On the Shore of the Empire: A Critical Evaluation of Hardt and Negri Based on the Concepts of Imperialism and the People

On the Shore of the Empire:
A Critical Evaluation of Hardt and Negri Based on the Concepts of Imperialism and the People

Dinç D.,

Lecturer, International Relations Department, Cyprus International University, ddinc@ciu.edu.tr

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2020.02.07

For citation:

Dinç D. On the Shore of the Empire: A Critical Evaluation of Hardt and Negri Based on the Concepts of Imperialism and the People. – Polis. Political Studies. 2020. No. 2. P. 92-108. (In Russ.). https://doi.org/10.17976/jpps/2020.02.07


M. Hardt and A. Negri injected poststructuralist concepts into the traditional Marxist paradigm in their Empire quadrilogy. The classical Marxist concepts of Imperialism and the Proletariat are replaced with Empire and the Multitude through the autonomist post-Marxist line of Hardt and Negri. This essay attempts to replace the antagonism of Empire and the Multitude with Imperialism and the People. Firstly, the debate surrounding Empire and Imperialism and the validity of the concept of Imperialism are highlighted. Accordingly, this essay claims that nation-state sovereignty continues to operate via an uneven and combined developmental form of neoliberal capitalism. Finally, this essay attempts to approach the issue of revolutionary subject in the context of poststructuralism. Having discussed the fundamental dilemma of immanence and the transcendence of social struggles, the essay contends that the alternatives against the new imperialist relations should articulate the multiplicity of antagonisms on the grounds of hegemonic politics, which transcendentally constitutes the autonomous and representative phases of politics. Articulation of the antagonisms necessitates rescuing populism from its pejorative meaning and using it as a constitutional part of politics. This essay’s critical stance on the concepts of Hardt and Negri through the ideology of populism opens the path for a theoretical framework of an anarcho-populist radical democracy.

Hardt, Negri, sovereignty, imperialism, hegemonic politics, revolutionary subject.


Hardt and Negri’s Empire written purely with radical leftist approach attracted such significant attention among social scientists, not only limited to those in the critical political sphere. The impact of the book is exemplified by the novelty of the political concepts it espouses. The authors attempt to inject poststructuralist concepts into the modernist-traditional Marxist paradigm (Weber 2014: 127). As Cynthia Weber (2014: 128) identifies, the authors also enrich their new political concepts with the traditional International Relations concepts of world order, sovereignty and political subjectivity. Hence, the authors’ concept of Empire combines three approaches, namely traditional IR theory, postmodernism and Marxism. Likewise, Martin Coward (2005:  858) points out Hardt and Negri’s argument can be seen as an exemplar of the encounter between poststructuralist conceptual tropes and the subject matter of IPE. While developing his radical theory, Karl Marx was influenced by German philosophy, the British political economy and French politics. The authors of Empire, however, are influenced by French philosophy, American political economy and Italian politics. Furthermore, Hardt and Negri are affected by the poststructuralist thinkers, such as Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari. The authors’ principal concept of Empire as the new world order is not only limited to one book. Different dimensions as well as revisions to their proposed concepts can be found in three other distinct books, namely Multitude: War and democracy in the age of empire (2004) and most recently, Commonwealth (2009) and Assembly (2017).

Numerous scholars have written about the post-Marxist/Autonomous-Marxist concepts of Hardt and Negri.  Hardt and Negri received many criticisms as well as praise for the novelty of their concepts in political theory. Prominent social and legal theorists have critically engaged with a wide range of themes in Hardt and Negri’s Empire.  Initial interest in Hardt and Negri, however, seems to have diminished by the end of the 2000s. However, the Arab Spring and autonomous anti-establishment protests in several countries revitalized the interest in the Empire Quadriology of Hardt and Negri. The debate surrounding imperialism and revolutionary subjectivity constitutes the focal point of criticisms in Political Theory. However, the majority of works in the literature on the concepts of Hardt and Negri generally focus on separate themes of the authors. For instance, scholars generally either focus on the imperialism debates of Hardt and Negri or the revolutionary subjectivity role of the Multitude.[1] This study attempts to fill this gap in the literature through combining the debates on imperialism and revolutionary subjectivity. By covering two important debate subjects of the concepts of Hardt and Negri, this study aims to revitalize and enrich the passionate debates and controversies in the new left around Hardt and Negri. This essay will attempt to maintain that there are problems inherent to concepts of Hardt and Negri in terms of understanding the current world order. In this context, the author will attempt to suggest a framework that is contrary to the arguments of Hardt and Negri. The authors of four main works will be criticized in regard to three essential points. One of the critiques is that the analyses conducted by the authors have ontological inconsistencies. In other words, the authors are influenced by the progressive understanding of history by combining postmodern concepts with traditional Marxist theory. Another of the critiques of the authors proposed in this study is the continuity of imperialist capitalist relations on the basis of an uneven and combined developmental form of capitalism. In this context, it will be contended that nation state sovereignty is an indispensable aspect of the capitalist mode of production, contrary to the arguments of the authors that indicate a decline of nation-state sovereignty. Finally, contrary to the concept of Multitude, the concept of the People will be proposed as the revolutionary subject, which will challenge the concept of global imperialist relations. In this study, briefly the antagonism of Empire and the Multitude will be replaced with Imperialism and the People in order to understand the current world order. In other words, by analyzing the intertwined concepts of Empire and Multitude in a critical manner, this essay claims that imperialism is still continuing and the revolutionary subject against the imperialist and capitalist world order should emerge by transcendental constitution of the people through autonomy-oriented left-populist discourses.


