Notes on Commonwealth by Negri/ Hardt

Notes on Commonwealth by Hardt and Negri

(Most important of political projects on one level the political thought of CLR James and Antonio Negri. Second would be Loren Goldner and Negri. What does arming the Multitude mean? What is the equivalent of What is to Be Done for the Multitude? )

H/N open Commonwealth with a brutal and concise description of the world under terror, fire, and misery.  How can we deny the world is anything other than that, with Syria, Detroit, and Ukraine in mind.

They hope to articulate an ethical project in CW.  But they will only discover an ethical project through the study of what the multitude have done in struggle. At the same time they have a sense of becoming, when they write ‘becoming-prince’  vii.  Much is yet to be accomplished, the full ethical project cannot be thrown down, until what is becoming, becomes clearer, and perhaps finally becomes. In this becoming, the multitude must learn the art of self-rule and forming lasting democratic organizations.  We see the importance of democracy…

The centrality of the commons is clear on viii.  It is ideology which masks the truth of the commons, which in actuality is everywhere around is.

Commons as the coordinator of the coordination problem.  It is the commons or the squares which not only creates the spatial dimensions, but also the subjectivities.  There is a relationship between spaces and subjectivities. The commons is the space of a certain kind of subject. The worker, as such, does not exist anymore in the commons.  Of course workers are in the commons, but under a new coordination, under a new constellation. This is the effect of de-industrialization right here.  The worker cannot coordinate much at the workplace, so new coordination must occur in struggle, in new spaces, with new subjectivities, radically creating a new subject in motion, in the process of struggle itself. This is in contrast to the Marxist-Jamesian concept of coordination and subjectivity.  At the same time this is still Marxist-Negri.

This is crazy:  biopolitical production is the production of subjectivity itself x. H/N write, “This is the terrain which our ethical and political project must set out” x.  H/N later write that a key part of struggle is “the control or autonomy of the production of subjectivity” x. How do we connect and mediate between these two points? How do we fight in the production of subjectivities? In the past processes of production, we can go on strike.  But what do we do to stop the formation of capitalist inflected subjectivities? Is this what it means when people attempted to take back nigger, queer etc.  But that has been incorporated into the system per D/G.  So now Paul Gilroy is like lets shoot for Planetary Humanism! Capital can incorporate that too. But what of the political of planetary humanism?  Can capital incorporate that. Capital can incorporate the mutilated desire, mutilated aesthetics, even dimensions of a politics into itself.  Short of revolution, capital can incorporate many lines of flight that the multitude throw at it. Can we defeat capital by throwing a quantity of lines of flight or do we need a quality of line of flight that is fundamentally at odds with capital. Kind of like can we reform our way to communism or do we need a violent over-turning of communism? That is easy to see.

Does not all forms of production produce subjectivities? Lets see where H/N go with this…

Poverty and Love will be explore xi.  First, “thinking in terms of poverty has the healthy effect, first of all, of questioning traditional class designations and forcing us to investigate with fresh eyes how  class composition has changed”  xi.  This is their method in its most simple form.  For all the discussion of income inequality, wage repression in the USA, mortgage bubble/ pop, we see H/N actually think about how that has changed the composition (political and technical to a smaller degree) in the US, but also what kind of ways are people thinking about themselves, ie subjectivity.  This was most clearly seen in the 99%. It is true lots of people did not get involved, but we could say that about Black Power as well. Every Black person did not jump into the movement. Perhaps that is not fair, as we all know what a difference there is between Black Power and the OWS. Fair enough. Regardless though, many felt the solidarity of the 99%…. That is some imprecise and sloppy reflection of a new composition and new subjectivity forming.

What is also interesting about their use of the poor, is their linkage back to the Middle Ages. More than Marx and perhaps more than Loren and only comparable to one person I know, which I cannot mention, H/N use the Middle Ages/ Renaissance to think through contemporary problems. So they have leaped over the Enlightenment and found a new period to look at the world through. CLR did this with Athens arguably. Marx to be fair did this with Athens, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment.  Perhaps there should be a book which looks at Karl Marx and the Renaissance.  That would be the historical-methodological bridge between Loren, Negri, and Marx.

They also take note of Love.  H/N write, “Love is a means to escape the solitude of individualism…” xii and “To arrive at a political concept of love that recognizes it as centered on on the production of the common and the production of social life, we have to break away from most of the contemporary meanings of the term” xii.

They recognize that love and poverty are not enough to overthrow capital.  That is why we need force (in the Nietzschean sense, not Hegelian).  Specifically intellectual force xii.  Furthermore they add political action and physical force xii.

H/N too, like Noel Ignatiev, are searching for the path of self-activity today towards revolution/ communism “We will have to discover the passage from revolt to revolutionary institution that the multitude can set in motion” xiii.

