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I analyzed. and the Common One does not know what one writes. the plural subject of a singular yet common encounter. whose remarkable response to my lecture at the conference I fear I may not have done justice to either there or here. Karl Marx. to know exactly what it is that one wrote there. defined there. I hoped in effect to re-elaborate a distinctly Marxian theoretical-methodological maneuver. —Karl Marx 1 Surplus. In doing so. that surplus value is at I am very grateful to Timothy Campbell for having invited me to the Commonalities: Theorizing the Common in Contemporary Italian Thought conference at Cornell University in September 2010— where I delivered an earlier version of this essay—as well as to all the other conference organizers. I sketched a possible genealogy of the concept of the common by interrelating what I took to constitute its earliest proto-modern intimations in Dante Alighieri’s De vulgari eloquentia and De monarchia. logically anterior—concept. interwove.” that serves as a preface to that book. in other words. I am also very grateful to Jodi Dean. This truism of that form of thought which is writing holds all the more true perhaps when the one writing is not an individual but the aleatory product of a wayward conversation. Much like Marx shows in the Grundrisse that. indeed. it is the titular object of praise that continues to linger and to preoccupy me as the eminently unfinished business of that book: the concept of the common was certainly praised yet not fully given. paradoxically. diacritics Volume 39.) Crucially. Commonwealth. looking at the matter more closely. to go beyond it. transversally. 1  See also 326–27. since. as I revisit here that encounter in the attempt to understand and.4 (2009) 162–176 © 2012 by the Johns Hopkins University Press . Value. “Surplus Common. In the essay. which I referred to as “surplus common” [pluscomune]. and Baruch Spinoza. “the creation of surplus value. so as. The aim of such a genealogy. the immediate result of the process of capitalist circulation. hopefully. however. as I return to the encounter that took place between Antonio Negri and me in a book titled In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. grasped. (Hardt and Negri’s subsequent collaborative undertaking.1 much like Marx demonstrates. and deployed the various articulations of the common in these thinkers so as to produce another and primary—that is. secondarily. had not yet been published.” namely. and its latest postmodern reincarnations in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire.UNIVERSALISM OF THE COMMON CESARE CASARINO [Humankind] always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve. was to approach the concept of the common indirectly. “is the presupposition of capital” itself [326]. I sketched this genealogy by putting Alighieri’s and Hardt and Negri’s works in conversation with one another via the intermediary and nodal figures of Aristotle. In particular. It is under the sign of this truism that the present essay is born. it will always be found that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

does not lie in the production of surplus per se but lies instead specifically in its production in and as value. surplus value and surplus common name two radically different yet structurally homologous. What is nihilism supreme is to deny or to foreclose altogether that surplus constitutes one’s own share in being qua immanent cause (which is to say. my investigation returns again and again to Marx and Spinoza because these thinkers dared something that in capitalist modernity is as difficult as it is rare: they 2  3  See also 83. I tried to show that surplus common is at once presupposition and result of the common.3 This implies also that the problem with surplus value is not surplus but value. being dispossessed of itself. namely. In the end. This homology is methodological. on the other hand. and hence must investigate the complex relations of immanence among surplus. that is because such a Marxian genealogy was rooted in a particular ontology. that it constitutes selfdetermination) only to the degree to which it is shared in common rather than owned as value. In my Spinozian-Marxian investigation. and being (dis)owned by others—rather than producing it and experiencing it instead as that which must not be disowned at any cost and indeed cannot be owned by anyone at all. Universalism of the Common / Cesare Casarino 163 . precisely as one’s to own—and hence as always liable to being captured. namely. and. This homology. transcendental yet immanent. since my aim. its potential difference from capital. value. in the sense that I approached the question of the common in the same way in which Marx (and Negri) approached the question of value.once presupposition and result of capitalist valorization. itself and its own immanent cause. In this investigation. was to show how any adequate theorization of the common in modernity and beyond not only must consider the essential function of the common within the process of extraction of surplus value but also must confront. In articulating the complex relations between surplus value and surplus common in the context of that genealogy. What is exploitative and nullifying is to materialize surplus in the forms of value—and especially in the form of value par excellence. precondition in a concept of surplus common. in the end. to produce and to experience one’s own surplus. is also theoretical. exploitation. however. I found Kiarina Kordela’s theorization of the concept of surplus to be invaluable. money—that anchor property (whether private or public) and its attendant and constitutive forms of subjectivity. Lacan. can exist only as a partial and abstract subordinate of the theory of surplus value” [82]. ways of materializing the one and only surplus within capitalist modernity and postmodernity. and the common. 272n97. that the problem with the production of surplus value. but see also 11 and 248n18. which I discuss in “Surplus Common” 257–60n39. and much like Negri. on the one hand. being involves the one and only surplus that may determine and be determined in different ways. . 265–66n71.2 I used my genealogy to show how the common and its forms find their logical. that is. . the actual identity of the common with capital. thus. one’s own share in being. What is destructive and self-destructive is to produce surplus and to experience being as valuable rather than as common. If this genealogical investigation aimed to show a) that surplus common is the condition of possibility of the common in the same way in which surplus value is the condition of possibility of value. I approached the question of the common in the same way in which Marx approached the question of value not only because I found Marx’s method of transcendental critique to be particularly effective but also because I understood these two questions to be intimately related to each other in capitalist modernity and postmodernity. politically antagonistic yet historically as well as logically co-primeval. argues in Marx beyond Marx that the “theory of value . This is an ontology for which being is always already itself and its own surplus. therefore. She elaborates this theorization in $urplus: Spinoza. In short. in a particular interpretation of Spinoza’s ontology as a monist ontology that posits being as surplus in relation to itself. and b) that value and the common may be theorized adequately only in relation to each other.

