Assembly (Heretical Thought)

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri


Oxford University Press

In recent years "leaderless" social movements have proliferated around the globe. Some have led to impressive gains: the toppling of authoritarian leaders, the furthering of progressive policy, and checks on repressive state forces. At times they have also been derided by journalists and political analysts as disorganized and ineffectual, or suppressed by disoriented and perplexed police forces and governments who fail to effectively engage them. Activists, too, struggle to harness the potential of these horizontal movements.

Why have these movements that address the needs and desires of so many not been able to achieve lasting change and create a new, more democratic and just society? Some assume that if only social movements could find new leaders they would return to their earlier glory. Where are the new Martin Luther Kings, Rudi Dutschkes, and Stephen Bikos?

With the rise of right-wing political parties in many countries, the question of how to organize democratically and effectively has become increasingly urgent. Although today's leaderless political organizations are not sufficient, a return to traditional, centralized forms of political leadership is neither desirable nor possible. Hardt and his co-author argue that familiar roles must be reversed: leaders should be responsible for short-term, tactical action, but it is the multitude that must drive strategy. Drawing on ideas developed through their well-known Empire trilogy, the authors have produced a timely proposal for how current large-scale horizontal movements can develop the capacities for political strategy and decision-making to effect lasting and democratic change.