(This is a guest post by John Holloway, author of Change the World Without Taking Power.)
It is clear that non-identity is the hero, the centre, the moving force of the world as Adorno presents it. But what do we understand by non-identity? Is it just a philosophical concept or is the conceptualisation of a social force? The answer, surely, is that we are non-identity. The force that does not fit, the force that contradicts all identification, the force that overflows is subjectivity, we. And who are we? We are the subject, uncontainable within any definition. We can say that we are the working class, but that makes sense only if we understand "working class" as a concept that explodes against itself, a concept that bursts its own bounds.
Does Adorno actually say that we are non-identity? Not as far as I know. Perhaps I am reading Adorno in a non-identitarian way, against-and-beyond Adorno. But how else can we understand non-identity? Non-identity can only be a force that changes itself, that drives beyond itself, that creates and creates itself. And where do we find a creative and self-creative force? Not animals, not god, not nature, only humans, we. Not an identitarian we, but a disjointed, misfitting, creative we.
This is not a liberal-humanist we, but an antagonistic, self-antagonistic we. We are part of an antagonistic entirety in which the "subject [is] the subject's foe". Dialectics exists because we are in the wrong place, in the wrong sort of society: "dialectics is the ontology of the wrong state of things. The right state of things would be free of it: neither a system nor a contradiction." The dialectical we is the contradictory we who live in-and-against capitalist society, a non-identitarian class we.
Adorno meets Tronti. In his seminal article, "Lenin in England", Tronti wrote that "We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first, and workers second. This is a mistake. And now we have to put the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class" (1964, 1). Words far removed from Adorno's, yet here is the question, the interweaving of autonomist and critical theory. Tronti (and the other theorists-practitioners of operaismo) turned orthodox Marxism on its head and put working class struggle (and not capital) at the centre of their analysis. Adorno (and the other members of the Frankfurt school) turned orthodox Marxism on its head and put non-identity at the centre of their analysis. Adorno probably did not meet Tronti and quite possibly would not have wanted to, but we can make them meet.
"Dialectics is the consistent sense of non-identity." Dialectics means thinking the world from that which does not fit, from those who do not fit, those who are negated and suppressed, those whose insubordination and rebelliousness breaks the bounds of identity, from us who exist in-and-against-and-beyond capital. This is surely the same as the autonomist project formulated by Tronti: less explicitly political, but it goes much deeper, because the attack on identity goes to the core of life itself, it touches directly who we are and how we think. The autonomist project of operaismo was ambiguous precisely because it did not go far enough, because it did not question the identitarian concept of the working class as an identifiable group of people. It turns the capital-labour relation on its head, but to be consistent, it should have turned the whole world on its head, putting non-identity at the centre of the way we breathe and the way we think. It is this limitation that leads then to the later unfortunate and stultifying union of some autonomist thinkers with post-structuralism, a tradition which denies the centrality of the subject and hence of working class struggle.
The development of the autonomist project (the drive towards social self-determination) requires critical theory (just as, indeed, the development of critical theory requires the autonomist project - and not the social-democratic ruminations of Habermas, for example). Why? Because the autonomist project puts working class struggle (or anti-capitalist struggle) at the centre of our understanding of the world, as driving force and not as reaction. And because the project of critical theory also puts working class struggle (as non-identity) at the centre of our understanding of the world, as driving force, not as reaction. Am I then saying that we can replace "working class struggle" for "non-identity" in Adorno: "dialectics is the consistent sense of working class struggle"? Yes, but obviously only if we understand class struggle as the movement of non-identity (a tautologous expression, since non-identity can only be understood as movement). Thus: "We too have worked with a concept that puts identity first, and non-identity second. This is a mistake. And now we have to put the problem on its head, reverse the polarity, and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the movement of non-identity." Is this not doing violence to both Adorno and Tronti? Of course, but is it a creative violence, does it take us forward in the struggle against capitalism, against the identity of a system built on death?
Non-identity is creativity, identity is the negation of creativity: everything is. In capitalism, non-identity exists "under the aspect of identity", creativity exists in the form of non-creativity, doing exists in the form of alienated labour. The strength of the subject exists as the "fallacy of constitutive subjectivity": "to use the strength of the subject to break through the fallacy of constituted subjectivity - this is what the author felt to be his task ever since he became to trust his own mental impulses". Dialectics turns the strength of the subject against the fallacy of constituted subjectivity: the "subject [is] the subject's foe" (10). Dialectics is the consistent sense of that which lies hidden: the non-identity that exists under the aspect of identity, the creativity that exists as the fetishised rule of things, the strength of the subject that is concealed by the "fallacy of constitutive subjectivity". "Our thinking heeds a potential that waits in the object the resistance of thought to mere things in being, the commanding freedom of the subject, intends in the object, even that of which the object was deprived by objectification". Dialectics seek to bring to light the power of human creativity that lies in all that negates that power, to understand the world and not just the capital-labour relation (understood in traditional identitarian terms) from the perspective of human creativity. That is why dialectics has to be at the core of the autonomist project and why the autonomist project has to be at the core of critical theory. Without that connection, they both dry up, become academic playthings and Adorno becomes an intellectual adornment, part of the culture industry which he hated.
"Thought as such, before all particular contents, is an act of negation, of resistance to that which is forced upon it". Life too.