Archive for the ‘2000’s’ Category

Response to Pierre Macherey

Posted: February 10, 2011 in 2006

Antonio Negri: Response to Pierre Macherey

Antonio Negri

May 1, 2006

Translator’s introduction: On November 19th, 2004, Pierre Macherey presented an extended critique of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s book, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, on the occasion of Citéphilo at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille. Toni Negri, who was invited to speak at the seminar, responded orally to Macherey’s critiques. The text that we publish here is a more detailed and developed version of Negri’s response. Pierre Macherey’s text is available at the following web address: LB

It seems to me that the objections presented by Pierre Macherey, with the elegance of a master and the sincerity of a friend, are three in number: each of which, naturally, entails certain complications, as much in terms of questions as answers.

The first question, posed ex abrupto, concerns the central theme, the foundation itself of our discussion, namely the concept of labor. In insisting upon the immaterialization of labor, Macherey asks, do Hardt and Negri not finish by dematerializing it? Why not proceed in the opposite direction, and reconstitute the material reality of labor, the tediousness and suffering of exploitation, by first underlining its undeniable new productive characteristics? Do we not give in, in following Hardt and Negri, to a sort of post-modernist apology for change, whatever form it might take? Consequently, why do the authors of Multitude insist so forcefully upon the break between modernity and post-modernity rather than showing the continuity of exploitation between the two; or better yet showing the culmination of exploitation in a period that draws its breath from a most ferocious modernity?

I realize that the first question concerns labor. In effect, I believe that critical thought, yesterday as today, still consists of placing the exploitation of labor power at the center of our theoretical framework. From this point of view, I reaffirm my fidelity to the critical mission of materialism. In reality, the new face of productive labor (intellectual, relational, linguistic, and affective, rather than physical, individual, muscular, instrumental) does not understate but accentuates the corporality and materiality of labor. It is clear that this transformation must always be considered in relative terms: in terms, however, that tend towards the real. We offer neither apology nor enthusiasm for this transformation of labor: who would argue that the fatigue of a call center operator is less (albeit absolutely different) than that of a steel worker of a century ago? Who would argue that the nurse working in a computerized hospital asks less of her body than did a coal miner? From another point of view, there are surely elements that aggravate the exploitation of “immaterial” labor (this term is not completely satisfying but it is the best that I know for marking this paradigm shift): the post-modern dissolution of space and labor time (the “work day” dissolves with increasing flexibility, the “factory” with increasing mobility), and the disappearance of temporal criteria for measuring labor (the classical law of labor value no longer holds as a measure of exploitation and, therefore, no longer provides the basis for a politico-syndical relation of force). A series of paradoxes follow from this point. For example, the laborer feels alone despite working in a cooperative and relational network: the multitude produces solitude. Or, inversely: the productive capacity of cognitive labor always exceeds the time spent in general at work (because intellectual labor cannot be reduced to simple intervals of time, and because the means of production do not lose but gain value during the labor process). Faced with these paradoxes, exploitation appears, in a manner more violent than ever, as the expropriation of the excesses created by intellectual labor, by cooperation itself.

If the classical descriptions of the “work day” and the law of value/labor no longer correspond to reality; if, moreover, we accept that labor remains at the center of production and constitutes the motor of all productivity, then we must also realize that we are now entering a new historical epoch, a new age of exploitation. Our opposition to the term “hypermodernity” (normally used by Marxist philosophers and sociologists, particularly in Germany among the epigones of the Frankfurt School, to maintain the classical model of exploitation, the paradigm of the traditional revolutionary subject, and insist upon a certain historical continuity with the past), insists upon the irreducible break contained in the definition (but not only in the definition, in reality as well) of the productivity of labor and the preceding transformation in labor power. To say postmodern in place of hypermodern is not a minor point; it introduces the connotation of an historical passage (that remains, certainly, to be lived and tested over and over) that is as radical as it is dramatic.I will now address a second important objection put forward by Macherey, involving the meaning of communication and the relationship between communication and “the common”: I don’t agree with the order in which Macherey has posed his questions, but it seems to me important to respond first to this objection, in order to better address subsequent criticisms regarding the concept of the multitude. It seems to me that Macherey tends to consider communication as an empty possible [vide possible], as circulation devoid of meaning. I would respond at first that I consider communication to be an actual terrain, both real and effective, for the materialist constitution of productive singularity. Communication is today one of the most important elements (tendentially hegemonic, according to all appearances) for the creation of value through social labor, and the extraction of surplus-value through new ways of organizing work. Communication is not a vacuum, but in fact full of productive energy; to communicate, from now on, is not to empty the furnaces of production but to feed them directly with information. On the interior of communication (if we consider the productive forces at work there) we can see the constitution of the most modern processes of exploitation. It is upon these networks of communication and exploitation, of productive inclusion and hierarchical exclusion, that the multitude is built: this is why I prefer to address the question of communication before confronting more explicitly the political problem regarding the transformation of the multitude in itself to a multitude for itself (we will try to no longer use these equivocal concepts – it’s better to speak of flesh and of body).

But lets return to the heart of the problem, which is to say the argument that communication grows by identifying with the network of post-modern productive relationships. I remember a discussion, which took place at least ten years ago, during a seminar of mine at the Collège International de Philosophie between François Ewald and Pierre Macherey: the context was identical to the one that we are now describing, the problem was to give communication a biopolitical foundation, and the debate centered around how to incorporate the work of Michel Foucault. To the Ewaldian interpretation that saw communicative interconnection as open in an undifferentiated manner, as a Mandevillian expression of micro-powers, Macherey opposed (still with respect to Foucault) the idea that in the Foucauldian conception of the biopolitical, desires and powers affirm their liberty through intersecting in the construction of the common. Macherey added that in Spinoza the production of subjectivity takes place along the horizon of the common. A large number of the participants at the seminar were convinced by this argument. If communication is the key for the ontological cooperation of a multitude of singularities – if, in other words, it is through communication that the productive potential of the multitude establishes and develops itself – then we are presented with a fundamental point regarding the ontology of the subject of democracy.

