(The following is a guest post by Brett Neilson, author of the weblog Life during wartime.)
[O]nly afterwards, after a long-terrible, historical travail which is, perhaps, not yet completed, do the workers arrive at the point of being actively, subjectively, ‘a class against capital’. A prerequisite of this process of transition is political organisation, the party, with its demand for total power. In the intervening period there is the refusal - collective, mass, expressed in passive forms - of the workers to expose themselves as ‘a class against capital’ without that organisation of their own, without that total demand for power.
Refusal is the strategy of ‘the intervening period’, the hinc et nunc, the long Sunday. Is it any accident that Tronti reminds us in La politica al tramonto that Kafka was born in Prague the same year Marx died in London?
The workers’ movement was defeated, not by capitalism but by democracy. This is the fact, die Sache selbst, Tronti demands we must think in the ‘Tesi su Benjamin.’ The workers’ movement changed capitalism. Its defeat was not on the social but on the political plane. At stake is not the disappearance of the party, the XX Congress of the PCI or the rise of ‘mass democratic man,’ but the ‘suicide of modern politics.’ For Tronti, communism was the heir of modern politics, that fateful alliance of Prince and Leviathan, and thus with the end of this alliance comes the end of communism, backdated from Berlin 1989 to Prague 1968.
How to read the ‘strategy of refusal’ vis-à-vis the ‘total demand for power’ after these tumultuous events? That is the question we face. But it was a question that existed three years after Tronti penned his piece.
It has been said that Marxism lacks an adequate theory of the state. There is no Marxist critique of modern politics to match the Marxist critique of political economy. This is the difficulty that Tronti struggles with in ‘The Strategy of Refusal.’ It is also why, after 1968, he turns to Schmitt. For Tronti, the encounter between Marx and Schmitt is at once impossible and necessary. In the 20th-century, he claims, there could be no political reading of Marx without Schmitt. But Schmitt is also, as Jacob Taubes would put it, ‘the only anti-Leninist of any note.’
What links Marx and Schmitt, for Tronti, is that both work along the axis Freund-Feind. In politics there is always war between friend and enemy, and it is force that decides. Schmitt reinterprets the notion of class conflict, albeit in categories radically distinct from those of Marx. What fascinates Schmitt about Lenin is that in the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat – that is, in the passage to the extinction of the political - there is a glimpse of the autonomy of the political. And this, in turn, draws Tronti to Schmitt as the crisis of modern politics tightens. In both Marx and Schmitt, he finds ‘the tragic hermeneutic of the modern’ and possibility in politics, he will declare, is always tragic.
This is one borne of ‘The Strategy of Refusal.’ Brashness and confidence modulate to melancholy: that wistful (and sometimes quite beautiful) aspect of Tronti’s writing that emerges as he grieves the passing of the political and rise of la rude razza pagana. This mourning, which Derrida would identify in Specters of Marx as the most urgent task for politics, produces great lucidity. But, in the end, is it any less mystifying than Negri’s Spinoza-driven optimism, which is, in many ways, its mirror image. Tronti or Negri? A false choice.
Far from being content with 'confounding a bit the terms of Hegel’s dialectic,' Carla Lonzi would declare in 1970: Sputiamo su Hegel (Let’s spit on Hegel).
If 1968 brought the end of communism in Prague, it was also a year when contestation swept the West. And while the feminism cannot be identified as a moment of 1968, it would bring about, in Tronti’s estimation, the only serious revolution of the time. But here is the clinch. For Tronti, this revolution, based in the recognition of difference as resistance, could only be a minor revolution, an instance of culture but not politics, since it would occur after the end of politics, when all the other contradictions had been exhausted.
There is no spitting here.
The feminist difference, for Tronti, opens a struggle Freund-Fiend, a moment of refusal like that of the worker who refuses to resolve the contradictions of capitalism. One way to test the claims of the ‘Strategy of Refusal’ is to push them over the ‘cut of difference,’ beyond this moment of separation and the struggle friend/enemy, to the point where difference goes all the way down. This is the point where Tronti’s essay never arrives. But it is precisely opening of refusal that allows this movement. And I am not thinking necessarily of the grammatological or schizoanalytic moments. Rather, it is in the late Tronti, in the critique of that most stubborn of all political shibboleths, democracy, that this tendency finds its zenith.
It is not a matter of refusing this or that part of the system, living or not living with the pension fund or the trade union. What Tronti refuses, first of all, is the proprium, the appropriability of the self-possessed subject.
Non-collaboration, passivity (even on a mass scale), the refusal (insofar as it is not political, not subjectively organised, not inserted into a strategy, not practiced in tactical terms), the advanced font of spontaneity which has been forced on the class struggle for decades - not only is all this no longer enough to provoke the crisis, but it has become, in fact, an element of stabilisation of capitalist development.
Passivity, for Tronti, is no ethic of weakness or ‘preferring not to.’ It is not an escape from action that remains an action of escape.
Obviously non-collaboration must be one of our starting points, and mass passivity at the level of production is the material fact from which we must begin. But at a certain point all this must be reversed into its opposite. When it comes to the point of saying ‘No,’ the refusal must become political; therefore active; therefore subjective; therefore organised.
Forget the reversal into the opposite - it is part of the noise. What matters here is the organisation, the composition. Let us refer these refusals, these two ways of ‘saying No,’ to Simone Weil’s distinction between renunciation and abandonment. The first is to abstain, to renounce the objects of desire. The second is to abandon the fruits of action, which is importantly not to abandon action itself. It is to organise without ends.
This is not a matter of instilling in the mass of workers the awareness that they must fight against capital that they must fight for something which will transcend capital and lead into a new dimension of human society. What is generally known as class consciousness is, for us, nothing other than the moment of organisation.
It is not a matter of organising for Kafka’s Monday, for that ‘historical travail’ for which the party is prerequisite. Nor is it a matter of the spontaneous fantasy of auto-organisation. Organisation is rather refusal, the moment of subtraction and not the ‘total demand for power.’ Tronti contra Tronti.