Postfordist Lexicon. Entry on Multitude

Adelino Zanini

Translated by Arianna Bove

The concept of multitude belongs to the noblest tradition of political theory; however, its presence in the Postfordist Lexicon requires some original explanation. The pivotal assumption is the obvious explanatory deficit of the concept of class, whose inadequacy today requires us, first of all, to unravel the rhetoric of 'interests' (which had considerable fortune in political science during the 1980's), the society of individuals and discoursive ethics and all the representations that potray conflict in terms of rank, existence or even universalism and which need 'new' criteria of political representation. The Postfordist notion of multitude however presupposes the exhaustion of representation and thus has no relation to the dialectics of majority and minority, in so far as it lies outside of the distinction between majority as homogeneous and coherent system, and minority as its static sub-system. In so far as it comprises of different 'acting minorities' whose combination is never identified with the 'people', the multutide is a becoming minoritarian, that neither aspires to impose itself as majority nor wishes to turn its power (potenza), intelligence and creativity into 'government' (Virno, Mondanita', 1994, 104).

The multitude is the collective expression of whoeverness (Agamben, La comunita' che viene, 1990) and its questions exclude that of acquiring a majority: no group of acting minorities is a becoming if it thinks of itself as a future majority. Being majoritarian is stable, 'it is never a becoming. There is no becoming that is not minoritarian' (Deleuze, Filosofia e minoranza, Millepiani,1997). A useful example can clarify the conceptual differences. What is a minor literature? It is not the product of a minoritarian language, an ethnic dialect or a linguistic niche that structures the identity of a minority. On the contrary, it is the product of a minority in a majoritarian language and, as such, neither belongs to it nor can it do without it. Through this, the majoritarian language ends up being affected by a strong process of contamination and deterritorialisation that denies the being of the minority as a segragated part. A minor literature in its slenderness is thus a collective enunciation, a becoming minoritarian that involves everyone beyond the minority from which it emerges (Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka. Per una letteratura minore, 1975).

Whilst a minority is static, limited to itself and has an indefeasible vocation to self-referentiality, becoming minoritarian is a potential. Under the Postfordist mode of production, the multiple tendencies at the basis of generic experiences are minoritarian and potential; whilst not being transferrable as such, they are nonetheless inevitable. The evolving of minor cultures that contaminate majoritarian ones and the continuous corruption of specialist languages that everyday language generates are minoritarian and potential processes, as is the action of the postfordist labour-force, of the multitude. The latter is not a shapeless mass - despite being subject to and pervaded by opportunism, cynicism and such things - but rather the expression of collectivity in the abstract, whose only possible belonging is to the 'here and now' (Aa. Vv., Sentimenti dell'aldiqua, 1990).

The philosophical foundations of the concept of multitude can be found in Machiavelli (Discorsi, I, 58) and Spinoza (Tract. Pol.III, 9; IV, 5). It is important to note that the difference of acceptions of the classical concept is due precisely to the divarication between the democratic and the absolutist 'thread' that unites these authors. In the democratic thread we find the sharp discrepancy between power [potenza] (as the reciprocal inherence of the one and the many) and power [potere] (as the subordination of the multiplicity of power [potenza] (Negri, L'anomalia selvaggia, 1982, 224); whilst the absolutist thread defines the Hobbesian distinction between multitude and people (De Cive, XII but also Arendt, Sulla Rivoluzione, 1989). In both cases the focus is clearly on the question that connects multitude and sovereignty: in the first case this question is manifest in a crushing reduction that shows the irriducibility of the power [potenza] of the multitude to power [potere]; in the second case this question is tackled through the fundamental distinction between the multitude and the people. As Hobbes explains, this distinction is characterised by the fact that whilst the multitude is the generic expression of the many, each of whom keeps its own singular will, the people ascribes to itself 'one will, to which one action can be attributed'. Because of this, any act of rebellion of the subjects against the state is equally an act of the multitude against the people. In fact, contrary to the people, the multitude is irrepresentable and is not established through a transferral of sovereign power; thus, in the face of the state, it does not have the same function as the people. As Tocqueville wrote, 'beyond the people one cannot see but equal individuals mixed up in a common mass'.

The contemporary relevance of this contrapposition becomes clearer if rather than reducing it to the radicality of different representable minorities, we trace it back to the distinction between a minority (as a subsystem of the majority) and a becoming minoritarian. Multitude is the indeterminate expression of the becoming of acting minorities whose sum never coincides with the people. In relation to contemporary political theory, if, for instance, we were to consider a possible conjunction of Keynes's political categories and Kelsen's juridical concepts (Zanini, Keynes, 1985), we would say that the juridical concept of people, as opposed to the non juridical notion of moltitude, is defined through the majoritarian principle: this instrument is indissociable from the practice of government that follows a given normative order. However, what requires the effectivity of the principle of majoritarian rule is not necessarily such normative order, on the contrary, it is the principle itself that requires an ordering that legitimates it and institutes it as universal principle of representation. As Kelsen observes (1980, 292), the majority presupposes by definition the existence of a minority; and the right of the former entails the right to existance of the latter. Like the majority, a minority as such entails a constant. Whenever it functions as the dilectical element that gives the majority the opportunity to exercise its right without imposition or patent cohercion, the minority is indispensible to its legitimation. The pact is their meeting ground; on both sides of the compromise lies a mere indifference to what is at stake and contended by them.

