Michael Hardt: “The Common in Communism”

Hardt here focuses on “the common,” relating it to his larger project of rearticulating global Marxism vis-a-vis the immaterial or “biopolitical” mode of production of late capitalism: that is, the production of non-industrial, non-physical goods, including ideas, information, code, affects, social relationships and networks, etc. Hardt and others argue not that such goods have replaced industrial or pre-industrial goods, or even that quantitatively most labor is knowledge work, but rather that the central organizing paradigm of capitalism, structuring all labor, has shifted to the biopolitical mode. Just as the eighteength century shift from the agrarian mode to the industrial mode subordinated not just factory work, but indeed as aspects of society to its dominant mode of organization—the clock and its regimented workday, regimes of mechanization, etc.–so now the biopolitical mode is forcing a qualitative change on all other forms of production and life. Central to this new form is a shift in emphasis from scarcity to reproducibility, a shift from rent to profit, and a new tension between exclusive and shared property. The site of all of these shifts is the common.

The role of property is changing once again. Once tied primarily to parcelization of immobile resources (land), in its industrial mode capital appropriated moveable goods (the goods produced by industrial labor) as the essence of property. Now, in its immaterial form, capital primarily appropriates “the common,” or networked relationships and information itself, as property. Hardt notes that this generates the central tension of late capitalism: that profit is generated by harnessing the common (which includes all of life; life itself becomes producer and the “object” that is produced), yet the common always resists becoming property: “Capitalist development inevitably results in the increasingly central role of cooperation and the common, which in turn provides the tools for overthrowing the capitalist mode of production and constitutes the bases for an alternative society and mode of production, a communism of the common.” Capitalism seeks to privatize the common, yet produces the common at the same time. Capitalism in its biopolitical mode is the logical extension of industrial capitalism: its ultimate aim being not merely to produce refridgerators and cars but “he nuclear family around the refrigerator and the mass society of individual isolated together in their cars on the freeway.” Biopolitical capitalism produces social relationships, but these social relationships contain the seed of their own re-engineering as a resistant commons.

Following Foucault, Hardt notes that the commons is endlessly innovative, always producing “something completely other, a total innovation.” What is at stake is the innovation of subjectivity. Capitalism produces and reproduces its form of subjectivity, increasingly reified into the neoliberal subject. Thus it also produces a politics defined by a dialectic of private versus public property. In neoliberal states, the primary political tension is between making property private—that is, owned by the individual—or public—that is, owned by the state for the good of all. Hardt rejects both forms of property, arguing that they both elide the commons, which eliminates the notion of property altogether. It is not just a common resource, but a form of subjectivity that is produced through networked production itself. Hardt sees communism as simply calling for a renewed focus on the common as opposed to property. He believes that an invigorated commons is capable of innovating not only new goods but a new humanity, once based upon “open and autonomous biopolitical production, the self-governed continuous creation of new humanity.”


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