I’ve been invited by some people I like very much to give a talk on the theme of the common, a philosophical category (or a family or cloud of categories sharing a name) used by some contemporary Italian writers and folk influenced by them. I’m flattered at the invite and happy to have a chance to get my thoughts clearer on this by writing something up. On the other hand, that category is one that I’ve never found very useful even when I was really enamored of that work, which I’m not any more. So I feel a bit nervous (more than usual) about this as I’ve got find a way to question the utility of the category as used while addressing the work that the category does or could do, in such a way that my questions and criticisms can actually be heard. I’ll be blogging to prepare for this.

As part of said preparation I think all of the following are in order.

1. Review the literature on the category, reminding myself what’s said in stuff I’ve already read and reading what I’ve not read, in order to have support for my claims
2. Get various criticisms out
3. Get any urge to be snarky out of my system
4. Refine based on the above.


My basic point I want to make, at least for now –
The category as I understand its use tends to be tied to accounts of the present which rely heavily on a contrast with the past, a contrast in which the account of the past is only partially spelled out and – to the degree that it is spelled out – is inaccurate. I don’t claim to have a better understanding of the present as an alternative, only a claim that this one doesn’t work. My own presumptions, which are not arguments and which I won’t spend any real time one, are that the politics of this category tend to derive from the their context (no surprise) more than they add to their context (more surprising), the politics tend to be tied to something like a movementist perspective which does not address questions of organization and which tend to minimize the utility of previous critical vocabularies and political/organizational practices. The category also tends in my opinion to stay largely within a theoretical or philosophical register.

A few quotes and notes
Review Althusser’s account of what he called his own earlier and mistaken ‘theoreticism,’ here:

Benjamin, On the Concept of History, thesis 12:

“The subject of historical cognition is the battling, oppressed class itself. In Marx it steps forwards as the final enslaved and avenging class, which carries out the work of emancipation in the name of generations of downtrodden to its conclusion. This consciousness, which for a short time made itself felt in the “Spartacus” [Spartacist splinter group, the forerunner to the German Communist Party], was objectionable to social democracy from the very beginning. In the course of three decades it succeeded in almost completely erasing the name of Blanqui, whose distant thunder [Erzklang] had made the preceding century tremble. It contented itself with assigning the working-class the role of the savior of future generations. It thereby severed the sinews of its greatest power. Through this schooling the class forgot its hate as much as its spirit of sacrifice. For both nourish themselves on the picture of enslaved forebears, not on the ideal of the emancipated heirs.”

Tronti on the future:

“Of all that exists today, nothing is for the future. To place the model of a future society before the analysis of present society constitutes a vicious bourgeois ideology (…) No worker that struggles against the boss asks: ‘and later?’ The struggle against the boss is all. The organization of the struggle is all. All of that, however, is already a world.” (note here: http://leggiamotronti.blogsome.com/2005/11/22/notes-on-the-rest-of-the-introduction/)

“the future, from the working class point of view, does not exist; only a block on the present, the impossibility for the present to continue functioning under its present organisation, and thus an instance of its possible reorganisation under an opposite notion of power. An autonomous working class political power is the only weapon that can block the functioning of capital’s economic mechanisms. In this sole sense the workers’ State of tomorrow is the party of today.

This brings us back to the concept, which we attributed to Marx, of communism as the party, which instead of constructing a model of the future society, supplies a practical means for the destruction of the present society.” (Strategy of the Refusal, here: http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/tronti_refusal.html)

Raymond Williams, “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory”
“one thing that is evident in some of the best Marxist cultural analysis is that it is very much more at home in what one might call epochal questions than in what one has to call historical questions. That is to say, it is usually very much better at distinguishing the large features of different epochs of society, as between feudal and bourgeois, or what might be, than at distinguishing between different phases of bourgeois society, and different moments within the phases: that true historical process which demands a much greater precision and delicacy of analysis than the always striking epochal analysis which is concerned with main lineaments and features.” (8.)