(Footnote numbers got lost and I haven’t had time to fix that. Will do when I’m able.)
A Biopolitical Stage Of Capitalism?
This paper responds to Antonio Negri’s recent work with Michael Hardt, in particular the deployment of the terms biopolitics and biopower, in attempt to work through various problems. Using these terms, Negri expands what falls under the conceptual and political field referred to by the Marxian term value production. Value production involves a site of political contestation (that is, the location of value production, which in much of Marxism is considered to be the waged workplace) and a potential political subject (the people who produce value by their activity, the working class, frequently defined as exclusively waged laborers). I am deeply sympathetic to the attempt to expand the set of times and spaces considered part of value production, and the set of people considered part of the working class, but I am not satisfied by the way this is accomplished in Negri’s use of the terms biopolitics and biopower.
The stakes in this argument can be seen by turning to a passage from the Grundrisse, wherein Marx writes that within “the society that rests on exchange value, there arise relations of circulation as well as of production which are so many mines to explode it.” If this were not the case, “if we did not find concealed in society as it is the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of exchange prerequisite for a classless society, then all attempts to explode it would be quixotic.”
In Negri’s work today and often throughout the rest of the Marxist tradition, debates frequently express disagreements over which sites and relations in society are explosive or potentially so and which are essentially inert. This is connected to debates about how social sites and relations judged to be explosive rank in a hierarchy of relative volatility and relative potential explosive force. These debates also contain, either in their subtext or directly on their surface, a corresponding disagreement over who is quixotic and who is not, and how those judged quixotic relate to each other in a rank order of being quixotic.
Negri’s biopolitical turn expresses a view that capitalism extends beyond the factory such that social relations outside the factory walls – relations (and labors) of reproduction, consumption, and non-industrial production – become explosive. From this perspective, there is no longer a privileged site of potential explosiveness and of actual political practice aimed at the ignition of not-yet utilized explosive force. I am deeply sympathetic with this position, but I am unsatisfied with the historical narrative it entails.
The claim that there is ‘no longer’ a privileged site implies a corresponding claim that there once was such a site. This implied narrative entails that only now do sites outside the area demarcated by prior Marxist conceptions become sites of value production and thereby become explosive. In other words, the argument implies that older Marxist political strategies, readings of Marx, and readings of social reality were correct and adequate in their time. This means that the social relations regarded by earlier Marxists as not one of Marx’s mines were not explosive at the time of those earlier Marxist formulations. My own investments in this matter are two-fold: Negri’s account of the history of capitalism risks occluding important aspects of women’s history, and Negri’s claims about new political possibilities in the present risk apologizing for what are at best colossal mistakes within the Marxist tradition. Put more bluntly, Negri is inadequately critical of the Leninist tradition from which his own early work emerged, and in some ways his recent work repeats some the mistakes of that tradition in a new idiom.
A basic presupposition of my view in this paper is that the sites of exchange between buyers and sellers of labor power, and the sites of capitalist use of labor power that has been purchased, are explosive. The heart of what is at stake in this matter, then, are questions regarding what should be considered a site where exchange occurs between buyers and seller of labor power or a site where labor power, after being purchased, is put to work in order to produce value.
Through their use of the terms biopower and biopolitics, Hardt and Negri express a view that contemporary capitalism encompasses designated, recognized, waged spaces and times of production as well as spaces and times whose involvement in value production is unwaged, unrecognized and obfuscated. Later in what follows I will attempt to support my claim that this is not a novel characteristic of the present but rather is the case for the capital relation as such. First, however, I will spend some time detailing what Hardt and Negri mean by biopower and biopolitics, followed by a discussion of the stakes terms in Hardt and Negri’s project. I then turn to a reading of the marxian categories of simple circulation and primitive accumulation, in which I return to my argument that what Hardt and Negri see as the conditions of the present are the conditions of capitalist production as such. Finally, I end with speculations as to why Hardt and Negri might hold to their narrative of the becoming-biopolitical of capitalism.
Before continuing further, I would like to say that, for all my opening remarks on explosivness, my argument leaves questions of strategy and organization – how to go about lighting fuses – largely unaddressed. I will not actually spend time in this paper on the social explosions found within the history of struggles, nor will I address questions of how fuses are or should be lit, that is, strategic and tactical questions of how ‘explosive potential’ becomes or should be made to become actual explosion. I do not neglect these questions because I think they are unimportant, quite the opposite. I am unsure if I have anything of use to say on these important matters, and I certainly can not say anything useful without a longer treatment than I would be here able to give. At most my reflections here might be useful for showing that the range of places wherein fuses exist that may be lit is a wider range than is sometimes believed, such that strategy and organization can begin in many more locations than much of the Marxist tradition has been willing to recognize.
Hardt And Negri’s Biopolitics
Hardt and Antonio Negri use the terms biopower and biopolitics to describe “a situation in which what is at stake in power is the production and reproduction of life itself.” The two quote Michel Foucault: “For capitalist society biopolitics is what is most important, the biological, the somatic, the corporeal.” For Hardt and Negri, the practices of power that Foucault analyzed, which he termed disciplinary techniques, “delve so deeply into society that they manage to configure themselves as apparatuses that take into account the collective biological dimension of the reproduction of the population.” This is “the birth of biopower,” defined as “a form of power that regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, absorbing it, and rearticulating it. (…) As Foucault says, “Life has now become … an object of power.” The highest function of this power is to invest life through and through, and its primary task is to administer life. Biopower thus refers to a situation in which what is directly at stake in power is the production and reproduction of life itself.”
Hardt and Negri’s reading of these terms is different from Foucault’s use. Foucault, generally speaking, identified biopower with techniques of power “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls”, which constitutes a filed of conflicts that he terms “an anatomo-politics of the human body.” Biopolitics, in turn, “focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as a basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and mortality, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population.” (Foucault, History of Sexuality v1 p139.) I am not in any way invested in whether or not Hardt and Negri maintain a fidelity to Foucault, who I suspect may have been less than perfectly consistent in distinguishing these terms from each other, given that the bulk of his remarks on the matter are provisional hypotheses forming part of research project he was engaged in rather than fully worked out arguments. I do, however, want to note that as Hardt and Negri reference Foucault without making clear their differences from him.
