Félix Guattari; The Capitalist Revolution




Fundamental political and micropolitical stakes are ‘negotiated’ through this Collective equipment function in so far as it retains a preponderant place in the formation of the collective power of capitalist labour. But the transformation of ‘polymorphous’ desire into useful activity, into deterritorialised labour and the exchange over which it presides, doesn’t go without saying. Capitalism has only been able to realise this transformation – and thus to place the libido in its service – under particular historical conditions.

After the ‘black hole’ of the thirteenth century, the ‘Peace of God’: a religious machine

The birth of labour that can be exploited capitalistically was doubtless contemporaneous with the appearance of a new kind of war machine, a new kind of religious machine and a new system of linguistic and social segmentarity, starting in the eleventh century. Georges Duby insists on the role played by the religious machine in particular in this ‘normalisation’ of the right to pillaging by armed gangs, after the political, economic and semiotic collapse of the old territorialities and central powers inherited from the Roman and Carolingian empires. The fixing of an external objective – the repulsion of barbarian invasions, then the expansion of Christianity – thus contributes to the birth of a new warrior caste. 1 Instead of dispersing and exterminating the peasantry they will be savagely exploited, they will build castles and roads, they will relaunch a process of accumulation that will re-create the conditions for an urban, commercial and artisanal re-equipping. In thus succeeding in fixing the new rules of play, the Christian religious machine in some way substituted itself for the old imperial powers. But although its power is more ‘spiritual’, more deterritorialised, it is no less effective – quite the contrary in fact! Doubtless it is here that the first great mystery of the power takeover by capitalist flows resides. An abstract machine, the ‘Peace of God’, establishes its law and stabilises social segmentarity.
In each province, ‘councils summoned by prelates met together in each district, and magnates and their warriors took part. These assemblages, falling back on constraints of a moral and spiritual nature, aimed to curb violence and to lay down rules of conduct for those who bore arms.’ In the prolonging of this ‘Peace of God’, other precepts will allow for the rest of society to be ruled over ‘it would no longer be permissible to fight – any more than to handle money or to indulge in sexual intercourse – except within precise limits’. 2 With the progressive reappearance of a monetary economy, it will thus result that feudal lords no longer extract the labour power of the peasantry by means of corvee, but through their adaptation to a system of deterritorialisation of exchange: ‘the seigneurs did not cease to appropriate most of the goods the peasants produced. They seized them by other means, with an adaptability that markedly increased the velocity of monetary circulation’. 3 The rule of antique slavery then progressively disappears before that of modern economic exploitation. But this first monetary deterritorialisation will not be able to find its ‘realisation’ in the framework of a social system centred on feudal relations that are still too territorialised, but only in that of an economic system controlled by the bourgeoisie (bourgeois royalty). Expropriated by money of its direct relation to slavery, the nobility will deterritorialise itself, will have itself emptied of its substance by bourgeois social formations that are better adapted to the specific modes of semiotisation of the new capitalist order. The emergence, not of capitalism, but of the hegemony of capitalist flows is thus, in our opinion, inseparable from not just the temporary respite from epidemics and large-scale barbarian invasions – the ebb and flow of nomad military machines, an internal demographic growth, a relative stabilisation of the feudal order, a certain economic, commercial and monetary ‘takeoff’ – flows of merchants, flows of pilgrims. It is also inseparable from the ‘launching’ of major operations by the Church against heresies, against the infidels, which enabled the military aristocracy to be channelled into deterritorialised objectives: the ‘Holy land’, the holy shroud, etc. The proliferation of churches, cathedrals and monasteries in the twelfth century can itself be considered a first stage of capitalist deterritorialisation. It constitutes in some way a first ‘takeoff’ of Collective equipment of a new kind, the principal mission of which could be broken down as follows: on the one hand they have to ‘produce’ one of the most deterritorialised gods in history, a god which, on the other hand, they have to reterritorialise onto a segmentary social order that is ‘regressive’ in relation to that of classical Antiquity, in that it continues to rely on ‘archaic’ systems of filiation and ethnic organisation. Unlike the ‘reasonable’ gods of Greek and Roman citizens, the new ‘Asiatic’ god pins his passional and universal values – that is the paradox – to the heart of barbarian aristocracies.

