Towards a Socialist Art of Government: Michel Foucault’s “The Mesh of Power”

Introduction | TranslationOriginal

How sur­pris­ing the events of May 1968 must have seemed to Michel Fou­cault is sug­gest­ed by a remark made to his life-long part­ner Daniel Defert in Jan­u­ary of that year, fol­low­ing his nom­i­na­tion for a fac­ul­ty posi­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Paris Nan­ter­re. “Strange how the­se stu­dents speak of their rela­tions with profs in terms of class war.”1 Inter­pre­ta­tions of this remark will reveal a lot about one’s received image of the late philoso­pher. Among fig­ures of the New Left he had earned a rep­u­ta­tion as an anti-Marx­ist for dis­parag­ing pub­lic com­ments about Jean-Paul Sartre, and the appar­ent here­sies of Les mots et les choses (1966).2 A younger gen­er­a­tion of left-lean­ing intel­lec­tu­als, activists, and agi­ta­tors, exposed only to lat­er por­traits of the rad­i­cal philoso­pher – the author of Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish (1974), mega­phone in hand, rub­bing shoul­ders with Sartre and oth­er ultra-gauchis­tes at protests in the streets of Paris – will prob­a­bly find the con­fes­sion dis­con­cert­ing. Is it pos­si­ble that he was tak­en off guard by the polit­i­cal sparks that would set alight le mou­ve­ment du 22 mars? He did, after all, arrive in Paris post fes­tum, par­tic­i­pat­ing in some of the final ral­lies at the Sor­bon­ne in late June.

I prefer to read the remark as a know­ing reflec­tion on the pecu­liar­i­ty of priv­i­leged Nan­ter­re stu­dents, rep­re­sent­ing them­selves as some rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­le­tar­i­an sub­ject, locked in a bat­tle with their pro­fes­sors as though the lat­ter owned the means of pro­duc­tion. As if to draw out the con­se­quences of this con­tra­dic­tion, by 1969 Fou­cault began using the lan­guage of class strug­gle in polit­i­cal dis­cus­sions, and pub­licly declar­ing the “retour à Marx” as the spir­it of his age.3 Foucault’s polit­i­cal makeover occurred among a group of Trot­sky­ist stu­dents at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tunis where he was teach­ing phi­los­o­phy in 1968. The young Tunisians inspired him to brush up on the clas­sics of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism from Marx’s own work to Rosa Lux­em­burg, in addi­tion to pop­u­lar fig­ures of the New Left, includ­ing Che Gue­vara and the Black Pan­thers.4 Reflect­ing back on this year of strikes, course sus­pen­sions, occu­pa­tions, arrests, impris­on­ments and tor­ture in Tunisia, Fou­cault admired the moral ener­gy and exis­ten­tial charge of his stu­dents’ Marx­ist iden­ti­fi­ca­tion more than its rig­or or pre­ci­sion. Revers­ing his ear­lier posi­tion on the his­tor­i­cal obso­les­cence of Marx, he had been con­vinced “that myth was nec­es­sary. A polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy or a polit­i­cal per­cep­tion of the world, of human rela­tions and sit­u­a­tions was absolute­ly nec­es­sary to begin the strug­gle.”5

The­se remarks imme­di­ate­ly recall Sorel, rather than Marx; how­ev­er, is it going too far to sug­gest that Fou­cault sought to cap­ture the polit­i­cal imag­i­nary of his day by spin­ning a new myth, an alter­nate “polit­i­cal per­cep­tion of the world” with his con­cep­tu­al unfold­ing of the term “pow­er?”6 After all, Foucault’s key insight in this regard – pow­er is pro­duc­tive rather than repres­sive; indi­vid­u­al­i­ty is itself the pro­duct of a his­tor­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion of pow­er – is not some world-weary warn­ing about the ruse of his­to­ry. It is not to say that “pow­er always wins.” In fact, it is a research agen­da: try to his­tor­i­cal­ly val­i­date the hypoth­e­sis accord­ing to which every­where pow­er has crushed some­one in its gears, or men­aced peo­ple with guns and over­seers, it has done so pre­cise­ly because that indi­vid­u­al or group pre­sent­ed some essen­tial threat to the exer­cise of that pow­er. The oppressed, Fou­cault argues, also make use of an immense “net­work of pow­er.” They are not pas­sive vic­tims of a his­tor­i­cal process; in fact, pow­er is his­tor­i­cal­ly con­tin­gent. The resis­tance of the oppressed has shaped the present orga­ni­za­tion of pow­er. Rev­o­lu­tion, accord­ing to this view, is a rare bird indeed.7

Such polit­i­cal reflec­tions may be cyn­i­cal, but they are not alto­geth­er for­eign from the Marx­ist polit­i­cal tra­di­tion of thought. For instance, some of the above for­mu­la­tions are remark­ably sim­i­lar to the lessons Ben­jam­in gleans from the his­to­ry of the oppressed, includ­ing his idea of the “weak mes­sian­ic pow­er” of rev­o­lu­tion­ary pos­si­bil­i­ty.8Through­out Foucault’s career, he was atten­tive to the voic­es of the oppressed. His writ­ten work and its bib­li­o­graph­ic sources are scan­dalous pre­cise­ly to the extent that he gives less space to mas­ter thinkers – Ben­tham, Marx, Freud, Decartes, Smith, Machi­avel­li, Rousseau – than to long-for­got­ten voic­es unearthed from volu­mi­nous time spent in libraries. The­se were also Marx and Benjamin’s pre­ferred meth­ods. Fou­cault fond­ly referred to it as the “warm freema­son­ry of use­less eru­di­tion.” Although he immersed him­self in the heights of West­ern thought, he was far more like­ly to write a book about a late-19th cen­tu­ry her­maph­ro­dite like Her­cu­line Barbin, than some more explic­it expo­si­tion or com­men­tary on the thought which con­sti­tut­ed his ground. Detect­ing his intel­lec­tu­al influ­ences demands care­ful read­ing.

Given that Foucault’s par­tic­u­larstar rose at the start of the mass media age, dur­ing France’s trente glo­rieuses, it is pos­si­ble that he craft­ed ambiva­lent con­cepts and catch­phras­es with pre­cise­ly this vast­ly expand­ed pow­er of media out­lets in mind. It would be a mis­take to assume that he did not fore­see the dif­fi­cul­ties of phi­los­o­phiz­ing with a word that invokes the stuff of super­sti­tion. In stark con­trast to the Frank­furt School and Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tion­al, Fou­cault refrained from crit­i­ciz­ing mass media tech­nolo­gies and con­sid­ered them as most­ly neu­tral instru­ments, which broad­ened the field of dis­cur­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties. This was prob­a­bly due to the fact that he was able to nav­i­gate and manip­u­late this media appa­ra­tus so deft­ly as a pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al, fore­shad­ow­ing the rise of the much-loathed, tele­vi­sion-ready nou­veau philosophe. How­ev­er, this too is a prin­ci­pled stance. Foucault’s method­ol­o­gy resists divi­sions between “high” and “low” cul­tur­al forms: Ben­tham is just as like­ly to betray his era’s par­a­digm of pun­ish­ment as the plan for a Quak­er pris­on in Penn­syl­va­nia or the mun­dane dai­ly rou­tine from a pris­on in the French provinces. With Machi­avel­li in mind, Fou­cault calls this “the local cyn­i­cism of pow­er.”9

Foucault’s thought about pow­er must first be sit­u­at­ed with­in his con­junc­ture and our own if we want to artic­u­late his con­cep­tu­al prob­lems and grasp their stakes. The­se con­tex­tu­al moves will help us unlearn the way his thought was received and recon­struct­ed. To uncov­er the ratio­nal ker­nel of his sweep­ing his­tor­i­cal argu­ment will require de-empha­siz­ing his descrip­tive lan­guage, which was often quite beau­ti­ful but has a ten­den­cy to dis­tract. He often rhetor­i­cal­ly dis­tanced him­self from his own neol­o­gisms, treat­ing them as index­i­cal place­hold­ers for a thought rather than as rig­or­ous the­o­riza­tions. As a cipher for unlock­ing this admit­ted­ly par­tic­u­lar read­ing of Fou­cault, I offer a trans­la­tion of “Les mailles de pou­voir” – “The Mesh of Pow­er” – which for rea­sons that still remain obscure is absent from all Eng­lish-lan­guage edi­tions of Foucault’s “col­lect­ed works.”

Orig­i­nal­ly deliv­ered in two install­ments at the Fed­er­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Bahia in 1976, Foucault’s words were record­ed on cas­set­te tapes, tran­scribed and pub­lished as a text, first appear­ing in Por­tuge­se, and trans­lat­ed back into French for pub­li­ca­tion in Dits et écrits– now deliv­ered to you in Eng­lish, via the Inter­net. The “mesh” of a net of pow­er, the size or gauge of its holes, is a par­tic­u­lar­ly apt metaphor in the Inter­net age, res­onat­ing with the­se new kinds of cap­ture and slip­page.10 The trans­mis­sion of this pur­loined let­ter to you is itself the result of the devel­op­ment of tech­nolo­gies that have made it eas­ier to cir­cu­late what Fou­cault once ter­med dis­cours veridique, par­rhe­sia, or truth­ful speech. Indeed, Foucault’s work from the late 1970s reach­es us like a tick­ing time bomb from some for­got­ten past, threat­en­ing to explode a whole set of assump­tions about the uni­ty and dis­uni­ty of his thought, reveal­ing new insights and lim­i­ta­tions.

Sit­u­at­ing Foucault’s Intel­lec­tu­al Cri­sis andThe Mesh of Pow­er

The “polit­i­cal turn” of 1969 and the late “eth­i­cal turn” towards the “care of the self” are wide­ly cit­ed episodes in the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of Fou­cault. This peri­odiza­tion pro­vides a neat tri­par­tite divi­sion of his work into ear­ly, mid­dle and late. In the sec­ondary lit­er­a­ture, the­se turns are not­ed, but their caus­es remain obscure. Few have attempt­ed a rea­soned and well-argued recon­struc­tion of their sig­nif­i­cance, and most stud­ies of the sub­ject com­pen­sate for such lacu­nae with gos­sip and spec­u­la­tion.

