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Deleuze and Politics$

Ian Buchanan and Nicholas Thoburn

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780748632879

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748632879.001.0001

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The Age of Cynicism: Deleuze and Guattari on the Production of Subjectivity in Capitalism

The Age of Cynicism: Deleuze and Guattari on the Production of Subjectivity in Capitalism

(p.139) Chapter 7 The Age of Cynicism: Deleuze and Guattari on the Production of Subjectivity in Capitalism
Deleuze and Politics

Jason Read

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that Deleuze and Guattari's slogan, ‘desire belongs to the infrastructure’ of society itself, can be used to summarise their project. This slogan highlights an ‘immediate coincidence’ between the logic of late capitalist production and the production of the subjects who inhabit its universe. This idea is traced back to Marx, and in this way demonstrates an important affinity between Marx's work and Deleuze and Guattari's. But it is an affinity born of a link to a ‘minor’ Marx rather than a ‘major’ or doctrinal Marx, to use Deleuze and Guattari's own terminology. One may speculate that it is this Marx that Deleuze's fabled book on the ‘greatness of Marx’ would have revealed. The chapter offers a glimpse of this other Marx, and shows very clearly its significance to Deleuze and Guattari's work.

Keywords:   desire, infrastructure, society, capitalist production, Marx

Gilles Deleuze argues that Spinoza's assertion ‘we do not know what a body can do’ functions as a ‘war cry’ cutting through the conceptual divisions of soul, mind and consciousness, defining a new concept of power, philosophy and subjectivity (Deleuze 1990: 255). Deleuze's assertion suggests, albeit obliquely, that works of philosophy can be interpreted through not just their central insight or main points, but their ‘war cry’, the formulation that expresses the battle they wage against other philosophies and conceptions of the world. The ‘war cry’ or slogan (as in mot d'ordre) that could be used to sum up Deleuze and Guattari's two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia is ‘desire belongs to the infrastructure’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 348/416).1 With this phrase Deleuze and Guattari reject any dualisms or hierarchies, between the mental and the material, subjective and objective or social and libidinal, that would make either the subjective an effect of the material (as in most Marxisms) or the social an effect of the libidinal (as in psychoanalysis). In the first volume, Anti-Oedipus, this assertion is the basis of the polemics against psychoanalysis: for psychoanalysis desire and its anxieties are necessarily mediated through the family, which provides both their cause and condition of intelligibility. This assertion of the immanence of desiring production to social production, or, in the terms of A Thousand Plateaus, machinic assemblages of bodies to collective assemblages of enunciation, persists throughout the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, becoming a central philosophical assertion as many of the polemics against psychoanalysis of the first volume are left by the wayside (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 89/113).2 Deleuze and Guattari's particular position is a refusal of the mediations or levels that relate and separate the economy from subjectivity. It is an assertion of what Paolo Virno calls ‘immediate coincidence’. As Virno writes in a passage that could be applied to Deleuze and Guattari:

(p.140) What is involved here is the conceptualization of the field of immediate coincidence between production and ethics, structure and superstructure, between the revolution of labour process and the revolution of sentiments, between technology and emotional tonality, between material development and culture. By confining ourselves narrowly to this dichotomy, however, we fatally renew the metaphysical split between ‘lower’ and higher, animal and rational, body and soul — and it makes little difference if we boast of our pretensions to historical materialism. If we fail to perceive the points of identity between labour practices and modes of life, we will comprehend nothing of the changes taking place in present-day production and misunderstand a great deal about the forms of contemporary culture.

(Virno 1996a: 14)

Hints of this ‘immediate coincidence’ can be found in be found in Marx's own writing, most notably in the polemics of The Communist Manifesto. The broad impassioned tones of Marx's manifesto assert a connection between the capitalist mode of production and a particular ethos, a particular social logic and subjectivity. In the Manifesto this connection is direct, immediate, it does not pass through the superstructures of politics, law and ideology. For Marx, at least the Marx of the Manifesto, the specificity of the capitalist mode of production, its specific temporality, sociality and way of life, is to be found in its revolutionary nature, its destruction of all previous traditions, hierarchies and values. ‘Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones’ (Marx and Engels 1978: 476). The strength of Deleuze and Guattari's writing is that it extends and deepens this assertion of a particular capitalist ethos or production of subjectivity, extending it from a polemic to a philosophical assertion and method. In doing so they are able to address, and even answer, problems that undermine contemporary Marxism: namely, the persistence of capitalism, the collapse of the working class as an antagonist form of subjectivity and the return of seemingly outmoded beliefs and subjectivities.

From Codes to Axioms

While the immediate coincidence of production and desire bears a superficial relationship to the polemics of the Manifesto it would seem to contradict the rest of Marx's writing. Most notably it contradicts the model of base and superstructure, which places ideology, beliefs, desires and subjectivity on top of, and thus dependent on, material transformations in the realm of production. However, Marx's writings offer other models for thinking about the connection of production and subjectivity, most (p.141) notably the notebooks collected in the Grundrisse known as ‘Precapitalist Economic Formations’. Marx's dominant philosophical con cern in these notebooks is the nature and the ground of the difference between capitalism and pre-capitalist modes of production: to grasp the unique and singular nature of capitalism. Although this is by no means Marx's only concern, the notebooks also trace the genealogy of the capitalist mode of production through the breakdown and collapse of the previous modes of production. Moreover, in this text Marx advances an expansive theory of the mode of production, one that does not limit the mode of production to a particular technical or economic manner of producing things, but understands a mode of production to constitute a particular form of life. Every mode of production is inseparable from a mode of subjection, which is not added on as a supplement or a simple effect, but immanent and necessary to its existence.3 This general philosophical point does not only apply to the pre-capitalist modes of production, which are so clearly oriented towards reproducing a particular form of existence (as Marx reminds us, the question in ancient Greece was ‘which mode of property creates the best citizens?’), but to capitalism as well, in which it would appear that the reproduction of way of life is entirely secondary to the production of surplus value. Capitalism too must reproduce particular forms of subjectivity, particular forms of technological competence and political subjection, but it must do so while simultaneously breaking with the past. As Marx writes: ‘The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as selfevident natural laws’ (Marx 1977: 899). It is because of the peculiar way in which the notebooks on pre-capitalism articulate the intersection between production and subjectivity that they provide the theoretical backdrop for Deleuze and Guattari's examination of the affective politics of capitalism.

