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

was a theorist and activist. He played a pivotal role in student struggles at the University of California and the Occupy movement.