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The Key to Power

Emptying the churches of the Left.

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We can see the city on a hill, but it seems so far off. We can imagine constituting a just, equal and sustainable society in which all have access to and share the common, but the conditions to make it real don’t yet exist.

You can’t create a democratic society in a world where the few hold all the wealth and the weapons. You can’t repair the health of the planet when those who continue to destroy it still make the decisions. The rich won’t just give away their money and property, and tyrants won’t just lay down their arms and let fall the reins of power. Eventually we will have to take them – but let’s go slowly. It’s not so simple.

It’s true that social movements of resistance and revolt, including the cycle of struggles that began in 2011, have created new opportunities and tested new experiences. But those experiments, beautiful and virtuous as they are, don’t themselves have the force necessary to topple the ruling powers. Even great successes often quickly turn out to be tragically limited. Banish the tyrant and what do you get? A military junta? A theocratic ruling party? Close down Wall Street and what do you get? A new bailout for the banks?

Even when tempted by despair, we should remember that throughout history unexpected and unforeseeable events arrive that completely reshuffle the decks of political powers and possibility. You don’t have to be a millenarian to believe that such political events will come again. It’s not just a matter of numbers. One day there are millions in the street and nothing changes, and another day the action of a small group can completely overturn the ruling order. Sometimes the event comes in a moment of economic and political crisis when people are suffering. Other times, though, the event arrives in times of prosperity when hopes and aspirations are rising. It’s possible, even in the near future, that the entire financial structure will come crashing down. Or that debtors will gain the conviction and courage not to pay their debts.

We can’t know when the event will come. But that doesn’t mean we should just wait around until it arrives. Instead our political task is paradoxical: we must prepare for the event even though its date of arrival remains unknown.

The forces of rebellion and revolt allow us to throw off the impoverished subjectivities produced and continually reproduced by capitalist society. A movement of organized refusal allows us to recognize who we are. It helps us free ourselves of the morality of debt and the work discipline it imposes on us. It allows us to turn our attention away from the video screens and break the spell the media hold over us. It supports us to get out from under the yoke of the security regime and become invisible to the regime’s all-seeing eye. It also demystifies the structures of representation that cripple our powers of political action.

Rebellion and revolt, however, set in motion not only a refusal but also a creative process. New truths are produced.

Some of the more traditional political thinkers and organizers on the left are displeased with or at least wary of the 2011 cycle of struggles. “The streets are full but the churches are empty,” they lament. The churches are empty in the sense that, although there is a lot of fight in these movements, there is little ideology or centralized political leadership. Until there is a party and an ideology to direct the street conflicts, the reasoning goes, and thus until the churches are filled, there will be no revolution.

But it’s exactly the opposite! We need to empty the churches of the Left even more, and bar their doors, and burn them down! These movements are powerful not despite their lack of leaders but because of it. They are organized horizontally as multitudes, and their insistence on democracy at all levels is more than a virtue: it is a key to their power.

Michael Hardt is an American political philosopher and literary theorist. Antonio Negri is an Italian Marxist philosopher. This excerpt is from their latest book, Declaration.

Comments on the article “The Key to Power”

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Anonymous

There never has been, nor should there be. A 'true' democracy is a system that nobdy would actually want to live in. No one would agree to system whereby 51% of the people could enslave 49%. Or if by majority vote take an individual's rights away.

We don't live in a democracy, there is no "democracy of Canada", or "democracy of the United States".
We live in a constitutional monarchy with a representative legislature, the rule of law is the only true way
to run a society, not by the whims of 50+1 percent of the people.

