Dr W Large

A Politics of Creativity

If in the last seminar we diagnosed what is wrong with our present, today we speak about our future.  It is much simpler to be descriptive, rather than creative, but one of the aims of Empire is not simply to describe the power at work in the world today, but to outline what might be a possible, however difficult that might, alternative, to use the title of the third section of the first part, to this power. If the current power of the Empire, takes the form of biopolitics, then what is the form of the resistance to this power? Negri and Hardt use the same expression always to describe it: the multitude. The question is what is it and how does it offer an alternative to biopolitics

      The word itself comes from Spinoza and Negri’s reading of him. We shall need to return to the genealogy of this concept later in another seminar, but at the moment we just want to analyse the meaning of this word on its own terms, for without an understanding of its meaning, Negri and Hardt’s reading of it, and what is at stake in this reading, really will not make any sense. Even in the last section in biopolitics we get some suggestion what this might be when the authors write of ‘a milieu of event’ that somehow resists the saturation of the society of control.[1] It does so precisely because in such a society power is no longer localisable, and therefore the resistance to power is everywhere. Nonetheless, this resistance can no longer be thought in the same way that we have traditionally thought of politics.

      The idea of the event somehow resisting power has its origin in the writings of Deleuze, and we will have to also return to this notion if we are going to understand Empire completely, but for now we can to other book of this author, written in collaboration with Guattari, to grasp what this new form of resistance is the society of control. This book is called Anti-Oedipus, and it is one of the most important sources for Empire. The specific section of this book that interests us here is the opening pages of the last chapter, ‘The Second Positive Task’.[2] Just as Negri does in ‘Social Capital and the World Market’, these authors follow the traditional Marxist immanent critique of capitalism. The downfall of capitalism is not to be found in a social structure outside of it, but is internal to it. Capitalism is the key to its own abolition. Unlike Marx, however, Deleuze and Guattari, place in the crisis of capital not in economic life, but desire. In these pages, they distinguish between two kinds of desire, molecular and molar. Molar desire belongs to the social structures that dominate our lives in the coordination or our needs and interests. Such an operation does not act from afar; rather for the society of control to function, we have to invest in these structures ourselves. We have to, as they argue, desire our own repression.

      Distinct from this desire, which is not really a desire at all in their definition, since desire properly speaking is always productive and creative, there is molecular desire, which acts at a much more infinitesimal level, and is not about structures or organisations at all, but acts between and across them. One way of understanding the difference between these two is through human sexuality. Molar sexuality is about identifications and oppositions, as for example in the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality, or the difference between the sexes themselves in the opposition between the feminine and the masculine. Every individual is meant to locate themselves in these absolute differences, or what they call exclusive differences, and each is the negative or lack of the other: heterosexuality the lack of homosexuality and visa versa; the feminine the lack of masculinity and visa versa. But beneath this absolute difference, there is a whole swarm of micro-sexualities that escape these homogeneous identities, and which are the reality of desire as opposed to its subordination to needs and interests. Every individual is more than the identity they are subjected to, whether they are consciousness of it or not.

      This difference between the molecular and molar can be mapped onto politics. Here Deleuze and Guattari make a distinction between the subjugated and subject groups. In the first group, the members of the group still invest their desire in structures and programs, whereas in the second, desire directly invests the social field. We should be careful of not translating this difference between the subjugated and subject group into an absolute one. Every group, and likewise an individual, moves between subjugation and creative subjectivity, and event can suddenly precipitate a subjugated group into a subject one and visa versa. Again when it comes to the traditional language of the revolutionary and reactionary we need to make an important distinction between the preconscious and unconscious investment. The preconscious investment is always at the level of interests and therefore directly connected to domination and control. This is even the case for the revolutionary preconscious investment, which rather than fixating on the State, falls in love with the party. Unconscious desire, on the other, directly connects into society undermining its stability and solidity. Politics is not a matter, for Deleuze and Guattari, of substituting one kind of government by another, but of getting rid of subordination altogether.

      Negri and Hardt are also suspicious of preconscious revolutionary investment, though rather than putting it into the language of psychoanalysis, they are still happy to use the old language of politics. The old left wing politics is dead, and this is because the traditional proletariat, of the mass working class, is dead. This is not because the proletariat has vanished in the Empire. Precisely the opposite, we all belong to the proletariat now:

The composition of the proletariat has transformed and thus our understanding of it must too. In conceptual terms we understand proletariat as a broad category that includes all those who labour is directly or indirectly exploited by and subjected to capitalist norms of production and reproduction.[3]

Negri, however, no longer seems to agree with his hopes in ‘Social Capital and the World Market’ where he took a more classical Marxist line. In this essay, he still is talking about the mass worker, which is created by the social forces of capital. How capital functions in the Empire is quite different; rather than drawing people together it separates and individualises them, thus, apparently destroying any collective political effort. This is the dilemma that faces the alternative to the Empire. They warn against two possible political strategies. One is the continuation of the old political internationalism that began in the 19th century, and the other is a belief that only the local struggles can combat globalisation. Although the first is more defensible than the second, the conditions that made it successful in the past no longer exist, whereas the second strategy is simply misplaced. It is wrong on two counts: first the distinction between the local and the global is a false one; since the intensification of globalisation means that the local is just one more form of the global. Localities are produced not naturally given. Secondly, these produced localities can only refer to a reactionary politics of land, nature and nationalism against globalisation, against which the Empire should be seen as an improvement. We should always guard against nostalgia. Just as Marx says that capitalism is a great improvement on the old feudal social structures, and contains the seeds of its own destruction, so too these authors make is clear that the Empire is a step forward especially in the destruction of nation state, which was the cause of much of the real tragedies of modernity.

