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(en) Znet - European Trends of the anti-authoritarian movement - interviewing Andrej Grubacic

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 22 Aug 2003 17:53:10 +0200 (CEST)


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Albert: From what I can tell Europeans are pretty ignorant of
events in the U.S. left, but, even more so, the U.S. left,
including myself, is horrendously ignorant of events in Europe.
Maybe you can help us do something about the latter problem.
I would like to try to find out some of the trends you see
developing in movements in Europe, and your view of their
virtues and flaws.

Grubacic: You know, I was just reading one essay, a rather old
one, from Barbara and John Erenreich, the pivotal essay for a
most excellent book titled "Between Labor and Capital." In
this essay, the authors describe the relation of what they call
the "professional managerial class" to the movement of the
1960's. It strikes me as remarkable how simillar this is to the
main relevant trends of the 'new movement' we have in
Europe.

As you know, I subscribe to the pareconist view that in
contemporary capitalist societies we have three centrally
important classes, not just two - workers, capitalists, and also
coordinators, which corresponds to Ehrenreich's professional
managerial class, and I think is also first put forward, inspired
by the Ehrenreich essay, in that same book. Coordinators are
the people in the society who largely monopolize empowering
work and gain associated power and status, all of it justified
by educational credentials and monopolized skills and
knowledge (lawers, engeneers, doctors, high level professors,
managers, etc.). A key thing to note about the coordinator
class is that it is capable of being a ruling class. This is in fact
the true historical meaning of the Bolshevik Revolution, the
Soviet Union, and all the other so called Communist countries.
They were systems with an economy that empowered the
coordinator class, and whose state, of course, was dictatorial.

Albert: And you see this kind of understanding applying as
well to trends now in Europe?

Grubacic: According to my strong conviction, we should seek
to create movements that working class people will define and
that will have working class culture and values, not only
attracting but empowering working people. We should not only
reject capitalist domination of efforts at social change, but we
should also reject coordinator domination of those efforts. But
that means creating organizations that eliminate the
coordinator worker class hierarchy - and that incorporate what
is called in participatory economics 'balanced job complexes'
in the movement itself. So I am addressing here the unpleasent
emergence of an economic and political bureaucracy inside of
the movement in Europe, inspired by the practice of what may
well be a new kind of leninist organization of intellectuals --
and that reflects this coordinator agenda.

So, one trend that I could easily identify in Europe today is this
"return of vanguardism". By vanguardism I mean an attempt to
form an elite that can arrive at the correct strategic analyses
and then lead the movement to follow, with the movement
obeying but not deciding for itself.

Unlike a good friend of mine, David Graeber, who recently
wrote an article on the "Twilight of Vanguardism", I am less
optimistic. This phenomenon of a Leninist rebirth takes a
familiar form in Britain, where the Socialist Workers Party
dominates a classical 'front organisation' called Globalise
Resistance. The Leninst 'network' practice of 'monopolizing
the resistance' has been customarily justified by notions of a
privileged capacity to understand and the struggle against
capitalism. But this 'new Leninism' is also noticable in the
practice of the networks and people who I personaly admire,
and whom I regard as part of the same movements I work in,
the new radicalism. And this phenomenon is, I think, harmful.

We could, roughly distinguish two principles on which a
movement could be built. One is the 'vanguardist' one, or the
coordinator one. The other would be the "anarchist principle".
Anarchism has by now largely taken the predominant place
that Marxism has had in recent decades in social struggle.
Being primarily an ethics of practice, it is the source of many
ideas and inspiration for the new movement. The anarchist
principle implies that one's means most be consonant with
one's ends; that one cannot create freedom through
authoritarian means; that as much as possible, one must
embody the society one wishes to create. One network which
is built on this principle is the European part of the Peoples
Global Action (see, for more details: www.agp.org). PGA-
Europe is going to hold it's next conference in Yugoslavia, and
this turn towards Eastern Europe is, in my opinion, one of the
more encouraging trends in European activism.

You ask me how to interpret or explain trends in the European
Left, such as new border activism and the fight for the rights
of immigrants (www.noborder.org), the European Social
Forum (www.fse-esf.org) the Peoples Global Action, the
Social Consultas (www.consultaeuropa.org), the various
European media-activist initiatives, the days of action like
Evian (see a web page on Evian on www.agp.org).

First, you see, in Europe, unlike in the U.S., we dont divide the
anti war movement from what is being called, wrongly, the anti
globalization movement. We think that it is - to borrow the
famous notion of Imanuel Wallerstein- one single
"anti-systemic movement".

