Deleuze, Marx and politics
How does Deleuze stand in relation to Marx? According to an interview conducted by Toni Negri in 1990, Deleuze is committed to the Marxist project, even if the methodology and instruments of Deleuze’s revolutionary theory is demarcated in specific ways from Marx. Deleuze defends his fidelity to Marx insofar as “political philosophy finds its fate in the analysis and criticism of capitalism as an immanent system that constantly moves its limits and constantly re-establishes them on an expanded scale” (‘Minor Marxism’ in Deleuze and Marx, p. 102). But rather than speak in terms of the final resolution of conflict or a self-moving teleology as Marx does, Deleuze envisions the contemporary political scene to be inhabited by lines of flight, minorities and war machines. Deleuze proposes a typology along different lines than Marx, forgoing the Marxian instruments of social contradictions, classes and the State apparatus that were so important to Marxist militant praxis. By speaking in terms of lines of flight, minorities and war machines rather than dialectical movement, Deleuze breaks with any logic of progress.
Reality under capitalism is always mutating, for sure, but this does not necessarily entail a change for the better. According to Deleuze, singular entities are arranged in patterns to form collective assemblages, but these serial organizations do not imply an ascending development or determinate goal. For Deleuze, struggle never achieves any totalization of reality in which all elements of existence would function harmoniously or in unity. As critical theory has discovered, the unification of resistance forces simply ends up making the packaging and marketing work of capitalism all that much easier. The ‘untimely’ for Deleuze, in this regard, does not lead to any form of stable or enduring institution. “What we have, therefore, is a notion of militant praxis that, without giving in to the demands of power, but at the same time without aspiring to power, embraces—beyond government and opposition—the vocation of resistance” (pp. 104-5).
Existence, for Deleuze, is not a totality but a network or thick mesh of disparate singularities, which do not always fit together. Macro-assemblages or power formations, in this sense, despite their appearance to the contrary, are occupied by unstable, agitated and changing vectors. As Eduardo Pellejero puts it in ‘Minor Marxism’, “The social field is not composed by isolated and immutable formations: only stratifications of knowledge and power may give some stability to it” (p. 105). Pellejero again: “The social field leaks everywhere” (p. 105). State otherwise, lines of flight, minorities and war machines are constantly agitating from within the assemblages we are altogether familiar with and consider enduring.
Whereas there is no revolution as the end of history for Deleuze as there is with Marx, Deleuze nonetheless defends revolution as an agent of unrest. Rather than the radical and irreversible advent of a society finally totalised and reconciled amongst all its parts, Deleuze conceives of revolution as ephemeral and unpredicrtable events. Although these local events as opposed to the global advent of communism do not mark a clear major break from the established state of things and open up onto a new kind of society, Deleuze claims that such micro-revolutions still produce immanent and incalculable effects within the societies they historically fail.
The object of struggle, as a result, is not the fulfillment of a possible utopia, but the “multiplication of perspectives” (p. 106). Following these space clearing gestures new sensibilities and assemblages are asserted, making possible uncommon or novel visions of society not previously envisioned. According to Deleuze, this is the only strategy for the maturation or mutation of society: the de-stratification of structures and the re-arrangement of life and society. Alterations of society, in other words, are brought about by events that interrupt the normal flows and exclusions of life.
These mutations, consequently, have unpredictable results. Power formations, after all, have a great capacity for adapting to stimulated dissent and new types of human relations. Collective assemblages or systems, in other words, exhibit great shrewdness in maintaining stability despite constant semi-turmoil, even benefiting from such restlessness by recovering marginal inventions for the sake of its own growth and expansion. Lines of flight, as a result, are not necessarily revolutionary. It goes without saying, “these micro-revolutions do not lead automatically to a social revolution, to a new society, an economy or a culture liberated from capitalism” (p. 108).
More often than not such misfirings in the system are the required condition for the possibility of the machine to continue functioning properly. In this sense, the success of micro-revolutions depends upon how “the lines of flight that cross though a given society” are articulated by subjects who converge with these constructivist vectors (p. 108). For one to decode a system or an assemblage successfully and create an opening for new spaces of freedom, Deleuze tells us, requires one to move slowly and carefully; advice that is more commonsensical than profound. The essential point to bear in mind however is that
What matters is that, suddenly, we do not feel condemned in the same old way anymore; a problem which nobody could see a way out of, a problem in which everyobyd was trapped, suddenly ceases to exist, and we ask ourselves what we were talking about. Suddenly we are in another world, as Péguy said, the same problems do not arise anymore – though there will be many more, of course (p. 109).
Although this new form of criticism remains unsatisfactory for someone like Negri whose political work points to “the institution of a new constituent power beyond the Empire” rather than Deleuze’s alternative of “superficial and ephemeral resistance”, Deleuze gives a more compelling subversive grammar that fits better with the facts of the case (p. 109). Like Marx, Deleuze is concerned with the “creation of spaces of freedom, strategies of torsion of power, conquest of individual and collective forms of subjectivity, invention of new forms of life”, but unlike Marx, Deleuze does not have any doubts over the fact that we do not possess any reliable means to preserve resistance aimed at undermining knowledge and power from becoming compromised itself (pp. 109-10). For this reason, according to Deleuze, we are condemned to everlasting restlessness. “Deprived of any progressive project, of the idea that if we do everything possible things will improve, will change for the better— thus, aware of its tragic destiny—the struggle goes on” (p. 110). In short, what is required for Deleuze is the infinite movement of new struggles.
Deleuze stakes his entire political thought on the revolutionary potential of redistributing singularities and relationships. As Deleuze calls it, the ‘untimely’ is precisely this interruption of a specific situation or assemblage by way of drawing out novelty, discrepancy or molecular lines of flight therein. By this Deleuze does not mean the abolition of molar organization as such. Rather the “molecular re-distribution of power and knowledge” is an instrument for the transformation of molar organizations; viz., acknowledging and following the different compositions of power formations that keep colliding and do not fit, despite the attempts of molar assemblages to control them.
For Deleuze, like other agonistic thinkers such as Derrida, Žižek, Carl Schmidt, William Connolly and Rom Coles, the existence of dissent is inevitable. There are always going to be losers, including humans, trains, viruses and social contracts. But while Deleuze’s thought of immanence is beyond any reliance on a messianic structure in which a future revolution would bring history as we know it to a utopian end, Deleuze “still gives us reasons for resistance, to go on thinking, when it comes impossible to go on seeing certain things without doing nothing, or go on living as we do” (p. 111). Pellejero again: “We do not have faith in the advent of a new happy world, but we cannot renounce to the exercise of a resistant thought, in the difficult, unpredictable and dangerous intersection of our powerlessness” (p. 111).
Although revolutionary praxis will be an everlasting work, there are already a multitude of agents of change or resistance, millions of people convicted every day by the current state of things, such as “people who die from diseases that a simple pill could cure, victims of collateral damage from anti-terrorist operations, but also students educated for unemployment, adolescents enclosed in urban ghettos or suburbs, elderly people without pensions or social security” (p. 111). But even if there is no creation of a utopia on the horizon, will we stop working and struggling for that reason?