Imperialism and Empire Debates: Towards an Approach of Uneven and Combined Development

The issue of imperialism has caused a long-lasting debate in the left and the author of this essay recommends that this debate should be considered based on three distinct periods, namely the classic imperialism debates, the theories of Dependency-World Systems theories and neoliberalism as a new form of imperialism (Narayan and Huggins 2017: 2387-2395) Classic imperialism debates date back to John Hobson’s thesis on the maldistribution of income in Europe. Luxemburg (2015), Lenin (2010) and Bukharin (1973) further examined how certain factors instigated the rise of monopoly capitalism and the internationalization of capital as well as rivalry among the imperialist countries and its intra-class contradictions. The classical imperialism debates of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were followed by the famous center-periphery distinction of the Dependency School, which emerged in the middle of the 20th century. As a critical perspective of the modernization theory, the Dependency school highlighted the backward position of the underdeveloped countries, which supply cheap natural resources and labor to the developed metropole countries. Consequently, the developed northern countries created the situation where the southern countries were dependent on them in the areas of media, banking and finance, sport, education, culture and art. The elites in the underdeveloped countries played a crucial role in establishing the dependency ties through collaboration with the elites of the developed countries (Frank 2005). At the end of the 20th century, Immanuel Wallerstein attempted to overcome the deficiencies of the Dependency School by adding an intermediate semi-periphery concept. The most important contributions of Wallerstein’s analyses were the structural analysis of the distinctive life cycles of the world system (Wallerstein 1995). The Marxist imperialism debates conducted until the rise of globalization were historically pursued in this manner. In fact, rather than the differences, the direct development of Lenin’s analyses can be observed on imperialism and the Dependency school in the World System Theory of Wallerstein (Baylis, Smith and Owens 2014: 146). However, the debates on globalization and the geographical creation of inequalities of neoliberalism opened the third phase of imperialism debates or so-called ‘new imperialism’. Hardt and Negri’s analyses starting from Empire emerged from the middle of the globalization debates in the Marxist Left. The concepts of Hardt and Negri were not embraced by Dependency and World System oriented scholars. In fact, some of the works attempted to deconstruct some of the Western-centric views proposed by Hardt and Negri. In other words, the post-colonial perspectives were reminiscent of the decolonization process that was implemented in Africa and Asia between 1940s and 1970s as one of the most emancipatory and revolutionary movements in modern history rather than the expanding revolutionary alternatives of Globalization (Schueller 2009: 239-240). Similarly, in the context of security, Ayoob (1997: 140) claims that ideas of emancipation that remain rooted in Western political philosophy is still fundamentally Western-centric in orientation.

By considering the issues of Imperialism and sovereignty, Hardt and Negri initiate their analyses with the imperialism theory proposed by Rose Luxemburg, who simply claims that capitalism can only exist with the articulation of non-capitalist systems. In this sense, imperialism impedes the development of non-capitalist economies or the outside. Hardt and Negri take the easiest route to challenge the imperialism phenomenon by attempting to refute the arguments of Luxemburg. However, the thesis of Luxemburg had already been refuted. Even Andre Gunter Frank, one of the pioneers of the dependency school, approves the dependent development of the periphery (Gabriel 2010: 243-265). Nevertheless, the dependency school is challenged in terms of its lack of ability to offer of proper explanation to understand the development of the outside after the Second World War (Brewer 1990: 58-59). Hardt and Negri (2000: 233) assert that the standpoint and strategy of Luxemburg, which Lenin also observed, is not tenable since the structural transformation imposed by imperialist politics has a tendency to eliminate the outside in both developed and underdeveloped countries. The authors also share the arguments of Kautsky, who Lenin (1917) strictly criticizes in his work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Lenin harshly opposes Kaustky’s concept of ultra-imperialism, which highlights the trend of consent and cooperation among imperialist powers that will lead to global peace. In Kautsky’s analysis, therefore, the imperialism concept is radically converted. In contrast to Kautsky’s fundamental argument, Lenin emphasizes that the notion of conflict would engender wars among imperialist powers. Interestingly, Hardt and Negri (2000: 233-237) claim that although Kautsky and Lenin share the same analytical foundation, they present different political concepts in terms of their theories on imperialism. Therefore, their aim is to legitimize the imperialism conception of Kautsky, which strongly influences their political philosophy. The authors imply that following the initial years of the Bolshevik revolution, Lenin’s dream of world revolution failed, and another alternative, Empire, which bore some resemblance to the ultra-imperialism theory of Kautsky, emerged. As already hypothesized in author’s works, Empire offers more liberal potential than the era of imperialism, in a similar manner to the Marxist analysis of the progressive dimensions of capitalism compared with the pre-capitalist mode of productions. Hence, taking into consideration the destructive expectations of Empire’s structural formation, the authors claim that ‘Empire is good in itself, however, does not mean that it is good for itself’ (2000: 43).

