Deleuze, Marx and Politics ((The Grandeur of Marx)) | by Nicholas Thoburn

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NICHOLAS THOBURN
DELEUZE, MARX AND POLITICS
FIRST PUBLISHED 2003
BY ROUTLEDGE

   

Introduction:
The grandeur of Marx

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For the race summoned forth by art or philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediably minor race.

Deleuze/Guattari; What is Philosophy?

one does not belong to communism, and communism does not let itself be designated by what it names.

Maurice Blanchot; Friendship

Gilles Deleuze’s comment that his last book, uncompleted before his death, was to be called The Grandeur of Marx leaves a fitting openness to his corpus and an intriguing question. How was this philosopher of difference and complexity – for whom resonance rather than explication was the basis of philosophical engagement  to compose the ‘greatness’ of Marx?1 What kind of relations would Deleuze construct between himself and Marx, and what new lines of force would emerge? Engaging with this question and showing its importance, Éric Alliez suggests that ‘all of Deleuze’s philosophy . . . comes under the heading “Capitalism and Schizophrenia'”. Since the proper name of such a concern with the ‘demented’ configuration of capitalism2 is of course Marx, Alliez continues: ‘It can be realized therefore just how regrettable it is that Deleuze was not able to write the work he planned as his last, which he wanted to entitle Grandeur de Marx.’ But this is not an unproductive regret. For, as Alliez proposes, the missing book can mobilize new relations with Deleuze’s work. Its very absence can induce an engagement with the ‘virtual Marx’ which traverses Deleuze’s texts:

we can take comfort from the possibility of thinking that this virtual Marx, this philosophically clean-shaven Marx that Deleuze alludes to in the opening pages of Difference and Repetition . . . can be mobilized in the form of an empty square3 allowing us to move around the Deleuzian corpus on fresh legs.

Éric Alliez; ‘Questionnaire on Deleuze’

As even a cursory reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s two-volume work Capitalism and Schizophrenia shows, a Deleuze-Marx resonance would, indeed, not have been wholly new.4 The importance of Marx in Deleuze’s thought has been noted, certainly since Anti-Oedipus, and Deleuze himself more than once proposed that he and Guattari were Marxists. Yet Deleuze’s relation with Marx has remained a relatively unexplored dynamic. A recent essay on Deleuze’s ‘many materialisms’, for example, only mentions Marxism once, and then rather disparagingly to suggest that the use of the term ‘production’ in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is ‘no doubt … a lingering influence of orthodox Marxian thought’. An interest in Deleuze’s relation to Marx has, however, been developing in recent years. In these works the focus has tended to be placed on the centrality of an analysis of capitalist dynamics in Deleuze’s system. This is rightly so, for Deleuze places the question of capital – the ways that the capitalist social machine, or ‘socius’, engineers the flows of life – at the centre of his project, and declares himself a Marxist in these terms:

Felix Guattari and I have remained Marxists, in our two different ways, perhaps, but both of us. You see, we think any political philosophy must turn on the analysis of capitalism and the ways it has developed. What we find most interesting in Marx is his analysis of capitalism as an immanent system that’s constantly overcoming its own limitations, and then coming up against them once more in a broader form, because its fundamental limit is capital itself.5

Gilles Deleuze; Negotiations: 1972-1990

For Deleuze, following Marx, the capitalist socius is premised not on identity – like previous social formations – but on a continuous process of production – ‘production for production’s sake’ – which entails a kind of permanent reconfiguration and intensification of relations in a process of setting, and overcoming, limits. In this sense, difference and becoming – or a certain form of becoming – is primary. Deleuze and Guattari’s assertion that the ‘line of flight’ is primary in, and functional to, capitalist assemblages echoes Marx’s famous description of capital as a state of being where ‘All that is solid melts into air’ and where relations ‘become antiquated before they can ossify’. But there is another aspect to Marx that has been less often taken up in critical work on Deleuze’s relations with Marx: politics. If we are interested in maximizing the potential of a productive resonance between Deleuze and Marx, the question of politics must be central, for one can only do justice to Marx’s thought if his analysis of capital is considered through this lens.