Certainly, we are still upon formal ground – that’s the least one could say! We are talking above all about processes and not about contents. One might object that it is only contents that count … but we will return to this question when we respond to Macherey’s third observation. For the moment, in the manner of Spinoza, we will insist upon the solidity of the ethical and collective process: in the present case, generalized communication, even if it is free and unguided, becomes constitutive. The affirmation of the multitude (as productive contest within diverse sectors of society, of a multiplicity of singularities) puts in place an objective common end. In these conditions – Marx called them the objective aspects of “class becoming” – we can see the objective bases of becoming-multitude. Unlike Marx, however, we are uncertain whether this will involve an inevitable passage: in our opinion this tendency has become too risky.We arrive, therefore, at the definition of the multitude. Macherey doesn’t mince his words – he goes straight to the point: if the multitude is not a subject, is not the maker of exodus, then who is capable of organizing an anti-capitalist alternative at the global level? How, in the given context, can the flesh of the multitude become a body? Exodus, in biblical history, is decided upon by Moses. We know that this decision was, so to speak, democratic: in effect, it was not the result of a decree but a long confrontation with power, and a firm, constituent decision on the part of the people. Obviously, however, we cannot follow this model today. In passing, Macherey notes that this mosaic democracy has strong anarchistic characteristics. Moreover, he adds that the process of democratic political decision-making, which invests the multitude as constituent power, has strong resemblances with the theories and practices of self-management [autogestion]. In any case, Macherey recognizes that Hardt and Negri have no illusions concerning an organic substance that preexists the constitution of the common and, therefore, the decision. We might add that Hardt and Negri do not have the slightest illusion regarding self-management and the individualizing criteria that we often imagine to be at the base of its (selfdirected) reconstruction of institutions. Individualism is, alas, always possessive.

Let us, therefore, repose the problem. Macherey does not reiterate the reproaches made by others about the concept of the multitude, namely that the multitude does not provide permanent criteria for determining what are (in anti-global jargon) the effectively progressive and emancipatory oppositional movements. Macherey understands that it is the multitude that creates these criteria within itself, articulates them in an organized fashion, and gives them, eventually, programmatic form. The common is given to us only by a movement of movements. Too many comrades are still nostalgic for a Red Square, too red to permit a real consensus. As for us, we can only imagine such an agreement taking place on the interior of a process that accumulates programmatic contents and risks of realization, partial decisions and tendential movements: the transformation of the multitude from flesh into body, unresolved as it may be, constitutes a central theme.

Macherey will probably be very happy to hear me say this. I insist, however, upon the fact that the problem cannot be avoided; its non-resolution takes nothing away from the reality of the conditions in which it was posed. An unresolved problem is still a problem. Macherey has a certain antipathy for the biopolitical: it seems to him, not without reason, that the biopolitical can be reduced to a sort of vitalist night in which all cats appear gray. This suspicion is completely legitimate. In our opinion (we have repeated this on several occasions) the biopolitical is nothing more than the terrain that class struggle, which is at present that of the multitude, has created – a topology, therefore, of struggle in the postmodern era. It is in the realm of the biopolitical that the desires, needs, and struggles of the intellectual laborer permeate society, taking up ways of life as conditions of production and, in this way and this way only, allowing themselves to confront exploitation. For his part, Macherey seems to have a certain complaisance (or perhaps nostalgia) for the dialectic – certainly not for that of Hegel who, by a wave of a magic wand, always managed to transform the negation into a (bizarre but) sublime movement of the Spirit. He seems, therefore, to show some sympathy for a materialist dialectic of relations of force in order to put in play powers and productions. As far as I am concerned, I will play at this game granted that there is no pretension to the synthesis, the sublimation, the teleology – to the Aufhebung. Suffice it to say that to enter this game is to walk on dangerous ground. To create the multitude, “to make the multitude,” is to run this risk.

All this brings me back to the first part of Macherey’s presentation on the subject of Multitude – when he underlines our insistence upon the tendency, historical becoming, the becoming real of the possible, the necessity of power. We know that the objective tendency is also, in a certain sense (this will always need to be verified), a subjective formation: it is in the space between that we seek to construct – this is our only desire – a post-socialist program. To define the common, in a democracy of and for everyone – a common that is constructed, anew, each day, that is driven by resistance and desire, and organized by the collective control and governance of this process: a new revolutionary constitutionalism? Perhaps. This is quite possibly what Spinoza had in mind and what post-modern anthropology has understood virtually. We will conclude by proposing the following formula: the multitude does not seek to take power but to manage [gérer] the common.