Although Hardt and Negri emphasize the disappearance of imperialism, explicit imperialist interventions were implemented by NATO and the USA. Various justifications were provided for the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the bombardment of Yugoslavia, including terrorism, humanitarian concerns, and universal human rights, it is also evident that these interventions were also underlined by an imperialist agenda that favored US interests. In regard to the invasion of Iraq, a noticeable factor is that there was no unanimous compromise or cooperation among the most industrialized countries. For instance, both Germany and France harshly criticized the Iraq intervention by the US. Another important indication of the lack of compromise among the Empire components was the conflict between Georgia and Russia. This regional conflict revealed that an absolute compromise has not established between the US and Russian bourgeois. Still another significant indicator is the hegemonic struggle between Russia and China over the former Soviet territories. Numerous debates are being held in academic circles with regard to the revival of the great game in Central Asia. Some of the aforementioned examples are intended to prove that geo-political rivalry among the major powers has not diminished. On the contrary, the irony is that this rivalry increased after the publication of the book Empire. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the previous imperialist concept that emphasizes the inter-imperialist rivalry of the major world powers is not able to explain the new world order either. The endeavor to apply Lenin’s concepts to the globalized world by Alex Callinicos and John Bellamy Foster cannot explain the increased tendencies for cooperation among developed countries. A new world order among imperialist powers is not expected to emerge in the foreseeable future (Kiely 2010: 162). In-depth analysis reveals that despite the fact that the Iraq intervention was intended to control oil resources in the Middle East in response to China’s penetration into the oil regions (Harvey 2013), the invasion has not triggered large-scale conflicts between China and the US (Kiely 2010: 159-169)

Panitch and Gindin’s (2003: 1-42) assertion that the role of US imperialism is supposedly institutionalized in the underdeveloped world does not seem to be sufficiently convincing, since US hegemony was seriously challenged after the indecisive outcome of the Iraq invasion and the current global financial crisis, and Syrian Civil War. The concepts of War and Terror have been continually affecting the issue of sovereignty since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, particularly in their initial works Hardt and Negri significantly neglected the traditional sovereign power of the international system, and rather focused on the prevalence of biopolitical and deterritorialized forms and forces (Reid 2005: 243). As Julian Reid (2005: 244) highlights, Deleuze and Guattari argued that the process of deterritorialization always occurs in relation to allied responses of reterritorialization Hence, the deterritorialization of the modern biopolitics and territorialization of the traditional realist sovereignty are intertwined and reveal the social axiomatic of modern societies that are caught between the two poles of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. According to Deleuze and Guattari, Capital reduces all social relations into commodity relations. However, Capital also appeals to the desire of the people through its commodified deterritorialized aspects. While Capital deterritorializes desire by overthrowing traditional state-coded structures, it simultaneously reterritorializes through the state. The flows of desire are codified as a threat to the state. Hence, by maintaining control of the deterritorialized aspects and limiting Capital, the state plays a fundamental repressive role against the revolutionary desires (Deleuze and Guattari 2015: 386). For this reason, Deleuze and Guattari perceive the state as something to be resisted, which is similar to the ideas of anarchists (Newman 2001: 99). In fact, the contribution of Deleuze and Guattari refutes the ‘’return of the imperialism thesis’’ starting with 9/11 and the US policy of ‘’War and Terror’’. However, Reid is also critical of the overemphasis of Hardt and Negri’s deterritorialization aspects of globalization. As Julian Reid (2005: 237-252) argues via referring to the concepts of Hardt Negri: here is no predestined certainty committing the international system to a decentered and deterritorialized form of rule, as argued throughout Empire by Hardt and Negri. Rather we can understand the contemporary moment in the development of the organization of power internationally as the articulation of this fundamental oscillation in the balance between deterritorializing and reterritorializing forces' (Reid 2005: 245).   

This study appreciates the contribution of Julian Reid to the debate of imperialism as well to the oscillation aspects of territorialization and deterritorialization. Nevertheless, there are still ambiguities in the arguments of Reid. For example, the concept of Desire proposed by Deleuze and Guattari is criticized for becoming essentialist and inherently revolutionary (Best 1991: 109). Hence, the immanent nature of desire and its link with the detteritorialization aspect of globalization is never questioned. Moreover, the political and economic aspects of reterritorialization and the continuity of the backwardness of the periphery is also not emphasized. In this sense, the main argument of this study concerning imperialism theories is differentiated from the approaches of Hardt and Negri and the approach of other commentators towards imperialism, such as those of Panitch, Foster and Callinicos. This study attempts to enrich the arguments of Reid, which oscillate between deterritorialization and territorialization by rethinking the political and economic inequalities of the neo-liberal regime in the global era. Hence, the main argument in this essay is that geo-political competition and compromise-cooperation among developed countries are intertwined in the complicated and uneven developmental form of the neo-liberal accumulation regime, which operates in service of nation states. In this sense, before analyzing the sovereignty of nation states in the context of neo-liberal globalization, the concept of uneven development should be examined in a more detailed manner.