One gets the sense that the foregrounding of Marxian concerns through an emphasis on capitalism has emerged to suit a time of political impasse. It is as if after the deterritorializing joys of ’68 (a time when Guattari  said he ‘had the impression sometimes of walking on the ceiling’) and the early English-language reception of Deleuze and Guattari’s work, our more sombre times require a recognition of the increasing isomorphism of processes of complexity and difference to capitalist productivity.6 Impasse is not an alien condition for Deleuze and Guattari, and one should not assume that their ‘joyful’7 project, like the worst forms of leftism, should circulate around a continual optimism. Indeed, as we will see, Beckett’s proposition that it is the very impossibility of life that compels life – ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on’ – expresses a more appropriate tenor for the Deleuzian political than the popular image of unlicensed desire. Nevertheless, it would not do justice to the potential of a Deleuze-Marx resonance if Alliez’s call for a ‘fresh legs’ movement around Deleuze’s virtual Marx focused exclusively on aspects which show a closing-down of political possibility, as if Marx returned to sober up Deleuze.

With this in mind, I want to suggest that it is in our apparent impasse that Marx becomes even more important in exploring Deleuze’s politics. This is not because of the centrality of an analysis of capitalism per se (though the contemporary re-emergence of interest in capitalist dynamics is certainly timely), but because Marx remains the pre-eminent thinker of the impossibility of any easy or given political escape from the infernal capitalist machine, whilst simultaneously positing such possibility and potential on relations formed within and particular to capitalism itself. This condition is what Marx calls ‘communism’. To foreground Marx’s communism is not to turn to a different set of Marx’s texts (for example, the early works, as against Capital). For Marx, communism is the immanent potential that haunts, and emerges in and through, capitalism. It is thus a perspective for interpreting capitalism and developing politics, and is hence found throughout Marx’s works.8 Marx does present some general aspects of what a post-capitalist mode of life might involve – as a milieu of becoming which overcomes the strictures of identity, abolishes work, forms a non-fetishized relation with Nature or the world, and, if we are to follow Deleuze and Guattari’s reading, sets the desiring machines loose from their anthropomorphic sexuality.9 Generally, however, the communist perspective is not an elaboration of a different ‘communist society’, and it is certainly not, to use Nietzschean terms, a reactive denial of current life in a postponement for the beautiful tomorrow. It is, rather, a process of continual engagement with the flows and constraints of the capitalist socius toward its overcoming, as is evident in Marx and Engels’ necessarily ambiguous definition:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

Marx and Engels; The German Ideology

 

The riddle of politics

This book seeks to contribute to a Deleuze-Marx resonance through a foregrounding of the question of politics immanent to capitalist relations. It is, in a sense, a Deleuzian engagement with Marx’s communism. It explores a series of milieux and conceptual territories – from the question of the proletariat, to the problem of value, control, and the critique of work – to see how Deleuze’s engagement with Marx and with Marxian concerns can develop useful and innovative political figures. At the centre of the book is the question of Deleuze’s politics, and it is to an initial presentation of this, and its possible problems, that I now turn.10

At one level, an initial presentation of Deleuze’s politics is a relatively simple task. Deleuze and Guattari are self-proclaimed ‘political’ thinkers. Indeed, politics is central enough to their understanding of the formation of life that they can write that ‘politics precedes being’). Deleuze’s politics, like indeed all his and Guattari’s concepts and categories, is closely related to his Spinozist and Nietzschean materialism, with its conception of the world as an ever-changing and intricately related monstrous collection of forces and arrangements that is always constituting modes of existence at the same time as it destroys them. Such a materialism conceives the world as not only without finitude, but also without delineated subjects or objects; let us call them ‘things’.11 Of course, this is not a refutation of the existence of things, but it is a refusal to present them in any ontological or epistemological primacy. There are things, but only as they are constituted in particular, varied, and mutable relations of force.12

If the world is at base a primary flux of matter without form or constant, then things are always a temporary product of a channelling of this flux in what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘assemblages’ or ‘arrangements’.13 Nietzsche calls this channelling a process of ‘interpretation’: the process whereby matter is cut and assembled by a particular series of forces that, as Foucault’s work has emphasized, respect no ‘ideal’/’material’ dichotomy. Any interpretation of a thing or an event does not come after the fact, but is part of its composition, as one of many forces immanent to it. As Deleuze puts it: ‘Nietzsche’s idea is that things and actions are already interpretations. So, to interpret is to interpret interpretations and, in this way, already to change things, “to change life”.’ The coherence of things is not, then, a function of their position in the centre of a series of concentric circles of channelling or interpretation. Things are far more unstable than this. Without a primary form before interpretation, the thing is situated at a meeting point of a perpetually changing series of interpretations/forces and is thus never ‘finished’.14 A thing thus embodies difference within itself as a ‘virtuality’ or ‘potential’ to be actualized in different interpretations and configurations.15

