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Antonio Negri

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This the first of a new three-part series in which Antonio Negri, a leading political thinker of our time, explores key ideas that have animated radical thought and examines some of the social and economic forces that are shaping our world today. In this first volume Negri shows how the thinking of Marx and Foucault were brought together to create an original theoretical synthesis - particularly in the context of Italy from May '68 onwards. At around that time, the structures of industry and production began to change radically, with the emergence of new producer-subjects and new fields of capitalist value creation. New concepts and theories were developed by Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari and others to help make sense of these and related developments - concepts such as biopower and biopolitics, subjectivation and subsumption, public and common, power and potentiality. These concepts and theories are examined by Negri within the broader context of the development of European philosophical discourse in the twentieth century. Marx and Foucault provides a unique account of the development of radical thought in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and will be a key text for anyone interested in radical politics today.

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Title Page



Part I

1 Why Marx?




2 Reflections on the Use of Dialectics

1 The dialectics of antagonism

2 Materialism as biopolitics

3 From representation to expression

3 Thoughts Regarding ‘Critical Foresight’ in the Unpublished Chapter VI of Marx’s


, Volume 1





4 Acting in Common, and the Limits of Capital








5 Is It Possible to Be Communists without Marx?

Part II

6 An Italian Breakpoint: Production versus Development

7 On ‘Italian Theory’

8 The Constitution of the Common and the Logics of the Left

1 Defining the left

2 Obama and the illusions of reform

3 The three powers in crisis

4 Conservatism of the left, reformism of the right

5 Can the left become a constituent power?

6 The social reappropriation of the common

9 On the Future of the European Social Democracies

10 Let’s Start Reading Gramsci Again

11 Biopower and Biopolitics: Subjectivities in Struggle

Part III

12 On the Method of Political Critique

13 How and When I Read Foucault

14 Gilles Felix: The How and When of Deleuze–Guattari


15 Observations on the ‘Production of Subjectivity’: On an Intervention by Pierre Macherey

Co-authored with Judith Revel

16 Marx after Foucault: The Subject Refound







Origin of the Texts

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Table of Contents

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Antonio Negri

Marx and Foucault

Essays Volume 1

Translated by Ed Emery


Copyright © Antonio Negri 2017

The right of Antonio Negri to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This English edition © Polity Press 2017

Polity Press65 Bridge StreetCambridge CB2 1UR, UK

Polity Press350 Main StreetMalden, MA 02148, USA

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

ISBN-13: 978-1-5095-0344-5

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Negri, Antonio, 1933- author.Title: Marx and Foucault : essays / Antonio Negri.Description: Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA : Polity Press, [2016]- | Includes bibliographical references and index.Identifiers: LCCN 2016028565| ISBN 9781509503407 (hardback) | ISBN 9781509503414 (pbk.)Subjects: LCSH: Marx, Karl, 1818-1883. | Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984. | Political science--Philosophy. | Economics--Philosophy. |Sociology--Philosophy. | Philosophy, Marxist.Classification: LCC JA77 .N44 2016 | DDC 335.4/1--dc23 LC record available at

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Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the publisher will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent reprint or edition.

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I am grateful to Polity because in 1986, shortly after I had been forced to leave Italy and found myself isolated, living in exile in Paris, I started asking myself how I saw the class struggle and the systems of government about to develop in the twenty-first century, which was fast approaching. The outcome of this thinking was a book entitled The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century, which came out in 1989. Publishing it was an act of courage on the part of Polity, and I repaid it, I think, as it deserved, by offering a reading of the changes taking place in the composition of the working class. In that book I summarised the work on struggles in Italy and Europe that I had carried out in the previous decade, and I took the argument a step further, building on themes that were to emerge in the books which I co-authored with Michael Hardt a decade later: the trilogy Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth. The 1989 book therefore represented an early manifesto for the ‘socialised worker’ [‘operaio sociale’], who was to be the protagonist of the struggles of the twenty-first century.