For Marx the specifically pre-capitalist modes of production (Asiatic, Ancient and Feudal) are necessarily conservative in that they have as their specific goal the reproduction of a particular form of property and a particular social relation. Reproduction of a social relation is also reproduction of a particular form of subjectivity. What characterises the different pre-capitalist modes of production is not just their intrinsically conservative nature, but also that subjectivity is inseparable from its collective social conditions. The subject is not exposed to whatever existence he or she can get in exchange for his or her labour power as in capitalism, but is embedded in cultural, technical and political conditions that he or she in turn works to reproduce. These conditions are what Deleuze (p.142) and Guattari call ‘codes’. Codes can be thought of as tradition, or prescriptions and rules bearing on the production and distribution of goods, prestige and desire. As such they are inseparable from a particular relation to the past — a relation of repetition. With codes actions and desires in the present are immediately related to the past, to an inscription of memory, ‘this is how things are done, how they have always been done’.

The codes become part of the ‘inorganic body’ of the individual in precapitalist modes of production, that is conditions of production and reproduction of subjectivity that constitute a kind of second nature. Marx defines the inorganic body as follows:

These natural conditions of existence, to which he relates as to his own inorganic body, are themselves double: (1) of a subjective and (2) of an objective nature. He finds himself a member of a family, clan, tribe, etc. — which then, in a historic process of intermixture and antithesis with others, takes on a different shape; and as such a member, he relates to a specific nature (say, here, still earth, land, soil) as his own inorganic being, as a condition of his production and reproduction.

(Marx 1973: 490)

The first model of the ‘inorganic body’ is the earth itself as the original condition of all production; it is ‘primitive, savage unity of desire and production’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 140/164). However, Marx's general formula of ‘Pre-capitalist Economic Formations’ stresses that this ‘divine presupposition of production’ can realise itself in different ways, appearing first as the earth, then the primitive community, or even the Asiatic despot (Marx 1973: 472). It is this displacement, or, more accurately, deterritorialisation, that forms the basis of Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the full body, or the body without organs. What Deleuze and Guattari stress is the connection between production and the unproductive, or anti-productive, element that falls back onto production appropriating the forces of production. As Deleuze and Guattari write:

… the forms of social production, like those of desiring production, involve an unengendered non-productive attitude, an element of anti-production coupled with the process, a full body that functions as a socius. This socius may be the body of the earth, that of the tyrant, or capital. This is the body that Marx is referring to when he says that it is not the product of labour, but rather appears as its natural or divine presuppositions. In fact, it does not restrict itself merely to opposing productive forces in and of themselves. It falls back on [il se rabat sur ] all production, constituting a surface over which the forces and agents of production are distributed, thereby appropriating for itself all surplus production and arrogating to itself both the whole and the parts of the process, which now seem to emanate from it as a quasi-cause.

(Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 10/16)

(p.143) Every society, or form of social production, has an aspect that appears as the condition, or cause, rather than the effect of the productive relations, the desires and labours of society. Paradoxically, this ‘quasi-cause’ appears to be a cause of production, because it is itself not productive, or, more precisely, is ‘anti-productive’. It appropriates the excessive forces of production, distributing some for the reproduction of society and wasting most in excessive expenditure (such as tribal honours, palaces and ultimately war). As Marx argues the Asiatic despot appears to be the cause, and not the effect, of the productive powers of society, the massive public works, such as irrigation, that define the ‘Asiatic mode of production’ for Marx: it appropriates for itself the productive powers of society.

Each of the pre-capitalist modes of production is constituted by a fundamental misrecognition, what is produced by the labour of the community appears as its precondition, as an element of divine authority. This misrecognition stems from a fundamental difference, a basic gap, between production, and the recording, or representation, of production. ‘Production is not recorded in the same way that it is produced’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 12/18). Deleuze and Guattari thus utilise Marx's theory of pre-capitalist economic formations to intervene within the general question of ideology, the way in which societies reproduce themselves through a fundamental misrecognition of their constitutive conditions. What Deleuze and Guattari draw from Marx is less a theory of ideology in which a particular class or group disseminates particular ideas than a theory of ‘fetishism’ in which a society, a particular mode of production, produces its own particular form of appearance, its apparent objective movement.4 Marx argued that the commodity as fetish obscures the conditions of its production in a dazzling display of its value. Deleuze and Guattari's concept of a ‘socius’ is thus close to what Louis Althusser refers to as ‘the society effect’. As Althusser writes:

The mechanism of the production of this ‘society effect’ is only complete when all the effects of the mechanism have been expounded, down to the point where they are produced in the form of the very effects that constitute the concrete, conscious or unconscious relation of the individuals to the society as a society, i.e. down to the effects of the fetishism of ideology (or ‘forms of social consciousness’ — Preface to A Contribution…), in which men consciously or unconsciously live their lives, their projects, their actions, their attitudes and their functions as social.

