The first issue of The New Reader focuses on debt as a theme in current philosophy and critical theory. Released in two parts, this initial instalment sets off with an essay by Richard Dienst, which maps out the discourse on debt and the distinct conceptual models it relies on. The following three contributions address a pivotal recent intervention on the topic: Maurizio Lazzarato’s book The Making of the Indebted Man. Each of these texts attempts to frame, elaborate or problematise the thesis central to this book: that the concept of ‘indebtedness’ does not only characterise an increasingly generalised economic situation, but also marks a form of subjectivity central to our present condition.
Reading Maurizio Lazzarato’s books and essays over the years, one cannot help but being struck by the methodical movement which characterises his thinking. Concepts are picked up from a series of key authors (Marx, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Pasolini, Bakhtin, Tarde, Nietzsche, Bergson, James), unfolded within a recurring set of questions (relating to the transformations of capitalism and new modes of political struggle), giving rise to concepts (immaterial labour, the politics of the event, noopolitics, sympathetic cooperation, the indebted man), which are then pushed aside in order to start again.1 Lazzarato is an independent researcher – a sociologist, philosopher and political theorist – with a history of militancy and exile, writing in French and Italian, who recently also turned to artistic practice through a collaboration with artist Angela Melitopoulos.2 The Making of the Indebted Man, originally published in French in 2011, is his first book to be translated into English, but Anglophone readers will be familiar with a number of his texts, in particular his essay on ‘Immaterial Labour’. Together with the writings of Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno, Christian Marazzi and Franco Berardi, this essay has contributed to the articulation of an original Marxist ‘post-workerist’ approach to what mainstream sociologists and economists call the post-industrial, post-Fordist, or even ‘knowledge’ economy.3
Those who associate Lazzarato’s name with the concept of immaterial labour are likely to be startled by a series of statements scattered throughout The Making of the Indebted Man. The theorist of immaterial labour, in fact, argues that notions such as cognitive capitalism, information society and the knowledge economy are just ‘decoys’ from the point of view of class struggle. Instead, Lazzarato maintains here that knowledge exercises no hegemony over the cycle of value, but that it is subject to the command of financial capital. Hence the most generalised power relationship today is that between debtor and creditor, which extends to every subject of the contemporary capitalist economy. As boldly stated in the opening pages of the book, ‘the debtor/creditor relationship intensifies mechanisms of domination and exploitation at every level of society, for within it no distinction exists between workers and the unemployed, consumers and producers, working and not-working population, retirees and welfare recipients. Everyone is a “debtor” accountable to and guilty before capital. Capital has become the Great Creditor, the Universal Creditor.’4
Referring to Michel Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism, Lazzarato argues that the concepts of ‘human capital’ and the ‘entrepreneur of the self’, which were for Foucault core components of neoliberal governmentality, need to be rethought on the basis of an acknowledgment of the centrality of the debtor-creditor relationship. It is true, as Foucault said, that neoliberalism constructs subjects which will tend to see themselves primarily as ‘enterprises’ rather than workers, but what he neglected, according to Lazzarato, was that becoming entrepreneur in this way means becoming subjected to a whole new kind of power. ‘In the debt economy, to become human capital or an entrepreneur of the self means assuming the costs as well as the risks of a flexible and financialised economy, costs and risks which are not only – far from it – those of innovation, but also and especially those of precariousness, poverty, unemployment, a failing health system, housing shortages, etcetera.’5 Foucault thus missed out on the financialisation of existence, that is the rising centrality of a whole apparatus of evaluative metrics (credit reports, assessments, databases etcetera) through which the entrepreneur of the self is deemed worthy of credit, falls into debt, takes on the risks of her own losses as personal failure and assumes the anxiously guilt-based morality of the debtor.6
For Lazzarato, debt is not simply an economic mechanism, but a technology of government aimed at reducing uncertainty in the behaviour of the governed and stabilising the future in order to guarantee rising rates of capitalist accumulation. In order to achieve this, the financial class mobilises the powerful anthropological legacy of debt, whose philosophical genealogy Lazzarato reconstructs through a series of key European authors: Nietzsche and his concept of debt as a ‘mnemotechnics of cruelty and pain’ which serves to breed a human being who can ‘keep a promise’; the younger Marx of the ‘Comments on James Mill’, who analyses debt as a specific type of relation (creditor/debtor) through which an ‘ethical action on the self’ is elicited; and Deleuze and Guattari’s distinction between ‘money as a means of payment’ (wages and revenue), which can only be exchanged with a limited number of commodities, and ‘money as capital’ which is endowed with the substantial power to ‘create and destroy’.
In his recent book dedicated to government, Il governo dell’uomo indebitato (The Government of the Indebted Man), Lazzarato goes on to argue that in order to generalise debt as the technique through which new rates of accumulation of money-capital is achieved, capitalism has devised a new set of ‘axioms’, an axiomatics, that is, a set of statements which define ‘the semiological form of capital and enter as components in the assemblages of production, circulation and consumption’.7 For Lazzarato, such axioms ‘define principles (reimbursement of creditors, increasing taxation, reduction of budget deficit) from which economic policies and forms of governmentality are necessarily deducted.’8 For Lazzarato, it is misleading to assume that either neoliberalism or capitalism aim at limiting the power and reach of the State in favour of the freedom of the market. On the contrary, as the debt crisis demonstrates, both need the State to impose their axioms, instituting technocratic governments charged with constructing and maintaining, in the German Chancellor’s words, a marktkonforme Demokratie (a 'market-conforming democracy’).