This ‘virtuality’ is not in opposition to the ‘real’; rather it is the reality of a creative matter as it exists in ever-new configurations as the base of the real (it is in opposition only to the fixed determination of relations).

Nancy puts this well: Deleuze’s ‘thought does not have “the real” for an “object” – it has no “object”. It is another effectuation of the real, admitting that the real “in itself” is chaos, a sort of effectivity without effectuation’.16 Thus, it is not only that ‘facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations’ derived from our historically formed values , but that we are called to an active creation of new and different interpretations, or ‘lives’. If all is contested interpretation as the production of being, then politics is immanent to life, politics precedes being: ‘Practice does not come after the emplacement of the terms and their relations, but actively participates in the drawing of the lines’. Interpretation, or politics, is both a process of intricate attention to what makes a thing cohere, what makes an assemblage work, and, as far as possible (it is not a product of a simple will to change, but is a complex and difficult engagement), an affirmation of new senses, new lives, or new possibilities.

In Deleuze and Guattari’s monist thought, then, ‘life’ has no primary forms or identities but is a perpetual process of configuration and variation, where politics is an art of composition, an art that affirms the variation and creation of life – ‘molecular’ or ‘minor’ processes, against striation and identity – ‘major’ or ‘molar’ processes (though, as I will show, there is no simple minor/ major dichotomy).17 The ramifications of this generalization of politics across the plane of life are great, and this manoeuvre plays a not insignificant part in the positive reception and use of Deleuze and Guattari’s works in recent years, where a frequent theme is an explication of this politicized life in a ‘politics of becoming’. However, at another level, this generalization of politics poses problems for an account, and indeed a development, of Deleuze’s politics. For, if politics is immanent to the creations of life such that politics is everywhere, one is left wondering what the specificity of politics might be. This question is explicitly taken up by Alain Badiou. Badiou argues that, in generalizing politics everywhere, Deleuze’s system lacks a specifically political register of thought. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari isolate the fields of Art, Science, and Philosophy, paying intimate attention to the mode of creation specific to each, but they do not do the same for politics, leaving it as the essence or process of creation immanent to these spheres rather than anything specific in itself. For Badiou, the marker of a specifically political register is the engagement with capital; politics must be adequate to capital. Badiou of course knows that an engagement with specifically capitalist dynamics is a central feature of Deleuze’s work. He argues, however, that when it comes to a politics of capital, Deleuze drops the politics of creation and falls back on a rather politically empty model of ‘critique’.

Badiou’s point is important, and he is right to draw attention to the possible problems of generalizing politics across the terrain of life. His critique at this level is not, however, adequate to the depth and complexity of Deleuze’s politics. For, in Deleuze’s works, there is at once a rich conception of what a politics of life might be, as it is explored through a range of specific sites and problems, and considerable discussion of a political engagement with specifically capitalist configurations. Indeed, contrary to a distinction between creation and critique, I would argue that Deleuze’s project is precisely concerned to develop a politics of invention that is adequate to capital. And it is the very difficulty of, and commitment to, this project that necessitates that Deleuze does not delineate the specifically political register of thought that Badiou discerns as lacking. Politics for Deleuze is neither a specific field of human activity nor merely a generalized process of invention; there is an imperative to a grander project which bears striking similarity with that of Marx’s communism, a project which Deleuze and Guattari describe as the calling forth of a ‘new earth’. This project is not reducible to a political solution, but is rather a process of engagement with the social totality. It is for similar reasons that Engels describes Marx as a thinker of social, rather than ‘mere political’, revolution, why Negri argues that the separation of the social and political is ‘unthinkable in Marx’, and why those related to left communist milieux often present their politics as ‘anti-political’. In this politics, the project of the new earth, as Ansell Pearson aptly puts it, is a kind of ‘riddle’.18 That is, it is not something which can be laid out, mapped, and determined – it can have no set structure or narrative, and is not available, to use Marx’s (words, like a recipe that can be drawn up for the cook-shops of the future. It is, rather, to be developed and drawn forth through a continual and inventive engagement with the forces of the world. Politics for Deleuze, then, is at once a process of the invention of life and an engagement with specifically capitalist relations. And in this it is the practice of a riddle, an undetermined and continually open, but no less practical, project.