The­se dif­fi­cul­ties have only been com­pound­ed by prob­lems of recep­tion. French his­to­ri­an François Cus­set con­sid­ers the “Amer­i­can adven­ture with French The­o­ry” to be a para­dox of com­par­a­tive intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry; although “Der­ri­da, Fou­cault and Deleuze & co.” were embraced on this side of the Atlantic and pack­aged togeth­er “for what was seen as their anti-Marx­ism… they were banned from their home coun­try under the charges of a per­verse col­lu­sion with the worst of left­ist Marx­ism.”11

For var­i­ous rea­sons, the Amer­i­can recep­tion of Fou­cault emerged as the hege­mon­ic one, and his con­cepts have crys­tal­lized into so many polit­i­cal ontolo­gies – “nor­ma­tiv­i­ty” in queer the­o­ry, “biopol­i­tics” and war in the works of Gior­gio Agam­ben, Michael Hardt and Anto­nio Negri – but none of the­se ontolo­gies responds to our polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic hori­zon of low or no-growth cap­i­tal­ism and its impli­ca­tions for state pow­er, social insti­tu­tions, and resis­tance strug­gles. Indeed, the peri­od char­ac­ter­ized by bub­ble­nomics, osten­si­ble ero­sions of state sov­er­eign­ty and the dif­fuse resis­tance offered by alter-globo and anti-war mul­ti­tudes, which once gave the­se Fou­cauldian assess­ments of the con­junc­ture a cer­tain bite in the late 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, has now cap­sized into a sit­u­a­tion of eco­nom­ic melt­down, con­sol­i­da­tions of old-fash­ioned class pow­er, sov­er­eign debt crises, uneven reasser­tions of Euro-Amer­i­can mil­i­tary might and emer­gent strug­gles over aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures in the US and Europe alongside pop­u­lar rebel­lions again­st author­i­tar­i­an regimes in the Mid­dle East.

The Amer­i­can hey­day of French The­o­ry now appears like a blip on the radar between the eco­nom­ic down­turn, debt cri­sis, youth unem­ploy­ment and Mideast upris­ings of the 1970s, which was Foucault’s con­junc­ture, and the eco­nom­ic chain reac­tion set off by the Amer­i­can banks in 2008, polit­i­cal upheavals,youth unem­ploy­ment and Arab Spring which con­sti­tutes our own. His polit­i­cal thought from this ear­lier peri­od of eco­nom­ic cri­sis – espe­cial­ly his thought con­cern­ing neolib­er­al­ism as an emer­gent art of gov­ern­ment for man­ag­ing the cri­sis ten­den­cies of cap­i­tal – mer­it a care­ful reap­praisal in light of the present con­junc­ture.

Most cru­cial­ly for a reassess­ment of Foucault’s thought, all of his pub­lic lec­tures at the Col­lège de France have now been published.These lessons, which had pre­vi­ous­ly cir­cu­lat­ed on bootleg cas­settes with­in a lim­it­ed milieu of con­nois­seurs, have now become a pub­lic record of Foucault’s intel­lec­tu­al tra­jec­to­ry from 1971 to his death in 1984. Although his will stip­u­lat­ed that there were to be “no posthu­mous pub­li­ca­tions” and Fou­cault admit­ted to being “aller­gic” to the record­ing devices clut­ter­ing his lectern, he under­stood their impor­tance: “word always gets out,” he affirms in a lec­ture from 1976.12 Indeed, with the­se pub­li­ca­tions, his lessons are no longer sub­ject to the dem­a­goguery and occul­ta­tion that so fre­quent­ly accom­pa­nies arcana. The can­did form of the lec­tures reveals a remark­able tran­si­tion­al peri­od from 1976 to 1979 in which Fou­cault expe­ri­enced a pro­found intel­lec­tu­al cri­sis and began a project of self-crit­i­cism, before turn­ing to the more eth­i­cal con­cerns that would char­ac­ter­ize his late peri­od.

We may now be in the posi­tion to eval­u­ate the intel­lec­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance of this moment, and ven­ture a guess as to why the ever-pro­lific Fou­cault stopped pub­lish­ing from 1976 to 1983.13 Does the thought that emerges from this peri­od of intel­lec­tu­al cri­sis and self-crit­i­cism bring into focus the insights and lim­i­ta­tions of Foucault’s ear­lier attempts to the­o­rize power?Does his empha­sis upon prob­lems of state­craft, his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness, and polit­i­cal econ­o­my dur­ing this peri­od rep­re­sent a depar­ture from or a cul­mi­na­tion of his ear­lier stud­ies of the inter­nal phys­iog­no­my of insti­tu­tions such as the mil­i­tary, pris­ons, med­i­cine and psy­chi­a­try?

No mat­ter how many col­lege fresh­men have their minds blown by a vir­ginal voy­age through Foucault’s work, his prob­lem­at­ic and its famil­iar con­stel­la­tion of sexy neol­o­gisms, “biopol­i­tics,” “panop­ti­cism,” and “gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty,” not to men­tion the dark atmos­pher­ics of a fine­ly-meshed “net­work of pow­er” in which “there is no out­side,” have been in cir­cu­la­tion for near­ly thir­ty-five years.These terms have accret­ed a mean­ing that can­not be found in the orig­i­nal copy. This lan­guage and its many polit­i­cal valances – lib­er­al, anar­chist, rad­i­cal – has gone in and out of fash­ion. The vin­tage of most “The­o­ry peo­ple” can be ascer­tained from their pre­ferred (or loathed) Fou­cauldian jar­gon. Per­haps with some dis­tance from this peri­od, we are now in a posi­tion to eval­u­ate his remark­able and oscil­lat­ing attempts to think pol­i­tics with­out recourse to bour­geois con­cep­tu­al­iza­tions of the state, law or rights.His old ene­mies – psy­chi­a­try, uni­ver­si­ties, pris­ons, human­ism, rights dis­course, and the remorse­less com­pul­sion to give an account of one’s sex­u­al­i­ty – have con­tin­ued to pro­lif­er­ate and expand alongside the grow­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of his analy­ses of them.This para­dox­i­cal sit­u­a­tion arous­es the sus­pi­cion that the­se insti­tu­tions of pow­er are not threat­ened by the attempt to reawak­en the his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry of their entry into the world, drip­ping with blood and dirt.In the absence of the social move­ments that once con­test­ed the­se insti­tu­tions, Foucault’s his­tor­i­cal pre­sen­ta­tion up through the mid 1970s risks becom­ing a con­fessed cri­tique, an advanced kind of agi­ta­tion and pro­pa­gan­da for a strug­gle that expe­ri­enced defeat and pyrrhic vic­to­ries.

This con­clu­sion may be pre­ma­ture, but Fou­cault admit­ted as much around the time that he deliv­ered “Mesh of Pow­er” to rad­i­cal stu­dents in Brazil. While edit­ing the final proofs of His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty, vol­ume 1, Fou­cault pub­licly pro­fessed to his audi­tors, as stu­dents are called at the Col­lège de France, that he was suf­fer­ing some­thing of an intel­lec­tu­al cri­sis. In his first lec­ture of 1976, Fou­cault begins the course by ques­tion­ing both the rel­e­vance and coher­ence of his intel­lec­tu­al project. He wor­ries that his research agen­da “had no con­ti­nu­ity” and was “always falling into the same rut, the same themes, the same con­cepts,” ulti­mate­ly fear­ing that “it’s all lead­ing us nowhere.” Char­ac­ter­iz­ing his genealog­i­cal method as an “insur­rec­tion of knowl­edges” again­st “sci­en­tific dis­course embod­ied in the Uni­ver­si­ty” – and here the attack on his old men­tor, Louis Althusser, is bare­ly con­cealed – Fou­cault con­fronts the his­toric­i­ty of his own thought and the shift­ing cul­tur­al sta­tus of both the Uni­ver­si­ty and Marx­ism in France. He states that his work “was quite in keep­ing with a cer­tain peri­od; with the very lim­it­ed peri­od we have been liv­ing through for the last ten or fif­teen years.” A cer­tain num­ber of “changes in the con­junc­ture” sug­gest to him that “per­haps the bat­tle no longer looks quite the same.”14

Such sober assess­ments give one pause. Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish had just been pub­lished the pre­vi­ous year to great acclaim fol­low­ing an intense peri­od of activism around pris­ons in France. The activ­i­ties of the Pris­on Infor­ma­tion Group (Groupe d’information sur les pris­ons, GIP) brought about suc­cess­ful reforms of France’s sen­tenc­ing prac­tices and penal sys­tem by foment­ing an unprece­dent­ed wave of pris­on strikes, forc­ing the appa­ra­tus to become more open and trans­par­ent. In autumn of 1971, twen­ty pris­ons across France simul­ta­ne­ous­ly explod­ed into open revolt again­st their cages and mas­ters.

The suc­cess of the GIP was due in large part to the fact that many of its agi­ta­tors had them­selves been impris­oned for polit­i­cal activ­i­ties – thus the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary activ­i­ty by the French state wound up politi­ciz­ing crime.15 In a curi­ous­ly Maoist adap­ta­tion of the tra­di­tion of worker’s inquiries, the GIP smug­gled sur­veys to pris­on­ers to dis­cov­er weak points in the sys­tem and find out what demands they would make for their reform or abo­li­tion. Pris­on­ers forced anal­o­gous reforms in the US, due to the resis­tance and lit­i­ga­tion of mem­bers of the Nation of Islam who estab­lished an unprece­dent­ed jurispru­dence per­tain­ing to prisoner’s rights in the 1970s.16 Dur­ing this era, French pris­ons per­mit­ted no vis­i­tors, unlike Amer­i­can pris­ons, and remained some­thing of an infor­ma­tion black hole. Fou­cault first vis­it­ed a pris­on while in the US; he toured the Atti­ca Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty fol­low­ing its upris­ing and repres­sion.

