The war in Iraq is now officially over. Of course, US and allied troops continue to occupy the country and casualties continue, just as in Afghanistan. The fact that no weapons of mass destruction have surfaced makes the arrogance and irrationality of the US regime all the more blatant. At the start of the war even some people in the American media felt compelled to write of “Empire” when describing reactions around the world. But without an analysis of the full context of these events, this war remains simply another random atrocity among the rest.
The concept of “Empire” can certainly be a useful tool in analyzing the nature of the world we are facing today. The networks of economic and political power have spread themselves across the globe forming a web of domination and exploitation from which nothing escapes. Even people in the most remote places find themselves being dispossessed of the capacity to create their own lives as the pollutants of industry contaminate the lands from which they have made their lives or capital itself directly intrudes with dams, mines and other environmentally devastating projects. Thus everyone becomes dependent on a social order that is not based on the needs and desires of the individuals who make it up, but on the need of the system to maintain and expand itself at any cost. Certainly the metaphor of Empire seems fitting.
But in using this metaphor, it is essential to clearly analyze the nature of this Empire. Over and over again since the war against Iraq began, I have heard people speak of the American Empire. Certainly, the United States seems to be ascendant in the control of the Empire right now. But this is simply the current situation in the relationships of power in the world, in the competitions and intrigues between the various parts of the ruling class. It is necessary to recognize this, because otherwise we will be easily drawn into false oppositions, becoming pawns of one or another faction of the ruling class or those who want to become so.
The Empire is in fact a global network of domination. This network has not just now come into being. On a technological and institutional level, it has been developing since the end of World War II, when advanced technological development moved largely into the hands of the military, seeking means to advance social control. But it was the swift advances in cybernetic, communications and surveillance technologies beginning in the '60's and '70's that provided an essential material basis for this network. These technologies combine with the international political and economic institutions, military forces and alliances and police forces on all levels to provide the state with the means for policing the world. By the early 1990's, the infrastructure of this network was in place and one could indeed talk of a global Empire of capital.
But the nature of both the technological and institutional means through which this Empire has developed has significant implications. While it is true that certain factions of the ruling class may be in the ascendant at various times, as the American state is now, the real operation of power in the Empire is in fact decentralized. The networks of information, communications and surveillance are able to spread control precisely by operating as a network, spread thinly across the social terrain. The specialization required both technologically and in the operation of bureaucracies also serves to prevent this Empire from building its Winter Palace. This is why it is a mistake to speak of the American Empire, even though the U.S. is currently the greatest power within the Empire. It is not enough to bring down the current U.S. regime or to weaken its power if we want to bring down the Empire, because its tentacles are everywhere. This is why those like Negri, who see European political unity as a potential opposition to Empire, are fools.
Due to the specialization necessary to the maintenance of the imperial network and the competition that is an inherent aspect of the capitalist ruling class, the power of Empire is not merely decentralized, but also fragmented. Every faction of the ruling class agrees upon the necessity of global social control, on the necessity of policing the world, in order to guarantee their wealth and power. But they cannot agree on how to divide that wealth and power, or even how to manage the process of global policing. Certainly, one of the reasons why the latest war in Iraq developed as it did was a disagreement between different factions of the ruling class over how to manage the policing of the world. The UN in general wanted a multilateral approach involving the relatively equal cooperation of a number of powerful states, whereas the US desired a unilateral approach of alliance under US control. For now, it is having its way. But this conflict between the UN and the US was nothing more than a disagreement over management techniques. The only peace France, Germany, Russia and the UN wish to maintain is the social peace that stems from the fear of the exploited to revolt against their masters, and that provides the rulers with a peaceful sleep. One merely has to look at Chechnya or the Ivory Coast to see this.
The social peace of the Empire is, in fact, endless war. When the rulers of this world say they are making war in order to preserve the peace, they are not necessarily lying. Peace, for them, means precisely the maintenance of their power with as little disturbance from those they rule as possible. Yet the maintenance and expansion of their power can only happen through the dispossession and exploitation of the majority of human beings, so unrest is inevitable. Most of the exploited do not have a clear understanding of the nature of current social relationships and so through campaigns of fear and hate the rulers can redirect their rage into nationalistic, ethnic or religious conflicts. Thus, civil wars rage particularly in poorer and more desperate parts of the globe. In addition, the smooth functioning of capitalism requires that such conflicts be kept at an adequately low level. Thus, the great powers must police the world, and this policing is carried on through their armed forces. A system based on dispossession, exploitation and domination can never do without policing. Institutional violence or the threat thereof is essential to the maintenance of political and economic power. Thus, Empire means endless war. The Pax Romana is maintained with battalions, tanks, guns, tear gas and “smart” bombs. This is one reason why, while still in Afghanistan, killing and enforcing the will of the world's masters, the US and its allies started a war in Iraq as well. While it may be true that this particular war would not be happening if Bush were not president, we can be certain that there would be others, as indeed there are others even now.