(Althusser and Balibar 1970: 66)

What Deleuze and Guattari stress is that this ‘effect’, or what they term ‘the recording of production’, must also be thought as productive: it is (p.144) not only an effect, it produces effects as well. Most importantly, what is produced by such effect is the obedience, the belief and desire, necessary to the functioning of the particular mode of production.

Deleuze and Guattari's interpretation of Marx's theory of pre- capitalist economic formations and subsequent rewriting of a theory of the production of subjectivity attaches an almost disproportionate emphasis on the Asiatic mode of production. This is in part due to what Jean-Jacques Lecercle calls Deleuze and Guattari's ‘displacement’ of Marxism, viewing his theory of the mode of production from its ‘most eccentric element’: the only one situated outside of Europe, identified by a geographic place rather than a historical period, and consequently the cause of much controversy within Marxism (Lecercle 2005: 42). Deleuze and Guattari use this infamously allusive and problematic element of Marx's theory to address a famous omission of Marx's philosophy: the state. Deleuze and Guattari do not offer so much a theory of the state, an enterprise they dismisses as tautological, but a series of relations through which to consider the state (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 427/532). First, and this is something that Deleuze and Guattari borrow directly from Marx, the state, or the despot, comes into existence as something that subordinates preexisting communities, clans and groups. It makes these diverse points ‘resonate’ by relating them to a central institution or structure (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 433/539). Étienne Balibar has offered what could be considered an illustration of this relation of resonance:

States cannot become nation-states if they do not appropriate the sacred, not only at the level of representations of a more or less secularized ‘sovereignty,’ but also the day-to-day level of legitimation, implying the control of births and deaths, marriages or their substitutes, inheritance and the like. States thus tend to withdraw control of these functions from clans, families, and, above all, churches or religious sects.

(Balibar 2003: 20)

In other words, the state overcodes the existing codes and values, becomes the central term around which their meaning gravitates. ‘The essential action of the State, therefore, is the creation of a second inscription by which the new full body — immobile, monumental, immutable — appropriates all the forces and agents of production; but this inscription of the State allows the old territorial inscriptions to subsist, as “bricks” on the new surface’

(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 198/235). Secondly, Deleuze and Guattari argue that the concept of the state is formed all at once, not gradually, hence their interest in ancient despotisms and the archaeological evidence for complex bureaucracies and systems of taxation in the ancient world (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 217/257).5 The (p.145) state is not one institution among others, developing gradually over time, but an idea if not ideality itself, thus ‘… giving evidence of another dimension, a cerebral ideality that is added to, superimposed on the material evolution of societies, a regulating idea or principle of reflection (terror) that organizes the parts and the flows into a whole’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 219/259). This leads to one of the most difficult but also persistent elements of Deleuze (and Guattari's) thought, the mutually reinforcing connection between thought and the state, in which thought, or philosophy, borrows its model from the state (‘a republic of free spirits whose prince would be the idea of the Supreme being’), and in turn the state is legitimated by thought (‘the more you obey, the more you will be master, for you will only be obeying pure reason, in other words yourself…’) (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 376/466).6 Deleuze and Guattari's political thought is situated between capital and the state, which are both abstractions, processes of deterritorialisation, that nonetheless have very different concrete affects in the realm of politics and subjectivity.

In the pre-capitalist modes of production productive activity is subordinated to reproduction: all productive activity aims to reproduce the community, the codes and the relations of subordination. Capitalism can be partially defined by the liberation of production from such demands of the reproduction of a particular form of life. In capitalism production does not aim at anything other than itself, than the production of more capital, or insofar as it does produce something other than itself what it produces is abstract, purely quantitative. Capitalism does not have a particular organisation of desire, a particular code or social organisation as its historical presupposition. Its only presupposition, as Marx demonstrated, is the encounter between, on the one hand, a multitude of individuals who have only their labour power to sell, and on the other, a flow of money free to purchase labour power. In each case the constitution of these two flows of bodies and money presupposes the breakdown of codes. A breakdown of the codes that anchored labour to any community, tradition or hierarchies of knowledge (as in the guilds or feudalism), as well as a breakdown of anything that links money to specific places and uses, to a restricted economy of prestige. ‘Hence capitalism differentiates itself from any other socius or full body, inasmuch as capital itself figures as a directly economic instance, and falls back on production without interposing extra-economic factors that would be inscribed in the form of a code’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 249/297). Labour and wealth have become deterritorialised, have become stripped of any code that would tie them to any determinate relation to the past. Rather than coding the various practices and desires constitutive of the society, (p.146) capitalism functions by setting up quantitative relations between the two flows, labour and capital, establishing as axiomatic an equivalence between a particular amount of labour time and a particular amount of money. Axioms are distinct from codes in that they do not require belief in order to function. Axioms relate to no other scene or sphere, such as religion, politics or law, which would provide their ground or justification (Jameson 1997: 398).7 Axioms simply are, they lay down a particular formula, a particular system of equivalences, and this cannot be argued with — it is only possible to add new axioms to the system. In order for capitalism to function one does not need to believe in anything, even in it, one only needs to act in accordance with the quantitative flows, selling one's labour etc. Capitalism is a revolution at the mode of subjection as well as the mode of production, a revolution that appears as liberation, a rupturing of the old codes and the death of the despot. Part of Deleuze and Guattari's project is to reveal the new forms of constraint in this revolution, that is the way in which capitalism continually reterritorialises what escapes it.

