On the notion of the political in postmarxist theory.
Speculative materialism in queer-feminist perspective
Emerging life and syntheses of matter and time
Aesthetic existence and the ontologisation of poverty
The practise of doing nothing
Miguel Abensour as reader of Spinoza
Spinoza, Marx, Moses Hess
Agamben and Nancy as readers of Spinoza
Feminist readings of Spinoza
Deleuze on Spinoza's theory of affects
From the ontological to the affective
Spinoza with Deleuze
The underground current of the philosophy of immanence
Ontology of multiplicity or materialist dialectic?
Althusser's concept of immanent causality - Seminar
Marx with Spinoza
Being out of class (Deleuze)
What is an inoperativity that consists in contemplating one's own potentiality to act?
The messianic class
Sharing the inappropriable
The retreating class
The political capacity of the proletariat
The subtractive class II
The political capacity of the proletariat
The subtractive class
Disrupting the logic of division
The supplementary class
The antinomies of proletarian politics
The paradoxical class
Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe on political difference
Retreating the political
Lars T. Lih as Reader of Lenin
What Is to be Done? and Bolshevism
The concept of capitalism in "Anti-Oedipus"
Deleuze, Guattari, Lacan
An impossible encounter I
An impossible encounter: Deleuze, Guattari and Lacan
Micropolitics in "A thousand plateaus"
Molecular Politics I
On affectivity and potentiality
Spinoza with Deleuze
Nietzsche with Deleuze
The negative in the positive
The notion of becoming in Deleuze and Guattari
On Esposito's concept of bio/politics
Rancière's farewell to Althusserian Marxism
La leçon d'Althusser
Debating Althusser's philosophy of the encounter
What is aleatory materialism?
Negri on materialism
Kairos, Alma Venus, Multitudo
Tronti and Cacciari's concept of the political
The autonomy of the political
"From Capital-Labor to Capital-Life" by M. Lazzarato
Nancy on the singularity of death
Agamben and Deleuze on pure immanence
Workshop: becoming-major, becoming-minor
Foucault with Deleuze
The force of the outside II
Superimposing diagrams: discipline and governmentality
The force of the outside
Reading Jacques Rancière's "Dis-agreement"
Reading Balibar's "The Vacillation of Ideology in Marxism"
The non-totalizable complexity of the historical process
Reading Jacques Derrida's "Specters of Marx"
Deconstructing Value Theory
Reading Moishe Postone's "Time, Labor and Social Domination"
Value and Capitalist Capacities
Debating "The mirror of production" by Jean Baudrillard
Marx with Bataille
The coming communities of commons
Feminist comments on the relation between politics and labor
The arcane of reproduction
Virno on Marx's "Fragments on machines"
Notes on the general intellect
Virno on the concept of bio-politics in Postoperaism
What is living and what is dead in Marx's philosophy? II
Jason Read on abstract and living labor
What is living and what is dead in Marx's philosophy?
Reading Negri's "Twenty Theses on Marx"
The autonomy of living labor
Class composition in Italian autonomist Marxism
The emergence of the socialised worker II
Class composition in Italian autonomist Marxism
The emergence of the socialised worker
On Badiou's concept of truth procedure
Assigning a measure to the excessive power of the state
Reading Jacques Ranciere's "Ten theses on politics"
The supplementary part that disconnects the people from itself
Deleuze and Guattari on the concept of minoritarian struggle
On class composition and radical negativity
Domestic work and class struggle within the class II
On class composition and radical negativity
Domestic work and class struggle within the class
From class to minority
The relationship of Marxism and Post-Structuralism III
On the concept of the concrete universal
The relationship of Marxism and Post-Structuralism II
On Marx and Foucault
The relationship of Marxism and Post-Structuralism
Dictatorship of the proletariat and council movement
The Soviet experience II
Rosa Luxemburg on the Russian Revolution
The Soviet experience
Negri on Lenin
Democracy beyond law II
Lenin's concept of the dictatorship of protetariat
Democracy beyond law
Benjamin's concept of mysthic and divine violence
To bring about the real state of exception II
Agamben's reading of Benjamin
To bring about the real state of exception
Agamben's sovereign theoretical turn in thinking potentiality
Potentiality of impotentiality II
Agamben's theory of autonomous potentiality
Potentiality of impotentiality
— Miguel Abensour, Democracy against the State. Marx and the Machiavellian Moment, chapter 5: ‘The four characteristics of true democracy', Cambridge: Polity 2011, pp. 47-72
With Abensour’s reading of Spinoza, we arrive at the extreme opposite of the theoretical standpoint from which we started the seminar. We have reached the other side of Althusser’s topological analysis of the capitalist society formation based on Spinoza’s idea of immanent causality. With Abensour we confront one of the strongest alternatives to Althusser’s interpretation in the field of Spinoza readings in French Marxism.