Negri’s use of these terms is bound up with what he identifies as an epochal transition from disciplinary to control society. Generally, I am quite fond of the work of Negri, but only when read against itself in such a way that his periodizing impulse to identify epochal transitions is suspended. In addition to the transition from disciplinary to control societies, Negri deploys a number of other epochal historical transitions, which he names, among others, the passages from modernity to postmodernity, fordism to postfordism, and formal to real subsumption. I can not do justice to any of these transitions in the space allowed here. I hope it suffices that for the purposes of this paper, the important point is that Negri’s biopolitics is fixed to the present order of things, which Negri, following Deleuze, calls the society of control. I do not presently have the space or the ability to undertake an analysis of Negri’s reading of Deleuze’s reading of Foucault, and lay out the nuances and stakes involved. I will limit myself here to my own claim that Negri’s remarks on biopolitics hold for the capital relation as such, not only to contemporary capitalism. I must leave it to others and to future research to determine if my disagreement is with Negri, Deleuze, Foucault, or all three. Generally, my own interest is in understanding the general function of the announcing of a transition to a new epoch in Negri’s work, and my suspicions about what these pronouncements risk occluding. This is a project I have addressed in some of my other work, a project of which I am still in the midst. I am convinced by Steve Wright’s argument that Negri has regularly declared new epochal shifts repeatedly throughout his carreer. My own impulse is to say that Negri’s turn to Deleuze’s Foucault and to Spinoza are more of an expression than the source of Negri’s world-historical epoch announcing tendency. In a word, then, for Hardt and Negri biopower is a power that seeks to manage life itself. Biopolitics is a condition of conflict over whether and how this management will occur, conflict between forms of biopower and forms of biopolitical counterpower.
Hardt and Negri are quite clear about what they like and intend to make use of in Foucault, which is that Foucault “attempted to bring the problem of social reproduction and all the elements of the so-called superstructure back to within the material, fundamental structure and define this terrain not only in economic terms but also in cultural, corporeal, and subjective ones.” At the same time, Hardt and Negri criticize Foucault because for them, “[w]hat Foucault fails to grasp are the real dynamics of production in biopolitical society.” This is the crux of the matter for Hardt and Negri, who wish to use the categories of biopower and biopolitics to give an account of new arrangement of production.
This new arrangement of production is characterized by Hardt and Negri by the hegemony, or tendency toward hegemony, of biopolitical labor, “labor that creates not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself. The term biopolitical thus indicates that the traditional distinctions between the economic, the political, the social, and the cultural become increasingly blurred.” For Hardt and Negri this blurring occurs not, or not chiefly, at the level of theory and analysis, but in material realty. More specifically, the shift is alleged to be in the material reality of the production process, and this is where Hard and Negri seek to found their political project.
What Is At Stake
The stakes are high for Hardt and Negri. Biopolitical production is the lynchpin of the political project they identify, that of constructing the globally insurgent absolute democracy that they call multitude. They write that, “[b]iopolitical production will give content to our investigation of democracy, which has remained too formal” and lacking in any claim to be not simply a program for action, but a statement of a tendency already underway within the material processes of global capitalism. Hardt and Negri need their account of the biopolitical nature of contemporary capitalism in order to “make clear the social basis on which it is possible today to begin a project of the multitude.” In other words, the account of biopolitical production is what will allow Hardt and Negri to identify their project as materially grounded in a Marxist sense, a potentiality or virtuality inherent in the social order and which is tending to actualize itself, rather than simply one proposal among others for programmatic action.
Negri and Hardt’s politcal project has two moments. The first aims at recognizing and celebrating what they hold to be the powers of creation which exist in potentia today, and which can be actualized by seizing them and wresting them away from their sale on the labor market. This is possible, in Hardt and Negri’s account, because the newly hegemonic forms of biopolitical production, which include traditionally feminine – and often un- and less remunerated – labors, “tends to create (…) social life itself.” By contrast, the activity that much of Marxism (wrongly) considers the only type of production, industrial labor, “[m]aterial production (…) creates the means of social life” only. When labor produces social life itself, Hardt and Negri argue, “when the products of labor are not material goods but social relationships (…) then it becomes clear that economic production immediately implies a kind of political production, or the production of society itself. (…) We are thus no longer bound by the old blackmail; the choice is not between sovereignty or anarchy. The power of the multitude to create social relationships in common stands between sovereignty and anarchy, and it thus presents a new possibility for politics.” Thus, for Hardt and Negri, biopolitical production makes possible a new capability to autonomously produce social reality, a new capability to enact the project of multitude.
The second moment of Hardt and Negri’s political project is to formulate “fundamental demands that correspond to the context of economic globalization” in order to help the incipient – or, in Hardt and Negri’s terms, ‘not-yet’ – multitude fully instantiate itself as a form social being and political organization. For Negri the economy is global not only geographically but also socially – capitalism touches upon all the spaces and times of human social and biological life – and Negri takes this is for a new condition, which in turn serves as grounds for a new demand: “the right to a social wage, conceived as a minimum ‘citizenship income'”. This is a demand for
“a system for the distribution of wealth that acknowledges reproduction as something necessary, which is to say both the reproduction of the workforce and the reproduction of humanity. Specifically, this means that to the extent social cooperation and affects are now an integral part of the production of value – think of the function of women in society: as Deleuze used to say, we are witnessing the feminization of labor – we demand that the participation of each person in social capital be remunerated. (…) The world can no longer be torn (…) between those who are productive and those who are not, because production becomes indistinguishable from life itself, so that no division is possible. (…) Since production is entirely biopolitical, it is necessary to remunerate life (…) since life has become the motor of production, we demand that the multitude – which is to say the citizens of the world – be permitted to reappropriate life for themselves. ”
In other words, Negri is arguing that there is a new participation of reproduction in production, or, a newly biopolitical condition in which formerly unproductive activities become productive. This new participation of life, all of life, in production is a reason for Negri why life as such ought to be remunerated.
Negri sums up the problematic of biopolitics for him, saying “[w]e are now living in an age where the problems of life, of power and of politics have become indispensable and indissociable. It is from this fact that we must start over once more.” But, from whose perspective were the problems of life, power, and politics ever dissociable and dispensable? Posed at this level of generality, Negri’s observation is true of all political relationships as such: all relationships of political power are conflicts over life and what life does, all social and economic conflicts are conflicts over what uses are made of bodies and by whom. Hardt and Negri recognize this themselves, noting that the biopolitical nature of production is the realization of an old tendency: “Capital has always been oriented toward the production, reproduction, and control of social life.” In that sense, then, what sense does it make to speak of a new biopolitical phase of capitalist production and accumulation?
