Continuing the Agamben etc discussion. Toward the very end I mix in stuff from the earlier draft on flight and subjectification. I cut the references to the latter – and Badiou, Ranciere, police, etc. I’ll come back to that.

I said earlier that those who are counted as bare life are counted only insofar as they are (merely) alive. Those who are counted as bare life still have other qualities than merely being alive, but the count-as-bare is indifferent to these other qualities. This counting-as acts upon a set of bodies which have a potential to be counted in this way. Those who are counted as bare life have the potential to be counted in this way. They also have the impotential to be – or the potential not to be – counted in this way.

This also holds with regard to the proletariat, which I already discussed in relation to bare life. The proletariat is not solely proletariat, in either the Servian definition – as the class which only reproduces itself – or the Marxian definition – as the class which only owns and sells its labor power. The proletariat is not merely proletariat, but has other qualities. The proletariat is the class of those who are counted-as-proletariat. The set of bodies counted as proletariat have a potential to be counted in this way. This potential to be so counted is at the same time an impotential to so counted. This is, in a sense, a restatement of the aleatory quality of capitalism: capitalism’s genesis – its initial historical production – was not necessary but contingent, and capitalism’s permanence – its continual historical reproduction – is neither guaranteed to persist nor to desist. Capitalism must continually posit its constitutive factors – the processes of enclosure – if it is to persist. This may occur, or it may not. Within capitalism, the securing of any particular instance of the count-as-proletarian, of enclosure, is not guaranteed of success. New forms of commons can be produced within and against enclosures, and enclosures can be ruptured.

Under capitalism those who are counted as proletariat sell their labor power. I quote Paolo Virno on labor power, himself quoting Marx repeatedly:

“Labor power is pure potentiality, very distinct from the corresponding acts: “When we speak of capacity for labour we do not speak of labour, any more than when we speak of capacity for digestion, we speak of digestion.” [Marx, Capital V1, ch6, p173, International Publishers edition of the Moore and Aveling English translation.] But it is a potentiality that assumes the concrete prerogatives of the commodity, of a not-yet subject to supply and demand. The capitalist acquires the faculty to produce as such (”the aggregate of of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being,” writes Marx [Capital V1, ch6, p167]), not one or the other determinate prestations. After the purchase-sale has been effected, the buyer employs at will the commodity that they have taken possession of: “The purchaser of labor power consumer it by setting the seller to work. By working, the latter becomes actually, what before he was only potentially”.” [Capital V1, ch7, p177.]

Virno quotes Marx again, “The use value which the worker has to offer (…) is not materialized in a product, does not exist apart from him at all, thus exists not really, but only in a potentiality, as his capacity.” [Grundrisse, p267, Vintage Edition of the Martin Nicolaus English translation. Elipse is Virno’s.]

The proletariat are the class of those who sell their labor power as a commodity. Enclosure, commodification of labor power, does not end conflict nor does it mean that all is determined. After enclosure (count-as-proletariat) occurs such that struggle against it is (temporarily) defeated struggle continues.

Labor power is the potential to labor. It is thus also the potential to not labor. Once labor power is sold as a commodity, there is a continued conflict between the buyer and the seller over whether the potential to labor passes over into actual labor. As discussed already, (im)potentiality is not exhausted in the passage into actuality. The potential to labor can be made to become actual labor but it can later cease to be labor. The worker can stop working. The worker can also be made to work harder and longer. These conflicts abound under capitalism. Indeed, they constitute capitalism. The very general form which these conflicts sometimes take, from the side of the proletariat, is the refusal of work in two facets: the refusal to sell labor power, and the refusal to allow labor power sold to be made into actual labor.

I argued elsewhere that the proletariat is a figure of that particular biopolitical condition which Giorgio Agamben terms bare life. The proletarian condition of being “vogelfrei,” free as a bird, exemplifies the proletarian condition as bare 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 previously is a condition of subjection, the proletariat as object. 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 of flight, a power of exodus. (Or self-valorization. This also suggests a Spinozian reading of Mezzadra‘s right to flight, right as a power.) In terms of the discussion of Agamben thus far, this is the power of impotentiality, the power to not be proletariat, the power to not work.

As I have noted, whether or not life appears (is counted) as proletariat or bare life is an aleatory and conflictual matter. This means in an important sense there never is bare life, life which is simply life, life which has as its only trait its being not-dead. Bare life is an implied category in the thought and practices of sovereignty and political economy, but this is a reduction of life, a subtraction of qualities from life. 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 this requirement. Marx was not always clear about this himself, sometimes treating the proletariat as simply an object.

It is the multiplicity of the proletariat as not being proletariat – in the marxian sense as simply labor power and a commodity, and in the Servian sense as 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. Life is prior to bare life. The commons are prior to enclosure. The good life is prior to life put to work.

Advertisements