Autonomism and the war

By Ruth Wagner y Facundo Aguirre


The war has put the various anti-capitalist programs and views to a litmus test. The autonomists’ view, postulated by Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, has been thrown into disarray. The utopian view of an empire set to overcome the contradictions cutting across imperialism, and a counter-power ‘from below’ that rendered the political struggle for state power pointless, became helpless in the face of a shooting war. Maybe, this explains the little activity displayed by, and the silence of, those like the MTD (unemployed movement) from Solano in the face of such a momentous event. The Solano MTD is a member of the Anibal Verón jobless coordinating force and claims allegiance to such views.


Police actions by the ‘Empire’ or an imperialist war?


The autonomist views postulate that ‘there has been a change in the nature and the role of war in our society’. For Toni Negri, the ‘preemptive war’ doctrine formulated by Bush is a ‘new strategic theory (…) a new art for war, this is to say, for policing’ that would be instrumental in building ‘the order, the place and the form of government carrying though the dictates of the empire. It is no longer about imperialism, but rather an ongoing and permanent building of a place of command for the empire’.
This view writes off the concept of the state as the political and military agency of war. In this case, it overlooks the fact that a bunch of imperialist states was bent on war against a semicolonial and oppressed state such as Iraq. Besides, the aim of this war would not be, according to autonomism, a reinforcement of the US hegemony and a reshuffled world scenario against rival imperialist powers. Instead, it was an action by an Empire –an entity that has overcome the antagonisms opposing the states of the various powers- whose main challenge is to set up a new order of rule over society by means of police-styled methods. We are thus witnessing some kind of supra-state acting as a world gendarme.
Indeed, imperialism underwent major changes in its structure in the last two decades, which were reflected in the military interventions of the 1990s. In the first Gulf War, the US gathered an unprecedented multinational coalition, which seemed to usher in a new era in which the contradictions opposing the different strands of imperialism were a thing of the past. In turn, war mongering was disguised in the robes of humanitarian causes. The support of the UN (on some occasions) and of the various powers to the US interventions, lent a cover-up of international ‘legitimacy’ that reinforced the appearance of police-styled actions, smoothing the political and material interests at stake and the rifts opposing the states. Those who mistook the appearances on the surface with the real content were seriously blinded already back then, taking some of the arguments that the imperialists used to justify their massacres at face value.
But when it comes to the war in Iraq, to consider Anglo-American invasion a mere ‘police styled intervention’ is just ludicrous, a view that fails to account for the political scenario of today.
In the first place, the war aims of the Americans mean that the imperialist agenda falls back on an outright colonial agenda, in order to uphold the hegemony of their state on a world level. It is a conflict devised with the aim of consolidating and spreading its rule throughout the Middle East, and for that they need to deploy troops on the ground and to appoint a viceroy in Iraq to do the job for them.
In the second place, the coveted booty of the oil reserves gave the war a looting and rapacious nature. The coalition troops were not under the command of a transnational capital, some kind of global Empire, but they rather followed the orders emanating from the US-based monopolistic corporations.
On the other hand, the disruption of the international ‘consensus’ and the inter-imperialist disputes were a key element of the war , which have shattered the illusory appearance of an imperial command presiding over the conflicting interests of the rival powers. Thus, the ‘Empire’ appears as a concrete force, the U.S.; and the victim, a subjugated people that has been stripped of its sovereignty. It is not then about a police styled action –one which tries to make the agents toe the line- but rather an imperialist war against an oppressed nation.
Last but not least, according to the autonomists, there is a ‘state of permanent war’ that pervades all the fields of social life with same intensity. To consider the new nature of the war as police-styled fits in with that definition, which puts an equal sign between all the armed actions as such, downplaying the concrete thrust of the imperialist belligerence and the crusade against Iraq.
At times of heightened tension, a correct theory becomes a sharp weapon leading to mass actions; if it does not do so, it is just a dogma, a hollow shell that no longer reflects the living reality. In order to appraise the nature of war correctly –even more so after the US victory- is a key question to fight back the ongoing agenda of ‘preemptive war’ devised by Mr. Bush.


The antiwar movement and autonomism


In tune with the abovementioned postulates, autonomism claims that the present anti-war movement, so markedly anti-American, is a step back with regards to the anti-globalization movements that challenged capital in general. In the words of Michael Hardt, the struggle against those ‘forces governing capitalist globalization these days’ has been superseded by ‘anti-Americanism’. He regrets that ‘unfortunately, but also inevitably (…) the protests against globalization have been reoriented against the war’, warning that ‘we have to oppose this war, but at the same time we have to look beyond it, trying not to fall into the trap of its narrow political logic’.
We might agree with the claim that the anti-Americanism emanating from the European governments is another imperialist ruse. However, putting an equal sign between it and the mood of a mass movement bent on halting the war machine –whatever its limits- speaks of political shortsightedness. It means that they do not understand, in contrast with their governments, for the people that took to the streets throughout the Middle East, it was about identifying those responsible for their plight. It means glossing over the fact that for the protesters in the European heartlands it was about targeting the staunch allies of the US, e.g. Blair and Aznar. Last but not least, it means overlooking the fact that thousands of voices rose over the jingoistic clamor against the war at the very heart of the ‘American empire’.
Far from lamenting about the shapes of the movement, we have to highlight the anti-imperialist mood animating it, with a view to overcoming pacifism –i.e. an active militancy against the military occupation of Iraq and for the victory of the oppressed nation. The war drive means we have to step up the independent intervention of the mass movement and set up a social force transcending the borders, to defeat militarism and the imperialist governments pursuing a profit out of this war.
Instead, for Toni Negri everything boils down to nurturing ‘alternative forms of social life’, which ‘have to take over the question of the state of permanent war situation, of all its conditions and all its consequences’. In a nutshell, this is about a power coexisting with capital on its fringes, an exodus towards new relations based on solidarity, free communes that should refrain from directly challenging the state.
It is very naïve from them, since they forget that present-day militarism flows from war machine in motion, which is nourished by monopolistic corporations and the American state. On top of this, the political scene in the US and the world has veered to the right, which is a threat for the oppressed peoples and for any attempt at social transformation. Considering all these, the very idea of an exodus is nonsensical. Today, international politics in the wake of the war has to do with a given balance of forces, more than ever before. The massive concentration of imperialist forces and firepower has to be confronted with a counter-power that takes heed of this somber reality and furnishes a superior alternative, that emanating from the working class movement of the world and the oppressed peoples, with a view to transforming the war into a social revolution.
The conditions ushered in by the war are not only those fueling barbarism but also those that might bring about the subversion of the existing order. The foundations of society as a whole are upside down now. We should not forget Marx’s dictum that in moments like the present one, all the solid objects fade away into thin air. Seize upon the commotion, transform into a revolutionary opportunity, that is perspective that not only is necessary but also a realistic one. We have to face the challenge posed by the first imperialist carnage of the twenty first century: socialism or barbarism.