Exploitation, most especially as for the case of the proletariat is highlighted in the Marxist school of thought. Karl Marx is a renowned historical materialist who happens to be on of the main proponents of the battle between two distinct social classes. These are the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Marx believed that the struggles and the conflicts between the two have readily shaped the whole course of history and thus defines the current system of society. However, in order to understand Marx’s concept of exploitation, there is a need for one to understand the foundations of capitalism and how its products have resulted to massive manipulation and control of the working class.
The foundations of capitalism can be readily traced to primitive accumulation (Morrison 114). The presence of primitive accumulation becomes manifested and highly evident when the workers are being deprived or dispossessed of the goods that they themselves produced. As this process is thoroughly practiced and imbibed, capitalism begins. Its effects are either overtly or implicitly felt. Capitalism, as for Marx is the result of society’s transition from feudalism (Morrison 114). The operations and mechanisms of feudalism are highly concentrated on land ownership. However, feudalism can no longer sustain and address the needs of both the market and the public. This is most especially true during the time when trade routes in Europe and Asia were finally discovered (“Feudalism to Capitalism”). This means that barter and trade are no longer limited to domestic terrains and vicinities. The product of land explorations and conquests in the ancient times resulted not only in discoveries of unfamiliar lands and creations of colonies—such action has also resulted to a massive market growth, which if properly used could produced great amounts of wealth and profit.
In order to capitalize on present opportunities, manufacturing in-demand goods received high priorities in each and every trading nation. But then again, there are certain kinds of limitations that prohibit these countries from maximizing the market’s utmost potential. Once and for all, “guilds” intentionally limit the products that they produce. By virtue of the law of supply and demand, this means that if the demand is high and the supply is low, the price allotted for a commodity would be high (“Feudalism to Capitalism”). Another shortcoming that the feudal system cannot readily address is slow-paced production. Manufacturing goods, during those days may take some time (“Feudalism to Capitalism”). Thus, when the product is released into the market, it is no longer in demand and producers cannot bid a higher price. The solution to these problems is simple—division of labor. Each craftsman is designated with a specific task. Different workers were made to manufacture some of the products’ part so that assembly would become easier. This phenomenon, paved the way for capitalism’s unstoppable rise.
In assessing the state of exploitation among workers, mode of production (Baker & Willis 12) should be taken into consideration production, according to Marx is comprised of two important factors. These are the relations and forces of production (Saunders 184). Forces of production pertains to the skills, technology etc that are needed in manufacturing goods (Saunders 184). On the other hand, the relations of production will determine the group or individual who is most likely to benefit from the overall process (Saunders 184). Placed within the context of capitalism, the ones who own the capital get the lion’s share. In as far as Marx is concerned, such became his basis of describing how social classes evolved and developed through the years. Thus, he came with a conclusion that history is indeed a battle of social class.
The capitalists, since they have the capital are able to sustain their control and authority over the production modes. The availability of the materials and the needed skills and techniques utilized in the overall production process would not possibly exist with the absence of the capital. Through profiteering, the ruling class is able to purchase more materials. In the meantime, the workers get their share through their meager wages. On a closer examination, it can be seen that it is the workers or the proletariat that exert more time and effort, however they remain impoverished and dependent on the capitalist. They cannot even have a taste on what they have worked for. This disparity occurs because there is an overt distribution of wealth. In addition to that, cheap labors ensure the capitalists’ stand on the economic hierarchy. Considering the effort and energy rendered by the worker, there is an apparent inequality, compared to capitalists who simply pay the labor fees. The worker’s salary is not compensated, if assessed within the level of surplus value that the latter rendered. This scenario represents the height of exploitation and gives birth to alienation. The worker is alienated from the product that he created, since their salaries cannot even give them the luxury to enjoy a decent kind of life.
Although workers have the option and the choice to leave, they cannot do so. These individuals belong to the so-called “reserve army of the unemployed (Gordon 53),” which was created by the capitalists too. The proletariat seems to be destined to endure the effects of exploitation, since they are aware that the ruling class can immediately look for a replacement while it would be too difficult for them to look for another job. Thus, as Marx suggested overthrowing capitalism, the workers or the proletariat should unite and abolish the system that has been exploiting them.
Hardt, Negri and Marx agree that capitalism creates the existence of an empire which in return is highly dependent on the labor power. However, Hardt and Negri tend to deviate from the Marxist point of view since the two asserts that the empire, rather than uneven wealth distribution is responsible for the struggle between the two social classes. In this context, Hardt and Negri seem to purport that the empire, built upon capitalism is responsible for its own growth and destruction. This means that the proletariat is considered as the empire’s offshoot. But then again, the proletariat’s role is played and performed by what Hardt and Negri call as the “multitude (Southall 2).”
