Imperialism or Empire?

by Michael Hardt &
Antonio Negri
Harvard University Press, 2001

[The book Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri has been making waves since last year and has even been compared to the Communist Manifesto. The book was written after the Gulf War and before the war in Bosnia. The subsequent world events, especially the S11 and its aftermath, have already made a mockery of the essential arguments of the book and made the authors sound somewhat quixotic. Nevertheless, considering the wide popularity enjoyed by the book among a new generation of anti-globalisation activists, we carry a full-length critical review here by B.Sivaraman.]


THE PREFACE of the book Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri is a concise summary of the basic arguments of the book. To acquaint the readers with these arguments let us first quote at length from the Preface (all quotations from the book are in italics) and also list several initial questions and preliminary ideas they throw up at first reading.

In the Preface of their book the authors say, “The primary factors of production and exchange – money, technology, people and goods – move with increasing ease across national boundaries; hence the nation-state has less and less power to regulate these flows and impose its authority over the economy. Even the most dominant nation-states should no longer be thought of as supreme and sovereign authorities, either outside or within their own borders”. (p.xi) “Our basic hypothesis is that sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule. This new global form of sovereignty is what we call Empire”. (p.xii)

The sovereignty of the nation-state is understood by the authors as the power to regulate the flows of money, technology, people and goods. This betrays a lack of understanding of the fundamental feature of capitalism, namely its characteristic of ‘freedom’. Emergence of ‘free trade’ and capitalist republic go together. The meaning of sovereignty is to be understood differently and the capitalism’s ability to control these flows in its own interest should not be confused with sovereignty.

Secondly, the authors speak of increasing ease with which money, technology, people and goods move across national boundaries. This shows a poor understanding of empirical world reality. Speculative hot money moves more than investible capital and, there too, more of FDI from the developed countries move into the Third World for acquiring existing plants than for creating fresh investment. There are any number of hurdles to free transfer of technology, especially the hi-tech, to the Third World countries and firms. Developed capitalism is governed by a steel-frame of patent regimes. It is a joke to talk of easy movement of people because labour is the least mobile among different factors of production in the so-called globalising world and one has to only take a look at the ever-increasing rigidity of the official anti-immigration laws in the West and the accompanying ugly xenophobia on the ground there. To talk of easy movement of goods in an age of reverse protectionism is absurd. The latest US restriction on steel imports is a glaring example. The developed countries also pump in hundreds of billions of dollars as subsidies to their well-to-do farmers to enable them to stand up against cheaper import of goods from their poorer counterparts in the developing world. It is protectionism for the West and ‘free trade’ for the rest.

Moreover, it is a myth that capital moves freely. Much of the capital movement is governed by the need to exploit cheap labour in the Third World. That is why they are outsourcing labour-intensive ‘dirty jobs’ and business processes. It would be foolish to expect Bill Gates himself to move to Bangalore along with his entire capital to make use of the comparative advantages. Movement of capital follows a certain exploitative logic. This explains why there are no call centers in London and New York and Tokyo and Hamburg for companies operating in India and Brazil, even if not in Burma and Bangladesh. It is always the other way around.

The authority of nation-states has not altogether eroded following the emergence of supranational bodies; rather not only these supranational bodies are constituted by nation-states and come into existence through treaties concluded between them but are dominated by powerful nation states. They don’t operate on the basis of one-country-one-vote system and consensus. These supranational bodies serve the capitalism in the developed nation-states to fully subordinate and integrate the weaker nation-states of the Third World for its fuller penetration. Even then, in the ultimate analysis, the supranational bodies like the WTO, IMF or World Bank cannot go against the fundamental laws of capitalism. That is why we often see the structural adjustment packages of the IMF going haywire and the conditionalities of the World Bank getting violated. It is a myth that these bodies have brought about a seamless global integration of capitalism.

The authors are quite clear as to what they mean by Empire. They say, “The sovereignty of the nation-state was the cornerstone of the imperialisms that European powers constructed throughout the modern era. By “Empire”, however, we understand something altogether different from “imperialism”.” (p.xii) This means that “Empire” is not only altogether different from “imperialism” but imperialism has transformed into Empire and we have entered a post-imperialist phase.

