Rethinking the Nation-State

Iraq war: A coup against Empire?

The argument concerning the decline of the Nation-state and the rise of a so-called international super-state is one which has caused debate amongst socialists for decades dating all the way back to Lenin and Kautsky. However, in more recent years the debate has come into even greater prominence, the argument for such a claim spearheaded by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The pair’s trilogy, Empire has received widespread acclaim even being hailed as ‘the Communist Manifesto of the Twenty-First Century.’ The aim of this article is toneither argue for nor against rather give the reader a general overview of the ideas expressed in Empire.

Hardt and Negri’s argument to why the capitalist geopolitical sphere has only developed a global super-state is simple and rests dominantly on one point: the effects of the globalized economy. No one today can deny these effects, national markets are so intertwined that it is very seldom said that a country is in fact self-reliant or reliant on another single economy, now rather a country is reliant on the general globalized economy. If we follow traditional Marxist logic that the local working-class falls under the hegemony of capital which, politically at least, act through and is centred in the state; if capital is no longer centred within the locality of the nation and is hardly centred at all, then one can no longer talk of the Nation-state being the king pin of capitalist domination. The Nation-state must therefore have gone into decline and since there appears to be no evidence that there no longer remains any form of power structure, then naturally the widespread intertwining of the global economy would suggest a new form of global power structure.

It must also be noted that Hardt and Negri shot down any sort of premise that the USA rules undisputedly over this new global structure. They do however, admit that US capitalists retain strong position within the structure (Negri even claims in Goodbye Mr Socialism that the Iraq war was an unsuccessful attempt at a coup d’état upon the global power structure).

The decentralization of capital leads us to what Hardt and Negri propose to as how the new global super-state is administered. The state occurs in no particular physical locality, it is based upon constant flows and highly fluid power structures: it is a ‘non-place’. The influence of the French post-structuralism is very clear here but the concept goes beyond Foucault. The new fluid power structure has led to dominance no longer restricted to being expressedwithin the various institutions (i.e. schools, prisons, etc.) but in all areas of daily life: from a general customs and habits to the way in which we spend our leisure time. Today’s society has developed into a society of control ruled over by our new fluid and highly adaptable, global oppressors.

But this new form of global super-state does offer a glimmer of hope. If the state were to be expropriated by the subordinate classes, the fluid structure could open opportunities for a wider and truly democratic global society. If the global super-state doesn’t require representatives of the capitalists then surely if it were restructured democratically neither would it need representatives of the world. This is no way would be a utopian anarchist ordering of society but would run with a collectively controlled state in which no single individual, group or class would wield greater power than anyone else. This could well be the answer to how a truly better, more democratic and equal society could possibly be run by expropriating the same state of the global oppressors by those who they oppress.

Though Hardt and Negri’s ideas put forward in the Empire trilogy aren’t without their critics, they have obtained a great deal of support and general agreement. Their concept of a new global power structure has serious implications for the Left today and could requirere-evaluation of not only of our outlook of capitalism but our tactics in fighting it.

-Nick Merrington, SA Auckland


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