This dual emphasis – of a politics of life that is adequate to capital – is especially evident in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘minor’. It is explicitly emphasized when, in no uncertain terms, they align their privileged political category of the minor with the proletariat – Marx’s figure of the overcoming of capital: ‘The power of minority, of particularity, finds its figure or its universal consciousness in the proletariat’. This conjunction of the proletariat and the minor is central to the Deleuzian engagement with Marxian problematics that is the topic of this book, and I do not want to pre-empt the argument here. It is more useful to introduce the core political figure of the book – ‘minor politics’19 – and show its relation with Marx’s communism.

 

Minor politics

As I noted above, the minor is in opposition to the molar or major. Minor and major are expressions that characterize not entities, but processes and treatments of life. Essentially, major processes are premised on the formation and defence of a constant or a standard that acts as a norm and a basis of judgement. As such, major relations are relations that are fixed and denumerable. They are relations of identity. Deleuze and Guattari explain the situation thus:

Let us suppose that the constant or standard is the average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language (Joyce’s or Pound’s Ulysses). It is obvious that ‘man’ holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals, etc. That is because he appears twice, once in the constant and again in the variable from which the constant is extracted.

Deleuze/Guattari; A Thousand Plateaus

If the major is denumerable and in relation to a standard, the minor is non-denumerable in so far as it is a relation not of identity but of variation and becoming which deviates from any major axiom or standard, and where in each connection or subdivision the set changes in nature. In a sense, the molar identitarian form comes first, since one always finds oneself in a stratified, identified molar configuration – a configuration where relations are determined between identities which exist in relation to an abstract standard – and it is against this configuration that politics emerges. However, the abstract standard of the molar form is precisely that – abstract. The molar standard exists across the plane of life to judge and determine the configurations of life, and in this it is necessarily ‘nobody’ – it is an abstract type which induces the world to conform to a model, but which in itself cannot fully exist in concrete form. The minor, on the other hand, is found in concrete moments of deviation from the model. Since the model is never fully realized, the minor is ‘everybody’:

the majority, insofar as it is analytically included in the abstract standard, is never anybody, it is always Nobody – Ulysses – whereas the minority is the becoming of everybody, one’s potential becoming to the extent that one deviates from the model.

Deleuze/Guattari; A Thousand Plateaus

The minor, then, is the process of deviation or deterritorialization of life – it is a process of calling forth the virtuality of the world – against the molar standard. In this sense it is active, yet unformed. Or, rather, it is active inasmuch as it escapes the already formed. As Deleuze and Guattari write of the related concept of the war machine, ‘it exists only in its own metamorphosis’. Given these two tendencies in the treatment of life, Deleuze and Guattari identify three basic forms: ‘the majoritarian as a constant and homogenous system; minorities as subsystems; and the minoritarian as a potential, creative and created becoming’. The minor is not, then, a minority subgroup, but is seen in the movement of groups, in their variations, mutations, and differences and hence has no membership, coherence, identity, or constituency in itself. It is a becoming of which no one has ‘ownership’. But the minor is not somehow ‘outside’ of identity. Rather, it is always implicated in any major or molar configuration. Deleuze and Guattari are adamant that they are not producing a new dualism; identity and difference are intricately enmeshed in a continuum of more or less deterritorialized and decoded forms (the molar looks like identity, but it is only that, a ‘likeness’ or ‘optical effect’, produced on the surface of something that is always dissipating).

