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notes re: modalities

Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses:“the adjective ‘material’ … must be affected by different modalities: the materialities of a displacement for going to mass, of kneeling down, of the gesture of the sign of the cross, or of the mea culpa, of a sentence, of a prayer, of an act of contrition, of a penitence, of a gaze, of a hand-shake, of an external verbal discourse or an 'internal' verbal discourse (consciousness), are not one and the same materiality. I shall leave on one side the problem of a theory of the differences between the modalities of materiality.”

The same must be said in discussions of biopolitics/biopower, in which ‘power takes hold of life’: life is instantiated in different modalities (one could say the same of ‘immaterial labor’ in which ‘language is put to work’). To say otherwise means the position becomes laughable: what is power taking hold of previously, are pre-biopolitical powers taking hold of humans who are not alive? Does capitalism pre- the biopolitical production of postfordism involve nonliving workers and consumers? Of course not, and this misses the point of what is at stake in issues of biopolitics.

Biopolitics is a matter of managing the modes in which life takes on modalities. How has any relation of power not been biopolitical, though, how has any power not sought to manage the modalities life takes on? To some extent, this the definition of power relations. Millenarian peasant uprisings were contests over which modalities of life would be instantiated. Ford was invested in the management of ‘his’ workers’ lives when they were out of the plant. As Dalla Costa notes, the wage in the factory has always commanded more than just the labor and the time in the plant. Following Virno, labor power is biopolitical from the beginning as it involves the management of bodies, or to paraphrase Panzieri, to plan the labor process means to plan workers. Or in Federici's recent work, primitive accumulation is a biopolitical process. The conceit of production ‘becoming biopolitical’ is founded on a notion of prior arrangements of production being not biopolitical. More perniciously, the conceit of reproduction becoming productive is founded on a notion that reproduction was not productive previously. Women’s work prior to postfordism is the constitutive exclusion of the more messianic claims made in alongside the term multitude. By falsifying prior history a rhetorical halo around the present is created, but this a light that dazzles rather than illuminates.

This halo effect is a rhetorical device that is part of a tendency neatly summarized by Jacques Rancires: "It is always in the heart of the worker aristocracy that a hegemonic fraction forms, presenting itself as THE proletariat and affirming the proletarian capacity to organize another social order, starting with the skills and values formed in its work and its struggle." [Ranciere, "Les maillon de la chaine (proletaires et dictatures)",Les Revoltes Logiques #2, Spring-Summer 1976, 5, quoted in the translator's introduction to Ranciere's _Nights of Labor_.]

I can't help but hear this quote echoing in my head as I read some of the pieces in the issue of Ephemera dedicated to the Theory of the Multitude.

This is not to say that there is nothing new under the sun. Rather, what is new is a new arrangement of forces within the management of the modalities that life takes on, not the contest itself over the modalities of life. Similarly, what is new with regard to reproduction and production is how the cycles and circuits of accumulation are arranged spatially and temporally. This 'how' needs investigation (with the point of departure being the breakdown and overrun of accumulation processes, not their presumed neat and normal functioning), but it certainly not the case that now reproduction is implicated in production. Life, materiality, command, resistance these terms are the worlds within which changes occur. The worlds themselves are not new as places wherein action happens.

(see Rabinow and Rose, http://www.molsci.org/files/Rose_Rabinow_Biopower_Today.pdf) Changing gears, but along the same lines of papering over differences of modality (which are at the same time a species of commonality) by declaring more absolute kinds of differences:

Negri writes in "Twenty Theses On Marx" (In Casarino et al, eds, _Marxism Beyond Marxism_) that his theoretical work has always attempted to address the 'new phase of political history', in which all of society is subsumed under capitalist accumulation, which brings about 'the end of the centrality of the factory working class as the site of the emergence of revolutionary subjectivity'. (p149)

This quote demonstrates important points about Negri's work. Negri believes that we are in or are entering a qualitatively new moment in history. One salient trait of this new era for Negri is that the prior centrality of the industrial proletariat no longer holds. Negri leaves unaddressed the nature of this 'centrality' that has apparently ended.