Obviously Polity had its reasons for being interested in me. I was being asked to intervene in the debate – which at that time had just opened in Britain and in the English-speaking world – on a ‘new way’ for socialism, as prefigured by Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ project and soon afterwards by the new policy options outlined by Bill Clinton and the American Democrats. They too were interested in positions such as mine – namely that the traditional working-class corporations no longer played a progressive role – all the more so as my critique came from the left. They were interested because it offered them a way of legitimising the neoliberal policies by which we are now afflicted and sometimes crushed. However, there was no ambiguity on my part. My manifesto argued a position that, in freeing itself from the crisis of a working-class representation that by now had become aged and impotent, opened the way for the construction of a new horizon of struggles, of antagonism and of a communist programme. This was precisely the opposite of what Blair was planning: in my work there was no renunciation of labour’s struggle against surplus labour, no renunciation of the struggles of the cognitive, intellectual and precarious proletariat against a neoliberalism that wanted to mistreat these workers even more than liberalism had mistreated their fathers and grandfathers. So the manifesto published by Polity provided a broad account of the struggles of 1986 in France, the struggles of university and high school students, which had linked with the formidable strike of railway workers and urban transport workers: this was the first time you could concretely grasp the new unity between intellectual labour (in formation and organised as such) on the one hand and, on the other, the organisation of workers in the service sector – a sector increasingly invaded by cognitive and digital technologies. All this provided a good opportunity to understand how a new materialist analysis, applied politically in a class sense, could create a proposition for social struggles against capitalist command – and for how critique should work: not by seeking to impose (sometimes heroically; too often in vain) a past onto a present that had by now been thoroughly reshaped by the reforms and transformations taking place in command and in capitalist exploitation, but by shaking up this present, breaking it from the inside, and making possible the expression, in a rough and constituent manner, of the subjectivities that had been produced in it and were enclosed in it.

* * *

Philosophy connects with the history of the present – not as some distant superstructure, but by weaving itself into it as into a fabric. When we speak of contemporary philosophy, we often find ourselves in a situation very similar to the one we saw reflected in the Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century. Philosophy is sometimes a practice of power. From the middle of the nineteenth century on, philosophy has repeatedly applied itself to the task of either neutralisation or mystification, but always in order to exorcise the emergence of new social forces that were seeking to change the world. By this I mean the potentialities of subordinated labour in revolt. Their strength was too solid and visible for them to be denied; so it was rather a question of neutralising their insurgency or of recuperating (or subsuming) their potentiality [potenza]. We owe to the authors of western Marxism, and in particular to Georg Lukács, the growing awareness of the destructive intention of bourgeois ideology (in its philosophical form) in the face of the emergent social forces – or rather in the face of a working class that was in the ascendant. In continental Europe, for example, neo-Kantianism, in the various forms in which it expressed itself, played a fundamental role in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in concealing and neutralising those new emergences of being. They were manipulated and, when everything went well, subsumed to a universalism that was incapable of grasping their productive force, which was creative of languages and institutions.

But – remaining in that area by way of example – it should be recognised that the reformism of the neo-Kantian social democrats, in their attempts to root out the subversive monster, in the end had effects that were entirely minor by comparison with the effects – in terms of devastation, or rather of inquisitorial exorcism – of the positions advanced by the vitalist and irrationalist currents of philosophy, in league with capitalist power. This process reached its peak in that twentieth-century synthesis between a metaphysical thought oriented towards being and an irrationalist tendency bent on the glorification of a totalitarian and eventual nothingness, as organised for example by the fascist thinking of Martin Heidegger. It is striking how the massive and ongoing growth in the power [potenza] of the working class and of the victory of the Soviet revolution was not accompanied on the capitalist side by any realistic evaluation, but only by a determination to destroy – which was as deep as the revolution had been radical. Fascisms and Nazisms, both in the realm of philosophy and in the realm of real life, offer this paradox: as reality becomes revolutionary, so philosophy becomes reactionary.

* * *

We had to pass through the tragedy of two wars and wait for 1968 for the resistance that had accompanied the victory against the forces of horror in the Second World War to be able to present itself effectively at the level of the search for truth. The radical negativity that the philosophy of fascism had developed had dragged down an entire philosophical tradition: there were now strands of modern thought that could no longer be decently taken up, for example neo-Kantianism. Or, when they were taken up (as in the essays of Rawls or Habermas), they looked like relics and leftovers of an non-recoverable past – philosophies of the university and of the state, renewals of a juridical and ideological formalism that no longer had the power to divert or de-nature, or to intervene in the new realities of class relations. And in the meantime these – as our manifesto pointed out – had already been changing radically. A different world now gradually took over from the reality of the working-class factory and of a society traversed by impulses, needs and behaviours that derived from the factory; and this was a world where exploitation was renewed on and through society and where new qualifications of living labour emerged from the wider society: intellectual rather than manual, cognitive rather than material, cooperative at a very high intensity – which in turn was measured no longer in terms of the space and values of industry but in those of communication and of knowledge.