The multitude dodges this dialectic because the becoming minoritarian aspires only to transversality: it shrinks from the majority without being minority. Its becoming lies in a double movement of subtraction and deterritorialisation. Deleuze aptly underlines (1997) that the majority entails a constant -not viceversa- and that it presupposes a state of law and impersonal domination. The idea and the 'image' of the freedom of the people are linked to an impersonal character, the minority (rather than the becoming minoritarian) is its constitutive part. The great architectonics of Kelsen's 'juridical form'is perhaps the best image of modern sovereignty. Its necessary premise is that the majority enjoys the legitimacy offered by the existence of a minority, of an order that establishes the criteria adequate to inclusion and to thus transform the majority and the minority into juridical 'forms'. This is the reason for the need to distinguish the majority as homogeneous and constant system, from the minority as its subsystem, and the minoritarian as creative and potential becoming. The minority as such is always faced with a clear cut alternative: either to accept the rules of the majority, or the ghetto (Zanini, 1997). The extreme Schmittian attempt to underline the centrality of the friend/enemy ?

Schmitt’s extreme attempt to underline the importance of the friend/enemy dyad had to account precisely for the fact that the multitude was destined to lose its character of “natural” antecedent and impose itself as the historical result, yet without being crushed and reduced to “part”, minority or, more explicitly, “simple” enemy (Virno, 1994, p. 104).

What can be said of a minority that is “outside the system” and whose normative regulation is “legally impossible”? Schmitt, 1982. Simply that every minority outside the system is such only so long as it accepts to remain extreme. In such a case it is difficult to dissect the extent to which it does not degenerate to the point of determining itself as a very abstract justice. This seems unequivocal for instance in the Italian armed struggle. In the absolute hostility between friend/enemy, any minority can only conceive of itself as future majority. However, this path is precluded to a becoming minoritarian that pertains to a multitude which does not aim to become state-image (image-of-the-state). Only the existence of a state – whether present or future, already given or projected – legitimates an absolute enmity because it establishes a fixed idea of sovereignty, first recognisable, then capable of being legitimated [Castellano, 1991, 95-98]. For this reason, the model of absolute enmity does not pertain to the practice of the multitude: “not because it is extremist and crude, but paradoxically because it is not radical enough.” (Virno, 1994: 109)

What does multitude mean today? The multitude is the contemporary form of living-labour. It is neither a Babel of dispersed identities, nor a “new working class” under post-modern guise. It is a group of subjectivities whose productive impact is directly proportional to their relational, linguistic and communicative ability. Language, being “common”, is the putting to work of the many, of the entire social being, an indefinite “training” in linguistic cooperation. Communication and production are one and the same, the products of real “linguistic machines”, which render communication an immediately productive value. As Marazzi notes (1994, p. 78), language “is the ‘place’ where one can conjugate I and we, singular and collective, private and public”.

The distinction within the sphere of reproduction between labour time and life time is thus completely nonsensical – life absorbs the undifferentiated labour of the many, their extra-work experiences, their affective relations [Sennet, 1999]. The subjugation of bare life is not a statistical disciplinary project that refers to a potentially rebellious but socially well defined subject, but a search for global social regularity.

To freely paraphrase Foucault, we might say that while the Fordist discipline showed with respect to living labour a model of sovereignty that “made die and let live” (primacy of the dimension of masses), the overcoming of such discipline consists in “making live and letting die”. That is to say, in including “differential individualities” [Foucault, 1998, p. 213, 2000, p. 51]

The multitude as living labour is public intellect whose political irrepresentability, whilst on the one hand facilitates all sorts of systemic reformulation of representative democracy, on the other hand continuously remarks the distance between the defined and reassuring physiognomy of the people, and the indefinite one of the multitude.

Thus in Postfordist lexicon, multitude means exactly the opposite of what the absolutist tradition meant: not a group of private individuals who are catapulted on the public scene by need and as such deprived of a juridical personality and thus provisionally exempt from the logic of political representation, but rather a collective body that imposes its presence right in the middle of the crisis of representation and starting from it.

It does not generate the crisis of the state and it is not another ‘political body’; for many reasons it is forced to withstand such crisis but it moves within it following trajectories that are not reducible to the political nexus of friend/enemy. The multitude is indistinguishable from the practice of exodus and repeatedly intersects the lines of unquantifiable relative enmities, yet without proposing a definitive settling of accounts. The multitude is in an intermediate condition between peace and war.

The becoming minority that is indifferent to the revolutionary history that Deleuze and Guattari talk about illustrate this condition and projects it again beyond any triviality about the end of history: “a becoming revolutionary stays indifferent to the question of a revolutionary future or past; it goes through both.” [Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 485]. In the demise of the idea of state the minority as part of the people reinvents with narrower aims; each minority has a ‘moderate’ project; its idea is still entirely internal to the logic of representation of the state.
The becoming minoritarian of the multitude, on the other hand, in its being in a constant transitory condition, moves from the crisis of this determinate modern mediation.
In the specificity of today, it is right to say that the problem of power is obsolete for every becoming minoritarian.
This is not due to the fact that power does not concern the multitude, obviously, but rather because the seizure of power can no longer be its objective. The imagination can not become power without becoming an image of power.

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