Once debt becomes a generalised condition and a dispositif of government, its effect is to reduce the autonomy of existential or ethical life, defined as that domain where one exercises the powers to make one’s choices or decisions, modelling the self and producing altogether new modes of living. For the indebted one, in fact, the autonomy of choice and the capacity to model one’s self are the terrain of a struggle, directed at a dispositif which reduces such power to the minimum by invoking the moral imperative to repay one’s debts – mortgages, credit cards and loans, national debt, but ultimately also the infinite debt to society.
Hence, Lazzarato argues that debt must be identified as the core of contemporary technologies of power in ways that are strategically more central than notions of immaterial labour, information society, knowledge economy and cognitive capitalism. As he puts it again in Il governo dell’uomo indebitato, ‘the knowledge factory is a financial business’.9 Indeed the university itself is, especially in the United States, ‘the model of the financialised enterprise and of the debt economy’: ‘A student not only considers himself as human capital which must valorise his investments (debts made to study), but also feels obliged to act, to think and to behave as if he were an individual enterprise. Debt imposes an apprenticeship of behaviours, rules of accounting, principles of organisation usually enacted within businesses, to people who have not even entered the job market yet.’10
The Making of the Indebted Man emerges out of a set of concepts and perspectives elaborated within the larger milieu of Italian post-workerism and French philosophy of the past fifteen years. Read on its own, it is all too easily mistaken for a singular thesis that appears, by its nature, rather totalising. The abstraction of debt as the most universal social relationship, overdetermining economic processes, based on a few Western male philosophers, without acknowledgment of feminist or postcolonial theories and histories of debt – without, that is, explicitly accounting for the heterogeneous formation and development of debt – risks being seen not as a useful abstraction but as a generalising, simplified thesis easily subjected to critique and dismissed. But when the book is read in the context of the larger production of philosophical, theoretical and political analysis within the post-workerist movement and Lazzarato’s own work, it seems to acquire a different density.
In posing the centrality of debt, Lazzarato first of all marks his distance from theories of cognitive capitalism or biocapitalism associated with the work of French and Italian fellow Marxists such as Carlo Vercellone, Andrea Fumagalli, Antonella Corsani, Cristina Morini and Yann Moulier-Boutang.11 This distance has been a long time in the making, since over the years Lazzarato has consistently dissociated himself from labour and knowledge as fundamental concepts for the analysis of capitalism. If all these writers share the idea that industrial labour is no longer hegemonic in the cycle of capitalist production, their disagreement seems to concern the nature of what is subsumed by capitalism, the sources of the production of value, and the political implications of this shift.
In the nineties, together with a group of Italian and French thinkers associated with journals such as Multitude, Futur Antérieur, Luogo Comune and Derive e Approdi, Lazzarato argued that the hegemony of factory work had ended: even as factory work was far from decreasing both in scope and intensity of exploitation, immaterial labour replaced it as the primary source of value in post-industrial societies. But the concept of ‘immaterial labour’, which is identified with Lazzarato’s work in the Anglophone world and which for many has become a given in sociological and political theory, was never meant to indicate the disappearance of factory work. As Lazzarato himself has pointed out, the total quantity and intensity of factory work has actually increased over the years even if it has shifted in location. Capitalism still massively draws on factory work, outsourced to poorly paid, non-unionised labour, and repetitive work (both manual and intellectual) is becoming increasingly widespread. Yet at the same time, the organisation of factory-based production, the location and the pace of industrial work, and the value of what is produced are all subjected to the command of market-research, advertising, branding and design, while being organised by means of the power of alphanumerical and tele-technologies – computing and the media.
As Alberto Toscano put it, in its original form the concept of immaterial labour ‘functions as an immanent critique and extension of Marxist concepts of labour and political subjectivity (through the pivotal notion of “class composition”)’, thus drawing ‘theoretical attention to the kind of labour that produces “the informational and cultural content of the commodity” – the labour which, by its very nature, foregrounds the ability to activate and manage cooperation, in all of its affective, communicational and informational senses, for the sake of intensified productivity’.12 The concept is thus related to the post-workerist assumption that capitalism is forced today to further incorporate a generalised form of social labor in the cycle of production, which is not contained in the wage relationship but performed by society as a whole, inasmuch as the latter has become a kind of ‘social factory’.13 The shift towards immaterial labour does not spell the end of exploitation. As Toscano reminds us, ‘once communicative and affective capacities are forcefully demanded by capitalism, the subjectivity of the worker becomes of paramount significance’.14 The shift that Lazzarato conceptualises under the heading of immaterial labour can therefore not be dismissed as a simple quantitative transfer of surplus value from the factory to the ‘upper’ floors of capitalist production. What it indicates is that the core of production now directly concerns the production of subjectivity: affects, desires, beliefs, aspirations, knowledges, ways of living.15 While dialectical Marxism retains a distinction between a ‘subjective’ dimension (ideology, commodity fetishism, exchange value, culture, etcetera) and the ‘objective’ organisation of production (the ‘real’ economy or division of labour), a different thesis has thus emerged in what we might call the Italian post-workerist milieu. The writers quoted above, as well as a larger militant milieu of intellectuals and activists, argue that subjectivity itself has become essential to economic processes and is in this sense, as Felix Guattari once put it, indistinguishable from the ‘economic’ infrastructure.16
Lazzarato’s account of debt as the most generalised and abstract mechanism of power imposed by contemporary capitalism needs to be understood in relation to longer-running discussions within the Italian post-Autonomia movement. In spite of the existing conceptual and political differences between authors identifying with the post-workerist perspective, the last decade has seen a collective attempt to think a constituent horizon for anti-capitalist struggles within these new processes, starting from the ‘revolutions’ of capitalism. Here I will single out three examples of these recent perspectives. Carlo Vercellone and others have argued that if contemporary capitalism puts to work something as ‘immaterial’ as knowledge, incorporating social values and social innovation, then the struggle against capitalism involves the liberation of knowledge from the yoke of privatisation and new investments in a new type of social welfare or commonfare (a guaranteed minimum income, free education, new forms of health care, independent research) able to support the ‘becoming hegemonic’ of immaterial labor not just for a specialised class of knowledge workers but for all those affected by the capitalist mode of valorisation.