what is the triangulation that appertains and gives life to the concept of the common? The concept of the common finds its proper triangulation in both modernity and postmodernity in relation to the Marxian antagonistic dyad of capital and labor. this triangulation has several implications. wishes to complement rather than to abjure or even to rectify that earlier one: the two stand together as companion pieces—which is why I have appealed to your patience here. and hence. problem. What Is Philosophy?: “All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning and which can themselves only be isolated or understood as their solution emerges” [16]. hence. In Marx and Spinoza we may sense a world beyond value and in common.not only understood surplus as being nothing outside its effects or determinations (and hence also as not being anything necessarily. can only be a double function of coadjutant. incorporated. For the moment.” 164 diacritics / winter 2009 . already present in however indeterminate a form. unfolding. 4  I return in more detail to the convergences (and divergences) between Marx and Spinoza in my essay “Marx before Spinoza. Secondly. The function of a concept becomes intelligible in terms of this triangulation: concept. has two faces—one turned toward its problem and the other turned toward its solution: a concept may help at once a) in posing a problem adequately and b) in articulating a solution distinctly. it treated the concept of the common as secondary to. the function of a concept. 2 The Concept of the Common What is the function of a concept? In considering the common as a political-philosophical concept. such as they are. a concept is related essentially and necessarily to this simultaneous double emergence of problem and solution: both its existence and its raison d’être are at stake and never cease to depend on such an emergence—which is to say that a concept is the effect or by-product of the mutually determining relation between problem and solution. as it were. surfacing—in short. The concept. thus. I find it useful to begin with an answer Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari give to this question in their last collaborative work. as I proceeded to encapsulate some of the earlier arguments that have enabled and necessitated what follows. the concept reveals that the triangulation of concept. is crucial in constituting the double emergence of problem and solution. materialized. including capitalist). for better and for worse. thus. that prior and primary concept. Thirdly. and somewhat more structural and direct. This might be why the yields of that genealogy. and solution functions according to immanent causality. or. Its function. What is then the function of the concept of the common? Of what exactly is the concept of the common the cause-effect? If a concept is meaningless and lifeless outside of its triangulation. solution.4 I will return to the question of a world at once valueless and common. At once cause and effect. and lived not in the forms of value but in the forms of the common. they also ventured to imagine surplus as being produced. This essay. a simultaneity of problem and solution is being posited here: a problem comes into being and can be formulated as such only to the extent to which its solution is already in process. are also not entirely adequate. I wish to restate one of the intrinsic limits of my previous genealogical investigation: it produced the concept of surplus common as the cause-effect of any form of the common whatsoever. First of all. and why I feel compelled now to revisit the concept of the common in a way that is less genealogical and indirect. problem. As articulated by Deleuze and Guattari. and “as a partial and abstract subordinate” of.