If major and minor describe tendencies in the configuration of life, they have their correlates in the human sphere of politics. Major politics are premised on identity. Modern democracy is the classic example. Democracy is a system of governance based on juridically defined identities in equivalence with each other as citizens who form a mass of ‘the people’. Minor politics, on the other hand, begins with the founding condition that, as Deleuze puts it, ‘the people are missing’. Politics is not the terrain of the representation of a people (and hence does not circulate primarily around questions of ‘justice’ and ‘truth’), but of their creation. The conditions of this creative composition are not the subjective and material resources (legally sanctioned and autonomous subjectivities, recognized histories, cultural consistencies) that one would conventionally associate with self-creation; these are molar forms. Rather, the creativity of minor politics is a condition of those who lack these resources, or who experience them as oppressive or inadequate. Thus, whilst Deleuze writes that ‘Everybody’s caught, one way or another, in a minority becoming that would lead them into unknown paths if they opted to follow it through’, he and Guattari tend to look for minor processes within the ‘subsystems’ of minorities, as if they have a tendency, in their struggles and slight deviations from the abstract molar standard, to form different relations:

Minorities, of course, are objectively definable states, states of language, ethnicity, or sex with their own ghetto territorialities, but they must also be thought of as seeds, crystals of becoming whose value is to trigger uncontrollable movements and deterritorializations of the mean or majority.

Deleuze/Guattari; A Thousand Plateaus

The minor, then, is a creativity of minorities: those who find their movements and expressions ‘cramped’ on all sides such that they cannot in any conventional sense be said to have carved out a delineated social space of their ‘own’ where they could be called ‘a people’. Without an autonomous delineated sphere, the site of minor politics becomes the wealth of social forces that traverse minorities and cramp movement into identity. It is from their very cramped and complex situations that politics emerges – no longer as a process of facilitating and bolstering identity, or ‘becoming-conscious’, but as a process of innovation, of experimentation, and of the complication of life, in which forms of community, techniques of practice, ethical demeanours, styles, knowledges, and cultural forms are composed.

At first sight this may appear far removed from a communist politics, and one might be forgiven for thinking that the communist movement has little to offer a Deleuzian politics. Certainly, the communist movement, as it became solidified around the molar attractor of the Soviet model and its own molar standard of measure, ‘the national worker, qualified, male and over thirty-five’, has had a pervasive controlling effect on radical politics. But to leave communism at that is to fall into the trap of the molar landscape, where positions are easily mapped, ambiguities and variations ignored, common sense prevails, and ‘everybody knows’ that communism is an enemy of difference. Marx’s communism – and, indeed, much of the communist movement – is not reducible to the frameworks of the Leninist Party and the Soviet state. In Marx’s formulation, cited above, communism is a movement immanent to life – as it is configured in capitalist social relations – as a whole. Its ‘subject’ – the proletariat – is not an identity clamouring for presence, but a mode of engagement with these relations which seeks its own overcoming and abolition through this engagement. The communist movement, then, is not something that maintains a continuity through a formal party or an autonomous tradition, and is not something of which a particular group or historical current has ownership. It is, rather, a mode of engagement, an open set of political parameters and techniques, and a site of problematization that, following the sense of Blanchot’s argument, operates as a virtual engine within, across, and beyond any specific political manifestation.20 This characterization should not be interpreted, of course, as a reduction in the intensity – the ‘impatience’ and ‘wrenching violence’, as Blanchot puts it – of the word that caused Marx to adopt it in the Communist Manifesto to name his politics.21

Though Deleuze tends not to describe his politics as communist,22 he sees himself as being ‘on the left’. The ‘left’ is a rather weak name for Deleuze to attach his politics to (tied, as it is, to the left/right polarity of the bourgeois revolutions), but he describes its meaning in a radical fashion. He describes being on the left as involving a perception of the ‘horizon’, of thinking and acting within worldwide assemblages, and as presenting life in terms of minoritarian becomings. It is in this interrelation of a perception of global assemblages which include ‘everybody’, and an emphasis on the minor overcoming (or becoming) of this everybody, conceived as a plane of minorities, that Deleuze’s resonance with Marx’s communism is most apparent. The communist resonance in Deleuze’s understanding of minoritarian overcoming becomes especially clear when he comes to interpret the filmic practice of Dziga Vertov (a privileged figure in his Cinema books) in the early years of the Soviet revolution. Here Deleuze argues that, whilst the Eisensteinian image operates a dialectic centred around the human (man and nature) – in many ways the orthodox Marxian dialectic – Vertov composes a dialectic of matter, where the eye – or, perhaps, the standpoint – is no longer the all too human immobile human eye, but the immanent mobile eye of the camera, ‘the eye in matter’:

Whether there were machines, landscapes, buildings or men was of little consequence: each – even the most charming peasant woman or the most touching child – was presented as a material system in perpetual interaction. They were catalysts, converters, transformers, which received and re-emitted movements, whose speed, direction, order, they changed, making matter evolve towards less ‘probable’ states, bringing about changes out of all proportion to their own dimensions.