The authors further elaborate and draw up a picture similar to Karl Kautsky’s Ultraimperialism which was thoroughly repudiated by Lenin: “The passage to Empire emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty. In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers. Empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command. The Distinct national colors of the imperialist map of the world have merged and blended in the imperial global rainbow.” (pp.xii-xiii)

Does the global reach of the hegemon mean that there is no territorial center of power? Then why is the US keen on National Missile Defence and Theater Missile Defence? If borders have no sanctity, then why did the Gulf War take place? It did so because Iraq violated Kuwait’s boundaries and threatened the balance of power in the region and thereby the global oil supplies. Even the apparently limitless “War against Terrorism” had to be first concentrated within a single territory, viz. Afghanistan. Just because of NAFTA, have the USA and Mexico acquired “hybrid identities”? Are the USA and Iraq locked in a flexible hierarchy? For all their growing economic integration there is no “flexible hierarchy” even between the USA and China and there is a powerful opinion in the US foreign policy establishment that considers China to be a strategic rival which needs to be forcibly contained. Can anyone talk of plural exchanges between say, the USA and Cuba, under integral imperialism?

The authors also argue that, “the role of industrial factory labor has been reduced and priority given instead to communicative, cooperative and affective labor.” “In the postmoderinization of the global economy, the creation of wealth tends ever more toward what we call biopolitical production, the production of social life itself, in which the economic, the political, and the cultural increasingly overlap and invest one another”. (p.xiii) First of all, for all the relative increase in the size of the service sector the absolute number of industrial factory labour has not reduced but increased even in the West. Even their changing relative sizes should be assessed in the context of increasing outsourcing and relocation of labour intensive manufacturing to Third World countries with cheaper labour supply. The service sector’s expansion also depends on the well-being of the primary and secondary sector, towards which most of the macro-economic policies of the developed countries are geared. No service sector can be built out of thin air. Put in terms of common sense, something needs to be produced first before it can be used for servicing. Hence reproduction of social life also implies mainly reproduction in the primary and secondary sectors.

The authors also make the astounding claim that, “The United State does not, and indeed no nation-state can today, form the center of an imperialist project. Imperialism is over. No nation will be world leader in the way modern European nations were.” (p.xiv) This is an absurd claim to make when the anti-war movement in Europe and elsewhere has objectively made the United States its target. Obviously, the book was written before S11. S11 has already brought the leadership role of the USA in a worldwide hegemonic project under the guise of war against terrorism. While the USA remains the dominant hegemonic superpower, the world, because of various underlying factors, tends towards a multipolar world. This process is very much on despite the global reality at present resembling a unipolar world. This is best exemplified in Central Asia where the increasing US hegemony is challenged by many other potential poles, including several Third World powers and groupings. The USA is far from spreading its imperialist tentacles to cover the entire globe into a smooth single world order.

By Empire the authors do not loosely allude to the increasingly globalising world, especially to the accelerated globalisation of imperialist processes of the last two decades. They assert that, “We use ‘Empire’ not as a metaphor but rather as a concept, which calls primarily for a theoretical approach”. (p.xiv) To clarify further they add the following: “…a new Empire with open, expanding frontiers, where power would be effectively distributed in networks”. (p.xiv) “This imperial idea (like that of the old Roman Empire represented by the USA in contrast to the imperialist idea) has survived and matured throughout the history of the United States constitution and has emerged now on a global scale in the fully realized form.” (p.xiv) “Empire is characterized fundamentally by a lack of boundaries.”… “Empire rule has no limits.” “Empire presents its rule not as a transitory moment in the movement of history, but as a regime with no temporal boundaries and in this sense outside of history or at the end of history.” (p.xv) In short, the United States has universalized itself and is becoming the United States of the World rather than United States of America and that marks the end of history. Or, in other words, the US spearheads a globalisation that ushers in the eternal Empire. Well, the globalisation is nothing but the well-known processes of imperialism and imperialism has hardly changed into a qualitatively new entity. Imperialist powers are still constituted by nation-states and they are still well defined by time and space.

