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An Interview with Michael Hardt

Conducted By Benjamin Dangl

4/14/04

The Upside Down World news

Michael Hardt is a professor at Duke University and is the co-author, along with Antonio Negri, of the book Empire, which Harvard University Press described as “Looking beyond the regimes of exploitation and control that characterize today’s world order, Empire seeks an alternative paradigm – the basis for a truly democratic global society.”

This interview took place during a forum on the global peace movements against the war in Iraq, held at Columbia University from March 27-28, 2004. In the interview Hardt talks about the possible implications of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the roles of presidents Chavez, Lula and Kirchner in Latin America, the recent US intervention in Haiti and the coordination of activist movements in Latin America and the US.

BD: The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is a huge issue in Latin America. As it looks now, the FTAA might be transformed into smaller trade agreements, such as an “FTAA-Lite” in Bolivia, Ecuador and so on, adjusted somewhat to the particular economic situation in each country. Do you think that these smaller, “individualized” trade agreements pose more of a threat than a larger, over arching one?

MH: It would depend completely on how they are done. I am always still interested in the way that these kinds of developments, and I don’t mean that something like this FTAA shouldn’t be opposed, but the way that the push towards them can also create a kind of a generalized resistance, the way that a FTAA can create a globalization movement of the Americas. By a larger scheme, the framework of domination creates a larger framework for the possibilities of resistance. I don’t mean that therefore I want them to have larger powers, but once we find ourselves in that situation there is a kind of framework we can work in...

BD: Similar to the way the antiwar movement was generated by the move to go to war in Iraq…

MH: Exactly, you know there is less than there should be of interaction among the movements in North America and the southern cone, in Venezuela, Bolivia…it would be I think an enormous enrichment to have a much greater circulation of resistance, if you could call it that.

BD: Do you think that Lula (President of Brazil), Kirchner (Argentina), Chavez (Venezuela) would have been elected if there hadn’t been an economic crisis taking place in their countries prior to the elections?

MH: You might say that with Kirchner, but with Lula and Chavez it is somewhat different. The possibilities presented by a Lula government and a Kirchner government - a kind of southern cone as a progressive block - is I think an enormous possibility and one that could be also useful for activists in changing politics in North America. What I mean is that there is a way in which regional configurations can at least influence the progress of many of the decisions about these global levels of either economic agreements or properly political questions. The same way that in the group of 22 in the Cancun talks we saw what was already an effect of the Lula government having an international effect.

BD: Do Lula, Kirchner and Chavez pose a real threat to the US economic plan in Latin America? It seems to me that Lula is kind of going back and forth, trying not to anger the leftists in Brazil who supported him in the first place and also trying not to create too much economic instability in Brazil.

MH: I am no super expert on it or anything, but it seems quite clear that Lula is constrained by being a head of state. It seems to me it would make no sense to go to war with the IMF essentially. It seems to me that in the present global configuration that a head of state has no choice but to find a way to accommodate the demands of the IMF…and what Lula can do and what Kirchner can do too is try to do that in a way that also forwards the kinds of politics that they have been involved with previously. I think it is unrealistic or even detrimental somehow to be disappointed in Lula’s acting like a head of state. It seems to me that a head of state today has certain restrictions and that’s what Lula seems to me to be acting as. I know that the left wing in the PT (Workers Party of Brazil) has been very critical of Lula and upset with him. At least from my external perspective I don’t understand the rationality of that.

BD: As far as what happened in Haiti and in Iraq, the US seems to pick on the smaller countries that don’t pose the biggest threat to the US; Iraq didn’t have any WMDs, meanwhile Iran, North Korea and Pakistan were possibly producing them or selling them. And then the US goes after Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, instead of going after bigger heavy hitting countries and administrations like those of Lula and Chavez. Why does the US go after the smaller, less threatening countries in these situations? Could Venezuela, Cuba be next? And do you think the recent events in Haiti, along with the FTAA, are part of a larger plan to re-colonize Latin America?

MH: I think maybe the first thing is to start by distinguishing the military operations from the entire political ambitions. It is true, as you say, that these recent wars have been against, not exactly defenseless countries, but Iraq had been under sanctions for years, it wasn’t any great military power. I think though that the restrictions the US government lives under, under its present conditions, are such that it can’t engage in a military operation against a powerful military presence. That’s said though; they don’t only conduct their work by military means, so one might assume that it is unlikely that the US military would roll into Venezuela. That doesn’t mean that the US wouldn’t quite strongly encourage a coup d' etat in Venezuela, or find other means to do it, other not properly military means to do it. This is probably not very new, these…strategies…I wouldn’t even call them strategies. It is like they live under certain restrictions. They can’t just go and do this.

So I wanted to separate those two things, one should account for the logic of the military actions, but separate them somewhat from the global political strategies. The other distinction that makes sense for me to make is what the core team of Bush policy people view, and they do quite explicitly want to remake the global environment. And that brings with it a lot of things so that now, part of the project with Iraq is remaking the Middle East... It seems important to distinguish their dreams, even what seem to be delusions from what in fact they are capable of doing and can happen. One doesn’t always have to take at their word what these people think they are going to be able to do. I in fact think that they are not able to do what they would like. Iraq looks more like a failure than a success, as far as their plans go.

BD: You talked about creating more solidarity between activist movements in South America and in North America, what do you recommend to help facilitate that?

MH: It seems to me that since Seattle, in the US, there have been two mandates that have been living within the movements. One is to “globalize the movements”, that we are dealing with issues that don’t just relate to North America, and in fact in many ways relate in other places more. Yet, the movements have largely formed between North America and Europe, and so the efforts to globalize them is an ongoing one, and there are certain ways in which it has been done. And the other one is to transform the movements from protest movements, from “summit hopping” or occasion hopping, as far as the war goes, to properly propositional movements, ones that create an alternative rather than simply are dictated by the president’s decision to go to war or the meeting of the G8, or something like that. I pose these not as like “I’m suggesting what the agenda should be”, I think this has been what the agenda has been.

The World Social Forum and the various social forums have done a lot to facilitate both aspects of these items on the agenda. To give you an example, I was at two of the World Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil. At one of them, there was this sort of counter forum going on at the youth camp where there were groups from various places. I was at one meeting where we had Italians, piqueteros from Argentina and a group from a movement in South Africa that is against these electricity and water cut offs in Durban and Johannesburg. It was great having three of them talk to each other, because even in a straight forward, tactical way they are experiencing the same thing, the same kinds of police repression and the same kinds of struggles. And it was not really learning from each other, but recognizing a kind of commonality that then creates new relationships. We had something like thirty people right then, but it’s none the less significant and effective in its small way. It is that kind of thing that has to happen on a much larger scale. I think it was great that the World Social Forum was in South Asia this year, and probably should move other places, even though next year it’s going back to Brazil. In any case though, the social forum process can only be one component of addressing these issues.

It’s not even about solidarity, because, we all feel solidarity. Yes, the cocaleros in Bolivia are great, but we don’t learn from them and know them. Rather than solidarity, it is kind of a process of education that has to go on. In the North American movements there is a lot of sympathy and recognition of injustices in the world, but relatively little, understandably, real understanding of what life is like for different people, what it is like to do politics there. And that’s, I think, the kind of experience that is really transformative.

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