“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and [certain] inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men...” - Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence.
Two hundred and thirty six years on from the Declaration of Independence, political engagement is still a necessity for the masses. Widespread civil rights movements are rising all over the world, in many guises – the Arab Spring, Anonymous, Los Indignados, Greece, the movement against precarity in Portugal – and Jefferson’s writings can once again remind us that inspired words can bind a nation together, catalysing an extraordinary revolution.
If democracy—that is, the democracy we have been given—is staggering under the blows of the economic crisis and is powerless to assert the will and interests of the multitude, then is now perhaps the moment to consider that form of democracy obsolete?
This is the crucial question posed by the Occupy movement, according to Michael Hardt and Toni Negri. In a piece for Foreign Affairs, the authors of Empire situate the Occupy Wall Street protest in a "cycle of struggles" that began in Tahrir Square in January, extended to Europe with the Spanish Democracia Real YA! Movement and eventually reached the United States. The hallmark of this wave of popular mobilization has been the practice of "encampments" — ordinary people repossessing public spaces that had fallen under the control of financial corporations and corrupted politicians. At the heart of the protest are both "indignation against corporate greed" and a deep critique of institutional politics:
One obvious and clear message of the protests, of course, is that the bankers and finance industries in no way represent us: What is good for Wall Street is certainly not good for the country (or the world). A more significant failure of representation, though, must be attributed to the politicians and political parties charged with representing the people's interests but in fact more clearly represent the banks and the creditors. Such a recognition leads to a seemingly naive, basic question: Is democracy not supposed to be the rule of the people over the polis—that is, the entirety of social and economic life? Instead, it seems that politics has become subservient to economic and financial interests.
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write in the Guardian about the Arab uprisings and their hope "that through this cycle of struggles the Arab world becomes for the next decade what Latin America was for the last - that is, a laboratory of political experimentation between powerful social movements and progressive governments."
The Guardian's Comment is Free presents the idea of communism to its readers with an edited extract entitled "Reclaim the common in communism" from Michael Hardt's chapter in The Idea of Communism. The book, edited by Slavoj Zizek and Costas Douzinas, is a collection of writings by leading radical intellectuals to reimagine communism for the 21st century.
Hardt examines the concept of the common in relation to communism, arguing that the
notion of the common can help us understand what communism means - or what it could mean. Marx argues in his early writings against any conception of communism that involves abolishing private property only to make goods the property of the community. Instead communism properly conceived is the abolition not only of private property but of property as such. It is difficult, though, for us to imagine our world and ourselves outside of property relations. "Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided," he writes, "that an object is only ours when we have it." What would it mean for something to be ours when we do not possess it? What would it mean to regard ourselves and our world not as property? Has private property made us so stupid that we cannot see that? Marx tries to grasp communism, rather awkwardly and romantically, in terms of the creation of a new way of seeing, a new hearing, a new thinking, a new loving - in short, the production of a new humanity.
Marx here is searching here for the common, or, really a form of biopolitical production put in the hands of the common. The open access and sharing that characterise use of the common are outside of and inimical to property relations. We have been made so stupid that we can only recognise the world as private or public. We have become blind to the common. Communism should be defined not only by the abolition of property but also by the affirmation of the common - the affirmation of open and autonomous production of subjectivity, social relations, and the forms of life; the self-governed continuous creation of new humanity. In the most synthetic terms, what private property is to capitalism and what state property is to socialism, the common is to communism.
Visit the Guardian to read the article in full.