Communism as a Continuing Constituent Process

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Composition A XXI, 1925
Las­z­lo Moholy-Nagy, Com­po­si­tion A XXI, 1925

Francesco Rapar­el­li: In The Labor of Diony­sus (co-writ­ten with Michael Hardt), you insist on the cen­tral­i­ty of the “pre­req­ui­sites of com­mu­nism” in describ­ing the con­tem­po­rary mode of pro­duc­tion, by which you mean lan­guage, affects, and mobil­i­ty, which have become pil­lars of cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion. Rather than inval­i­dat­ing this analy­sis, the cri­sis which explod­ed in 2008 seems to have con­firmed it. Do you agree?

Toni Negri: Yes, I think so. That book was an attempt to sum­ma­rize ele­ments of the analy­sis of work and its trans­for­ma­tions, which had begun sev­er­al years ear­li­er, start­ing with the col­lec­tive research in Potere Operaio. It was a cri­tique of the tra­di­tion­al work­ers’ move­ment, found­ed on the deep change in the polit­i­cal and tech­ni­cal com­po­si­tion of the work­ing class. In par­tic­u­lar, rad­i­cal changes in the process­es of sub­jec­ti­va­tion appeared. Stu­dent strug­gles, espe­cial­ly after 1986 (as I would begin to sort out in Fine sec­o­lo), sub­sumed many aspects of the work­ers’ strug­gle at the time. Sim­i­lar­ly, IT and dig­i­tal work became increas­ing­ly cen­tral dur­ing these strug­gles. Already in 1986, and then in 1994-95 in France, the enor­mous con­flicts which erupt­ed – from knowl­edge to health, city ser­vices to pen­sions – stood on the ter­rain of repro­duc­tion and were artic­u­lat­ed in met­ro­pol­i­tan cen­ters. It is clear that the post-2008 cri­sis con­tin­ues to adhere to this new con­text. Fur­ther: it is a cri­sis which tries to estab­lish a form of gov­ern­abil­i­ty, as always hap­pens in these cas­es, over a rad­i­cal mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the pro­duc­tive sub­ject.

FR: In an essay on Lenin, Lukács main­tains that there can be no his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism with­out grasp­ing the actu­al­i­ty of rev­o­lu­tion as the entire back­drop of the epoch. Such actu­al­i­ty now seems nowhere to be found. And yet, as we said, today more than ever the “pre­req­ui­sites of com­mu­nism” dis­tin­guish the mode of pro­duc­tion. Faced with the bar­barism of the cri­sis and war, is rev­o­lu­tion once again the only alter­na­tive?

TN: Cer­tain­ly every medi­a­tion has failed between the lev­el of com­mand as con­fig­ured today in its finan­cial dimen­sion and the gen­er­al con­text in which liv­ing labor oper­ates. With this fail­ure, it is clear that only a rev­o­lu­tion­ary process can be the solu­tion for such a rad­i­cal and insur­mount­able con­tra­dic­tion. And yet we require clar­i­ty on what, today, rev­o­lu­tion means. Already in my writ­ings from the 1980s there was a cer­tain atten­tion to the active behav­iors, the pro­duc­tion of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty that emerges from the new pro­le­tar­i­an con­di­tion. I believe that speak­ing of rev­o­lu­tion no longer means – because it is now a defin­i­tive fact – speak­ing about the rup­ture between com­mand and resis­tance, forms of fixed cap­i­tal and the lia­bil­i­ties liv­ing labor acti­vates in con­fronting com­mand, and there­fore about the rup­ture with the dialec­tic. This is no longer the cen­tral prob­lem. The prob­lem is under­stand­ing which behav­iors, lev­els of orga­ni­za­tion, and capac­i­ties of expres­sion the new pro­le­tari­at has. Because, when we say “there is no solu­tion except rev­o­lu­tion,” we say some­thing that is at this point banal. The prob­lem is not know­ing if it is nec­es­sary, but rather know­ing how it is nec­es­sary and how it is pos­si­ble. Exclud­ing every reformist solu­tion today means more than ever insist­ing on a proces­sur­al solu­tion, defined by the con­struc­tion of insti­tu­tions of real counter-pow­er. The oth­er ele­ment to keep in mind, beyond the proces­sur­al form, is the fact that this process devel­ops entire­ly on the ter­rain of repro­duc­tion. Pro­duc­tion is sub­or­di­nat­ed to repro­duc­tion, the fac­to­ry to soci­ety, and the indi­vid­ual to the col­lec­tive which takes form in soci­ety. We find our­selves con­front­ed with the neces­si­ty of build­ing insti­tu­tions of the com­mon, not as the ulti­mate result of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary process, but as its very con­di­tion. From this point of view I think that we can speak again of the actu­al­i­ty of rev­o­lu­tion, and speak of it in the present, rather than as the actu­al­i­ty of some­thing to come.

FR: The theme of the State is back in vogue on the con­tem­po­rary scene (from Boli­var­i­an­ism to the pop­ulisms on the Euro­pean Left). And fur­ther, the neces­si­ty, for sub­al­terns, of “tak­ing the State.” It is a force­ful reprise of Gram­sci, often read through the lens of Togli­at­ti. Can there be a com­mu­nist expe­ri­ence – even more so in the era of the glob­al­iza­tion of process­es of val­oriza­tion – with­out a rad­i­cal cri­tique of the State-form?