The Age of Cynicism

Capitalism does not tarry with belief, with codes and traditions, it operates through the abstractions of money and labour, which are all the more effective in that they are not believed or even grasped. This does not mean that capitalism is absolutely indifferent to the forms of existence, the desires and affects of those who live and work in it. Like every mode of production capitalism must produce its subjects, the workers and consumers, or rather individuals who identify themselves as workers and consumers, in order to perpetuate itself. Its apparent indifference to the beliefs and desires of its subjects, its ability to tolerate everything, to turn every scandal and taboo into a commodity, must itself be seen as a kind of social subjection to capital. Deleuze and Guattari began to illustrate this, by suggesting that the gap that exists in capital between what one believes and what one does already carries with it a subjective and affective component. As they write:

It is no longer the age of cruelty or the age of terror, but the age of cynicism, accompanied by a strange piety. (The two taken together constitute humanism: cynicism is the physical immanence of the social field, and piety is the maintenance of a spiritualized Urstaat; cynicism is capital as the means of extorting surplus labour, but piety is this same capital as God-capital, whence all the forces of labour seem to emanate.)

(Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 225/266)

(p.147) Deleuze and Guattari are not simply offering a moral definition of cynicism, or a moralising critique; cynicism is a structural effect of a social system, a social machine, in which axioms replace codes. Deleuze and Guattari's distinction between code and axioms underscores one of Marx's central points about capitalism, that it is a form of power in which individuals are ‘ruled by abstractions’ rather than other individuals, as in the case of Feudalism (Marx 1973: 164). In Capital Marx underscores this point by taking on the voice of the worker in a lament against the impersonal nature of capitalist power. As Marx writes: ‘You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals], and you may be in the odour of sanctity as well; but the thing you represent when you come face to face with me has no heart in its breast’ (Marx 1977: 343). In capitalism power is indifferent to intentions of its rulers. As an economic, political and cultural system it opens up a gap between intentions and effects, between piety and cynicism. Thus Deleuze and Guattari extend the point that Marx makes polemically, ultimately arguing that the defining characteristic of capital is not simply the difference between being ruled by individuals or abstractions, but that ‘being ruled by abstractions’ produces and presupposes its own particular form of subjectivity.

Deleuze and Guattari's invocation of a ‘spiritualized Urstaat’ against the ‘immanence of the social forces’ invokes Marx's early criticism of capitalism in ‘On the Jewish Question’. As Marx agues the problem of the ‘Jewish question’ reveals the limitations of what he calls political emancipation. In political emancipation the state declares itself to be indifferent to matters of wealth, status and title, declaring everyone to be equal before the law. The emancipation of the individual from these distinctions is really the emancipation of the state from social distinctions; it washes its hands of the inequality of the social sphere, privatising inequality. As Marx is quick to point out, the distinctions of property, education, rank and ethnicity continue to matter in the social realm, in the realm of civil society, even after the state has declared them irrelevant. This leads to a splitting of the subject, and of existence, in which mankind lives as both a citizen, an equal participant in the ideology of collective life, and a member of civil society, unequal and concerned only with one's private self-interest. The matter for Marx is not how the state should recognise religion, but how the state is already ‘religious’, with all of the criticism that the world entails for Marx. As Marx writes: ‘The political state is as spiritual in relation to civil society as heaven is in relation to earth’ (Marx 1978: 34). As Peter Sloterdijk argues in the Critique of Cynical Reason, the backdrop of Marx's analysis is the emergence of (p.148) what he calls modern cynical consciousness, characterised by the combination of rigorous cynicism of means, a thoroughly instrumental consciousness in which everything is permissible in the name of self-interest, and an equally rigid moralism of ends, values which are clung to even tighter as they come into conflict with reality (Sloterdijk 1987: 192). The state, and with it the church, becomes the guarantor of ends, with the ideals of the citizen and the general good and means are left to the private realm, to the market of competing interests.

Marx's early critique of the state posits a division, a split between ideal and existence, mind and matter, mental and manual labour, with the exception that this is not a division between two classes, two groups, but a division that cuts internally — we all live as private members of civil society, pursuing our individual interests, and as citizens of the state, concerned with the general good. We are all cynics and pious. This theme of a fundamental division or splitting of the subject is continued through Marx's critique of commodity fetishism. In the act of exchanging and buying commodities what one focuses on is the concrete particularity of this or that commodity, its use or its image, but in the act of buying and selling what matters is not its particularity, but the abstract labour time necessary to its production. As Alfred Sohn-Rethel writes: ‘The consciousness and the action of people part company in exchange and go different ways’ (Sohn-Rethel 1978: 26). Or, to offer another example, we might know that money is just a social convention, but we cannot help but act as if it is the physical embodiment of value (Zizek 1989: 31). The fetish is not something we recognise, or something we are aware of; we do not purchase commodities because of exchange value, because of their abstract equivalences, but because of their particularity, their particular use, colour, taste, etc. The fetish character is what Sohn-Rethel calls a ‘real abstraction’ (Sohn-Rethel 1978: 20). What Sohn-Rethel details is a fundamental splitting of consciousness in capitalism between use, which is consciously recognised and private, and exchange, which is public and effective without being consciously recognised, a splitting that duplicates Marx's split between citizen and self-interested individual (as well as Deleuze and Guattari's split between cynicism and piety). Only the terms have been reversed: belief has become a private matter, attached to use, while publicly the only value that matters is price, exchange value. We may have our own particular values our own piety about the importance of books, organic food, etc. but that does not keep us from acting, in our quotidian existence, as if everything including labour power is exchangeable for everything else. Capitalism is a massive privatisation of desire. ‘The person has become “private” in reality, insofar as he derives from (p.149) abstract quantities and becomes concrete in the becoming concrete of these same quantities. It is these quantities that are marked, no longer the persons themselves: your capital or your labour capacity, the rest is not important …’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 251/298). Thus the point where Sohn-Rethel and Deleuze and Guattari overlap (not to mention Zizek and Sloterdijk) is that they locate in Marx's analysis of the com modity form the schema of what could be called the political uncon scious: the unconscious is not a bundle of drives in need of socialisation, but desires which are already organised by the practices and relations (what Deleuze and Guattari call flows) of capitalism (Deleuze 2004: 262).