Gilles Deleuze; Cinema I: The Movement-Image

It is this combination of the material universe of infinite interaction and the non-human perception of the eye in matter which, Deleuze suggests, is the essence of Vertov’s ‘communist deciphering of reality’. The combination shows ‘the identity of a community of matter and a communism of man’ – not a ‘man’ arrived (as, of course, the Soviet system was in the process of proclaiming), but a human to come, or a human overcoming – a human adequate to the interactions of matter: ‘For Vertov, the dialectic is in matter and of matter, and can only reconcile a non-human perception with the overman of the future, material community and formal communism’.23

It would seem that after the ‘return of father’ in the solidification of the Soviet state, the communist project becomes too discredited for Deleuze to use the name of communism to describe his politics.24 Guattari, on the other hand, continues to see his politics in the context of a communist movement. He does, in a sense, maintain a more Deleuzoguattarian perspective on the communist movement – not as something determined by its particular history (and the reterritorialization marked by the Soviet state), but as an immanent and rhizomatic critique and overcoming of capital, following his notion that ‘For me, Marxism in general has never existed’.

 

Against post-Marxism

The possibility of an engagement between poststructuralist concerns with a politics of difference and Marxism has been for a long time dominated, at least in Anglo-American cultural studies, by neo-Gramscian post-Marxism, as most prominently laid out in Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Neo-Gramscian work on ‘hegemony’ marked the passage from apparently orthodox concerns with class, capital, and the economy, into a post-Marxist concern with the possibilities of difference, agency, popular practices, and new social movements in a struggle for inclusion in the ‘chain of equivalences’ of social democratic political space – and it enacted this move in rather certain terms, as a ‘post-Marxism without apologies’). The historical support for this development was not unrelated to the Italian Communist Party’s (PCI) ‘eurocommunism’ – a political framework where neo-Gramscian thought had a central place. As Abse has suggested, eurocommunism seemed for many on the British left (most notably around the influential Marxism Today) to mark the possibility of a popular radical social democracy which could overcome Marxian orthodoxy and the limits of labourism; the PCI was, after all, the biggest Communist Party in Europe, and was rapidly approaching a place in government.

Despite the sense of critical engagement that the ‘post’ connotes, neo-Gramscian post-Marxism was in many ways a flight from Marxian problematics. Certainly it marked a movement from the politics of production to the politics of democracy and civil society. Deleuze’s position on Marx is very different. Instead of moving away from the question of production, Deleuze’s engagement with Marx, as I signalled above, is completely traversed by it. Deleuze has no truck with a vulgar Marxist distinction between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’, but rather he follows Marx into an immersion in the realm of the production of life – a production which is the plane of all of the processes, flows, and constraints of politics, economics, ideas, culture, desire, and so on.25 This is so much so that Donzelot calls Deleuze’s work – at least in Anti-Oedipus – a kind of ‘hyper-Marxism’: less a post than an intensification of Marx. Given this, it is notable that Deleuze’s engagement with Marxian problematics has some relation to a current in Italian Marxism very different from the PCI; indeed one which the PCI was actively involved in suppressing. This current, known in the 1960s as operaismo and in the 1970s as autonomia, took an apparently orthodox and sometimes arcane focus on work, class, and capital, and engaged in an incessant reinterpretation of Marx. In this, and in its critical stance on neo-Gramscian politics, it is perhaps no surprise that the operaist current has remained largely outside of the cultural studies tradition. Times, however, change, and with the current prominence of questions of globalization, commodification, the intensification of work, and the knowledge economy, the post-Marxist trajectory looks a little less secure, and a possibility seems to have arisen for a re-engagement with the Marxian problematic of production. Certainly this would seem to have had something to do with the interest shown in Hardt and Negri’s Empire; a book co-written by one of the main theorists of operaismo and autonomia – Antonio Negri – and which draws on many of the insights of this current.