Due to his grow­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty, Foucault’s pub­lic lec­tures had become so uncom­fort­able and over-crowd­ed as to per­mit lit­tle exchange or con­tact with students.Politically, the heady days of post-68 French ultra-gauchis­me and “new social move­ments” had begun to wane. The milieu with whom Fou­cault had orga­nized and demon­strat­ed in the ear­ly sev­en­ties began to dis­solve. Some of the­se Maoist com­rades became the nou­veaux philosoph­es, celebri­ty aca­d­e­mics pre­oc­cu­pied with total­i­tar­i­an­ism or the­o­log­i­cal con­cerns, cit­ing Fou­cault him­self as their inspi­ra­tion. The Stal­in­ized Marx­ism of the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty (Par­tie com­mu­nis­te française, PCF) had also begun to decom­pose. The PCF had entered an alliance with François Mitterand’s new Social­ist Par­ty, (Par­tie social­is­te, PS), sign­ing a com­mon pro­gram­me in 1973. The PCF aban­doned all ref­er­ences to the “dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at” and was forced to reeval­u­ate the lega­cy of Lenin dur­ing the 1976 firestorm sur­round­ing the French pub­li­ca­tion of Alek­san­dr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Arch­i­pel­ago, which detailed the abus­es of the Sovi­et Union’s forced labor system.The alliance between the PCF and PS would pro­pel Mit­ter­rand into the pres­i­den­cy in 1981.All of this amount­ed to a tec­ton­ic shift in the intel­lec­tu­al and polit­i­cal ter­rain of the post-68 Left in France.

The con­junc­ture com­ing to a close in the mid-1970s had opened with the Alge­ri­an War of Inde­pen­dence in 1954, which did more to negate than con­struct a field of pol­i­tics and intel­lec­tu­al activ­i­ty in France – Sartre, de Beau­voir and Les temps mod­er­nes were excep­tions in this regard. Reports of the bru­tal­i­ty and tor­ture of the gen­darmes were a major blow to the tra­di­tion of la République and its sup­pos­ed­ly uni­ver­sal val­ues.17 Fol­low­ing the 1957 Bat­tle of Algiers, 1958 coup d’etat and mil­i­tary jun­ta in Alge­ria, the col­lapse of the Fourth Repub­lic, and Charles de Gaulle’s return to the head of a much strength­ened exec­u­tive pow­er, the non-Com­mu­nist left was argu­ing that the Com­mu­nist and Social­ist par­ties had failed to use their moral and polit­i­cal high ground fol­low­ing the resis­tance to Nazi occu­pa­tion to estab­lish a clear direc­tion and pro­gram. Accord­ing to this view, they no longer rep­re­sent­ed the his­tor­i­cal inter­ests or con­scious­ness of the French work­ing class. Cit­ing the aston­ish­ing­ly low union mem­ber­ship in France and the wild­cat strikes of ‘53 and ‘55, André Gia­comet­ti writes that “[t]he bulk of the work­ers is unor­ga­nized, and the real life of the work­ing-class takes place out­side of their scope.”18 Spon­tane­ity was, in keep­ing with long-stand­ing polit­i­cal lega­cy of French rad­i­cal­ism, still the nation’s only rev­o­lu­tion­ary hope. Sartre and oth­er mem­bers of the non-Com­mu­nist left saw the party’s sup­port of the Sovi­et Union’s inter­ven­tion in Hun­gary and the party’s tac­it endorse­ment of the Alge­ri­an War as evi­dence of either a con­ser­v­a­tive turn in the tra­di­tion­al French work­ing class or a reformist and inte­gra­tionist turn of its offi­cial polit­i­cal organs, or both. Many intel­lec­tu­als of the non-Com­mu­nist left no longer con­sid­ered “the Par­ty” to be a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject. In this regard, Althusser was the excep­tion.

The rapid expan­sion of the uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem dur­ing the post­war eco­nom­ic and demo­graph­ic boom, along with oppo­si­tion to the Viet­nam War, had estab­lished a new polit­i­cal actor that would become essen­tial to the strug­gle in 1968: youth in gen­er­al, and stu­dents in par­tic­u­lar. An increas­ing­ly edu­cat­ed pop­u­la­tion cre­at­ed an his­tor­i­cal­ly unprece­dent­ed mar­ket for cul­tur­al jour­nal­ism, which lent non-par­ty intel­lec­tu­als greater pow­er and influence.The non-par­ty Marx­ist tra­di­tion in France, as rep­re­sent­ed by the work of Social­is­me ou Bar­barie and the Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tion­al, had reached the con­clu­sion that rev­o­lu­tion­ary agi­ta­tion would have to out­flank estab­lished unions and par­ties if it was to gal­va­nize the pop­u­la­tion.

Decol­o­niza­tion strug­gles and polit­i­cal break­throughs in the Third World, above all Chi­na and Cuba, led to sig­nif­i­cant revi­sions of the the­o­ry of revolution.Regis Debray pub­lished Rev­o­lu­tion in the Rev­o­lu­tion in 1967, propos­ing foquis­mo– a viral the­o­ry of how an armed rev­o­lu­tion­ary van­guard could dis­trib­ute hotbeds of dis­con­tent through­out a pop­u­la­tion, foment­ing a gen­er­al fever of insur­rec­tion – based on the Che Guevara’s expe­ri­ence of guer­ril­la war­fare dur­ing the 1959 Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion. Beneath the ban­ner of a “rev­o­lu­tion in every­day life” and a renewed empha­sis upon the con­cept of alien­ation, Marx­ism became a the­o­ret­i­cal home for new social move­ments. The events of May 1968 dove­tailed the­se already exist­ing polit­i­cal cur­rents.

After May-June 1968, the rev­o­lu­tion was no longer con­sid­ered a mat­ter of con­test­ing the own­er­ship of the means of pro­duc­tion alone. State-man­aged cap­i­tal­ism was not a solu­tion to the social prob­lems iden­ti­fied by the new rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. The divi­sion of labor, and espe­cial­ly the author­i­ty struc­ture of man­agers, union boss­es, inspec­tors, and func­tionar­ies in place to keep work­ers in line had to be con­test­ed.

In the pages of Les temps mod­er­nes, Andre Gorz inter­pret­ed May ‘68 as demon­strat­ing the rev­o­lu­tion­ary hori­zon in West­ern Europe, and blamed its fail­ure on the PCF and CGT. Les temps mod­er­nes under­took an explic­it cri­tique of Lenin­ism from 1969 to 1971 and attacked insti­tu­tions from a rad­i­cal demo­c­ra­t­ic per­spec­tive, exhort­ing its read­ers to “destroy the Uni­ver­si­ty” as part of the strug­gle again­st the divi­sion of labor. Not only the abode of pro­duc­tion, but also those super­struc­tural appa­ra­tus­es that repro­duce racial and class divi­sions, cre­ate divi­sions of labor, sup­port tra­di­tion­al roles for wom­en, and prop up citizen/non-citizen dis­tinc­tions had to be assault­ed.19

The extra-par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics of the extreme Left of this peri­od were announced by the 1969 text Vers la guer­re civile (Towards Civil War), by indi­vid­u­als who would lat­er found the Gauche pro­lé­tari­en­ne. May ‘68 had, accord­ing to this view, “placed rev­o­lu­tion and class strug­gle at the cen­ter of every strat­e­gy. With­out play­ing the role of prophet: Rev­o­lu­tion is France’s hori­zon from ‘70 to ’72”; the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for such a strug­gle were iden­ti­fied as the “the pro­le­tar­i­an­iza­tion of the mass move­ment.”20 Vers la guer­re civile empha­sizes the exem­plary use of ille­gal direct action, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary poten­tial of the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at, and the strate­gic impor­tance of the divi­sion of labor for the main­te­nance of dis­ci­pline and hier­ar­chy. Armed strug­gle is invoked as the rad­i­cal lega­cy of the French work­ing class’s resis­tance to Nazi occu­pa­tion.21

The text pro­vid­ed a pro­gram­me for the Gauche pro­lé­tari­en­ne (Pro­le­tar­i­an Left, 1968-1973) which was con­sid­ered “a greater threat to state secu­ri­ty than any oth­er left-wing group” by the head of the renseigne­ments généraux (Gen­er­al Intel­li­gence).22 With grou­pus­cules scat­tered through­out France, theirs was a pol­i­tics that com­bined vol­un­tarism, rad­i­cal democ­ra­cy and spon­tane­ity. The new fig­ures of this rev­o­lu­tion were the immi­grant work­er, ouvri­er spé­cial­isé, and pris­on inmate. Impris­on­ment, state repres­sion, and union bureau­cra­cies were the forces that had, in the ter­mi­nol­o­gy of this group­ing, “pro­le­tar­i­an­ized” the mass move­ment. The French state banned the sale of Gauche pro­lé­tari­en­ne’s broad­sheets in pub­lic spaces, which led to an engage­ment with intel­lec­tu­als of the non-com­mu­nist left. Daniel Defert joined and invit­ed Fou­cault to par­tic­i­pate in this group’s activ­i­ties. Sartre, Simone de Beau­voir, Fou­cault and oth­er pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als were asked to con­tin­ue dis­tri­b­u­tion of the broad­sheets on the assump­tion that the Repub­lic would not arrest its lumières. Indeed, dis­tri­b­u­tion con­tin­ued unmo­lest­ed. Foucault’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gauche pro­lé­tari­en­ne even­tu­al­ly result­ed in the found­ing of the Pris­on Infor­ma­tion Group.