What is at stake for Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt is the reinvention of the ‘common’ as a constituent social relation, providing an alternative to both state and capital, public and private. Their notion of the common tries to avoid an identification of the common with the ‘natural commons’ and instead develop a notion of immaterial commons such as education, research, health, and the production of life as such. In a financialised economy, this also means the desire to invent a new type of money, a ‘currency of the common’, expressing the powers of the multitudes rather than those of capital.17 If Christian Marazzi refers to an ‘anthropogenetic’ model of production, where investments in health, education and culture sustain economic growth, Cristina Morini talks about the feminisation of labor, pointing to the increasing centrality of the work of caring for the body (health, beauty, aging, reproduction) to contemporary economic processes, while writers such as Sandro Mezzadra, Anna Curcio, Giso Amendola and Miguel Mellino have been looking at an emergent racialised geo-political division of labor and heterogeneous racialised processes of governance and resistance.18
This post-workerist milieu presents a number of different positions with regards to the question of what exactly is put to work by contemporary capitalism, each entailing different political trajectories and strategies for social movements engaged in anti-capitalist struggles. Alberto Toscano identifies three lines of development: a ‘classical’ autonomist strand, ‘represented by Hardt and Negri above all, which combines the Spinozist theory of the multitude and certain post-structuralist themes with an abiding, if heretical, fidelity to some of its Marxian sources (concepts of antagonism, class composition, living labour, real subsumption, and so on)’; a ‘naturalist’ line, ‘headed by Paolo Virno and the new journal Forme di vita, which marries the theory of post-Fordism with inquiries into generic human capacities (or potentialities) anchored in the philosophy of language, cognitive science and post-Heideggerian anthropology’; and what he calls a ‘differential spiritualism’, represented by Lazzarato, ‘which distances itself from the Marxist coordinates of the workerist and autonomist legacy for the sake of an analysis of “the revolutions of capitalism” in terms of notions of publicity, communication and minority.’19
Already in his writings on immaterial labour, Lazzarato had argued that present-day capitalism does not as much put to work language and certain features of human nature (as in Paolo Virno) or life itself (as in Negri and Hardt’s notion of biopower), but rather something he defined as ‘a-organic life’. In his book Lavoro Immateriale, ‘a-organic life’ does not concern life as reproduction or bios, but memory (both sensory-motor and intellectual) as ‘time and its virtualities’: that is to say, not ‘abstract time, the time of measure, but time-as-power (potenza)’ – time as ‘source of continuous creation of unpredictable novelties’. As Lazzarato argued here, it was necessary to consider how biopolitics (the government of the life of the species) had been supplemented by noopolitics (the modulation of the life of time or memory).20 But in the following years, Lazzarato turns away altogether from the concept of immaterial labour towards concepts such as the politics of the event, sympathetic cooperation and machinic animism, employing theoretical frameworks such as neomonadology and schizoanalysis.
In his two books published in the early 2000s, Puissances de l’invention (2002) and Les révolutions du capitalisme (2004), Lazzarato breaks with the concept of labour altogether, arguing that the latter is derived from that philosophy of the subject which characterises an hegemonic strand of European philosophy that goes ‘from Kant to Husserl [...] through Hegel and Marx’. The defining feature of such philosophy is the way it explains the constitution of the self and the world ‘through an ontology of the relation subject-object, or by means of its intersubjective variation’.21 The adoption of such categories – subjects and objects – as foundational has led the workers’ movement and Marxist tradition to focus on labour as the basis of political struggle and to organise conflict around a conception of politics as ‘realisation of a project, enlightened by revolutionary theory, whose main operation is consciousness raising.’22 Such politics, he argues, proves inadequate in accounting for the centrality of what, quoting Eric Alliez, he calls the ‘constituent powers of the socius’ for the economic process of valorisation.23 It is this larger trajectory that allows Lazzarato to claim that debt is the dispositif that allows capitalism to contain and direct a process by which the powers of the socius are turned into a source of capitalist accumulation of value.