For Deleuze and Guattari, cynicism like desire is directly a part of the infrastructure. It is this point that differentiates their analysis from the related pronouncements of Slavoj Zizek and Peter Sloterdijk. Cynicism is thus directly related to the ‘real abstractions’ of the commodity form and wage labour, which makes heterogeneous objects and activities interchangeable and thus equivalent. Capitalism begins with the encounter of two flows of abstractive subjective potential, the pure capacity of labour, and money, abstract wealth (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 452/565). This is what Marx calls ‘formal subsumption’, the imposition of the commodity form and wage labour over a pre-existing technical and social order. From this point capitalism ‘concretises’, transforms the technological and social conditions that it initially takes as given. This is what Marx calls ‘real subsumption’. As Deleuze and Guattari write, citing once of Marx's more cryptic formulations: ‘History proceeds from the abstract to the concrete’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 221/261). Capitalism transforms general knowledge of society into a productive force, liberating the various ‘codes’ that kept knowledge subordinated to different hierarchies and subordinating them only to the axioms of profit. ‘Knowledge, information, and specialized education are just as much parts of capital (“knowledge capital”) as is the most elementary labour of the worker’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 234/278). The real abstraction ceases to be the abstract flows of money and wealth, and becomes what Marx calls ‘the general intellect’, the general knowledge of society (Marx 1973: 706). Antonio Negri has emphasised the often overlooked connection between Deleuze and Guattari's writing and Marx's seemingly prescient description of a stage of capitalism in which knowledge and desire have become directly productive forces: a connection brought to light by the phrase ‘desiring machine’, which scrambles the divisions between man and nature, fixed capital and variable capital (Negri 1995: 93). Negri argues that underneath Deleuze and Guattari's prolific series (p.150) of neologisms, there is a description, even a ‘phenomenology’, of the present formation of capital in which the old division between man and machine can no longer account for the intersections between desire, machines and subjectivity that produce and circulate commodities and information.

Paolo Virno relates the transition from formal to real subsumption to a transformation of cynicism, a transformation that could be referred to as a deepening of cynicism. The abstractions of formal subsumption at least had to acknowledge the principle of equality. As Marx demonstrates in Capital, the fundamental rule of exchange is that equivalent is exchanged for equivalent, hence the riddle of the first part of the book: how is difference, surplus value, produced in a system based upon the exchange of equivalents? The answer is to be found in the hidden abode of production. Labour power is the non-equivalent, the commodity that produces more than it costs, that makes possible the exchange of equivalents. Even at the level of production, at the level of abstract labour power, however, capital posits equality in making the labour of diverse individuals, men, women, children, interchangeable. Behind the equality of exchange, the realm of ‘freedom, equality, and Bentham’, there is the equal capacity to be exploited (Marx 1977: 280). This is abstract labour. As Marx argues, capitalism, which is based upon the exploitation of homogeneous human labour, finds its religious form in Christianity, ‘with its religious cult of man in the abstract’ (Marx 1977: 72). The real abstractions of formal subsumption have the potential for subversion. This is lost as productive power turns to knowledge, to different programmes or paradigms, which are instrumentalised and subordinated to the search for profit. As Virno writes:

The cynic recognizes, in the particular context in which he operates, the predominate role played by certain epistemological premises and the simultaneous absence of real equivalences. To prevent disillusion, he forgoes any aspiration to dialogic and transparent communication. He renounces from the beginning the search for an intersubjective foundation for his practice and for a shared criterion of moral value … The decline of the principle of equivalence, a principle intimately connected to commerce and exchange, can be seen in the cynic's behaviour, in his impatient abandon of the demand for equality. He entrusts his own affirmation of self to the multiplication and fluidification of hierarchies and unequal distributions that the unexpected centrality of knowledge in production seems to imply.

(Virno 1996a: 24)

Formal subsumption was cynical and pious, producing a split between one's existence in the marketplace, subject to the axioms of capital, and one's ‘private’ existence, left to whatever piety or value one wanted to (p.151) cling to. In contrast to this the cynicism of real subsumption, of the productive powers of the general intellect, is a cynicism without reserve, in which every aspect of one's existence, knowledge, communicative abilities and desires becomes productive. In the terms of A Thousand Plateaus this could be described as a change from ‘social subjection’, in which an individual is subordinated as a subject to a higher unity, such as a machine, to ‘machinic enslavement’, in which a human being is reduced to a constituent part of a machine. Capitalism, at its initial stage, is identified with social subjection: workers are not slaves, or even feudal serfs, but are individuals, free to enter into any labour contract. This changes as knowledge and with it subjectivity in general become part of the productive process, As Deleuze and Guattari write:

In the organic composition of capital, variable capital defines a regime of subjection of the worker (human surplus value), the principal framework of which is the business or factory. But with automation comes a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital; we then see a new kind of enslavement: at the same time the work regime changes, surplus value becomes machinic, and the framework expands to all of society. It could be said that a small amount of subjectification took us away from machinic enslavement, but a large amount brings us back to it.