Communication is to the socialized worker what the wage relation was to the mass worker. with capital. modified]. . however.” “post-Fordist capitalism.g.” “real subsumption of society under capital. and especially through the communication of thought. such as. may change considerably even as its structure may remain largely unaltered: the same concept may find its proper discursive home in a number of different triangulations over the course of time. In advanced capitalism. and affect which is knowledge—in all of their myriad forms. “late capitalism. and Commonwealth). that undergoes momentous reformulations in the early modern era (especially in Spinoza’s thought). are often complementary. and first published in 1991). and are now fully cumulative. Each of these phases. and affect—and hence also of that assemblage of thought. language. this third phase is best understood and defined as “communicative capitalism. in which Negri points to the “expropriation of communication” as being instrumental in the shift from Fordism (and its “mass worker”) to post-Fordism (and its “socialized worker”): “Production consists not only in the production of commodities. But communication is life. . by means of communication. Negri is the first thinker to have theorized explicitly the essential function of communication in the third phase of the capitalist mode of production.more precisely.” “biopolitical production” or “biocapital” tout court. conflict.” “industrial.” “postmodern capitalism. even “casino capitalism.” “flexible capitalism. our third phase has been given many useful names. most recently. trans.” “cognitive capitalism. The concept of the common helps us understand clearly the differentia specifica of the contemporary. Similar arguments are found in “Twenty Theses on Marx: Interpretation of the Class Situation Today” (written around the same time. trying to preconstitute the determinants of life” [118. capital generated adequate wage-conditions. Multitude. Dall’operaio massa all’operaio sociale [From Mass Worker to Socialized Worker]). Let us begin with the problem. which is what the attributive qualifiers “mercantile. for the mass worker. in which Negri identifies communication as the dominant form of value in the moment of real subsumption Universalism of the Common / Cesare Casarino 165 . but in all the conditions necessary for the existence of productive subjectivities. and. and. To be sure—as my earlier investigation emphasized—the concept of the common has an ancient history that has its roots deep in the Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophical traditions. and first published in 1989). and in articulating the solution of labor power as distinct yet indiscernible from such a process of production.. qualitatively dominant. . Though such a theorization is already evident in his writings of the 1970s (e. language. the cause-effect function of the common consists at once in posing the problem of capitalism as production of surplus value. for example. among others. it is articulated most clearly from the mid 1980s onward in a series of arguments that lay the foundations for current investigations regarding the convergence of capitalism and biopolitics across a variety of disciplinary discourses and political projects (including Negri and Hardt’s own investigations on such a convergence in Empire.) Communicative capitalism produces surplus value primarily through communication. domination and dictatorship.” “global capitalism. that well precedes Marx and his theorization of capital-labor relations. The function of a concept. produces surplus value in different ways.” and “communicative” signify. this passage from the essay “Expropriation in Mature Capitalism” (written between 1985 and 1986. in philosophically adequate and politically effective manners.” All three phases can be called capitalism since they all share in the production of surplus value. If the first and second phases may be characterized as mercantile capitalism and industrial capitalism respectively. Just as. therefore. of surplus value and labor power. struggle and diversity are focused on communication. (Obviously.” For my purposes. however. each highlighting one or more of its prominent aspects. so today. In our present historical conjuncture. these three modalities of capitalism are not necessarily mutually exclusive with one another.5 This is to say that in communicative capitalism the initial raw materi5  Arguably. third phase of the capitalist mode of production. however. now fully global and tendentially universal. for the socialized worker. see. hence. The forms of domination and the types of expropriation of communication typical of advanced capitalism thus represent a very high degree of control. capital tries to establish the social conditions in which communication is to take place.

with its specific techniques. modified]. its peculiar profits. This means.. so as to formulate the following hypothesis: “My hypothesis is that the communication industry (or rather. its particular procedures. common capacities. define. resonate significantly with earlier investigations by Negri and others. I am concerned with highlighting and asserting the central functions of the common and its forms both in communication and hence in communicative capitalism as well as in any possible alternative to communicative capitalism and to its reified forms of communication along with their attendant and constitutive fantasies. nonetheless I find the common—namely. and hence to express oneself intellectually. as an individual language. in a situation in which the means of production are not reducible to machines but consist of linguisticcognitive competences inseparable from living labor. also plays the role of industry of the means of production. who deploys it very effectively in her trenchant critiques of the contemporary and celebratory ideology that attributes democratic potentials to networked technologies of communication and their cultures. middle. and end—are all by definition common: there is no such a thing as a solitary thought. 7  For Dean’s arguments regarding communicative capitalism.als. everything is common: its potentialities. and name the current mode of production as communicative capitalism. Recently. on the other hand. as well as the process of production itself—that is. it is legitimate to assume that a conspicuous part of the so-called ‘means of production’ consists of techniques and communicative procedures” [Grammar of the Multitude 61. as well as her firm conviction that such a euphoria forecloses politics. but see also Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies 19–48. All theoretical-methodological differences notwithstanding. 