There are several different kinds of value transfer relations. To illustrate, international value transfers result in the exploitation of some countries for the benefit of other countries. Based on the scope of the essay, the focus will be on the unequal trade relations of neoliberalism that the author perceives to be one of the most important dimensions of exploitation. Unequal trade relations underline the difference between developed and underdeveloped countries in terms of technological quality or the innovative dimension of the products. The most technologically advanced products produced in highly developed countries generally incur the highest labor costs. (Kiely 2010: 114) Therefore, the underdeveloped or relatively less developed countries sacrifice their values for the benefit of more technologically advanced countries, since the neo-liberal policies pressurize them to reduce protectionist measures and tariffs. This argument must not be understood to mean that neoliberalism completely prevents the industrialization of peripheral countries. Industrialization is of course possible; nonetheless, the process of reducing the gap between technologically developed and less developed countries is not easy, despite the globalization of production.  Ray Kiely claims that after the neoliberal reforms were initiated in the 1980s, industrialization began to advance in the developing and underdeveloped world. However, the creation of this industrialization process has not significantly impacted the position of these countries. Moreover, the export values of industrial products from these countries have decreased in comparison with the pre-reform period. Kiely also emphasizes that even the most innovative products in developing or periphery countries are now dependent on the labor intensive components of advanced technology embedded products (2010: 170). Hence, it is not easy to argue that the differences between the first and third world have been eradicated, as Hardt and Negri claim. The uneven developmental structure of capitalism still continues, along with the new accumulation regime. Evidently, neo-liberal policies have laid the foundation for domestic discontent in Western countries as well. Many citizens have been impacted by unemployment, poverty, lack of adequate standards of living and an increased number are living in degraded urban areas or inappropriate peripheral locations alongside the skyscrapers and opulent buildings in metropolitan cities such as Paris, New York and Rome. On the other hand, the destruction caused by neoliberal policies is observed to be more severe in the South or the Periphery. As Gamble (2006: 20-35) identifies, the core countries can implement neoliberal prescriptions comfortably in peripheral countries.  Another important factor is that the United States, while supporting her own agriculture, forces Latin America into participating in free trade. Similarly, according to data published by The Economist, even the public expenditures of metropolitan states are growing rather than shrinking. Hence, the neoliberal motto of ‘big government is over’ seems to have had no impact on metropolitan countries.” Despite the neo-liberal reforms initiated after the proclaimed new goals of fiscal austerity and public expenditure reduction between 1980 and 1996, public expenditure in the selected countries grew from 43.3 per cent of the GDP to 47.1 per cent, while in countries such as Sweden this figures exceeds the 50 per cent threshold “(Boron 2005: 78). In this context, David Harvey (2013: 130) also emphasizes that rising Asian markets such as Taiwan, Singapore, as well as Brazil under the socialist president Lula, were all pressured to open their markets to speculative capital and were faced with the threat of exclusion from the global economy, even though these economies had earlier been protected from devaluation by keeping their markets closed.

Hardt and Negri are very assertive when claiming the disappearance of imperialist relations and correspondingly, the decline of nation state hegemony in the current world order. However, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan signaled an end to the prestige of the book, Empire. Moreover, the authors seem to have softened their arguments in their recent work Commonwealth. Nevertheless, they persist in their efforts to promote their new concepts. In Commonwealth, the authors generally claim that the US as a monarch temporarily captured the power of the emerging empire. This temporary situation involving a series of American interventions is viewed as a coup d’état of the Monarch against the Empire network. The authors claim that the political economic trend of the ongoing world order will result in Empire. The Empire, which had temporarily deviated from its route under the Bush administration, finally returned to its original track under the Obama administration (Hardt and Negri 2011: 205). Indeed, the authors’ arguments are reductionist in terms of their overemphasis on economic determinism and the negligence of various political and moral American motives.

Another point in this context is that the authors assert that US hegemony is coming to an end. The US hegemony, not only in military terms but also economically, is seriously immersed in an irreversible crisis that will lead the world order towards an interregnum. The striking aspect of this phenomenon is that the US hegemonic crisis not only demonstrates the decline of the US hegemonic project but also, more importantly, the demise of unilateralism. Hardt and Negri state, “We are living today in a period of transition, an interregnum in which the old imperialism is dead and the new Empire is still emerging” (2011: 2019). Despite the fact that Hardt and Negri partially responded to some of the criticism they received in their recent work, they continue to persist with their advocacy for the explanatory and analytical power of their concept of Empire and imperial sovereignty. Hence, it is contended in this essay that the concept of Empire is structurally problematic in terms of the issues of sovereignty and nation states as well and it is argued that the uneven development of capitalism requires states to act as non-economic actors in the system. States represent the veins of the global capital flow (Wood 2003: 63-81). Capitalism was conceived along with states and seems to be sustained with states as well (Wood 2005: 163). The retreat of states from their social responsibilities in the neo-liberal era does not correspond to the decline of their sovereignty. Militarization and the security dimension of states have been increasing with the rise of globalization. Therefore, a new synchronization of the state with global capital should be established to understand the new trends of capitalism, and this synchronization should not be equalized or even reduced to the nation state sovereignty under the supra-national institutions and transnational corporations. This synchronization problem seems to be one of the primary deficiencies of the Empire concept. The role of nation state sovereignty can also be seen in relation to transnational corporations. As Boron (2005: 46) emphasizes, 96 per cent of 200 such corporations have their headquarters located in a total of only eight countries and 85 per cent of their technological developments are instigated in these eight highly dynamic economies. When transnational corporations experience difficulties, they seek assistance from nation states, and even the transnationalism of transnational corporations seems equivocal. In summary, it is evident that nation states are an indispensable component of globalization, and the unequal development of capitalism continues to proceed on the basis of a global state. It can be deduced from Wood’s (2005: 6) assertions that the global system is comprised of nation states in the form of an “extra-economic force” which maintains the process of economic expansion.  