Translated by El Kilombo Intergaláctico


Alma Venus: Prolegomena to the Common

Posted: January 27, 2011 in 2000's


Some thoughts on the use of dialectics

Posted: November 25, 2010 in 2009

Antonio Negri /// Some thoughts on the use of dialectics
Some thoughts on the use of dialecticsAntonio Negr1

1. Dialectics of antagonism
Anyone who took part in the discussions on the dialectics developed by so-called Western Marxism during the 1930s, 1950s and 1960s would easily recognise how the roles played in those debates by Lukàcs’ History and Class Consciousness and the work of the Frankfurt School were complementary. In a strange and ineffective hybridisation, a series of phenomenological descriptions and normative hypotheses produced in those periods regarded life, society and nature as equally invested by the productive power of capital and their potential as radically diminished by it. The question of alienation traversed the entire theoretical framework: the phenomenology of agency and historicity of existence were all seen as being completely absorbed by a capitalist design of exploitation and domination over life. The dialectic of Aufklaerung was accomplished by the demonization of technology and the subsumption of society under capital was definitive. The revolutionaries had nothing to do but wait for the event that reopened history; while the non-revolutionaries simply needed to adapt to their fate, Gelassenheit [1].

Obviously, confronted with this (often inert) pris de conscience of the subsumption of society under capital, some opposed resistance. In this stage of Western Marxism, a critical point of view was emancipated and, for the first time, an ethical-political attitude emerged to connect theoretical devices towards the exaltation of the ‘subversive particular’. This attitude created the conditions for a new kind of dialectics in a period of massive expansion of capitalist power over society. Opposed to the dehumanising dialectics of the capitalist relations of exploitation, another ethical and subjectivised dialectic opened the totality of the social context to the expression of new resistances. The principle of a new figure of subjectivity, or, rather, of the production of subjectivity was virtually affirmed, as was an open dialectic of ‘critique’ against the closed dialectic of ‘critical-critique’ and a standpoint of rupture within the placid and painful acceptance of the totalitarian high-handedness of capital in its two forms of management, the liberal and fascist form and/or the socialist and Stalinist one.

In France, Merleau-Ponty broke away from Frankfurt phenomenology; at the margins of the British Empire, in the overthrowing of colonial historiography, what would later be known as the post-colonial standpoint began to emerge; in Italy, France and Germany by overturning the injunction to regard technology as the exclusive field of alienation, hypotheses of workers’ subversive use of machinery and workerist currents began to form. Thus was dialectics interrupted, so to speak, and on the terrain of this interruption and this hypothesis of an ensuing crisis of the capitalist ability to invest the social totality, the revolutionary subject reappeared in the shape of a free subjectivity that put itself forward as production, or expression.

Dialectics, from being abstract, became concrete. Dialectical development was given its determination on the historical curve of the accomplishment of capitalist development.

It is not useless to recollect the pre-history to this, however brief. It brings us back to the ongoing renewal of analysis, not so much of dialectics in general, but of the use of dialectics in ‘real Marxism’, codified materialist dialectics.

Let us consider, in relation to this overturning and the subsequent operative instances, the definition of dialectics proffered by some of the major interpreters of the time, in this case Lucio Colletti as he commented on Evald Vasilyevich Ilyenkov:

‘In its most general terms, the Marxist theory of dialectics can be expressed as a theory of both the ‘unity’ and ‘exclusion’ of opposites, that is to say, a theory that tries to provide both the moment of knowledge (the possibility that the terms of opposition or contradiction can be grasped and comprehended together), and the moment of reality or objectivity of the contradiction itself. The theory can be thus summarised in two fundamental exigencies or instances. The first is that the specificity or difference of an object from all others remains comprehensible, or can be mentally related to that difference that the object is not, or to all that residue that differs from the object. The second is that this comprehension would not abolish the ‘difference’, that knowledge does not exhaust reality in itself, that the coexistence or resolution of opposites in reason should not be mistaken for the resolution or abolition of their real opposition’. [2]

In the third chapter on ‘Ascent from the Abstract to the Concrete’, Ilyenkov reached the following conclusion:

‘Science must begin with that with which real history began. Logical development of theoretical definitions must therefore express the concrete historical process of the emergence and development of the object. Logical deduction is nothing but a theoretical expression of the real historical development of the concreteness under study.” [3]

Finally, Capital is directly drawn into the exposition:

‘The mode of ascent from the abstract to the concrete permits to establish strictly and to express abstractedly only the absolutely necessary conditions of the possibility of the object given in contemplation. Capitalshows in detail the necessity with which surplus-value is realised, given developed commodity-money circulation and free labour-power’. [4]

In 1960, the same year of the Italian publication of Ilyenkov, J. C. Michaud’s Theory and history in Marx’s Capital was translated and published by Feltrinelli. Its basic propositions coincided and often reinforced Ilyenkov’s hypothesis:

‘Dialectics is nothing on its own. It allows for the study of a movement but does not prejudices anything over it. By itself, it could not constitute the whole method, at least in Marx … We don’t believe that on its own dialectics allows us to reach any reconciliation between theory and history’ [5] Immediately after this thesis, Michaud adds:

‘Political economy becomes science only in Marx’s times, because only the universality of capitalist production is capable of realising all the abstract categories that make it possible to comprehend not only capitalist production, but also all of the historical systems that preceded it … The pertinent feature of capitalism is that it realises the abstraction of all economic categories’. [6]

And this was subsequently developed in relation to the present (we will return to this when using the example of the current global crisis):

‘The theory of value, if separated from that of surplus value (which is inconceivable for capitalism) presents itself as an abstract dialectics that expresses the conditions of existence of any relatively developed society in order to come into contact with other societies: it is not linked to any particular historical social form’, but ‘the value form in its most generic expression is precisely the specific form that the capitalist mode of production takes on at a precise moment’ [7].