The mystique of chivalry and free enterprise

As the feeling of belonging to a City and to an Empire has been definitively lost, a deterritorialised nomadic feeling haunts the mystique of the knight and, once the segmentary context and feudal anarchy is stabilised around provincial and royal powers, it indirectly prepares the path to the spirit of adventure and the ‘free enterprise’ of the owners of ships, the merchants and the capitalists of the ascendant bourgeoisie. In effect, if it is true that everything separates feudal lords and bourgeoisie, from the outset the grand religious ideals of feudalism brought their interests together. For example, the conduct of the Crusades is inseparable from innumerable ‘secondary benefits’ that both groups can draw from them: a war of pillaging, the opening up of commercial circuits, etc. When all is said and done, for whom does the Collective equipment of the Church ‘work’? It is difficult, if not impossible, to answer this question. We will come back to the ambiguity of the relations between Church, aristocracy and bourgeoisie later. Let us note simply that if it is true that Collective equipment does not simply form ‘superstructures’ but produces the semiotic conditions of divisions into castes and classes, then the question of ‘belonging’ can no longer be posed in the same terms.
Not only is the religious machine the ‘bearer’ of the social divisions that are contemporaneous with it, but in addition it prepares the differentiations to come – in the sense that Newtonian theory of gravitation ‘prepares’ the Einsteinian theory of relativity. That is how the abbey at Saint-Denis, for example, was conceived by Suger as the first great form of religious equipment for the ‘bourgeois royalty’. Its function was no longer that of the monastic Roman churches: ‘the simple superstructure of a hyogeum, a martyrium , of some dark, enclosed, underground place where terrified pilgrims descended in single file and groped in the darkness until at last, in the light of tapers, they perceived the martyrs’ sanctified remains …’ 4 It assembles [agence] a collective semiotisation, an incarnation (through its light, its splendour, its precious stones, the iconography of its stained glass, its liturgy, etc.) of the relation of God to men and to royalty. Incarnation is opposed here to the ‘dualist seductions’ of heresy, but also to aristocratic anarchy, the place of the God of the bourgeoisie is on earth; the ‘Peace of God’ has to guarantee work, commerce, urbanisation and the centrality of power. The religious collective equipment of the Middle Ages will ‘work’ at the development of capitalism in its own way, in so far as it will add a certain number of quanta of deterritorialisation to the modes of semiotisation and subjectification of the ruling strata (the new sensibility of the aristocracy, its code of honour, initiation rituals, etc.). Although less rational than that of Antiquity, the human model that it puts into circulation is, in fact, more universal, more capitalist. Straightaway this presents itself as more easily adaptable and transposable – in limits fixed by the councils – to the ensemble of ethnic and national components, and the limits that it imposes on its new adherents are infinitely less constraining than those of the ‘rallying’ to the Roman Empire, for example. In contrast, its spiritual demands, its subjective mutations, will in the course of time turn out to be more and more tyrannical.
To our mind, it is from the formation of this new model that it is advisable to ‘make’ the spirit of modern capitalism ‘start’, and not from the later reforms of Lutheranism and Calvinism, as Max Weber proposed. 5 The Reformation only accentuated a movement that had been launched much earlier. From our point of view, its originality resides in the fact of having put into place a new network of even more deterritorialised religious equipment, the function of which was no longer to massively clear the path for capitalist flows, but that of adapting to other networks of economic and social equipment that were already solidly implanted, of taking a more modest, less cumbersome place amongst them by miniaturising the priestly apparatus and thus of accentuating the interiorisation and individuation of religious feeling. René Grousset considered that in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Flanders was already functioning as a ‘factory that expects exporters to come to it to take delivery of manufactured products’; Hansa Teutonica as ‘a transport enterprise, a house of commerce in which merchandise are simply warehoused and in transit’; Florence as a manufacturer, a bank and employers federation, whilst Venice and Genoa experimented with capitalism ‘as far as the end of its programme, as far as naval and territorial imperialism, as far as colonialism’ and prefigured the England of the nineteenth century. 6 To create the conditions allowing for the formation of a new kind of work and exchange compatible with the ‘takeoff’ of an economy based on the primacy of capitalist flows, the interaction of a considerable number of deterritorialising factors was thus necessary. Let us enumerate some of them, without in any way pretending to be exhaustive:

1 The collapse of the urban and state systems inherited from the Late Empire;
2 The emergence of a religious machine with universal, deterritorialised objectives but which has at its disposal a ‘central’ direction and an ‘international’ language, local and regional Collective equipment – churches, cathedrals, monastic, Benedictine machines, etc., finances and a significant secular political weight;
3 The determination of a ‘foreign policy’ organised around deterritorialised objectives (the Crusades);
4 The reappearance of a deterritorialised circulation of money and the development of international commercial flows;
5 The differentiation of new social orders – fundamentally, the nobility and the Church (we will come back later to the fact that the Third Estate, which is a much later notion, is not to be put on the same level, to the extent that it covers much more heterogeneous sociological and political realities);
6 The appearance of a new, aristocratic, style of life – suzerainty, knighting, adelphopoiesis, courtly love, etc. 7 ;
7 The autonomisation of Romance languages, etc.


Bourgeoisie and feudalism

It seems well established that after the collapse of the social systems inherited from the Late Roman and Carolingian empires, the reconstitution of a relatively coherent social fabric was contemporaneous with the resumption of a process of urbanisation and of a development of techniques in all domains. The bourgeoisie and its (administrative, fiscal, corporate, religious, commercial, etc.) collective equipment was thus well and truly born at the same time as feudalism. 8 And this contemporaneity might even lead us to formulate the hypothesis of a structural interaction between the basic technologies of semiotic initiation of the feudal nobility and those of the new bourgeoisie. One can put the origin of the phenomenon as far back as one wishes (for example, from the eleventh century on, when the knighthood closed its ranks in a sacred and hereditary caste), but it will have to be admitted that they appeared as two different but interdependent ‘races’. One is thus no longer in the presence of a simple opposition here, like that which separated the ‘race’ of citizens from the rest of the population in Antiquity. Citizenship is deterritorialised here, it has absorbed something from the nomads and from the barbarian war machines of serf technologies, and has divided into two power formations: the ostentatious and arrogant formation of the feudal lords, and the hardworking but ultimately triumphant formation of the bourgeoisie. 9 This dissymmetry and interdependence between the two social stratifications since the birth of feudalism, that is to say, the birth of ‘modern times’, goes beyond the simple framework of the putting into place of a new type of dependency of vassals and of the emergence of a social segmentarity surmounting the old, weakening political orders; it is, above all, the expression of the emergence of a new system of the economy of flows, of a new kind of society, a new way of living, thinking, and feeling the world. Throughout the ‘black hole’ of the tenth century, in the meshes of a society in decline, a society which, in the normal course of things, would have disappeared under the impact of barbarian invasions, segmentary machines of all kinds started, on the contrary, to proliferate and to set to work on their own count.
Although they were more or less subjected to the powers of the nobility and the Church, the equipment of the bourgeoisie that would come out of this turmoil would not stop reconstituting their capital for semiotisation and production. Like in Germany after the war, everything started again almost from zero. Deterritorialisation must be understood in the proper sense [i.e. literally]. In effect one must not forget that the economic and urban collapse of the West had been almost total (to get a measure of it, Yves Barel reminds us that in the tenth century, Rome – which was without a doubt the biggest Western city – can’t have had any more than 25,000 inhabitants, whilst the figure for Paris was around 5,000). The ‘miracle’ derives from the fact that the basic semiotic equipment – capitalised and worked on in the ‘monastery-factories’ in particular – managed to slip through the net of the disaster. One witnesses a miniaturisation, a deterritorialisation of old semiotic and technological forms: artisans and scribes follow the barbarian armies, merchants wander the highways at their own risk, protected solely by the letters of safe-conduct granted to them by the powerful, monks look after and copy manuscripts as if they were relics, the monastic machines hang onto metal tools as if they were treasure, and push for an improvement in agricultural techniques …
Willingly or not, the peasantry will be swept along by this semiotic deterritorialisation, diagrammatised behind the bourgeoisie. But it seems important to us not to put them on the same plane as the other ‘classes’. They constitute the basic fabric of society and of production.
Economically they are everything, and politically, nothing. At this stage, the essential mutations are thus to be located in the birth of a new kind of power, which crystallises around urban classes , around human assemblages that are arranged in proximity to Collective equipment of a new character. In particular, one cannot insist enough on the key position of ecclesiastic Equipment and the highly ambiguous relations of Church people with regard to what will much later be called the Third Estate. The religious and lordly aristocracies were certainly indissolubly linked to one another. But from the point of view of the restarting of basic Equipment, from the point of view of the birth of a new process of urbanisation, the monks and the mass of Church people may be considered as participating in the same social group as the bourgeoisie. Sometimes it is around monastic equipment that retained a minimum of cohesion (collective organisation of labour, use of writing, maintenance of international contacts, etc.) that certain towns were created or started to grow again, and sometimes it is around centres of artisanry or legal equipment. The nobility thus entered gradually into dependence on social strata that capitalise a knowledge, a technology. The construction of its chateaux, the preparation of its military equipment, implied a minimum of stabilisation of professional urban corporations. The nobility and the Church aristocracies would themselves fall into dependence on the mercantile bourgeoisie to be able to keep their ‘expenditure’ – in the sense given to this word by Georges Bataille 10 – at an appropriate level. It is the constitution of a network of collective equipment held by parliaments, corporations, guilds, brotherhoods, etc. – whatever the control and exploitation the nobility may have exercised over them – that catalysed the processes of urbanisation and which started to create a new kind of power formation distinguishing itself from the aristocratic values of ‘expenditure’. This did not, incidentally, prevent a part of the bourgeoisie from depending for its power on, or living indirectly from, its wealth. In spite of being marked by the spirit of corporatism and its dependency with regard to political and religious authorities, bourgeois initiation established itself in connection with the ensemble of lines of deterritorialisation of the epoch, (whether technical, scientific, artistic, commercial, etc.), because of its aptitude for producing models for ‘training’ and relatively supple and effective processes of institutionalisation that ruptured with an overly territorialised (magical, even sacred or charismatic) conception of the filiation of power, for which it substituted a filiative system that rested essentially on the much more abstract power of capital and the real position of individuals in relation to capitalist flows. In so doing, the bourgeoisie acquired a secular vocation that had potentially much greater universality than the Christian churches.