Debating Multitude and the People: Immanence, Transcendence and Populism

It is obvious from the nature of their arguments that Hardt and Negri are significantly dependent on the revolutionary potential of the Multitude and the emphasis on this potential emerges internally. In other words, the authors imply transcendental intervention is not necessary to create a political revolutionary subject. The Multitude immanently produces counter reactionary potentials. The mystery of the Multitude is based on the unconnected communicative ties that vertically attack the virtual center of the Empire, as claimed by the authors. In this context, one of the author’s criticisms of the Multitude concept is the lack of horizontal ties connecting the struggles against the Empire. As Chantal Mouffe (2011: 128) identifies, the authors claim that the inception of revolutionary practices of the Multitude will appear when it politically encounters the Empire. However, it is evident that further explanation of the revolutionary transformation of the Multitude was not provided. This immanent view resembles the deterministic traditional Marxist view of the Second International. The Multitude and Proletariat both share the immanence that excludes political intervention (2011: 129). From the author’s point of view, the social movements of globalization should be articulated horizontally depending on both local and global bases in order to become more effective. Ernesto Laclau, in a similar manner Mouffe, criticizes the immanence dimension of the Multitude concept and offers an alternative, namely the People. According to Laclau (2004: 21-30), political antagonisms should be constructed with the transcendental constitution of an articulated political discourse. In conformity with the lack of a transcendence notion, Hardt and Negri make limited concrete demands for the Multitude. The authors only offer three concrete demands, such as the right to global citizenship, the right to basic income or citizenship income and the right to the re-appropriation of the means of production. The author of this study completely agrees with these demands. Certainly, these demands are generally endorsed by the distinguished leftist scholars such as Laclau, Boron and Wood. In regard to the right to global citizenship issue, however, overemphasis on immigration is challenged by the construction of large border walls around the world. As a result of the structural deficiency of the Multitude, a new radical political concept should be introduced. In this sense, the People concept of Laclau appears to be more efficient than the concept suggested by Hardt and Negri. In Laclau’s opinion, centralizing the questions of power around the issue of class is not sufficient, as antagonisms can not only arise from class, but also through gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, locality or other factors (Laclau and Mouffe 1984). Consequently, the people within a hegemonic discourse can be one side of the dominant antagonism embedded in other articulated emancipatory demands. In other words, it is not class but grievances lodged by different oppressed groups within the people that challenge the hegemon.

The traditional Marxist class concept also seems not to be adequate to challenge the Multitude and People. Primarily, class is regarded as a reductionist concept that neglects the multiplicity of the antagonisms. Labor movements have been influenced by different kinds of political discourse, which are constructed by external political factors. For instance, the new labor movements that emerged at the end of 1960s in France and Italy were influenced by the struggles and slogans of student movements. Likewise, the cultural differences regarding life between young and old workers became prominent. Immigrants also had distinctively important role in the social insurrection of the late 1960s (Laclau and Mouffe 1984: 167-169). In other words, labor movements, or the proletariat, do not automatically represent a revolutionary subject. For instance, the proletariat can also become politicized when under the influence of rightist populism. Clearly, fascist movements can also mobilize the proletariat for their own purposes. In summary, the proletariat is not intrinsically a revolutionary subject. Mobilization of the proletariat requires external hegemonic political struggles. Therefore, the concept of the People seems to be the most appropriate means to articulate the multiplicity of antagonisms rather than the traditional reductionist class concept espoused by Marxism.

In fact, the debate over the issue of immanence and transcendence which formed the antagonism between the Multitude and the People can be traced to the classical Marxist debate of spontaneity versus vanguard; in other words, horizontal versus vertical. Lenin, for example, blamed anarchists for defending spontaneous revolutionary action, and he defended the vanguard party model which imposed class consciousness externally on the proletariat (Prentoulis and Thomassen 2016: 213-234). Undoubtedly, the vanguard party model of classical Marxism had already been disregarded and the focus of the transcendence had transferred to the hegemony concept proposed Gramsci among European Marxists. Furthermore, Laclau and Mouffe redefined the concept of hegemony in the post-Marxist context by removing the class base from the Gramscian class reductionist concept of hegemony.[2] Hegemony is a transcendental concept that is not fixed and is open-ended and tendential. Hence, the concept contradicts the teleological immanent revolutionary power of the Multitude discussed by Hardt and Negri. The Multitude is a purely horizontal concept which highlights the revolutionary power of the separated autonomic movements against the neo-liberal global capitalist Empire. From the author’s point of view, the concept of the Multitude is horizontal and anarchism-oriented in comparison with that of the People, which is vertical, representative and socialism-oriented. This study supports the hegemonic constitution of the People vis-a-vis the non-hegemonic autonomist and immanent Multitude. However, the explanations are inadequate to support the pure hegemonic constitution of the People. For example, it can be questioned as to how the contribution of autonomist struggles on the libertarian socialist ideas can be interpreted. Furthermore, how can the revolutionary potential of the horizontal democratic structure of common decision-making processes be evaluated? Is it necessary to choose one of the alternatives from immanence and transcendence? In this context, the new revolutionary waves of the Arab Spring Occupy Wall Street (OWC), Aganaktismenoi in Greece, Indignados in Spain, and the Resistance of Gezi Park in Turkey and currently ongoing Yellow Vest Movement in France reveal the debate of autonomy and hegemony in praxis, and they can provide clues for answering the above mentioned questions.