When Is Capitalism Biopolitical?
As noted earlier, Hardt and Negri, in defining the present, quote Michel Foucault: “For capitalist society biopolitics is what is most important, the biological, the somatic, the corporeal.” This quote gets at a tension in Hardt and Negri’s work that I am attempting to press upon. For Hardt and Negri this situation is a recent one, which they locate in a new stage of capitalism. In the passage Hardt and Negri quote, however, Foucault speaks not of postfordism or of any other specific era of capitalism, but of capitalism as such. Foucault writes, “capitalism, which developed from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century, started by socializing a first object, the body, as a factor of productive force, of labor power. (…) For capitalist society, it was biopolitics, the biological, the somatic, the corporeal, that mattered more than anything else. The body is a biopolitical reality; medicine is a biopolitical strategy.” Hardt and Negri clearly differ from Foucault in their fixing of biopolitics to the present phase of capitalism, such that Foucault can not serve as a support for their position without a substantial argument on their part, which they do not provide. To my mind, at least in Hardt and Negri’s rather vague sense of biopolitics, capitalism is always-already biopolitical.
Capitalism is bound up with biopolitics because, in the words of Raniero Panzieri, “[c]apitalist ‘planning’ presupposes the planning of living labour” in every capitalist workplace. The planning of living humans is a biopolitical activity. Silvia Federici’s excellent book Caliban and the Witch makes a similar point, but Federici further demonstrates how the planning process of capitalism must seek to manage not only life in designated and remunerated places and times of labor, but also other processes – often not recognized as labor but still bound up with value production – necessary for the existence of the capitalist mode of production. The force of Federici’s argument derives less from her engagement with Marxian categories and concepts, though she does so cogently, than from her rigorously documented historical research detailing how the originary processes of capitalism – “so-called primitive accumulation” – entailed a war on women in the form of witch hunts, a biopolitical operation required for the creation of the commodity labor power.
In this sense, the expansion of value production effected by the terms biopolitics and biopower demonstrates something about the concept and material existence of capitalism itself, something true for the entirety of the epoch of capitalist production, from its beginnings to the present. The situation that Hardt and Negri identify is not unique to the present, but is the situation of capitalist social relations from their inception. Capitalist production as such is biopolitical in the sense in which Hardt and Negri use the term. Or, as Paolo Virno has put it, “When there is a commodity that is called labor-power it is already implicitly government over life (…) because labor power is a paradoxical commodity, it is simply the potential to produce. As soon as this potential is transformed into a commodity, then, it is necessary to govern the living body that maintains this potential, that contains this potential.”
Hardt and Negri’s remarks about the unique political possibilities of the present – the possibilities of an absolute democracy instantiated in a collective subject called multitude – based upon the uniquely biopolitical condition of the present do not withstand scrutiny. The qualities that Hardt and Negri ascribe to the present under the term biopolitical are qualities of capitalist social relations as such. Thus, these qualities can not serve as the basis for a political possibility unique to the present. The point I wish to make can be seen in the following quote from Marx: “there are determinations which are common to all stages of production and are fixed by reasoning as general; the so-called general conditions of all production, however, are nothing but these abstract moments, which do not define any of the actual historical stages of production.” The condition of being biopolitical is a determination common to all stages of capitalist production. As such, it does not tell us anything specific about any one moment, nor about what political/organizational conclusions should be drawn, nor does it justify the claim to a new political possibility unique to the present. In order to support this claim, I now turn to a reading of Marx’s presentation of the capitalist form of social relations.
Marx characterizes the capital relation by the repetition of a series of circuits. One such circuit is C-M-C, simple circulation. In this series, one commodity, the first ‘C’, is sold for money, ‘M’, which in turn is use to purchase a second commodity, the second ‘C’. This final commodity is consumed and ostensibly drops out of circulation permanently. Marx uses this series in laying out a logical and historical progression of production. It is important to note, however, that simple circulation does not disappear, but rather is preserved, and stands as a key moment in capitalist production.
The fundamental exchange in capitalism is not that between buyers and sellers of commodities. Rather, capitalism is an exchange between the owners of two special types of commodities: the owner of money, in the form of wages, W, and the commodity LP (labor power). If this were not so, the exchange of commodities would not result in an increase of wealth, all commodity exchanges would be exchanges of equal value and thus no possibility for surplus and accumulation would exist. The circuit C-M-C’, the sale and purchase a commodity which results in another commodity of greater value than the first, is only possible when the first commodity is capable of producing value greater than the value embodied in it. To produce surplus values, the capitalist must purchase a commodity that, in its use, produces more wealth than it cost to purchase. The capitalist needs “a commodity, whose use-value possess the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The (capitalist) does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power.”
The rest of the commodities in capitalist production are produced by the purchase/sale and capitalist use of the commodity labor power. A key function of other commodities, by their being commodities, is to help the imposition of the status of being a commodity upon labor power. What is labor power? Labor power is potentially any human capacity as such: “the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he (sic) exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.” Labor power is simply the capacity to act, as such, and it is the sale of this capacity which is at the heart of capitalism. This capacity rests in the body and brain of the worker, so that the sale of the commodity labor power is the sale of a portion of the lifetime of the worker. Determinate labor power – that is, the skills and traits demanded on the labor market – varies tremendously in its material instantiation, conditioned by a large number of historically and geographically changing factors.
It is in the exchange of the commodity labor power that simple circulation continues to occur in an importance sense under capitalism, in the series C(LP)-M(W)-C(MS), that is, Commodity (Labor Power) sold for Money (Wages) which as used to purchase Commodity (Means of Subsistence). This circuit subtends the rest of capitalist production. From the capitalist perspective, the exchange C-M-C’, commodity, money, commodity of greater value than the money spent, leads immediately to M’ via the sale of the produced commodity. That is, the circuit continues C-M-C’-M’. From the worker’s perspective, however, the sale of labor power is always only C(LP)-M(W)-C(MS), the sale one’s body for a period of time in order to get wages, which in turn purchase means of subsistence.