H/N have a critique of all those who see fascism everywhere or the rule of naked power everywhere. They argue that it misses, “the daily functioning of constitutional, legal proceses, and the constant pressure of profit and property 4.

H/N argue that the political is not something that stands above society, but is imbued in all social relations.

H/N discuss Kant and specifically invoke a transcendental critique.  They reference this as Kant’s Copernican revolution. Why is going on? Why do they place Kant here? What are they trying to do? In contrast to what?   They write, “Philosophy must strive instead to reveal the transcendental structures immanent to thought and experience” 6. Are they saying that they accept the viewpoint of a specific person/ subject/ multitude and it is from those a priori arguments that a critique against capital will be made.  A critique of capital can no longer be immanent? Coming from within? Although Marx would say you can still have an immanent critique via the proletariat. But perhaps, because H/N focus on exodus and see the complete saturation of society, immanent criticism no longer work, and it must come from some a priori assumptions. Not sure.

To understand what they are doing with Kant.  Their usage of Transcendental power has to be understood. They are frustrated by arguments which make power, ungraspable such as Illuminati, but they are thinking of leftists who see fascism in the state, and feel powerless.  We should note the similarity between the structure of thought between conspiracy theorists and leftist theorists of fascism.  They are identical. This might be useful to provide a Negrian critique of conspiracy theories.  So they use the subject of the multitude to critique capital.

They want us to rethink the usefulness of the republican form of government. We should not be thrown off that republics have been republics of private property and bourgeois society.  You can have a different content to a Republic 9.  How can we ignore the most important republic, the United States. Private property degraded the American Revolution 9. This is their main point: “the concept of property and the defense of property remain the foundation of every modern political constitution” 15.

They continue to define their unique usage of Kant on 15.  Then they move to discussing immanence.  There is some level of mediation. It is not pure spontaneity or essence.  “Our affirmation of immanence is not based on any faith in the immediate or spontaneous capacities of society. The social plane of immanence has to organized politically” 15-16.  They outline a strategy. Some kind of organization is needed. The  reactions need to be coordinated into resistance and the use of force. The party of insurrection is where we are headed.


“…revolutionary research constantly has to follow and be redefined by the forms of the social movements” 24.  This  is what the preceding pages are building up to.

There is also a move from the transcendental to the immanent.  And to a move within the marxist tradition to the standpoint of bodies 24.

What is the “phenomenologization of critique” 24. Its importance is revealed when HN write, “the phenomonologization of critique becomes revolutionary–and we find Marx redivivus” 25.   It is the study/ the historical examination of the critiques itself which is the fire which creates a fire-breathing marxism.  That has to be done in the past, but also to ourselves.

“When immaterial production becomes hegemonic, all the elements of the capitalist process have to be viewed in a new light” 25.  Understanding what they mean by immaterial and hegemonic and new light is key.

“Only the standpoint of bodies and their power can challenge the discipline and control wielded by the republic of property” 27.

This confusing section eventually leads to Foucault. HN write, “The phenomenology of bodies in Foucualt reaches its highest point in his analysis of biopolitics” 31 with three main points: a) “bodies are constitutive components of the biopolitical fabric of being” (also potentially very D/G). b) bodies resist c) “corporeal resistance produces subjectivity” 31.

This seems like a mix between Foucault/ D/G and Marx to say there is an importance in the phenomenology of bodies. Race and gender and class are bodied subjects/ beings. They are not abstract.  If this gets too abstract, HN look at Iran, Fanon, and the Black Power movement to show exactly what they are talking about. The entire 1.2 Section can be read with those three examples in mind. In each case we see the usage, experimenting, theorizing, struggle over the body as a sign of new subjects. It is only through the body that new subjects are formed. Perhaps the biggest problem today is the depth of commodification of the body. Will HN go into that? How can the body be used as a weapon against capital, white supremacy, patriarchy? It seems the cultural space for resistance is minimal? It seems the bodied space for resistance is minimal? Would I see things differently if I lived in small town Nebraska versus living in NYC? Finally they end with “Biopolitics thus is the ultimate antidote to fundamentalism because it refuses the imposition of a transcendent, spiritual value or structure, refuses to let the bodies be eclipsed, and insist instead on their power” 38.  Transcendent means something which stands above and against the immediate, concrete, sensuous, species being, desiring machine themselves…


We can think of the multitude as “the poverty of the multitude, then, seen from this perspective, does not refer to its misery or deprivation or even its lack, but instead names a production of social subjectivity that results in a radically plural and open body politic….” 39. And then a definition of the poor, “refers not to those who have nothing but to the wide multiplicity of those who are inserted in the mechanisms of social production regardless of social order or property” 40.  There is a thin line between the multitude and falling prey to populism.  However, the multitude is trying to skirt working class sectarianism, trying to understand a potential subjectivity that that is broad enough to incorporate the housewife, the unemployed, the engineer, the google worker, and the nurse. This is not about poverty per se, but about inclusion, openness…

HN trace the historical lineage in history of the category/ subject of multitude 40.  But it is only recorded by elites who attack the multitude.  This is HN showing they are not inventing the multitude. It is a real historical category.  Just as real as the proletariat.

