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ThisFriday night through Sunday evening there is a big conference in New
York City that Z folks will be attending to seek content for the
magazine and site, and particularly to seek videos for our Z video
project. Numerous Z writers will give talks at the conference, so if you
are in the vicinity, please check in and say hello. If not, we will try
to bring you reports and content next week. The web site about the
conference is at: http://www.2005leftforum.org/

And here, to close out this mailing, is a piece before the fact. One of
the panels is titled Class or Multitude. It will have on it Rainer
Rilling from  the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Germany, Ellen Meiksins
Wood the author of Empire of Capital, Michael Hardt the co-author of
Empire and of Multitude, Stanley Aronowitz from the CUNY Graduate
Center, and Michael Albert from ZNet. The topic is how to understand
revolutionary constituencies, and here is an essay foreshadowing what
Albert will have to say.


Class or Multitude
By Michael Albert

The title of our panel here at the Left Forum in New York City, is
"Class or Multitude?" 

By way of answering, I think we need class concepts, but I don't think
we need the concept multitude. Here's why.

Class concepts focus us on the difference between owning factories and
selling one's ability to do work. This difference produces capitalists
versus everyone else. The source of this difference has to be eliminated
if we are to transcend capitalism. I think we all agree on that.

Additionally, however, I think good class concepts should also focus us
on a second critical economic difference. 

Some people do work that conveys knowledge, confidence, and control over
daily life. Their work is empowering. They give orders. They define
tasks and decide who does them, at what pace, and with what distribution
of the results. Their knowledge increases. Their confidence grows.

Other people do work that is overwhelmingly rote, obedient, and
dis-empowering. They follow orders. They do not set schedules or
agendas. They do not decide outcomes. Their knowledge decreases. Their
confidence erodes. 

On the one side we have people we call workers - which includes
assemblers, bus drivers, short order cooks, miners, maids, nurses, and
waitresses, the daily implementers of economic dictates - roughly 80% of
the workforce. 

On the other side, we have people who I want to call coordinators -
which includes high level lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants,
architects, and managers, the daily designers and administrators of the
economy and its protocols - roughly 20% of the workforce.

In capitalism, all around us, coordinators are subordinate to owners but
in turn benefit at the expense of workers. In another type of economy,
beyond capitalism, coordinators can rule workers.

Institutions that create and preserve the coordinator/worker class
hierarchy include corporate divisions of labor, remuneration for output
or for power, hierarchical decision making, and markets or central
planning for allocation. 

Sadly, with private ownership eliminated, these institutions remain
central in what most people call socialism, but which I think we should
call coordinatorism.

I want classlessness, which means I want all workers to enjoy conditions
of comparable empowerment and quality of life at work. I want all people
in the economy to have a fair say in outcomes. I do not want a few
people to rule many others.

I think we need class concepts, then, to highlight the three class
structure of modern economies and to guide our efforts to eliminate not
only ownership bases for class division and class rule, but also
division of labor bases for class division and class rule. 

So what about the concept multitude? To be honest, I am not sure I get

Being one word, multitude presumably refers to essentially one thing.

Perhaps multitude refers to anyone who could conceivably become a
revolutionary in revolutionary times. But since that could be anyone at
all, the word population would do equally well as a label for that
concept. I doubt the whole population is the intended meaning of the
concept multitude, though I have heard people use the term that way.

Perhaps multitude refers instead to everyone who is a very good prospect
to become revolutionary in revolutionary times. But then the word
multitude just replaces the two word label, likely revolutionary, and
that doesn't seem very innovative or essential either. I also doubt that
that is the intended meaning of the concept multitude, though again, I
have heard people use the term that way.

Perhaps multitude means, instead, those who by virtue of their economic
position are very good prospects to become revolutionary in
revolutionary times. Taken in that sense, the concept multitude would
replace the old concept proletariat, or even working class. As Michael
Hardt himself put it in an interview back in January, "[this] is one way
in which you might think of our notion of multitude as being very close
to a traditional notion of proletariat, that is, the class of all those
who produce, once the notion of production itself has been sufficiently
revised and expanded." This, I think, is the intended usage. Regretably,
I also think it is the most counter productive usage.

If the term multitude means likely agents of economic and social change,
and includes "all those who produce," I think there is a high likelihood
emphasizing it would crowd out giving equal attention to kinship, race,
and power based dynamics as to economy based dynamics. 

I think emphasizing multitude would tend to hide that procreation,
sexuality, socialization, celebration, identification, adjudication,
legislation, and implementation count just as much as production (and
for that matter consumption and allocation) in people's conditions and
consciousnesses, and also in igniting or thwarting revolutionary

Advocates of multitude correctly want to highlight that production
affects and is affected by culture, gender, and power - so far, so good.
But if our method for incorporating that insight impedes our also using
central concepts that are specifically rooted in those other domains and
not just in thinking about production, not to mention if they impede our
using more detailed economic concepts of class and of consumption and
allocation, then despite our good intentions our adopting the concept
multitude will narrow rather than broaden our focus. 

To see what I mean, I hope it is sufficient to note that using multitude
this way would mirror the impact on the left of the old use of the term
proletariat, also meaning revolutionary agent based on being a producer.

For example, many activists who used the term proletariat as agent of
change, took race very seriously, even considering it of paramount
social importance. Nonetheless, the proletariat-based framework led them
to understand and think about race in overwhelmingly economic terms. And
using proletariat as an organizing principle had the same predictable
delimiting effect on people's approach to gender and political power, as
well, of course. 