New Social Protests: The Emergence of the Multitude or Rise of the People

Hardt and Negri greeted the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests in the Arab world positively. From their perspective, the protests which were initiated as result of unemployment and economic inequalities in Tunisia represented a symbol of the Multitude in which they perceived great revolutionary and democratic potential (Hardt and Negri 2011). The protests were leaderless and they were not represented by traditional political actors. Furthermore, the insurgencies incorporated people from various ideological backgrounds. Likewise, the Occupy Wall Street protesters paralyzed the traditional logic of the two central parties in US politics. Global economic contraction and unemployment also impacted European politics, engendering spontaneous mass protests in Greece and Spain, namely Aganaktismenoi and Indignados. The growing authoritarianism and neoliberal destruction of the environment in Turkey by the ruling right-wing government provoked a series of massive demonstrations throughout the country, initially targeted at preventing the destruction and replacement of a small central park in İstanbul by a government led AVM construction plan. All these horizontal, centerless gatherings of the people from various political backgrounds and with diverse ideas are reminiscent of the Multitude and the concept of biopolitical power suggested by Hardt and Negri. The Internet and social media were the most important vehicles of communication that facilitated the organization of the protestors and enabled them to disseminate their ideas immediately. In fact, in the cases of Greece, Spain and Turkey, alternative anti-capitalist campsites were established in the central squares, which had the embryonic dimension of anti-statist and capitalist forms of autonomy (Prentoulis and Thomassen 2016: 213-234). For the majority of the time, the protesters attempted to restrict the usage of money and meta marketing, which disrupted the relationship of capitalist meta marketing and revealed a new classless, orderless and anti-representative form of life. However, the revolutionary potential of the Multitude was smoothly defeated. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood successfully assumed power via elections, even though they had actively participated in the protests in Tahrir Square when it was certain that the Mubarak regime would collapse. Furthermore, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations rapidly lost their attractiveness without actually creating a political alternative in US politics. In regard to Syria, the country spiraled into a catastrophic civil war, which quickly dissipated the demands for democracy and equality, and the resultant social turmoil led to the emergence of violent theocratic organizations, which filled the political vacuum as an alternative to the Assad regime. The Gezi protesters in Turkey, on the other hand, achieved their goal of preventing the destruction of the small central park. Nevertheless, the authoritarian rule of the ruling party continued regardless of this action. In Greece and Spain, the demonstrations were relatively successful in creating new leftist parties, which articulated the demands of the Multitude in their representative political agendas. However, this collection of separate movements of the Multitude were unable to deliver a decisive blow to the heart of Empire and the old order was easily able to reestablish the status quo.  In the author’s opinion, these mass rallies lacked the establishment of hegemonic politics which could connect with the revolutionary potential of autonomist horizontal struggles.

In fact, the hegemony concept proposed by Laclau, to a large extent signifies the problematic lines of the immanence. For Laclau, even society is discursively constituted; thus, the hegemony can even be followed inside the horizontal immanence of the Multitude. There are different political lines that are struggling to dominate each other under the unity. The unity is multidimensional, non-fixed and changeable to the extent that the participatory democratic processes result in a temporary consensus, which is concretized as the demands or the temporary face of the empty signifier. In other words, autonomy is even constituted via hegemony. It is not possible to escape from the constitutional power of the hegemony that involves the whole of the political space. To make it concrete, Considering the Gezi Park protesters, the demonstrations were initially launched by new leftist environmentalist activists and were immediately politicized against the conservative authoritarian government, which linked various political demands that can be symbolized as Laclau's chain of equivalence, which updetermine the empty signifier, namely the motto of "Resist Gezi Park". The country was divided into two, which is reminiscent of the concept of "event" suggested by Alain Badiou. The protestors’ courage and revolutionary spirit against the established order is reflective of the link between subjectivity and immortality in Badiou’s concept of depersonalization in the name of singular universals, or truths: scientific, political, amorous or artistic. In remaining faithful to the event, subjects become immortal and experience a total break from their former lives (Murphet 2006: 150).[3]  (Prentoulis and Thomassen 2014: 213-234).

One of the important dimensions of the hegemonic constitution of the insurgencies is the usage of populist discourses. According to Laclau, populism is the constitutional aspect of politics (Kiopkiolis 2014: 149-168). To concretize, even though the protesters represented a minority of the population in these demonstrations, for the most part they depicted themselves as representatives of all citizens. For instance, the OWC protesters used the metaphor “We are the 99”, which exemplified the antagonism between the people and the oligarchy. In this sense, the people are represented as 99 percent of the population, while the oligarchy is represented by the 1 percent who are unequally benefiting from capitalist economic relations (2014: 149-168). The term populism in fact has a pejorative meaning in the mainstream liberal approach. According to the mainstream liberal view, populism in both its leftist or rightist variants deteriorates the differences in society under the homogenous label of people.  This pejorative understanding of populism actually attempts to squeeze the concept under the framework of right-wing authoritarianism through omitting the left wing articulations of populist discourses. The liberal pejorative understanding of populism reveals the crisis of representative liberal democracies. According to Rancière (2006), populism is instrumentalized by liberalism through putting the opposite demands of right- and left-wing discourses into the same basket. Hence, the negative connotations of populism reveal the desire of liberalism to rule the people without democracy. Through making a distinction between the police/policing and politics, Rancière claims that politics is a radical declaration of equality at the heart of an order that denies it (Rancière, 1999: 31-32).

The concept of populism in the context of the post-Marxism of Ernesto Laclau transforms into a constitutional part of politics, which is in fact a completely different view of the liberal pejorative populism considerations. Mudde and Kaltwasser (2015: 501) highlight that ‘the people’ in Laclau’s mind represent an empty signifier, which is exactly the factor that makes populism such a powerful political ideology. The power of populism stems from its indefinableness and ambiguity. Nevertheless, Laclau (2005: 81) seems to reach the best definition of the non-foundational character of the concept of ‘the people: ‘A particularity, which wants to function as the totality of the community.’ In this sense, ’the people’ does not refer to the totality of the community, but rather refers to the signifier that attempts to articulate the lack within it (Harrison 2014: 53).