However, it can be observed that Hardt and Negri’s discussion is more focused on the global scale. This readily gave a new face on how the proletariat reacts to exploitation. This is achieved via the re-appropriation of space. With the aid of technologically mediated tools and channels of communication, the identity of the “multitude” becomes diverse—so much so that their sense of belongingness is no longer limited to their native lands. To be a “global citizen” is the multitude’s potent defense against the exploitative nature of the empire.
In this generation, it is pretty apparent that the onset of globalization enabled the diaspora of many workers. On the empire’s part, it needs to ensure and prohibit the spatial movements of the multitude. Passavant and Dean discussed that although the working force is mobile and dynamic, it can be organized like those of peasant laborers (8). The danger in here is that, unlike in immobile groups, any social, political and economical plans can be easily apprehended. Yet the mobility that is practiced by the multitude makes it quite difficult to track and monitor.
Basically, exploitation occurs even if the workforce is mobile or immobile. Contrary to what Hardt and Negri explain, mobility and the re-appropriation of space seems to further complicate the matter. Although, it is true that the empire may experience a hard time in dealing with the flexibility that the multitude exhibits, the truth of the matter is exploitation is still manifested and not totally erased. The multitude under this circumstance is still manipulated and controlled by the empire. The social and economic requisites that are present in globalization further increases the risk for more adverse exploitation. Once and for all, workers or in a stricter sense, the multitude, is rather expected to be mobile since capitalism has already reached a point wherein geographical borders are no longer considered as obstacle and hindrances. The uneven distribution of wealth still stands as the fundamental reason behind the proletariat’s existence, or in Hardt and Negri’s case, the multitude. Once and for all, if space re-appropriation is considered, it seems that the multitude, which is expected to bring ultimate democracy, is in great danger of achieving such vision. The result then is a fragmented and divided multitude that can be easily trampled and abolished by the system that is allegedly responsible for creating it.
In discussing globalization, Hardt and Negri used the term “empire (Cohen 162).” The heart of Hardt and Negri’s empire seems to offer alternative perspectives and ideas regarding capitalism (Schirato & Webb 73). In this aspect, capitalism is viewed on a wider range. This basically explains, why the two have decided to use empire to convey the themes and ideas of globalization. Empires primarily owe its existence to capitalism. Furthermore, empires would not materialize if their scope and range are rather small and limited. However, the relationship between empires and globalization in this context are patterned after the traditional politics of society wherein Hardt and Negri readily refuse to circumscribe. Hardt and Negri, in their analysis of empire brings yet another face or new look to globalization wherein the boundaries of geographical borders are taken out of the picture. For the two renowned theorists, it seems that globalization has been taken to the extremes that even the laws of sovereign and power have reached transcendental heights.
Hardt and Negri discussed that classical imperialism is no less than an “extension” of European sovereignty that is not merely contented with their own national boundaries (Held & Mcgrew 171). In this case, imperialism expects a well-defined or established scope and range. Empires, from the traditional point of view would not materialize territorial ranges are not clearly identified. This is in stark contrast with Hardt and Negri who sees empire as something that is “decentralized and deterritorialized (Held & McGrew 171). From this argument, it can be observed that the empire perceived by Hardt and Negri is literally an open space or arena wherein it has no exact boundaries. The notion of limitations is debunked and disregarded. The openness that empires suggest is therefore prone for further expansion. It can permeate any existing domains as long as the networks that support its openness are efficient and survives. This brings us to the conclusion that globalization, in this case develops much faster than what is expected. Due to this, it has the capacity to place everything under its power and control in a more abrupt manner, if compared to the mechanics and operations of capitalism. This is something that is congruent to the Marxist school of thought wherein capitalism has the tendency to “subsume” the overall structure of society in order to manipulate and put an end to the impending and ominous revolt of the proletariat or the working class.
However, since the empire that Hardt and Negri created redefines the value and meaning of sovereignty, nation and the people, it would not come as a surprise if the nature of capitalism and globalization in this context would be also push into the extremes. If one has to critically assess the present state of society, it can be readily observed that the arguments of Hardt and Negri regarding a borderless world are indeed applicable. Janssens mentioned that globalization enables the rise of a “global culture (13).” Basically, a global citizen is someone who has already disregarded the limitations of his or her own identity. Literally speaking a global entity is one with the world. He is a citizen of the whole global community and not just the state or nation wherein he belongs to. The issues related to race and ethnicity no longer matters for a generalized cultural characteristic and feature are gradually formed and developed.
