From Violence to Resistance

Paolo Virno

Translated by Nate Holdren from the Spanish version

Everything advises us to set aside fetishism with respect to violence and non-violence. It is certainly stupid to measure the radicality of a struggle by the level of its illegality, and is to elevate forgiveness to an unquestionable criteria for action. On the other hand, this is not what preoccupies us the most: in what is referred to as conflict, the passage from latency to visibility always undertakes to alter the “eternal principles” adopted by professionals of politics.

With respect to the old, but not exhausted, question of forms of struggle, the discussion runs in circles, resorting to sophisms and comfortable quotations. On a closer analysis, this debate suffers the chain of effects of a drastic change of theoretical paradigm. A change so significant that it can separate what seemed inseparable and join what seemed opposites. In sum: the struggle against waged labor, unlike the struggle against tyranny, is not longer connected to the emphatic perspective of “taking power”.

Because of its rather advance characteristics, this begins to appear as an entirely “social” transformation, which confronts “power”, but without dreaming of an alternative organization of the State. To the contrary, it aims to contract and extinguish all forms of command over the activity of women and men and to end the State. As it has been said, while the “political revolution” was considered the inevitable premise for modifying and transforming social relations, now the latter becomes a preliminary step.

The struggle can carry its destructive nature to its [logical] end only in so far as it already assumes an other way of living, communicating and producing. Only if there is something to lose beyond one's chains. The theme of violence, idolized and exorcized, was without a doubt linked to the double edged sword of “taking power”. What happens when the existent form of the State is seen as the last possible State form, which deserves to corrupt itself and fall into ruin, but not - surely - to be replaced by a Super-state “of all the people”? Doesn’t violence come to be perhaps the new cult to follow? It seems it does not. In every case, we have an unforeseen paradox: the resort to force should be conceived in relation to a positive order that should be defended and safeguarded. The exodus from waged labor is not a concave gesture, an algebraic subtraction. We must construct different social relations and new forms of life: we must have much love for the present and much inventiveness. Therefore, the conflict will begin in order to preserve that “new” that it has instituted in the process. Violence, if there is violence, is not directed toward tomorrows, but rather at prolonging what already exists, even if informally.

Faced with the hypocrisy or the distracted credulity that today marks the discussion over legality or illegality, it is worth returning to a premodern category: the “ius resistentiae”. With this expression, medieval right did not refer to the obvious faculty of legitimate self-defence when under attack. Nor was it understood as a general uprising against constituted power. It also clearly differed from “sedition” and “rebellion”, in which the uprising is made against the present set of institutions, with the object of establishing different ones. The “right to resistance” has, by contrast, a rather specific and peculiar meaning. It can be exercised when an artisan’s corporation, or a whole community, or even an individual, finds some of its positive prerogatives - validated by tradition or fact - altered by the central power. The salient point of “ius resistentiae”, which constitutes its principal interest in terms of the question of legality or illegality, is the defense of an effective, tangible, “already” accomplished transformation of the forms of life. The large or small steps, small collapses or large avalanches, of the struggle against waged work allow for an unlimited right to resistance, whilst ruling out a theory of civil war.

Spanish version

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