The final and ever repeated exchange in this series, M(W)-C(MS), is a matter of continual tension between capitalists and proletariat, over whether and to what degree it will be productive, unproductive, or antithetical to capital. Prior to the abolition of the capital relation, this exchange is always potentially productive for capital, in that it reproduces the body that brings the commodity labor power to market as well as producing future bodies which will eventually enter into the market as sellers of labor power. We might represent the series that capital requires and desires in the following two ways:
a) C(LP)-M(W)-C(MS) … C(LP)-M(W)-C(MS)
b) C(LP)-M(W)-C(MS) … C(LP)’-M(W)-C(MS)
In both of the above, the commodity labor power is sold for a wage, which is used to purchase means of subsistence. In series a) means of subsistence are used to renew existing labor power, that is, to distract, restore, and repair the body after its ostensible workday is over, in order to return the body to the labor market the next day in roughly the same quality, as bearer of labor power for sale that is roughly equal in productive capacity to that of the previous day. Series b) represents two phenomena. In both, means of subsistence from the previous day are used to produce new labor power (LP’) for future sale to capital, in two senses. Wages can be spent to produce new levels of capacity and skill in current labor power (new skills via education, new ability to maintain physical activity via exercise and healthy food), that is, to produce future more productive labor power from existing labor power. Wages can also be spent to produce new bodies (having children) which become future labor power, and to assure that they have the qualities desired by the market for labor power (raising and educating children).
The centrality of the body and its capacities gives capitalists an interest in biopower and biopolitics from the moment of capitalism’s inception, “[f]or while the body is the condition of existence of labor-power, it is also its limit, as the main element of resistance to its expenditure.” That is to say, it is in the interest of the capitalist to modulate the productivity of the body individually once it has entered the workplace via a host of disciplinary techniques exercised to most profitably make use of this body. It is also in the interests of capitalists to intervene upon the processes that produce the body, so as to have the body be the best possible productive resource at the moment of its entry into the workplace. This latter entails the management of populations in order to ensure that the bodies that enter the workplace possess the desired capabilities, and to secure supply of labor power adequate to the plans for its consumption (whether rapid and thanatopolitical absolute surplus value extraction – as allowed for by so-called surplus populations, the reserve army of the unemployed in traditional Marxist parlance – or more slow and measured relative surplus value extraction as required by either relative scarcity of labor power or politically imposed limits on the consumption of labor power). We can see the same sentiment in Foucault’s work:
“[S]tarting in the seventeenth century, (…) power over life evolved in two basic forms; these forms are not antithetical, however; they constituted rather two poles of development linked together by a whole intermediary cluster of relations. One of these poles (…) centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls (…) an anatomo-politics of the human body. The second (…) focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as a basis of the biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and mortality, with all the conditions that can cause these to vary. Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population. The disciplines of the body and the regulations of the population constituted the two poles around which the organization of power over life was deployed. The setting up, in the course of the classical age, of this great bipolar technology – anatomic and biological, individualizing and specifying, directed toward the performances of the body, with attention to the processes of life – characterized a power whose highest function was no longer to kill, but to invest life through and through.”
These two poles converge on sex. Sex resides “at the juncture of the “body” and the “population” (and thus) became a crucial target of a power organized around the management of life”. Sex became targeted by “mechanisms of power (…) addressed to the body, to life, to what causes it to proliferate, to what reinforces the species, its stamina, its ability to dominate, or its capacity for being used.” As is clear in Foucault’s work on political economy in the late 1970s, one of the body’s key capacities for being used that concerns the capitalist is the functionality of the body for the production of surplus value. This use can and does include a range of activities, from the direct capitalist use of bodies sold as labor power via a wage, or by various other unwaged labors of producing, maintaining, and reproducing bodies as bearers of labor power.
The conflicts bound up with all of these disciplinary and biopolitical techniques turn around the use of the body. As Marx notes, if the laborer consumes disposable time for her own self this robs the capitalist. If means of subsistence are not purchased, or if they are not used in some manner that returns roughly the same or greater quality and quantity of labor power to the market, capitalism has a problem. In other words, the capitalist has a direct interest in making time off the clock functional to value production. The worker who is too hung-over or ill to function or to function at the average rate of production costs the employer, thus providing an incentive for policing the behaviors of workers off the clock.
‘Policing the behaviors’ here is not meant metaphorically. In his discussions on the history of policing, Foucault details how the police, as conceived in De Lamare’s 1705 treatise on police science, see to all facets of public morals, health, safety, infrastructure, including the ostensibly economic matters of work, workplaces, and systems of welfare. For Lamare, “the police sees to living”. For Foucault, the production and reproduction of life is at stake in power well before the present. “[T]he true object of the police becomes, at the end of the eighteenth century, the population; or, in other words, the state has essentially to take care of men (sic) as a population. It wields its power over living beings as living beings, and its politics, therefore, has to be a biopolitics.”
The function of the police extends into the workplace and into life outside the workplace. Managing the relationships of bodies across the time and space of waged labor and other times and spaces is one of, though not by any means the only, the targets of policing and of its sometime subsidiary, medicine. For medicine
“[a]t the end of the eighteenth century, it was not epidemics that were the issue, but (…) what might broadly be called endemics (…) illnesses that were difficult to eradicate and that were not regarded as epidemics that caused more frequent deaths, but as permanent factors which (…) sapped the population’s strength, shortened the working week, wasted energy, and cost money, both because they lead to a fall in production and because treating them was expensive. ”
In this same light, Marx quotes Postlethwayt, writing that the reason for the increased productivity of the English working class relative to the working classes of other countries derives from how the English working class spend their leisure time. In this and other cases ostensibly nonproductive time is functional for the capitalist, and comes to be subjected to attempts at management due to its relationship to productivity. Thus, the boundary line demarcating precisely how a body in different places and times stands in relation to value production, which is to say, the relationship of life to capital, is political and determined by a historically variable balance of small and large scale class conflicts. It is not reducible to an obvious and fixed delineation of clearly and objectively unproductive and productive activities, but is rather a site of continual conflict.
Returning to our series of simple circulation, two initial questions unfold from the exchange that follows after the sale of labor power, that is, from the use of the wage to purchase means of subsistence, M(W)-C(MS). These questions indicate continually repeated processes of conflict between the regimes of management of life that Foucault and Marx identify, occurring at various sites and times within the social. These questions are
1. whether or not the wage purchases something that does actually reproduce the body that brings the body as bearer of the commodity labor power to market the next day, and
2. whether or not the wage purchases something that is used to produce – and produce in sufficient quantities and of sufficient qualities – future bodies which will enter the market as bearers of the specific commodity labor power demanded by the production processes prevailing at the time.