This language is now nearly incomprehensible. Nonetheless, if we pay attention, we can really understand what is at stake here: nothing less than the coming to grips with reality, the break from that obstacle that a fossilised materialist dialectics had become to a reading and transformation of the real. The great effort here consisted in the attempt to bring all abstract categories to bear on the determination of the concrete, to bend the universal to the determinations of historical development. This philosophical progression kept pace with a process of ‘de-Stalinisation’. The great categories of Marxist analysis (abstract labour, value, money, rent, profit, etc.) Were thus forcedly moved away from the theoretical context of 19th century materialism, where they were formulated, and towards a substantially new research practice. From then on, abstraction would only be justified as ‘abstract determination’. But determined by what? By the fact that it is subjected, time and again, not only to an analysis of the generic contradictions that run through each of the categories, but also to an analysis of the concrete, scientific, and practical determinations of political agency. From this standpoint, both in the Russia of de-Stalinisation and in the West inside and outside the communist parties, the last phase of Marxist theoretical discourse undoubtedly led the analysis of capitalist development way beyond what the Frankfurt school and the enduring legacy of Lukàcs achieved.

In 1968 the clash between these tendencies became fatal: instead of rejoicing on this revolutionary occasion, the realm of theory was definitively split and the defeat of the movements was followed by on the one hand an absolutisation of the dialectics of real subsumption, alienation, the one-sidedness of capitalist domination and the utopia of the rupture of the ‘event’, from Debord to the final stages of Althusserianism, to Badiou; and on the other hand, a struggle on the issues of difference, resistance and subjectivation. And although theoretical research into capitalist development and the devices of political resistance was transformed and pushed forward, it failed to recompose and unfold a communist perspective. In the attempt to make progress on this terrain, we placed ourselves in this last front of materialism, where a dialectics of antagonism could somehow be founded once more.

2. Materialism as biopolitics

In the period discussed above, dialectics was opened up: on the one hand it became entrusted to a discourse where the revolutionary event was an Aufhebung, on the other hand it presented itself as a constituent experience that rejected any evenemential or mystical aura. To what extent could we still call dialectics a method that made abstraction increasingly concrete, or singular? A method that made it impossible to resolve in thought and overcome in history the antagonism of productive forces and relations of production; a method that definitively relegated the historical and aleatory tendency and truth to practice; a method that made the effectiveness of the production of subjectivity increasingly virtual? It is difficult to answer this question.

Difficult, especially when we see that in this last period, the abstraction of the categories was confronted with the experience of and experimentation with an epochal transformation of capitalist development that fixed them onto new figures of historical determination and presented this method a series of concepts that translated the phenomenology of capitalist development into completely new images and devices.

For example, the sequence of abstract labour – value – money was inserted into a completely new figure of financial capital; the process of real subsumption – or the shift from commodity production to the control over life put to work – the construction of the welfare state on the one hand and the institutional presence of ‘real socialism’ on the other presented capital as biopower; finally, the transformation of the law of value (when the power of cooperation, the means of circulation, the productive services and communication replaced the temporal measure of value as agents of capitalist valorisation) gave rise to a sort of ‘communism of capital’.

The analysis presented here follows the transformations of living labour, but when faced with social antagonism the categories of power it fights against no longer seem to have that dialectical ductility that the old materialism had given them. The compactness of the categories of biopower seems to exclude any possibility of rupture. Here, dialectics – that old dialectics against which the resistances we described had already developed – appears to be reduced to a mere apology for capital. What is left of dialectics then? Are internal reform and a shift of accent – outlined above as the insistence on the determination of abstraction, the assumption of a particular standpoint against the real subsumption of society under capital, etc. – sufficient to reconstruct dialectics as an effective research method? Probably not. If dialectics could no longer be seen as a ‘method of exposition’, this was not only due to the fact that it had fallen into crisis as a ‘research method’, but also because the ontology of materialism itself had changed. Materialism, today, is the biopolitical context.

It was necessary to move inside the determination, rather than to simply follow the passage from abstraction to determination, especially when the law of labour-value entered into crisis. The law of value functioned as a definition of the measure of exploitation, of the capitalist appropriation of surplus labour. But in the analysis of the transformations of labour exploitation and the new relationship between production and reproduction, looking deeper into the compound that capital had gradually built by enclosing in itself the laws of dialectics, imposing the coexistence of opposites, and realising successive Aufhebungen, in a context where modes of primitive accumulation are savagely repeated, one begins to understand how the actual power of exploitation no longer invests the figures of expropriation of singular labour (even when this is massified) but rather the expropriation of the common.

This discovery of the common as the point of departure of a redefinition of the potential for a communist political proposal developed unevenly but continuously, beginning with the analyses of new developments of capitalist accumulation after 1968. The gradual shift from the capitalist command over the factory (the Fordist organisation of industry and the discipline of the Taylorised working masses) to the exploitation of society as a whole (through the hegemony over immaterial labour, the organisation of cognitive labour and the control of finance) determined the new grounds of the operations of exploitation in cooperation, languages and common relations (which were found in the so-called ‘social externalities’).

If this is true, it is no longer a question of running after dialectics for its ability to reconstruct the unity of development whatever its contents. If the ‘common’ qualifies living labour as the basis and tendency of its emergence on the scene of production, then antagonism is given as an insuperable basis and tendency too, as the radical weakening of any dialectics of ‘coexistence of the opposites’, or more probably as the impossibility of any ‘universal’ resolution of the opposites. Capital has not lost all chance of internal reform because it is confronted by new figures of class struggle. In fact, given the new conditions of accumulation, the common is opposed to any universal appropriation, dialectical mediation and definitive institutional inclusion. The crisis is everywhere. Antagonism is no longer a method, it is a datum: the one, in reality, has split into two.