In addition, however, it is my opinion that, when talking about
this so-called anti-globalisation movement, it is possible to
identify two parallel processes. One, which I call the new
radicalism, began with the Zapatista insurrection, and brought
about the creation of the Peoples' Global Action (PGA)
network. The second one, which I call traditional, has
developed separately, culminating in the creation of the WSF
and regional forums.

The history of these tendencies, which have largely developed
simultaneously, is relatively well known. Demonstrations, the
Global Days of Action, and Forums - as well as the Indymedia
(IMC) project that has inaugurated a quite specific mode of
activist communication - have become the most significant
manifestations of the new radicalism. The new radicalism
implies an attempt to distance oneself from the practices of
the old left; to move away from the area of conventional
politics and to devise a new political space, a "politics from
below," a pre-figurative politics (i.e. the modes of organization
consciously resemble the world you want to create), direct
action and social disobedience, and anti-capitalism and
anti-statism.

The traditional approach includes social democratic
reformists, and diverse representatives of NGOs, as well as
members of the old left anti-capitalist parties. Although
certain changes can be felt in their rhetoric (especially when
the notorious "friendly civil society" is at issue), their practice
has remained familiar: trying to reform and humanize
capitalism, lobbying around and through political parties,
recruiting new party members to fight for a transformation that
will not be another "revolution betrayed". The traditional
paradigm implies loyalty towards the old practices of political
action, as opposed to the new radicalism's intentional breaking
of the old paradigms.

The traditionalists have understood (and they are to be
congratulated for this), that there is something really new in
the new movement. The evidence is the very idea of organizing
" Social Forums" - their institution that is "new" although
organized in the "old" way - as well as the striving of political
parties to transform themselves into networks such as the
French ATTAC.

Albert: What about the work of Hardt and Negri, Empire, that
seems to be garnering a lot of interest and support throughout
Europe. Where does it and the trends emerging from it fit in, in
your view? Is it Leninist/coordinatorist, or is it more in accord
with an anarchist principle, as you pose it?

Grubacic: In this context, reading the book that you have
mentioned, The Empire, by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt,
becomes very exciting. This book is a result of a meeting of
two traditions: one of the French post-structuralism (in the
first place the ideas of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, and
their concept of biopower which "is a form of power that
regulates social life from within" our own lives) and the Italian
critical Marxism of 'autonomist' and 'post-operaismo' variety
(including the ideas of "autonomy" and "workers standpoint".)

Empire is an interesting book. It has become one of the
manifestos of the new movement. It no doubt has many
insights, suggestions and concepts. But it presents many
problems as well.

To begin with, Empire is a book that is very hard to read. It is
written in an academic style that feels as though it was
designed to be understood only by the cogniscenti. I find
troubling this contrast between the call for a radically
egalitarian politics and a writing style that is so arcane that no
one outside a small group of intellectuals familiar with this
vocabulary and having huge amounts of time to wade through
the words could be expected to understand. Style, according to
radical post-structuralism, is political. Post-structuralist
writers, Hardt and Negri included, tend to cultivate a style that
excludes the vast majority of potential readers, reduces most
of even the highly educated to a passive audience, and invites
at best a small circle of initiates to the discussion. The style
is, I am afraid, absorbed with the ideology, and has become an
integral part of the presentation, which often has more to do
with performance than with dialogue.

Albert: By performance I take it that you mean like a play or a
show that is predetermined and passively accepted, and by
dialogue that you mean a real exchange among equals where
the results emerge from everyone's efforts. Yes, and I should
probably admit that I have tried to read Empire three times,
each time coming to a grinding halt in utter disbelief and
incomprehension. I honestly find it hard to believe that people
get through it, understand it, and that what each understands
is consonant with what the rest of its readers understand.
Now I freely admit this could be my lack of background or
capacity and I also have to admit, it is partly why I am asking
the question. I am hoping you can give me a short course, as
well as offer up your criticisms, etc.

Grubacic: Well, I have to say, I suspect that Hardt and Negri
might question my understanding of what they have written.
But, if we move to the arguments that they offer, the central
argument of the book seems to be that over the past two
decades the powers of the state have been drained away by
the flow of global networks of production and exchange across
its borders, while sovereignty has been reconstituted at the
higher level of a -- still somewhat misty -- 'Empire'.

Albert: It is an odd and ironic formulation, since it comes at a
time when the U.S. state is working hard to turn back the
clock to nation driven colonialism and arguably even further.
They are not seeking an amorphous Empire with center spread
in an international network of relations, but rather an American
Empire with its center in Wall Street, Washington, and our
military command.