Anonymous

You're clearly right that nobody would want the 'whimsical' democracy you describe. That's not surprising. The ideal of democracy is not that the truth should be seen as whatever the majority says it is. The ideal of democracy is for a society in which people broadly cooperate to arrive at decisions that serve them by serving the public good. The idea is that by admitting that no one person or group has a monopoly on the truth, we create institutions that engage persons as equals in dialogue aimed at the truth. It is not that 51% of the people determine it, it's that we are more likely to approximate it by working together in a fallible way, so much as possible as equals. Is that something that is so hard to conceive of? Is aiming for and approximating it so unimaginable? Not really. If you stop and consider the constant effort and enormous cost required to obstruct this kind of development mounted by those for whom even a small increase in real democratization would be a disaster, I think such cynical conclusions will be mitigated or prevented entirely. In fact, when you consider how extensive and transparent the effort to suppress even glimmerings of democracy have been and remain after a century of nearly constant military interventions and proxy wars across the globe, and anti-communist paranoia and propaganda at home, it starts to seem somewhat more reasonable to conclude that the spectre of real democracy has been on the prowl and that the enemies of democracy have been pretty terrified of it.Terrified enough to shoot striking miners in Virginia and in South Africa, to murder Freedom Riders and beat the daylights out of Fannie Lou Hamer, to wage decades of murderous warfare against peasants in South East Asia and Central and South America, etc., etc., etc.

Anonymous

Making statement that the rich should or be forced to "give away their wealth" is just fueling opposition. The kind of opposition you will see on Alex Jones' site where you have wealthy country stars like Charlie Daniels spreading opposition by making it sound like someone is going to come empty his bank account and hand it to crackheads on Welfare.

I am sick of this bull. Distribution of wealth is about fair and even taxation. It is about paying people a living wage that affords them access to health care. whether employer provided (a dumb and exploitable model) or enough earnings to afford to seek this care however run. It is about living wages and respect for hard work.

We have people all over this country doing back breaking and necessary work who are told they are dregs on society and not worth real pay while they are out there doing jobs like picking food in the killing heat so the people that look down their noses at them can make a living by skimming money through trading computer programs.

People need to make this clear and when they don't they are highly suspect.

Anonymous

The authors emphasize the FORM of the occupy movement while paying too little attention to the CONTENT of the complaints. Couldn't extreme-right free-market libertarians organize horizontally? Wouldn't radical capitalists argue that the unregulated market is the ultimate de-centered, horizontal organization? But if there is one thing the occupy protesters are likely to agree on, it's that the free market should not be allowed to determine every aspect of our lives. All this talk about "horizontal" organization comes from a couple of intellectual careerists who only want to use the occupy movement to confirm their own theories (which aren't even their own). It's ridiculous to champion a movement that has demands, while at the same time claiming that the movement's inability to know whether, or when, it can achieve its goals is one of its greatest virtues. The "church" leaders the authors deride are the people that aren't content to wait for an "unexpected" and "unforeseeable" event to occur. Planning is no more or an evil in itself than horizontal organization is a virtue in itself. At the end of the day, there are things people need. It might take a little organization and specialization to get them those things. This organization and specialization might not be perfectly "horizontal." But is that really the point?

one two three four!

There are many ways to keep power diffuse and even while allocating to internal groups at times, it is quite simple and has been done many times. The only reason this is all new to people is simply because of a sheer lack of education among its members which if anything should be key to gaining any consensus. A consensus of unequal leaves too many questions to be answered hence as you pointed out OWS content is simply more radical capitalist.

The authors (as they always do) are merely keeping a safe distance from making any claims which may be at best a defensive stance intellectuals often take when making comments from above. Man cannot nor will he ever know the future however that doesn't mean we shouldn't make plans, as mentioned its matter of whom is making those plans from which we can see pieces of the future.

Anonymous

Hello,

I have an extremely high IQ. It reaches super-genius level. Yes that's an actual term in the IQ sphere.

I've always tried to live my life morally and in tune with my own thoughts and feelings of how best to proceed forward. I have also always thought that a good sense of moral action, how to act morally not just know what is moral, is a vital component to intelligence.

I have to admit though, I'm finding that more and more, it seems to be harder to do so under this system of social and economic organization. It seems to me that I am being existentially forced to forego those moral beliefs and attitudes in exchange for a sinister disregard and willful exploitation of those around me, in a way which seems to manifest as a black hole of inescapability. This does in fact seem to be emanating not from any specifically identifiable group as such, but more from a general state of affairs, a general system.

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