(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 458/572)

Cynicism is the point at which it is not just the world, but subjectivity, human existence itself, which is reduced to its market value. The struggle to maximise one's human capital, one's competitive advantage, replaces demands for equality.

Capitalist Majority

At this point Deleuze and Guattari's rewriting of the pre-history of capitalism seems for the most part to follow the general narrative of modernisation Marx outlines in the Manifesto, with one noticeable exception. History proceeds from pre-capitalist modes of production in which exploitation is coded over, mystified by traditions and belief that establish the tribe and the despot as necessary preconditions of production, to capitalism in which belief is no longer necessary, everything is expressible in the form of quantitative relations. ‘[A]ll that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind’ (Marx and Engels 1978: 476). Deleuze and Guattari would appear to retain the basic narrative of this general history of demystification, only to have it end with a generalised (p.152) cynicism, in which exploitation comes to be a seen as a fact of life, part of the general human condition, rather than as the impetus for revolutionary awakening.

Cynicism is not capitalism's last word on the production of subjectivity, on social subjection. It is because exploitation in capital is stripped of any political or religious alibi, any meaning that would tie it to a determinant system of belief, that capitalism generates its own mystifications and illusions. What is ‘mystified’ is no longer some political or social relation that appears to be dominant, but the determining instance, the economy itself. Deleuze and Guattari follow Marx in recognising that money constitutes a massive reorganisation of desire, money is that object that has the potential to stand in for all possible objects — it becomes the universal object of desire. What capital loses in terms of belief it more than regains as an object of desire. Of course this restructuring of desire pre-exists capitalism emerging with the beginning of a monetary economy. Prior to capitalism, however, it manifests itself as a contradiction, a contradiction between money as the unqualified desire for any object whatsoever and money as quantitatively limited, as a finite amount of money. ‘This contradiction between the quantitative limitation and the qualitative lack of limitation of money keeps driving the hoarder back to his Sisyphean task: accumulation. He is in the same situation as a world conqueror, who discovers a new boundary with each country he annexes’ (Marx 1977: 277). With the formation of capitalism the contradiction of hoarding is displaced, it is no longer necessary to decide between spending and saving, since capitalism can be defined by the formula ‘spending in order to accumulate’. This only displaces the contradiction, however, to the point where it is no longer a contradiction between two different dimensions of money, a qualitative lack of limit and quantitative limit of money, but of two different functions of money within capitalism: money as capital, as means of investment, and money as wages, as means of consumption. According to Deleuze and Guattari: ‘Measuring the two orders of magnitude in terms of the same analytical unit is a pure fiction, a cosmic swindle, as if one were to measure intergalactic or intra-atomic distance in metres and centimetres. There is no common measure between the value of enterprises and that of the labour capacity of wage earners’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 230/273).

Deleuze and Guattari follow Suzanne de Brunhoff in arguing that money is not simply a quantity, a unit of measure, but a complex relation that cuts across different relations of credit, finance and speculation, and the axioms of their relations (de Brunhoff 1976: 90). Money is not a measure, a simple quantity, but heterogeneous phenomena encompassing (p.153) ancient (means of payment) and new (financial speculation) functions. While de Brunhoff focuses on the critique of the quantitative theory of money, Deleuze and Guattari focus on the effects the idea of money, money or capital as quasi-cause have on subjectivity. The fact that this gulf, the gulf that separates wage earners and capitalists, is effaced by the same object and symbol, by money, has very definite and divergent effects. First, it is the condition for the incorporation of desire into capitalism. Money extends the illusion that we all participate in the system as equals; the dollars you and I earn are the same dollars that the wealthy invest to make billions. It makes it appear as if the dollars that we carry in our wallet are made of the same substance as the money that is capital. The difference between rich and poor, exploiters and exploited, is not coded in language of blood, honour or race, it is expressed as a purely quantitative difference. Thus it is possible to believe that only a few dollars more will enable one to cross the line, to invest, to become rich. Capital does not spread the wealth, only the idea that we all could become wealthy.

The system of axioms is much more flexible than a code. These axioms effectively do away with the proletariat as a class which ‘has nothing to lose but it chains’, adding a few stock options here, readily available consumer credit there, or even ‘individual social security’ accounts, all of which produce investments of desire without changing the basic relations of production. ‘You say you want an axiom for wage earners, for the working class and the unions? Well then, let us see what we can do — and thereafter profit will flow alongside wages, side by side, reflux and afflux’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 238/283). Deleuze and Guattari do not deny the fact of exploitation, but argue that exploitation in itself is insufficient to account for the production of subjectivity in capital. The axioms of capital reintegrate the subjectivity of the working class: as Maurizio Lazzarato argues, worker's are exploited insofar as they sell their labour to capital, but they are also investors, investors through pension plans and stock options (Lazzarato 2004: 241). As Lazzarato states, following Deleuze and Guattari, the ‘working class’, or those that sell their wage labour, have been incorporated in the capitalist ‘majority’. The majority is not defined numerically but by the way in which a particular form of existence becomes the norm. ‘Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, of expression or content, serving as a standard measure by which to evaluate it’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 105/133). In the case of capitalism investing becomes the norm of economic participation; for example, the stock market, and not wages, becomes the standard through which the economy is evaluated, regardless of the fact that it does not benefit everyone. Thus, in capitalism, ‘Desire of the most (p.154) disadvantaged creature will invest with all its strength, irrespective of any economic understanding or lack of it, the capitalist social field as a whole’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 229/272). What capitalism loses in terms of belief by ‘decoding’ all of the hierarchies of authority and prestige, reducing them to the purely quantitative calculation of payment, it more than regains in the form of ‘investment’ of desire. Desire directly invests in the flows and fluxes of capital, and it is at this level, at the level of the most quotidian and economic relations and not exclusively at the level of ideology or the superstructure that we should look for the production of subjectivity in capital.