* * *

A new generation of revolutionary political discourse was needed. There was an urgent demand for a radical shift in the epistemic paradigm, to match the new characteristics of the ontology of the present. This is the terrain on which I have now embarked, in order to deepen the discussion, and this is the terrain on which the present book – moving between Marx and Foucault – tries to trace a meaningful line, which might enable us to broaden our philosophical and political reflection. This is a difficult terrain because it is a ‘post’ terrain. In other words, defining it means that it is not enough just to look at the past and at the same time observe – however sharply – the present. To do it, one needs to gamble on the future and proceed (for all the risks that this entails) by using a dispositif projected onto the ‘to come’ [a venire].* This is even clearer to me today when I look back at my 1986 Manifesto. That book was already informed by understandings of, and debate with, thinkers of the standing of Althusser and Deleuze; it was already marked by a clear awareness of the changes taking place in the ontology of the present, particularly in relation to the world of production and hence to the dimensions of labour and exploitation – and yet at that time the view could only be partial, and the potenza of the anticipations that the analysis developed was inevitably limited. You had to work – or rather the world had to work – in order to advance, knowing that critical work itself – in these epistemic conditions – was not merely an act of observing but was a forward projection of oneself; it was not an operation of the mind but an adventure of bodies. In the ‘post’, moving forward into the postmodern – in other words into that dimension that we begin to see more clearly today, spread out as it is in front of us and also within us, in that conflictual reality that concerns us intimately, both insofar as it is novel and insofar as it is total.

* * *

Let us go back to the ‘paradigm shift’ that theory had to set for itself as a problem around and after 1968. Here I would like to propose a game of historical–philosophical readings as a way of understanding that paradigm shift – a kind of play in which present-day characters act out a function that in another age was attributed to other characters – in the same way in which Renaissance theatre reworked characters that had been created in the comedies of Plautus and Terence. It is a philosophical game, designed to free us from the burden of those hundreds of volumes of the (universal and thus Eurocentric) history of philosophy that the silver age of the German university passed down to us as an inheritance all through the nineteenth century; a game that, precisely because it is a game, might free us from the burden of having to relive all that.

For example, how about Deleuze–Derrida–Foucault represented as a repetition of Hume–Kant–Hegel? Remember, this is just a game we are playing. But it is only in playing it that we shall eradicate the reactionary echoes that stand in the way of a new perception of history. Deleuze, then, in primis: the disarticulation of any notion of dialectical categories and solutions, just as Hume had been the destroyer of all possibility of causal categories and solutions. Or, again, Deleuze as a destroyer of any machine of individualisation, of any Cartesian consistency of the ego, just as Hume had been the destroyer of any form of substance; both of them inventors of an empirical and constitutive critique of imagination. This radical flattening of being, this refound surface of ontology destroys any neo-Kantian claim for the difference of intellect from experience; it uproots every subjective genealogy of being; and it opens onto the problem of the reconstruction of a new ontological terrain. And at this point enter Derrida. He emerges without timidity on that surface of being and offers it to us as a compacted materialistic constitution, taking from phenomenological thinking the relationship between perception, intention and language and constraining it within the concept of reality. The transcendental is taken by Derrida into immanence, the phenomenon to the noumenon, the thing in se [in itself] is unmasked and presents itself as world. Derrida succeeds in what Kant had prescribed and only partially achieved, as prisoner of a phenomenic project tied to a transcendental critique. Now, once we reached this point, that compacted world can be deconstructed. Here again Kant as critic appears on stage, but this time in constructive mode – a stage where concepts take on a shimmering aspect, a subjectivity immersed in an uncertainty of existence, a being that has something of a difficulty in coming into formation. And so the historical stage becomes filled with ghosts. Derrida does not hold them back; rather he brings them to the front, where (like Marx’s spectre haunting Europe) they terrorise the logicians and phenomenologists who persist in the fixation of being – and the princes and kings who make light of the spirit and the passions in order to bend them to dominion. Finally here comes Foucault, who can be represented in this play as the author of a Hegelian operation as simple and radically innovative as had been that of the philosopher of Stuttgart: he addresses history as a material terrain and brings it back into a productive ontology that is lived as constitutive praxis. So is this, again, Weltgeschichte als Weltgericht – the history of the world as a judgement and justice of the world?