The answers to both of these questions directly effect capitalist production, and render attempts to manage life in the interest of capitalists. Both of the above questions can be seen at work throughout the history of capitalism – the regulation of sexual and reproductive practices, discourses on the morality of alcohol and drug use – and in a host of regulations today – laws and also employer policies regarding drug use, parenting, health and welfare, etc. In addition to issues named in these two questions, there is a further question of how and whether labor power shows up in the market as a commodity in the first place. As Marx writes, “[o]nce labour-power has come into the market as the commodity of its owner and its sale takes the form of payment for labour, assumes the shape of wages, its purchase and sale is no more startling than the purchase and sale of any other commodity. The characteristic thing is not that the commodity labour-power is purchasable but that labour-power appears as a commodity.”
The question of how and whether labor power appears as a commodity in the market in turn unfolds into two issues:
1. How did labor power – a capacity to act that resides in the mind and the body – come to exist as a commodity in the first place? Bodies as such may be said to be bearers of a potentiality, a power to act and to labor, but they are certainly not a priori bearers of a commodity, of labor power in the form of commodity. “Human labour-power is by nature no more capital than are the means of production. They acquire this specific social character only under definite, historically developed conditions, just as only under such conditions the character of money is stamped onto precious metals”. That is to say, LP as such is not necessarily C(LP). LP as C(LP) comes about in conditions in which bodies can only continue to exist if they sell their labor power as a commodity. In other words, C(LP) arises when bodies only get access to what they need and want – means of subsistence, MS – if they sell LP. This requires the following conditions:
– bodies can not produce sufficient or desired means of subsistence themselves in some form that does not involve the purchase and sale of labor power
– sufficient or desired means of subsistence are primarily available by purchase, that is, MS exist primarily as C(MS).
– Since one only gets access to a commodity if one has money, M, bodies must only have access to money in the form of the wage, M(W). That is, M is primarily available via the sale of C(LP)
All of this can be summarized by saying that bodies are compelled to make the exchange of labor power for wages, C(LP)-M(W), because without money, M(W) they have no access to means of subsistence, C(MS).
Labor power came to exist as a commodity in the same historical movement in which means of subsistence became a commodity. That is, bodies came to appear as bearers of the commodity labor power on the market as – and to the extent that – bodies received access to means of subsistence only in the form of a commodity, which compels bodies to seek a wage in order to attain the money needed for purchase. While commodified labor power and commodified means of subsistence may appear as discrete, they are in fact the products of the same historical process and are linked in their roles as mutually determining and as requisite conditions for capitalist production.
In the terms I have used, the crux of the matter is the process by which the preceding ‘C’ and surrounding parentheses came to be attached to LP and MS. This process is the process of enclosure. C(LP) and C(MS) are enclosed LP and enclosed MS. Enclosure is a form of power over life, exercised to effect the “distributing the living in the domain of value and utility”. Marx addresses this in his writings on so-called primitive accumulation. One can think of the enclosures in primitive accumulation as historically primitive, as an originary historical moment: the phylogenesis of the capitalist mode of production.
A key moment of phylogenetic primitive accumulation was the divestment from the proto-working class, especially women in this class, of control over the body and knowledge of the body. Changing the control over the body and knowledge of the body was a key to the conditions from which capitalism emerged. “The heart of the macro-processes characterizing Europe’s primitive accumulation from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries was the policy of denying women not only land and other subsistence resources but also the power of control over their procreative capabilities (as well as their sexuality) in favor of male professionals and, in the last analysis, the state’s power.” Documenting and theorizing the processes of this divestment is the key motivation of Silvia Federici’s “attempt to rethink Marx’s analysis of primitive accumulation from a feminist viewpoint”, and her account of the techniques (torture) and knowledges (witch hunting manuals) used in these processes are at a level of detail and graphicness comparable to that of Foucault.
If the first question regarding how and whether labor power appears as a commodity in the marketplace is a phylogenetic question, the second is an ontogenetic question.
2. How does labor power continue to exist as a commodity? The production of bodies and means of subsistence in the form of a commodity is not a final and fixed state, an accomplished condition. Rather, it is a set of antagonistic processes and tendencies. The initial appearance of the human species on the planet, its phylogenesis, does not guarantee its continued existence, but rather its continued existence requires continual and unguaranteed acts of ontogenetic self-positing. It is exactly the same with the capitalist mode of production. In this sense, enclosure or primitive accumulation is ontogenetic, it is logically primitive, and needs to continually attempt to (re)produce itself.
Capitalism persists via the continual reproduction of the conditions enumerated above regarding the inaccessibility of means of subsistence through avenues other than by the sale of labor power as a commodity and the purchase of means of subsistence as a commodity. That is, capitalism exists via continually repeated enclosures. Primitive accumulation in both its phylogenetic and ontogenetic modes can be mapped onto Marx’s discussion of distribution in the Grundrisse: “distribution is not structured and determined by production, but rather the opposite, production by distribution,” more specifically “(1) distribution of the instruments of production, and (2) (…) distribution of the members of the society among the different kinds of production.” That is to say, capitalist production can only occur on the basis of a prior distribution of bodies into determinate spaces and times. Federici’s accounts of the witch hunts and Foucault’s accounts of the emergence of new techniques for managing bodies can be read in this sense, a phylogenetic distribution of bodies. Marx continues, remarking that this distribution is the condition out of which production emerges. The set of processes of “this distribution (…) determines the structure of production. To examine production while disregarding this internal distribution within it is obviously an empty abstraction”. The distribution Marx writes of also refers to the present distribution of bodies today, and the ongoing processes of managing the current distribution of bodies and objects in/and social relations, the ontogenetic and disciplinary re-positing of the relationship of bodies and of populations to production required by capitalism. These processes undergird and maintain capitalist production, changing in response to continual challenges and periodic escapes. “Capitalist accumulation is nothing other than primitive accumulation continued onto the shop floor, thus nothing other than a continuation of the modification of the violence begun with “bloody legislation” and the enclosure acts.”
The processes of enclosure are biopolitical phenomena. Enclosure acts – and is contested – upon the terrain of life and the body, at whatever moment in time it occurs. Originary or phylogenetic enclosure installed a new regime of the socio-historical articulation of life.