As his­to­ry would have it, the warm after­glow of May ’68 in France turned out to be “a still­born rev­o­lu­tion – what should have been the turn­ing point of its mod­ern his­to­ry that, as in 1848, failed to turn.”23 Reflect­ing on this peri­od with his char­ac­ter­is­tic wit, Foucault’s 1976 course hinges on an inver­sion of Clauswitz’s famous apho­rism that war is pol­i­tics con­tin­ued through oth­er means, by trac­ing the geneal­o­gy of the view that “pol­i­tics is a con­tin­u­a­tion of war by oth­er means.”Although the the­me imme­di­ate­ly recalls the pre­vail­ing polit­i­cal lan­guage of a peri­od of extreme left mil­i­tan­cy, Fou­cault has deep­er philo­soph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal prob­lems in mind. In the dis­cours­es of the 17th and 18th cen­tu­ry aris­toc­ra­cy and rev­o­lu­tion­ary bour­geoisie, he attempts to track the entry of race and class war into his­tor­i­cal reflec­tion, artic­u­lat­ing the cen­tral para­dox of the “the­o­ry of right” with­in which mod­ern polit­i­cal strug­gles from the French Rev­o­lu­tion to con­tem­po­rary human rights dis­course become intel­li­gi­ble. Rights talk always appeals to an imag­i­nary his­to­ry of ancient priv­i­leges which, Fou­cault sug­gests, erect a whole series of dis­tinc­tive­ly mod­ern polit­i­cal oppo­si­tions between the indi­vid­u­al and soci­ety.

His­tor­i­cal thought is thus polit­i­cal­ly use­ful to strug­gles over gov­ern­men­tal pri­or­i­ties and rec­i­p­ro­cal oblig­a­tions only to the extent that it empha­sizes one of two dis­cur­sive par­a­digms. On the one hand, the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of pol­i­tics as war priv­i­leges the moment of strug­gle, the moment of dom­i­na­tion: “what is being put for­ward as a prin­ci­ple for the inter­pre­ta­tion of soci­ety and its vis­i­ble order is the con­fu­sion of vio­lence, pas­sions, hatreds, rages, resent­ments, and bit­ter­ness.”24 On the oth­er hand, one may priv­i­lege the moment of uni­ver­sal­i­ty and peace, the found­ing of cities and laws, accord­ing to which all his­to­ry would be noth­ing oth­er than praise of Rome. Fou­cault con­sid­ers the­se to be the reac­tionary and lib­er­al dis­cours­es of his­to­ry – here “reac­tionary” in the strict sense of reac­tion to an ascen­dant bour­geois lib­er­al­ism – reach­ing their high­est philo­soph­i­cal artic­u­la­tions in Hegel and Kant respec­tive­ly, a strug­gle for recog­ni­tion or per­pet­u­al peace.25 This dilem­ma and its bloody 20th cen­tu­ry his­to­ry of nation­al con­flict and state racism is, accord­ing to Fou­cault, the reef upon which the con­cept of pow­er as dom­i­na­tion, repres­sion, and war comes to grief.

Thus, Fou­cault returns to pre-Marx­ist the­o­rists of class strug­gle – the Dig­gers, Hen­ri de Boul­lainvil­liers and Abbé Siyès – to show that the rhetoric of class war has cer­tain genealog­i­cal affini­ties with pre-sci­en­tific and aris­to­crat­ic the­o­ries of race. The lat­er crys­tal­liza­tion of sci­en­tific the­o­ries of race also have, as their imme­di­ate antecedent, cer­tain 19th cen­tu­ry pseudo-sci­en­tific racial­iza­tions of low­er class­es.26 Instead of a “war-repres­sion schema” Fou­cault calls for a the­o­ry of polit­i­cal pow­er as essen­tial­ly “pro­duc­tive,” that is as a set of tech­niques for reg­u­lat­ing human pop­u­la­tions and mak­ing bod­i­ly com­port­ment more effi­cient. The lec­tures from 1976 cul­mi­nate in an analy­sis of the con­cen­tra­tion camps of Nazi Ger­many and the forced labor sys­tem of the USSR as pro­duc­tive deploy­ments of the pow­er to man­age pop­u­la­tions. It is an attempt to demon­strate the con­ti­nu­ity of the­se pol­i­tics with those of the Enlight­en­ment project: what estab­lish­es their com­mon ground and pro­vides a grid of intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty for this his­to­ry is not, as in the Frank­furt School, the “ratio­nal irra­tional­i­ty” of cap­i­tal­ism; it is rather the phe­nom­e­non of pop­u­la­tion, as the liv­ing sub­stra­tum of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion and mod­ern polit­i­cal pow­er.

After a year-long sab­bat­i­cal in 1977, dur­ing which time Bernard-Hen­riLévy and Andre Glucks­mann take to the air­waves and tele­vi­sion screens pro­mot­ing their books La bar­barie à vis­age humain (Bar­barism with a Human Face, 1977) and Les maîtres penseurs (The Mas­ter Thinkers, 1977) with total­i­tar­i­an­ism-mon­ger­ing, Foucault’s lec­tures change course. This is also the year of Foucault’s reportage on the Ira­ni­an Rev­o­lu­tion. He becomes increas­ing­ly cir­cum­spect regard­ing his ear­lier descrip­tive lan­guage. He explic­it­ly aban­dons his claim that ours is a “dis­ci­pli­nary soci­ety” in 1978, argu­ing that pow­er now oper­ates through more sub­tle lib­er­al tech­niques pro­mot­ing free­dom of var­i­ous kinds.27 He aban­dons the words “biopol­i­tics” and “biopow­er” after the 1979 course, and con­cludes that they were noth­ing oth­er than an attempt to grasp “‘lib­er­al­ism’… as a prin­ci­ple and method of the ratio­nal­iza­tion of the exer­cise of gov­ern­ment, a ratio­nal­iza­tion which obeys – and this is what is speci­fic about it – the inter­nal rule of max­i­mum econ­o­my.”28 Per­haps after cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion and de-indus­tri­al­iza­tion, the fac­to­ry dis­ci­pline no longer pro­vid­ed the blue­print for pow­er in advanced cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties.

Future French edi­tions of Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish will qui­et­ly remove the phrase “carcer­al arch­i­pel­ago,” no doubt because Fou­cault wished to dis­tance him­self from the gulag­ism of Glucks­mann and Lévy. His lec­tures turn to an account of the his­tor­i­cal emer­gence of the con­cept of raison d’état and polit­i­cal eco­nom­ic thought as prac­ti­cal and reflec­tive schemas for the “art of gov­ern­ment” in the 17th and 18th cen­turies. He returns to the clas­sics of polit­i­cal econ­o­my in order to make a remark­able analy­sis of Quesnay’s Tableau économique, the tran­si­tion from feu­dal­ism to cap­i­tal­ism, and the birth of neolib­er­al­ism. At times he seems to address him­self direct­ly to the nou­veaux philosoph­es, con­fronting a car­i­ca­ture of his own thought on “secu­ri­ty”: he crit­i­cizes right- and left-wing “state pho­bia” as elid­ing, “thanks to some play on words,” the dif­fer­ence between social secu­ri­ty and con­cen­tra­tion camps; “the req­ui­site speci­fici­ty of analy­sis is dilut­ed.”29 The lec­tures then veer into an analy­sis of the var­i­ous regimes of truth-telling among the ear­ly Chris­tian desert fathers and con­clude with an analy­sis of the prac­tice of Par­rhe­sia among the ancient Greeks, before Foucault’s project and life are sud­den­ly cut short by AIDS in 1984. The above intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry sug­gests that, fol­low­ing his intel­lec­tu­al cri­sis and the clo­sure of cer­tain polit­i­cal hori­zons in France, Fou­cault refused to provide a uni­fied polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy and turned to more explic­it­ly “Marx­ist” themes when Marx­ism was being equat­ed with bar­barism and had became unfash­ion­able for pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als.

Foucault’s Con­cept of Pow­er and its Rela­tion to Marx

In the wake of the May ’68 upris­ing, the French ultra-left attempt­ed to cir­cum­vent the Com­mu­nist Par­ty as the vehi­cle for the trans­for­ma­tion of soci­ety, and sought to dis­place the state-cap­i­tal nexus of clas­si­cal polit­i­cal the­o­ry by propos­ing a rad­i­cal­ly expan­sive rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject. Foucault’s thought from the ear­ly 1970s attempts to cap­ture the­se dis­parate and con­tra­dic­to­ry polit­i­cal cur­rents with a con­cept of pou­voir, or “pow­er,” which he claims to have devel­oped out of the work of Ben­tham and Marx. This “pow­er” posits the bio­log­i­cal and social phe­nom­e­non of pop­u­la­tion and the phys­i­cal move­ments of the human body not only as the eco­nom­ic sub­strate of pro­duc­tion, but also the polit­i­cal ground of con­tention and neu­tral­iza­tion. The­se kinds of knowl­edge, or gen­er­al intel­lect – inter­ven­tions in the col­lec­tive social and bio­log­i­cal metab­o­lism, a New­to­ni­an ana­lyt­ics of bod­i­ly com­port­ment, move­ment and habi­tus – make pos­si­ble whol­ly unprece­dent­ed kinds of polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion, new forms of social engi­neer­ing and con­trol, that cre­ate a pro­duc­tive machine out of human mul­ti­plic­i­ty, a mul­ti­plic­i­ty pre­vi­ous­ly wast­ed by polit­i­cal pow­er.30 Fou­cault is try­ing to think about how a mod­ern polit­i­cal field, dif­fer­ent from abso­lutism, forms, takes shape, and allows for cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion to take place, while under­cut­ting work­er mil­i­tan­cy by pro­vid­ing the pro­le­tari­at with “secu­ri­ty” (Polizewis­senschaft) – i.e., mod­est reforms that increase life expectan­cy, encour­age fam­i­ly life, and so on. This thought implies that Marx aban­doned the clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­mists’ for­mu­la­tions of the prob­lem of pop­u­la­tion, only to redis­cov­er the phe­nom­e­non of pop­u­la­tion as class strug­gle and labor-power.Although this polit­i­cal-eco­nom­ic con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of “pow­er” responds to Foucault’s par­tic­u­lar con­junc­ture of renewed inter­est in Marx, and the demand made by new social move­ments for a more expan­sive mod­el of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­ject, it is not reducible to such.

