Marx + Antonio Negri

  ---- by Alberto Toscano
  Deleuze encountered the work of Antonio Negri and the tradition of Italian workerist Marxism (operaismo) via Guattari, who was personally involved with the free radio movement and other political initiatives in the Italy of the late 70s, and who met Negri when the latter was invited by Louis Althusser to lecture on Marx's Grundrisse at the École Normale Supérieure, in lectures later published as Marx Beyond Marx. During Negri's imprisonment, Deleuze came to his defence with a public letter. It has been Negri's great merit to emphasise the persistence of Marxist themes in the writings of Deleuze and Guattari, and to appropriate and recast a number of their concepts in his own attempt to transform the vocabulary of Marxism in light of new modes of political subjectivity, new regimes of capital accumulation and new strategies of command and control.
  Whilst Deleuze and Guattari's influence can already be felt in Negri's texts of the 80s, it is most evident in Empire (with Michael Hardt), where notions of virtuality, deterritorialisation and smooth space feature prominently in the attempt to schematise the changes in the structures of sovereignty and the dynamics of resistance. The influence is by no means unilateral: already in A Thousand Plateaus, the work of the Italian communist thinker Mario Tronti and Negri's uptake of it is identified as an important precursor for an understanding of contemporary capitalism that acknowledges the paradoxical centrality of 'marginal' forms of subjectivity (students, women's domestic work, unemployment, etc.). Rather than speaking of influences, it might be preferable to consider the relationship of Deleuze (and Guattari) to Negri in terms of a significant overlap in what they regard as the key problems facing contemporary philosophical and political thought. Among the questions they share are the following: How can we be faithful to the legacy of Spinoza? What are the stakes of contemporary materialism? How can the thought of Marx be rescued from both structuralism and humanism? In what sense can contemporary capitalism be considered as both immanent and transcendent? How can we articulate new models of subjectivation in light of the critiques of Cartesian and Kantian images of the subject?
  Deleuze and Negri repeatedly situate their work in terms of a continuation of Spinoza's ontology. Both locate in Spinoza a singular break with the philosophies of transcendence and legitimation, driven by the constitution of a thoroughgoing immanent philosophy. Where Deleuze's writings on Spinoza highlight the manner in which Spinoza's thought provides us with a practical and affirmative extension of Duns Scotus' thesis of univocity, Negri's The Savage Anomaly, taking into account the Spinozist studies of Deleuze, Macherey and Matheron points instead to the tensions opened up at the heart of Spinoza's ontology by the emergence of capitalism in seventeenth-century Holland and the formulation in Spinoza's political treatises of a notion of absolute democracy. Though their methodologies diverge, Deleuze preferring a far more internalist reading to Negri's heterodox historical materialist approach, both concur on the need to think the flattening of substance onto its modes, understood as fulcrums of force and composition laid out on a plane of immanence.
  It is on the basis of a directly political understanding of ontology as inextricable from practice (whether as communist revolution or ethology) that Negri and Deleuze wish to extract a materialist lineage in the history of philosophy pitted against attempts to legislate over the contingency of being through various forms of representational thought. In this respect, both consider the critique of transcendence as an eminently political matter, linked to the liberation of forces capable of entering into composition without the aid of supplementary dimensions (e.g. sovereignty). Negri and Deleuze's concurrent attempts to move with and beyond Marx in an analysis of contemporary capitalism and political subjectivity can thus be grasped as passages from a transcendental or representational mode of thought to an immanent or constructivist one. Their research programmes converge on the notion of contemporary capital as a very particular admixture of immanence and transcendence, one no longer thinkable in terms of a dialectical totality. This is encapsulated in Deleuze by the concept of the axiomatic and in Negri by that of Empire. In both cases dialectical antagonism is transformed into a figure of conflict that sees forms of subjectivity irreducible to the figures of people or citizenry (i.e. collective assemblages of enunciation, the multitude) faced with a parasitical agency that seeks to capture, control and exploit them. It should be noted that Negri's abiding preoccupation with the Marxian concept of real subsumption and his refashioning of class struggle still differentiate his approach from the definition of capitalism as an axiomatic (which still requires models of realisation) and of resistance in terms of minority (which seems distant from the idea of class composition).

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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