Reinventing Communist Politics

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Composition A19, 1927
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Composition A19, 1927

Francesco Raparelli: An original “constellation” of capital is presented in Border as Method. The notion of the “multiplication of labor,” in particular, clearly grasps the “great transformation” in which we are immersed. Is a communist politics that takes seriously the irreducible multiplicity of exploitation that you describe so well still possible?

Sandro Mezzadra: My work with Brett, Border as Method, but also our new book that we just finished writing (The Politics of Operations: Excavating Contemporary Capitalism), is an attempt to define a method in order to critically understand the “global” dimension. I believe that it was already clear in Border as Method: in any case, in our new book we explicitly affirm (with due modesty) that for us this method has a meaning insofar as it enhances the search for a communist politics. I was saying - the “global dimension,” Marx already thought communism in this dimension in his youth. “International market” and “proletarian internationalism”: for Marx, the world is the backdrop for the critique of political economy and communist politics. What exceptional “powers of invention” (to take up a category of our classics, of ‘60s operaismo): it is certainly easier today than it was in the middle of the 19th century to see the global connections that join together labor power! Then, of course, to think and to enact a politics of this labor power is another story. Capital’s operations have global force: how should we confront them? The notion of the “multiplication of labor” points to all the difficulties of such an endeavor. At the same time, however, it points – so to speak positively - to something fundamental: communist politics today cannot but assume as its presupposition the “multiplicity,” the irreducibility of “difference.” Here, the feminist lesson fundamental for us.

FR: “Dual power” and “permanent revolution” are two key concepts with which to think 1917, whose centenary is marked this year. We live in another conjuncture.  Yet, if we want to reflect on the actuality of communism we cannot in any way escape the problem of power. Which of the two aforementioned concepts would you then save?

SM: “Dual power” is an extremely important category for me. Concluding The Politics of Operations, we try to suggest some lines of research about this theme. It is almost superfluous to add that to talk about “dual power” means to talk about Lenin. Immediately upon his return to Russia in April 1917, Lenin writes that after the February Revolution there were two powers: that of the Provisional government (the “government of the bourgeoisie”) and “another government, still weak, embryonic, but nevertheless real and developing: the Soviets of the workers and soldiers deputies.” Lenin’s genius, in absolutely unique conditions (unrepeatable) of world war and revolution, consisted in showing the Bolsheviks the main task: to wait for the opportunity to break that dualism, to organize the insurrection. We have to lay claim to Lenin’s genius: but this can only mean collectively producing an innovation at the height of that genius. We don’t have time for caricatures and mimicries.  Of course, the problem of power remains fundamental for communist politics: but it is about thinking – and acting – this problem in completely new conditions, as much on the side of capital as on the composition of “living labor.” In short, precisely as a line of research and experimentation: our task is to think dual power as a constant political formula that articulates the dynamics of struggle, transformation, and government through a system of counter-powers. In Rome, I would like to say a little more on this subject.

FR: The Bolivarian wind in Latin America is interpreted by many, in particular in Europe, as relaunching the strategic function of the state for socialism. You know the Latin-American political scene could you explain why today “socialism in one country” is still an insufficient proposal?

SM: It is true, I know Latin America. I was there for longer periods in the last few years, I have followed and in a way lived the Latin American processes, especially after encountering Colectivo Situaciones of Buenos Aires in 2002. What happened in Latin America in the last fifteen, twenty years? An impressive cycle of struggles that opened the spaces within which experiences of new “progressive” governments developed (and we have to think of these governments together in their heterogeneity if we are to understand something: Chavez and Lula, Morales and Kirchner). “The struggles come first”: I am not sure if it always works, but Latin America is an instructive illustration of this motto. And from the beginning of the new century, the struggles have taken on, in turbulent and specific ways, a continental scale. “Progressive” governments have inserted themselves into this scale and the integration processes of the 2000s were the key condition of their strength. What I was saying earlier about “dual power” seemed to find its exemplification in different countries, even if occasionally and in profoundly contradictory ways. But today, we are faced with the crisis and exhaustion of that political cycle. What are the reasons behind this crisis? My answer is brief but clear: on the one hand, the slowing down of the integration processes and retreat of the “progressive” governments at the national level; on the other hand, the understanding of the State as a privileged, if not exclusive center of the process of transformation and government. It is a question of political realism: the State, as I have written with Brett some time ago, lacks the strength to face up to the operation of contemporary global capital (either to break the domination of capital, or “mitigate” it by more or less radical reforms). How to put it? Another power is necessary; and another space beyond the nation is necessary.

FR: Your research about the new migration regime has provided us with a reflection on the new productive strategies marked by the “color line,” but also and above all on the inadequacy of a political practice incapable of bridging and sustaining the struggles of migrants. Is it possible to win a common position by refusing the ethnic segmentation of the labor market, and especially the return, even on the left, of nationalism?

SM: These are the stakes in the reinvention of a communist politics. The encounter with migration, even in the 1990s, was for many of us a sort of new discovery of the world, or simply a discovery of how much it had changed. It is true, from that moment onwards, that the theme of “color line” was at the center of my research, but also at the center of my continued attempts to do politics. Migration showed me, along with feminism, the strategic importance of “difference”; strategic in organizing the relations of domination and exploitation; but also strategic as a construction of the politics of liberation as well (which for me is another way of naming “a communist politics”). No one said it better than Audre Lorde, not by chance a black lesbian feminist writer and poet. It is a passage that we quoted in Border as Method; I repeat it here, by way of conclusion, as a sort of an axiom for a communist politics to come: “It is within our differences that we are both most powerful and most vulnerable, and some of the most difficult tasks of our lives are the claiming of differences and learning to use those differences as bridges rather than as barriers between us.”

– Translated by Tijana Okić

This article is part of a dossier entitled The Return of Communism

Author of the article

teaches political theory at the University of Bologna (Department of Arts) and is adjunct research fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society of Western Sydney University. In the last decade his work has particularly centered on the relations between globalization, migration and political processes, on contemporary capitalism, as well as on postcolonial theory and criticism. He is an active participant in the "post-workerist" debates and one of the founders of the website Euronomade. With Brett Neilson he is the author of Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor (Duke University Press, 2013) and of The Politics of Operations. Excavating Contemporary Capitalism (Duke University Press, 2019). He is currently coordinating the Horizon 2020 project PLUS (“Platforms, Labor, Urban Spaces”).