In both books, Lazzarato maintains that Marxism (in its subjectivist, structuralist or systemic variations) and capitalism converge around the concept of labour. ‘The constitution of the world is thought as production, as doing, as exteriorisation of the subject into the object, as transformation and domination of nature and the other through the objectification of subjective relations.’ Marx and Hegel inflect the ontology of subject-object in the light of the lessons of English political economy. ‘For Hegel it is through work and exchange that man overcomes his animal nature [...] but it is Marx who turns labour into the activity which constitutes the world: work is not simply determined economic activity, but praxis, production of the world and the self, generic activity not only of the worker but of man as such.’24 Classical sociologists (Weber and Durkheim) and contemporary sociologies (such as social constructivism) are also indebted to this ontology of the subject-object inasmuch as the first see society as ‘the result of individual subjective action which crystallises into a collective ‘objectivity’ and the second as ‘the result of the constitution of the world through the relationship self-other’.25
In Les révolutions du capitalisme, Lazzarato argues for a radical break with this tradition in favour of a philosophy that starts from ‘difference and repetition’ and whose constituent element is the ‘monad’, the Leibnizian concept which displaces the opposition between ‘subject and ‘object’. It is not so much Leibniz’s monadology as Tarde’s neomonadology, however, that provides Lazzarato with the means of thinking a concept of cooperation which avoids some of the pitfalls of the subject/object ontology. With his concept of cooperation, Lazzarato not only tries to bypass the distinction between individualism (liberalism) and holism (socialism), which places the individual (the subjective) in opposition to the collective (the objective); he also tries to steer away from the tendency to think of cooperation on the basis of two dominant models: the market (that is to say, the action of individuals motivated by self-interest) and the factory (and its collective division of labour). In Tarde’s neomonadology, by contrast, ‘[t]he individual is not the starting point, and the collective never emerges as an entity independent from the singularities that produce it’.26 A new theory of value needs to be refounded on the notion that neither the market nor the division of labour are the sources of wealth in the first place. As Lazzarato argues in the opening pages of Puissances de l’invention, ‘autonomous and independent cooperation precedes economic valorisation and division of labour, historically and ontologically’; only in this way is it possible to accounts for ‘invention’ or the emergence of the new.27 The question is then how to introduce a new concept of cooperation, starting not from the division of labour but from processes that involve the mutual affection and composition between individuals, or what Lazzarato calls sympathetic cooperation. It thus becomes necessary to critique both the notion of the individual and the collective with a new ontology of the social.
In the early 2000s, Lazzarato finds this ontology of the social in Gabriel Tarde’s neomonadology and its application to economics in Tarde’s Economic Psychology (1902).28 The concept of the monad, as advanced by Leibniz, introduced the idea of a multiplicity of beings, each characterised by the fact that they are self-enclosed and simple – they have ‘no parts’. But already in Leibniz, the monad refers at once to a singularity and to a multiplicity: it contains all the relations constitutive of the world in which the monad is included but, at the same time, expresses only a part of it clearly, while the rest constitutes its dark background of individuation. ‘To say it in the language of sociology, the social is virtually included in the individual, but is expressed from a particular point of view (singularity).’29
Lazzarato acknowledges the innovations introduced by Tarde, for whom the monad ‘no longer needs to assume the substance and unity of being to found its activity. On the contrary: the possibility of explaining diversity and metamorphosis finds its foundation in the multiplicity and heterogeneity of the monad.’ If each monad is composed of an ‘increasing complexity of infinitesimal variations and forces’,30 then monads are not things but forces: they are not defined by ‘their limit (as boundary) or their shell (as form)’ but by a central nucleus (in itself a multiplicity of infinitesimal relations), where the limit is seen as ‘the limit of the action of a force’. Monads are characterised by an intrinsic will to power, which is like a tendency to infinite expansion since ‘a force tends to the limit of what it can do’.31 Monads do not rest satisfied in a state of equilibrium, but their tendency is to strive to expand their powers, to ‘conquer the world’ by patterning it after themselves. In their tendency to expansion, however, they run into obstacles that trigger once again their powers of differentiation.
Tarde’s key innovation with regards to Leibniz’s monadology is, the idea that monads are not closed, dependent on God for communication and harmony, but open to each other. Bereft of the transcendental power of God (or its secularised versions such as the market, the division of labour, the social contract or the party for political economy, Marxism, liberalism and socialism), monads have no choice but to associate on the basis of an immanent process of composition. ‘Left to itself, a monad is powerless. This is the most important fact, and it leads immediately to explain another one: the tendency of monads to aggregate…’32 This process of composition, however, is far from being naturally peaceful. As forces acting on other forces, striving to impose themselves on others by extending to the limits of their powers, monads are possessive: they are not defined by being but having. Everything rests, for Lazzarato, on a philosophy of difference and repetition, a metaphysics of force, and this logic of ‘having’.
How does the monad, as the basic element of Lazzarato’s social ontology, then differ from possessive individuals? In the classic liberal notion, ‘the individual is free because he is the owner of his person and his capacities; the essence of man lies in not depending on other people’s will and freedom, it is a function of ownership while society is a mass of free and equal individuals who increase their power by turning to their advantage a quantity of other people’s power (Hobbes’ mercantile society’)’.33 For Tarde, the individual cannot be opposed to society because the individual as such is ‘a society’. ‘The spirit is a society of little souls, feeding off the same nervous system and all aspiring to hegemony, a concurrence of innumerable different nervous states trying to speedily propagate, suffocating each other, conquering each other, persuading each other.’ What we call ‘I’ is just ‘a momentary point of convergence of this struggle and the ‘self’ is the erratic actualisation of the cooperation of cerebral forces. The mental life of the individual and social life are alike’.34
Monads are thus not defined by the property of their own selves, but by their relations. At the same time, monads do not need social contracts to mediate and contain their warrior-like nature, because, unlike Hobbes’ homo homini lupus, they do not just oppose each other, but mainly draw others to themselves and are drawn to others, that is, they are sympathetic. This expresses their desire not so much to recognise the other, as in intersubjective phenomenology, but to possess the other(s) and be possessed by them in a variety of ways. What is relevant is ‘[t]he distinction between unilateral or reciprocal capture, unilateral possession or the power to mutually possess each other’, that defines ‘the degrees of liberty and subordination by which monads act’.35
The famous foundational statement of Tarde’s cosmic sociology follows from this. If ‘society is the mutual possession, in extremely varied forms, of each by everybody else’, then sociology becomes the universal science of which all other sciences are branches: not because the social mediates the natural as in constructivist sociologies, but because the monadic tendency to association holds for all ‘substances’ given in the universe, be they atoms, cells, individuals, and even stars. As Tarde puts it: ‘We must admit that “everything is a society”.’ Science is inclined to ‘speak to us of animal societies (Espinas), cellular societies (Haeckel), vegetable (Fechner), atomic, and we could even productively imagine astral societies constituted by solar and stellar systems.’36
The final element to complete this necessarily schematic reconstruction of Tarde’s neomonadology, which for Lazzarato holds the key to a new image of the constituent powers of the social, is the role of the primary force which traverses all the monads and opens them to each other. This is the force of affect or pure feeling, defining what a monad can do and what can be done to it, the degree by which it manages to affect others and be affected, apprehend or be apprehended, capture or be captured, that is, the specific powers by which it acts on other monads. In Tarde’s neomonadology, this power of pure affect immediately bifurcates in two faculties which, again, are not as such specifically human: belief (affirming or denying, making epistemological distinctions in the continuum of the world, selecting differences) and desire (being attracted or repulsed, wanting or rejecting).