Let us use one example to interpret the present global economic crisis.Interpretations of it abound, but from left to right, they all ascribe the reasons for the crisis to the detachment of finance from ‘real production’. Starting from the new presuppositions outlined above, from the recognition of the crisis of the theory of labour-value and the emergence of a new ‘common’ quality of living labour, we would insist on the fact that rather than an unproductive or parasitical deviation in increasing quotas of surplus value and collective savings, the financialisation of the global economy is a new form of capital accumulation, symmetrical to new social and cognitive processes of production of value. The current financial crisis needs to be interpreted as a ‘blockage’ (freeze) of capital accumulation rather than the implosive outcome of a missed accumulation.

How to exit the crisis? On this question, the new science, no longer ‘dialectical’ but simply antagonistic, is affirmed. We can come out of this crisis only through a social revolution. The only possible proposal of a New Deal must create new rights of social ownership over common goods, a form of right that is clearly set against the right to private property. Up to now, access to common goods has taken the form of ‘private debt’; in fact the crisis exploded on the accumulation of this kind of debt. From now on it is legitimate to demand the same right in the form of a ‘social rent’. The only way and the right way out of this crisis entails the demand for recognition of these common rights.

3. From representation to expression

Let us now go back to the “one that divides into two”. We have already explained the consequences of this in our interpretation of the current crisis. But let us examine the situation more closely. If we look at the explanation of the “one that divides into two” from inductive, genealogical point of view, first of all we note that this opening of the dialectial capital relation is primarily due to the biopolitical excess of living labour expressed in the figures of cognitive and immaterial productivity. In this situation, from the standpoint any closure of relationship between constant and variable capital seems inoperatable. The cognitive and immaterial labour in general (communicative, tertiary, affective etc.) that is realised in the biopolitical realm can not be completely consumed in the process of capitalist exploitation: it is only constitutes, in the face of exploitation, cumuli of valorising residues (of constant capital) but also alternatives of expression and development, in other words devices of exodus. Thus the feature of the new epoch of capitalist production show it to be an epoch of crisis and of transition outside of the continuite of capitalist development.

This exit from capitalist development is characterised not only by the difficulties that the dialectical dispositifs now definitively entrusted to capital face when closing processes of production; but also by the problems of the cyclical movements of capitalist development in repeating themselves and nurturing one another between stages of development and recession, to insert in this shift moments of technological innovation and new organisations of social relations. We may add that there is no longer any homology between the institutional assets and configuration of capitalist power and the proletarian or multitudinous movements in their specific potential. The (communist) philosophers who claim that there are no substantial ruptures from institutions in the spontaneity and free dynamics of the movements and that the economic and political cages of capitalist power linger on, are both wrong and short sighted because they fail to understand that any isomorphism of power and potentia, and of command and resistance no longer exists. Not only and not simply because these relations cannot be phenomenologically and logically described, but because, even if they were, these relations are subtracted from the hegemony of the One and linked to the alternative dynamics and exodus of the multitude.

It has to be said that the dynamics of exodus of the multitude from capitalist command and its structures in crisis in real subsumption are often not recognised because we expect to be able to purify and imagine proletarian movements ‘outside’ of the real connections of the historical process. It is as if the insurgence of liberation, rupture and biopolitical transformations could be events uncontaminated by the materiality in which they are immersed even though they develop within the subsumption of society under institutional and political biopower. No, the rupture from capitalism, command and biopower occurs ‘within’ the world of exchange values, inside the world of commodities an outside that is not constructed on the basis of this rupture is unimaginable. And given that we have come to speak of the ‘common’ as the environment where value is constructed and therefore as what is directly exploited by capital, let us say that the only event, the only ‘use value’ that can be recuperated inside the processes of liberation as potentia opposed to power, as constituent power alternative to constituted power, is precisely the ‘common’ from which we move and of which we are both the agents and products.

To conclude, without a doubt the contamination between the determinations of resistance produced in the political theory and experience of Deleuze-Guattari and the historical meaning of the production of subjectivity that is discernible mainly in the last phase of Foucault’s thought cannot be brought back to this new ‘dialectics’: it has nothing to do with so-called ‘materialist dialectics’ (Diamat) but has all to do with biopolitical, cognitive and immaterial surplus and with a production that is internal to the biopolitical process of constitution of the real. Allow me to recall Deleuze’s answer to one of my questions on what it means to be materialists and communists (found in Pourparler): ‘communism is the production of a people to come…’ [8]. Having said that and insisting on the ‘to-come’ in the dispositif of Deleuze we hear the same rhythm (which we may call dialectical) as Marx and Engels’ in The Communist Manifesto, or in Marx when he goes back to the history of class struggle in his writings, the historicity founded in the works of Machiavelli and Spinoza.

There was a recent attempt at recuperating Hegel, especially the young Hegel, from Jena to the Phenomenology of the Spirit and the ‘Additions’ to The Philosophy of Right (Axel Honneth) in order to reconstruct an open dialectics from below that could be structured in terms of interactivity and inter-subjectivity that was still able to configure a normative and historically sound theory of justice. This is a repetition in the infinite attempts to recuperate dialectics as both a research method and form of exposition. But the difficulty lies here: the dialectics cannot avoid being constituted as a ‘representation’ of the whole of the process that leads to the affirmation of truth, here in the actual crisis of capitalist development and its cultural and institutional forms the word can only be brought back to the ability of the subjects’ expression. The common is not constituted as representation but as expression, and here the dialectics end.

Let us not forget that although dialectics, as G. Lukàcs taught us, is the theoretical weapon of capital for the development and organisation of society, and although its crisis opens up to expressions of new theoretical needs for building a philosophy of the present, these needs must always assume productive activity as the source of any social configuration. Living labour and human activity on the biopolitical terrain are at the basis of any subjectivation. The new constitution of the common, no longer dialectical but still materialist, is articulated by subjective dispositifs and the desire to flee solitude and to realise multitudes.