With the initiation of the “war on terrorism”, endless war has, in fact, become the open policy of the world's rulers. “Terrorism” is a nebulous concept especially as those in power use the term. Their aim, of course, is not to define a precise problem and deal with it, but to create a specter to haunt the dreams of the people they rule. It is a sophisticated form of rule through fear in which the state convinces people to accept more and more generalized repression in their daily lives by presenting the image of a fearful and threatening outsider from which the state will protect them with its military, its police and its technologies of social control spread across the globe and into every sphere of daily life. But to maintain this image, the state must find terrorism everywhere. The nebulous way in which the term is used makes this easy enough. The terrorists, so we are told, are in fact everywhere - hidden in secret cells across the globe. So the policing of the world, particularly the fight against terrorism, is an endless task that justifies every use of force and every sort of repression.
In fact, war is simply one of the ongoing disasters imposed by Empire, because Empire is the global system of Capital/State. Along with war, it also brings ongoing environmental disaster, increasing precariousness on every level, social disintegration, the degradation of language, …the list of disasters could go on endlessly as the disasters themselves do. The endless flow of disasters is now so evident that those in power can no longer even pretend that there is some business-as-usual that runs smoothly to strive for. Instead they readily admit the disasters, but present them in a piecemeal fashion as separate and unrelated events. They are presented as “natural catastrophes,” “human error,” or tragic inevitabilities. And increasingly, they are presented to us in a technical language that reinforces the idea that we must rely on the authorities and their experts who have the real understanding of events. In this way those in power use our fear of the disasters caused by power to reinforce their rule.
The technological and institutional systems through which the Empire operates are far too cumbersome for anyone to truly control. Each specialist, expert or functionary knows only his or her small portion of the operation. The machine itself lumbers on like a juggernaut, outside of anyone's control. These systems were developed this way in order that the control would exist within the machinery itself. The point was to eliminate to the greatest extent possible the capacity for willful activity on the part of the individual. But this is precisely why the current social reality is one of ongoing disaster. In their lumbering, these juggernauts set off catastrophes that no one can predict, and the real role of experts is to try to limit the consequences of these catastrophes - or increasingly today to simply create explanations that may make them more acceptable to people.
This is the context of the war in Iraq. Those who have opposed this war in favor of “a peaceful solution” to this one problem taken out of context still support the endless war of the Empire. Though this war is officially over, military activity continues in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan, Columbia and the Philippines. The supposedly “peaceful” French government is imposing its “order” on the Ivory Coast through military force. The Israeli military continues to bulldoze Palestinian villages and kill young children along with alleged “militants”. And Russia is enforcing its control in Chechnya. And within cities throughout the world, armed police enforce the order of the rulers on the exploited, harassing and even killing the most dispossessed the homeless, the undocumented immigrants, refugees of all sorts.
So it is essential that opposition to this war become opposition to the endless procession of wars and catastrophes, opposition to the Empire, in other words, opposition to the state, capital and the totality of the technological and institutional apparatuses through which the ruling class maintains power. Such an opposition does not consist in creating a “Counter-Empire”, a mirror image of that which we oppose, but in destroying the Empire in its totality. Therefore, it will not function as a political opposition, as a force contending for power. Its methods will not be the methods of politicians, contending with each other for mass popular support. It will rather be a revolt of the barbarians.
Unlike the Roman Empire though, the current Empire has no outside. So where do the barbarians come from? In fact, the current Empire is creating its own barbarians in its midst. The process of dispossession through which the masters accumulate their wealth and power, places more and more of the exploited into highly precarious positions. Endless war and catastrophe throws millions onto the road as refugees. More and more find themselves homeless or jobless. The “dreams” of high-level consumption become meaningless to these people. What do they have left to say to the rulers of this world? And besides how does one say it, when one doesn't speak the language of the state? This civilization offers them nothing.
What distinguishes the revolt of the barbarians from the opposition of alternative politicians, of the parties, unions and organizations that claim to represent the exploited or whatever specific cause, is that the former makes no demands. It is an expression of rage that says all it has to say in the burning of banks and employment offices, the trashing of military recruitment centers, the fragging of officers. Such actions leave no room for negotiation or dialogue with power. If those who carry out such acts are often not too clear about their reasons, one thing is clear: their reasons are not reasons of state.
So an opposition to any particular war that is not a mere questioning of how the endless war is managed must also be a matter of barbaric revolt. Total insubordination is just the beginning. The attack against the institutions through which war operates is essential. But I am not speaking here about a military attack. The technological, organizational and structural formations necessary to make the global network of domination possible are also the sources of its vulnerability. In order to spread itself across the globe, the Empire has had to decentralize its institutions, structures and technological framework and accept the fragmentation inherent to its functioning. Thus, there is no Winter Palace to attack. Instead the targets are everywhere, and the methods and tools for attacking them are available to everyone. In such a context, the methods for developing, spreading and carrying out the struggles cannot be the same as those used by politicians of whatever kind. To continually march with signs to some symbolic institution of power in order to hear the various alternative politicians sing to the choir implies that we still have something to say to those who rule us. Better to stop listening to speeches and start listening and talking to each other. Better to stop waving signs in front of the institutions of power and to start attacking them. Better to learn to let the mass break up into smaller conscious groups capable of actually bringing a city to a halt and possibly inflicting some damage on the institutions of power. The war in Iraq has officially ended (though the military occupation certainly has not). The war against the exploited will not end until the Empire of Capital and the State is razed to the ground.
Against the endless war of Empire, against the state, against the civilization of domination, the barbaric joy of class war and individual and social insurrection.