am perplexed when I confront the issue of the common. Every time I start
to follow this theme -I donít know why- it flees in all directions because
it is so pregnant with modern and ancient ideological suggestions...In
fact, any attempt to distinguish it from the private, or the state,
or the public in the French sense, is almost impossible, at least for
me, for how my head works. Hence, I donít claim to provide a conclusive
definition and I have reservations with regard to definitions of strategy.
The common is something that escapes any Marxian positive definition
of what is produced. For me, and I am a Marxist and stay a Marxist,
the common is abstract labour: i.e. that ensemble of products and energies
of work that gets appropriated by capital and thus becomes common. Basically,
it is the result of the law of value. It is capitalism that creates
the common. In Marx there isnít a conception of the common that is a
pre-capitalist common (yes, there are the commons, but they are not
productive). If we want to reduce and bring the common within a modern
conception we must accept this definition of the common as abstract
labour, accumulated, consolidated. But abstract, accumulated, consolidated
labour is never merely a quantity, an economic quantity, but it is an
ensemble of relations that are relations of exploitation; or rather:
hierarchical relations, schemes of division of labour, organisation
and social diffusion of functions of command, reproductive hypotheses,
consumption capacities etc.
Evidently, we have to start thinking this abstract, common, as something
that is the common of exploitation. The question on the common -and
here I start getting confused you see cause it is always the same word
that gets used- is how to take the common away from exploitation? So
long as we speak of the common we always speak of the common of exploitation.
We all are commonly exploited. The common as something that is unexploited
has been proposed a thousand times by all utopias, like for instance,
regarding global goods such as air, water etc. No. Air and water are
not there anymore, there are air and water that increasingly are exploited,
absorbed, colonised, made to produce, turned into profit and that only
in this way become common. The great capitalist expansion is that which
goes to get forests, appropriates air and biological transformations
become produced by the rainforest. This is globalisation: what makes
common that rainforest that for me would have never been common.
Then the problem becomes to liberate the common from exploitation? What
does this mean? First of all, we have to grant capital that it has,
through abstract labour, put us in this happy -so to speak, obviously-
situation where we are able to speak about the common. There is no common
before capital. There is no common before capitalist history imposed
it. Then, I must go and see how this common works, which largely corresponds
to public space, to the history of public space, because there is a
modern production of public space that is disciplinary production, i.e.
a production of public space organised by the capacity of expressing
power on individuals, of commonly putting individuals to work, of imposing
a common measure on their labour, a measure so common that all capital
(Marxís and capitalism in general) is based on an abstract temporal
measure that constitutes the common [comunanza] of labour. The postmodern
production in our world characterised by the investment of life by capital,
becomes the mode of an extension of control not only simply on individuals
but also on populations. When we talk of multitude, we do so in the
face of this common colonisation of life.
Why do we start talking of the multitude and we pose the problem of
the common, at this point, I think, still confusingly? There has been
for instance an experiment, of the tradition of classical operaismo,
which was that of attempting a subjectivation of abstract labour. Practically,
one of the fundamental elements of this dynamics of the common, of the
common exploitation of the common, had become the working class: the
working class was this attempt to subjectify a series of common structures
within capitalist abstraction, within capitalist relations of exploitation.
We used to call it the capitalist relation, the general relation that
sees on the one hand the capitalistís [padrone] subjectivity, of the
enterpreneur, of capital as such; whilst on the other hand the working
class, that of which one did not recognise the concrete specificity,
but only looked at its capacity of posing itself within a wage relation,
i.e. a quantitative relation, a capacity to divide this productive common.
The wage was the ability to take a portion of this common product. Evidently,
all this maintained that conception of the common, the working class
had as its fundamental goal that of Ďmanagingí (gestire) that common.
Socialism had become represented as the management of this common according
to the needs of the working class, not very differently from how capital
did it, which proposed that this common was used for the reproduction
of the system.
I canít understand the public/private distinction from within this scheme,
this situation, because I donít think that public or private can identify
alternatives at this point to that capitalist common that is the only
one we have. The concept of the multitude can only emerge when the key
foundation of this process (i.e. the exploitation of labour and its
maximal abstraction) becomes something else: when labour starts being
regarded, by the subjects that are at stake, involved in this process,
in this continuous exchange of exploitation, as something that can no
longer enter the relation, this relation of exploitation. When labour
starts being regarded as something that can no longer be directly exploited.
What is this labour that is no longer directly explited? Unexploited
labour is creative labour, immaterial, concrete labour that is expressed
But you might say: exploitation is still there! Of course it is, but
explotiation is exploitation of the ensemble of this creation, it is
exploitation that has broken the common and no longer recognises the
common as a substance that is divided, produced by labour, by abstract
labour, and that is divided between capitalist and worker, and structures
command and exploitation. Today capital can no longer exploit the worker;
it can only exploit cooperation amongst workers, amongst labourers.
Today capital has no longer that internal function for which it became
the soul of common labour, which produced that abstraction within which
progress was made. Today capital is parasitical because it is no longer
inside; it is outside of the creative capacity of the multitude.
is why it makes war to perfect its control. War is a fundamental and
destructive element that represents its parasitical nature. It is the
element that wants to build the capitalist common, that wants to rebuild
the body of capital, the people, the global people, the democratic people
Bush tells us about, in this attempt to reinteriorise the common; whereas
labour as activity constitutes the multitude, a multitude of singularities
that is creative. As you can see, the common brings terrible confusion,
cause I cannot really define it.