Despite multitude being defined more broadly than proletariat was
defined, nonetheless, like the word proletariat, the word multitude
identifies a revolutionary agent based on examining economic
foundations. That approach will, I fear, cause people to think that the
only or at least the most important way to become revolutionary is by
way of economic concerns and attitudes. I thought we transcended that
"rank the oppressions" approach thirty years ago. 

Moreover, even if the above danger was avoided, I think elevating the
concept multitude would certainly enforce a bi-polar view of economic
change. Regarding economy, with multitude guiding our thoughts there
will be potential bad guys - maybe we will call them capitalists, or
emperors, or whatever - and there will be potential good guys, the
multitude. This is quite like when the conceptualization of economic
struggle was capitalists versus the proletariat or versus the working
class, with no other economic agents operating.

The trouble with a two constituency approach to agents of economic
change is that it covers over the existence of the coordinator class and
makes it seem that beyond bad capitalist economics there can only follow
either more of the same or, instead, good multitude economics. 

This is quite like orthodox Marxism Leninism's mentality that there is
capitalism and then there is socialism. An economy simply must be one or
the other. In fact, however, beyond capitalism there are at least two
possibilities: one bad, one good.

A bad post capitalist economy has institutions that elevate what I
earlier called the coordinator class. I call this economy
coordinatorism, though most people call it market or centrally planned
socialism. I hate it, though many advocate it. Whatever we call it, and
however we feel about it, this economy has public or state ownership,
corporate divisions of labor, hierarchical decision making, and either
markets or central planning for allocation. 

A good post capitalist economy would have institutions, instead, that
eliminate class division. I think this will be participatory economics,
and I think it will include such features as remuneration for duration,
intensity, and onerousness of work, balanced job complexes, self-managed
decision making, and participatory planning, but of course the jury is
still out on all that. 

For me, the problem with the concept multitude is that whatever fine
intentions its authors may have, I think it is (1) a step back toward
crowding out priority attention for race, gender, and power, and (2)
also a step back toward drawing attention away from the nature and
importance of the coordinator/worker division.

I know these claims fly in the face of the stated motives of those
advocating the concept multitude. But so too did charges of economism
and of favoring institutions that elevated a new ruling coordinator
class fly in the face of the stated motives of those who in the past
advocated Leninist approaches to social change. 

Yes, advocates of multitude urge their desire to broaden economics so
that it accounts for other dimensions of life. They want to address all
forms of domination. But, despite these admirable desires, it is far
more probable that shoveling all dimensions of life under a single logic
emphasizing only production will underplay extra-economic variables at
least as badly as in the past, rather than elevate them. 

Second, trying to hammer all the varieties of economic possibility into
a bi-polar framework of a bad capitalist economy pitted against a good
economy that a multitude will win ignores that anti-capitalists can in
fact seek a future that is classless or revolutionaries can seek a
future that has coordinators dominating workers. I want classlessness. I
don't want coordinatorism. And so I also don't want concepts that
pervert seeking classlessness into seeking coordinatorism.

I favor using the concepts capitalist, coordinator, and worker for
understanding the key constituency dynamics of current economies and
also for understanding the two main kinds of post capitalist economy,
coordinatorism and classlessness, or, in my view, coordinatorism and
participatory economics. 

I favor using concepts like man, woman, mother, father, black, white,
religion, nationality, ethnicity, citizen, order giver, and order taker,
and others as well, of course, for understanding the key dynamics of
current families, cultures, and political structures, and for
envisioning future improvements as well. 

It seems to me that trying to shoehorn social or even just an economic
reality into a single-constituency concept like multitude is wildly
backward, not forward, in its implications.

Highlighting multitude obscures the independent priority of race,
gender, and political structures as well as economics, and papers over
the coordinator/worker difference - just as Marxist Leninist concepts
obscured and denied these same central elements in the past. 

One last point about multitude, and, for that matter, empire, not to
mention, dare I say it, post modernism. 

To make a worthy bottom-up revolution in the U.S. is going to require at
least a hundred million people being powerful and informed advocates and
designers of a better future. 

This multitude, if you will, of revolutionaries, will all have to be
able to comprehend society and historical possibilities. They will have
to be not only comprehending but proposing and refining goals and
strategies. The tools of revolutionary comprehension and communication
will therefore have to be very widely shared and utilized.

To me it follows that talking about democracy, participation, or self
management in a language that requires great privilege to have the time
to have any familiarity with it is not conducive to democracy,
participation, or self management. 

The word multitude is fine, as is the word empire. But the fact that I
honestly don't know what either word means, at least in the usage of the
books about each word, neither of which I was able to understand, seems
to me to be a damning problem. 

Of course, it could be that I just lack some capacity needed to read
these works and to know what they say, sort of like being color blind or
tone deaf. I can't do it, but nearly everyone else can. 

Or it could be that these books, Empire and Multitude - and there are
many others, too, of course - are hugely more obscure than serious
theory and vision for participatory movements should be, and that they
can't be understood by more than a tiny fraction of the population, or
even by more than a tiny fraction of their actual readers. 

I think the latter is more likely the case. And most often I don't think
obscurity in left communication is so much a failing of writing and
speaking style, as that it reflects the implicit view that revolution is
to be comprehended and led by a small sector of professionals, not by a
whole population, and that serious discussion is to occur only among
that small highly privileged group, not the whole population. That is a
coordinatorist bias, a Leninist bias. It is hard to overcome, but I
think we need to.

So - what's my take on Class or Multitude? I reject multitude as a core
concept. I welcome class, and particularly a three class orientation. 

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