Having emphasized the transcendental role of hegemony in the constitution of social struggles, this study does not compressively support the concept of transcendence. In this context, critiques of some autonomist anarchists are particularly valuable. The transcendental aspect of hegemony is restrictive on the representative statist side of politics. Moreover, populist discourse, one of the main elements of the constitution of hegemonic politics, requires a representative form of democracy (Newman 2016: 93-109). Accordingly, the representative dimension of hegemony or the transcendence of vertical politics contaminates the horizontal direct democracy processes, concomitantly absorbing the revolutionary potential of the autonomy. Accordingly, this debate leads to the question as to whether it is possible to synthesize the horizontality and verticality of social struggles. As Prentoulis and Thomassen (2016: 213-234) identify, rather than simply working in opposition to autonomy, hegemony in fact constitutes the autonomy. Furthermore, in contrast to some of the anarchist arguments, Laclau's concept of hegemony includes both verticality and horizontality that operate simultaneously. At this point, solutions to the problem of surviving the contamination of representative politics or vertical hegemony can be sought in the concept proposed Murray Bookchin.  Bookchin's Libertarian Municipalities is an example of how participatory and face-to-face democracy practices can be implemented in revolutionary politics (Biehl and Bookchin 1998: 121-130). It is obvious that anarcho-liberal democratic practices cannot operate under the pressure of non-democratic nation states. Hence, the existence of a new leftist radical democratic party that operates at the level of the nation-state becomes crucial for the implementation of participatory democratic processes of horizontality, whether in the form of a municipality or in other structural types of commonality. In summary, the hegemonic constitution of the concept of the people accounts for the social struggles more effectively than the multitude, which merely constitutes itself immanently.[4] Despite the differences between Ranciere’s and Laclau’s political theory Ranciere also agrees with the transcendental logic of the concept of the people through highlighting that there is nothing intrinsically revolutionary about the subjectivity of the people. (Ranciere 1999: 39, Harrison 2014: 61) Hence, the precarious form of hegemony must continuously and transcendently be constituted by the political actors within a populist discourse. Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the Zapatistas in Mexico, for example, articulates this notion in regard to the people and the materialization of various antagonisms.



The discussion in the essay has been focused on the concept of Empire, which Hardt and Negri claim to be the new world order. As was revealed, for Hardt and Negri, the concept of Multitude is an indispensable aspect of the concept of Empire. Hence, this essay has also concentrated on the Multitude concept. From the point of view of the authors, Empire and Multitude are formed simultaneously. It is stated that just as “the multitude call Empire being, Empire calls the multitude being” (Hardt and Negri 2000: 207). Hardt and Negri imply that the demands for liberation emanating from the labor struggle have already pushed history forward and have amounted to the advanced class struggle antagonism. These are indicators revealing the linear history paradigm of the authors, which is similar to the progressive history understanding of Orthodox Marxism. This study attempted to analyze the concepts argumentatively, with the concepts of Empire and Multitude debated, respectively. In terms of the issue of Empire and Imperialism, this essay supports the idea that imperialistic rather than imperial relations continue to exist in the complicated base of the global, neoliberal and uneven developmental form of the world order, which requires nation states to operate. While challenging the authors in terms of imperialism, the intention of the essay was to open a new line beyond the scope of the dependency school. Likewise, regarding the concept of Multitude, this study highlights the People concept rather than the orthodox Marxist concept of Class. The immanent and transcendent antagonisms that constitutively determine the concepts of both the Multitude and the People were debated in favor of the hegemonic constitution of the People. In conclusion, the aim of this essay was to initiate an alternative discussion for the replacement of the concepts of Empire and Multitude with Imperialism and the People. The concept of imperialism remains an important tool in the process of understanding neoliberal globalization and the new world order. The political subject which can confront the problems of the new world order should emerge transcendentally with an articulated discourse that globally and locally articulates different kinds of demands. This political approach, which is derived from the critical engagement of the debates on Hardt and Negri, may initiate a framework for a theory of anarcho-populist radical democracy.


[1] Some of the prominent monographs that directly focuse on the concepts of Hardt and Negri are: Balakrishman, 2003; Passavant & Dean, 2004; Boron, 2005; Browning, 2011; Kiupkiolis & Katsambekis, 2014;  and Harrison, 2014. 

[2] Laclau and Mouffe, in their seminal work Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, defined the concepts of antagonisms, floating signifiers, chains of equivalence, and empty signifiers, which account for the discursively hegemonic constitution of society and politics. Unlike the common mistake made by the Orthodox Marxist criticisms, which blame Laclau for rejecting class, Laclau rejects the structural centrality of class in Marxism, but not the class concept per se. Not defining class as a superior attribute does not mean that class politics cannot be used strategically in chains of equivalence. Class particularly comes to the foreground in periods of economic crisis. However, what Laclau hightlights is that unless discursively articulated, class simply does not become a factor in the construction of a revolutionary subjectivity.   

[3] In the context of amorous truths, the role of the event in the total  break from the former life is exemplified by Murphet (2006:150) in a passage from Anna Karenina: Kitty Shcherbatsky in Anna Karenina experiences this break as profoundly as any: ‘On that day when…she had silently gone up and given herself to him – in her soul on that day and hour there was accomplished a total break with her entire former life, and there  began a completely different, new life, totally unknown  to her.’ (Tolstoy 2003: 453). 

[4] See, the debate on immanence and transcendence in the populism context and Hardt and Negri’s pro-immanence stance against Laclau in Hardt and Negri (2017: 327-328).



Ateş K. 2018. Populizm Eleştirisinin Eleştirisine Giriş: Halkı Savunmak Gerekir. – Birikim. Vol. 373. No. 9: P. 54-66.

Ayoob M. 1997. Defining Security: A Subaltern Realist Perspective. – Krause K., Williams M.C. (eds). Critical Security Studies: Concepts and Cases. London: UCL Press.