On the other hand, if I started talking about the common as basis, I
could even do it. Undoubtedly it is almost impossible to define creative
labour today without starting from the common, and the active common
of labour, i.e. the common that is construed by the cooperation of creative
singularities. It is almost impossible to do it, it is obvious that
today all institutional economists keep saying: it is external economies,
economies of transactions, all this accumulation of intelligence, cultural
exchange that constitutes the basis of production of value. But this
basis of the production of value is not there unless it goes through
the capacity of singularities to make it live each time as provision
of living labour.
The analysis of cooperation is something that confirms what I said before.
Cooperation itself is part of that creativity of singular labour. It
is no longer something that is imposed from outside. We are no longer
in that phase of capitalist accumulation that also has a function of
construction of the workersí labour capacity to be put into production.
Singularities of and in the multitude have assumed cooperation as quality
of their labour. Cooperation -and the common- as activity is anterior
to capitalist accumulation. Hence we have a common that is a foundation
of the economy, only in so far as it is seeen as this element of cohesion
of the production of singularity within the multitude. Examples of this
could be networks and all the consequences of a definition of the common
as the phenomenology of the web. Strategies: Ö [silence]
Marx mentions the common twice: in the Early Writings: as esistenza
generica [tr.: perhaps Italian translation of common species-being],
where generic means at the level, up to the standards of the human species.
In the Grundrisse, in the section on the general intellect, he matures
his former notion into that of the social individual. Social individual
sounds like an oxymoron, but must be seen as the presupposed common
that makes also singularities possible. If the multitude is the ensemble
of individuated singularities, it can only be conceived if they have
behind them a common.
About generic existence: one might say that there is something common,
independently of history, evoking human nature. I agree with Toni
that you canít evoke an originary scenario to determine the notion of
the common, but one must consider the game between the Ďsince alwaysí
[da sempre] and the right now [proprio ora]. The right now of capitalism,
of postfordist capitalism that has as baricentre the exploitation of
many human faculties as such, a historic product, as a right now, it
configures something that has always been. The contingency of capitalism
is the organising of an image and a mode of using the capacities of
generic existence, of configuring it somehow. I think too that all is
played at the level of cooperation. I agree with Toni. The category
of cooperation comes before, and is the condition that renders possible
a definition of the productive individual input, it is not their sum,
but something that overdetermines them as well as being their basic
terrain. It is not the general average. Cooperation moves at a level
that is no longer inter-individual but trans-individual. Let me explain.
term has been used by Kojeve, Simondon, Balibar, but this doesnít matter,
itís been used many times but I use it in my own way anyway. The inter-individual
is a self-conscious subject that interacts (as with inter-national).
The trans-individual identifies an intermediary zone, between different
I s, that is on this side [aldiqua] of any fixation of the individual.
A zone between the I and the not-I. It is not referrable to any precisable
individual. It precedes the definition of individuals.
cooperation with respect of inter-individual cooperation is nothing
but linguistic praxis. Linguistic praxis exists in the between individuals,
before and independently of their fixation, it is the presupposition
whereby we then distinguish social and personal, interior and exterior,
whilst before this there is this sphere of nobodyís and everybodyís.
Postfordist productive cooperation has this trans-individual character
and it is this dimension that introduces us to a reflection on the common,
and on the generic existence of the social individual today.
It is very difficult for me to separate the notion of the common from
the notion of the public at least if we intend public in this radical
trans-individual mode. Essentially common was always considered the
life of the mind. Pure thought, knowledge, is something that is difficult
to ascribe to one or the other; it is an experience of the spieces as
such. What is the characteristic of the life of the mind as common life?
Historically, in order to use this common element that is the life of
the mind, you had to get away from life with others, the thinker used
to get away from the square, from public life, from politics. The difference
produced by trans-individual cooperation and the experience of capitalism
is that the life of the mind has become exterior and manifest [appariscente].
This self-publicising of the life of the mind, the fact that the mind
goes public in the square, in Porto Alegre, in social forums, in production-even
if in reversed and terrible ways- entails that the life of the mind
no longer requires a self isolating gesture: it is the common, an immanent
form of the common. The life of the mind is one and the same as what
in the classical world was the care for common affairs.
This is a condition for thinking non-state politics. Last consideration:
we should look with enthusiasm to the drastic impoverishment, in culture
and in each of us, of inner life: the inner life, the misery of conscience,
the misery of the self-centred I, the rigid barrier between the so called
external and the even more mythological internal is at the philosophical
level the womb of transcendental illusions where the living subject
never draws on [attinge] his mode of being, never reaches himself, always
has presuppositions that he canít dispose of. We should celebrate today
this misery of inner life, in the sense that all that counts in human
relations, as cooperation shows, is totally outside of the I, has
immediately this completely exterior quality to it. What is common can
never be interior, otherwise one ends up opposing to commodity fetishism
a precapitalist situation whereby human relations were not mediated
by relations between things, but there were relations of subordination
of corporal and religious character.
We need to think of a situation where human relations manifest themselves
as exterior things. We need to think about the things of relations,
that is something other than their transformation into relations between
things. What is common is exterior, what is common the I outside of
the I, it is trans-individual, the right-now (of capitalism and of expropriation
of capitalism) of what has always been.
Transcription and translation by Arianna Bove