Antonio “Toni” Negri (born 1933) is an Italian Marxist Political philosopher.

These text is written contribution to the conference Critical Thought in the 21st Century in Moscow, June 2009

Translation from Italian by Arianna Bove []

Translator’s note:

1. This word has over 17 meanings. First seen in Revelation 13:10, then used by the Anabaptists, Eckhart, and finally recuperated by Heidegger in his ‘Conversations on a country path’ (Erorterung der Gelassenheit). For more on the latter, see J. Wikse’s ‘Slowing things down: Gelassenheit and the somatics of dialogue’

2. L. Colletti, ‘Prefazione’ to E. V. Ilyenkov [1960], La dialettica dell’astratto e del concreto nel Capitale di Marx, trans.

3. E. V. Ilyenkov [1960], The dialectics of the abstract and the concrete in Marx’s Capital, trans. By S. Syrovatkin, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982, p. 200 also available on

4. Ibid. P. 283, also available on

5. J. C. Michaud, Teoria e storia nel Capitale di Marx [Theory and History in Marx’s Capital], Feltrinelli, Milan: 1960, p. 140

6. Ibid. P. 189

7. Ibid. P. 197

8. Futur Anterieur 1 (Spring 1990), trans. by Martin Joughin, also on

Negri Eurozine Interview

Multitude and Metropolis

Posted: October 7, 2010 in 2002, Posse Journal

The multitude and the metropolis*
Antonio Negri
1. ‘Generalising’ the strike.

It is interesting to note how, on the occasion of the Spring and Summer 2002 struggles in Italy, the project of ‘generalising’ the strike of the movement of precarious and socially diffuse workers, men and women, seemed to be harmlessly and uselessly subsumed beneath the workers’ ‘general strike’. After this experience, many comrades who participated in the struggle began to realise that whilst the workers’ strike was ‘damaging’ to the employer, the social strike passed without notice through the folds of the global working day. It neither damaged the masters nor helped the mobile and flexible workers. This realisation raised a series of questions: how do we understand how the socially diffuse worker fights; how can he concretely subvert in the space of the metropolis his subordination to production and the violence of exploitation? How does the metropolis present itself to the multitude and is it right to say that the metropolis is to the multitude what the factory used to be to the working class?

In fact this hypothesis presents us with a problem, one not simply raised by the obvious differences between social and workers’ struggles in terms of their immediate efficacy. It also raises a more pertinent and general question: if the metropolis is invested by the capitalist relation of valorisation and exploitation, how can we grasp, inside it, the antagonism of the metropolitan multitude? In the 60’s and 70’s, as these problems emerged in relation to working class struggles and the changes in metropolitan life, often very effective responses were given. We will summarise these later. For the time being, we just want to underline how these responses were concerned with an external relation between working class and other metropolitan layers of wage and/or intellectual labour. The problem today is posed differently because the various sections of the labour force appear to exist in the metropolitan hybrid as an internal relation and immediately as multitude: a whole of singularities, a multiplicity of groups and subjectivities, who mould the (antagonistic) shape of metropolitan spaces.

2. Theoretical anticipations.

Amongst the theorists of the metropolis (architects and urbanists), Koolhaas was the one who provided us, at the end of the 70’s and in a delirious manner, with a new image of the metropolis. We are obviously referring to Delirious New York . What was the central thesis of this book?

Koolhaas drew an image of the metropolis that -because of but in spite of a more or less coherently developed planning- lived through dynamics, conflicts, powerful juxtapositions of cultural layers, life styles and forms and of a multiplicity of hypothesis and projects for the future.
In order to understand the city, one had to look at this complexity and this microphysics of powers from within. New York in particular was the example of an extraordinary historical, political, technological and artistic accumulation of various forms of urban planning. However, this was not enough, for one also had to recognise that the metropolis was stronger than the urban centre. Speculative interests and citizens’ resistances defeated and swept away both the prescriptions of power and the utopias of the opposition. The metropolis confused and mixed the terms of the urban discourse: starting from a certain urban intensity, the metropolis constituted new categories, it was a proliferating machine. The measure went beyond itself. What was needed was to provide a microphysical analysis of the metropolis -in this case one of New York- that could account for both the thousands of active singularities and the forms of repression and blockage that the power of the multitude met. Thus Koolhaas’ architecture grew amongst great plans of urban co-habitation that were then taken up, modified and mixed with other architectural forms…Koolhaas’ architecture tells a great story, that of the destruction of western cities and their replacement by the hybrid metropolis. That for Koolhaas architectural development is classified in a manner functional to the different organising techniques of the building work is not relevant, though useful to understand. What is of interest here is the exact opposite: despite the industrial corporativasation of the agents of production, here we perceive how far the metropolis organises itself on continuous yet distorted layers, consistent with the Welfare paradigm yet hybrid. The metropolis is a common world, everyone’s product – Not general will but common aleatoriness.

Thus the metropolis wants to be imperial. Koolhaas is a forerunner of weak postmodernism. Drawing from the genealogy of the metropolis, he anticipates an operation that will become crucial in mature postmodernism: the recognition of the global dimension as a more productive and generous one from the economic standpoint and with respect to lifestyles.

This critical effort is neither solitary nor neutral. On the contrary, it produces a different critique; it entrusts it into the real movement. For instance, when we introduce differential and antagonistic elements in the knowledge of the city and we make them the motor of metropolitan construction, we also compose other fields of living and fighting – common ones. Another example concerns the metropolis and collectivation. Surely, this old socialist word is now obsolete and surpassed in the consciousness of new generations. But this is not a problem. The project is not one of collectivation but of recognition and organisation of the common. A common made of a great wealth of life styles, of collective means of communication and life reproduction, and above all of the exceeding of common expression of life in metropolitan spaces. We enjoy a second generation of metropolitan life, creator of cooperation and exceeding in immaterial relational linguistic values: it is a productive generation. Here is the metropolis of the singular and collective multitude.

Many postmodernists reject the possibility of regarding the metropolis of the multitude as a collective and singular space, massively common and subjectively malleable and always newly invented. These rejections turn the analyst into the buffoon or the sycophant of power. In fact we have recuperated the ideas of external economies, of immaterial dynamics, of cycles of struggles and all that makes up the multitude.
New York is postmodern in so far as it has participated to all stages of the modern and has, so to speak, consumed them in critique and in prefiguring something else: the result is hybrid, the metropolitan hybrid as a spatial and temporal figure of the struggles, a plan of the microphysics of power.
3. Metropolis and global space.

Before and more than anyone else, Saskia Sassen taught us to see the metropolis, all metropolises, not only -like Koohlaas- as a hybrid and internally antagonistic aggregate, but also as a figure homologous to the general structure of capitalism in the imperial phase. Metropolis expresses and individualises the consolidation of global hierarchies, in its most articulated points, in a complex of forms and exercise of command. Class differences and the general planning of the division of labour are no longer made between nations, but rather between centre and periphery in the metropolis. Sassen observes skyscrapers in order to draw implacable lessons. Who commands is at the top, who obeys is below; in the isolation of those who are highest lies the link with the world, whilst in the communication of those who are lowest one finds mobile points, life styles and renewed functions of metropolitan recomposition. Therefore, we must traverse the possible spaces of the metropolis if we want to knot together the threads of struggle, to discover the channels and forms of connection and the ways in which subjects live together.
Sassen suggests looking at skyscrapers as the structure of imperial unification. At the same time she hints to the subtle provocative proposal of imagining the skyscraper as an above and below rather than as a whole. Between the above and below runs the relation of command, of exploitation and therefore the possibility of revolt.

Sassen’s themes strongly resonated in Europe in the 90’s when, with some difficulty and yet effectively, some antagonistic forces started seeing the structure of the metropolis as the mirror of the contradictions of globalisation. In fact, whether there were skyscrapers or not, the global order re-established an above and a below in the metropolis, that of a relation of exploitation that spread across the internal horizon of urban society. Sassen showed the places and the relations of exploitation and dissolved the multitude, bringing it back to the dispersed exercise of material activities. On the other side there is command. Blade Runner has become science fiction.
4. Historical anticipations.

Others see the metropolises of skyscrapers and of Empire as places of struggle that can reveal common aspects and above all embody organisations and procedures of resistance and subversion. In this respect, one example immediately comes to mind: the Parisian struggles of the winter of 1995-96. These struggles are to be remembered because at the time the privatisation plans of public transport were rejected not only by the trade unions but also by the combined struggles of the metropolitan population. However, these struggles could never have reached their great intensity and importance without being traversed and somehow prefigured by the struggles of sans papiers, sans logement, sans-travail etc. This is to say that metropolitan complexity at its highest level opens up lines of flight to the whole of the urban poor: then the metropolis, even the imperial one, wakes up to antagonism.

These developments and antagonisms were anticipated during the seventies: in Germany, the United States and Italy. The great shift of the frontline from the factory to the metropolis, from class to multitude, was theoretically and practically experienced and organised by many vanguards. ‘Reclaim the city’ was a persistent, important and overwhelming watchword in Italy. Similar words went through the German Bürger-initiativen and the squatters’ experiences in most European metropolises. Factory workers recognised themselves in this development, whilst the order of the unions and that of the parties of the working class movement ignored it. The refusal to pay transport fares, the massive occupations of houses, the seizing of districts for the organisation of free time and for the security of workers against the police and fiscal agents were projects carried out with great care. These zones were then called ‘red bases’ but were in fact more city spaces for public opinion rather than places as such. Sometimes they were decisively non-places – they were mass demonstrations in motion that went through and occupied squares and territories. Thus the metropolis began to be rebuilt by a strange alliance: factory workers and metropolitan proletarians. Here we started to see how powerful this alliance could be.

At the basis of these political experiences there was another greater theoretical experimentation. At the beginning of the 70’s we started observing a metropolis invaded by skyscrapers with globalisation, but also built by the transformations of labour practices in the course of their realisation. Alberto Magnaghi and his comrades published a formidable journal (Quaderni del Territorio) that showed, more convincingly in each issue, how capital was investing the city and transforming each street into a productive flux of commodities. The factory was then extended onto society: this much was evident. But it also became clear that this productive investment of the city radically modified class struggle.
5. Police and war.