Here the play dissolves into pure fiction. This is because the constitutive praxis that constitutes and traverses the ontology of actuality is in no case superficial or noumenal or transcendental: it is, precisely, constitutive. It is, in Foucault, articulated between two poles: a historical one, the embodiment of a ‘historicity’ deprived of any theological origin and of any teleological direction; and one of subjectivation, liberated from the chiasm imposed by any dialectical process or Aufhebung [sublation], which are oppressive even when the dialectic attempts to be negative, Kojevian. Here we arrive finally at the post-1968. What started out as comedy reveals itself as tragedy.

* * *

Nevertheless, there are good reasons to try to broaden the picture and seek to understand the relationship between Marx and Foucault in terms of the development of European history, first of all by looking at the Marx moment and seeing it as a construction, in the fateful years that saw the insurgency of the Commune and the founding of the German Reich, of a philosophy of revolution that becomes a target for the guns of Power (and of academic philosophy). I have already made this point. But let us remember that this is not a unique and bizarre episode: it is the norm prescribed by the class struggle dominated by the ruling class. It is a reaction that repeats itself every time the struggles of the subordinated classes make power tremble. To take just one example – consider what happened after the Protestant Reformation: on the one hand, the repressive action of the Counter-Reformation; on the other, the watering down of the Reform itself, from within. And, when the peasants rebel under Luther’s inspiration, they are massacred with his blessing. We could go on endlessly with examples of this kind of history – which still repeats itself today, when the springs of freedom blossom and are then closed by ferocious Thermidors and are repressed and executed in the name of ‘order’. So too Marx and his theory: they are to be understood within the lived experience of the proletarian class struggle – and thus will inevitably be fought against and repressed by power and defamed by university censors. And now we come to the Foucault moment: after 1968 Foucault aligns himself with those who considered it necessary to reform the political and ideological system that was established after the Second World War, and especially against those who had tried to remove from democratic politics and from the class struggle all subversive thrust, all critical dimension, all theoretical decision for revolution – in short, all subjectivation. In this framework, he tells us, we have to change ourselves, we have to fight over our needs, in the micro, and take desires as a starting point for a politics of life against the Power that increasingly reproduces itself within and against life. Every reform changes our destiny. The subjectivation of the struggle reopens history.

* * *

But fortunately history (and especially the history of philosophy) is a ‘battlefield’ in which there is a clash between ideologies, or rather forms of life, abstracted into philosophical knowledge and transformed, becoming again concrete as experiences of a singular thinking and of active bodies. In this way the history of philosophy (just like history in general) presents itself as discontinuity, as excedence–actions–reactions, and, as in all battles, it leaves on the ground its corpses and glorifies its heroes. If we now go back and place ourselves again within the German philosophical debate that dominated Europe between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – an experience whose reactionary quality we have measured and that leads straight into Heideggerian fascism – well, these ideas were of course not the only presences and outcomes on the scene at the time, especially when it comes to the philosophy of history. There are authors and forces (from Dilthey to Max Weber, not to mention Nietzsche) who take a position on the state’s and the university’s reaction against the class struggle and on the reduction of history to a destiny of command in unfreedom. These are authors (not necessarily progressive) who seek to understand the expansive nature of the historical process and who, in order to express it, coined the term Geschichtlichkeit [historicity], snatching history back from theology and transcendentalism: affirmation of a concrete historicity, within which one should grasp not so much historia rerum gestarum [the history of things done] as res gestae [the things done]. These authors seek to locate themselves within an ontology of actuality and to live there a dialectic of unresolved and progressive oppositions: in so doing they try to mark the take-off of liberty – accepting the risks, all the risks, of a deed of liberation.

What dominates in this experience, at that stage in a German philosophy itself creatively opposed to the academy (take, for instance, the work of Dilthey), is a number of stylemes, reworked over a period of time and with positive tonalities. The first of these is the sense of the crisis and anarchy of values brought about by capitalism as it becomes established. Capital ‘can make and unmake things as it wishes; it is like a beast with a thousand eyes and a thousand claws and without conscience, which may go wherever best suits it’ (Dilthey, 1976, p. 245). A second motif of the confrontation with the forces of reaction is the strong evocation of the figures of the Enlightenment. Not of the Kant of the Critique, but of Kant as the bard of the revolution, Kant who proposes the Enlightenment as a progressive and unending terrain of and path to knowledge. Sapere aude! [Dare to know!] Third, there occurs – inevitably at this point – an experience of rupture, an expressive excedence that is able to go beyond the Erlebnis, beyond the lived experience, in other words is able to structure itself in the temporal comprehension of life and to project itself in its reproduction, in a dispositif that is reconstructive of the world of life. So the critique of historical reason becomes the basis for a constitutive genealogy. A fourth element is the qualification of this excedence: a qualification that seeks to be intensive and that produces subjectivation; a qualification that – equally – seeks to be extensive and reaffirms humanism, not so much as a universal, but as a common. This is the humanism that imposes itself at the moment when the ‘death of God’ (‘the death of man’) is declared, as a hypostatic subject of western metaphysics, bringing to the fore the image of an ‘other’ human being, people who constitute – without certainty, but with what energy! – their own work [opera] in history. By the end, what has been affirmed is the relationship between history and society. History is not contemplated but becomes a site of action; society is structured by action; historicity as a horizon and fabric of action is always traversed by a collective presence.