The authors add: “Finally, although the practice of Empire is continually bathed in blood, the concept of Empire is always dedicated to peace – a perpetual and universal peace outside of history”. (p.xv) If Lenin said, “imperialism is war,” the authors say that Empire is peace, a perpetual and universal peace. The book was written after the Gulf War and completed before the war in Bosnia and we are reviewing this when the USA is itching for a second war against Iraq for a regime change and had already started air strikes. With imperialism around, war clouds are always hanging on the horizon and even a Third World country’s defiance like that of Iraq against imperialist domination brings about a war. Perhaps, thanks to a high level of economic integration and the development of nuclear weapons a war or a directly open military conflict between developed imperialist countries may not be feasible today but nevertheless the inter-imperialist contradictions always remain. Even after the Soviet collapse the European powers have retained a small arsenal of nuclear weapons and the doctrine of minimum defense against nuclear threats, including from America, and the possibility of swift militarisation by powers like Germany and Japan always remains a strong factor in the reckoning of America. And then there is endless trade war between these powers and they fight bitterly even over cheese and we see that an imperialist country like Japan is openly bullied by the USA.

What is the way out? Well, the authors offer a blueprint for liberation suited to their Empire model. “The passage to Empire and its processes of globalization offer new possibilities to the forces of liberation. Our political task is not simply to resist these processes but to reorganize them and redirect them towards new ends. The creative forces of the multitude that sustain Empire are also capable of autonomously constructing a counter-Empire, an alternative political organization of global flows and exchanges”. (p.xv) Thus the ‘multitude’ is a basic category for the authors and it is not the working class and the oppressed peoples who form the subject for social change but the autonomous construction of a counter-Empire by the ‘multitude’ is their blueprint for liberation.


Empire as the new world order

IN CHAPTER 1 of Part 1 the authors deal extensively with their idea of how Empire is being constituted. Our initial task, according to them, is to grasp the constitution of the world order being formed today which is expressed in juridical terms. In their opinion, “Empire is a certain genealogy of juridical forms that led to, and now leads beyond, the supranational role of the United Nations”. (p.4) They say that, “In the ambiguous experiences of the UN, the juridical conception of the Empire began to take shape”. (p.6) Probably the near total international alliance brought about by the US under the UN at the time of the Gulf War has given the authors the illusion of the UN emerging as the world state, or at least as a quasi Empire. But the unity was short lived. In the second round, when the US wanted to launch another war against Iraq, permanent members of the Security Council like France, Russia and China opposed that within the UN and the US had to resort to unilateralism. To escape this criticism the authors resort to the escapist provision that the genealogy of juridical forms now leads beyond the UN.

According to the authors, “…the theoretical responses to this constitutionalisation [of a new world authority] have been entirely inadequate”, because they remain trapped in the Hobbesean and Lockean theoretical models of constructing a nation-state. In their opinion there is a new element, a historical paradigm shift in the world situation: “Many contemporary theorists are reluctant to recognize the globalization of capitalist production and its world market as a fundamentally new situation and a significant historical shift”. (p.8) But the authors fail to elaborate on how globalization has brought about this historical shift from the imperialist model when all the concrete facts of the world reality confirm the continuation of the model led by the US imperialism. The authors anticipate this criticism, too: “Other theorists are reluctant to recognize a major shift in global power relations because they see that the dominant capitalist nation-states have continued to exercise imperialist domination over the other nations and regions of the globe.” (p.9) But they could come up only with an unsubstantiated answer on the transcendence of the imperialist order: “ Without underestimating these real and important lines of continuity, however we think it is important to note that what used to be conflict or competition among several imperialist powers has in important respect been replaced by the idea of a single power that overdetermines them all, structures them in a unitary way, and treats them under one common notion of right that is decidedly postcolonial and postimperialist”. (p.9)

To approach the juridical concept of Empire, the authors do not trace it in the actual evolution of the world order but want to “first look at the genealogy of the concept”. By relating with the concept of just wars in the genealogy of the idea of Empire they degenerate to a dangerous justification of the Gulf War even. “The Gulf War perhaps gave us the first fully articulated example of this new epistemology of the concept,” (p.13) they say. What remains after the Gulf War? It is only the US dominated world order with which the authors cannot easily reconcile their idea of emergence of Empire. To escape this obstacle they again come up with a clever ruse. After posing the uncomfortable questions as to who will decide on where to intervene and who will decide on the definitions of justice and order, the authors come up with the convenient answer that around these questions the problematic of Empire is completely open and not closed.

