Lazzarato’s Virtual Communism

Lazzarato is able to distinguish his approach from traditional historical materialism with a few key reversals. The first is an elaboration on an argument he shares with Read: production is ‘greater’ than reproduction, which is just a translation of D&G’s claim that the virtual is richer than the actual. But rather than remaining within the capitalist mode of production, which treats it as a de facto totality, Lazzarato uses Tarde to make a move that detaches his analysis from capitalist production almost completely:

invention, as the creation of the possible and its process of actualisation in the souls (of consumers as well as workers), is the real production, whilst what Marx and the economists call production is, in reality, a reproduction (or a manufacture of a product or a management of a service even if in this case the things are a bit more complicated). (CLCL: 192)

In place of the totality of the mode of production, Lazzarato posit an original dynamic multiplicity. It is from that multiplicity that everything is constructed. Lazzarato then fully integrates a Foucaultian analysis within this metaphysics of the multiple.

Foucault provides Lazzarato a genealogical history of Euro-American power. Within this history, post-sovereign power is produced through the diffuse dispositifs of the social, which are first constructed during the enclosure movement as relatively autonomous sites of power constituted as closed blocks of space-time (the prison, the barracks, the hospital, etc). Each one of these enclosures utilizes techniques of confinement to produce useful effects that are provided by a multiplicity when it is captured and disciplines within the limits of space and time (Life/Living 173). At first each site of the enclosure works somewhat independently as different dispositifs of power, though they share a similar logic: the prison. As power intensifies, heterogeneous dispositifs form problematics between elements that seem to be antagonism: namely, the centripetal logic of individual rights (‘my rights end where your rights begin’) and the centrifugal logic of economic exchange (‘natural propensity to combine, expand, and profit’). Liberalism emerges as the response to this tension because it “does not aim tot take over, in a reconciled totality, the different conceptions of law, freedom, right and the process of the juridical and social dispositifs imply” (BB np).

Two subsequent intensifications of power follow: biopower and societies of control. Beginning in the 18C, biopower layers on top of the disciplinary institutions to create a combined anatomo-politics of the body and a bio-politics of the population. Biopower marks the points where power management multiplicities as such; as systems that, when combined and in open spaces, exhibit their own emergent patterns as the result of interaction. Second, as institutions begin to derive power from multiplicities and not institutions themselves, society qualitatively shifted into what Deleuze calls “societies of control.” Within these societies, power relations are “virtual, unstable, non-localisable, non-stratified potentialities” and are controlled through integration and differentiation (L/L 174).

To integrate “means to connect singularities, to homogenise them and make them converge qua singularities towards a common goal… tracing a general line of force which passes through forces and fixes them into forms” piece by piece according to small difference, like integral calculus (L/L 174). And differentiation, is the creation and reproduction of dualism without a reference term in order to “capture, codify, and control virtualities” (174). This is not the bi-univocal dualism of male/female, but a dispositif, the ‘thousand tiny sexes’ and ‘tiny possible becomings’ that make up a population. The effect of this control is not the restriction of difference, but their de-potentialization through a repetition of the same; in particular, the intended effect is to confine the outside. This is the primary strategy of neo-liberalism: predictable permissiveness to produce an intended result. Undesirable outcomes are mapped and neutralized in order to codify repetition and drain the power of repetition (L/L 176).

By displacing the focus from the ‘communism of capital’ to the multiplicity, Lazzarato produces a complete different map of the virtual. For Lazzarato, the social is a much more diverse space than the image of that space generated by the denigrated apparatus of capture that is forever trying to close of avenues of difference. The enclosed spaces of discipline have been turned inside out and networked.  Wholeness, completion, and coherence have been transformed. A web of elements has been layered on top of disciplinary enclosures to de-code and de-territorialize them so they can be stitched together by virtue of their connectivity and transitivity to create the movability of the event, the displacement of change, relationality outside its terms, “communication” without content, and communicability. Connectivity is made through porosity, a leaking.  It has been described as bio-political tissue, but it is really a giant membrane, a filter of exteriorities continually entering and traversing it. It twists the strange formulation that ‘there is no outside’, which sounds too much like the frightening howl of Thatcher’s ‘There Is No Alternative”, into the much more useful ‘there is no inside.’[i]  One no longer has to enter a disciplinary enclosure to be filled with a projective interiority, but rather extend through time and space.

“Another world is possible”, the saying that spilled out on the street of Seattle in 1999, the new image of revolt is. Lazzarato insists on the historical and ontology dimension of this philosophy rather than the imaginative. “To exist is to the differ.” It is the given-ness of phrase being spoken that affirms the existence of an alternative different world as echoed by the anarchists in Bernadette Corporation’s Get Rid of Yourself:

They say, “another world is possible.” But I am another world. Am I possible? I am here, living, stealing, doing cocaine, subtracting myself from the bad movie of urban love stories, inventing weapons, elaborating the complex constellation of my relations, building the Party. They say “another world is possible.” But we do not want another world, another order, another justice: another logical nightmare. We do not want any global governance be it fair, be it ecological, be it certified by Porto Allegre. We want THIS world. We want this world as chaos. We want the chaos of our lives, the chaos of our perceptions, the chaos of our desires and repulsions. The chaos that happens when management collapses. Capitalism defeated traditional societies because it was more exciting than they were, but now there is something more exciting than Capitalism, itself: its destruction.

And as Deleuze and Guattari insist in WiP, utopia is a no-where and a now-here, both at the same time; to “posit revolution as plane of immanence, infinite movement and absolute survey, but to the extent that these features connect up with what is real here and now in the struggle against capitalism, relaunching new struggles whenever the earlier one is betrayed” (WiP: 99-100). Lazzarato is therefore a special thinker, able to retain the utopian dimension of both the virtual and the actual, of science and philosophy. And the vehicle for revolution is the politics of the minoritarian multiplicity.


Bernadette Corporation, Get Rid Of Yourself

Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus
–. A Thousand Plateaus
–. What Is Philosophy?

Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge
–.Society Must Be Defended

Lazzarato, Les Revolutions Du Capitalisme
–. “Concepts of Life and the Living in the Societies of Control”
–. “From Capital-Labour to Capital-Life”
–. “Biopolitics/Bioeconomics: a politics of multiplicity”
–. “Majority/Minorities”

[i] Ideology functions as a projective inside, typified of course with disciplinary institutions.  The ‘interiority’ of the disciplinary enclosure produces a corresponding interiority of the subject, to which the subject is then able to speak.  This was the part of Foucault’s project on confession, particularly Christian confession and anxiety, that was never fully developed.  Though speculative, the idea is that the discourse of confession and the discourse of Parrhesia can be contrasted.  One can reconstruct these arguments through the course of Foucault’s late world of sexuality, spanning from the first History of Sexuality through his Berkeley and College de France lectures. (Following Hardt and Negri, Tiqqun’s explication of ‘there is not Outside’ is useful but still limiting.)

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