Ongoing or ontogenetic enclosure continues to intervene on the terrain of life, in attempt to continue the regime of articulation of life that is the capital relation. In the process of this intervention, and combat against this intervention, new arrangements of the capital relation do emerge. Still, these articulations of life retain a certain unity in that they are social relations in the form of the capital relation, and as such share a certain biopolitical consistency. Life’s access to means of subsistence via avenues other than by life’s functioning as the bearer of the commodity labor power face constant and ever changing attempts at threats and attacks. As such, there is no biopolitical phase of capitalism, in the sense of biopolitics given by Hardt and Negri. Capitalism is biopolitical qua capitalism. Rather than a dichotomy between biopolitical capitalism and nonbiopolitical capitalism, what is required instead is an apparatus for analyzing the relations of power – in the sense both of balance of forces and of specific apparatuses, processes, and strategies that take as their telos the (re)production of life in the form of the commodity labor power – as these relations vary historically and geographically. Also required is an analytical apparatus for understanding possibilities and moments of non- and anti-capitalist biopolitics. That is, there are articulations of life that exist within, against, and beyond variations of the form C(LP) which must be understood as part of their elaboration, defense, and circulation.
In other words, we require an understanding of the continuities and discontinuities within the history of class struggle and, above all, in the present. Hardt and Negri’s turn to biopolitics has a potential power in expanding our understanding of what constitutes class struggle in history and in the present, but if we are to conceptualize class struggle in terms of biopolitics – at least in Hardt and Negri’s sense of the term – then we must recognize that the analytical question is not one of biopolitical vs nonbiopolitical class struggle, but rather of inquiring into differently instantiated biopolitical (dis)orders within which antagonistic processes occur. In any case, given that Hardt and Negri’s political project seeks to ground itself on a biopolitical present distinct from a nonbiopolitical past, I can only conclude that they fail to give their project the foundation they hope to provide.
Biopolitical Friends and Enemies
As a final matter, I would like to speculate for a moment on why Hardt and Negri might articulate the position on biopolitics that they do. Paolo Virno, for example, deploys the term multitude as the name for a political project and human potentiality, but in a very different context. For Virno the multitude is not an incipient phenomenon but one that has been instantiated previously when conditions have been right. What is at stake for Hardt and Negri in the declaration of a new epoch? I suspect that this is not simply a mistake on their part. Rather, I suspect it is a rhetorical and political attempt to have some external effect. In the words of Carl Schmitt:
“[A]ll political concepts, images, and terms have a polemical meaning. They are focused on a specific conflict and are bound to a concrete situation; the result is a friend-enemy grouping, and they turn into empty and ghostlike abstractions when this situation disappears. Words such as state, republic, society, class, as well as sovereignty, constitutional state, absolutism, dictatorship, economic planning, neutral or total state, and so on, as incomprehensible if one does not know exactly who is affected, combated, refuted, or negated by such a term.”
That is to say, the categories of political thought are themselves political and potentially constitutive. Along these lines, it must be noted that the term ‘multitude’, the name that Hardt and Negri give their political project, had a currency in Italian social movements prior to the publication of Empire, as did the concept of Exodus which they hold up as the practice of the multitude. Negri and Hardt’s use of these concepts comes out of their being in a circulation of ideas with those movements, and may perhaps stand as an attempt to intervene in those circles, in order to impact the formation of collectivities and alliances of collectivities against capital and the state.
It is in this light that I find it interesting to note not only Hardt and Negri’s use of Schmitt, but the similarity in how Schmitt and Hardt 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 might friend-enemy grouping is forged.”
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.”
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’. They continue, “Class is a biopolitical concept that is at once economic and political. When we say biopolitical, furthermore, this also means that our understanding of labor cannot be limited to waged labor but must refer to human productive capacities in all their generality.”
This is a worthy sentiment, but there is no need for the self-limitation of its application solely to the present, unless there is some function to be played by this self-limitation. I suspect that the historical break that Hardt and Negri posit may be part of a Schmittian attempt to construct a political community through positing ours as a historically and politically ripe moment. Whether this is the maneuver they have in mind, I am not convinced, the preceding arguments make clear. It strikes me that every moment is ripe for its participants, and for whatever constitutive power Hardt and Negri’s declaration of a new epoch may possibly have, it comes at the cost of writing out of a history a number of important forbears in struggle. This declaration may also be motivated by a desire to avoid engaging critically with the wreckage and nightmare in the history of Marxism in the process of thinking through toward the present and the future. I am not sympathetic with either motivation, and I can think of no other motivation Hardt and Negri might have. Thus, while I agree with Hardt and Negri that “[w]hat is necessary is an audacious act of political imagination to break with the past,” I do not agree with the ways in which they seek to do so. This necessity has always been the political task of everyone alive at any moment ever in time, and Hardt and Negri’s seeming forgetting of this demonstrates that their’s is not an adequate account of the uses and abuses of history for life.
Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Bove, Arianna. “Notes on public discussion between Etienne Balibar and Antonio Negri on the constitution of Europe. Rome, June 2004.” Online, Internet, http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpbalibar3.htm [accessed 12/16/05]
The Commoner issue 2, September 2001. Online, Internet, http://www.commoner.org.uk/previous_issues.htm [accessed 2/28/05]
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa and Giovanna F. Dalla Costa. Paying The Price: Women and the Politic of International Economic Strategy. London: Zed Books, 1995.
Deleuze, Gilles “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. Online, Internet, http://www.n5m.org/n5m2/media/texts/deleuze.htm [accessed 12/16/05]
Deleuze, Gilles and Antonio Negri. “Control AND Becoming.” Online, Internet, http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpdeleuze3.htm [accessed 12/16/05]
Foucault, Michel.”The Birth of Social Medicine”, in Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Volume 3. New York: The New Press, 2000.
_____. “Omnes et Singulatim”, in Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Volume 3. New York: The New Press, 2000.
_____.”The Political Technology of Individual”, in Power: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Volume 3. New York: The New Press, 2000.
_____. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. New York: Vintage, 1990.
_____. Society Must Be Defended. New York: Picador, 2003.
Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia, 2004
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
_____. Multitude. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004
Kelly, Mark.”Racism, Nationalism and Biopolitics: Foucault’s Society Must Be Defended”, Contretemps 4, September 2004, p59. Online, Internet, http://www.usyd.edu.au/contretemps/4september2004/Kelly.pdf [accessed 12/16/05]
Linebaugh, Peter. “Magna Charta and Practical Communism”. Address given at the centenary of the Industrial Workers of the World, Chicago, June 2005.