By con­ceiv­ing of a prop­er­ly cap­i­tal­ist polit­i­cal moder­ni­ty in terms of the pro­duc­tive man­age­ment of human pop­u­la­tions and bod­ies, Fou­cault strate­gi­cal­ly returns to Marx in order to short cir­cuit the ten­den­cy of bour­geois thought – and of many Marx­ists, for that mat­ter! – to reify the “state appa­ra­tus” by con­ceiv­ing of pow­er in vul­gar terms of prop­er­ty own­er­ship, seizure of prop­er­ty and alienation.This is, accord­ing to Fou­cault, a pro­found­ly anthro­po­mor­phic con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of the polit­i­cal field. Polit­i­cal pow­er ulti­mate­ly appears as a con­spir­a­cy of inter­ests which receive rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the state appa­ra­tus; where­as pow­er actu­al­ly resides in the coor­di­na­tion, cir­cu­la­tion, and pro­duc­tive employ­ment of a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of forces with­out any “mas­ter plan” or inventor.The gov­ern­ment of the­se forces is not pro­vid­ed by some cen­tral com­mit­tee of the rul­ing class; it is pro­vid­ed by a non-sub­jec­tive inten­tion­al­i­ty or abstract com­pul­sion – the prin­ci­ple of “max­i­mum econ­o­my,” the com­pul­sion to work for some­one else to repro­duce your life – which pro­vides the polit­i­cal field with a for­mal uni­ty and prin­ci­pal of intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty.

Fou­cault also returns to Marx in order to neu­tral­ize the ten­den­cy of many fel­low trav­el­ers on the Left to con­ceive of pow­er in terms of sup­pres­sion, which Fou­cault con­sid­ered the polit­i­cal par­a­digm of an ear­ly mod­ern tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism. He held that both ten­den­cies of thought – pow­er as own­er­ship, pow­er as sup­pres­sion – ulti­mate­ly affirmed the lib­er­al mod­el of soci­ety accord­ing to which “soci­ety is rep­re­sent­ed as a con­trac­tu­al asso­ci­a­tion of iso­lat­ed juridi­cal sub­jects.” To claim such posi­tions for Marx is to aban­don his cri­tique of clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­my and mere­ly “re-sub­scribes us to the bour­geois the­o­ry of pow­er.” In the polem­i­cal judge­ment pro­nounced in “Mesh of Pow­er,” the­se alter­nate con­cep­tions of pow­er “Rousseauify Marx,” as if the social form of cap­i­tal­ism were some con­tract-based free-asso­ci­a­tion of indi­vid­u­als air-dropped from the heav­ens, forever abol­ish­ing man’s more per­fect nat­u­ral state.According to Fou­cault: “The indi­vid­u­al is no doubt the fic­ti­tious atom of an ‘ide­o­log­i­cal’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion of soci­ety; but he is also a real­i­ty fab­ri­cat­ed by this speci­fic tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er that I have called ‘dis­ci­pline.’”31

The above pas­sage imme­di­ate­ly recalls Marx’s lan­guage from the intro­duc­tion to Grun­dris­se.32 Fou­cault is attempt­ing to trace the geneal­o­gy of a social form in which com­mod­i­ty rela­tions pre­dom­i­nate by grasp­ing the his­tor­i­cal speci­fici­ty of the iso­lat­ed indi­vid­u­als of exchange. This trans­for­ma­tion is not the inevitable out­come of the tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment of the forces of pro­duc­tion. Instead, the moment of tran­si­tion has to be under­stood as a con­tin­gent out­come of a new form of pol­i­tics, which Fou­cault calls, again fol­low­ing Marx, “dis­ci­pline.” The rel­e­vant pas­sages in Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish explic­it­ly cite Marx’s dis­cus­sion of “coop­er­a­tion” in Cap­i­tal, vol­ume 1, and his exchanges with Engels about the ori­gins of fac­to­ry dis­ci­pline in mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline. Fou­cault asks how a trib­u­tary sov­er­eign pow­er to levy a tax – on pro­duce, blood, trade, etc. – tran­si­tions to a pro­duc­tive eco­nom­ic pow­er gen­er­a­tive of sur­plus. The thread of this thought about the ori­gins of cap­i­tal­ism prop­er – rather than the ori­gins of mere mar­ket exchange – and its care­ful play on Marx­ist lan­guage can be fol­lowed through all of Foucault’s pub­lished works, though his cita­tions and insin­u­a­tions are rarely as obvi­ous as they appear in “Mesh of Pow­er” or Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish.

Pre­sent­ed very schemat­i­cal­ly, con­sid­er:

1. His analy­ses of the con­fine­ment of pau­pers and the mad in the same work­hous­es inMad­ness and Civ­i­liza­tion (1961).

2.His con­cern for the pas­sage from an analy­sis of wealth to polit­i­cal econ­o­my in The Order of Things.

3. His analy­sis of the impor­tance of dis­ci­pline in the devel­op­ment of the forces of pro­duc­tion in Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish.33

4. His asser­tion that human life is the real mate­ri­al sub­strate of an expand­ing and pro­duc­tive deploy­ment of polit­i­cal pow­er in The His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty(1976).

5. His very explic­it analy­ses of Phys­io­crat­ic thought and the tran­si­tion from feu­dal­ism to cap­i­tal­ism in Secu­ri­ty, Ter­ri­to­ry, Pop­u­la­tion (1978).

6. Final­ly, his pre­sen­ta­tion of the prob­lem of the polit­i­cal sub­ject of neolib­er­al­ism, ver­sus that of clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­my in The Birth of Biopol­i­tics (1979).

The­se are not mere­ly inci­den­tal pas­sages or asides. They are in fact quite cru­cial to under­stand­ing Foucault’s cen­tral his­tor­i­cal claims; each of them returns us to Marx.

Per­haps gen­er­ous minds will grant that Fou­cault was a care­ful read­er of Marx, a schol­ar who appre­ci­at­ed the latter’s enor­mous­ly sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal account of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion. But what would it mean to argue that Foucault’s thought express­es some essen­tial under­ly­ing polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al affin­i­ty for Marx’s project – one pos­si­bly even deserv­ing of the moniker “Marx­ist”? There are many dan­gers to this kind of inter­pre­ta­tion. It must be atten­tive to Foucault’s strong polit­i­cal cyn­i­cism. It requires a full recon­struc­tion of Marx’s thought as well as Foucault’s, and there is no space for that dis­cus­sion here. But this read­ing strat­e­gy faces oth­er objec­tions as well, con­sid­er­ing his well known cri­tique of the author-func­tion. Wouldn’t call­ing his thought “Marx­ist,” even grant­i­ng a bit of iron­i­cal dis­tance from such a claim, be to engage in what Jacques Lacan ter­med “Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­course,” the use of prop­er nouns, a chain of sig­ni­fiers in place of actu­al thought or truth?34

Such an oper­a­tion may be jus­ti­fi­able in Foucault’s own terms. Fou­cault makes the case in “What is an Author?” that cer­tain founders of dis­course, such as Marx and Freud, open up entire­ly new fields of inquiry, explod­ing the lim­its of what is sayable. Fou­cault con­sid­ers their thought to be infinite­ly pro­duc­tive. New appli­ca­tions and trans­for­ma­tions of such thought have the qual­i­ty of “reac­ti­va­tions,” for the philoso­pher avails him­self of a new zeit­geist only in order to clear the cob­webs away from old prob­lems.35 Such claims are close to Sartre’s argu­ment in the intro­duc­tion to Cri­tique of Dialec­ti­cal Rea­son that Marx is the untran­scend­able hori­zon of our thought.

The wager of the fol­low­ing is that it is pre­cise­ly in the spir­it of a reac­ti­va­tion of Marx – rather than a faith­ful recita­tion of a dead let­ter, or some more thor­ough crit­i­cal recon­struc­tion – that Fou­cault pur­sued his his­tor­i­cal analy­ses of pow­er. Foucault’s result­ing body of work is a tes­ta­ment to just how fruit­ful or fruit­less such an approach may be. Ulti­mate­ly, we must admit the pos­si­bil­i­ty that his glib dis­missals of Marx were face­tious. To admit this pos­si­bil­i­ty is to sug­gest that, by mis­un­der­stand­ing or reject­ing Fou­cault, self-pro­fessed Marx­ists are tak­ing the bait. They risk demon­strat­ing that they haven’t under­stood some­thing essen­tial in their master’s dis­course.