In the meantime, in terms of economic aspect, globalization gives birth to a global economy wherein companies and establishments are not merely contented in achieving success in their respective native countries or nations. Almost every now and then, company expansion occurs. The presence of popular fast food chains such as McDonalds, for example, clearly shows how a global industry is formed and that cultural differences and boundaries no longer matter.
The possibility of Hardt and Negri’s empire success is basically perpetuated by different communication channels, to be more specific—the internet (Janssens 13). Indeed, the virtual communities that are established and formed by the internet is now slowly taking an effect in society. The virtual world is now materializing right before our very own eyes. Hardt and Negri are not blind to these changes. As a matter of fact, it seems that their whole contention of how globalization occurs and how the empire is established are also based on the existence of communication channels that literally destroyed the borders and barriers between each and every existing community.
If one has to compare it with Marx, certainly, the societal conditions of the past do not permit a borderless community. In a sense, it seems that difference between how Marx elaborated the rise of capitalism, empires and globalization to those of Hardt and Negri is that the latter is overtly technologically mediated. Therefore, it would not come as a surprise if the rise of empires, capitalism and globalization in this context presents a new face and nature. Certainly, the seemingly exaggerated perspectives of Hardt and Negri are rather expected and not surprising at all. Capitalism and empire now subsumes each and every community easily since barriers no longer exist.
Schirato and Webb discussed that the wider reach of capitalism under the Marxist perspective can be clearly seen with the emergence of colonies in the early 19th century (74). It can be remembered that during those times, capitalistic regimes took advantaged of cheap labor offered by their respective colonies. While it cannot be denied that capitalistic communities have managed to gain more power and wealth from such process, another evident result of this setting is that more markets were recognized and the level of consumption generally experienced a steady increase. As more and more goods and services are being made available and offered to the market, new needs and demands came into existence. For capitalist regimes, they have to attend to the above-mentioned needs and demands. As for the colonies’ part, they have to produce more goods and commodities.
Given this situation at hand, capitalism on Marx’s perspective is not stagnant. It is dynamic as well. As Schirato and Webb discussed, there is the aim to achieve the so-called “capitalization of the entire world (74).” Therefore, the arguments of Hardt, Negri and Marx, still converge and meet on a common plane. Perhaps the only difference is the influence of technologically mediated communication that aids the faster proliferation of a global capitalistic community.
For Hardt and Negri, globalization readily affects the multitude, in a similar manner that capitalism affects the working class. Yet, the two used a different approach. Hardt and Negri in this case, reiterate the role played by biopower which was initially propagated by Foucault (Crampton & Elden 329). The articulation of biopolitical power basically differentiates Hardt and Negri’s discussion of empire against the canonical views of imperialism (Crampton & Elden 329). Biopower is something that readily empowers the seemingly formidable strength of the empire (Passavant & Dean 40). To better understand how biopower works, one should first assess it on how Foucault used the term in his discussion.
Foucault has strong beliefs that power, even though it is expressed in different forms and practiced in several ways is biopolitical by nature. This means that for every historical stage, such will eventually seek to develop its corporeal interests (Angermuller 27). In the development of bipower, Foucault explains the rise of a historical phase wherein demographic concerns that are often manifested and presented by statistics found themselves as one of the nation or state’s top priorities (Angermuller 27). These became the state’s main instrument in defining different social structures that exist within the community such as the family and the army to name a few—which in return are carefully integrated and connected to form an integrative whole.
On the other hand, although Hardt and Negri still maintain such concept, biopower, in their case is power that emanates or springs from the interior (Angermuller 27). If one has to take a closer look at it, biopower seems to suggest that the power that is experienced and readily observed is developed and propagated by its own intrinsic or internal capabilities. Life develops a certain degree of power on its own with or without the aid of different external forces or factors. In a sense, this brings us to the conclusion that life has the capability to reproduce itself, or in more technical terms, the idea of biopower seems to promote regeneration or revival on its own. Generally speaking, it is biopower that brought forth the establishment of the multitude. This situation basically explains why the empire is responsible for the creation of its own strength and weakness.
The multitude is the empire’s strength since it readily provides the needs and demands to sustain it. However, it becomes its own waterloo primarily because as the multitude is bombarded with ideas and thoughts and ideas that will make them aware of their current situation, the multitude now has the courage to overthrow the current system and produce a relatively democratic one wherein everyone else benefits from it. As Hardt and Negri described the multitude, it is the “living alternative that grows within the empire (xiii).”
