“Hardt and Negri base their theory on historically antiquated categories such as class and class struggle. Accordingly, they define multitude as being capable of communal action […] It is meaningful to speak of class only when a plurality of classes exists. ‘Multitude,’ however, signifies the sole class. All who participate in the capitalist system belong to it. In fact, ’empire’ does not refer to a ruling class that exploits the ‘multitude’: everyone now thinks him- or herself free, even while working to death. The contemporary achievement-subject is perpetrator and victim in one. Negri and Hardt do not recognize this logic of self-exploitation, which is much more efficient than allo-exploitation. It is the capitalist system itself, which encompasses everyone. Today, exploitation is possible without any domination at all.” (13)
Is class really so outdated? Didn’t Marx say in Capital that the capitalist was the individual subsumed into Capital itself? A personification bearing the processes that demands its own reproduction?
“As the conscious bearer [Träger] of this movement, the possessor of money becomes a capitalist. His person, or rather his pocket, is the point from which the money starts, and to which it returns. The objective point from which the money starts, and to which it returns. The objective content of the circulation we have been discussing – the valorization of value – is his subjective purpose, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more wealth in the abstract is the sole driving force behind his operations that he functions as a capitalist, i.e. as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will. Use-values must therefore never be treated as the immediate aim of the capitalist; nor must the profit on any single transaction. His aim is rather the unceasing movement of profit-making.” (Karl Marx, Capital vol. 1, (London: Penguin Books, 1990, 254)
What truly constitutes Han’s definition of “class” such that it may be deemed absent? What is his definition of exploitation and domination? Han abolishes class by first taking Hardt and Negri’s claim of multitude as historically evident – namely, that society is homogenized into “multitude” and “empire” wherein there exists one class – so that he may then dismantle it. However, if we find “multitude” lacking to begin with, it becomes more difficult to claim that class has been abolished through un-dominated “self-exploitation.” A fully socially integrated “self-exploitation” is really an extension of the “immaterial labor” Negri proposes that builds the homogenizing power of Multitude.
“Hardt and Negri identified three segments of immaterial labour: a) the reshaped instances of industrial production which had embraced communication as their lifeblood; b) the ‘symbolic analysis and problem solving’ undertaken by knowledge workers; c) the affective labour found above all within the service sector. […] a common thread did exist between the three elements. As instances of service work, none of them produced a ‘material or durable good’. Moreover, since the output was physically intangible as a discrete object, so the labour that produced it could be designated as ‘immaterial’.” (Steve Wright, Reality Check: Are We Living in an Immaterial World?)
For Negri and other similar post-workerists the contemporary situation has already transcended value as a driving social force, there is no value nor any need to accumulate surplus value. Instead, there is a society of domination or control that exists in a guise that is maintaining capitalist-like social situations for the maintenance of power. Even as that power faces the continual seeming impossibility of its ordering of global systems. Hardt and Negri point to the expansion of service-sector work as evidence of this process and the increasing importance of “intellectual” work that does not produce proper commodities but informational services and products, never mind that tech and data industries are only a tiny portion of a larger service industry which includes more traditionally exploitative jobs like truck driving, serving and preparing food, maintaining infrastructure, etc. Nor does it properly take into account how so much of the technological process of this kind of work is itself dependent on global disparities wherein nations and sectors that have displaced labour with machinery still must rely on sapping value out of other areas which rely on an abundance of cheap labor in the economic periphery.
The movement of something – money, information, capital – does not mean it is un-owned within the social relations that dominate society. The predominance of class that comes out of Marxist politics (as well as other strains of anarchism and socialism) is not central because the bourgeoisie properly rule anything. Even if the power afforded the bourgeoisie by their ownership of capital allows them a privileged access to state power, and even though their class interests mean that on the whole most bourgeoisie will use that privileged relationship to leverage state intervention for their self-preservation, that doesn’t mean that the bourgeoisie (most of them anyway) see themselves as explicitly ruling society. By proclaiming that there are no classes, that capital has become an automatic process, and that exploitation comes from our own activity without proper domination, Han rests his case on the very superficial appearances of social relations without looking at any of the real activity that drives them. Like the mercantilists of old who believed money made money by a naturalized trade, Han asserts that exploitation causes exploitation through a naturalized form of digital activity: a completed process of domination that has gone beyond domination. Han laments “Solidarity is vanishing. Privatization now reaches into the depths of the soul itself. The erosion of the communal is making all collective efforts more and more unlikely.”(14) What causes this erosion? Seemingly technology itself.
“Organized labor is not a matter of fleeting patterns; it consists of enduring formations. With a single spirit, unified by an ideology, it marches in one direction. On the basis of will and resolve, it has capacity for collective action and takes standing relations of domination does power arise. The mass is power. In contrast, digital swarms lack such resolve. They do not march. Because of their fleeting nature, no political energy wells up. By the same token, online shitstorms prove unable to call dominant power relations into question. Instead, they strike individual persons, whom they unmask or make an item of scandal.”(12)
Political power is made into the human nature of the past, technology in toto is the dangerous new nature, the anti-nature, which, once it has taken hold, eliminates solidarity and comradeship completely. The reason this can be claimed, of course, is that if there is nobody profiting off of this process then there’s nobody to fight. There is no collective struggle because there is no class, there is no class because there is a totalized process, there is a totalized process because there are no rulers, I.e. no class.