The authors also circumvent the umpteen contradictions in the newly emerging world order by saying that “Empire is born and shows itself as crisis.” (p.20) How to transcend this crisis-ridden world order and arrive at an ideal concept of their Empire? Here first they draw a parallel with the birth of Christianity during the decline of the Roman Empire and then come up with a possible framework of liberation. “Given that the limits and unresolvable problems of the new imperial right are fixed, theory and practice can go beyond them, finding once again an ontological basis of antagonism – within Empire, but also against and beyond Empire, at the same level of totality”. (p.21) Sounds like a proposal for a new religion by the authors, indeed.

Biopolitical power

In Chapter 2, Biopolitical Production, the authors claim to descend from the juridical perspective of the genesis of Empire to the level of materiality and investigate the material transformation of the paradigm of rule. In this they lapse into bad sociology by drawing heavily from postmodernists like Michael Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari whose theories of power poorly imitate the theories of living organisms and life sciences. Basing themselves on these postmodernists, the authors arrive at the conclusion that biopolitical power is self-regulating and self-reproducing from within. They particularly highlight Foucault’s alteration of Marx’s superstructural interpretation of power and transferring it to the material world, and further extend his theory of society of control as against disciplinary society. This is the biopolitical social order by which Empire is constituted. They explain, “The huge transnational corporations construct the fundamental connective fabric of the biopolitical world in certain important respects. Capital has always been organized with a view toward the entire global sphere, but only in the second half of the twentieth century did multinational and transnational industrial and financial corporations really begin to structure global territories biopolitically.” (p.31) “One site where we should locate the biopolitical production of order is in the immaterial nexuses of the production of language, communication, and the symbolic that are developed by the communications industries. The development of communications networks has an organic relationship to the emergence of the new world order.” (p.32)

More importantly, this chapter talks of a single biopolitical world based on an information and communication order but covers up the basic division between the developed and the underdeveloped worlds. Both these worlds are able to reproduce themselves only through the continuation of neo-colonial plunder of the developing world by the developed one under imperialistic domination. Multinationals and their information and communication regimes that are supposed to constitute the so-called biopolitical world are direct instruments of this plunder. On this the silence of the authors is conspicuous.

Alternative to the Empire

Chapter 1.3 is about alternatives within Empire. “Today nearly all of humanity is to some degree absorbed within or subordinated to the networks of capitalist exploitation,” (p.43) declare the authors. They further observe that, “In the long decades of the current crisis of the communist, socialist, and liberal Left that has followed the 1960s, a large portion of critical thought has sought to recompose sites of resistance that are founded on the identities of social subjects or national and regional groups, often grounding political analysis on the localization of struggles. Such arguments are sometimes constructed in terms of “place-based” movements or politics, in which the boundaries of place (conceived either as identity or territory) are posed against the undifferentiated and homogenous space of global networks.” (p.44) The authors here come out strongly against such postmodernist attempts. “We maintain that this localist position is both false and damaging. It is false first of all because the problem is poorly posed. In many characterizations the problem rests on a false dichotomy between the global and the local…” (p.44) “This view can easily devolve into a kind of primordialism that fixes and romanticizes social relations and identities.” (p.45) Here the authors have a well-argued case against postmodernists with their localized and identity struggles. But, on the whole, this sounds as nitpicking after the authors have conceded to the postmodernists on their premise of the target being an abstract, undifferentiated and homogenous integral global capitalism.