6  On this matter. (An aside on the term “communicative capitalism” is necessary here. affectively is to activate and mobilize exquisitely shared. as well as the processes that continuously turn the former into the latter. and. thereby intertwining and re-elaborating them. whether reified or not—to constitute the crucial reservoir for anti-capitalist and non-capitalist political projects. see at least Publicity’s Secret 1–14 and especially 3–4. the industry of the means of production is the industry that produces machinery and other instruments to be used in the most varied sectors of production. see also Giorgio Agamben’s essay “Form-of-Life” 9–11. This term was coined by Jodi Dean. the transcendental precondition of any form of communication. is an industry among others. or as private knowledge (even though we may experience all of the above as that which is most intimate and most unique about ourselves). Traditionally. linguistically. Paolo Virno has drawn attention to the resonances across the parallel branches of this heterogeneous intellectual genealogy. It is in this sense that the concept of the common helps us pose the problem adequately: the function of the common relative to its problem is that it enables us to understand. on the one hand. for me communication is both the problem and the solution. the spectacle industry. the culture industry). however.)7 of society under capital [152]. 166 diacritics / winter 2009 . beginning. etc. collective. Such arguments. as a personal affect. its actualities.6 In communication. My general understanding of this term is similar to hers. Though I largely share Dean’s salutary skepticism with respect to the rampant and mystifying euphoria surrounding the liberatory potentials of networked technologies of communication. among other things. such remarkable and pioneering insights regarding the crucial role played by communication in contemporary capitalism find their implicit precursors in a series of diverse early-to-mid-twentiethcentury investigations ranging from Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s theorization of the culture industry to Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s theorization of the relation between intellectual labor and manual labor to Marshall McLuhan’s theorization of media networks to Guy Debord’s theorization of the society of the spectacle and beyond. or even yet. the final products. and. The specific uses to which we put it. trans. that—to put it admittedly in an overly simplistic fashion—whereas for Dean communication is the problem today. are different in the end: whereas Dean ultimately is concerned with unveiling and traversing the fantasies of communication that sustain communicative capitalism. to the extent to which we both posit it as a diagnostic instrument to identify and explain what we concur constitutes the defining features of contemporary capitalism. However. on the one hand.

today we are capitalism.8 In short. is itself part and parcel of a collective power of production. the concept of labor power) makes sense only as a concept of the common. namely. What and where is its solution? Among the merits of Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation is its non-utopian character: if the problem can be at all conceptualized. Labor power is the name Marx gives to human potentiality under capital. The common in its potential aspect today is nothing other than the assemblage of those capacities that do not belong to anyone and in which we all share: linguistic faculty. in fact. that both solution and problem come into being and share in the same plane of immanence. that his momentous discovery (i. in the sense that if the common partakes both of actuality and potentiality. affect. the function of the common relative to its solution is twofold: 1) to make explicit something that had been implicit in Marx’s definition all along. Regarding these earlier investigations. potentiality can only be shared and in common: potentiality constitutes our common substance. language.. that aggregate of potentialities that is labor power and that is incorporated in a specific human being is itself the product of social cooperation. collective. Universalism of the Common / Cesare Casarino 167 . and common. and affective communication. which Marx defines famously in Capital as “the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form. For this crucial distinction to become at all intelligible. is to enable us to distinguish between capital and labor. see note 5 above. are crucially (and profitably) inflected through a psychoanalytic problematic that is absent in Negri. There is a privileged. the living personality. as actual producers or as actual products—then capitalism and the common are absolutely indistinguishable from one another: as producing products of the common. thus. knowledge—then it follows that there can be no difference of any kind between capitalism and the common. that our capacity to produce and reproduce ourselves and the world we inhabit—indeed. The solution to the problem does not exist in some other. intellectual powers. This means. essential relation between potentiality and the common. and solution functions according to immanent causality. between surplus value and labor power. the triangulation of concept. within a process of production that is driven by intellectual. potentiality qua potentiality does not belong to anything or anybody. problem. as Marx also shows in Capital. namely. cannot be conceptualized in terms of property—whether private or public.Such is the problem—communicative capitalism. 2) to on the other hand. Matters begin to look different if the common is considered from the standpoint of its potential aspect. is common. This is why earlier I also stated that if the first function of a concept is to pose a problem adequately. and. and. But this is nothing other than labor power itself. rather. If the common is considered only in its actual aspects—for example. If our current phase of the capitalist mode of production is driven by communication of that which is common—thought. After all. Potentiality. 8  Marx goes to great lengths to make this point in detail in chapter 13 of Capital 439–54. on the other hand. that means that its solution is already conceptualizable and actualizable here and now (as Marx emphasizes in the epigraph to this essay). is always embedded and incorporated in that which is fully actual and therefore nowadays is always fully within capitalism. on the one hand. Potentiality. of a human being” [270]. our ability to become different from what we are—is shared. in the first place. As I pointed out earlier. Moreover. linguistic. is not of capitalism and does not belong to capitalism in and of itself. transcendent spatiotemporal realm. that they are part and parcel of one another to begin with—and hence that it may be very difficult at times to differentiate between them. potentiality is always common. The function of the common relative to its solution. to posit a clear distinction between solution and problem as they emerge simultaneously and immanently.e. as I have argued. and. as well as the capability to affect and to be affected. however. its second function is to articulate a solution distinctly. it is necessary to conceptualize the common as having two irreducible yet immanent aspects—a potential and an actual one. after all.