This theoretical experience of ‘historicity’ translates to France at the end of the Second World War: it is the so-called ‘western Marxism’ that transfers the ontology of historicity into French thought. Merleau-Ponty takes the Lukács of History and Class Consciousness, and incorporates subjectivity into history without making it an epiphenomenon and without hypostatising the subject:

We give a form to history according to our categories; but our categories, in contact with history, are themselves freed from their partiality. The old problem of the relations between subject and object is transformed, and relativism is surpassed as soon as one puts it in historical terms, since here the object is the vestige left by other subjects, and the subject – historical understanding – held in the fabric of history, is by this very fact capable of self-criticism There is an oscillation from one to the other which, as much as we could hope for, reduces the distance between knowledge and history. It is along this road that Weber stops. He does not pursue the relativization of relativism to its limits. He always considers the circle of the present and the past, of our representation and real history, as a vicious circle. He remains dominated by the idea of a truth without condition. (Merleau-Ponty, 1974, pp. 30–1)

It is Marxism that incorporates subjectivity into history without making of it an epiphenomenon, it is the philosophical marrow of Marxism, its value as culture and finally its revolutionary meaning, that are in themselves in solidarity. (Ibid., p. 47)

The two relationships – between consciousness and ‘the produced’ and between consciousness and ‘productivity’ – are held together. So in the French postwar experience we find conjoined those experiences that had stood against the neutralisation and the exorcism of the forces of resistance in the more recent history of capitalism and had made it possible to liberate the vitality of revolutionary knowledge [sapere].

* * *

I have to admit that I would never have succeeded in defining this philosophical journey and in making it my own if I had not had the possibility of travelling between Italy and France in the 1970s. Between those two countries, in those years, there was a strange complementarity: what happened in struggles in Italy in the 1970s translated in France into philosophy. In Italy we had lived a history, or rather an ontology, that was productive of struggles and a praxis that was constituting a new world: it was in the immersion in that experience that we found again the continuity of Marx’s thinking and its interrelationship with the determinations that the new French philosophy was producing. Here understanding was the effect of a passage: not only a passage from one country to another, but a historical passage through defeat – the defeat of struggles in Italy, the defeat of socialism in Europe. We had already noted this in the Manifesto published at Polity in 1986 – but at the same time there was a revival of philosophical discourse that posed a constituent subject, namely the full subjectivation of the new composition of the class at the centre of the struggles and of the processes of transformation at that time.

In the texts that follow there will be references to this history, to this development of a thinking of transformation that comes across from Italy to France. I also offer two critical invitations: one, to do a rereading of these events and to rediscover them under the (vague, possibly inappropriate, but nevertheless useful) label of ‘Italian theory’; the other, an invitation to reread and interpret the thinking of Gramsci as an alternative path – albeit sometimes rather provincial, sometimes futuristic – in short, to recognise in this author a kind of paradigm (powerfully political and materialistic) of western Marxism.