TN: Clear­ly the rad­i­cal cri­tique of the State-form is nec­es­sary, but in many ways it is also super­flu­ous. I mean this in the sense that, if what we said ear­li­er is true, i.e., that a com­plete break with medi­a­tion is a giv­en, then the very func­tion of the State can no longer be recu­per­at­ed in reformist terms: it is sim­ply an oppres­sive func­tion. From this point of view, the State is some­thing par­a­sitic; as such, it can no longer occu­py a place with­in rev­o­lu­tion­ary reflec­tion. That said, how­ev­er, we need to be care­ful, because the prob­lem is not the use of the State as such. In any phase of tran­si­tion, we can­not but uti­lize the gen­er­al instru­ments offered by the State. In order to over­turn them, clear­ly; in order to strip away, lit­tle by lit­tle, the (oppres­sive) pow­er that they are laden with in them­selves. The true ene­my is thus the fetishism of the State. There are posi­tions today, no longer rea­son­able, which in con­sid­er­ing the uses of cer­tain pub­lic func­tions – expressed in the con­sti­tu­tion of the State – fetishize the sov­er­eign­ty and auton­o­my of state pow­er, and in this way dra­mat­i­cal­ly com­pro­mise the free­dom of the strug­gles. A fetishism of van­guards over the real move­ments – the only ones who trans­form the social. It needs to be spec­i­fied, then, that behind the fetishism of the State there are always two ide­olo­gies or behav­iors: one is the van­guard, while the oth­er is anar­chy, imme­di­a­cy, mes­sian­ic open­ing. It is these ref­er­ences which tru­ly need to be done away with.

FR: Your own com­mu­nist mil­i­tan­cy grew out of the extra­or­di­nary strug­gles of the “mass work­er,” and then encoun­tered, already in the late 1970s, the “social work­er”: a new pro­le­tar­i­an fig­ure which was the result of edu­ca­tion, the expan­sion of wel­fare, and the strug­gles for the refusal of work. This same fig­ure, in the mid­dle of the cri­sis, is pre­sent­ed under the sign of pre­car­i­ty. On this ter­rain, what does com­mu­nist mil­i­tan­cy mean?

TN: It means man­ag­ing to trans­form the suf­fer­ing of need, of lack, into the con­struc­tion of a desir­ing “we.” In the flex­i­bil­i­ty and mobil­i­ty imposed by the neolib­er­al regime, indi­vid­ual suf­fer­ing increas­es. The col­lec­tive, instead, must be brought firm­ly into the con­tem­po­rary “work­ing con­di­tion.” Social democ­ra­cy was inca­pable of grasp­ing, in the form of wel­fare and the work that was behind it, the neces­si­ty of accen­tu­at­ing the col­lec­tive, the whole, and the fact that sin­gu­lar­i­ties live in the rela­tion among them. Today a new com­mu­nist spir­it can arise in the re-dis­cov­ery of a coop­er­a­tive col­lec­tive! Clear­ly mate­r­i­al steps are nec­es­sary for under­stand­ing how to pro­ceed from need to desire… and I think of the old for­mu­la: appro­pri­a­tion, insti­tu­tion, and seiz­ing pow­er. Appro­pri­a­tion is the pres­sure exer­cised on salary and income. The next moment is insti­tu­tion­al: rec­og­niz­ing our­selves and act­ing as a “we.” It is a fun­da­men­tal step, in no way reducible to imme­di­a­cy or pure con­scious­ness-rais­ing. Then there is the prob­lem of seiz­ing pow­er, which is not a myth­i­cal thing and is entire­ly dif­fer­ent from what we have known: because it is putting into action a con­tin­u­ous con­stituent process, one that nev­er gets hung up on pre-estab­lished insti­tu­tion­al forms. Instead, it is always open­ing insti­tu­tions to new capac­i­ties of con­sen­sus, cohe­sion, and coop­er­a­tion. And today all of this must take place on the ter­rain of repro­duc­tion. Last fall some­thing tremen­dous hap­pened: the women’s demon­stra­tion in Rome. It was inno­v­a­tive pre­cise­ly because it was not sim­ply a demon­stra­tion against gen­der vio­lence, but a fun­da­men­tal dec­la­ra­tion against the exploita­tion of women under­stood as an ele­ment insep­a­ra­ble from all forms of the polit­i­cal, as it presents itself today. This is the biopo­lit­i­cal ter­rain on which we move.

– Trans­lat­ed by Dave Mesing

This arti­cle is part of a dossier enti­tled The Return of Com­mu­nism

Author of the article

is a Marxist political philosopher, widely known for his book Empire, co-authored with Michael Hardt, and for his work on Spinoza. In 1969 he was among the founders of Potere Operaio, which he left in 1973 to become one of the main leaders of Autonomia Operaia. After moving to Paris, he taught at the University of Paris VIII (Vincennes-Saint Denis) and the Collège International de philosophie, alongside philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze. His most well-known politico-philosophical writings, often co-authored with Michael Hardt, come from his time in France: The Labor of Dionysus, Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth. The first part of his autobiography, released in 2015 by Ponte alle grazie (Milan), is entitled Storia di un comunista.