I would like to remind you that Althusser’s interpretation of Spinoza’s immanent cause– as I attempted to indicate from the first session onwards – strongly oscillates between a Lacanian and a Spinozian model of causality. For Lacan, the distance inscribed in the structure, the décalage, that Althusser strives to think, can be traced back to a constitutive lack, a gap or hole, which is torn open by a cause that remains in retreat. It does not represent a simple non-being, but a ‘function of the impossible’. The absent cause thus becomes the counter-concept to the law. Laws describe how mechanisms act on each other and are displaced in their effects. However, the cause refers to the lack or the non-functionality – which is to say, the impossible – through which mechanisms of being, the psyche and reproduction are first installed. This ontological and existential primacy of a retreat within being, which brings about a ‘missing’ or ‘gaping’, is translated by Lacan into the category of truth. There is only truth concerning the impossible. As Jacques-Alain Miller remarks in 1964 in Action of Structure, this impossible cause calls forth the function of a misrecognising subject that relentlessly attempts to fill and suture the lack in being. That Althusser, strengthened by the influence of the Cercle d’épistémologie, refers to theories that see the structure as organised by the function of an absence that acts reflexively on the elements of the structure as internal negativity (‘the whole is there insofar as it is excluded, sublated; it is there because it is lacking’, as Hyppolite summarised this theme in Hegel), shows that, in the attempt to detach the relation between cause and effect from mechanical and teleological models, he cannot decide between the Lacanian idea of a withdrawn cause and the Spinozian idea of an immanent cause.
With the hypothesis that the structure expresses itself in the displacement of degrees of effectivity between relatively autonomous elements, Althusser then makes use of Spinoza’s immanent cause in Reading Capital. He takes up Marx and Engels’s idea of a totality of social relations that reaches far beyond the economic, and consists in the interaction of really distinguished elements, which are only determined ‘in the last instance’ through the realisation of surplus value. So as not to withdraw to a relativist position of infinitely mutating interactions, Althusser claims it would be necessary to take up the idea of a primacy of determination by the economic that unifies the play of differences between social elements by determining the displacements of their degrees of effectivity. That means the relations of production do not affect other social relations directly, but only via shifting the degrees of effectivity in and between the relations of production, the juridico-political and ideological instances. In other words, the economic determines nothing but the relation which becomes prevalent in the overall structure; it determines the relational logic in which the degrees of effectivity vary in the structure. We already discussed that Hyppolite pointed out that this idea of a partial overdetermined reflexivity comes close to considerations Hegel made in the Logic.
Abensour elides the object structuring Althusser’s reading of Marx that is the existence of an epistemological rupture in Marx by which he separates himself from humanist, anthropocentric and speculative elements in his thinking. This rupture is analogised by Althusser to the break incited in physics by Galilei, Newton, and Einstein, in chemistry by Lavoisier and in mathematics by Thales. In contrast to Balibar who suggested that Althusser subverts himself by drawing an analogy between epistemological discontinuities in natural science and in Marx because he thus makes his argumentation dependent on mirroring guarantees he was so eager to destroy in thinking, Abensour entirely rejects the epistemological path. By contrast, he engages in a post-foundationalist philosophical reading of Marx the object of which is neither an epistemological break in Marx’s works nor the action of (societal) structure but the politicisation of the non-political in the early Marx.
Instead of drawing a clear line between Marx’s early humanist writings and his later scientific works, Abensour pinpoints specific thresholds within Marx that enable to read Marx against his own self-conception. While in the 1859 introduction to the Critique of Political Economy Marx interpreted his 1843 revision of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right as a step with which he tied back the thinking of the relations of jurisprudence and the forms of State to the concrete material relations in which they are based, Abensour insists on Marx’s non-contemporaneity to himself. The real object of the 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right would be the idea of true democracy and the political self-institution of the people. This theoretical strategy to read an author against his the grain of his self-interpretation, Abensour borrows from Maximilien Rubel who told us that we will encounter an unknown Marx on this side of evolutionst, bureaucratic, positivist Marxist doxa when we critice Marx through himself, using his own thinking against and for itself.
Instead of an epistemological incision that separates Marx across a clean cutting edge from Hegel and Feuerbach, subtracting him from an anthropology of species activity, Abensour carries out a philosophical torsion within Marx’s thinking to establish in it a political anthropology of activity that breaks with the idea of dis-alienation and reconciliation
The figure Abensour is interested in is a non- or anti-statist political community characterised by the capacity of the people for a practical ecstasy that fights at two fronts. This capacity establishs a place that conflicts with every establishment: the place of a caesura between two statist forms – the old State against which the people have rebelled and the new state which emerges from within each rebellion, when in the revolutionary process new figures of domination are born.