* * *

At the start of the twenty-first century there has been much talk of ‘going back to Marx’ – in sociological research, in literary studies of and on postmodernism, and particularly in historical and political studies of postcolonialism, but above all in politics: not so much in political science as in politics as it is discussed and lived through active struggles, where people have rediscovered class struggle in the fight against neoliberalism and have discovered for themselves the arguments for the common in the struggle against financial globalisation. This is what has led to work on the critique of sovereignty, government, law, and administration as key concepts of modernity – which was done observing how, behind each of these levels of experience, lay rigid forms of the organisation of exploitation. However, a return to Marx is only possible if we distance ourselves from the Marx who was turned into dogma in the tradition of diamat (dialectical materialism). And thus, if one is to replant one’s political economy into a critique, this requires a strong immersion in history, a free political judgement, an ontology of the here and now, and class subjectivation – all to be set as the basis of any new Marxist doxa. Here the dialectic of exploitation can be described by reference to the actual historical conditions of the exploitation of labour and of the extraction of financial profit, of the socialisation and globalisation of capital, where the processes of emancipation, for their part, bring to the fore new subjective figures and new forms of struggle. That living labour that built the world has also rebuilt it – and configures itself therein, in an original way, having acquired a new potentiality [potenza]. Living labour has become labour that is intellectual, cognitive, affective and cooperative. The abstraction of labour has brought into being a new antagonistic coupling: money and [Marx’s concept of] ‘general intellect’. I was already discussing this in the 1986 Manifesto. But now, starting from this new historical subjectivation of the proletariat, I was able to address the new suffering and the new slavery of labour; and I began to counter it with the new proletarian productivity. The novel of living labour will therefore have to be rewritten in terms of general intellect, just as Marx had described labour in his own time, giving us his account of the development of capitalism in Capital.

* * *

So let us return to Foucault and to the essays on his work that are contained in this volume. I would suggest reading them starting from the end, in other words starting with the last chapter, on the subject of a Marxist experience of Foucault – in short, a Marx after Foucault – and then reading back to the first title in Part III, ‘On the Method of Political Critique’. A journey back in time from 2014 to 1977: a lifetime. Certainly a lifetime, because it was precisely in the 1970s that I perceived – from my reading of his earlier major works and from my proximity to Foucault’s friends and research assistants (in those days I was attending the École Normale Supérieure and the Collège in Paris) – the importance of the Lessons he was delivering at that time. In 2014 my experience of reading Foucault in the light of Marxism finally came to maturity – in other words, far from claiming Marxian overlays in the thinking of Foucault, I see Foucault as a development – certainly an independent one – of a number of central analytical insights that were posed and developed by Marx. Here I am talking about the Foucauldian concept of ‘biopolitics’, which should be read alongside the Marxian concept of the ‘real subsumption’ of society to capital. Then there was the Foucauldian transition from disciplinary systems to systems of control – which for me clarify definitively the transition from the Fordist mode of production to post-Fordism; and many other things besides. One insight that stands out is the concept of the biopolitical as a fabric of reproduction of society and of circulation of goods (not only material but especially immaterial: knowledge, expertise, affects etc.) and as an open horizon in the production of forms of life. Each and all of these categories (and many others, also of Foucauldian inspiration) were used by Michael Hardt and myself in Empire, in Multitude and in Commonwealth to describe developments in the field of sovereignty and to build our narrative of the transition from the nation-state (and from the concert of nation-states) to the global (imperial) model; from the anthropological and political concepts of individualism to the definition of the multitude as a multiple ensemble of singularities.

But, beyond all this, a Marxist (even a strange and rather unorthodox Marxist such as myself) is indebted to Foucault for having opened a way to the solution of two fundamental problems: that of the definition of Power [potere] and that of experimentation, genealogies and movements of subjectivation. As regards Power, we know how Foucault defines it: an action on the action of the other. Here we are in the midst of that dialectics of capital that, in the same way it allowed Marx to build his comprehensive model of capitalism, also allows us – here as followers of Foucault – to see how capital and power also become unified conceptually and constitute a chiasm between two contradictory actions that are forced to join together and yet are intransitive: constant capital and living labour – a power relationship in which the dual nature of the functions never arrives at equiparity because only living labour produces value. The same applies to power: command and resistance form a couple whose constituents do not overlap. There is no contract that can reconcile these two realities, and there is no transcendence that can bring them together into a unity. What produces res gestae (history) is the movement of resistance in its clash with power, and this resistance sets down a marker for an eventual possible common progress of humanity.

The theme of subjectivation is, in various ways, quite complex. In my reading of Marx in Marx beyond Marx I particularly developed the theme of subjectivation in terms of knowledge [conoscenza] – knowledge of the tendency, a coming to awareness, science. As an approach it was insufficient, even though – in a period of Marxist cultural hegemony like the 1970s – it was easily understandable and efficacious. Foucault reproposes the theme and addresses it – certainly more correctly and in a totally materialist manner – as a problem of the body. Understanding, will [volontà], care, technologies – the body is at the centre of the research, of the diagnosis, and of the dispositif of action (in Marxian terms: of inquiry [inchiesta], of science and of tendency, of political consciousness and of struggle). So then: subjectivation as an action that operates on being and (collectively) transforms it?

