In the post-modern era, as the figure of the people dissolves, the militant is the one who best expresses the life of the multitude: the agent of biopolitical production and resistance against Empire […] When we speak of the militant, we are not thinking of anything like the sad, ascetic agent of the Third International […] We are thinking of nothing like that and of no one who acts on the basis of duty and discipline, who pretends his or her actions are deduced from an ideal plan […] Today the militant cannot even pretend to be a representative, even of the fundamental human needs of the exploited. Revolutionary political militancy today, on the contrary, must rediscover what has always been its proper form: not representational but constituent activity.[…] Militants resist imperial command in a creative way. In other words, resistance is linked immediately with a constitutive investment in the biopolitical realm and to the formation of co-operative apparatuses of production and community.[…] There is an ancient legend that might serve to illuminate the future life of communist militancy: that of Saint Francis of Assisi. Consider his work. To denounce the poverty of the multitude he adopted that common condition and discovered there the ontological power of a new society. The communist militant does the same, identifying in the common condition of the multitude its enormous wealth. Francis in opposition to nascent capitalism refused every instrumental discipline, and in opposition to the mortification of the flesh (in poverty and in the constituted order) he posed a joyous life, including all of being and nature […] Once again in postmodernity we find ourselves in Francis’s situation, posing against the misery of power the joy of being. This is a revolution that no power will control – because biopower and communism, co-operation and revolution remain together, in love, simplicity, and also innocence. This is the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist.
Once again it is particularly difficult to find any ideas that bear any relation to classical Marxism in the extract above. For Negri, the militant [activist] becomes an individualist who confronts the capitalist system in a “creative” way and who draws his own revolutionary strength from his or her own very uniqueness and his or her capacity to identify with the conditions of the masses. On top of this, the hero of this type of militancy is St. Francis of Assisi! In reality, genuine Marxist activists are able to place themselves at the vanguard of the working class, not only because they have won the trust and respect of workers through their ideas but also because they are able to connect with the political consciousness of the working class at a particular given moment and raise it towards the accomplishment of the socialist transformation of society. These types of activists never act on the basis of their own individuality, but know how to use it by linking it up with the individualities of other activists and put it at the service of the revolution. The political activist is in no way some sort of dour killjoy, but is the driving force of a whole class, the proletariat.
For the activist, being part of the proletariat also means not being afraid to represent it. On the contrary, each day of the activist’s life is dedicated to advancing the working class in its quest for the final victory. The Marxist activist’s revolutionary duty is to organise and lead, without ever becoming separated from his or her own class. Lenin, in a critique of Rosa Luxemburg’s conception of party organisation – which he saw as a vanguard based on revolutionary discipline – says the following in “Left-wing communism, an infantile disorder” about how the discipline of the proletariat’s revolutionary party can be maintained.
First, by the class-consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its tenacity, self-sacrifice and heroism. Second, by its ability to link up, maintain the closest contact, and – if you wish – merge, in certain measure, with the broadest masses of the working people – primarily with the proletariat, but also with the non-proletarian masses of working people. Third, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard, by the correctness of its political strategy and tactics, provided the broad masses have seen, from their own experience, that they are correct.“
All this has little to do with the ideal kind of activist described in the pages of Empire. In conclusion, we have a good suggestion for bringing Negri’s theory face to face with stark reality. What would happen if Negri’s “activist” went to a factory gate, or any other workplace at the beginning of the day’s shift, and invited the workers to “have fun” and “disobey”, in order to subvert the established order? We do not claim to know the conditions of every single workplace or factory, but we are certain that in those places that we know and where we often go to give out leaflets and organise campaigns, the level of alienation and fatigue caused by waged labour under the control of the capitalists is very high. Activists going to workers and proposing to them the type of activity that Negri suggests would be lucky to get away with less than a scratch! Again, once petit-bourgeois theories are confronted with the reality of the situation, they show their completely bankrupt nature.