Can the multitude have a common program? Have a common unity to fight capital? If not doesn’t the multitude just end up in a bunch of fractional fights the way End Notes discusses?

The lack of property excludes the multitude from the republic of property. We see the importance of property in HN’s thought 51.

We see in the concluding sections of this chapter Machiavelli, Spinoza and Marx.  Machiavelli shows the poor as a force of resistance; Spinoza body as the site where poverty and needs are expressed resulting in democracy; and Marx connects poverty and power as the ultimate threat to private property 53-54.

Their last paragraph explicitly takes up their usage of Marxist categories in unorthodox ways. They know what the accusations are. Their response is that the nature of labor and exploitation have changed 54. Furthermore that “exploitation today tends to be no longer a productive function but rather a mere instrument of domination” 55. This would connect with mass incarceration, penal society a la Wacquant, ICE, border, Guantanamo, stop and frisk, maquiladoras etc. The list of domination goes on and on…


This section more or less reads like Paul Gilroy’s take on modernity/ anti-modernity in Black Atlantic. It is also interesting to note that they look to slaves for the anti-modernity in the next section 71.

Very dynamic understanding of subjectivity: “Slaves thus present a useful limit case for Foucault’s claim, cited earlier, that power is exercised only over free subjects.” and “Foucault’s point is that all subjects have access to a margin of freedom, no matter how narrow that may be, which ground their capacity to resist” and “power is exercised only over subjects that resist” 75.

HN write, “racism is better understood as not ideology but as governmentality” 80. They critique theories of race which pose it as only ideology/ knowing. They think about race in terms of doing/ the political and ontological. They say, “Recognizing modernity’s racism and coloniality as biopower helps accomplish the shift of perspective by emphasizing that power regulates not just forms of consciousness but forms of life…” 80.  How does this connect to the race form and value form and devalorization?

HN write, “resistance is prior to power” 81. WOW.


HN write, “affirming identity and tradition, whether dedicated to past suffering or past glories, creates a static position, even in its opposition to modernity’s domination.  The intellectual has to avoid getting stuck in antimodernity and pass through it to a third stage” 103.

The multitude-form versus the class-form categories appear in their discussion of the Bolivian struggles 110.  What is the form and content of both types of struggle. HN write, “Multitude is a form of political organization that, on the one hand, emphasizes the multiplicity of the social singularities in struggle and, on the other, seeks to coordinate their common actions and maintain their equality in horizontal organizational structures” 110. Central demands of these struggles are the commons 111.

HN lay down the tasks of the altermodern militant on 118.

1. Critique of everything that exists is not enough, although still crucial.

2. Creation of new theories.

3. Transform the chaotic energies of struggle into new social arrangements/ organization/ institutions.

4. Charting a new future.

5. No vanguardism or even the organic intellectual. Both are dead subjects.

6. Intellectual is a singularity like others.

7.Intellectual is engaged in co-research.

8. Intellectuals are like patristics:

They broke with the old and invented a new system of thought. (I guess Bob Avakian was right after all 😦

9. Produce a new truth!!

On one level this seems like classic methodology of Bologna’s piece Class Composition. How is it different in terms of method?


HN can be too easily read as seeing struggle pounding on capital everywhere.  The fact that the multitude as contradictions—they call it corruption–can be easily overlooked 160. The three they discuss are the family, corporations, and the nation 160. The objective blocks change too in the same way that subjectivities change. Their readings of corruption is pretty unorthodox.


HN write, “the claim that nature is subject to mutation is closely related to the philosophical proposition of a constituent ontology–the notion, that is, that being is subject to a process of becoming dictated by social action and practice” 171. The immense radicality of this conception of becoming and being is profound.

HN write, “production of subjectivity rather as the primary terrain on which political struggle takes place. We need to intervene in the circuits of the production of subjectivity…” 172. This is one of the most dynamic conceptions coming from HN. How do we look at history using this framework. All of history has been the production of subjectivities either from above or from below.  Those who can create new subjects are in power.  The subjects which can become hegemonic or resonate throughout society are the victors…How do we use this framework to look at class struggle? The left historically was not half bad in creating new subjectivities. Sometimes it was not the formal left as in the case of the New Negro, but less so with Black Power. The point being, in periods of great class struggle, the production of subjectivities is really understood as self-valorization.