* * *

Again, on this terrain the criticisms came pouring in, and they were not insubstantial. They came principally from two sides (leaving aside the infinite variations in between). One of the initial criticisms was to attack Foucauldian biopolitics as a late theory of being, conceived of as changeable or as actively constituted–transformed, when in fact this being and this mode of transformation would always have been produced by nature, in life. The conclusion is that this ‘always’ reduces any change, any transformation, to an insignificant particle: history should not overvalue what it can accomplish, it remains a variation in nature. The insistence on ways of life and on the transformation of bios is thus pure literature. This is the line that runs for example through Bruno Latour’s critique, in his attempt to show the extent to which the anthropology of life bypasses (or exceeds and ‘removes’ in the Hegelian sense) the historicity of the world. Biopolitics is replaced by a ‘cosmo-political’. A glorification of powerlessness to act? In some ways yes, it is still the negation of any subject, the affirmation of a ‘process without a subject’, and moreover the negation of any subjectivity – a kind of structuralism restructured on a naturalist horizon.

After that projection into a natural background that is infinite and indeterminate, the argument from the other side was that biopolitics has to do with the consistency of the individual and with the individuation of his parts rather than with the subjectivation of his potentiality [potenza]; and, in the history or transformation of biopolitics, what is placed at the centre is individuals, or rather the individual. This is the liberal reading of biopolitics. The authors who begin (with increasing arrogance) to venture onto this dual terrain are many. They are so different and yet so similar: different, indeed opposed in their definition of life – in Spinozan terms, one could say that some are fascinated by the substance and the others by the modes; similar in their denial of the central marker of Foucault’s constructive production, namely history as the product of power and of resistance to power, historicity as the interwoven fabric of differences. In fact in both of these positions – in the liberal and individualistic and in the anthropological à la Latour – we find something identical: namely the deeply abstract concept of nature that exists in anthropology, and that of a nature that is individualised and isolated, as expressed by liberal revisionist writers on Foucault. But is not precisely this idea of nature and of profound identity, absolute in all its variations, the fundamental fetish of western ideology?

For me, the biopolitical lives – and is defined – through opposition to biopower, or (to put it in the terminology of Spinozist materialism) it is power [potenza] opposed to Power [potere]. This is the line that brings Foucault close not only to Marx, and not only to the western Marxism in which we grew up, but to the tradition of productive materialism that incorporates into one single bloc a realist ontology and a transformative politics.

* * *

So why have I added more political chapters to those on Marx and Foucault in what is essentially a book about philosophy and is therefore, in a way, pure of contingencies? The question implies a wrong idea of philosophy – but I make it my own, insisting that now, for some time, the Marx–Foucault relationship represents, so to speak, a central contingency in contemporary philosophy’s attempt to define an ontology of actuality. It is a matter of rediscovering Marx after Soviet dogma had turned him into an instrument of domination and thereby into a theoretical mess; after philology and structuralism had translated his work into an exotic fetish; after Marxism had been conceived (in the Frankfurt School’s scholastics of exorcism) as a performative monster in a world darkened by domination and incapable of redemption – except when mystical or prophetic. It is a matter of bringing Marx back to militancy, of immersing him once again in the understanding of history, of rereading him in the context of political urgencies; of traversing the entirety of these activities with increased knowledge and with the will to transform. Existential ‘engagement’ is not enough: it is life, not existence, that is at stake here. Foucault pushes us to read Marx in this perspective. This is why, in the essays published in this book, between the chapters that attempt a rereading of Marx for today and those that propose a reading of Foucault for tomorrow, I have also included a number of political–philosophical texts mostly relating to the present: the aim was to illustrate how in the 1970s there was a radical break with the Weltanschauung of capitalism in the transition to the dominance of neoliberalism (these are articles that further develop the positions argued in the Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century). Second, I have inserted other writings that help to clarify the definitive crisis of the social democracies, which is caused precisely by their withdrawal from the task of a reactualisation of Marxism. The Marx–Foucault relationship is enhanced by this historical condition. So, taking this as our starting point, let us resume our critical work, our transformative activity and our desire for revolution – in short, what Marx taught us – bringing critique, with the further aid of Foucault, into the context of our contemporary times.


I.e. ‘onto what is to come’, the future: play on words in Italian between the phrase

a venire

(‘to come’) and


(‘the future’).

Part I

1Why Marx?