In the 90’s the great transformation of productive relations that invested the metropolis reached a quantitative limit and configured a new phase. Capitalist recomposition of the city, or the metropolis, is given in all its complexity by the new configuration of the relations of forces in Empire. Mike Davis was the first to provide an adequate image of the phenomena that characterise the postmodern metropolis.
The erection of walls to delimit zones the poor cannot access, the definition of spaces of ghettos where the desperate of the earth can accumulate, the disciplining of the lines of transit and control that keep the order, the preventive analysis and practice of containment and persecution of possible interruptions of the cycle: today, in the literature on empire, when the continuity between war and global police is mentioned we often neglect to say that the continuous and homogeneous techniques of war and police were invented in the metropolis.
‘Zero tolerance’ has become the watchword, or rather, the dispositif of prevention that invests entire social strata whilst persevering against the refractory and excluded individuals. Skin colour and race, or religious clothing, customs or class differences are, in turns, assumed as the defining elements of the repressive zoning within the metropolis.
The metropolis is built on these dispositifs. As we said regarding Sassen’s work, the spatial dimensions, the width and height of buildings and public spaces are completely subordinated to the logic of control. This occurs wherever it is possible. In the spaces where the housing capital determines too high a profit to be turned into instruments of direct control through the application of heavy urban processes the metropolitan landscape is covered in electronic control networks and traversed by representations of danger that televisions and helicopters design. Soon on each city we will see gathered those instruments of automatic control, autopilot planes and police clones that the army currently use as norm in wars. Soon the enclosures and red zones will be established according to logic of control planes: urban planning will have to interiorise the forms of aerial global control and prioritise them over the freedom to develop spaces and society. It is clear that in so saying we exasperate trends that are still limited and only represent one part of metropolitan development. As in the theory of war here the enormous capacity for developing violence on the part of power, the so called total asymmetry, generates adequate responses: the ghost of David against the reality of Goliath. Similarly the ‘zero tolerance’planning of control on the city produces new forms of resistance. The metropolitan network is continuously interrupted and sometimes subverted by webs of resistance.
The capitalist recomposition of the metropolis builds traces of recomposition in the multitude. The fact is that in order to be given control itself must recognise, or even build, transindividual schemes of citizenship. All of urban sociology, from the Chicago School to our days, acknowledges that within a framework of extreme individualism, the concepts and schemes of interpretation must assume transindividual dimensions, almost those of community. Analysis must be applied to the development of these forms of life. This is how determinate localisations of the movements of the multitude and definite spaces in the metropolis will be discovered. Spatial and temporal determinations of the habitat and income (consumption) are used to design the contours of districts and to determine the behaviours of populations. War as the legitimation of order and the police as the instrument of order: these powers that are assumed as the constituent function of the metropolis and take the place of citizens and movements cannot get through. Again, the analysis of the metropolis refers back to the perception of the excess of value produced by the cooperation of immaterial labour. The crisis of the metropolis is moved much further.
6. Building the metropolitan strike.

They told me that when the ‘general 24 hours strike’ was launched in Seville, during the night, from midnight onwards, groups formed in all districts to block all roads, all boites de nuit and to communicate to the city the urgency of struggle.
This lasted for a whole day alongside a general mobilisation on the metropolitan territory concentrated in the afternoon in mass demonstrations. Here is a good example of management of a general strike: a metropolitan strike where throughout the 24 hours of the working day, different sections of social labour meet. However, this formidable political movement seems insufficient to characterise a ‘generalised strike’. We need to go deeper and analyse specifically each passage and/or movement of recomposition, each moment of struggle that can flow into the construction of a social strike. Why are we saying this? Because we regard the metropolitan strike as the specific form of recomposition of the multitude in the metropolis. The metropolitan strike is not a socialisation of the working class strike: it is a new form of counter power. We still do not know how it operates in time and space. What we know is that a functionalist sociology, one of those that puts together various sections of social recomposition of labour under capitalist control, will not design a metropolitan strike. The encounter, the clash and the intertwining and moving forward of the different strata of the metropolitan multitude cannot be seen other than as constructions (through struggle) of movements of power. How does this movement become capable of spreading power? For us the answer does not allude to the Winter Palace. Metropolitan revolts do not pose the question of substituting a mayor: they express new forms of democracy and schemes other than those of control. Metropolitan revolt is always a refoundation of the city.

7. Rebuilding the metropolis.

Hence ‘generalised strike’ must contain in itself the ‘delirious’ project of rebuilding the metropolis. This entails finding the common and building metropolitan proximities. We have two figures that are absolutely indicative of this project, they lie at the extreme margins of a scale of community: the fire fighter and the immigrant.
The fire fighter represents the common as security, as recourse of all in case of danger, as the constructor in the common imaginary of children; the immigrant is the man needed to give colour to the metropolis as well as meaning to solidarity. The fire fighter is the danger, the immigrant is the hope. The fire fighter is insecurity; the immigrant is what is to come. When we think of the metropolis we conceive of it as the physical community that is wealth and production of cultural community. Nothing better than the metropolis indicates the design of a sustainable development, a synthesis of ecology and production in the biopolitical framework. In this period, today, we are carrying the weight of a series of old ignoble and impotent schemes of social democracy, according to which the metropolis can only reproduce if we introduce in it social safety valves that can be used to turn (and eventually to repair) the dramatic effects of capitalist development into money. Politicians and corrupt unions are negotiating these safety valves… We think that the metropolis is an exceptional and excessive resource even when the city is made up of favelas, barracks and chaos. Neither schemes of order, prefigured by an omnipotent power (from the earth to the sky through war and police), nor neutralising structures (repressions, cushions etc.) can be imposed on the metropolis and inside its social tissue. The metropolis is free. The freedom of the metropolis stems from the building and rebuilding that it carries out on itself day by day; the ‘general strike’ is inserted in this framework. It is the prolonging or rather the manifestation or revelation of what is alive in the depth of the city. Probably in Seville the ‘general strike’ was also the discovery of that other society that lives in the metropolis during the whole of the working day.
We do not know whether things really went that way: however, what we want to underline is that the ‘general strike’ is a kind of radical excavation in the life of the metropolis: its productive structure and its common.

*Published on the journal Posse and then circulated on on 20/11/02

Translated by Arianna Bove