1 Georges Duby The Early Growth of the European Economy: Warriors and Peasants from the Seventh to the Twelfth Century translated by Howard B. Clarke (London: Wiedenfeld and Nicholson, 1974).
2 Ibid p. 163.
3 Ibid p. 213 [translated slightly modified].
4 Georges Duby The Age of Cathedrals: Art and Society, 980–1420 translated by Eleanor Levieux and Barbara Thompson (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983) p. 102.
5 Max Weber The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism translated by Stephen Kalberg (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001).
6 René Grousset, preface to Régine Pernoud Les villes marchandes aux XIVe et XVe siècles, impérialisme et capitalisme au Moyen-âge (Paris: La Table Ronde, 1948).
7 René Nelli The Erotic of the troubadours (Toulouse: Privat, 1963) and ‘From friendship to love or from charity by the blood to the test of the bodies’ Les Cahiers du Sud 347 1958.
8 Cf. Jean Gimpel The Mediaeval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976) and Yves Barel A Systemic Approach to the City (Grenoble: Institute for Economic Research and Planning May 1974).
9 This system of complementarity between a caste system and a growing class (the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie) will, in some way, ‘find’ itself inverted in the dependent situation that bourgeois capitalists findthemselves today with regard to union and state bureaucracies. Bourgeois power today only holds up thanks to the gridding of the working class by bureaucratic castes. As for the interdependence of the bureaucracies of the State capitalism of the USSR and American imperialism, it is now almost entirely institutionalised!
10 Georges Bataille The Accursed Share translated by Robert Hurley (New York: Zone, 1988).

Félix Guattari; The Lines of Flight / For another world of possibilities
Translated by Andrew Goffey


One Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s