Grubacic: This is a great ambivalence at the heart of Empire.
What is the role-the 'privileged position'-of the US within the
coming global sovereign power that Hardt and Negri depict?
The actually existing United States constantly threatens to
challenge the pages of Empire as, of course, not some kind of
transcendant, deterritorialized sovereign force but as a
super-state within an international state system -- as is all too
clear to those who have felt its force.

Albert: But isn't the real heart of the book and the tends
around it more about who makes social change?

Grubacic: Yes, doubts about its understanding of international
relations aside, another key concept in Hardt and Negri is the
one of the 'social factory' where the working class is not
simply composed of the industrial workers who are loosing
their 'hegemonical position,' but also includes all those whose
labour or potential labour creates and sustains the 'social
factory'. This includes housewives, students and the
unemployed. The proletariat is still here but the arguments
shift to using the category of 'multitude'. Although, as far as I
am aware , Hardt and Negri never clearly fully define what the
multitude really is.

Albert: That the definition is vague is reassuring since I have
not been able to figure out what is the difference between
multitude and, say, the opposition, or the left, assuming it
becomes very large, that is. The word multitude means to
include other constituencies than workers, but few deny that
other constituencies are critically important, that I am aware,
and their importance is certanly not a new idea. It also means
to reduce the focus on the working class as alone key or as
baove all other elements in centrality, but then again, that isn't
new either. Feminists, anti-racists, and anti-authoritiarians
have taught the need for a multiply attentive approach to roles
in society for some time. The trouble I feel is that the word
multitude seems to be somehow trying to replace the other
terms, leaving us with one term covering all, and therefore
with very little comprehension of and attention to differences
that are in fact critical to recognize and relate to.

Grubacic: I also don't see the reason to redefine the working
class as 'multitude' much less to use the word so centrally as
to avoid also highlighting differences that are important.
Radical traditions outside of Marxism always argued for a
viewpoint that paid attention to various elements Marxism
made secondary or ignored. If we go back to Michail Bakunin,
or other anti-authoritarian socialists of the day, they
addressed both the peasantry and craftsman as part of the
working class,a nd they also paid serious attention to
intellectuals as having different position and interests, as well.
Not to mention the New Left atempts in this direction. I just
fail to see what is so new in using this much celebrated
concept multitude.

On the other hand, what seems to me to be much more
important about using the term, and what is my problem with
it, is that having abandoned attention to the
coordinator/working class relationship and anatgonism, the
way is opened to replicating this relationship within the
movement. The vanguard (of the multitude)/mass relationship
comes to duplicate the old coordinator/working class division
inside of capitalism, with the vanguard providing expertise and
managerial skills. Educational requirements (the study of
Foucault, Althusser, Negri, etc.) and the mysteries of meeting
decorum and language tend to bar actual working class people
from the movement's leadership. Leadership becomes
restricted to professional revolutionaries, and to 'movement
cadre' drawn from the coordinator class. I hardly need to
emphasize the dangerous nature of this situation which could,
like in times past, leave activists isolated and fragmented, still
based largerly in the coordinator class, more as a subculture
than as a movement.

Albert: The Leninists used to have one term, working class, to
cover for working class and coordinator class. In this way
their language obscured the existence of the coordinators, and
their program came to advocate a coordinator agenda labeled
pro worker. Over the years, the left got beyond thinking only
economics matters. Activists realized that women and
minorities and other groups matter too, in those capacities and
positions and not just as workers, and that they can be agents
too, as a result of reactions to gender and race and power
relations, not just exploitation. But now along comes Hardt
and Negri and again we have one term, "multitude," covering
everyone. So again there could be a program and method and
style that was actually serving only one part of that whole --
the coordinator class part, for example. It doesn't have to be
that way, but it could be that way. And when we consider as
you point out, the way they write, the entrance conditions to
be part of the process, the elevation of "intellect" meaning in
practice highly obscure ways of communicating, and all the
rest, it feels like slide in the wrong direction.

Grubacic: As for their program, Empire comes up with three
key demands for the construction of "another world". These
are the right to global citizenship, "a social wage and
guaranteed income for all," and re-approbation which first of
all applies to the means of production but also to free access
to and control over knowledge, information, and
communication.

But it doesnt say much more, for example, nothing about
actual structures for accomplishing the demands. It is true
that Marxists always had the unfortunate tendency to avoid
'utopian speculations', but I find lack of reflection about
alternatives to be a serious problem today. It leaves open the
possibility for new hierarchies, or even just arriving at the old
ones, by not proposing structures that really would counter
them.