Hegelian universalisms selectively sublate the different into the identical. the wisdom of states. in discussing the question of minorities in A Thousand Plateaus.. Human beings. global capitalism—and that it is precisely in its ability to pose such a challenge that the universal aspect of the particular resides). even though labor power intended as our common transformative capacity is activated by as well as actualized in and as capital. do share in labor power. long-discredited. I have noted also that I still find Deleuze and Guattari’s earlier efforts in this direction to be overall more fruitful than current and ongoing debates (e. See especially Scienze sociali e “natura umana” and Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation. yet still fully operative categories as “humanity. upon which the happiness of nations.. a new type of universalism altogether.) The politics appertaining to the concept of the common demands that we reclaim and reformulate in non-essentialist terms such pernicious. Samir Amin. say. however defined. 9  168 diacritics / winter 2009 . Europe) by means of a relative and recuperative negation of all that is perceived as not sharing in the essence of the totality. universalism has constituted and continues to constitute possibly the most effective ideological weapon of that history which has been the hallmark of modernity and postmodernity alike.g. and about which G. there is nothing inherently and essentially capitalist about such a capacity per se.” “human nature. Hegel could say late in life that it is no more than “this slaughter-bench. It is on these bases and on these bases alone (common potentials and common projects) that it is at all possible to speak of a common humanity—and a common humanity is precisely not “the human community. that is.” 10  I have commented elsewhere on the recent efforts to reconceptualize universalism for revolutionary political projects (especially in the works of thinkers such as Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou). “Jokes and Innovative Action. of course. indeed.10 There are plenty of valid reasons. and the virtues of individuals were sacrificed” [24].” and “universalism. Human beings do not share in essences or identities.show distinctly that. “The Southern Answer” 682n11. Such Hegelian universalisms find their complement in those Kantian universalRecently. The universalism in question. F. See Casarino. Virno has made the concept of human nature the object of a series of sustained and thought-provoking philosophical investigations. it may be put to work for and actualized in forms other than the form of value. especially part 2.” (I hope to have made clear that the common has nothing at all to do either with community intended as Gemeinschaft or with society intended as Gesellschaft and has everything to do instead with communication as defined above. however. And Hegel is indeed relevant here. Indeed. hence. a universalism of common potentials and common projects. Human beings share common potentials.”9 The politics of the common demands a new theory and a new practice of universal notions—and. just to mention one of the most forceful critics of that universalism that goes by the name of Eurocentrism.g. in a different terminology. and determine the identity of the totality (e. as we have learned by intellectuals of the stature of. to mistrust universalism. in a collective assemblage of common transformative capacities—none of which constitute actual essences. 3 A Universalism for the Common Human beings have nothing essentially in common. and that. as when. has manifested itself primarily in two dominant forms—a Hegelian one and a Kantian one. Hegelian forms of universalism function according to synthesizable contradictions. W. in fact. which is why they may also share common projects. they argue in effect that the particular is revolutionary to the extent to which it challenges the worldwide axiomatic—or.

singularity. and domestication. and on value. non-relational. above all. Universalism of the Common / Cesare Casarino 169 . or the private and the public—binaries whose foundation has been an idealist and universalist concept of human essence all along. Multitude 125–27. that the dialectical binary of identity and difference obscures precisely the complementary dyad of the singular and the common. on shared identities. If the most dangerous political manifestations of the former amount to total assimilation. This. and which determine the identity of the totality by means of a relative yet non-recuperative negation of all that is perceived as not sharing in the essence of the totality. of course. that is. relational. and absolute. Capitalism owes much of its success to the fact that it has effected an ambitious integration of the two aforementioned. is a well-known story. distinct yet related. 198. It is precisely because today capitalism shows more than ever its true universalist colors that we need to respond in kind with universalist aspirations of our own. therefore. according to the law of value. For a similar argument (though with respect to Duns Scotus and to Gilbert Simondon). My point here is. Put differently. If we have any hope to defeat such lethal universalisms based on shared essences.” On the relation between the singular and the common. Both. Kantian universalisms selectively excise the different from the identical. the most dangerous political manifestations of the latter amount to complete ostracism and extermination. 348–49. as the universalism of value. at best. the common itself.11 It is in this sense that capitalism needs to be understood as a universalism in its own right. that is. and relative rather than as primary. Some of the most recurrent among these failed (or. And it is the case—though it would take me further afield to substantiate here—that singularity constitutes such a target because it has a privileged and essential relation to the common. we need to steep the politics of the common in a universalism based on common potentials and common projects. and whose function has been at once to exploit and to foreclose all that is neither private nor public. lead to the same end—the erasure of difference. because such binaries function according to the relativizing logic of equivalence. they must conceive of the different as different from something (or even as different from itself) rather than as different per se—in short. rather than as singularity. If we are to oppose and to change a system 11  In “Marx before Spinoza. Many of the political attempts to counter such a Janus-headed war machine have perceived and hence attacked only one of its aspects—thereby falling prey all the more easily to the other aspect and hence failing in the end. very limited) attempts consist of the various political impasses reached when re-deploying binaries such as identity and difference. These two universalisms and their variants turn the absolutely singular into the relatively different so as to destroy the latter by opposing it to the identical either dialectically or antinomically. This is to say that the real target of such universalisms is not difference but absolute difference. they need to posit difference as secondary. see Virno’s excellent essay “Angels and the General Intellect: Individuation in Duns Scotus and Gilbert Simondon. see also Hardt and Negri. one cannot fight the universalism of value effectively by brandishing either side of these binaries or even both sides at once.” I have argued that the concepts of the singular and of the common constitute a complementary dyad in Spinoza.isms which function instead according to dynamic and non-synthesizable antinomies. neither identical nor different. namely. that both types of universalism—whether dialectical and co-optive or antinomial and obliterative—destroy difference twice over: in order either to sublate it into identity or to excise it from identity. integration. To put it another way: both universalisms destroy singularity at once by relativizing it as difference and by negating the latter through identity. forms of universalism. 204. thereby producing a complex ideological war machine that is all the more effective for being absolutely self-contradictory.