Marx, Karl. Grundrisse. Translated by Martin Nicolaus. New York: Vintage, 1973
_____. Capital Volume 1. Translated by Samule Moore and Edward Avelineg. New York: International Publishers, 1975.
_____. Capital Volume 2. New York: International Publishers, 1981
Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics.” Translated by Libby Meintjes, Public Culture, Volume 15, Number 1 (Winter 2003). Online, Internet, http://www.newschool.edu/gf/publicculture/backissues/pc39/mbembenecro.html [accessed 12/16/05]
Midnight Notes. The New Enclosures. Online, Internet,
http://www.midnightnotes.org/newenclos.html [accessed 2/23/05]
Negri, Antonio, and Anne Dufourmantelle. Negri on Negri. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Panzieri, Raniero. “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx Versus the Objectivists.” Online, Internet, http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/panzieri.html [accessed 12/16/05]
_____. “Surplus value and planning: notes on the reading of ‘Capital’.”Online, Internet, http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/surplus_value.html [accessed 12/16/05]
Rabinow, Paul and Nikolas Rose. “Thoughts On The Concept Of Biopower Today”. Online, Internet, http://www.molsci.org/files/Rose_Rabinow_Biopower_Today.pdf [accessed 12/16/05]
Read, Jason. The Micropolitics of Capital. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003
_____. “Primitive Accumulation: The Aleatory Foundation Of Capitalism.” Rethinking Marxism, Summer 2002, Volume 14, Number 2, pgs 24-49.
Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Translated by George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Virno, Paolo. “General intellect, exodus, multitude.” Interview conducted by Colectivo Sitauciones. Online, Internet, http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpvirno2.htm [accessed 12/19/05]
Interview with Paolo Virno
Wright, Steve. Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism. London: Pluto Press, 2002
_____. “A Party of Autonomy?” Online, Internet, http://www.endpage.org/Archives/Subversive_Texts/Wright_S/A_Party_of_
Autonomy.xhtml [accessed 8/17/04]
Marx, Grundrisse, 159.
The expansion of the field of value production using the terms biopolitics and biopower in many ways repeats earlier arguments about the ‘social factory’ within the Italian Marxist tradition of operaismo. The best English language source on this tradition is Steve Wright’s Storming Heaven. Negri is the most prominent theorist in this constellation within the English-speaking world. Another work that I am trying to respond to in this paper is Jason Read’s The Micropolitics of Capital. Read deftly makes use of the theoretical constellation of (post)operaismo while at the same time exemplifying some of the tensions within it.
One could of course contest this. Reasons of space do not permit me to make an argument here for why these social sites are inherently potentially explosive, nor to argue against a view that would see them as otherwise. My sole rejoinder here is that to my mind the burden of proof is on the exponents of a theory of inert social relations, to prove that their position has any utility for either explaining or engaging in activities of struggle and organization.
Hardt and Negri, Empire, 24.
Quoted in Empire, 27. This typifies a strange blind-spot within much of Hardt and Negri’s work. They frequently take their most interesting claims to refer to novelties about the present, when these claims are actually more coherent and interesting if taken as innovations true for the entire history of capitalist production.
Various Foucaultians have criticized Hardt and Negri’s reading of Foucault for this reason. For these authors Hardt and Negri’s use of the term is also less analytically useful than Foucault’s. See, for example, Rabinow and Rose, “Thoughts On The Concept Of Biopower Today”, and Kelly, “Racism, Nationalism and Biopolitics: Foucault’s Society Must Be Defended”.
See Empire, p22-23. See also Negri’s interview with Deleuze, “control AND becoming” and Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control”.
Wright, Storming Heaven, “A Party of Autonomy?” and personal communications.
Hardt and Negri, Multitude, 109.
Negri and Dufourmantelle, Negri On Negri, p60-62. There is a double meaning in this quote not indicated in the English. What is translated as work force, meaning a determinate set of people in a given workplace or labor market, also has the same meaning as labor power in the Marxian sense.
Negri On Negri, p117.
To my mind it would make more sense to speak of a new regime of biopolitics in contemporary capitalism, as distinct from a prior regime of biopolitics, rather than a transition from a capitalism that is not biopolitical in Hardt and Negri’s sense to one that is biopolitical.
Foucault, “The Birth of Social Medicine”, 137.
This is precisely the objection that Rabinow and Rose make to Hardt and Negri, and to Agamben, that they expand the concept of biopolitics to such a point that it includes nearly everything and thus has not analytical utility. I am not sure I agree with their claim, but it does seem valid to say that analyses of biopolitics need to be more fine-grained than declarations that something is or is not biopolitical. The exact same point holds for accounts of value production within Marxism.
Raniero Panzieri, “Marx Versus The Objectivists”. It should also be noted that Panzieri attacks the received Marxist antithesis between planning and capitalism, arguing instead that the labor process under capitalism requires planning. See “Surplus Value and Planning”.
For Virno, unlike many other commentators, biopolitics derives from labor power: “The biopolitical is only an effect derived from the concept of labor-power. When there is a commodity that is called labor-power it is already implicitly the government over life. Agamben says, on the other hand, that labor-power is only one of the aspects of the biopolitical; I say the contrary: over all because labor power is a paradoxical commodity because it is not a real commodity like a book or a bottle of water, but rather is simply the potential to produce. As soon as it is transformed into a commodity the potential, then, it is necessary to govern the living body that mantains this potential, that contains this potential.” (Colectivo Situaciones, “Entrevista con Paolo Virno”, my translation.) I do not see how biopolitics in general could be derived from labor power, nor do I see what is at stake in the question of causal priority, but these are matters for another argument. There is important an point here, however, which is that the commodity labor power is immediately biopolitical from its moment of inception.
Marx, “Introduction”, p26 of Volume 28 of the Collected Works.
I do not mean this as any type of claim about what Marx actually meant, though that type of marxology is sorely tempting, at least for me. Marxology is a labyrinth from which it is easy to never leave, wherein every claim is always subject to endless counter-readings and deployments of additional biblio- and bio-graphical minutiae from Marx’s works and life. Even should a final account of Marx’s own interpretation of his work be someday produced, one could still make the basic point that the author’s own reading need not be the only or the most important one to which a text is subject.
