With a certain kind of joy and misery I am beginning to understand the importance of teachers. If I ever supervise a student working with Deleuze, I can tell them to read certain things first so they don’t spend months trying to figure out what is wrong…
Although I intuited such a thing a while ago, I realise now how perfectly useless Deleuze is for the version of Cultural Studies I have learnt: you know, the British Cultural Studies version, heavily influenced by post-Marxists thought (think Stuart Hall, etc). My CSAA abstract points to a paper where I try to bring Deleuze back in to the ‘fold’ a little.
The fracture became apparent reading Nicholas Thoburn’s book on Deleuze and Marx (which I consumed in a matter of anxiety-filled hours, the book is online). And a PhD dissertation by Christina Gordon and supervised by my Honours supervisor, Ron Blaber. (“You’re describing a political economy.” That was one of the most cryptic things Ron said to me during a meeting with him one day. I rocked up once to a meeting just after being in a car crash. Hoons!)
The possibility of an engagement between poststructuralist concerns with a politics of difference and Marxism has been for a long time dominated, at least in Anglo-American cultural studies, by neo-Gramscian post-Marxism, as most prominently laid out in Laclau and Mouffe’s (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Neo-Gramscian work on ‘hegemony’ marked the passage from apparently orthodox concerns with class, capital, and the economy, into a post-Marxist concern with the possibilities of difference, agency, popular practices, and new social movements in a struggle for inclusion in the ‘chain of equivalences’ of social democratic political space â€” and it enacted this move in rather certain terms, as a ‘post-Marxism without apologies’ (cf. Laclau and Mouffe 1987). The historical support for this development was not unrelated to the Italian Communist Party’s (PCI) ‘eurocommunism’ â€” a political framework where neo-Gramscian thought had a central place. As Abse (1985) has suggested, eurocommunism seemed for many on the British left (most notably around the influential Marxism Today) to mark the possibility of a popular radical social democracy which could overcome Marxian orthodoxy and the limits of labourism; the PCI was, after all, the biggest Communist Party in Europe, and was rapidly approaching a place in government.
Despite the sense of critical engagement that the ‘post’ connotes, neo-Gramscian post-Marxism was in many ways a flight from Marxian problematics. Certainly it marked a movement from the politics of production to the politics of democracy and civil society. Deleuze’s position on Marx is very different. Instead of moving away from the question of production, Deleuze’s engagement with Marx, as I signalled above, is completely traversed by it. Deleuze has no truck with a vulgar Marxist distinction between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’, but rather he follows Marx into an immersion in the realm of the production of life â€” a production which is the plane of all of the processes, flows, and constraints of politics, economics, ideas, culture, desire, and so on (cf. Deleuze 1977: 105).25 This is so much so that Donzelot (1977) calls Deleuze’s work â€” at least in Anti-Oedipus â€” a kind of ‘hyper-Marxism’: less a post than an intensification of Marx. Given this, it is notable that Deleuze’s engagement with Marxian problematics has some relation to a current in Italian Marxism very different from the PCI; indeed one which the PCI was actively involved in suppressing. This current, known in the 1960s as operaismo and in the 1970s as autonomia, took an apparently orthodox and sometimes arcane focus on work, class, and capital, and engaged in an incessant reinterpretation of Marx. In this, and in its critical stance on neo-Gramscian politics, it is perhaps no surprise that the operaist current has remained largely outside of the cultural studies tradition. Times, however, change, and with the current prominence of questions of globalization, commodification, the intensification of work, and the knowledge economy, the post-Marxist trajectory looks a little less secure, and a possibility seems to have arisen for a re-engagement with the Marxian problematic of production. Certainly this would seem to have had something to do with the interest shown in Hardt and Negri’s (2000) Empire; a book co-written by one of the main theorists of operaismo and autonomia â€” Antonio Negri â€” and which draws on many of the insights of this current.
It is in this context of a reinvigoration of the politics of production (or, labour and capital) against neo-Gramscian post-Marxism that I would situate Deleuze’s virtual Marx.
There is nothing like learning the hard way.