12 4 Communism as Universalism of the Common If I conclude this essay by saying that such a universalism of the common bears the name of communism. this statement is certainly warranted and endorsable. of course. which Vladimir Ilyich Lenin himself approvingly called “State Capitalism” [13]. impossible to invoke without the (by now only too predictable and hence all the more exhausting) ideological abjurations. because of the obstinate persistence of such a nightmarish weight well into our present that so many who consider themselves to be “on the left” deem communism (as a term and as a concept) to be irredeemable and unpronounceable. See Balibar and Negri 320–21. never had anything to do with historical actualizations of the state form such as the USSR or Maoist China or even with semi-actualizations such as the PCI and the other various communist parties in the so-called West (regardless of whether or not they came to espouse “The Historical Compromise. lexical contortions. rather. I am sure I do not need to point out. and which has weighed like a nightmare on the brain of the living.that brings us together only to the extent to which it tears us apart. I mean to suggest above all that communism needs to be thought in terms of the common and of its universalism. Though a tad cumbersome (stylistically and otherwise). my own. or. unserviceable. reveal itself. And if that is what you think. Blame the Soviet nightmare for the following (somewhat personal) excursus.” “Eurocommunism. whose secret content can now finally come out. You may think that the common and its universalism have been here no more than a pretext for re-exhuming communism yet again. at the very least.” that is. though not mutually exclusive with. and wage war. due to its disastrous twentieth-century history. universality—has been emphasized also by Balibar in ways that are different from. after all. at any rate. Balibar maintains that. in fact.” or other such social-democratic chimeras). communism today “must be formulated” not as an alternative to capitalism but “in terms of an alternative to the alternative as it was historically realized” [Balibar and Negri 321]. or. And yet I must add that there are those for whom—due to generational or other reasons—communism never “was historically realized. and so on. 12  170 diacritics / winter 2009 . you may think that I have been treating the common as no more than a Trojan horse. and hence that communism needs to be rethought as a universalism of common potentials and common projects. In calling the universalism of the common communism. you may well be right—but only in part. which has haunted all coming communism. that staggering betrayal of communism that was the Soviet experiment. This is not to deny either the existence of such actualizations and semi-actualizations or the importance of understanding them and their renditions of communism—an importance that Balibar underscores The importance of thinking the common in terms of universalism—or. It is. conceptual convolutions. It is a testament to the inevitable difficulties involved whenever trying merely to wrap one’s lips around the word “communism” that even a philosopher of the caliber of Étienne Balibar—for whom I have profound respect—is not exempt from having to perform linguistic-conceptual somersaults when it comes to this matter: in a recent exchange with Negri.” “The Third Way. that only too often communism has not constituted such a universalism. for bringing it back to life in a different guise. most emblematically. it is necessary that we posit and affirm a universalism of the common. that only too often communism has been conceptualized and put into practice instead as a variation on that universalism of value which separates the common from itself and from its forms—see.

