Notes for Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Commonwealth

Key concepts: biopolitics, biopower, common, corporation, dispositif, exodus, family, multitude, nation, people, specter.

Related theorists: Michel Foucault, Jaron Lanier, Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Clay Spinuzzi.


The Open Social Relation between Labor and Capital

Rupture in organic composition of capital as biopolitical labor autonomously generates forms of social cooperation and value over established command and control mechanisms.

(150) But today where is a growing rupture within the organic composition of capital, a progressive decomposition of capital in which variable capital (and particularly biopolitical labor-power) is separating from constant capital along with its political forces of command and control. Biopolitical labor tends to generate its own forms of social cooperation and produce value autonomously.

Aim to reveal political forms available for organization by open social relation.

(151) The open social relation presented by capital provides an opportunity, but political organization is required to push it across the threshold. . . . on what resources is it based, what re the primary social lines of conflict, and what are the political forms available for its organization?

Non site specific productive processes of biopolitical labor now spills over into life more than under industrial epoch.

(151-152) In the past, however, the productive process, especially the industrial process, has severely restricted the actualization of the potential that exceeds capital's bounds. . . . The affective and intellectual talents, the capacities to generate cooperation and organizational networks, the communication skills, and the other competences that characterize biopolitical labor, in contrast, are generally not site specific. . . . The capacities of biopolitical labor-power exceed work and spill over into life.

Exodus is context of biopolitical class struggle, subtraction from relationship with capital by autonomous labor power; example of free open source alternative to hegemonic cultural software is not given but appropriate.

(152) At this point we can hazard a first hypothesis: class struggle in the biopolitical context takes the form of exodus. By exodus here we mean, at least initially, a process of subtraction from the relationship with capital by means of actualizing the potential autonomy of labor-power. Exodus is thus not a refusal of the productivity of biopolitical labor-power but rather a refusal of the increasingly restrictive fetters placed on its productive capacities by capital.

Exodus implies access and use of the common, which capitalist society eliminates and masks by privatizing means of production, content itself, and access to it and its networks, as Lanier makes clear.

(153) Exodus is possible only on the basis of the common—both access to the common and the ability to make use of it—and capitalist society seems driven to eliminate or mask the common by privatizing the means of production, and indeed all aspects of social life.

Specters of the Common

Metropolis as reservoir of common wealth, both physical and living systems.

(153-154) One vast reservoir of common wealth is the metropolis itself. . . . The city, of course, is not just a built environment consisting of buildings and streets and subways and parks and waste systems and communication cables but also a living dynamic of cultural practices, intellectual circuits, affective networks, and social institutions.

Urban real estate reveals roles of external factors and specter of the common.

(154) One lens for recognizing the common wealth of the metropolis and the efforts to privatize it is provided by urban real estate economics, a field in desperate need of demystification. . . . To say that land rent is a monopoly price does not address the central problem either. Real estate value cannot be explained internally but can be understood only with reference to external factors.
(155) In these externalities we encounter a specter of the common. . . . The crazy thing is that especially in urban environments the value of real estate is determined primarily by externalities. Market failure is the norm.

Location value of real estate involves proximity to common wealth.

(156) Location is merely a name for proximity and access to common wealth—not only with respect to the park but also the quality of neighborhood relations, the pathways of communication, the intellectual and cultural dynamics, and so forth.

Common wealth development completely internal to processes of biopolitical production, often fettered by the same capitalist forces trying to exploit it like real estate speculators, so it lives on as a specter.

Example of urban artists raising real estate value eventually pricing themselves out; compare to foss projects like MySQL whose popularity and capture by corporate interests drives out creative developers and uses that strengthened it.

(156) What the economists do not understand, though, is where common wealth comes from. The common may be external from the perspective of the market and the mechanisms of capitalist organization, but it is completely internal to the processes of biopolitical production. The wealth produced in common is abstracted, captured, and privatized, in part, by real estate speculators and financiers, which, as we saw earlier, is a fetter to further production of the common. This dilemma is illustrated by the classic dialectic of urban artist neighborhoods and gentrification. . . . Despite the fact that the common wealth of the city is constantly being expropriated and privatized in real estate markets and speculation, the common still lives on there as a specter.

Specters of the common also reflected in finance, though distorted.

(156-157) Finance is another vast realm in which we can track down specters of the common. Georg Simmel remarks that the qualities of the metropolis are the very same qualities that money demands. . . . Finance capital is an enormous engine of abstraction that simultaneously represents and mystifies the common as if reflecting it in a distorted mirror.

Finance capitalism depends on intellectual gambling representing the common relationships and networks that produce some good.

Representation as computational grasping, mystifying the common.

(157-158) Finance is casino capitalism, its critics charge, little more than a legal form of gambling with no social utility. . . . If financial speculation is to be conceived as gambling, it is an intelligent, informed type of gambling. . . . Finance capital is in essence an elaborate machine for representing the common, that is, the common relationships and networks that are necessary for the production of a specific commodity, a field of commodities, or some other type of asset or phenomenon. . . . With each level of abstraction financial instruments grasp a wider social level of networks that directly or indirectly cooperate in the production process. This power of abstraction, in other words, rests on and simultaneously mystifies the common.

Finance needs to represent to expropriate.

Analysis of money by Simmel makes connection from grasping, intelligence, power itself to conceiving the machinic.

Concern that Hardt and Negri also expel comprehending its operation as grey software when the seek specters of the common.