It is in this context of a reinvigoration of the politics of production (or, labour and capital) against neo-Gramscian post-Marxism that I would situate Deleuze’s virtual Marx. At a time when work has become almost the essence of sociality, and yet a remarkably unproblematized social arrangement, I would suggest that this is a timely concern. In this context, and so as to draw on an alternative trajectory than that of orthodox and post-Marxism, one of the main relations I draw with material outside of Deleuze’s and Marx’s texts is with operaismo and autonomia. Deleuze’s virtual Marx is not wholly in accord with this current, but – and partly because of the tension – a minor reading of operaismo and autonomia does offer both the chance to explore some of the possibilities and implications of Deleuze’s Marx, and a critical engagement with a useful and currently influential perspective on contemporary socio-political configurations. There is a danger in treating autonomia in isolation. On one side, this can manifest itself in the delineation of a distinct ‘autonomist Marxist’ school and, on the other, in treating its current popular expression – Hardt and Negri’s Empire  in a critically unproductive and politically and historically abstracted fashion as Theory’s ‘next big idea’ (as the New York Times, albeit rather cynically, put it). In its minor reading of this current – intended as a productive engagement26 – and its use of other communist material as appropriate to the argument, this book seeks to avoid such manoeuvres.

 

 

Notes

  1. At one of the points where Deleuze discusses the nature of a philosophical practice of ‘resonance’ he explicitly mentions Marx. Here Deleuze writes, albeit in a rather enigmatic fashion, that ‘a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear maximal modification appropriate to a double. (One imagines a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa.)’ Elaborating a little, he continues ‘the most exact, the most strict repetition has as its correlate the maximum difference’, as it seeks ‘the pure repetition of the former text and the present text in one another.
  2. ‘Something that has not been adequately discussed about Marx’s Capital is the extent to which he is fascinated by capitalist mechanisms, precisely because the system is demented, yet works very well at the same time’.
  3. See Deleuze for discussion of the function of the ’empty square’ in structuralism, as the forever vacated space of fixed meaning in any system.
  4. Deleuze himself says that Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus are completely traversed by Marx and Marxism.
  5. This point about the tension between the tendency to exponential production and the need to realize surplus value in a given arrangement is made by Marx in Capital III in his discussion of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall – a text that Deleuze considers to be of central importance: ‘One must reread three texts of Marx: in book I: the production of surplus value, the chapter on the tendential fall in the last book, and finally, in the Grundrisse, the chapter on automation.’
  6. Holland discerns a movement from a politics of schizophrenia (or deterritorialization) in Anti-Oedipus to a more sober analysis of the intricacies of capitalist control in A Thousand Plateaus and other later works, where ‘the highspeed control feature of advanced capitalism . . . casts doubt on the viability of schizophrenia as a potentially revolutionary line of flight’. Holland’s essay is concerned to locate this shift textually, as part of an answer to the question ‘What happened “in-between” . . . the first and the second volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia?’. There is no doubt that A Thousand Plateaus is a richer analysis of the intricacies of contemporary capitalist control and is more cautious in its assessments of schizophrenic processes (containing fewer of the injunctions to absolute deterritorialization that close Anti-Oedipus). I think it is fair to say, however, that Holland’s emphasis on capital and control is as much a product of contemporary concerns and fears as it is of Deleuze and Guattari’s work itself.
  7. As Deleuze  wrote of his concentration on Lucretius, Hume, Spinoza, and Nietzsche against the conventional ‘history of philosophy’, what appealed to him was ‘their critique of negativity, their cultivation of joy’.
  8. Stressing the importance of this position, Dauvé responds to Amadeo Bordiga’s argument that the whole of Marx’s work is an elaboration of communism by suggesting that ‘This is undoubtedly the most profound comment made about Marx’ .
  9. These points are made, respectively, in Marx, Marx and Engels.
  10. Whilst there is difference and variation in themes and styles between Deleuze’s and Guattari’s works, and between each and their collective work, this book draws on their individual and collective works as part of a single oeuvre, which, for convenience, I often signify with the name ‘Deleuze’ (as in the book title). Guattari discusses the problems with, and motives for, the frequent elision of his name from what he elsewhere calls the ‘deleuzoguattarian’ project, but suggests that ‘Deleuze’ has become an acceptable common noun for it.
