Lenin: Coming Between Guattari and Negri

We now come to a central aspect of the question of the organisation for liberation, of the form of militant social practice of liberation. This entire discussion revolves around the name, Lenin.

It is clear – more or less explicitly – that when Guattari warns against  ‘authoritarian disciplines, formal hierarchies, orders of priorities decreed from above, and compulsory ideological references…’ (p. 124) he is warning against what we might call the Leninist temptation. At the same time, Guattari recognises, as we have seen, the need for ‘centres of decision’ within any militant strategy. Largely, this is the question that can be said to define Lenin’s thought. It is, arguably, the central contribution made by Lenin to the thought of how militant practice should be organised. The question is clearly, how to think centres of decision outside the form given it in [Lenin’s] What is to be Done? Guattari states merely that such centres of decision will require the utilisation of ‘the most sophisticated technologies of communication’ for ‘maximal effectiveness’. It is not at all clear how this helps us. Guattari and Negri are clear about one thing: they are against ‘spontaneist myths’, as they write together in New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty; and even in his contribution to [Jean Oury’s] Pratique de L’Institutionnel et Politique, he defends Anti-Oedipus against attempts to read it as an ‘ode to spontaneity or an eulogy to some unruly liberation’.6Thus, the debate is put very much in the same terms as the conflict between Lenin’s and Luxemburg’s problematics of organisation. While all this is true, the means of resolving this question by Guattari and Negri cannot be simply reduced to one side or the other of the debates within the Second International. For Guattari, the refusal of spontaneism was made ‘in order to underline the artificial, “constructivist” nature of desire that we[Guattari and Deleuze] defined as “machinic” … To say of desire that it makes up part of the infrastructure amounts to saying that subjectivity produces reality’ (p. 128, 129). But while for Guattari this amounts – implicitly – to a dismissal of Lenin, Negri is much more unwilling to allow such a rapid move beyond Lenin.

In Negri’s response to Guattari, he writes:

…the history of the party, i.e. the history of the continuous dialectic of class consciousness between institutional “structure” and revolutionary “agency” – the history of the party, from anarchism to social democracy, from socialism to Leninism, finds itself explained by the linear evolution of class composition. Let it be clear that a process of accumulation is actually revealed through this evolution, a subjective movement of categorization, selection, and constitution. What was retained from past consciousness and experiences of organisation served as a critical material means to formulate an ever renewed project of liberation. (p. 136)

And if his position on Leninism still remains somewhat ambiguous, he states that:

From this new perspective on struggle and organizing, Leninism is no doubt an element to be subsumed, even if it will always be kept alive in the agency that we are preparing (p. 137)

And what is this always living moment of Leninism, this ‘stark reminder of the unforgettable function of class war (which cannot be erased or neglected), as an indication of the necessity to destroy the totality of the dispositif of command of the enemy – a never-ending task for those in search of liberation’ (p. 138). Desire as construction, as machinic, is understood by Negri as the passage from ‘movement to party’ (p. 140); it depends upon the material force of the masses establishing a relationship between knowledge and the ‘capacity for destruction’. The problem, as Negri states it in the final words of his response, is that of ‘how to be the catastrophe by building it (p. 141) with Spinoza’s affirmation of a love that lies between ‘knowledge and power’ and ‘above all’, with the eternal and Goethean Lenin: “in the beginning is action”. Let us make haste’ (p. 142).

We should, of course, mention Negri’s brief comments on this debate in his 1990 Postscript to the English edition of the book reprinted here.7Here, the terms of the debate – spontaneity and direction – are linked to the names Luxemburg and Lenin but while restating the central importance of this debate, this time, instead of, as in François Dosse’s words, expressing ‘his ineradicable attachment to Leninism’ (Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée, F. Dosse, Éditions La Découverte, p. 357), which Dosse sees as characterising Negri’s concluding statements in the ‘Lettre Archéologique’, Negri states somewhat more ambiguously, that the future movements ‘will have to reconsider these issues’.

—Matteo Mandarini, “Organising Communism”, Introduction to New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty by Guattari and Negri (reprint of “Communists Like Us”) p14-15.

6. Pratique de L’Institutionnel et Politique, F. Guattari, J. Oury, F.Tosquelles, Editiones Matrices, 1985, p 62, translated in The Guattari Reader, ed. G. Genosko, Blackwell, 1996, p. 128.

7. It should be recalled that both the English and the Italian edition of the text, both published at around the same time, neither of these concluding essays were included.



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