This two-front-struggle is called by Abensour ‘insurrectional democracy’, a term with which he distances himself from republicanism and the radical democracy approach.
To illustrate the breach produced by insurrectional democracy, he refers both to the French Revolution where the societés populaire and the Enragés rose up against the State of the ancien régime and the new ruling class within the national convent, and the series of insurrections following the 1830 revolution in which the people struggled against the old regime and the nascent liberal monarchy alike.
Refering to Landauer’s idea that a revolution is an interval between two topoi, between an old and a new mode of domination, Abensour characterises political activity through a specific temporality, that is the time, in which the people, that are always many, always a multiplicity, in the struggle against domination and exploitation, are simultaneously capable of being in conflict with themselves, of keeping a distance to themselves, and of remaining non-identical to themselves. In this sense democracy is anarchic, without arche, which is to say, without beginning and principle. This self-conflictuality of the political is defined by Abensour as its utopian constitution.
On one hand Abensour is known for his introduction of Francfort School thinkers to the French intellectual scene, in particular through the book collection Critique de la politique directed by him since 1974 at Éditions Payot, on the other hand he is known for his readings of utopian thinkers, in which he traces the reappearance of Pierre Leroux, William Morris, Robert Owen and Gustav Landauer in the writings of Bloch, Benjamin, Buber, and Levinas. With a heterodox twist, Abensour converts Marx’s critique of utopian socialism, to which Marx and Engels contrasted the idea, in the German Ideology, that communism is ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’, into a sharpening of utopian thinking, a sort of self-criticism of utopian thinking. Too often it is taken for granted that calling a political practice utopian is synonymous with saying that it is non-interventionist. At the core of Abensour’s engagement with utopia we find the operation to de-synonymise these terms. Abensour contends that, far from being anti-political, utopianism is a revolutionary dynamism that makes the present non-identical to itself.
That is why, in a reverse operation, by emphasising the non-contemporaneity of the political act to itself, Abensour uses utopian thinking to question the presentism characterising Marx’s idea of proletarian politics that are said, in ‘The 18th Brumaire’, in a long process of repetition and retroactive correction, to come to itself, to become what it is.
Abensour is a disciple of Lefort, with whom he closely collaborated together with Maurice Gauchet and Pierre Clastres in the 1970s (see D. Ingram in Thesis 11, 2006). In 1976 Abensour and Gauchet worked together on an edition of La Boétie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude including essays by Lefort and Clastres. However, Gauchet and Abensour’s paths were already diverging at the time. Gauchet accompanied many left-radical critic’s of Stalinism from anti-totalitarianism through rights-based liberalism in the late 1970s to republicanims in the 1980s. Abensour, by contrast, remained true to the libertarian politics of 1968, eventually reconnecting the Lefortian and Arendtian idea of the political with Marx. As Daniel Bensaid has put it, we might be able to speak of a libertarian current within the international communist movement, a certain tone that is broader than anarchism and reaches from Lenin’s libertarianism in State and Revolution to Daniel Guérin’s anarcho-syndicalism up to Abensour’s libertarian Marxism.
In Democracy against the State – a title reminiscent of Clastres’ Society against the State – Abensour pinpoints one certain moment in the young Marx, in order to reject the common sensical idea in Lefort and Arendt that there is a lacuna of the political in Marx, that Marx repressed the idea of political autonomy in his writings and replaced the political act by the social act, the political revolution by the social revolution, the polis by the oikos. This certain moment in Marx, to which Abensour is turning, is the 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. It is presented by Abensour as exceptional text which indicates an underground current in Marx that continues at the margins of his entire work reverberating in The Civil War in France and The Critique of the Gotha program – that is, the passionate interest in a speculative thinking of the political and its essence.
We can see how Abensour isolates right the figures Althusser strived to destroy in Marx, in particular the reduction of the relations of production to intersubjective relations and the foundation of these relations in creative species activity, in the sensous life of the people, in its constitutive activiy, that is to say, Abensour returns to the Marx inspired by the Feuerbachian critique of Hegel, to the Marx who inverts Hegel by applying the Feuerbachian transformative methodology of inverting subject and predicate
In the chapter I selected for discussion Abensour carries out a concatanation of exceptional hypotheses to present Marx’s idea of insurrectional or as Marx himself says refering to Spinoza “true democracy” which I very briefly would like to present so that we can push fore to the core of his argumentation – which to my view seems to be the following: in the Critique Marx introduces us to the ecstasy, even sublimity of the political realm that is grounded by him in the living energy of the people, in “the active power of the demos”. That is to say, the political is both elevated and decentered at once, it is the most elevated aspect because at stake in it is the question of an emancipatory self-constitution of the life in common, and it is decentered by being “led back to its originary focal-point“ (p.68) – the species activity of the people.