Best S., Kellner D. 1991. Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. Houndmills: MacMillan Education.

Biehl J., Bookchin M. 1998. The Politics of Social Ecology: Libertarian Municipalism. Montreal: Black Rose Books.

Booth K. 1999. Three Tyrannies. – Dunne T., Wheeler J.J. (eds). Human Rights in Global Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Borón A. 2005. Empire and Imperialism: A Critical Reading of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. London: Zed Books.

Brewer A. 1990. Marxist Theories of Imperialism: A Critical Survey, London; New York: Routledge.

Buharin N.I., Lenin V.I. 1973. Imperialism and World Economy. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Clark I. 2017. Globalization and the Post-Cold War Order. – The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Ed. By Baylis J., Smith S., Owens P. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coward M. 2005. The Globalisation of Enclosure: Interrogating the Geopolitics of Empire. – Third World Quarterly. Vol. 26. No. 6. P. 855-871. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436590500089190

Deleuze G., Guattari F. 2015. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Bloomsbury.

Frank A.G. 2005. The Development of Underdevelopment. New York: Montly Review Press.

Gamble A. 2006. Two Faces of Neo-liberalism. – Robinson R. (ed.). The Neo-Liberal Revolution: Forging the Market State. P. 20-35. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hardt M., Negri A. 2000. Empire. New York: Harvard University Press.

Hardt M., Negri A. 2011. Commonwealth. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Hardt M., Negri A. 2017. Assembly. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harrison O. 2014. Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought: Laclau, Negri, Badiou. Farnham: Ashgate. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315606330

Harvey D. 2013. The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kiely R. 2010. Rethinking Imperialism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kioupkiolis A. 2014. A Hegemony of the Multitude: Muddling the Lines. – Radical Democracy and Collective Movements Today The Biopolitics of the Multitude versus the Hegemony of the People. Ed. By A. Kioupkiolis, G. Katsambekis. P. 149-168. London: Ashgate. https://doi.org/10.33280/2310-3817-2016-4-2-305-309

Laclau E. 2004. Can Immanence Explain Social Struggles? – Passavant P.A., Dean J. (eds.). Empires New Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri. P. 21-30. London: Routledge.

Laclau E., Mouffe C. 2014. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.

Lenin V.I. 2010. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. London: Penguin Books.

Luxemburg R. 2015. The Accumulation of Capital. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing.

Mouffe C. 2005. On the Political. New York: Routledge.

Mudde C., Kaltwasser C.R. 2015. Populism. – Freeden M., Sargent L.T., Stears M. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies. P. 493-513. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199585977.013.0026

Murphet J. 2006. Cultural Studies and Alain Badiou. – Hall G., Birchall C. New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory. P. 147-162. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Narayan J., Sealey-Huggins L. 2017. Whatever happened to the idea of imperialism? – Third World Quarterly. Vol. 38. No. 11. P. 2387-395. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2017.1374172

Newman S. 2001. From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power. USA: Lexington Books.

Newman S. 2016. Postanarchism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Panitch L., Gindin S. 2003. Global Capitalism and American Empire. – The Socialist Register 2004. London: Merlin. P. 1-42.

Prentoulis M., Thomassen L. 2014. Autonomy and Hegemony in the Squares: The 2011 Protests in Greece and Spain. – Radical Democracy and Collective Movements Today The Biopolitics of the Multitude versus the Hegemony of the People. Ed. By A. Kioupkiolis, G. Katsambekis. P. 213-234. London: Ashgate. https://doi.org/10.33280/2310-3817-2016-4-2-305-309

Ranciere J. 1999. Disagreement; Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Reid J. 2005. The Biopolitics of the War on Terror: a Critique of the ‘Return of Imperialism’ thesis in International Relations. – Third World Quarterly. Vol. 26. No. 2. P. 237-252. https://doi.org/10.1080/0143659042000339100

Schueller M.J. 2009. Decolonizing Global Theories Today. – Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. Vol. 11. No. 2. P. 235-254. https://doi.org/10.1080/13698010903053303

Wallerstein I. 1995. After Liberalism. New York: New Press.

Weber C. 2014. International Relations Theory: A Critical Introduction. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Wood E.M. 2003. A Manifesto for Global Capitalism. –Debating Empire. Ed. By Balakrishnan G., Aronowitz. S. P. 63-81. London: Verso.

Wood E.M. 2005. Empire of Capital. London: Verso.

Content No. 2, 2020

See also:

Ushakin S.A.,
The Youth as Subject of Activity (Essay of a Review of Methodological Approaches). – Polis. Political Studies. 1993. No2

Goldstone J.A., Grinin L.Ye., Ustyuzhanin V.V., Korotayev A.V.,
Revolutionary events of the 21st century: a preliminary quantitative analysis. – Polis. Political Studies. 2023. No4

The Orange revolution: «People’s revolution» or Revolutionary coup?. – Polis. Political Studies. 2010. No2

Istomin I.A., Baykov A.A.,
Alliances at the Service of Hegemony: Deconstruction of the Military Domination Toolbox. – Polis. Political Studies. 2020. No6

Zamyatin D.N.,
Pictorial Imperialism. – Polis. Political Studies. 2008. No5



Introducing an article

Polis. Political Studies
4 2013

Hösle V.
On the relation of morals and politics

 Полный текст


   2024      2023      2022      2021   
   2020      2019      2018      2017      2016   
   2015      2014      2013      2012      2011   
   2010      2009      2008      2007      2006   
   2005      2004      2003      2002      2001   
   2000      1999      1998      1997      1996   
   1995      1994      1993      1992      1991