The deterritorialisation of desire in capitalism, as much as it makes possible a strong identification between the desire of the individual and the capitalist system, also continually threatens it. In giving up belief, in giving up the coding that constitutes pre-capitalist societies, capitalism gives up a great deal of control. It is a system that seems to make everything, every desire, possible. It continually produces new desires while at the same time limiting the possibility for the actualisation of those desires. This is a problem that the other modes of production do not have to contend with since the distance that separates wealth and poverty is always coded, or over-coded, by symbolic economies of prestige, honour and tradition.8 In capitalism all of these codes have been decoded, or deterritorialised, ripped from their moorings in practices and beliefs by the flows of money and abstract labour. Desires for freedom and equality circulate along with money and abstract labour as their bothersome after-images. Money and the wage make it possible to fight for not just the specific conditions of one's existence, but anything one desires; moreover, the abstract and indifferent labour that capital requires is inseparable from a new sociality of flexibility and cooperation. As capital turns to the productive power of science, knowledge and communication, it must deterritorialise these powers as well, decode the structures which keep them locked in particular locales (such as the university, or intellectual copyright) making them part of the general knowledge of society, that is ‘common’ (Virno 2004: 37). Deleuze and Guattari's critique of capitalism focuses not on the contradictions of capital, but its lines of flight: in this case, forms of aesthetic and scientific experimentation that open up new ways of perceiving and feeling.9 Deterritorialisation threatens capitalism as much as it nourishes it.

It is against the backdrop of this threat that we can understand capitalism's most potent form of subjection, beyond the cynicism of privatised belief and the stimulation of desire by money. Capitalism does not just ‘decode’ the old beliefs and traditions, wash them away in the ‘cold (p.155) water of egotistical calculation’, it continually resuscitates them, gives them new life. As Deleuze and Guattari write:

Civilized modern societies are defined by processes of decoding and deterritorialization. But what they deterritorialize with one hand, they reterritorialize with the other. These neoterritorialities are often artificial, residual, archaic; but they are archaisms having a perfectly current function, our modern way of ‘imbricating,’ of sectioning off, of reintroducing code fragments, resuscitating old codes, inventing pseudo codes or jargons … These modern archaisms are extremely complex and varied. Some are mainly folkloric, but they nonetheless represent social and potentially political forces …. Others are enclaves whose archaism is just as capable of nourishing a modern fascism as of freeing a revolutionary charge … Some of these archaisms take form as if spontaneously in the current of the movement of deterritorialization — Others are organized and promoted by the state, even though they might turn against the state and cause it serious problems (regionalism, nationalism).

(Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 258/307)

Deleuze and Guattari insist that the process of deterritorialisation, the breakdown of codes and traditions by the abstract quantities of labour and desire, is inseparable from a process of reterritorialisation. For Deleuze and Guattari modernisation is always uneven, reviving antiquated beliefs and political forms, ‘archaisms’, as some melt away. This is not due to some grand conflict of cultures (Jihad vs. McWorld), as some political analysts claim, or some internal conflict between the global scale and lightning pace of contemporary culture and our necessarily tribal and patriarchal minds, as some socio-biologists claim, but is between two sides of capitalism itself. It is a conflict between capitalism's tendency to create new desires, new needs, new experiences and possibilities, and the tendency to subordinate this potential to the overarching need of maintaining and reproducing the existing distribution of wealth and property. This conflict animates the relation between capitalism and the state. Capital by definition is global; this is necessary to its very reproduction. No less necessary to the functioning of capital is the state. ‘The internationalism of capital is thus accomplished by national and state structures that curb capital even as they make it work; these archaic structures have genuine functions’ (Deleuze 2004: 196). The state is the ultimate archaism, in fact Deleuze and Guattari argue that the modern state is nothing less than the ancient despot brought back to life. It is revived, but with an important difference, it no longer stands above society, overcoding the various social collectivities. Now it is the state that produces and reproduces the necessary dimensions of code, of social sub jection, which counteract and make possible deterritorialised flows of (p.156) subjectivity necessary to capitalism, the state is a model of realisation for capital. ‘Social subjection proportions itself to the model of realization, just as machinic enslavement expands to meet the dimensions of the axiomatic that is effectuated in the model’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 459/ 572). What Deleuze and Guattari insist on — and this makes up the heart of the idea of reterritorialisation — is that capitalism produces subjectivity, not in spite of its disruptive cultural and political force, but through it. Modern subjectivity is split between axioms and codes, machinic enslavement and social subjection, between cynicism and piety, between the past and the future. Deleuze and Guattari's insistence on the ‘immediate coincidence’ of subjectivity and production makes it possible to see this split as a political division, a division between capital and the state, rather than an existential division, between the meaninglessness of capital and the search for some meaning in tradition.