Although Fou­cault was under no illu­sion that he had sup­plant­ed Marx, he may have con­sid­ered him­self an inher­i­tor of Marx’s project. I quote his words on the sub­ject from a 1978 inter­view with a Japan­ese Marx­ist at length and with­out com­ment:

So long as we con­sid­er Marx­ism to be a uni­ty [ensem­ble] of the forms of appear­ance of pow­er con­nect­ed, in one way or anoth­er, to the words of Marx [la parole de Marx], then to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly exam­ine each and every one of the­se forms of appear­ance is the least that a man liv­ing in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry could do. Even today we are pas­sive­ly, scorn­ful­ly, fear­ful­ly and inter­est­ed­ly sub­mit­ting to this pow­er, where­as it’s nec­es­sary to com­plete­ly lib­er­ate our­selves from it. This must be sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly exam­ined with the gen­uine sen­ti­ment that we are com­plete­ly free in rela­tion to Marx. Of course, to be free with regards to Marx­ism does not imply return­ing again to the source to show what Marx actu­al­ly said, grasp­ing his words [sa parole] in their purest state, and treat­ing them like the one and only law. It cer­tain­ly doesn’t mean demon­strat­ing, for exam­ple, with the Althusse­ri­an method, how the gospel [la véri­ta­ble parole] of the prophet Marx has been mis­in­ter­pret­ed. The­se for­mal ques­tions are unim­por­tant. How­ev­er, recon­firm­ing the func­tion­al uni­ty of the forms of appear­ance of pow­er, which are con­nect­ed to Marx’s own state­ments [la parole de Marx lui-même], strikes me as a wor­thy endeav­or.36

Polit­i­cal Ques­tions

Three cru­cial ques­tions are raised by “Mesh of Pow­er.” The first con­cerns Foucault’s curi­ous claim that he derives his the­o­ry of pow­er, at least in part, from the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal. The sec­ond con­cerns “the prob­lem of pop­u­la­tion” as the con­cept which gives Foucault’s dis­parate his­tor­i­cal stud­ies a the­mat­ic uni­ty, despite his protests to the con­trary; the prob­lem of pop­u­la­tion returns us to the ques­tion of the tran­si­tion from feu­dal­ism to cap­i­tal­ism and that of any uncer­tain con­tem­po­rary tran­si­tion out of cap­i­tal­ism. The third con­cerns his respon­se to the ques­tion raised at the very end of the lec­ture by a female audi­tor, which will return us to the themes of Foucault’s his­tor­i­cal con­junc­ture and the prob­lem of his recep­tion.

1. The ques­tion of Cap­i­tal. Marx’s the­o­ry of the expand­ed repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal is impor­tant because he is attempt­ing to describe the uni­ty of dis­parate social process­es. Although mar­ket soci­ety has anar­chic qual­i­ties, there is a uni­ty to the social form of pro­duc­tion. Marx avoid­ed the dead­locks of clas­si­cal polit­i­cal econ­o­my with the con­cept of labor-pow­er. Labour, as such, does not cir­cu­late on the mar­ket. The poten­tial for labor –la force de tra­vail, Arbeit­skraft – is what cir­cu­lates. Labor as force, as poten­tial, as pow­er is exchange­able accord­ing to abstract equiv­a­lence regard­less of its par­tic­u­lar uses because the mar­ket estab­lish­es a con­crete min­i­mum stan­dard for its val­ue: the labor nec­es­sary to repro­duce labor as human life. Hence, “liv­ing labour.”

Although it is impor­tant to main­tain a dis­tinc­tion between the two, Fou­cault unfolds “pow­er,” as a cat­e­go­ry of thought, in a way anal­o­gous to Marx’s unfold­ing of the cat­e­go­ry of “cap­i­tal” in his the­o­ry of expand­ed reproduction.“Capital” is invest­ed in means of pro­duc­tion, infra­struc­ture, and the built envi­ron­ment just as “cap­i­tal” is invest­ed in liv­ing labour. With­out either cir­cuit, or depart­ment, “cap­i­tal” can­not real­ize the val­ue crys­tal­ized in com­modi­ties. This dou­ble move­ment is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates cap­i­tal­ism from mere rent extrac­tion; it is what his­tor­i­cal­ly and cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly dis­tin­guish­es “rel­a­tive” from “absolute” sur­plus val­ue extrac­tion. It is the source of capital’s peri­od­ic, and per­haps ter­mi­nal, cri­sis ten­den­cies.

For Fou­cault, “pow­er” is a uni­ty of both pow­er and resis­tance. “Pow­er” sus­tains and guar­an­tees the life of human pop­u­la­tions just as “pow­er” is invest­ed in the orga­ni­za­tion of a fac­to­ry, the plan for a pris­on, or the orga­ni­za­tion of city streets accord­ing to a grid.The pro­duc­tive orga­ni­za­tion of human bod­ies and pop­u­la­tions is a tech­nol­o­gy, he argues, just as impor­tant to the mode of pro­duc­tion as the machi­nes whose smooth oper­a­tion it allows. He gave this term “pow­er” a polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance out­side the abode of pro­duc­tion, as an alter­na­tive to rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al the­o­ries of polit­i­cal pow­er, but locates the ori­gins of this “pow­er” in the abode of pro­duc­tion and in cer­tain ear­ly mod­ern mil­i­tary inno­va­tions. Accord­ing­ly, the divi­sions set up by the “pow­er” Fou­cault describes are not reducible to those of class. In the lec­tures from ‘78 he argues that polit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy of secu­ri­ty dis­tin­guish­es between “essen­tial” and “non-essen­tial” lev­els of the pop­u­la­tion in order to deter­mine accept­able lev­els of risk. That is, Phys­io­crat­ic reforms per­tain­ing to grain short­ages were not attempts to elim­i­nate star­va­tion. They were attempts to use mar­ket mech­a­nisms to dis­trib­ute scarci­ty with­in iso­lat­ed pock­ets of the pop­u­la­tion, attempts to pro­tect again­st mass hunger and scarci­ty which threat­ened polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty. The polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions he iso­lates – per­tain­ing to san­i­ta­tion, hous­ing, epi­demic dis­ease, insur­ance, mass immi­gra­tion, wel­fare, and so on – emerge quite late in the 19th cen­tu­ry, as a result of polit­i­cal reforms and exi­gen­cies that had only just begun in Marx’s time.

2. The ques­tion of pop­u­la­tion. Genealogy’s abil­i­ty to jux­ta­pose rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent con­junc­tures enables a thought about the tran­si­tion from feu­dal­ism to cap­i­tal­ism which sheds light on the present moment in a way that oth­er his­to­ries can­not. The­o­riz­ing the prob­lem of pop­u­la­tion caused Fou­cault to revise his ear­lier claims about pow­er; the con­cept of “secu­ri­ty” rep­re­sents a return to polit­i­cal econ­o­my and a more care­ful peri­odiza­tion of “dis­ci­pline” as inter­nal to a tran­si­tion to a cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, after which dis­ci­pline is in the ser­vice of more lib­er­al arts of gov­ern­ment. Fou­cault locates the epis­temic and polit­i­cal break of moder­ni­ty in the thought of the Phys­iocrats and their his­tor­i­cal role with­in the French abso­lutist state. In an attempt to think the rad­i­cal­ly incom­men­su­rable, Fou­cault pos­es the fol­low­ing prob­lem: with­in a large­ly back­wards and pop­u­lous region of Europe, in which a set of class rela­tions par­tic­u­lar to the French abso­lutist state fore­stalled the full tran­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ism until the 19th cen­tu­ry, a prop­er­ly mod­ern polit­i­cal eco­nom­ic the­o­ry of agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tiv­i­ty emerges in the 18th cen­tu­ry due to a suc­ces­sion of demo­graph­ic crises which direct­ly threat­ened monar­chi­cal pow­er and cre­at­ed a remark­ably polar­ized polit­i­cal field. How­ev­er, this new art of eco­nom­ic gov­ern­ment ‘remained imprisoned…within the forms of the admin­is­tra­tive monar­chy.’37 The pop­u­la­tion, accord­ing to Fou­cault, pro­vides a uni­fy­ing – if not entire­ly uni­fied – field of prac­tice for the tran­si­tion from an analy­sis of wealth to polit­i­cal econ­o­my, from nat­u­ral his­to­ry to biol­o­gy, from gen­er­al gram­mar to philol­o­gy.38

I would like to sug­gest that Fou­cault calls this new orga­ni­za­tion of pow­er “secu­ri­ty” because he is his­tor­i­cal­ly sit­u­at­ed at the moment in which the ris­ing post-war demand for hous­ing cred­it in the Unit­ed States required the struc­tured financ­ing of mort­gage pools in the 1970s: the secu­ri­ti­za­tion of debt. Such devel­op­ments enabled Fou­cault to ven­ture the hypoth­e­sis that the utopi­an pro­gram­me of neo-lib­er­al­ism is not “a super mar­ket soci­ety, but an enter­prise soci­ety. “Thus, he con­ceived of this new phase of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, inau­gu­rat­ing our own late cap­i­tal­ist era, in terms of a trans­for­ma­tion in the man­age­ment of polit­i­cal dan­ger and mar­ket risk.39 In Foucault’s final analy­sis, neo-lib­er­al­ism is not a reac­ti­va­tion of the prac­tice of lais­sez faire, for the state must “inter­vene on soci­ety so that com­pet­i­tive mech­a­nisms can play a reg­u­la­tive role at every moment and every point in soci­ety and by inter­ven­ing in this way its objec­tive will become pos­si­ble… a gen­er­al reg­u­la­tion of soci­ety by the mar­ket.”40

How­ev­er, what does Fou­cault allow us to see about the birth of neolib­er­al­ism that pre­vail­ing accounts of the cri­sis of the 1970s in terms of finan­cial­iza­tion, dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, and the con­sol­i­da­tion of class pow­er fail to bring into view?In unequiv­o­cal terms, Fou­cault asserts: “Neo-lib­er­al­ism is not Adam Smith; neo-lib­er­al­ism is not mar­ket soci­ety; neo-lib­er­al­ism is not the Gulag on the insid­i­ous scale of cap­i­tal­ism.”41 For the Marx­ist tra­di­tion, it was the dis­cus­sion of “com­mod­i­ty fetishism” in Book I of Cap­i­tal, vol­ume 1,and the infa­mous “ten­den­cy of the rate of prof­it to fall” from vol­ume 3, which pre­vent­ed them from grasp­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of this new form of gov­ern­men­tal pow­er. In an analy­sis of the Frank­furt School, which could be mobi­lized to crit­i­cize con­tem­po­rary the­o­rists of the grim arcana of “biopow­er” today, Fou­cault argues that it was Max Weber’s influ­ence that dis­placed Marx’s prob­lem­at­ic of the con­tra­dic­to­ry log­ic of cap­i­tal in 20th cen­tu­ry Ger­many. The prob­lem of “the irra­tional ratio­nal­i­ty of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety” would – in the wake of Nazism, polit­i­cal exile and the destruc­tion unleashed by the sec­ond world war – moti­vate the Marx­ists of the Frank­furt School and the ordolib­er­als of the Freiburg School to crit­i­cize the irra­tional excess­es of cap­i­tal­ism, rather than ana­lyz­ing its for­ward march through inter­nal con­tra­dic­tions and crises. Fou­cault con­cludes that, for both schools, Nazism rep­re­sent­ed “the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal ‘Road to Dam­as­cus’… the field of adver­si­ty that they would have to define and cross in order to reach their objec­tive.” As for the polit­i­cal out­come: “his­to­ry had it that in 1968 the last dis­ci­ples of the Frank­furt School clashed with the police of a gov­ern­ment inspired by the Freiburg School, thus find­ing them­selves on oppo­site sides of the bar­ri­cades.”42 Neo-lib­er­al­ism and its pro­po­nents seem to have emerged – from the bar­ri­cades and occu­pa­tions in Berke­ley, Paris or Frank­furt – the vic­tor of this his­toric clash of forces.