What else is the alternative then? The authors say: “It is better both theoretically and practically to enter the terrain of Empire and confront its homogenizing and heterogenizing flows in all their complexity, grounding our analysis in the power of the global multitude.” (p.46) In the opinion of the authors the global multitude that ushered in the Empire is also the subject for struggle against the Empire. “We need to consider the power of the multitude to make history that continues and is reconfigured today within Empire.” (p.47) The authors also declare that under Empire the proletarian internationalism is also dead. And what is the nature of the struggle by the ‘multitude’?“…we can recognize powerful events on the world scene that reveal the trace of the multitude’s refusal of exploitation and that signal a new kind of proletarian solidarity and militancy,” (p.54) they conclude. Then they go on to identify struggles with diverse objectives and targets as belonging to a same category. They are Tiananmen Square events in 1989, the Palestinian Intifida against Israel, the May 1992 revolt in Los Angeles by the colored people, the workers’ strikes in France in December 1995 and those in South Korea in 1996. Noting the absence of communication between these struggles, the authors call them biopolitical struggles, and say that each struggle attacks the imperialist constitution in its generality though there is absence of recognition of a common enemy. “…the situations all seem utterly particular, but in fact they all directly attack the global order of Empire and seek a real alternative. (p.56-57) The political tasks, according to the authors, are “clarifying the nature of the common enemy” and “to construct a new common language that facilitates communication”. Just as the movement of the multitude is the positive terrain of the historical construction of Empire, the chapter ends with stressing the need “for a manifesto that fulfills the function of organizing the multitude” against Empire.


THE PART 2 of the book is about the passage of sovereignty into Empire – from the contradictory European modernity to colonial sovereignty to the network power of the US sovereignty and to Empire. There is also an intermediate chapter (Intermezzo) on counter-Empire. Some of these chapters, though in parts well-argued and well-documented, are scholastic digressions, full of abstruse prose and allusions, which are not very essential to the main arguments of the book.

Opposing all nationalisms

In Chapter 2.2, Sovereignty of the Nation-State, the authors consider nation to be a spiritual construct that emerged out of the self-contradictions of the European modernity and argue that all nationalisms are reactionary. Even while referring to the concept of nation in the early French Revolution days, they say that, “Never was the concept of nation so reactionary as when it presented itself as revolutionary”. (p.104) They argue that the nationalism of oppressed nations is also reactionary: “…it appears that whereas the concept of nation promotes stasis and restoration in the hands of the dominant, it is a weapon for change and revolution in the hands of the subordinated.” (p.106) But this appearance is not true, according to the authors: “The flip side of the structure that resists foreign powers is itself a dominating power that exerts an equal and opposite internal oppression, repressing internal difference and opposition in the name of national identity, unity and security”. (p.106) The authors have a similar negative approach, borrowed from postmodernists, towards black nationalism, too. “In the case of black nationalism too, however, the progressive elements are accompanied inevitably by their reactionary shadows…When black nationalism poses the uniformity and homogeneity of the African American people as its basis (eclipsing class differences, for example) or when it designates one segment of the community (such as African American men) as de facto representatives of the whole, the profound ambiguity of subaltern nationalism’s progressive functions emerges as clearly as ever.” (p.108)

The authors have an anarchic opposition to state itself and fail to make a distinction between progressive nation states and reactionary ones. “We should emphasize, however, that these ambiguous progressive functions of the concept of nation exist primarily when nation is not effectively linked to sovereignty, that is, when the imagined nation does not (yet) exist…” “…With national “liberation” and the construction of the nation-state, all the oppressive functions of modern sovereignty inevitably blossom in full force”. (p.109)

Karl Marx’s observations on the Irish question amply make clear the distinction between progressive and reactionary nationalisms. Lenin not only fought against the national chauvinism of the Second International but also stressed that national liberation struggles against imperialism were a strategic ally of the working class struggles and upheld the right of self-determination of the nations and Mao underlined that in the ultimate analysis national question was also a class question and stressed the leading role of the proletariat in the national liberation wars. By making the above comments the authors go against the entire tradition of Marxism on this question.