Capital Volume 1, 167
Capital Volume 1, 167
I say ‘day’ to indicate workday, but the quantity of time need not be fixed to that amount of time. It can be at whatever average regular rate the exchange C(LP)-M(W)-C(MS) takes place. This rate of exchange can itself be a political factor bound up with conflicts around and against waged labor, both at the small scale and more macro-levels. For instance, a move toward standardized pay every two weeks and direct deposit can be a means to eliminate accounting staff, as well as further reinforcing the relations of power around interest rates and credit ratings.
Federici, Caliban and the Witch, 141.
Foucault, History of Sexuality Volume 1, 139.
Foucault, History of Sexuality Volume 1, 147.
In this sense, the waged labor of prostitution and the unwaged sexual activities of housewives (which, at a minimum, are certainly unremunerated or non-monetarily remunerated labor at least some of the time) stand as key sites for the interrogation of both Marx and of Foucault, and, more importantly, of the constellations of power relations that both of them criticized.
Capital Volume 1, 233.
This is one way to read the tremendously racist discourses and damaging policy decisions around the dismantling of the welfare state in the US. President Reagan’s mythical ‘welfare queen’ is a figure who was, essentially, producing life that was considered not productive, her own and those of her children who were considered excess and ultimately disposable populations.
Foucault “Omnes et Singulatim”, 320.
Foucault, “The Political Technology of Individuals”, p416. In his discussions on biopolitics Foucault recognizes that the power over life characteristic of biopolitics and biopower does not eliminate the power over death that characterizes sovereign power. Biopower’s pairing with sovereign retains and perhaps even perfects the latter. The quote continues immediately: “Since the population is nothing more than what the state takes care of for its own sake, of course, the state is entitled to slaughter it, if necessary. So the reverse of biopolitics is thanatopolitics.” Giorgio Agamben and Achille Mbembe have detailed some of the ways in which contemporary capitalism might characterized as being as much thanatopolitical or necropolitical as it is biopolitical.
Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 244.
Capital Volume 1, 275.
“Productive consumption (…) includes the individual consumption of the labourer, since labour-power is a continuous product, within certain limits, of the labourer’s consumption”. Capital Volume 2, 93. Large sections of Marx’s work, such as the discussion on the working day, living conditions, machinery, and legislation can be read as Marx analyzing the histories of the means by which the state and capitalists obtained knowledge (via institutions such as the factory inspectors), made decisions about (parliamentary debate and testimony by capitalists), and enacted (machinery, violence, legislation, practices of factory owners) the biopolitical managment of the working class. To be clear, of course, the working class entered into these processes, though not as a conversation partner. The discourses of the capitalists and government were driven by class conflict, both in the drive to pass legislation and to implement new machinery: “It would be possible to write quite a history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class.” (Capital Volume 1, 436.)
Capital Volume 2, 28.
Capital Volume 2, 35.
Foucault, History of Sexuality Volume 1, 144.
Dallacosta, Paying The Price, 4.
Caliban and the Witch, 8.
The electronic journal The Commoner featured a treatment of primitive accumulation and enclosure that is worth further attention than it has thus far gotten. See http://www.commoner.org.uk” http://www.commoner.org.uk.
Grundrisse, 96. Marx makes a similar remark on p31 of Capital Volume2, where he writes that the basis for capitalism is “not distribution in the ordinary meaning of a distribution of articles of consumption, but the distribution of the elements of production itself, the material factors of which are concentrated on one side, and labour-power, isolated, on the other.”
Read, “Primitive Accumulation”, 38.
I would like to reiterate two points here, briefly. First, it took a great deal of time before the compulsion to sell labor power was installed with the relative, though of course contested, stability which it has had since the genesis of capitalism: “It takes centuries ere the ‘free’ laborer (…) is compelled by social conditions to sell the whole of his active life, his very capacity for work, for the price of the necessaries of life” (Capital Volume 1, 271.) Second, the outcome of this protracted and conflictual process did not have a foregone conclusion, but rather was the aleatory result of antagonistic struggles. Jason Read has argued that the non-predetermined outcome of the processes of primitive accumulation makes that category a key point of purchase for re-reading Marx, and using Marxian theory to read social relations, along the lines of the aleatory materialism proposed by the late Althusser. See Read, The Micropolitics of Capital, and “Primitive Accumulation”.
Mariarosa Dallacosta’s book Paying The Price, and a great deal of the work of the Midnight Notes Collective – some whose members contributed to Dallacosta’s book both draw upon and extend the marxian analysis of primitive accumulation in order to analyze contemporary global capitalism.
I am fond of the metaphor of ‘commons’ a general term for forms of life that exist(ed) – either actually or potentially – some instantiation other than those of the capital relation. As the historian Peter Linebaugh has noted, however, it is probably best not to simply focus on the term ‘commons’ as a name for all unenclosed/uncommodified labor power and means of subsistence, but rather our attention is better placed upon processes of ‘commoning’ enacted in different ways and in different places throughout history.
(Linebaugh, “Magna Charta and Practical Communism”.)
I am not yet able to articulate what this historical understanding would look like, other than in a negative sense, in the form of rejection of other understandings of history. As I hope is clear, I am interested in the possibilities for historical understanding provided by Foucault and Federici. There are other such resources that I am trying to understand in the work of Benjamin, Ranciere, and Virno.
Paolo Virno, for example, deploys the term multitude in his work, but in a very different context. For Virno the multitude is not an incipient phenomenon but one that has been instantiated previously when conditions have been right.
Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, 30-31.
See, for example, the 1997 piece ” Un mundo… muchos mundos: globalización, éxodos y multitudes
Repensar la acción política antagonista por una nueva carta de derechos” circulated by the Ya Basta network for a discussion of multitude and exodus within Italian movement circles. See also Steve Wright, “Confronting the crisis of ‘fordism’: Italian debates around social transition” for a fuller treatment of debates dating from 1990 onward around the category of exodus and the political practices connected with it within the Italian left.
Interestingly enough, in another context Etienne Balibar commented to Negri in regard to the latter’s support for the EU constitution “You have become completely Schmittian,” because Negri felt that the EU constitution offered a chance to impact the formation of another global power that could stand against the US. Quoted in Arianna Bove, “Notes on public discussion between Etienne Balibar and Antonio Negri on the constitution of Europe. Rome, June 2004.”
The Concept of the Political, 74.