If monads act on each other through beliefs, desires and affects, their action is not primarily those of subjects dividing tasks among themselves (as in the model of the division of labour) but those of worlds encountering each other and actualising or materialising new worlds together. They are not endowed primarily with a knowledge of the world, but with a series of beliefs and desires which predispose them to action.37 Without this cooperation, without the effectuation or actualisation of a social world, there could be no division of labour and no production altogether, because nothing new would be there to be ‘reproduced’. In place of the division between manual and intellectual labour, Lazzarato thus insists on the primary importance of the distinction between repetitive, non-autonomous labour and inventive, free activity. The first is mostly sad and disempowering, the second, because of its basis in sympathetic cooperation, is joyful and empowering (the difference between assembling a computer in an assembly line and making a computer with friends in a basement). The difference between the two is not one of kind but of degree: it is by degrees and by crossing a series of threshold that one passes from automaton to genius, from free inventive activity to repetitive work. Economic processes are accounted for not only on the basis of the desire to be rich, or to avoid pain and to seek pleasure, but as springing out of ‘the ever renewed effort to avoid the sadness of reproduction and increase the joy of invention, of reducing the necessity to work and increasing the freedom of cooperation’.38
This dense social ontology constitutes for Lazzarato a basis to undo the power of the axioms that both sociology and political economy have established. On the one hand, it moves beyond the separation between society and the economy as two different domains of human activity, the isolation of economic value (or utility-value) from other kinds of value (aesthetic-value, truth-value). On the other hand, it avoids the recourse to transcendental entities (the market, division of labour, society) as the means in order to explain what is to be addressed in the first instance: values and social identities, emerging out of processes of sympathetic cooperation or mutual influence.
Individuals do not, in the first instance, cooperate by dividing work among themselves (as in the factory), but by influencing each other, adopting or opposing each other’s values, and it is only on this basis that production can be organised. Value is not simply defined as the equilibrium reached by different forces, but as a specific kind of differential: the differential between invention (‘a psychological difference’ as he calls it, emerging from a singular encounter between flows of beliefs, desires and affects) and imitation (the socialisation of such invention once it is adopted and diffused).39 What is beautiful, useful or true, that is, emerges first as a singular difference and is then socialised by repetition and diffusion. Political economy and neoclassical economics obscure and mystify this basis of sympathetic cooperation by positing the economy as an automatic interplay of objective forces, with no relation to social interaction, producing a mutilated and warped version of subjectivity. They ignore the process by which economic production, contrary to appearances, tends towards ‘the constitution or reconstitution of a morality [...] the establishment of a hierarchy of needs reputed by all to be just and normal’.40 In Tarde’s economic psychology, Lazzarato finds a ‘theory of emancipation of the social brain from the expropriation of the division of labour, a theory of exodus and flight of psychological forces captured by work’.41
The philosophical trajectory that precedes and underlies The Making of the Indebted Man can be located in what Franco Berardi calls the ‘immanentist communism’ of the Autonomia movement in the seventies, when it chose French post-structuralism over the negative dialectics of critical thought.42 As we have seen, Lazzarato’s immanent communism draws on Leibniz, Nietzsche, and Tarde as philosophical intercessors, rather than the better-known Spinozist tradition associated with Negri’s political ontology.43 The social ontology of Lazzarato’s Puissances de l’invention clarifies what is being expropriated and exploited by contemporary capitalism and the mechanisms of debt: the associative dynamics through which individuals, conceived of as ‘monads’, capture each other’s attention, compose ever-varying new beliefs, desires and forms of association, and constitute a socius by continuously re-actualising the world’s possibilities. Debt is, then, a dispositif that manages to capture the productive powers of monadic cooperation by intervening on the capacity of such cooperation to produce not so much objects or subjects, but worlds to live in.