In Chapter 2.3, The Dialectics of Colonial Sovereignty, while discussing Marx’s description of the mixed impact of colonialism on India in his columns to the New York Daily Tribune, the authors say that Marx saw no use of overthrowing foreign domination simply to restore some isolated and traditional form of oppression. Echoing the ill-informed views of some academics, the authors say that Marx was limited by his scant knowledge of India’s past and present. At the same time they distort Marx’s view to claim that his Eurocentrism amounted to saying that India could progress only by being transformed into a Western society. Then the authors claim something similar to the so-called civilizing role of imperialism, of course with their version of Empire replacing imperialism. First of all, Marx was not ill-informed about India. This is evident from the section on pre-capitalist social formations in Grundrisse (1857 manuscripts) where he gives a very rich analysis of the communal mode of production including its Asiatic form, which prevailed in India. Secondly, in a subsequent column in New York Daily Tribune (July 22, 1853), he openly calls for the overthrow of the British colonial yoke by the Indian people to make any progress. It is the authors who misinterpret isolated passages from a Marx’s column to resort to a theory of civilizing mission of imperialism, somewhat similar to what Eduard Bernstein said.

Imperialist versus imperial power – Glorification of the US system

In Chapter 2.5, Network Power: US Sovereignty and the New Empire, the authors say that “Tracing the original developments of the notion of sovereignty in the United States will allow us to recognize its significant differences from the modern sovereignty we have described thus far and discern the bases on which a new imperial sovereignty has been formed.” (p.160) The US experience shows that, “Power can be constituted by a whole series of powers that regulate themselves and arrange themselves in networks. Sovereignty can be exercised within a vast horizon of activities that subdivide it without negating its unity and that subordinate it continually to the creative movement of the multitude.” (p.162) In fact, in the United States the power is concentrated in huge corporations and giant MNCs. And as the saying goes absolute power corrupts absolutely, as recently confirmed by Enron. Watergates are only a reflection of this on the polity. Business-politics nexus is legalized and quite open in the US. By the time each scam is unraveled by the so-called counterpowers much is lost. Unmindful of this, the authors wax eloquent: “The constitution was designed to resist any cyclical decline into corruption by activating the entire multitude and organizing its constituent capacity in networks of organized counterpowers, in flows of diverse and equalized functions, and in a process of dynamic and expansive self-regulation.” (p.163)

The authors, however, admit certain aberrations in the expansive imperial movement of America. For instance, the native Americans could not be integrated in the expansive movement but had to be annihilated and eliminated. African Americans were enslaved. The US resorted to European style imperialism during Cold War, carried out Vietnam War and earlier followed Monroe Doctrine. But after every such aberration, according to the authors, the US revived the imperial project, the global projects of network power. “In the waning years and wake of the cold war, the responsibility of exercising an international police power “fell” squarely on the shoulders of the United States. The Gulf War was the first time the United States could exercise this power in its full form.”… “The US world police acts not in imperialist interest but in imperial interest.” (p.180) However, the imperialistic behaviour of the US after the cold war, especially the second Iraq war and Afghanistan, give lie to the authors’ contention.

In Chapter 2.6, Imperial Sovereignty, the authors declare that “The history of imperialist, inter-imperialist, and anti-imperialist wars is over.” They also concur with Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of end of history saying that the era of major conflicts has come to an end.

The authors, however, are forced to agree that racism has also passed into the Empire because it is difficult for them to deny the obvious: “Many analysts describe this passage as a shift in the dominant theoretical form of racism, from a racist theory based on biology to one based on culture.” “With the passage to Empire, however, biological differences have been replaced by sociological and cultural signifiers as the key representation of racial hatred and fear.” (p.191) But for the authors this however only confirms that Empire is all-inclusive. “All are welcome within its boundaries, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth.”

And they conclude this part with a blindly hopeful assertion: “Being republican today, then, means first of all struggling within and constructing against Empire…And here we should add, against all moralisms and all positions of resentment and nostalgia, that this new imperial terrain provides greater possibilities for creation and liberation. The multitude, in its will to be-against and its desire for liberation, must push trough Empire to come out the other side.” (p.218)


MNCs and the Empire

THE PART 3 of the book is about the passage of production to postmodern production under globalisation. In the course of its crisis-ridden expansion, the authors declare that, “Imperialism actually creates a straitjacket for capital – or, more precisely, at a certain point the boundaries created by imperialist practices obstruct capitalist development and the full realization of its world market. Capital most eventually overcame imperialism.” (p.234) Thus imperialism is not the highest stage of development of capitalism but, according to the authors, capital is the gravedigger of imperialism.