communism named the void of the historical situation—history degree zero—and it is upon such a void that new forms of life may be built.” along with the subsequent volume edited by Douzinas and Žižek. and with the quasi-animalistic mistrust toward adult projects and institutions. that is. Jacques Rancière’s words thus strike a deep chord when he writes: “The only communist legacy that is worth examining is the multiplicity of forms of experimentation of the capacity of anybody. and the special issue of Rethinking Marxism. which returns to a discourse of communism that Multitude had cast aside. not only had nothing I read in that intoxicating book come to pass anywhere. I have made a similar argument in more detail elsewhere. why communism today? Does the common really need communism at this point in history? Lately. the history of Marxism. among others. “The Common and the Forms of the Commune. yesterday and today. is also “the promise of all revolutions” [Deleuze 49]. as never having been instituted: our constitution as political beings occurred in the very act of calling ourselves communists in the absence of any type of communist project or institution with which we could possibly identify or even sympathize. For those. class struggle raged unabated . This is simply to say that there are those for whom communism constituted a signifier whose immense. all poetry. The Meaning of Sarkozy and The Communist Hypothesis. all mythic and aesthetic invention”—and which. see Makdisi.) In short. within. The Idea of Communism. This implies. Ali. and Karl. rightly or wrongly.” edited by Anna Curcio and Ceren Özselçuk. and that predates. Casarino. .14 And here the excursus—if not the nightmare—comes to an end. I called myself communist with fierce defiance yet without knowing exactly what I meant by it. as well as the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities 2009 conference. . I called myself communist even more defiantly after reading The Communist Manifesto precisely because. 13  14  Universalism of the Common / Cesare Casarino 171 . The only possible form of communist intelligence is the collective intelligence constructed in those experimentations” [176]. and so I read The Communist Manifesto in order to find out. communism could only elicit an unapologetic desire to experiment radically with life. there are those for whom communism was politically determining and constituting precisely because it was perceived. then. that communism has an ancient history—one that certainly underwent specific redeterminations under the capitalist mode of production. including the many adult card-carrying members of the communist party I knew so well. but also the promise of all art.13 (I know I am not alone when I say that. growing up in the intensely politicized Italy of the 1970s. then. Still. There are those for whom communism was that “floating signifier” of which Claude Lévi-Strauss writes that it “is the servitude of all finite thought. and they certainly include the current See also Deleuze 48–51. I started calling myself communist with the naïve stubbornness. among other things.15 The reasons for what constitutes nothing short of a communist revival are complex. therefore I called myself communist. My reasoning was simple enough: the family had not been destroyed. a signifier that never corresponded to any actual. and against that form of property relation which is the family). 15  I am referring to recent works such as. Hardt and Negri’s important Commonwealth. For those. exploitation was alive and well. but nobody seemed to have any sincere interest in making it come to pass in the first place. historical signified. meant first of all to struggle with. “On the Idea of Communism. Badiou. with its available historical forms and with the void they inevitably encompass and jealously guard (which. as Deleuze adds. of which only an eleven-year-old may be capable. we have been hearing these questions with increasing frequency from a variety of quarters. property still existed. it is across such a void that desire unfolds and unravels most intensely. and has not always overlapped with. as I saw it. for many. as a significant number of thinkers once again have been formulating as well as answering them (though it should be noted that some of these thinkers had never stopped asking about and after communism).and articulates compellingly in the aforementioned exchange. irresistible power was directly proportional to its emptiness.

communism may serve as a heuristic device for mapping. Surin. I wish to add one simple point. as Gigi Roggero has argued. and inverted at all cost. if only from the standpoint of historical record and historical memory). In any case. to concede defeat. ordinary. in 2008. to which I refer you. Universalism of the Common / Cesare Casarino 173 . and as a political project—from disgrace. Dyer-Witherford. and so on—and this is an argument that may elevate itself from the level of cliché only in those rare cases in which it is reformulated in strictly non-teleological terms. 16  This crisis. a desire for a world valueless and common. 18  See especially 150–78. 234–60. that is. for the materialization and incorporation of surplus not in the forms of value but in the forms of the common. 17  On the question of the institutions of the common. Given how well capitalism learns from and thrives on its own intrinsic and structural contradictions. . 325–75. Hardt and Negri in Commonwealth as well as in their forthcoming Declaration—have elaborated incisive and detailed accounts of such worldwide struggles. oblivion. At the very least. see also The Edu-factory Collective. “Commonism”. beyond value. or both (though such a rescue would already constitute an important achievement. 