I think that Negri's work is most useful when read against Negri. I think one should take Negri as reinterpreting Marxian categories in synchronic fashion, addressing definitions of terms relative to the entirety of the history of capitalism taken as one historical period. Negri is insistent, of course, that his work is diachronic, that it charts and derives from changes in the shifting history of periods and stages within capitalism. I think that Negri's work is less useful read in this fashion. The best way to read Negri, in my opinion, is to take the theoretical points he lays out as true of the present and read them back in to earlier history.

Negri writes that today "the laboring processes extend equally as far as the social extends" (p152), which is a useful insight. This means that every point in the space and time and society is subject (at least potentially) to an attempt at management, as well as a site of possible elaborations of disruptions of the order of things and of alternative forms of life antithetical to the prevailing norm. Once again, however, this has always been true, though Negri's work implies otherwise. (It is also worth noting that the coterminousness of labor and society is derived, for Negri, from communication, from the processes of 'immaterialization' of labor, which is quite different from positing that capital by nature needs to command and manage life both in an outside of designated workplaces.)

Negri writes (in a section titled "The Periodization of Capitalist Development Shows That We Are At The Beginning of a New Epoch") that he considers "post-Fordism as the principal condition of the new social organization of labor and as the new model of accumulation, and post-Modernism as the capitalist ideology adequate to this new mode of production." Negri terms the unity of "these two conditions together the real subsumption of society within cpaital." (154) There are, of course, many changes afoot in the world. But does Negri's periodizing impulse make the present moment any clearer? One effect of Negri's enunciation of the new is a hiding of the commonality between the present and the past, and an over-emphasis of the differences embodied in the present. (For example, if one believe that there has always been a potential for autonomous production of sociality, and that reproduction has always been value productive, then it is not so striking to say that today there is a potential for the autonomous production of sociality, and that reproduction today is value productive. These are some of the constitutive exclusions which allow the production of the rhetorical flash of newness that Negri accomplishes.

Negri traces a history of hegemonic class figures (p154-156), from the professional to the mass worker and announces that the passage from one hegemonic class figure to another inaugurates a change of epoch, in which "new, original, and radical perspectives of development have appeared." (p156) Negri announces that there is a new epoch, that of the 'social worker' (which will later in Negri's work become the multitude), characterized by "computerization of society", which Negri later recasts as 'immaterialization'. In this era "[t]he political composition of the proletariat is social (...) it is completely abstract, immaterial, and intellectual, in terms of the substance of labor; it is mobile and polyvalent in terms of its form." (p156) It is important to note that at this stage Negri has not yet undertaken the revision of immaterial and intellectual labor that he later takes up with his work with Hardt, in which there is an attempt to include affective labor within this type of work. Clearly here Negri is identifying a potentially hegemonic class fraction, a possible class vanguard.

Midnight Notes Collective write: "Working class strategies of the twentieth century typically had at their core, as leading subject, a particular class sector. For example, in the wage strategy and social democratic deal, the mass worker of the industrial factory acted as the "vanguard" of the class as a whole. ("Vanguard" here indicates who, within the whole class, is most effective against the capitalists; it does not equate to "vanguard party," nor to "class consciousness.") That sector could provide the power to launch a potentially revolutionary assault on capital by blocking accumulation based on particular structures and processes which themselves rested on this sector. A class vanguard also acts to gather the rest of the class around it as a focus of demands and struggles." This is the hegemonic class figure that many operaists sought to identify and influence.

"[W]e must question whether the apparent vanguards were as they appeared. Again within the Keynesian-Fordist deals, a focus on the apparent vanguard ignored too many powerful aspects of the class and its struggles, most particularly the struggles of women against reproducing labor power for capital. The notion of a vanguard of the class -- a sector of the class, not a self-proclaimed organizational vanguard, e.g., a party -- is thus problematic even where seemingly most clear."

"Vanguardism tends to ignore the complexity of divisions within the class or to attempt to overcome those divisions by asserting the primacy of some sectors. The conception of the vanguard is that the privileged sectors can impose a unity on other sectors through an assault on capital. The problem (...) is that this unity papers over contradictions that actually prevent the unity from withstanding capital's counterattacks."