The authors highlight the role of MNCs in their scheme of Empire: “…by the end of Vietnam War, transnational corporations began to establish their activities firmly across the globe, in every corner of the planet. The transnationals became the fundamental motor of the economic and political transformation of postcolonial countries and subordinated regions. In the first place, they served to transfer the technology that was essential for constructing the new productive axis of the subordinate countries; second, they mobilized the labor force and local productive capacities in these countries; and finally, the transnationals collected the flows of wealth that began to circulate on an enlarged base across the globe. These multiple flows began to converge essentially toward the United States, which guaranteed and coordinated, when it did not directly command, the movement and operation of the transnationals. This was a decisive constituent phase of Empire." (pp.246-247)

“The paradigm shift of production toward the network model has fostered the growing power of transnational corporations beyond and above the traditional boundaries of nation-states." (p.304) As James Petras has argued the TNCs hail from a few powerful nation-states and their transnational function would be inconceivable it they do not have their original nation-states firmly behind them. Half of largest 500 TNCs are actually US companies.

As Ellen Meiksins Wood argues, “Behind every transnational corporation is a national base that depends on its local state to sustain its viability and on other states to give it access to other markets and other labor forces”. “Executives,” she quotes New York Times journalist Thomas L. Friedman, “say things like ‘We are not an American company. We are IBM U.S., IBM Canada, IBM Australia, IBM China.’ Oh yeah? Well, the next time you get in trouble in China, then call Li Peng for help. And the next time Congress closes another military base in Asia…call Microsoft’s navy to secure the sea-lanes of Asia,” (Labour, Class and State in Global Capitalism in Rising from the Ashes? Labour in the Age of Global Capitalism)

Anyway, what follows, for the authors, from this new role of the MNCs? “A new type of resistance would have to be found that would be adequate to the new dimensions of sovereignty. Today, too, we can see that the traditional forms of resistance, such as the institutional workers’ organizations that developed through the major part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have begun to lose their power. Once again a new type of resistance has to be invented.” (p.308) The proletarian organizations are thus irrelevant for the authors in their scheme of resistance within Empire.

Postmodern production

The authors go on with their account of restructuring or organization of production: “The only configurations of capital able to thrive in the new world will be those that adapt to and govern the new immaterial, cooperative, communicative, and affective composition of labor power.” (p.276)

“Just as the process of industrialization transformed agriculture and made it more productive, so too the informational revolution will transform industry by redefining and rejuvenating manufacturing process… In effect, as industries are transformed, the division between manufacturing and services is becoming blurred. Just as through the process of modernization all production tended to become industrialized, so too through the process of postmodernization all production tends toward the production of services, toward becoming inflormationalized.” (pp.285-286)

We have already commented about the authors’ belittling of primary and secondary sectors and exaggeration of the tertiary sector. As per the latest trends introduction of computers in industry other than electronic industry itself has peaked in the West. Lean production, i.e., downsizing through outsourcing and relocation, is the main cause behind the appearance of postmodernisation and even the electronic component industry and large areas of service sector are being shifted to the Third World countries.

Hybridisation of First and Third Worlds

Here the authors argue that outsourcing has taken postmoderniszation to the Third World, too: “The Ford factory in 1990s Brazil, then, would not be built with the technology of the Ford factory of 1930s Detroit, but would be based on the most advanced and most productive computer and informational technologies available. The technological infrastructure of the factory itself would locate it squarely within the informational economy.” (p.287) Outsourcing of sweat labour is the main form of relocation and not the transfer of hi-tech. However the authors argue that, “Competition for the middle-level positions in the global hierarchy is conducted not through the industrialization but through the informatization of production.” (p.288) A comparison of the original Silicon Valley of the US with Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of the so-called middle world, would disprove the authors’ contention. Narayanmurthys and Azim Premzis not only pale before Bill Gates but are in fact no more than comprador labour contractors bodyshopping for MNCs and supplying cybercoolies for them through a new keyboard slavery.

The authors even deny the existence of Third World but say that "Third World enters the First and the First World enters the Third: …the Third World does not really disappear in the process of unification of the world market but enters into the First, establishes itself at the heart as ghetto, shantytown, favela, always again produced and reproduced. In turn, the First World is transferred to the Third in the form of stock exchanges and banks, transnational corporations and icy skyscrapers of money and command.” (pp.253-254)

We have already made a comparison between Bangalore and Silicon Valley. Here we would like to point out that even the most organized workers in many developed enclaves of Third World countries do not enjoy the social security and welfare benefits available to even the people in ghettos and shantytowns in the West.