(158) And finance cannot expropriate without in some way representing the product and productivity of common social life. In this respect finance is nothing but the power of money itself. Money represents pure interaction in its purest form, Georg Simmel writes. . . . We have no intention of celebrating or condemning finance capital. We propose instead to treat it as a field of investigation for tracking down the specters of the common lurking there.

Congealed in commodities, concretized subsumed affording dispositif even perhaps hypomnesis, all describe abstract labor, now heavily biopolitical.

Capitalist abstraction can only collude by fooling the common.

(159) This abstract labor once congealed in commodities is the common substance they all share, which allows for their values to be universally commensurable, and which ultimately allows money to function as a general equivalent. . . . Capitalist abstraction always rests on the common and cannot survive without it, but can only instead constantly try to mystify it.

Corruption and Exodus

Not all forms of the common are beneficial; detrimental forms block networks and interaction, reducing social production.

Capital corrupts the common like lead pipes and direct manipulation.

(159-160) Social institutions are thus essential resources for the project of exodus. But we should remember that not all forms of the common are beneficial. . . . Beneficial forms are motors of generation, whereas detrimental forms spread corruption, blocking the networks of social interactions and reducing the powers of social production. . . . Certainly capital constitutes one form of the corruption of the common.

Unit size differentiation of social institutions where common corrupted range from family to corporation to nation.

(160) The three most significant social institutions of capitalist society in which the common appears in corrupt form are the family, the corporation, and the nation. All three mobilize and provide access to the common, but at the same time restrict, distort, and deform it.

Family principal site of collective social experience; common corrupted by general form of patriarchal structure that maintains gender division of labor.

Consider patriarchal family structure as exemplified by programming styles.

(160) For many people, in fact, the family is the principal if not exclusive site of collective social experience, cooperative labor arrangements, caring, and intimacy. It stands on the foundations of the common but at the same time corrupts it by imposing a series of hierarchies, restrictions, exclusions, and distortions. . . . The patriarchal structure of family authority varies in different cultures but maintains its general form; the gender division of labor within the family, though often critiqued, is extraordinarily persistent.

Family model limits social imagination like software monoculture limits creativity.

(161) The exclusive nature of the family model, which carries with it inevitably all of its internal hierarchies, gender norms, and heteronormativity, is evidence of not only a pathetic lack of social imagination to grasp other forms of intimacy and solidarity but also a lack of freedom to create and experiment with alternative social relationships and nonfamily kinship structures.

Family reduces common to projected individualism.

(161) Third, although the family pretends to extend desires and interests beyond the individual toward the community, it unleashes some of the most extreme forms of narcissism and individualism. . . . Political discourse that justifies interest in the future through a logic of family continuity . . . reduces the common to a kind of projected individualism via one's progeny and betrays an extraordinary incapacity to conceive the future in broader social terms.

Family limits growth of common but also permits it, as example of private property inheritance demonstrates.

(161) Finally, the family corrupts the common by serving as a core institution for the accumulation and transfer of private property. The accumulation of private property would be interrupted each generation if not for the legal form of inheritance based on the family.

Workplace like the family another primary site of biopower production and access to the common, similarly corrupting it; corporate culture encourages dedication and loyalty.

Work life balance really alternative between lesser evils.

(162-163) Capitalist production in general is an enormous apparatus for developing the common networks of social cooperation and capturing their results as private accumulation. For many workers, of course, the workplace is the only site outside the family where they experience cooperation with others and collective projects, the only place where they escape the individualism and isolation of contemporary society. . . . Predictably, corporations encourage workers to attribute the stimulation and satisfaction they experience at work to the corporation itself, with consequent feelings of dedication and loyalty. . . . What we should add here instead is that the corporation is remarkably similar to the family in some of the ways it generates and corrupts the common. . . . The much-discussed balance between work and family is really an alternative between lesser evils, between two corrupt forms of the common, but for too many in our societies these are the only social spaces that provide access, however distorted, to the common.

Nation level of refined identity in the people a philosophical idea illustrated and powerfully generated by social media.

Fascist tendencies in calls for sacrifice and unity, as in current national politics.

(163) Finally, the nation too is a social institution in which the common is both deployed and corrupted. . . . In the nation too, of course, just as in the family and the corporation, the common is submitted to severely restrictive operations: the nation is defined internally and externally by hierarchies and exclusion. . . . Calls to sacrifice for the glory and unity of the nation and the people always have a fascist ring in our ears, since we have so often heard them, in dominant and subordinate countries alike, as the repeated refrain of authoritarian, totalitarian, and militaristic adventures.

Multitude must flee family, corporation and nation; subtraction from capital is the primary form of class struggle.

Multitude flees to where place where autonomous machinic common exists already or begins to exist, trans family corporation and nation, adding trans human.

Threat of science fiction technological dystopia like Colossus Forbin Project, Terminator and Matrix in different computing eras.

(164) All these institutions present networks of productive cooperation, resources of wealth that are openly accessible, and circuits of communication that simultaneously whet the desire for the common and frustrate it. The multitude must flee the family, the corporation, and the nation but at the same time build on the promises of the common they mobilize. Keep in mind that opening and expanding access to the common in the context of biopolitical production means seizing control fo the means of production and reproduction; that it is the basis for a process of subtraction from capital and the construction of autonomy of the multitude; and that this project of exodus is the primary form class struggle takes today.

Not a naked exodus to imagined state of nature; how to reappropriate the common, take what is ours without war.

(164) And, more important, exodus does not mean getting out as naked life, barefoot and penniless. No: we need to take what is ours, which means reappropriating the common—the results of our past labors and means of autonomous production and reproduction for our future. That is the field of battle.

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Commonwealth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.