"Ignoring the complexity of the division of labor also induces an overestimation of the structural power of the vanguard sector, not so much in its ability to provoke a crisis of capital, but in its ability to resolve the crisis in favor of the working class. The capitalist division of labor fragments the class, producing within each sector a partialness that renders the sector inadequate as a basis for constructing a new society." (These quotes taken from here - http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3843/mngcjm.html)

Given that for Negri a new epoch means a corresponding new hegemonic class fraction, when he announces that we are on the threshold of a new epoch then he is also saying that a new hegemonic sector is present or is forming.

There are two questions here for me. One is what is the function or effect of Negri's epochalization. The second is what would Negri's work look like shorn of this epochalization. Regarding the first, one effect is a body of work that is initially quite exhilarating to read. One gets the sense that we are on the cusp of something (of a new epoch, obviously). Aside from that, however, it seems that Negri's search for the new epoch and its corresponding class figure (in which the technical composition will find "an adequate translation in the political composition" [p155]) is linked to his turn toward representational modes of politics, such as a call for rights, for intervening in the EU constitution, calls for a new New Deal, a new Magna Charta, and so on.

Sergio Bologna writes: "Conflict as the moment of identity, as ‘the’ moment of constitution, of politics, of class constitution … this for me is a forced understanding. Amongst other things, this conception still attributes great value to visibility. The ‘other’, in order to be such, must be visible, manifest, and the more clamorous the conflict, the greater the identity it confers … This is the back door through which the traditional logic of politics is returned to play. I prefer the image of beams eaten from within by termites, I prefer a non-visible, non-spectacular path, the idea of the silent growth of a body that is foreign to the sort of visibility that leaves you hostage to the universe of mediation." (Quoted in Steve Wright, Children of a Lesser Marxism, here http://info.interactivist.net/article.pl?sid=04/12/16/1529237&mode=neste...)

One mode of reading Negri in way that shears his project from the hegemony of a given class fraction (capable, as noted in the Midnight Notes quote above, of imposing crisis but not necessarily of resolving the crisis in favor of the working class) would be start with a critique of hegemony and hierarchy inside the working class, and at the same time with an understanding of the nature of capital like that developed by Dalla Costa, Federici, Fortunati, and others, that is, a view of capital as always-already involving a complex of both waged and unwaged labor subjected to command via the wage, the state, and other mechanisms.

As far as I can think it out, this would entail re-reading the history of working class movements in way that analyzes the processes of construction of a single hegemonic figure, as well as articulating the figures and possibilities excluded or suppressed by this process. It would also entail elaborating new non- or anti-hegemonic politics, perhaps using resources found in the various minor histories of the class.

Sergio Bologna: "[T]he thought of Organised Autonomy, in particular the thought of Toni Negri, is a system of thought which in a certain sense has theorised ambiguity. Exactly on this point: the relationship between political elites, ideology and movement. This attempt to refuse Leninism, to say essentially that the political forms of today are dynamic political forms which open (and) close, which are not permanent. Obviously, it was a way of hiding, shall we say, the dialectic between political elite and movement (Cuninghame 2001).[Quoted in Wright, The Party Of Autonomy, http://www.endpage.org/Archives/Subversive_Texts/Wright_S/A_Party_of_Aut...

This point is I think one of the linchpins which holds up the effect in Negri's work that I don't like: "in the period of manufacture, and (...) in the two phases of the period of large-scale industry (...) processes of social cooperation of the productive forces were consequences of the development of the industrial and political capitalist machine. Now, however, cooperation is posed prior to the capitalist machine, as a condition independent of industry." (p156) This only makes sense a criterion by which distinguish the present from the past if one fails to see a larger backdrop of social cooperation prior to (logically and historically, ie, the commons) capitalist production, and if one fails to see the continued presence of forms of intervention into labor cooperation in the world today.

[Notes to self: translate and insert Mezzadra's comments on class composition analysis and homogenization in the dialog b/w him and the CS. Also, dig up quotes and compare Agamben, Virno, and Negri on 'general intellect'. I like the term as a philosophical anthropology (one which would hold true for the entirety of the history of capitalism) - as the point of departure for analysis and articulation of class subjectivity, of modes of subjectification. I don't like the term as a conclusion into a purported analyis of the present, that now there is general intellect, as if this philosophical anthropology becomes true.]