As a whole Marx, Hardt and Negri generally aim to topple down the disruptive effects of capitalism. But for Marx, the ideal outcome would be communism which characterized by its seemingly authoritarian and highly structured nature. This is of course, in contrast to the perceived democracy of Hardt and Negri. For the two theorists, democracy is the ultimate goal that the multitude is heading to. There are several reasons behind the inappropriateness of communism in the context of the multitude. First of all, if an empire is decentralized, the structured format of communism may not be efficient. Democracy, on the other hand is more lenient and less strict. This aspect enables the multitude to create a system that is focused on highlighting freedom, liberation and equality.
Although Marx is fully aware of the existence of two opposing social classes, he singled out the proletariat as the revolutionary one. The other would soon perish and disappear. In his famous work, the Communist Manifesto, Marx, Engels and his other colleagues described the proletariat as the offshoot or “special product” of “modern industries.” Kimmel mentioned that capitalism embodies certain conflicts that readily enable the proletariat to act as “agents” of change (20). First of all, capitalism’s main goal is not geared in supporting human needs; rather it is concentrated on profit accumulation (Kimmel 80). As a result, the proletariat is denied of material stability and the ruling class is trapped in the dynamics of profiteering (Kimmel 80). Since private ownership is promoted, wealth is relegated to very few hands (Kimmel 80). This deliberately debunks the notion that production, by nature is a social one. The third factor constitutes to the fact that production under capitalistic regimes lack essential planning and well-defined structure (Kimmel 80).
The above-given conditions have a direct effect to both social classes as the two struggles to assert their positions in the market and society (Kimmel 80). The number of ruling groups experiences a steady decline as the accumulation of wealth is performed by few individuals (Kimmel 80). The exact opposite happens if contextualized within the proletariat’s situation. Members of the proletariat consistently grow since more and more persons are being manipulated and exploited. Yet, their wealth decreases (Kimmel 80). One may ask, how do these conditions make the proletariat revolutionary? The simple answer is through revolutionary consciousness (Dirlik 132).
Revolutionary consciousness enables the proletariat to be more vigilant and aware of the oppression that they are experiencing. Through tracing the historical struggles that their social class experienced, the proletariat is fueled by the desire to correct the mistakes of the past and redeem themselves from the chains of slavery and cheap labor. This is something that is revolutionary by nature.
Revolutionary consciousness as Dirlik stressed, allows the proletariat to be a truly “class-in-itself” group to a bold and brave “class-for-itself” community. On the other hand, the ruling group will no longer survive since their claims and presuppositions are targeted towards bringing back the social conditions of the past. There is the apparent aim to “entirely revolutionized the mode of production (Tucker 388).
Hardt, Negri and their use of the multitude share similarities with the proletariat. Both aim to achieve freedom, liberation and equality. Yet, the multitude is comprised of diverse individuals which are connected and unified through a potent network. The multitude is diverse since differences regarding identity, race etc are evident. This aspect can be observed in the proletariat but their oneness is the result of ideological union that does not rely on communication channels or networks that would integrate them.
From a critical perspective, it can be seen that the multitude, needs a platform wherein they can share ideas and opinions that would allow them to be agents of social change and therefore transform the horrors of capitalism into the benefits of democracy. This somehow reminds us of Habermas’ public sphere. But in this case, the public sphere does not simply function as a marketplace of idea. Instead, the public sphere becomes a dwelling place wherein the anticipated societal change are shared, formed and practiced. It is through this process that the previously mentioned revolutionary consciousness is honed and developed.
In a sense, the multitude fit into the category of being a revolutionary class like the proletariat. However, there are still important points that should be taken into full account. First of all, if the multitude is still known for its diversity and that its reliance on the networks that connect them, achieving ideological union is quite hard to attain. Hardt and Negri seem to underscore the class orientations that are present in each and every member of the multitude. Despite of the idealistic and to a certain extent—utopic aim of the proletariat, it is nonetheless pragmatic and achievable. The proletariats are expected to be readily aware and open to their current situation. Awareness thus enables them to forego the interests of their respective social classes. This is also feasible as for the multitude’s case. However, if the networks where they rely and depend falter, how can awareness be propagated? In addition to that, the notion of having to rely on a highly mobile class makes it hard to achieve social, political and ideological cohesion. In order for the multitude to work together, they must first learn to forego their class-oriented interests, needs and demands.
Secondly, even though the multitude expresses its desires of having a formidable community, its plurality prevents it from achieving a common goal and ultimately enjoying
democracy. There is a strong tendency for it to be filled with conflicting ideas and sentiments which results to a highly fragmented and disjointed legion. Therefore, the essence of being a revolutionary becomes a mere rhetorical phrase.
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