Unlike Marx, or even Deleuze and Guattari (or today’s accelerationists), Lazzarato argues that sympathetic cooperation was not unleashed but captured by capitalism when it first emerged in Europe out of the dissolution of feudal societies in the seventeenth century. As in Peter Linebaugh and Markus Rediker’s Many Headed Hydra, the motley crew of sympathetic cooperation had to be repressed in blood so that capitalism could impose the division of labour and the powers of the market.44 From Lazzarato’s point of view, Marxism and socialism did not break enough with political economy by retaining the division of labour as the source of value with relation to the market. By relinquishing Hegel’s dialectical method, they remained caught up in the logic of dialectical contradiction – defining a maximum of opposition towards the outside and unity on the inside – while never managing to account for the differential, processual and mutual logic of opposition and cooperation that defines the processes of invention, diffusion, and consolidation of all organisations based on voluntary participation. ‘Without a theory of the passions, there is a risk in State socialism to become resigned to the dialectical ambiguities of Marxism or the aporias of the banal individualism of liberal theories.’45
The Making of the Indebted Man can thus be seen as the last of a series of attempt by Lazzarato to diagram the capitalist dispositifs of power acting on sympathetic cooperation. In Les révolutions du capitalisme, Lazzarato analysed the enterprise (that is, the mechanisms of branding, marketing and advertising) as one of the main dispositifs through which sympathetic cooperation is captured. What is captured is, in other words, not just a certain amount of income spent on commodities, or a certain amount of time spent working, but the basic capacity of monads to effectuate worlds by means of mutual affection. For Lazzarato, one does not so much use a smart phone, a search engine or a social network, but one becomes part of its constitution – but under the direction and management of the corporation who ‘own’ the operating system, the algorithm or the servers and has control of the proprietary technology. Cooperation is harnessed by digital media, put to work by communicative capitalism (made to adapt to the rhythms of the post-industrial production line, whether by means of ‘nuggets of enjoyment’ or the blackmail of precarity), but also directed by neoliberal governmentality.46 In Il governo dell’uomo indebitato, Lazzarato argues that the State has played a central role in the production of the social conditions for the emergence of the market, fostering competitive individualism, continuous forms of assessments, establishing forms of workfare which actively guide these cooperative powers towards subsumption under the operations of an ideal market – a market that is, increasingly, defined by the processes characteristic of financial capitalism.
Some of the suggestions put forward by Lazzarato’s earlier work still resonate with the present situation, posing questions that need to be considered by social and political movements engaged in struggles against the debt economy, austerity and neoliberalism. As I have suggested, it is precisely the neomonadological reading of Tarde’s economic psychology which endows Lazzarato’s political ontology with its capacity to think the contemporary economic formation from the point of view of its emancipatory potential beyond economics, towards a renewed centrality of the social.47 By understanding cooperation in terms of the subjective forces of desire, belief and affect, Lazzarato’s early work for instance connects to preoccupations in recent Anglophone debate with the questions of ideology, hegemony, and what Mark Fisher has called ‘capitalist realism’: the belief that we live in a world where the future is preordained, and where alternatives are presented to us as ready-made, mutually exclusive choices. In Lazzarato’s account, the foreclosure of alternatives, aggressively and subtly pursued at all levels by neoliberal governmentality of debt, cannot be seen as a super-structural component of the capitalist assemblage. Recovering a belief in the possibility of change and multiplying ‘parrhesiastic moments’ – that is to say, paraphrasing the late Foucault’, moments where the capitalist truth that there are no alternatives is challenged – become an essential part of the process of emancipation.
Another theme in Lazzarato’s earlier work which resonates with the current conjuncture has to do with the fraught question how politics of equality and difference on the left are reflected in organisational practices – a question that spans organisations as diverse as trade unions and the occupy movement, the indignados, Gezi Park, Tahrir Square, etcetera. Lazzarato considers the tendency of the left to privilege dialectical opposition over all other kinds of differences as an obstacle to the (re)invention of institutions that would be able to sustain sympathetic cooperation. Challenging the capitalist truth cannot remain confined to a series of isolated gestures: mutual adaptation, sympathetic cooperation and invention are a necessary condition for the recomposition against the neoliberal government of inequalities, competition and debt. Indeed, some differences are real oppositions since they lead to radically incompatible worlds and can only be resolved by the victory of one over the other: think of the difference between Wall Street and the banking system on the one hand and the transnational multitudes striving against them. But the problem that social movements have consistently encountered over the years is how to deal with a proliferation of differences, with a desired unity that is always a provisional outcome, to be reconstituted at every step. These differences vary in kind and degree, stretching from the aggregate of classes, genders, sexualities, and ethnicities to the micro-differences which emerge in every organisation or institution and the micro-conflicts that often tear them apart. Neomonadology offers an account of such differences without fetishising them. Monads differ internally and externally because relations of possession and influence are continuously redrawn and re-established by their tendency to expand; there are relations of domination and even internal revolts at all levels, both between and within individuals, who continuously form new associations based on sympathy or split in disbelief from associations they had entered before.
Thirdly, the conception of the individual and the social that underlies Lazzarato’s neomonadology resonates with contemporary questions about the conceptualisation and modelling of the social. The blurring of the distinction between individuals and society, where the former becomes a multiple composition of properties (digital individuals or di-viduals) and the latter a pattern of variable relations (networks) is tempting to a social theory that has to cope with the impact of new quantitative and computational models of the social. But neomonadology does not merely provide the basis for a better descriptive sociology:48 it recomposes the image of the social network politically. It accounts for social individuals composed of a multiplicity of infinitesimally varied relations, sympathetic or antagonistic, who together constitute ‘interpenetrating spheres of relations’. Such spheres are essentially social, in the sense that they involve social actions such as listening and talking, writing and being written to, reading and being read, following and un-following, liking or disliking, copying and varying each other’s expressions, all the time leaving behind a myriad of statistical traces of their likes and dislikes, affirmations and negations, sentiments, dispositions and ‘properties’.
