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Journal of Communication Inquiry http://jci.sagepub.


What About the Dark Side of Multitude?

Franco Berardi (aka Bifo) Journal of Communication Inquiry 2011 35: 310 originally published online 16 September 2011 DOI: 10.1177/0196859911419255 The online version of this article can be found at:

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5BerardiJournal of Communication Inquiry


What About the Dark Side of Multitude?

Franco Berardi (aka Bifo)1

Journal of Communication Inquiry 35(4) 310312 The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permission: http://www. DOI: 10.1177/0196859911419255

Keywords multitude, compositionism, subjectivity, digital media, precarity, knowledge

The books authored by Michel Hardt and Toni Negri during the first decade of the new century may be defined as a Trilogy, and the number three is meaningful for those who know the history of modern philosophy. The Trilogy has been a master stroke by the point of view of political action and strategy. The authors have been able to accomplish a sort of redefinition of the theoretical field of contemporary philosophy, reframing the relation between social communication, subjectivity, and global power, and have succeeded in changing the very perception of the political framework after the huge transformations resulting from fall of the Soviet system, creation of the Internet, and globalization of capitalist economy. Thanks to the conceptualization they have produced in these three books, Hardt and Negri reassessed the space of critical and dissident thought, while asserting the historical legitimacy of rebellion on new foundations, all the while reframing social autonomy in a totally new perspective. If you think of the effects of the Soviet Empires fall on culture, philosophy, and political imagination, if you remember the triumph of neoliberal ideology in the aftermath of the 1989 upheaval, you will understand how important the reaffirmation of the conflictive existence of the indomitable persistence of antagonism and the continuous re-creation of a space for the Common has been, notwithstanding the aggressive privatization that has been enforced during the last decades. In the 1990s, the theoretical field was occupied by two different kinds of imagination: the first was the technophile social-darwinism that identified the invisible hand of Liberal thought with the infinite development of the Net: the long boom of the New Economy that Wired magazine triumphantly proclaimed while the Nasdaq was happily exploding.

Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan, Italy

Corresponding Author: Franco Berardi, Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera,Via Brera, 28, Milan, Italy 20121 Email:

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The second imagination was based on the prospect of clash of civilization, and on the idea that the Great History of ideological conflicts and revolution was over and the coming time is destined to be the time of a Small History, a history of particular belongings, inessential conflicts, and cultural regression toward identitarian war. Negri and Hardt have been able to accomplish a difficult task: acknowledging the progressive and irreversible trend of globalization but at the same time reopening the challenge of autonomy and of revolt. So they opened a way to escape from the fake but powerful alternative: either consenting to global capitalism or regressing toward the nostalgia of the failed socialist attempt of the past century. The Negri-Hardt Trilogy has succeeded in displacing the very ground of the opposition and of the search for autonomy, and this is such an important achievement that every other remark is a small thing. However, some remarks I have to do, on the philosophical and analytical sides of these books published in the years zero zero. Something has to be said about the very structure of the Trilogy, the not so cryptic hegelianism of its theoretical structure. The succession is openly Hegelian: the negative (Empire), the negative of the negative (Multitude), and, finally, predictably, the positive synthesis, the Common. Beyond the general structure, which could be seen as an ironic mannerism, the analytical content of the first two books is not always convincing. Let us think about the notion of Empire. This concept is not really grasping the tendency of the first decade of the century, rather the contrary, I think. In the last part of the 20th century, American power has shown less and less ability to impose its political will and its military might, while also unstable and declining at the economic level. Empire was being written some years before its publication, in the Clinton age, and is the best conceptualization of that conjuncture. However, the new landscape of the Bush years (and of the Obama years too) is one of decline and defeat, from Iraq to Afghanistan, not to mention the Pakistan catastrophic mess, the difficult relation with Russia, and the lack of autonomy in front of the Chinese. The concept of Empire is an effort at integrating the political sphere with the networked system of communication. The Internet is conceptualized as an environment, not only as a tool, and this allows Hardt and Negri to decipher the signs of formation of Semiocapitalism. However, they fail to see the ambiguous feature of the network, the pathology that affects subjectivity becoming-network. The concept of Empire is not read only in geopolitical and in military terms, it refers to the potency of the network, no more limited by national borders and identity. The concept of Empire, in this book, is encompassing the new force of the network as a structure of power and a possibility of liberation. What is important in Empire is the change in the political posture, which is no more marked by sense of defeat and past deceptions but is marked by the disenchanted understanding of a new phase in the history of social conflicts. The second book, Multitude, has always seemed to me a failed attempt in renaming the subject, after the weakening of the industrial labor force, and the decomposition of the worker class that followed the globalization and precarization of the 1990s. This concept is not sufficient to build the process of subjectivation that we need in the new sphere of global capitalism. The notion of Multitude, in its spinozian derivation, refers

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Journal of Communication Inquiry 35(4)

to the impossibility of power to reduce the boundless energies of social life to its domination. This is important, of course, but says nothing (or too little) about the quality, the consciousness, and the intentions of the Multitude, particularly about its possibility of autonomy from capitalist rule. The dark side of Multitude is forgotten in the HardtNegri formulation. Depression, panic, and suicide have been marking the phenomenology of life of the first connective generation (so far) and the concept of Multitude is not dealing with this dark side, which is essential if we want to find an imagination for movements to come. In the third book, Commonwealth, Negri and Hardt have convincingly proposed a new critique of property, based on the boundless expansion of productive energy of general intellect in the network, and have proposed a new idea of the common, as the space of an unceasing dynamics of invention, creation, liberalization, privatization, dispossessing, then reinvention, and so on. Knowledge is the essential space of the common wealth, particularly in the age of the Net. And capitalism is less and less apt to semiotize the expansion of knowledge potency. In this sense, the third book the Trilogy, Commonwealth, is a good introduction to the movement we see at the horizon: the movement of knowledge against financial capitalism or, better said, the movement of knowledge-building autonomy from financial capitalism. Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Franco Berardi (aka Bifo) is a writer, media-theorist, and media-activist. He was accused of participation in militant actions and was imprisoned in 1969 and 1972. In 1970, he published Contro il lavoro (Feltrinelli), a small book which declared the libertarian philosophy of refusal of work and opposed the Leninist ideology. He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981), was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976-1978), and cofounder of the e-zine and of the telestreet network. In 1980-1982, he contributed to the Italian musical magazine MUSICA 80 as correspondent from New York City. His publications include Le ciel est enfin tomb sur la terre (Paris, 1978), Mutazione e Ciberpunk (Genoa, 1993), Neuromagma (Rome, 1995), Felix (Rome, 2001; London 2009) Generacion Postalfa (Buenos Aires, 2007), Skizomedia (Roma, 2005), La fabrica de la infelicidad (Roma, 2000; Madrid, 2004) El sabio el guerrero el mercader (Aquarela, Madrid, 2006), Precarious Rhapsody (2009), The Soul at Work (2009). Currently, he is writing for the monthly LOOP (Rome) and for the monthly CRISIS (Buenos Aires), teaching social history of communication at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, and working on founding a school for social imagination at the Repubblica di San Marino, aimed at creating a new Europe free from the capitalist exploitation.

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