Michael Hardt on Continuity and Leadership

Global social movements lit up like constellations all around the world beginning in 2011. Protests in Egypt, Tunisia, the United States, Spain, Israel, then Turkey, Brazil, Bulgaria and Greece brought to the fore urgent socio-political issues including neoliberal economic transformation, the privatization of commons, the widening income gap, repressive regimes and a longing for an egalitarian sustainable world. Protestors’ demanded for an inclusive democracy actualized in harmoniously self-organized occupations and encampments. Perhaps the beauty and sadness of these horizontal platforms is the fact that they were short-lived. As these occupations dissolved for various reasons, there is a danger that cynicism will replace them. Instead, perhaps a constitutive and joyful collective potential will be activated via persistent assemblies around the main question: What next? How can we transform these beautiful moments into long-lasting, durable forms of democratic social change?

On October 4th and 5th, activists, scholars, politicians and artists got together for the Talk Turkey: Rethinking Life Since Gezi conference at the New School For Social Research to discuss some of the social, political and economic questions that the Gezi Uprising in Turkey underlined. Each panel was organized around particular issues including the Turkish state’s human rights violations, artists’, LGBT’s and the role of women in Gezi Park, the AKP’s authoritarian/Islamist neoliberal economic policies and development obsessed growth model, urban transformation, mass housing projects and the idea of spectacular city planning with regard to their immediate social political consequences. 

In the Occupy Solidary and Global Consequences panel, Despina Lalaki, Jeffrey Goldfarb and Michael Hardt reflected on the specificity of the new global political movements. Despina Lalaki highlighted the intimate relationship with neoliberalism and the rise of nationalism in Greece, something that resembles the rise of Islamists in Turkey after the 2001 economic crisis. Jeffrey Goldfarb stated that artists, LGBT and women’s participation in Gezi and the consequent cultural production underlines the fact that the politics of small things are something that we should be particularly aware. He commented on the “repertoire of political action” and how they relate to larger social political questions.

Hardt argued that since 2011— different from previous ‘nomadic’ global movements—these new protests are rooted in territory, demand a new definition of publicity and commons beyond the false “public/private” separation. Furthermore, with their ‘multitude’ form, these occupations and encampments provided a real ground where protestors constituted an inclusive and egalitarian togetherness characterized by their demands for ‘real democracy’.

In fact, Occupy movements revealed that there could be a different kind of politics, which is interactive, inclusive, energetic, welcoming, decentralized and creative. Perhaps, the idea is not to provide direct answers through old political tools and methods, but rather to show that there are new social possibilities that transcend current repressive political systems and party politics. In this follow up interview, I asked Michael Hardt a series of questions concerning the future of these movements, the idea of continuity, and the possibility of new institutional and leadership models.

* [ This short post was written for New School For Social Research’s new online online magazine: Public Seminar http://publicseminar.org]