Deleuze and Guattari's articulation of the historical and cultural logic of capitalism through such concepts as code, axiom, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation, concepts which often appear daunting, even incomprehensible, is oriented towards dismantling an entrenched set of oppositions, between economy and affect, subjectivity and objectivity, and base and superstructure. It is in undoing these oppositions, recognising the way in which ‘desire is part of the infrastructure’, that Deleuze and Guattari argue it is possible to grasp the realities of the present. These realities include the persistence of capitalism long past the date that its social, political and ecological contradictions were to bring about its inevitable demise. As Deleuze and Guattari argue, we should look to understand the persistence of capital not simply on the side of the economy, examining the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and economic crises, but on the side of subjectivity, on the way in which capitalism captures not only labour power, but also desire and the imagination. Thus Deleuze and Guattari offer the starting point of what Paolo Virno calls a ‘noneconomic critique of political economy’ (Virno 1996b: 271), a critique which promises to make possible a way to understand what is most perplexing about the present, its tendency to be both ‘behind and ahead of itself’, that is the coexistence of the archaic and the modern (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 260/310). There are multiple examples of this from the current political scene in the United States, which presents itself as the search for a perfect synthesis between the ‘new economy’ of high speed digital transactions and the ‘traditional values’ of family, state and God to the resurgence (p.157) of ethnic identities and hatreds (so called neo-tribalisms) in the face of a world order which purports to be ‘global’ and thus beyond nationalities and the nation state. This coexistence cannot be explained by looking simply at the economy, by studying the connection between underdevelopment and development, or by looking at subjective factors, alienation or the inevitable ‘clash of civilisations’. It can only be grasped by examining the way in which the mode of production and the mode of subjection, desiring production and social production, intersect and affect each other. Finally, despite the fact that Deleuze and Guattari do not offer an explicit programme for a new political order, their method does suggest a new way of doing politics, one that focuses not simply on ‘real’ economic issues or cultural questions of recognition, exclusion and desire, but the point where the two intersect.


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(1.) Page numbers are given for English and then the French edition of Anti-Oedipus.

(2.) Page numbers are given for the English and then the French edition of A Thousand Plateaus.

(3.) On this point see my The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present (2003).

(4.) The theme of an ‘apparent objective movement’, or an illusion that is neither hard-wired in the structures of human consciousness, as in the Kantian aporias, or perpetrated by a knowing subject operating behind the scenes, but rather is produced by a particular social formation, runs throughout Marx's writing. It underlies the idea of ideology as an ‘objective’ illusion both produced and necessitated by the division of labour, specifically the division of mental and manual labour, and commodity fetishism as an ‘objective’ illusion produced by the pervasiveness of market relations. Étienne Balibar has argued that these two problems, the problem of ideology and the problem of fetishism, are perhaps two different problems. In the former, there is the combination of objective conditions such as the division between mental and manual labour and a subjective class point of view, the ideas of the ruling class, while in the latter, the fetish is objectively produced by the mechanisms of commodity production (Balibar 1995: 60). It is perhaps for this reason that while Deleuze and Guattari dispense with the notion of ideology and its corresponding ideas of false and true consciousness, they retain the term ‘fetishism’ to refer to this ‘apparent objective movement’.

(5.) In his earlier writings Gilles Deleuze referred to this condition in which the state is formed all at once as Levi-Strauss's or, referring to the Crusoe situation of being stranded on a desert isle, Robinson's paradox. As Deleuze writes: ‘Any society whatsoever has all of its rules at once — juridical, religious, political, economic; laws governing love and labor, kinship and marriage, servitude and freedom, life and death. But the conquest of nature, without which it would no longer be a society, is achieved progressively, from one source of energy to another, from one object to another’ (Deleuze 1990: 49).

(6.) The problem of the image of thought first appears in Deleuze's Difference andRepetition. Although the state is not specifically mentioned, the defining char (p.159) acteristics of state thought, most notably a presupposed universality (‘everybody knows, no one can deny’), appear under the name of good sense (Deleuze 1994: 130). The idea that all thought, all philosophy, presupposes a particular image, a particular idea of what it means to think, also appears in Deleuze and Guattari's final co-authored book What is Philosophy?

(7.) Deleuze and Guattari's distinction can be read through not only Marx's text but also Althusser and Balibar's Lire le Capital. As Balibar argues in all precapitalist economic formations there is a temporal and spatial distinction between labour and the extraction of surplus. Thus in pre-capitalist modes of production the extraction of a surplus is always accompanied by a ‘non-economic’ instance determined as dominant (politics or religion) which renders visible and palpable the division between necessary and surplus labour, but in the capitalist mode of production this division is in some sense invisible. As Balibar argues, in capitalism the labourer works in the production process, and its temporality (the working day) and relations (such as the relation between the individual worker and capitalist) constitute lived experience, while the ‘valorisation’ process and its division between necessary and surplus labour never takes place in the lived present. In the capitalist mode of production there is no spatial or temporal division between necessary and surplus labour: thus in some sense, exploitation is invisible, or at least potentially invisible, taking place behind one's back (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 223).

(8.) As Immanuel Wallerstein argues: ‘While privilege earned by inheritance has long been at least marginally acceptable to the oppressed on the basis of mystical or fatalistic beliefs in an eternal order … privilege earned because one is possibly smarter and certainly better educated than someone else is extremely difficult to swallow, except by the few who are basically scrambling up the ladder. Nobody who is not a yuppie loves or admires a yuppie. Princes at least may seem to be kindly father figures. A yuppie is nothing but an overprivileged sibling. The meritocratic system is politically one of the least stable systems. And it is precisely because of this political fragility that racism and sexism enter the picture’ (Wallerstein 1991: 32).

(9.) Deleuze and Guattari would appear to argue, at least implicitly, that capitalism's lines of flight are primarily aesthetic and scientific rather than political. As they write: ‘Why this appeal to art and science, in a world where scientists and technicians and even artists, and science and art themselves, work so closely with the established sovereignties — if only because of the structures of financing? Because art, as soon as it attains its own grandeur, its own genius, creates chains of decoding and deterritorialisation that serve as the foundation for desiring machines, and make them function’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: 368/442). A similar argument underlies their later theory of ‘nomadic thought’: which takes science and art as its model.