Restructuring of production and the Empire

Further, “The mass production of standardized commodities in the Fordist era could count on an adequate demand and thus had little need to “listen” to the market…Toyotism is based on an inversion of the Fordist structure of communication between production and consumption. Ideally, according to this model, production planning will communicate with markets constantly and immediately. Factories will maintain zero stock, and commodities will be produced just in time according to the present demand of the existing markets.” (p.290) Here the authors are clearly exaggerating the role of customized production. Standardised mass production is still the dominant form, be it the personal computer market or personal products by corporates like Nike etc.

The authors also contend that information production has made the Marxist concept of variable capital outdated. It is as if the service sector doesn’t require constant capital “Today productivity, wealth and the creation of social surpluses take the form of cooperative interactivity through linguistic, communicational, and affective networks.” (p.294) It is as if software can exist without hardware. Moreover, there is a difference, according to Marxism, between production of value and sharing of produced value by services in the circulation process. The latter does not negate the former but depend on it. The authors seem to be oblivious of this while exaggerating service sector and information production.

“The first geographical consequence of the passage from an industrial to an informational economy is a dramatic decentralization of production.” (p.294) Decentralisation of production has in no way weakened centralization of capital as clearly shown by megapolies like Microsoft. The authors are, however, forced to admit: “The geographical dispersal of manufacturing has created a demand for increasingly centralized management and planning, and also for a new centralization of specialized producer services, especially financial services. Financial and trade-related services in a few key cities (such as New York, London, and Tokyo) manage and direct the global networks of production." (p.297) This characteristic of finance capital dominating productive capital was a key characteristic of imperialism according to Lenin. The authors however admit this while denying the existence of imperialism.

“ Who represents the People in the global constitution? The media have long positioned themselves as the voice or even the conscience of the People in opposition to the power of states and the private interests of capital. They are cast as a further check and balance on governmental action, providing an objective and independent view of all the People want or need to know. (pp.311-312) Well, even rank reactionaries would not argue that Rupert Murdochs and Ted Turners represent the People.

Contrary to the picture of smooth world order of Empire drawn up by the authors, imperialist world is full of contradictions, conflicts, crises and tension that are bound to throw up revolutionary outbursts, especially in the Third World. Despite all changes brought about in imperialism by globalisation and all modifications in inter-imperialist contradictions, the contradiction between imperialism and the Third World remains the principal contradiction of this epoch and the present era continues to remain an era of imperialism and proletarian revolutions.


PART 4 is about the decline and fall of Empire. In this chapter the authors argue that the theory of the constitution of Empire is also a theory of its decline. Empire is defined by crisis, that its decline has already begun, as if it would transform on its own. They further elaborate on their concept of alternative through the multitude: “The formation of the multitude of exploited and subjugated producers can be read more clearly in the history of twentieth century revolutions. Between the communist revolutions of 1917 and 1949, the great anti-fascist struggles of the 1930s and 1940s, and the numerous liberation struggles of 1960s up to those of 1989, the conditions of the citizenship of the multitude were born, spread and consolidated. Far from being defeated, the revolutions of the twentieth century have each pushed forward and transformed the terms of class conflict, posing the conditions of a new political subjectivity, an insurgent multitude against imperial power. (p.394) The authors thus summon all the revolutions of the twentieth century in support of their theory of the multitude as the alternative in Empire. The first political demand of the multitude is global citizenship, i.e. for a borderless world. The second demand is a social wage and guaranteed income for all. Well, real wages can increase under capitalism and both these demands don’t go against the grain of capitalism and can well be achieved within its framework. After advocating such a feeble programme, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt conclude their work with the following lines: “This is a revolution that no power will control – because biopower and communism, cooperation and revolution remain together, in love, simplicity, and also innocence. This is the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist.”(p.413) Well, far from any revolution, Empire comes out as the most sophisticated celebration of the status quo. q