So, for me one of the greatest problems of the book Empire
and the trends emerging from it is its resurrecting some of the
key aspects of the political tradition of Leninism from which
Empire emerges and which the authors seem to wish to hold
onto.

Of course, the book is also, in many ways, quite useful. The
authors, to their credit, resolutely refuse any strategic
admiration for nation states. Strategies of local resistance can
'misidentify and thus mask the enemy', just as they obscure
the potential for liberation within it. The national-sovereignty
defence against the forces of international capital can present
'an obstacle' to global democracy. Likewise, Hardt and Negri
refuse, in particular, any idea of anti-globalisation or "de
globalisation" that favors old style national capitalism. And
they seem to offer a view of political organization which
favors networks instead of political parties and other more
traditional models of political struggle, but how a normal
person with normal responsibilities could play a leading role in
such a network, or even participate in its debates, if you have
to be able to read Empire first, I don't know.

But, again, I cannot help but suspect that this book, however
useful it may be in some respects for the Marxist part of the
movement, contributes to the "coordinator quality" of the
movement and it's 'return to vanguardism'. We are confronted
with yet another European 'trend', which I call the "Great Man
Problem", and which implies some sort of mystical worshiping
of the figure of the intellectual (especialy if they come from
France!). I have to say that I dont see anything that
remarkable in the role of the intellectual.

I think that we should celebrate, if anything, the idea of the
activist "intellectual", a non vanguardist intellectual, in
accordance with what I have called the "anarchist principle".
A non vanguardist intellectual should be someone who listens,
explores and discovers. His or her role is to expose the
interests of the dominant elite that are carefully hidden behind
supposedly objective rhetoric. Using what could be called
"participatory action", the role of the activist intellectual could
become teasing out the tacit logic underlying forms of radical
practice, and then, not only offering the analysis back to the
movement, but using it, with others, to formulate new and very
accessible visions. Really, it is something everyone can and
should do, not some specialist function.

Albert: I agree, Of course everyone is an intellectual. We all
use our minds. Some get to do it more due to social relations
giving them great freedom while others are saddled with
debilitating tasks. Some go overboard, not only arriving at a
paralysis of analysis and exess of obscurantism, but
demanding praise and status for these ill doings. But I wonder
if you could do two things in our little remaining time. For the
activists who are influenced by Negri and Hardt's critical
Marxism, how does it affect their actual day to day priorities
and behaviors? Then, you have also mentioned another strain,
following an anarchist principle of trying to embody their future
aims in their current work. What about them? What is good
and different -- truly non Leninist about their day to day
priorities and behavior? And what problems do they have?

Grubacic: I think that some of the activists who are influenced
by "critical Marxism" are doing very important work. But what
I would like to see is them taking part in coalitions such as
Peoples Global Action,, which are built around what I have
labeled the "anarchist principle", because PGA is a political
space open to all libertarian political practices; I fail to see
why they are so reluctant to do so. And I guess I would like
them to react to the kinds of views expressed above and
clarify why they don't feel my criticisms are applicable. On the
down side, you can feel, with many of these folks, despite
their desires for justice and to rid the world of oppression, an
ambivalence about working people and a dismissal of styles
and habits that stem from working class life. At the same
time, there is also a kind of exagerrated view of the life of the
mind. This is subtle and hard to express or even pinpoint, but I
think that that article I mentioned at the outset, by the
Ehrenreich's, does a fine job of describing the viewpoints and
behaviors and even attitudes involved, though of course it
varies somewhat from country to country -- though, actually,
apparently a lot less than I might have thought.

As for the people who are following the "anarchist principle" in
their activist work, well, we too have a lot of problems. One of
them is a problem with the misunderstanding of the consensus
decision making procedure which is, in Europe, often
interpreted in a form of "consensus-imperialism". Another
problem which arises every now and then is an uncritical
transcription of some organizational models imported from the
Global South that just don't apply as well, or sometimes even
at all, in our contexts. There is also a serious problem of
neglecting Eastern Europe which, somehow, escapes the
attention of many activists. We also have to understand that
the goal of anti-authoritarianism is not to be small and
isolated, and to disengage ourselves from others by dismissing
their life choices. Sometimes, in this side of the movement too,
this behavior comes from not understanding and relating
positively to working class and poor people's situations. Our
goal should be movement building, not "summit-hopping": we
should try to connect our local work and our networking,
instead of getting lost in "networks of networks" and "the
process of procesess". We should, also try to be more careful
with overcoming our extremes of anti-intellectualism and
life-stylism. So there is much room for improvement, of course
-- which is a good thing because as we solve these problems,
after all, we will be more successful -- whereas if we had no
problems to solve, how would we improve?



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