Abensour suggests that Marx forces us to think through a paradox – the political capacity of the people to self-institute its existence is its most elevated capacity that in the same moment has to be prevented of ruling the entire life of the people (see p. 70).
Abensour reminds us that Marx begins the 1843 Critique with the unresolved antinomy between Hegel’s two determinations of the State:
“On the one hand, the State is in a relation of external necessity to bourgeois civil society and the family, on the other it is their immanent end. This unresolved antinomy makes the presentation of the State a duality. With respect to external necessity there is dependence and subordination; the autonomy of civil society and the family are made subordinated to the State. However, with respect to the immanent end, there is neither denpendence nor subordination but a harmonious identity, an inner identity, since the family and civil society represent but moments in the rise toward the Idea: the objective universality of the State.”
Basically, Abensour assumes that Marx replies in three steps to this antinomy in Hegel.
Abensour first hypothesis is that Marx inspired by Moses Hess and Hess’ reading of Spinoza develops a speculative idea of democracy pitched against Hegel’s idea of monarchy, democracy isn’t conceptualised as form of government or type of rule but as the constitution of a political community by the people the being of which is characterised by pure action. Abensour suggests that in connection with Moses Hess’s Philosophy of Action, and through it, with Spinoza and Fichte, the 1843 Critique can be read as the implementation, in the political field, of an ontology in which being is thought of as action or as acting (see p. 68).
Simultaneously, Abensour emphasises, Marx diverges from Moses Hess here in upholding a strong idea of politics. Action is not thought to realise itself in the realm of social spontaneity. Refering to Marx’s study of Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise in 1841, Abensour shows, that Marx does not follow Hess’ critique and subsequent abandonment of politics as pure form of domination. „Marx has another working relationship to Spinoza“, he writes (see p. 51). As in Spinoza, democracy in Marx is said to be the most complete political form based on the self-instituting capacity of the multitude.
The difference between Hess’ and Marx’s reading of Spinoza must not be underestimated. Abensour follows here Rubel’s study on Marx’s 1841 notes on the Theological-Political treatise. For Hess any politics .... necessarily maintains the opposition of domination and submission for its self-preservation; history repeats a lie, the split beween the abstract universal of the state and an individual without truth and spirit.
In the name of the Spinozist axiom – that is good which favors activity and increases the appetite for life – Hess negates all forms of politics as practise of domination including democracy:
„Hess pulls Spinoza over to anarchy metamorphosed into ethics, Marx by contrast leads us back to Spinoza’s thinking of democracy.“ (see p. 51)
Abensour’s second hypothesis is that this capacity for democratic self-institution which is based on species power is by no means a social but a political act. Following the Feuerbachian methodology of inverting subject and predicate, the constitution is thus based on active human existence, and the law is supposed to serve the human being
In the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right Marx says:
„Man does not exist because of the law, but rather the law exists for the good of man. Democracy is human existence, while in the other political forms man has only a legal existence. That is the fundamental difference of democracy.“ (see p. 52)“
Why is it, that this formula of democracy being human existence does not result in replacing the political by the social, the human, or the species? At stake in democracy – and this is key for Abensour – is the political objectification of species activity into a process of constitution and institution. This process implies a desocialisation, a subtraction from the privative and possessive socialisation in family and estates. We have a certain circular argumentation here:
Man is characterised by a transindividual capacity for creation and action; however, only in the political realm this capacity will come to destroy the limiting social bonds of bourgeois society, will come come to delink and subtract men from their traditional social bonds and will simultaneously institute a political community that allows for the most unlimited unfolding of human life (see p. 54).
The third theoretical step that Abensour is highlighting in The Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is the most complex one. This step lies in Marx’s attempt to restrict the political principle, to reduce and to relativise it, in order to avoid its excrescence, its hypostasis or its formalisation. This implies to think the political as only one particular aspect of the life of the people among a lot of other non-political aspects. The methodological consequence is to abandon the form-content-scheme. To think the political as one moment of human existence does mean to de-formalise it, to not conceive of it as form imprinted on species activitiy understood as content.
The figure Abensour wants us to think is the following: through the reduction of politics to one moment of our life in common, it is possible to allow for the opposite, to allow for the redistribution and spreading out of the energy fueling the political across all aspects of human life (see p. 68-69).