  11. Nietzsche puts it like this: ‘This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expand itself but only transforms itself. Nietzsche’s argument that there are no things, only perspectives, is applicable to even the smallest of ‘units’: ‘It is only after the model of the subject that we have invented the reality of things and projected them into the medley of sensations. If we no longer believe in the effective subject, then belief also disappears in effective things, in reciprocation, cause and effect between those phenomena that we call things.
    There also disappears, of course, the world of effective atoms.’
  12. Deleuze writes that ‘The history of a thing, in general, is the succession of forces which take possession of it and the co-existence of the forces which struggle for possession.’ There is, however, still something of a ‘thing’ in this expression. Foucault perhaps expresses the Nietzschean conception of matter better when he writes: ‘What, in short, we wish to do is to dispense with “things” … To substitute for the enigmatic treasure of “things” anterior to discourse, the regular formation of objects that emerge only in discourse.’
  13. Essentially, the term ‘assemblage’ describes a process of relations of proximity where the multiplicity of connection and flux across forces in relation is such that what defines the assemblage is its singular functioning (with forms of content and expression), and its mutation (around the play of territorialization and deterritorialization).
  14. ‘A thing has as many senses as there are forces capable of taking possession of it. But the thing itself is not neutral and will have more or less affinity with the force in current possession.
  15. For Deleuze, every ‘thing’ has two aspects, the ‘actual’ and the Virtual’, where the former is a ‘selection’ of the manifold potential of the latter.
  16. Deleuze offers a useful example here of the polymorphous nature of May ’68: ‘Anti-Oedipus was about the univocity of the real, a sort of Spinozism of the unconscious. And I think ’68 was this discovery itself. The people who hate ’68, or say that it was a mistake, see it as something symbolic or imaginary. But that’s precisely what it wasn’t, it was pure reality breaking through’.
  17. It is crucial to understand that there is no primary element to Deleuze and Guattari’s monism other than an infinite process: ‘What we are talking about is not the unity of substance but the infinity of the modifications that are part of one another on this unique plane of life’.
  18. Marx himself writes that ‘[communism] is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be the solution’. It is clear from Marx’s definition of the ‘real movement’ that the ‘solution’ – whilst it may indeed point to a post-capitalist socius – is immanent to the engagement with the riddle itself.
  19. The term ‘minor politics’ is derived from Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of the ‘minor’, ‘minoritarian’, and ‘minor literature’. Though they have used the expressions ‘minor literature and politics’ and ‘Kafka politics’, ‘minor politics’ is not a term they employ.
  20. See Massumi and Mustapha and Eken for a similar presentation of this kind of Nietzschean (but no less Marxist) communism.
  21. Neither should it be seen as a denial of the crucial space of political theory and practice that has developed through a self-declared communist movement.
  22. Deleuze does, however, at times pose his politics in terms of ‘class struggle’ and a ‘revolutionary’ project.
  23. Deleuze comes closest to presenting his own project in these terms when he writes of the ‘great politics’ in The Logic of Sense: ‘It suffices that we dissipate ourselves a little, that we be able to be at the surface, that we stretch our skin like a drum, in order that the “great politics” begin. An empty square for neither man nor God; singularities which are neither general nor individual, neither personal nor universal. All of this is traversed by circulations, echoes, and events which produce more sense, more freedom, and more strength than man has ever dreamed of, or God ever conceived.’
  24. Deleuze writes: ‘The question of the corresponding assemblage of enunciation’ to the cinema as machinic assemblage of matter-images ‘remains open, since Vertov’s answer (Communist society) has lost its meaning.’
  25. Deleuze does give a certain priority to ‘the economic’, but it is the economic as the plane of configuration of life in capital which always operates through the quantitative organization and conjoining of abstract flows: ‘In short, the economic is the social dialectic itself – in other words, the totality of the problems posed to a given society, or the synthetic and problematising field of that society. In all rigour, there are only economic social problems, even though the solutions may be juridical, political or ideological, and the problems may be expressed in these fields of resolvability.’
  26. One of the most important possible effects of Empire is the way it may draw out a new set of problematics for research and politics through critical engagement with the text – something that Hardt and Negri call for when they say that ‘Ours is the kind of book that asks to be criticized.’

 

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