierarchy present in these protests from becoming a lack of direction. As anyone who participated in Occupy and other protests organized along these lines recalls, that lack of direction often proves to be a major pitfall. Lack of leadership should not entail lack of organization. Their suggested solution is simple: let the organization’s grassroots make strategy while choosing leaders to make tactical decisions. After all, there really is no time to get consensus when the police are attacking a blockade or a decision to occupy a space or leave it needs to be made quickly.

It is difficult to reasonably argue that a decent life for the multitude can be sustained under neoliberal capitalism. In fact, it is already killing us all. Solutions to this worsening situation do not lie with the current regime in politics or finance. This is true at a fundamental level: both are beholden to the concept that freedom is linked to the ownership of property. Considered objectively, this concept has been proven wrong for most of the world’s population. Consequently, it seems clear that social justice and human freedom begin with the end of private property and its return to the commons. However, most of those who own property are reluctant to return it to the commons. This reluctance seems to expand with the amount of assets one has despite the obvious inequality that results. Hardt and Negri’s text Assembly is an important contribution to the discussion of how humanity can and must move beyond this identification of ownership with freedom. A combination of insightful analysis grounded in Marxism and a reasoned look at organizing in the social reality defined by neoliberal capitalism, Assembly is a highly recommended read.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

July 18, 2018
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS class struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail