Follow up from my draft on Agamben and Marx, in rougher shape cuz my books are all at home and I am not.

Thus far I have drawn on Agamben in the attempt to establish something like a syllogism, as follows:
The proletariat is a figure of bare life.
Bare life is (bio)political, as are the processes which produce bare life.
Therefore, the proletariat is biopolitical, as are the processes which produce the proletariat.

I would now like to qualify this by introducing a distinction drawn by Jacques Ranciere.

Ranciere distinguishes between politics and what he calls the police, the “order of distribution of bodies as a community.” This understanding could be fruitfully compared with the sense of distribution which Marx declares in the Grundrisse to be prior and internal to production, the distribution of social positions and bodies into those positions. For Ranciere, politics is a process or instance of subjectification which operates against some police order. In this sense, then, what Agamben terms biopolitics would be, in Ranciere’s terms, a form of policing, a sort of “biopolice,” so to speak. The point of the preceding discussion remains, that the economic distribution of bodies and the ‘political’ distribution of bodies are not different in kind but are both modes or ensembles of policing. Conceding that what I have been discussing is the police and not politics would imply that different instantiations of opposition to economic and other forms of domination are also not different in kind from each other – though each is singular – but rather all are “mode[s] of subjectification” which disrupt police orders. (Disagreement 99.) [Hardt and Negri’s recent work on multitude and singularity can be read as at least in part an attempt to produce a theoretical understanding of a (bio)politics corresponding to – or, operating against – the (bio)police order in the present. My suspicion is that their insistence on the prefix ‘bio’ aspect limits the efficacy of their thought of this politics, but I’m not entirely sure. NOTE TO SELF: LOOK UP THE DONZELOT BOOK.]

Bare life is a police concept, albeit one critical of the police order. Much of marxism is also a history of developing different police concepts, and, in the case of the so-called Soviet Union (“lies,” as Castoriadis put it), not critical but rather innovative thereof. The political is not derivable from the police-ial. The attempt to make this derivation is what Ranciere terms [LOOK UP THE TERMS, I ALWAY MIX THEM UP, ARCHI-,META-ETC]. This attempt is common throughout much of marxism, as in the insistence on the inevitability of communism and the need for “pre-capitalist” forms to pass through the crucible of capitalism. [The later Althusser’s “aleatory materialism” is an important resource for thinking alternatives to this derivation within marxism. The work of Ranciere and of Alain Badiou can be thought of as an extension of this work, attempting to think politics and thought as a power to produce clinamen, a swerve, which is not derived from the police count of the present. EXPAND A BIT, MAKE PART OF THE DISCUSSION.] Within the Italian tradition of operaismo this derivation takes the form of attempting to determine the political composition of the working class based upon the technical composition of the class. [CITE AND QUOTE MORE ON THIS W/ IN OPERAISMO. Hardt and Negri repeat this mistake in their pegging of multitude to immaterial labor.]
For Paolo Virno, the sale of labor power is a biopolitical relationship [though Virno is wrong to see biopolitics as exclusively an effect of labor power’s commodity status – if anything, the production of labor power as a commodity required biopolitical methods such that biopolitics pre-dates commodified labor power]. [QUOTE.] Drawing on Ranciere, I would rephrase this to say that the sale of labor power is bound up with a certain police order. In the last section I argued that the proletariat is a figure of that particular biopolitical condition which Giorgio Agamben terms bare life, which I also hold to be a police rather than political condition. In any case, the proletarian condition of being “vogelfrei,” free as a bird, exemplifies the proletarian condition as abre life. The proletariat is animalized, thus outside the posited human community, and is stripped – “freed” – of all possession such that it only has its labor power to sell in order to live.
The proletariat’s being free as a bird as I have discussed it thus far is a condition of subjection, the proletariat as object, as a concept of the police count of the present. There is a second sense of vogelfrei, however. This sense is the power of flight implied by the bird metaphor. The birdlike freedom of the proletariat implies also a power to fly, a power to undertake what Virno, Negri, and others have termed the practice of exodus (and which Negri earlier termed self-valorization). This is a power of subjectification, a political power in Ranciere’s sense of politics. [CITE RANCIERE AND BADIOU ON POLITICS AND SUBJECTIFICATION.]

Agamben’s work on ontology offers room to make this point within Agamben’s own project. [QUOTE, CITE, POTENTIALITY-ACTUALITY-IMPOTENTIALITY, READ THE ARISTOTLE.] This operates on two levels.

The proletariat sells its labor power. Labor power is the power to work. The capitalist purchases labor power as a commodity and seeks to make use of it – to set the laborer to work – in order to produce surplus value [QUOTE, CITE MARX]. According to Agamben’s work on potentiality, the proletarian potential to produce surplus value is also impotential: the potential to not produce surplus value [and to produce in other ways, again what Negri terms self-valorization]. This places Agamben’s work in relation to that of Mario Tronti. [QUOTE, CITE TRONTI, REFUSAL OF WORK.] Capitalist production is a conflict between police orders and potential instances of politics which seek to escape from or limit surplus value production, a conflict over (im)potentiality and actuality. [CITE VIRNO ON LABOR POWER AND POTENTIALITY, SEE BRETT’S ARTICLE.]

In addition to whether or not labor power purchased as a commodity produces, there is a question as to whether or not labor power is a commodity, or to what degree this occurs. Primitive accumulation produces the (lethal) conditions wherein the sale of labor power as a commodity is a necessary condition for survival of most people. This condition is not entirely complete, though. Commodity relations do not colonize and determine the entirety of the social field. That would mean saturation by the police order such that politics is impossible [CITE, QUOTE RANCIERE ON THE ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE POLITICS AND THE ROLE OF POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY IN DOING SO.] Often marxism has been a figure of political philosophy in this sense, the theoretical evacuation of politics as even possible. Drawing on Agamben’s work on potentiality, it is possible to say that the enclosures which create the capitalist order seek to create the conditions for labor power to be a potential commodity. Just as commodified labor power is also the power to not work despite having been purchased, labor power’s potential to be a commodity also implies the potential to not be a commodity. The proletariat is sometimes actually proletariat and bare life. But the proletariat is only always bare life at the level of potentiality. This potentiality also implies the potential to not be bare life and in this sense to not be proletariat. The proletarian power of flight – exodus, self-valorization, refusal to work – is the power of subjectification, of politics, which is the clinamen within the capitalist order: its source of dynamism. [CITE, QUOTE THE AUTONOMIST HYPOTHESIS, CAPITALIST DEVELOPMENT FOLLOWS THE PROLETARIAT NOT THE REVERSE.] The police order has been forced to change repeatedly by politics. We saw this earlier in the discussion of Servius Tullius and the break down of the patrician and plebian order of the gens which thus necessitated the introduction of a new order, from which the order based on property arose.

This discussion also implies that in an important sense bare life is never bare life. There never exists life which is simply life, life which has as its only trait its being not-dead. Bare life is an implied category in the (police) thought and practices of sovereignty and political economy, but this is a reduction of life, a subtraction of qualities from life. [QUOTE, CITE, BADIOU ON COUNT AS ONE.] Even when lethal operations occur – states of exception, primitive accumulation – the life which is killed is not actually sans all qualities. The life which is killed is a multiple composed of lives which are themselves multiples, containing all sorts of determinations – names, histories, memories, etc. Simply terming this “bare life” in a way which takes it to be actually sans all qualities concedes the operation of the police order at the level of theory. This lethal operation is never fully successful, though it does win victories for sovereigns and capitalists and wreak tremendous damage. Thinking that this operation is fully successful, that life is actually bare life, is to give up in advance or to retroactively posit a type of necessity behind contingent historical events which could have occurred differently. That is, it is to think from the perspective of sovereignty and capital which flattens singularities, rather than to think from a located perspective within the multiples of lives which are formatted by sovereigns and capitalists. In terms of late Althusser’s metaphorical use of ancient atomism, this is to think from the perspective of atoms falling in parallel, rather than to think from the perspective of the deviation from parallelism, the clinamen which is the condition for constitutive encounter as well as dissolution.

Similarly, the working class is never labor “sans phrase” [CITE MARX], and labor (power) is never abstract despite the behavior of the capitalist class. Labor is treated so but this does not tell us anything about the being of labor power or workers. In his transition from purchase and sale to production Marx makes use of a metaphor [QUOTE EXACTLY], we leave the noisy sphere of the market and enter the sphere of the factory, where the sign reads “quiet, men working.” The very injunction to silence indicates a power to speech. Otherwise there would be no need for the capitalist to demand silence and to enforce – to police – this requirement. Marx was not always clear about this himself, sometimes treating the proletariat as simply an object. [THIS CONFUSION OF POLITICS AND POLICE ON MARX’S PART IS ADDRESSED, THOUGH NOT IN SO MANY WORDS, IN RANCIERE’S EXCELLENT BOOK THE PHILOSOPHER AND HIS POOR.] It is the multiplicity of the proletariat as not being simply labor power and a commodity, as not being simply life which reproduces itself, which makes possible the reduction at the level of theory – and the political, or rather, police practices which this theory is bound up with – of the proletariat to this ‘bare’ status. It is the same with bare life. Only life’s being precisely not bare makes it possible to theoretically abstract all content from life in order to render it bare at the level of thought.

[NOTES – BRIEF DISCUSSION OF HEGEL AND SCHELLING’S CRITIQUE THEREOF – HEGEL:BEING::AGAMBEN:BARE LIFE. DRAW ON THE PAPER BY ALBERTO, THE PAPER BY ? ON BADIOU AND NEGRI, AND THE PAPER BY? ON ALEATORY MATERIALISM AND OPERAISMO. QUOTE RANCIERE, EARLY ALTHUSSER AS A THINKER OF ORDER, IN REID’S INTRO TO NIGHTS OF LABOR. ALSO PERHAPS HOLLOWAY, ON CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY VS MARXIST ECONOMICS?]

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