Why Marx? Because a dialogue with Marx is essential for anyone developing the concept of class struggle at the centre and/or in the subaltern conditions of the capitalist empire and proposing a communist perspective today. The lessons from, and the discussion with, Marx are decisive for three reasons.

The first is political. Marxist materialism makes it possible to demystify all progressivist and consensual notions of capitalist development and to affirm, on the contrary, its antagonistic character. Capital is an antagonist social relationship; subversive politics locates itself ‘within’ this relationship, and immerses into it in equal measure the proletarian, the militant and the philosopher. The Kampfplatz [place of struggle] is ‘within and against’ capital.

The second reason why we cannot abandon Marx has to do with critique. Marx locates critique within historical ontology, which is constructed by, and always traversed by, the class struggle. Critique is thus the ‘viewpoint’ of the oppressed class in movement and enables you to follow the logic of the capitalist cycle, to understand its crisis, and by the same token to describe the ‘technical composition’ of the oppressed class and, eventually, to organise its ‘political composition’ in a perspective of revolution. The autonomy of the ‘class point of view’ is central to the critique.

The third reason for staying with Marx is that his theoretical elaboration made it possible, in the course of the twentieth century, to follow the deepening of the crisis of mature capitalism in its dual form (liberal and socialist), and at the same time to organise the liberation movements against colonial power and imperialism.

Today Marx’s theory has to come to terms with a radically different world of work and markets, of division of labour and geography of power – in short, with a new configuration of the classes in struggle. We need to establish whether, in addressing the new figures of exploitation, Marx’s theory can help with grasping their points of crisis, and then with liberating an appropriate imagination of the ‘common’. After the defeat of Soviet socialism we need a new theory of ‘common value’.

Within the limits of this chapter it is not possible to develop a comprehensive discussion on each of these points. Rather I shall limit myself to providing – on each point – an example drawn from Marx’s Capital.


By examining Sections IV, V and VI of Book 1 of Capital (chs 10–20), where Marx defines relative surplus value and analyses the process of formation of the system of the ‘large-scale factory’, we can arrive at an understanding of the constitution of a political point of view in Marx, and at the same time at his definition of a class politics.

Now, since the transition from the extraction of absolute surplus value to that of relative surplus value radically changes the relations of magnitude between the two parts of the working day (necessary labour time and surplus labour time), this transition has to be followed by a revolutionising of the conditions of production, both in the forms of value creation and in the forms of the labour process. There is a shortening of the labour time socially necessary for the production of a commodity, so that a smaller amount of work has the potential to produce a greater quantity of use value. At this point we have a radical modification of capitalism: the assumption of a machinic aspect that, as relative surplus value develops, comes to invest and transform the whole of society. These are the terms in which Marx studies the transition from manufacturing to the large-scale factory and the ensuing subsumption of labour cooperation to the exclusive command of capital. This transition creates the conditions for a huge increase in surplus value and for the subjection of a multitude of workers to the discipline of capital, as well as a progressive extension of the employers’ despotism from the factory to the whole of society. Thus the implementation of the processes of extraction of relative surplus value is not just about the division of the worker’s working day between the necessary labour part and the surplus labour part: it also revolutionises from top to bottom both the technical processes of labour and the social groupings. While on the one hand the body of workers active in the factory becomes a form of existence of capital itself, on the other hand the division of labour in the factory has to be reflected in a matching social division of labour – which means that, also outside the factory, social life is gradually subsumed to capital, first in a ‘formal’ manner, and then in ‘real’ terms. Nature itself is completely subjugated to the capitalist mode of production, agriculture to large-scale industry, and so forth.

But this genealogy of relative surplus value and this expansion of big industry, both of which appear invincible, actually have a very bizarre historical origin. The fact is that capital, in order to produce, has to incorporate human material and it has attempted to do this in history (which always repeats itself) since its origins, enormously expanding labour time and extending the appropriation of additional labour power – the labour of women and children, for example, in the first phase of industrial accumulation in Europe. In such circumstances the very survival of the working class as a ‘breed’ was put at risk, so ferocious was the degree of exploitation. Marx speaks of a holocaust of the proletariat. Resistance is born. The very transition from manufacturing to large-scale industry – as Marx explains – is brought about by working-class rebellion. This is in fact what happened. At that point the state had to intervene, using the force of law, to oblige the capitalists to shorten the length of the working day. We might also add: to force them to understand that the life of workers is not just brute raw material but is vital activity, historically consolidated and qualified – and, on this basis, resistant.

When the resistance of labour power appears, the whole picture (as described thus far in these sections of Capital