I just so happens that as we experience the street theater of Wisconsin and now London over "cuts" I am reading the lefty manifesto Multitude from Hardt and Negri.
Hardt and Negri realize that the lefty lexicon needs a bit of a brush-up. It's a bit of a dis-joint to talk about the working classes or the masses as if this is 1848 or the 1930s. The old working class is now comfortably ensconced in their own homes and have union pensions and benefits coming out the wazoo--as long as the money holds out.
But our lefty friends still want to practice "resistance" and "liberation," so they have come up with another word for the oppressed chaps. Their new name is "multitude." You can see the advantage of it. It can cover all the new oppressed groups of the multicultural diversity age, and even the knowledge workers in the new post-industrial economy. Leading the "multitude" of course, are the lefties themselves, first the anarchists of the 1999 Seattle WTO riots, then the ageing lefties getting arrested in Madison singing "Solidarity Forever," and now the breakaway groups that trashed the marquee stores like TopShop and Fortnum and Mason in London's West End.
Hardt and Negri argue that the "multitude" is resisting the permanent state of global war that Empire needs to maintain its state of emergency and deny genuinely participative democracy. Thus Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya are faked-up emergencies that keep the attention of the multitude away from the oppression of corporate power back home.
I am slowly coming to realize that the left-wing agenda is an constantly adapting apology for mayhem by the class of "educated youth," young men studying not law, medicine, engineering, or science, but social sciences and politics that first emerged in the 1840s. Like young men everywhere, this "educated youth" is ready for a rumble, and does not require much of a fig-leaf to justify its violence.
But what the lefties experience as "resistance" by the masses or the new multitude is better understood as the strain of social revolution, the movement from country to city. Where do you see resistance and revolution? You see it in cultures on the cusp of revolution from traditional agriculture to industrial economy. You see riots in Britain in the 1780 Gordon Riots and 1819 Peterloo Massacre, but by the 1840s you have the peaceable Chartist movement. In Europe you have the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. In Russia the Revolution of 1917; in China the collapse of the imperial dynasty in 1911. In each of these cases, you had the educated youth in the vanguard of the violence egging on the workers and peasants disoriented by the new world and its new culture. Did the "resistance" do any good? Probably not, because what the masses were doing at the time was jobs, and jobs happen when capitalists and entrepreneurs are creating jobs in an unhampered economy. Want jobs? "Educated youth" knows nothing of job creation. That's what their daddies do; they are above all that.
The problem for "educated youth" is that the society of democratic capitalism has no place for the discourse of resistance and liberation led by a militant "educated youth." Once a group has made the journey from country to city, and has learned the ways of the city, and has got the basic skills you need to find a place in the city economy, well, there's no need for street action.
No street action? What about us, asks "educated youth?"
Sorry, Charlie. In the capitalist economy we are looking for folks that can lead in new forms of economic cooperation not cooperate in new forms of political leadership.
Now you understand why "educated youth" talk endlessly about alienation. You'd feel alienated too if you were all gussied up for "protest" and nobody but a couple of long-haired lefties came.
The point is that the world is not in a state of permanent war, as Hardt and Negri assert. There is only war on the Islamic margins where pre-industrial political and economic and social relations obtain. There is not egregious exploitation by multinational corporations; there is only exploitation by thug dictators stealing their country's mineral wealth on the one hand and political elites stealing up to 40 percent of national income in welfare state redistribution programs on the other.
To right the wrongs of the modern era we need less of "educated youth" and their eternal dream of rampaging street action and more of peaceable reformers with a vision of limited and separate powers, political, economic, and moral/cultural.