This is an image that enables to rethink the interplay of difference (infinite variations) and repetitions (regularity, patterns) which must be captured and contained by the corporate social internet and neoliberal governmentality. For Antonio Negri, finance has produced a type of money which somehow strives to (machinically) represent what is ‘common’ in life: ‘in this representation of the world the money-form (informationalised and subjected to an absolute temporal gelatinisation) is ever more fragile, caught in the tension between being an expression of the common and, on the other hand, medium of command’.49 With Andrea Fumagalli, Negri argues that the triumph of this ‘monetary commonality’ structures social relationships (and particularly labour) in terms of servile subjection.50 The struggle against indebtedness, then, passes through a process of ‘reclaiming money as commons’ which does not dismiss the process of financialisation but potentially turns it to new ends: perhaps the construction of a new form of welfare, adequate to the new conditions, that post-workerists have started calling commonfare.51
Many readers, especially (but hopefully not only) feminists, will find the wording of Lazzarato’s book title very troublesome: rather than referring to a generic ‘making of indebtedness’, it poses ‘man’ as the product of the making of debt. But considered overall, Lazzarato’s work cannot be considered alien to feminist concerns – on the contrary. Les revolutions du capitalisme for instance engages with feminism as the first social movement to have actively confronted the problem of the differentiating difference within its political constitution, inasmuch as it was one of the first to have dealt with the internally and externally differentiated nature of its subject – woman. And yet in The Making of the Indebted Man, the subject of indebtedness appears in this book to be a man, and thereby presents an inconsistency in relation to his analysis of debt as generalised condition. One might respond to this by drawing attention to the sexual and gendered character of debtor-creditor relationship and how it intervenes in processes of reproduction (where debt incurred as a couple, for example in the form of mortgages or loans, producing stronger bonds than those of a marriage certificate), or by pointing at the ways in which debt has affected the lives of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But this would merely add a new subset to the theory of indebtedness, while leaving the real question unattended: can Lazzarato’s neomonadology itself be queered, sexed and raced while still remaining non-anthropocentric, in such a way as to oppose its tendency to be translated into a general image of subjectivity? One could argue that sex and sexuality might be considered as the model for all relations of possession and race; ethnicity, and even class, can also be seen as the outcome of the process of variation expressed by sexual selection and social reproduction.52 To put it in Elisabeth Grosz’s terms, we could argue that monads must be fundamentally ‘sexed’ – that the differentiating powers of sexual selection or mating in its most abstract form dictates that monads must come in ‘at least’ – but by no means only – two sexes.53 Could we imagine a theory of the undercommons that does not leave such (infinitesimally) sexed and raced nature in the dark?54
Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition, Los Angeles, Semiotext(e), 2012. This is his first book to be fully translated in English so far, but see also Lavoro immateriale: Forme di vita e produzione di soggettività, Verona, Ombre Corte, 1997; Videofilosofia: La percezione del tempo nel postfordismo, Roma, Il Manifesto, 1997; Puissances de l’invention: La psychologie économique de Gabriel Tarde contre l’économie politique, Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2002; Les Révolutions du capitalisme, Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2004; Le Gouvernement des inégalités. Critique de l’insécurité néolibérale, Éditions Amsterdam, 2008; Expérimentations politiques, Éditions Amsterdam, 2009; and Il governo dell’uomo indebitato, Roma, DeriveApprodi, 2013. For the most complete critical survey of Lazzarato’s political philosophy in English, see Alberto Toscano ‘Vital Strategies: Maurizio Lazzarato and the Metaphysics of Contemporary Capitalism’, Theory, Culture and Society, 24(6), 2007, 71-91. ↩
See for instance Angela Melitopoulos and Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Assemblages: Félix Guattari and Machinic Animism’, e-flux, 2012, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/assemblages-felix-guattari-and-machinic-animism, last accessed 25-11-2013. ↩
Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Immaterial Labour’, trans. Paul Colilli & Ed Emory, Radical Thought in Italy, Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds.), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1996, 132-146. ↩
The Making of the Indebted Man, 7. ↩
Ibid., 51. ↩
On the rising centrality of evaluative metrics in a growing number of settings, see: Bernhard Rieder ‘What Is in PageRank? A Historical and Conceptual Investigation of a Recursive Status Index’, Computational Culture: A Journal of Software Studies, 2012, http://computationalculture.net/article/what_is_in_pagerank. ↩
Maurizio Lazzarato Il governo dell’uomo indebitato. Rome, DeriveApprodi, 2013, 122. ↩
Ibid., 123. Naturally, Lazzarato refers to increasing taxation of wage-earners and the self-employed, while taxation of financial rentiers and corporations is slashed. In fact, under the current conditions, for Lazzarato taxation has become another means of extraction of surplus value. ↩
Ibid., 51. ↩
Ibid., 56. ↩
See for example Carlo Vercellone, Capitalismo cognitivo, Rome, manifestolibri, 2006; Cristina Morini Per amore o per forza; femminilizzazione del lavoro e biopolitiche del corpo. Verona, Ombre Corte, 2010; Andrea Fumagalli Bioeconomia e capitalismo cognitivo: Verso un nuovo paradigma di accumulazione. Milan, Carocci, 2007; Christian Azaïs, Antonella Corsani, Patric Dieuaide, Vers un capitalisme cognitif: Entre mutations du travail et territoires, L’Harmattain, 2001; Yann Moulier-Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2012. ↩
