In 1972 Mario Tronti presented a paper dealing with Carl Schmitt at the University of Turin. Whether beginning or example, this presentation is of a conceptual turn in which “Schmittian elements became part of a thoroughgoing ‘Marxist critique of Marxism’ which sought (…) to put a practical theory of power squarely at the centre of revolutionary theorizing.” (Muller, A Dangerous Mind, 179.) The Marxisti Schmittiani exemplify the problematic relationship of “Karl und Carl” which Tronti later characterizes, albeit not critically enough, as foundational to political theory.
In this paper I read Carl Schmitt in attempt to begin a criticism of Marxism, though I would not characterize the endeavor here to be the establishment of a Schmittian Marxism. If anything, the long term goal is to use Schmitt as a solvent with which to remove Schmittian moments from Marxism. I begin this paper with a discussion of Schmitt’s category of depoliticalization, which I then apply to Schmitt himself. Next I apply lessons from the reading of Schmitt against himself to the reading of Marxism. In this case, I address the critique of depoliticalization to Antonio Negri, who I find to be too much of a Schmittian.
1. Depoliticalization in Politics
Carl Schmitt writes in the preface to the second edition of Political Theology One, “any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision, irrespective of who decides and what reasons are advanced.” (PT p2) Schmitt expands on this point in his The Concept of the Political,
“Above all the polemical determines the use of the word political regardless of whether the adversary is designated as nonpolitical (in the sense of harmless), or vice versa if one wants to disqualify or denounce him as political in order to portray him in order to portray oneself as nonpolitical (in the sense of purely scientific, purely moral, purely juristic, purely aesthetic, purely economic, or on the basis of similar purities) and thereby superior.”(CotP p31-32)
Designation as nonpolitical is what Schmitt calls a depoliticalization, a decision which renders nonpolitical, or rather, ostensibly nonpolitical for political purposes. Depoliticalization is one of Schmitt’s charges against liberalism. Such rendering can itself be a powerful political activity. As Schmitt writes: “designating the adversary as political and oneself as nonpolitical (i.e., scientific, just, objective, neutral, etc) is in actuality a typical and unusually intensive way of pursuing politics” (CotP p21, note 2). Depoliticalization, to use a spatial metaphor, is to render something an appearance of nonpolitical, but within the political and as a maneuver therein. Depoliticalization is a nominalization, a verb rendered into a noun form. The nomimalized verb implied, of course, is depoliticalize: to render nonpolitical. This is an action, a decision. The nonpolitical is that which is rendered nonpolitical, for political ends or with political effects. They re-enact a version of the noble lie Plato wrote of, in which a distribution of the political and ostensibly nonpolitical is produced, a distribution which is political – and as such is the result of a decision – in the sense of constituting a collectivity capable of having enemies.
The language of rendering nonpolitical suggests a status prior to the act of this rendering. It is striking that Schmitt does not use the term politicalization, as a corresponding term with depoliticalization. Had he done so, it would suggest that whether political or nonpolitical is always the product of a decision. Prior to decision would be a sort of Schrodinger’s cat, an indeterminacy which is only ever decided, never discovered. If this were so, the political would be self-enclosed. But Schmitt does not do so. Schmitt writes that “any decision about whether something is unpolitical is always a political decision.” That is, the nonpolitical is always already the result of a political decision and thus actually political. The nonpolitical is a form of the political. That is, the nonpolitical is a moment or location contained within the field of the political. The political is total. [FIND REFERENCE, COTP 3RD ED.] Paradoxically, there is a lingering depoliticalization at work here. The universalization of the political occurs in such a fashion that it contains everything except its founding axiom, such that the political is still relative, in the sense that it does not found itself. I will explain this by addressing Schmitt’s anthropological assumption, and an ambiguity as to possibility and actuality in his definition of the political.
2. Possibly Political
Schmitt remarks that “One could test all theories of state and political ideas according to their anthropology” (COTP 58) and that “all genuine political theories presuppose man to be evil, (…) a dynamic and dangerous being.” (COTP 61.) Furthermore: “Because the sphere of the political is in the final analysis determined by the real possibility of enmity, political conceptions and ideas cannot very well start with an anthropological optimism. This would dissolve the possibility of enmity and, thereby, every specific political consequence.” (64.)
He adds on 65 that “the fundamental theological dogma of the evilness of the world and man leads, just as does the distinction of friend and enemy, to a categorization of men”. The categorization in question here is that of people into friends and enemies. For Schmitt, friend-enemy groupings as ineliminable. That is, a condition wherein there would be no actual friend-enemy distinction is an impossibility. This is Schmitt’s theological dogma and is itself a depoliticalization. This will become clearer as we address Schmitt’s definition of the political, and his remarks on possbility and implied actuality.
Schmitt writes that the state is defined by the political rather than the reverse (COTP 19). He defines the political, in turn, by the friend/enemy distinction (COTP 26), the grouping of people such that some may kill or risk being killed by others in combat. Schmitt writes that “every political concept (…) is subject to the ultimate presupposition of a real possibility of a friend-and-enemy grouping” and that “the political can be understood only in the context of the ever present possibility of the friend-and-enemy grouping”. (COTP 35.) This seems to suggest that the political is a matter of or the name for the possibility of there being a friend/enemy grouping, rather than the actuality of such a grouping. That is to say, there need not be friends and enemies for the political to exist, only the possibility of friends and enemies.
Schmitt’s “ever present possibility” is interesting. That a friend/enemy grouping is always possible is part of Schmitt’s pessimistic founding anthropological assumption. It is my contention that Schmitt’s assumption is not simply that friend/enemy groupings are possible, such that they may not exist, but rather that there will always be some actual friend/enemy distinction, akin to the adage “the poor will always be with you.” That is, for Schmitt while any specific friend/enemy distinction might be eliminated, determinate friend/enemy distinctions as such will persist. There will always be some friend and enemy grouping. The possibility of the friend/enemy distinction is premise entailed by an assumption on Schmitt’s part that there will always be an actual friend/enemy grouping. The possibility is derived from, rather than foundational of, an assumed actuality.
Schmitt writes that every political concept is bound up with a possible friend-enemy distinction (COTP 35). This possible grouping does not emerge from an absence of a friend/enemy grouping but rather occurs within a situation where there is at least one such grouping already. Schmitt writes that “all political concepts (…) have a polemical meaning. They are focused on a specific concept and are bound to a concrete situation. The result is a friend-enemy grouping.” (COTP 30.) All political concepts are bound up with an act of forging an actual friend/enemy grouping. This latter is a possible friend-enemy grouping by definition, because everything actual must be possible. The important point is that the grouping is not just possible, but actual.
Schmitt also writes “A world in which the possibility of war is utterly eliminated (…) would be a world without the distinction of friend and enemy and hence a world without politics.” (COTP 35) Schmitt doesn’t here talk about eliminating the possibility of the friend-enemy distinction, but of the friend-enemy distinction. Granted, to eliminate the possibility of something is to eliminate its actuality – if one were to eliminate the possibility of my existence, that would entail the elimination of my actuality – but that is not Schmitt’s point. Schmitt is not saying “a world without the possibility of a friend-enemy distinction would be a world without any actual friend-enemy distinction.” The line means that a world without an actual friend-enemy distinction – a condition which would be accomplished by making war impossible – would be a world without an actual politics. Politics for Schmitt is, or requires, an actual friend-enemy grouping.
Schmitt holds the friend-enemy grouping to be an ineliminable possibility. I argue that it is so because it is, for Schmitt, an ineliminable actuality. He writes about the prospect of a world without war that it is “irrelevant whether such a world without politics is desirable as an ideal situation.” This is so because for Schmitt this world is impossible. This is the sense of Schmitt’s closing to the Concept of the Political: “State and politics cannot be exterminated.” For Schmitt, “politics continues to remain the destiny”. (78.) He continues, attacking Joseph Schumpeter’s claim that economic superiority is not warlike. The economic can be political, for Schmitt. Invoking a pacified globe (as he also does on p35), he writes that “this allegedly nonpolitical and apparently even antipolitical system serves existing or newly emerging friend-and-enemy groupings and cannot escape the logic of the political.” (79.)
The relationship between war and politics/friend-enemy distinction is unclear but suggestive. The elimination of the possibility of war would be the elimination of friend/enemy distinctions.War, for Schmitt, is a high level of intensity attained by an actually existing friend-enemy distinction (”the most extreme possibility”, 35). He calls it “an ever present possibility” that serves as “the leading proposition which determines in a characteristic way human action and thinking and thereby creates a specifically political behavior.” (34.) War, as a level of intensity of a friend-enemy grouping, is always possible because there will always be an actual friend-enemy grouping. The friend-enemy grouping is the possibility of war. Acting upon the friend-enemy grouping is to act politically, as is forming a new grouping from an old.
The persistence of friend/enemy grouping s means that depoliticalization never occurs, in the sense of rendering genuinely nonpolitical. Schmitt’s objections to it, then, are not that it ends politics. Rather, his objection is that it is the politics of those he opposes and thus a politics he wishes to see fail. Since depoliticalization is politics that operates by camouflaging itself as nonpolitical, noting the political nature of depoliticalization – noting that invocation of the nonpolitical is political – compromises the camouflage. This renders depoliticalization not nonpolitical but rather politically ineffective.
3. Depoliticalization vs Absolutization
For Schmitt, the political is total, such that the nonpolitical is a moment of the political. As such, for Schmitt, the political can not and will not end. There is a paradox here with regard to the political status of this confidence. Schmitt’s definition of the political, and the anthropological assumption that animates it, is not itself held up by Schmitt as political and thus the product of a decision. It is, rather, simply the case. This is a depoliticalization, one in service of the political, or at least a version thereof. Schmitt’s depoliticalization renders the political relative, being founded by a condition outside itself. Schmitt’s political is not, therefore, absolute.
Absolutization of the political is precisely Schmitt’s objection to the Leninist partisan in his Theory of the Partisan. Schmitt finds the telluric partisan, the nationalist resistance fighter defending a homeland, an acceptable figure. The Leninist partisan, however, unmoors itself from a homeland. This renders the political absolute. The issue here for Schmitt is one of containment. The nationalist partisan, and by extension the people as a political body and the sovereign at their head, is a figure of the political as contained. This limited version of the political is acceptable to Schmitt for its existence within – and relative to – the nation-state.
The revolutionary partisan, however, without a homeland or fighting for some other reason, absolutizes politics, takes it beyond containment. In doing so, the revolutionary partisan threatens the monopoly of political decision that Schmitt wants to secure. For Schmitt, a political entity its an aggregation of individuals capable of sacrificing one of its members, specifically in the order to kill and thus to risk being killed by someone declared enemy and declared so based upon a threat to the way of life of the grouping taken to be the friend. The enemy differs from us in nature, is “existentially something different and alien” (Concept of the Political 27). The people and its way of life serves as the prior unity that is the precondition for the political entity. Schmitt places it outside the bounds of the political, such that it can not be decided upon, in an operation that at the same time serves to produce unity as the goal, again in a way that can not be decided upon or contested. That is to say, politics is circumscribed within the state and nation, or a sphere which is state-like/nation-like.
The partisan problematizes this sphere. Peter Hallward writes that Schmitt’s understanding of the political “is not prescriptive enough,” because in Hallward’s understanding, “[p]olitics divides, but not between friends and enemies (via the mediation of the state). Politics divides the adherents of a prescription against its opponents.” (774.) Adherent, of course, is the term which Schmitt uses for the partisan: parteiganger, someone who adheres to a party. Schmitt does not want to allow a possibility for the production of divisions and unities not rigidly managed by a single central power, the sovereign which decides who is the enemy – and who among the friend will be sent to face the enemy to kill and risk being killed. Schmitt’s preference for the nationalist and defensive partisan helps ease the breakdown of the monopoly of the political by the state or state-like entity since this partisan has as its goal a stable nation and state.
Schmitt fears the revolutionary partisan, the figure of absolute enmity who would challenge the possibility of containment by the state, the monopolized power to enforce homogeneity – to produce an entity called or like the people – by selecting people inside and out to be eliminated. [Footnote: Ironically, probably due to a shared blindspot, Lenin is not the figure of absolute enmity which Schmitt poses him to be. Lenin furthered the homogeneity of the class as the people conceptually and even more so via the practical brutality of war communism (for instance). Lenin produced not an uncontained enmity but a reconfigured containment. Mario Tronti's heterodox Leninism reflects this in his characterization of revolution as the act of the workers' state existing already within capitalist society, and in his call for the circulation of a "proud and menacing" photograph of the worker (an attempt via aesthetic means to produce a unified class subject and which demonstrates the need for inquiry into the modes of subjectification bound up with the theoretical and political positions in contest here). While it can not be guaranteed that this is so, it is my suspicion that the critique of Schmittian moments in Marxism will leave little of Leninism, no matter how heterodox a variety, left untroubled.]
Schmitt’s primary fear is the practice and what he sees as the trend of the “shattering of social structures.” It is this political component, more than the technical challenge of policing partisan war and its possibilities, that makes the partisan such a troubling figure to Schmitt. “Commonality exists as res publica, a public sphere, and it is called into question when a non-public space forms within it, one that actively disavows this publicness.” (Partisan 51.) The partisan indicates a political potential not appropriated or exhausted by the state, one which works toward the dissolution of the monopoly which constitutes Schmitt’s political entity as such. The partisan is evidence of a power to act and produce in common, to produce social relations which are not of the people but rather introduce a disunity that challenges the workings of the people as an entity. This is what Schmitt is most opposed to and fearful of, to such a degree that his work can barely recognize it: the existence of a power to dissolve the res publica and sovereignty. (Schmitt comes close in his polemic against Scelle’s methodological individualism in the paper translated as War/Nonwar.) This power makes the partisan an important figure for consideration in using Schmitt for the self-critique of Marxism. In a word, the primary problem is that much of Marxim over-emphasize social synthesis and in that way share Schmitt’s homogenization of individuals into a body called the people, some elements of which can be killed for the good of others. Marx displays this problematic view when he writes in the 1844 Manuscripts: “The more [workers] wish to earn, the more must they sacrifice their time and carry out slave-labour, completely losing all their freedom, in the service of greed. Thereby they shorten their lives. This shortening of their life-span is a favourable circumstance for the working class as a whole, for as a result of it an ever-fresh supply of labour becomes necessary. This class has always to sacrifice a part of itself in order not to be wholly destroyed.”
The critique of Marx or Marxism as a whole is, of course, beyond the scope of this paper. As a contribution toward that project, I now turn to a discussion of Antonio Negri,
4. Relatively Partisan
Antonio Negri seeks in his recent work to found a political project, the construction of the insurgency of the multitude, on supposed changes in the present stage of capitalist development. Negri argues that there is a tendency for all of the life-time of all of humanity to be productive in the Marxian sense, and thus a tendency toward all of humanity being united against the same opponent. Negri seeks to forge a friend/enemy distinction based a narrative of progressive stages of the unfolding of capitalism. The effort to forge such a distinction in the present is a strong continuity throughout Negri’s career as a militant and theorist. The term for the present stage, the tactics advocated, and the name of the class figure may change, but the effort at intervention and construction is the same.
It is interesting to note that alongside Negri’s drive to enact a Schmittian constitution of a collectivity, there is also a strong similarity in how Schmitt and Negri read Marx. Schmitt writes:
“the antithesis formulated by Karl Marx: bourgeoisie and proletariat (…) concentrates all antagonisms (…) into one single and final battle (…) by integrating the many bourgeois parties on earth into a single order, on the one hand, and likewise the proletariat on the other. By so doing a mighty friend-enemy grouping is forged.”
Similarly, Hardt and Negri write,
“a theory of class not only reflects the existing lines of class struggle, it also proposes potential future lines. The task of a theory of class in this respect is to identify the existing conditions for potential struggle and express them as a political proposition. Class is really a constituent deployment, a project. This is clearly how one should read Marx’s claim about the tendency toward a binary model of class structures in capitalist society. (…) This claim is really part of a political proposal for the unification of the struggles of labor in the proletariat as a class. This political project is what most fundamentally divides Marx’s binary class conception from the liberal models of class pluralism.”
The difference is that Schmitt is not a Marxist. For Schmitt, Marx is an example of a political tendency that can today be described as Schmittian. Hardt and Negri, however, are Marxists in a fashion wherein they approve of and seek to replicate this tendency in Marx. They are, then, at the same time in at least some sense among the Marxisti Schmittiani.
Hardt and Negri continue, noting that today “the old distinction between economic and political struggles becomes merely an obstacle to understanding class relations.” In light of the above quote one must read ‘understanding’ as essentially synonymous with ’shaping’. The periodization in terms of historical break that Hardt and Negri posit is part of an attempt to construct a political community through positing the present as a historically and politically ripe moment. Furthermore, specific groups within the present, immaterial laborers, sit at points of particular ripeness of time. They are the temporal leading edge in the passage from present into future.
Historical periodization is a recurrent theme matter in Negri’s work, as in much of Marxism. [Footnote: Negri's periodization could be fruitfully compared with Schmitt's periodizations in "Land And Sea" and The Nomos of the Earth.] The assertion of a historical break is a political operation posed in the ostensibly nonpolitical register of a narrative about a shift in the mode of production. This periodization is precisely a depoliticalization.
Marxism as a tradition of political thought and other activity has seen many polemical depoliticalizations. Mapping the history of these polemics and and their roots in and effects upon Marxism is beyond the scope of this paper, but it is one of the primary issues this paper hopes to be of use to. Depoliticalizations of a certain type within Marxism, such as appeal to objective forces, historical progress, and objective science, have their roots in the political project that Marx assembled in his reconfiguration of the politicalizations and depoliticalizations within English political economy, French socialism, and German philosophy. The depoliticalizations operated by Negri via historical periodization are thus part of a long and storied tradition within Marxism.
Negri writes in “Twenty Theses on Marx” that in the present “new technical conditions of proletarian independence are determined within the material passages of [capitalist] development”, opening up the “possibility of a rupture in the restructuration [of class relations] which is not recuperable and which is independent of the maturation of class consciousness.” For Negri, proletarian independence is conditioned technically, which is to say, nonpolitically. This implies a nonpolitical condition for the politics of working class movements. It is also instructive to note that Negri speaks of proletarian independence as technically determined, rather than as determining. There is an important sense in which Negri’s proletarian independence is precisely not independence, in the sense of self-determination, but rather a determination by objective forces. This same sensibility is evidenced in Negri’s copious remarks on the political possibilities opened up and closed off by the hegemony of immaterial labor in the technical aspects of production. The depoliticalized sense of the technical here differs from the account of technology in the work of an early thinker in similar circles as Negri, Raniero Panzieri, for whom ostensibly nonpolitical technology was precisely political and politically determined, as opposed to finding the political to be technically nonpolitically determined.
Along similar lines, Negri says in an interview with Anne Dufourmantelle that today “people have become more communist than before (…) levels of community and sharing exist everywhere: even writing an article on a computer means relying on a common knowledge.” This is the general sense of Negri’s claims about the hegemony of immaterial labor within the technical processes of production, communism as a generalized world condition is closer today than ever before. The present is already the transition to communism.
Communism for Negri here is technically determined. This puts Hardt and Negri’s project, quoted earlier, of the unification of the working class in a new light. The working class as a subject productive of communism is, the account goes, preceded by a technical unity. This technical unity is held as a variant on the Marxist class-in-itself, a nonpolitical precondition for the formation of a collective political subject, the class-for-itself. Hardt and Negri take their subject, the multitude, to have been impossible prior to the present with its technically produced unity of the working class.
The class-in-itself is analogous to the figure of the people, a collective entity which exists with interests in common. The people is, for Schmitt, the condition of possibility for the political as it is precisely in the relation of the people to an enemy that threatens the people’s way of life that the political appears. The claims in Negri’s work about a present moment wherein a technical unity obtains such that a political subject can emerge amount to a depoliticalized theological picture, wherein a people, defined by what is taken for a non- or pre-political collectivity, comes into being such that a political grouping can now be forged from it. This is the millenarian moment in Negri’s work, an apocalypticism evident throughout his career wherein the last days – termed real subsumption – have always just begun and the new kingdom – communism – is always about to be ushered in. The drive behind this sentiment, the desire to constitute an acting collectivity, is laudable, but it must be noted that the constitutive operation here relies on a type of depoliticalization in service of a politics. It is tempting to speculate that this is the case for Marxist reference of a political content to nonhuman or structural objective forces, which is to say, to all objectivity that is taken for non-objectified.
There is certainly a lingering theological quality to much of Marxism and to Marx’s work, bound up with a political depoliticalizing impulse.
Jacob Taubes writes:
“Apocalyptic science implies a passive posture toward historical events. All capacity for action is enfeebled. Universal history is predetermined, and all efforts to resist that inevitable destiny are pointless. The passive voice is an essential element of apocalyptic style.. In apocalyptic works, no one ‘acts’; things rather “come to pass.” (…) The apocalyptic style, which one also finds in Karl Marx, founds itself in the lack of confidence characteristic of humanity. The long age of wretchedness and ill-fortune, of recurring delusions, the devastating power of evil, the immense colossus of the diabolical on earth, together occasion the loss of hope, expressed in the apocalypse, in any future prosperity and wellbeing which would depend on the good will and consent of humanity. In this sense, one can speak of at least an implied determinism within the conceptual structure of the Marxist apocalypse. Marx also saw superior forces at work in history, over which the individual had no control, and, using the mythological terminology of his era, and named them “productive forces.”” [quoted In Tronti, p152. I am grateful to AV Worden for assistance with the translation of this quote.]
What Taubes identifies as an apocalyptic strain in Marx, continued in Negri and in much of the rest of Marxism, is a depoliticalization, one which, in keeping with Schmitt’s analysis, can serve as a tremendously powerful act of politics. It’s not surprising in this sense that certain Marxisms and millenarian religious groups – or perhaps it would be better to say ‘certain Marxisms and other millenarian religious groups’ – have made use of an ostensibly nonpolitical foundation, the science of historical materialism or the revealed holy word, as constitutive of their political project.
Taubes identifies “productive forces” as a remainder of theology or mythology in Marx and Marxism. The term also functions as a depoliticalization in many uses. This is not unique within Marxism. Other related terms subject to frequent theological and depoliticalized uses in Marxism include the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and various events that are taken to be inevitable: crisis, false consciousness, communism. The terms and their deployment vary with the liturgy under question, but they retain a frequent function as depoliticalizations with storied political uses.
The depoliticalizations of Negri and Schmitt and Marx are forms of producing distributions of the sensible for political ends. There aims, at least in the cases of Negri and Marx, are laudable, but their means less so. They effectively re-enact a version of the noble lie Plato wrote of, in which a distribution of the political and ostensibly nonpolitical is produced, a distribution which is political – and as such is the result of a decision – in the sense of constituting a collectivity capable of having enemies. The noble lie may well be useful for those attempting to construct a city, a concrete order [Footnote Schmitt's 3 types of juristic thought], but it is of little use for abolishing or escaping from such an order.
The absolutization of the political, such that it is not dependent upon any other sphere, is opposed to containment at the level of theory – via the noble lies of anthropological assumptions and productive forces – and practically within the city qua nation-state. Such an absolute is not monopolizable, which means it attacks the syntheses of people, class-in-itself, and any figure of the political entity in Schmitt’s sense. It is either or both an anti-Schmittian politcs or, in Schmittian terms, an anti-politics. Against depoliticalizations that underwrite the relative and thus contained political, the absolutized political poses itself and its own prescriptive power with which it can subtract itself from any concrete order and topple city walls.