In Foucault’s view, actu­al­ly exist­ing social­ism rep­re­sent­ed a hyper­tro­phied ratio­nal­iza­tion of exist­ing arts of government.It had pro­posed strong eco­nom­ic and his­tor­i­cal par­a­digms but failed to provide a “rea­son­able and cal­cu­la­ble mea­sure of the extent, mod­es and objec­tives of gov­ern­men­tal action.”In the absence of a gov­ern­men­tal art of its own, Fou­cault argues, social­ism was forced by its his­tor­i­cal strug­gles to con­nect up with lib­er­al­ism, on the one hand – as a “cor­rec­tive and a pal­lia­tive to inter­nal dan­gers” – or to a large admin­is­tra­tive appa­ra­tus and police state, as in the Sovi­et Union, on the oth­er.43

3. The ques­tion of hys­ter­i­cal dis­course. Fou­cault refused hys­ter­i­cal discourse.He said it was sim­plis­tic, used by reac­tionar­ies, dem­a­gogues, and racists, and obscured the impor­tant his­tor­i­cal ques­tions. In con­fronting a car­i­ca­ture of his own thought, Fou­cault had to appeal to Marx. This moment in “Mesh of Pow­er” epit­o­mizes Foucault’s intel­lec­tu­al tra­jec­to­ry after the cri­sis of 1976. Return­ing to Marx was far more cru­cial dur­ing a reac­tionary peri­od than dur­ing one of rev­o­lu­tion­ary upheaval.

Like Engels at the close of the 19th cen­tu­ry, Fou­cault spent his final years con­tem­plat­ing ear­ly Chris­tian move­ments and their prac­tices of free love.44 Foucault’s respon­se to talk of bath­house clo­sures in New York, San Fran­cis­co, and Mon­tréal was a prin­ci­pled stance rather than the hys­ter­ics that char­ac­ter­ized the main­stream gay movement’s respons­es. In an inter­view with Gai pied (Gay Foot) from 1982, Fou­cault did not require a the­o­ry of “het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty” to oppose gay bath­house clo­sures. It was sim­ply a mat­ter of oppos­ing this exten­sion of police pow­er on prin­ci­ple:

it is nec­es­sary to be intran­si­gent, we can­not make a com­pro­mise between tol­er­ance and intol­er­ance, we can­not but be on the side of tol­er­ance. It isn’t a mat­ter of search­ing for an equi­lib­ri­um between the per­se­cu­tor and per­se­cut­ed. We can­not give our­selves the objec­tive of win­ning mil­lime­ter by mil­lime­ter. On this issue of the rela­tion between police and sex­u­al plea­sure, it’s nec­es­sary to go the dis­tance and take prin­ci­pled posi­tions.45

A Social­ist Art of Gov­ern­ment

Fou­cault appro­pri­ate­ly con­sid­ered the “utopi­an dream” of neolib­er­al­ism to be an “enter­prise soci­ety,” a soci­ety which treats human life and its risks as income streams. It encour­ages own­er­ship and guar­an­tees a min­i­mum social safe­ty net in order to pre­vent the for­ma­tion of a class in open rebel­lion again­st their tech­no­crat­ic mas­ters. Where the­se soft touch­es do not work, police pow­er is deployed. Fou­cault iden­ti­fies the ide­o­log­i­cal basis of this polit­i­cal eco­nom­ic sys­tem as a “cul­ture of dan­ger,” a dark glam­or in which the risks of this sys­tem provide occa­sion for a mor­al­iz­ing dis­course. This is the stuff of the 24-hour news cycle and Andy Warhol’s “super­stars.” We are now observ­ing this utopi­an dream come to grief on its own con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty: the defeat of class strug­gles of the 1970s and dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion of the West have cre­at­ed a pop­u­la­tion prob­lem inter­nal to advanced cap­i­tal­ist states anal­o­gous to that of the sur­plus human­i­ty in devel­op­ing coun­tries.46 This is the polit­i­cal hori­zon of the Occu­py move­ment, and its pro­fessed sol­i­dar­i­ty with events in Tunis and Egypt is not mere­ly hubris. The Left is once again caught in a tac­ti­cal stran­gle­hold, forced to defend the most mod­est of social safe­ty nets – pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, wel­fare, pen­sions etc. – again­st neolib­er­al shock ther­a­py.

By return­ing to Marx’s prob­lem­at­ic of the pop­u­la­tion as a cen­tral con­tra­dic­tion of cap­i­tal, Fou­cault pro­vides insights into our polit­i­cal moment. What hap­pens to pow­er when human life becomes super­flu­ous to the mode of pro­duc­tion? The lessons Fou­cault derives from the expe­ri­ence of the 1970s sug­gest that such ques­tions will be decid­ed by a strug­gle, but we need more than just strug­gle to chal­lenge neolib­er­al­ism. We need a new art of gov­ern­ment. The con­clu­sion to the above men­tioned lec­ture from 1979 is a chal­lenge to the his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ist tra­di­tion: “the impor­tance of the text in social­ism is com­men­su­rate with the lacu­na con­sti­tut­ed by the absence of a social­ist art of government.”Foucault then asks, “What gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty is pos­si­ble as a strict­ly, intrin­si­cal­ly, and autonomous­ly social­ist gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty?” Doubt­ing that a social­ist art of gov­ern­ment can be found in the his­to­ry of social­ism or its texts, Fou­cault con­cludes: “It must be invent­ed.”47

1. Michel Fou­cault, “Chronol­o­gy,” Dits et écrits I, 1954-1975, eds. Daniel Defert, François Ewald (Paris: Jacques Lagrange, 2001), 42. Trans­la­tions from French are mine unless oth­er­wise not­ed.

2. “La cri­tique de la raison dialec­tique is the mag­nif­i­cent and mov­ing attempt of a nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry man to con­ceive of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. In this sense, Sartre is the last Hegelian, and also, I would say, the last Marx­ist.” “L’homme est-il mort?” Arts et Loisirs, 38, June 1966, 15-21 (reprint­ed in DE I, 570). Sartre coun­tered that Foucault’s phi­los­o­phy was deeply anti-his­tor­i­cal, freez­ing thought into the var­i­ous lay­ers con­sti­tut­ing “our ‘ground’” or “motion­less moments” with­out explain­ing the pas­sage between one moment and the next. As such, Fou­cault rep­re­sent­ed for Sartre, “the final dam that the bour­geoisie can erect again­st Marx”; cit­ed in Didier Eri­bon, Michel Fou­cault, trans. Bet­sy Wing (Cam­bridge: Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1991), 163-164. See Per­ry Ander­son, In the Tracks of His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1983) for the New Left take.

3. Michael Scott Christof­fer­son, French Intel­lec­tu­als Again­st the Left: The Anti­to­tal­i­tar­i­an Moment of the 1970s (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004), 68; Fou­cault, “Q’est ce que c’est un auteur” in DE I, 817-849; Fou­cault, “Jean Hyp­po­lite: 1907-1968” in DE I, 807.

4. Fou­cault, “Chronol­o­gy.”

5. Cit­ed in Eri­bon, Fou­cault, 195; this 1978 inter­view also fol­lows Foucault’s brief stint of reportage on the Ira­ni­an rev­o­lu­tion.

6. Observe the remark from an inter­view with R. Yoshi­mo­to, 25 April 1978 on the politi­ciza­tion of psy­chi­a­try, pris­ons, stu­dents: “It’s what we must call a ‘new polit­i­cal imag­i­nary.’ What inter­ests me is arous­ing this new polit­i­cal imag­i­na­tion. What is char­ac­ter­is­tic of our gen­er­a­tion – and it’s prob­a­bly the same with the one which pre­ced­ed us and that which will fol­low us – is doubtless­ly the lack of polit­i­cal imag­i­na­tion,” Michel Fou­cault, “Méthodolo­gie pour la con­nais­sance du mon­de: com­ment se débar­rasser du marx­is­me.”Dits et écrits II, 1976-1988, eds. Daniel Defert, François Ewald (Paris: Jacques Lagrange, 2001), 599.

7. Michel Fou­cault, His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty, vol­ume 1: An Intro­duc­tion, trans. Robert Hur­ley, (New York: Vin­tage, 1990), 92-102.