Rather than that the global itself being the enemy, it is the particular historical form that it takes as the Empire. Nonetheless, this warning against nostalgia is not just about feelings, but belongs to a proper ontological critique of the basis of Empire, and this is perhaps the most difficult part of this book. The Empire presents itself as the origin of reality, but we must reverse this relation, so that reality is the origin of the Empire. The reality in question here is the multitude. The multitude is the origin of the Empire because it is the true source of the sociohistorical creativity. Rather than the Empire creating the multitude, it is the multitude that creates the Empire, constituting rather than constituted. Again this is similar to Marx’s critique of capitalism. Capital presents itself as the miraculous origin of reality, but the true origin is labour. The difference today, is that this labour can no longer be thought in terms of a homogenised mass, but made of heterogeneous and singular struggles and resistances.

To capture this difference, the authors make use of the image of the mole and the snake. Marx described the old international proletarian struggle like a mole digging underground. Though for many years, capitalism would look to be stable, but beneath its surface and ‘old mole’ was digging away undermining its foundations, bursting to the surface a key times and moments of crisis. This image no longer works, because it implies that there is an outside to the Empire. Every part life is saturated by capital. This is the meaning of the society of control. For this reason, rather than the difference between the surface and the depth, there is only the surface; rather than a horizontal relation between different struggles through the world, which connect to one another outside of capital, there is a directly vertical relation between every struggle and the heart of the Empire. This is because if capital invades every aspect of life, then this means that any resistance, however small or large, would be a blow against it.

But what would be the strategy of this new resistance? It would take two forms, the one positive, and the other negative. The first, which we have already come across in the first chapter, is ‘critical and deconstructive’. It is the destruction of the ideology of the Empire that presents itself as though it were the origin of reality. The second is positive. It is ‘constructive and ethico-political’. It is not enough simply analyse one also has to act. This means changing the meaning of philosophy altogether. Against Hegel’s image of philosophy, which can only react to events that have already happened, it must directly engage itself in the world to change it:

Philosophy is not the owl of Minerva that takes flight after history has been realized in order to celebrate its happy ending; rather, philosophy is subjective proposition, desire, and praxis that are applied to the event.[4]

It still remains unclear, however, what this praxis might be in relation to events. This lack of clarity is not a criticism of these authors, for it is evidence of a real problem: we still think in terms of the old paradigm, but the present has moved on. The future has already happened, but we act as though nothing had changed. We are faced with a new kind of social movement that has two important characteristics. First, as we have already said, every singular struggle is vertically connected to the global situation. This is why local politics is an absurdity. Not because one cannot do anything about the local, but that every locality is already global. Second, all struggles are both economic and political. This is because the form of domination today, as biopolitics, is total. Yet when we look at real events it is not hard to be depressed. They seem to be a repetition of the old-fashioned ideas and images, and the radical left seems to have become exhausted. The solution to this blockage is twofold: first, there must be recognition of a common enemy, and second, the creation of a common language.

The question remains, however, whether even these strategies go far enough. Does it not miss the real potential of the multitude? Even this creation of a common enemy and language seems to imply the old modal of a horizontal struggle, which necessitates a program in advance unifying the separate struggles. What we need today to combat the domination of the Empire is not a programmatic politics, with aims and objectives, strategies and plans, but a creative, spontaneous resistance, where singular struggles connect directly to one another is their differences, rather than through some common identity.

On the one side, there is the juridical constituted biopolitical power of the Empire, on the other, the creative real potential of the multitude. The Empire is not a stable system, but is always in continual crisis, having to reinvent itself against ‘creative subjectivities’. This sequence of struggles, unlike the old internationalism, is not predictable and is increasingly disorganised. The new question is can the Empire keep up with the creativity of subjectivity that is has and must necessarily unleash, since these events are its real momentum? This is the crisis that is immanent to the Empire, and which, the authors believe, will eventually blow it, like the contradiction between labour and capital, sky high.

Such has been the change in the political terrain that the authors suggest that perhaps we ought to be reading Machiavelli rather than Marx. Following Althusser’s analysis of the political form of the manifesto, they suggest that in this form of writing there is always a separation between the subject and the object. In Marx, the subject is the proletariat, and the object the Communist party, whereas in Machiavelli, it is the subject is the multitude and the object is the ‘free state’ or democracy. Nonetheless there is a great difference as to how these two thinkers, in their manifestoes, depict the relation between the subject and object of their discourse. For Marx, the proletariat and the party are ‘co-present’, whereas for Machiavelli, there is separation or distance between the multitude, and the free state, that requires the mediation of a ‘democratic apparatus’. In this sense, Machiavelli might be more contemporaneous than Marx. With the split between productive creativity and liberation, which are the new subject and object of Empire, then the question becomes what is the democratic apparatus that can bring them together. Unlike Marx, we cannot expect that this apparatus will simply involve through the party. Nonetheless, Machiavelli’s conception is still too utopian, and demands a transcendent solution. Here we must turn to the philosophy of Spinoza and its possibility of a true ‘materialist teleology’:

Today a manifesto, a political discourse, should aspire to fulfil a Spinozist prophetic function, the function of immanent desire that organizes the multitude. There is not finally here any determination or utopia: this is rather a radical counterpower, ontologically grounded no on any ‘vide pour le futur’ but on actual activity of the multitude, its creation, production, and power – a materialist teleology.[5]


[1] Antoni Negri and Michel Hardt, Empire (Harvard University Press, 2001) 25.

[2] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, (London: Athlone, 1984) 340-51.

[3] Empire, op. cit. 52.

[4] Ibid 49.

[5] Ibid 66.