19  Žižek makes a similar point in “How to Begin From the Beginning” 213. capitalism is not an ontological necessity. Given the multitude of past and present struggles in which what is at stake is above all the common. .17 Others—most recently. of course. common communism. see also Negri. I believe it is such a desire and such a world that Kordela invites us to imagine when she writes: “Given that . that it produces the conditions for its own destruction. which are to be discouraged.18 My point here is that communism owes its renewed and urgent relevance to the presence of such struggles rather than the other way around: it is for this reason above all—namely. and for the common. and even integrating such ongoing struggles.and ongoing global financial crisis that started. it names a desire. communism names a struggle against property. and to resign ourselves either. The point here is not only to rescue and to reclaim communism—as a term. A Post-Capitalist Politics. therefore. “Communism” 162–63. it is prudent here to follow Spinoza in believing that both despair and hope must be counted among the sad passions. out of a heretical empiricism. Freedom Not Yet. On such struggles. . it may stand as the name of a constellation of struggles of the common: stars precede a constellation. the argument has been made too many times already that capitalism is its own gravedigger. political. Some things have not changed: yesterday as much as today. most immediately. From Marx onward. after all. The point is that myriad different and apparently unrelated political struggles around the world today find their common denominator in the common. Toward a Global Autonomous University. and is ultimately descriptive of a tendency rather than prescriptive of a predetermined telos. constitutes the springboard for Hardt’s compelling reflections on the relation between communism as articulated in Marx’s early writings and communism today in “The Common in Communism” 131. as well as Gibson-Graham. and cultural system that includes the surplus on all levels” [108]. the communism of which I speak is born out of an obstinate realism. Neither hopeful nor despairing. that it paves the way to communism. These are not only struggles to resist and to reverse the current and ongoing rampant expropriation and privatization of the common in all of its forms at the not-so-invisible hand of neoliberal globalization. I see no reason to rejoice in such contradictions. . the only other alternative for Marxians. at once ancient and modern. to institute the common. concatenating. is to rethink communism as an economic. because of such struggles—that it is legitimate and indispensable to talk about communism today. to create institutions of the common [365–70]. these are also struggles to experiment with new forms of the common and. I see no reason to surrender. but it is the name that brings the constellation into visibility and into being. neutralized.19 This means also that communism is an uncompromisingly non-utopian project that is rooted in (an analysis of) the here and now: these are actually existing struggles and this is actually existing communism—truly quotidian. however. for example. as a philosophical concept. .16 To these highly welcome debates.

I will point out simply that the politics of the common is nothing at all without such knowledge and such love. there is no common that is not born out of. always involves understanding the world and ourselves in it from the standpoint of synchronicity rather than diachrony alone. love degree zero: in short. love of potentiality. forcing us to reach a position from which it would be possible to have no part in “values. The poetic work. [96–97] And a remarkable political praxis is the one that produces. Elsewhere. . and it is also to this task that “artistic experience” recalls us in the realm that is proper to it. wounds. than heed these words that come from a past at once recent yet impossibly distant. such an ars amandi. then. knowledge founded on common notions. One could do worse. The name of communism and the concept of the common constitute at best common notions. is indeed difficult and even painful: as Ida Dominijanni reminds us in the powerful essay included in this issue.” such as it reveals itself in .Ultimately. and revolution. circa 1953: “Communication. but this transvaluation . I would add that if ethics means anything at all. 20  21  174 diacritics / winter 2009 . I have argued that such a type of knowledge and such a love of God constitute nothing other than love of surplus. A difficult task. essentially risky. A remarkable coincidence. It is undoubtedly the task of our age to move toward an affirmation that is entirely other. gives rise to what he calls intellectual love of God. loves. to build the common on such wounds. Indeed. if it speaks to us of something.”. speaks to us of what is outside any value or what rejects all valuation. Nietzsche wanted to transmute all values. perhaps does not indicate to us the horizon of a world free of deceptive relations but helps us to challenge the authority that founds these relations. knowledge of the common. it means to live up to and make something of one’s own wounds. seemed to leave the notion of value intact. . As Spinoza argues. see also some of the most stunning pages Deleuze ever wrote: The Logic of Sense 148–53. thus. .21 I have made this argument in “Marx before Spinoza. This is Maurice Blanchot. reason—yet cannot limit itself to them: it must also include and address itself to a realm of knowledge. neither names nor concepts are enough to give form to such a desire and hence to such a world.” Such a loving task. reason) is intrinsically adequate yet too general and is surpassed by another and higher type of knowledge: the latter always includes and builds on reason. and to an experience of communication of the common in which we share. knowledge based on common notions (namely. around the beginning of the Cold War. the artistic work. an experience of eternity within the finite spatio-temporal limits of our modal existence. This politics does need good names and effective concepts—that is. . . and. love of that which everybody shares in common—a love that is indeed as difficult as it is rare. human relations and such as it withdraws itself in the works that we still call works of art. and that still resonate with unrealized potential to this day. owned. It is to this task that communism recalls us with a rigor that it itself often shirks. On the complex relations between wounds. ethics. love of that which cannot be measured. or valued by anyone. as a work of art. and built on. most importantly. as a difficult and even painful task in which everything is at risk and at stake—a politics that constitutes an ars amandi of the common.20 Here. and lives the common not as the subject-object of value but as a work of poiesis. proclaims the exigency of the beginning (again) that loses and obscures itself as soon as it is satisfied in value. . which cannot be understood or known within the limits of reason alone. also involves.

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