8. Wal­ter Ben­jam­in, “On the Con­cept of His­to­ry,” (1940).

9. Fou­cault, His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty I, 95.

10. An ear­lier trans­la­tion appears in the vol­ume Space, Knowl­edge and Pow­er: Fou­cault and Geog­ra­phy, eds Jere­my W. Cramp­ton, Stu­art Elden (New York: Ash­gate, 2007). How­ev­er, not only does this trans­la­tion lack Foucault’s remark­able dis­cus­sion with Brazil­ian stu­dents, it also has a num­ber of inad­e­qua­cies. It miss­es Foucault’s dis­tinc­tion between “right” [le droit] and “law” [la loi] which is cru­cial to his his­tor­i­cal dis­cus­sion of a field of dis­course com­mon to both monar­chi­cal pow­er and an emer­gent bour­geoisie. It also repeats the errors of pre­vi­ous Eng­lish trans­la­tions of Foucault’s work, which have failed to cross-ref­er­ence his ter­mi­nol­o­gy with French trans­la­tions of Freud. The­se trans­la­tors mis­tak­en­ly ren­der répres­sion as “repres­sion,” where­as it should be ren­dered “sup­pres­sion.” Refoule­ment is the French trans­la­tion of Freud’s ver­drän­gung. This error miss­es Foucault’s polem­i­cal tar­gets – Reich and Mar­cuse, rather than Freud and Lacan – per­pet­u­at­ing a false impres­sion that he was again­st psy­cho­analy­sis.

11. François Cus­set, French The­o­ry: How Fou­cault, Der­ri­da, Deleuze & Co Trans­formed the Intel­lec­tu­al Life of the Unit­ed States, trans. Jeff Fort (Min­neapolis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2008), xv.

12. He moved his lec­tures to the morn­ing in hopes that they would be less crowd­ed, on the assump­tion that stu­dents have great dif­fi­cul­ty wak­ing up for a 9:30 class. Michel Fou­cault, Soci­ety Must Be Defend­ed: Lec­tures at Col­lège de France, 1975-1976 (New York: Macmil­lan, 2003), 3.

13. Fou­cault scrapped the orig­i­nal plan for sub­se­quent vol­umes of the His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty Project, which sug­gests Daniel Defert’s account of a “dis­pute” with Foucault’s pub­lish­er, Gal­li­mard, is insuf­fi­cient.

14. Fou­cault, Soci­ety, 3-11.

15. Christof­fer­son, French Intel­lec­tu­als, 68-70.

16. James B. Jacobs, “The Prisoner’s Rights Move­ment and Its Impacts, 1960-1980,” Crime and Jus­tice, 2 (1980): 429-470.

17. Con­sid­er Simone de Beauvoir’s attempt at orga­niz­ing a truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­ceed­ing in the Djami­la Boupacha affair.

18. André Gia­comet­ti, “The State of the French Left” Inter­na­tion­al Social­ism, 1 (Sum­mer 1958).

19. Christof­fer­son, French Intel­lec­tu­als, 54.

20. Alain Geis­mar, Serge July, Erlyne Morane, Vers la guer­re civil, (Paris: 1969), 16-17.

21. Geis­mar et al, Vers la guer­re civile, 362

22. Christof­fer­son, French Intel­lec­tu­als, 57.

23. Per­ry Ander­son, “Dégringo­lade,” Lon­don Review of Books, 26:17 (Sep­tem­ber 2004), 3-9.

24. Fou­cault, Soci­ety, 54.

25. Fou­cault, Soci­ety, 228.

26. Granier de Cassagnac’s 1838 workHis­toire des class­es ouvrières et des class­es bour­geois­es claims that pro­le­tar­i­ans formed a class of sub­hu­mans orig­i­nat­ing from inter­breed­ing between rob­bers and pros­ti­tutes. See Wal­ter Ben­jam­in, “The Bohème” in Charles Baude­laire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Cap­i­tal­ism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1997), 22. Marx con­sid­ered Cas­sagnac to be “the thinker” of Bona­partist reac­tion, and inCap­i­tal opposed this racial the­o­ry with the con­cept of a “race of pecu­liar com­mod­i­ty-own­ers”; Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (New York: Pen­guin, 1976), 172. Malthus’s fear that the poor laws cre­at­ed incen­tives for a repro­duc­tion of pau­perism and his con­cern that work­hous­es remain sex-seg­re­gat­ed to pre­vent poor peo­ple from sex­u­al­ly repro­duc­ing also reflects this ten­den­cy to racial­ize class divi­sions. See his An Essay on Pop­u­la­tion.

27. Michel Fou­cault, Secu­ri­ty, Ter­ri­to­ry, Pop­u­la­tion (New York: Macmil­lan, 2007), 48.

28. Michel Fou­cault, The Birth of Biopol­i­tics (New York: Macmil­lan, 2008), 317.

29. Fou­cault, Birth of Biopol­i­tics, 188.

30. Even Foucault’s “micro­physics of pow­er” or a “polit­i­cal anato­my” seems to derive from Marx: “To the super­fi­cial observer, the analy­sis of the­se [eco­nom­ic forms] seems to turn upon minu­ti­ae. It does in fact deal with minu­ti­ae, but they are of the same order as those dealt with in micro­scop­ic anato­my.” Cap­i­tal vol. 1, 90.

31. Michel Fou­cault, Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish (New York: Vin­tage, 1977), 194.

32. Observe: “Smith and Ricar­do still stand with both feet on the shoul­ders of the eigh­teen­th-cen­tu­ry prophets, in whose imag­i­na­tions this eigh­teen­th-cen­tu­ry indi­vid­u­al – the pro­duct on one side of the dis­so­lu­tion of the feu­dal forms of soci­ety, on the oth­er side of the new forces of pro­duc­tion devel­oped since the six­teen­th cen­tu­ry – appears as an ide­al, whose exis­tence they project into the past. Not as a his­toric result but as history’s point of depar­ture. As the Nat­u­ral Indi­vid­u­al appro­pri­ate to their notion of human nature, not aris­ing his­tor­i­cal­ly, but posit­ed by nature. This illu­sion has been com­mon to each new epoch to this day. Steuart avoid­ed this sim­ple-mind­ed­ness because as an aris­to­crat and in antithe­sis to the eigh­teen­th cen­tu­ry, he had in some respects a more his­tor­i­cal foot­ing”; Karl Marx, Grun­dris­se, trans. Mar­t­in Nico­laus (New York: Pen­guin, 1973), 83-4.

33. Com­pare to Marx:“these men, sud­den­ly dragged from their accus­tomed mode of life, could not imme­di­ate­ly adapt them­selves to the dis­ci­pline of their new con­di­tion. They were turned in mas­sive quan­ti­ties into beg­gars, rob­bers and vagabonds, part­ly from incli­na­tion, in most cas­es under the force of cir­cum­stances. Hence at the end of the fif­teen­th and dur­ing the whole of the six­teen­th cen­turies, a bloody leg­is­la­tion again­st vagabondage was enforced through­out West­ern Europe. The fathers of the present work­ing class were chas­tised for their enforced trans­for­ma­tion into vagabonds and pau­pers. Leg­is­la­tion treat­ed them as ‘vol­un­tary’ crim­i­nals, and assumed that it was entire­ly with­in their pow­ers to go on work­ing under the old con­di­tions which in fact no longer exist­ed’; Cap­i­tal vol, 1,896.

34. Fou­cault, “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?” in DE I, 848; Lacan was a par­tic­i­pant in this sem­i­nar, and voiced his agree­ment with Foucault’s cri­tique of the author func­tion and the place of Marx and Freud as founders.

35. Fou­cault, “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?,” 833.

36. Fou­cault, “Méthodolo­gie pour la con­nais­sance du mon­de” inDE II, 611-612.

37. Fou­cault, Secu­ri­ty, 101-103.

38. Fou­cault, Secu­ri­ty, 79.

39. Fou­cault, Birth of Biopol­i­tics, 146-150. Fou­cault dis­cuss­es neolib­er­al­ism: “a social ethic of the enter­prise of which Weber, Som­bart and Schum­peter tried to write the polit­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and eco­nom­ic his­to­ry.” He cites the encour­age­ment of home own­er­ship, small farms, hand­i­craft pro­duc­tion and small busi­ness­es, and a com­mu­ni­ty ethos: a soci­ety ori­ent­ed “towards the mul­ti­plic­i­ty and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of the enter­prise.”

40. Fou­cault, Birth of Biopol­i­tics, 145.

41. Fou­cault, Birth of Biopol­i­tics, 131.

42. Fou­cault, Birth of Biopol­i­tics, 105-106.

43. Fou­cault, Birth of Biopol­i­tics, 92-93.

44. “It is a curi­ous fact that with every great rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment the ques­tion of “free love” comes in to the fore­ground. With one set of peo­ple as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­gress, as a shak­ing off of old tra­di­tion­al fet­ters, no longer nec­es­sary; with oth­ers as a wel­come doc­trine, com­fort­ably cov­er­ing all sorts of free and easy prac­tices between man and wom­an. The lat­ter, the philistine sort, appear here soon to have got the upper hand; for the “for­ni­ca­tion” is always asso­ci­at­ed with the eat­ing of “things sac­ri­ficed to idols,” which Jews and Chris­tians were strict­ly for­bid­den to do, but which it might be dan­ger­ous, or at least unpleas­ant, at times to refuse. This shows evi­dent­ly that the free lovers men­tioned here were gen­er­al­ly inclined to be everybody’s friend, and any­thing but stuff for mar­tyrs.” Engels, “The Book of Rev­e­la­tion” (1883). See Tris­tam Hunt, Marx’s Gen­er­al: The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Life of Friedrich Engels, (New York: Met­ro­pol­i­tan, 2009), 340.

45. Fou­cault, “Non aux com­pro­mis” in DE II, 1155-1156.

46. See Mike Davis, Plan­et of Slums (New York: Ver­so, 2007).

47. Fou­cault, Birth of Biopol­i­tics, 94.

Author of the article

lives in West Oakland and studies the history of homosexuality, war, and capitalism at UC Santa Cruz. He has written for The New Inquiry, and archives images at

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