Interview Todd May

TM: For most traditional anarchists like Peter Kropotkin and Emma Goldman, the Soviet Union was a crisis almost from the beginning. They saw it as hierarchical in character, and in that way a continuation of the kinds of domination characteristic of capitalist society. In fact, earlier on, in his dispute with Marx, Mikhail Bakunin predicted that a Marxist takeover of the state would simply reproduce the hierarchical structure of social and political relations. AsThe Who said, “Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss.” This is where anarchism becomes associated with a critique of the state. My own reading of anarchism is, however, that it is much more than a critique of the state. It is a critique of domination in all its forms–political, economic, gender, racial, etc. So while the anarchists were certainly right about theSoviet Union, we should read their work as a more general critique of domination. Granted, this general critique is at times in the background of their work, but it is nevertheless recognizable. In this way, they differ importantly from Marx. For Marx, there is an Archimedean point of social change since there is a central point of domination: the extraction of surplus value from the workers. Therefore, there is really only a single struggle: the struggle for the ownership of means of production.”

and later…

“How might one live, then, in Deleuze’s view? We don’t know what lives we are capable of. So a life ought to be an experiment, or a set of experiments, in living. We investigate what is possible, what we can become. This investigation is not limited to anything individualistic. In fact, Deleuze’s ontology is not an individualistic one. Experiments can happen at the individual, group, and even subindividual level.”

Todd May on a new political ontology


” One way to approach Deleuze and Guattari’s politics is to see them as offering a new political ontology. Deleuze cannot accept the dogmatic ontology offered by traditional political theory. To begin our political thought with individual human beings, each of which comes with his or her own (chosen) interests, is already to give the game away. It is to concede the stability of the already given that is the foundation of the dogmatic image of thought.

The problem is not only that individuals’ interests are intimately bound up with the society in which they live. It is true, as the communitarians2 have pointed out, that liberal political theory’s isolation of individuals from their societies often paints a distorted view of people’s interests. Individuals are far more subject to their social surroundings than liberal theory would have us believe. But the problem Deleuze sees is deeper. It lies in the very concept of the individual.

Why should we assume that individual human beings are the proper ontological units for political theory? Is it possible to start with some other unit? Or better, is it possible to start with a concept that is not prejudiced toward any particular unit of political analysis, whether it be the individual, the society, the state, the ethnic group, or whatever? Is it possible to conceive politics on the basis of a more fluid ontology, one that would allow for political change and experimentation on a variety of levels, rather than privileging one level or another?