Alberto Toscano, ‘Vital Strategies’, 43. ↩
On the other hand, one might add, the ‘production line’ now extends throughout society in such a way as to produce what Franco Berardi has described a ‘colonisation’ of the time of life by cybertime or the time of capital. See Franco Berardi Bifo, ‘Cognitarian Subjectivation’, e-flux, 20, 2010, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/183; and The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, Cambridge, MA, The MIT press, 2009. ↩
‘Vital Strategies’, 74. ↩
On the crisis of the measure of value in knowledge economies and cognitive capitalism see the essays collected in Federico Chicchi e Gigi Roggero (eds.), ‘Lavoro e produzione del valore nell’economia della conoscenza: Criticità e ambivalenze della network culture’, a special issue of the journal Sociologia del Lavoro, 115, 2009, Milan, Franco Angeli, 2009. ↩
See Felix Guattari Chaosmosis, Power Institute of Fine Arts, 1995. ↩
See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth, Belknap Press, 2011. ↩
See Christian Marazzi ‘L’ammortamento del corpo macchina’, Multitudes Web, 2007, http://multitudes.samizdat.net/L-ammortamento-del-corpo-macchina, last accessed 23-11-2013. ↩
Toscano, ‘Vital Strategies’, 73. ↩
Lazzarato, Lavoro immateriale, 116 (my translation); see also Tiziana Terranova ‘Another Life: The Nature of Political Economy in Foucault’s Genealogy of Biopolitics’ in Theory, Culture & Society, 26(6), 2009, 234-262. ↩
Les révolutions du capitalisme was simultaneously published in Italian with the title La politica dell’evento, Cosenza, Rubettino, 2004. All quotes are thus translated from the italian edition, 7. ↩
Ibid., 10. ↩
See Eric Alliez, Tarde et le problème de la constitution: Presentation de Monadologie et sociologie, Paris, Les empecheurs de penser en rond, 1999. ↩
La politica dell’evento, p. 8. ↩
Ibid., 7-8. ↩
La politica dell’evento, 16. ↩
Puissances de l’invention, 8. ↩
See Gabriel Tarde, Psychologie économique. Paris, Félix Alcan, Éditeur, 1902; Tarde, Gabriel. ‘Economic Psychology’, Economy and Society, 36(4), 2007, 614-643. ↩
La politica dell’evento, 17. ↩
Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘Postfazione: Gabriel Tarde. Un vitalismo politico’, Monadologia e sociologia, 119-120. ↩
Lazzarato ‘Postfazione’, 121. ↩
Gabriel Tarde Psychologie économique. Paris, Félix Alcan, 28. ↩
Puissances de l’invention, 73. ↩
Ibid., 129. ↩
La politica dell’evento, 21. ↩
Domenicale ‘Introduzione: La metafisica segreta di Gabriel Tarde’, 29. ↩
Puissances de l’invention, 61; The difference between ‘automation’ and ‘genius’, however, is not absolute, but it is determined by degrees (all kind of work contain a mixture of repetition and invention). In general, we are happier when we feel we are not just performing pre-assigned tasks in a repetitive way, but when we can cooperate with others in creating something new expanding our powers to the limit of what it can do, and thus creating new powerful associations or societies: ‘whoever says society says joy; joy is the natural form of sociability.’ ↩
Ibid., 16. ↩
See Gabriel Tarde ‘Economic Psychology’, 614–643, esp. 625. ↩
Puissances de l’invention, 53. ↩
Franco Berardi (Bifo), ‘Accelerationism Questioned from the Point of View of the Body.’ e-Flux, 2013, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/accelerationism-questioned-from-the-point-of-view-of-the-body/. ↩
See Antonio Negri, The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics, University of Minnesota Press, 2000. ↩
See Linebaugh, Peter, and Marcus Rediker. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 2000. ↩
Puissances de l’invention, 27. ↩
See Jodi Dean, Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive, Cambridge, UK, Polity Press, 2010. ↩
See the debate on the opendemocracy web site on the ‘revenge of the social’ and ‘neoliberal networks’: Davies, William, ‘Neoliberalism and the Revenge of the “social”’, Open Democracy, 2013, http://www.opendemocracy.net/william-davies/neoliberalism-and-revenge-of-%E2%80%9Csocial%E2%80%9D; and Gilbert, Jeremy, ‘Neoliberal Networks: a Response to William Davies’, Open Democracy, 2013, http://www.opendemocracy.net/jeremy-gilbert/neoliberal-networks-response-to-william-davies. ↩
See Bruno Latour ‘Tarde’s idea of quantification’ in The Social After Gabriel Tarde: Debates and Assessments, Matei Candea (ed.), London and New York, Routledge, 2010, 145-162. ↩
See Antonio Negri, Andrea Fumagalli, Christian Marazzi, and Adelino Zanini, La Moneta Nell’impero, Verona, Ombre Corte, 2002, 11. ↩
Ibid., 10. ↩
See the international conference organised by the post-workerist free university uninomade in April 2013 ‘Oltre il welfare, verso il commonfare: riappropriazione della ri/produzione sociale, riappropriazione della rendita sociale’ (Beyond welfare, towards commonfare: re-appropriation of sociale re/production and social rent), http://www.uninomade.org/oltre-il-welfare-verso-il-commonfare-riappropriazione-della-riproduzione-sociale-riappropriazione-della-rendita-sociale-2/, last accessed 29-11-2013. ↩
See Arun Saldhana, ‘Reontologising Race’, Environment and Planning: Society and Space, 24, 2004, 9-24. ↩
See Elisabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, Columbia University Press, 2008. ↩
Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood, Warner Books, 2000; see also Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, Minor Compositions, 2013. ↩
Tiziana Terranova is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies and New Media in the Department of Human and Social Sciences at the Università di Napoli L’Orientale. She is currently visiting research fellow at the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths' College, University of London. She is the author of Corpi Nella Rete (Costa e Nolan, 1996) and Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age (Pluto Press, 2004) and has published numerous essays in journals such as Derive e Approdi, New Formations, Mute, Culture Machine, Social Text and Theory, Culture & Society. She is currently completing a book on social digital networks.