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The Communist Hypothesis and the Question of Organization

Peter D. Thomas


The international discussion of the communist hypothesis has quickly developed into a debate regarding the
adequate party-form for radical politics today. This article argues that the stakes of this development become
clearer when it is related to the central debates of the earlier alternative globalization movement. The article then
explores some significant models of organization that emerged in previous periods in which the renewal of
communist politics was closely linked to attempts to rethink the party-form: the notion of the compositional
party of Italian operaismo, Lukcss concepts of a political subject, and Gramscis modern Prince. The
modern Prince is argued to represent the type of expansive party-form that might be able to respond
productively to the challenges of contemporary political movements.

The Communist Hypothesis

The debate on the Idea of Communism that emerged in 2008 following Alain Badious analysis of the
electoral victory of Sarkozy, drawing upon a longer history of vindications of communism over the last 30
years, was quickly greeted with enthusiasm by prominent theorists from a wide range of leftist political
This discussion also seems to have stimulated a renewal of the energy and engagement that had
marked the most creative dimensions of the alternative globalization and anti-war movements straddling the
millennium. After the impasses those movements confronted in what was sometimes seen as an interregnum at
the beginning of the global economic crisis,
the affirmation of the Idea of Communism or perhaps even
more so, the more precise notion of a Communist Hypothesis offered the possibility of a renewed collective
research project into the viable forms of contemporary political struggle.
Unexpectedly and audaciously, the
positive programme of communism, and not simply negative resistance to capitalist crisis, became the horizon
within which we could comprehend and meet the challenges of the present.
As an ideological intervention, the
merits of this discussion are remarkable: it has given rise to a wide ranging international discussion of the notion
of communism that did not occur even at the height of the alternative globalization and anti-war movements,
still struggling against the overdeteminations of the new world order rhetoric of the 1990s.

What still remains more difficult to ascertain, however, is the nature of these discussions relationship to the
organizational debates that have emerged in the wake of Occupy, international anti-austerity protests and the
actually existing revolutionary movements of our times. Some important contemporary theorists have argued
that the discussion of the idea of communism should keep a distance from immediate organizational questions.
In particular, Badiou has strongly resisted the notion that the affirmation of communism should necessarily be
accompanied by a renewed consideration of the role of the political party, as decisive agent of that ideas
realization, which he instead regards as an historically superseded instantiation of communist invariants that
are today searching for a new mode of historical existence.
By far the most widespread response, however, has
been the proposal that a coherent investigation of the meaning of communism today necessarily requires a
reconsideration of the nature of political power, of political organization, and, above all, of the party-form.

!i"ek, for instance, has long argued that a politics without the party is nothing more than a form of politics
without politics. More recently, Jodi Dean has emphasized that the reproposition of the party-form is the
horizon within which the debate on communism can become intelligible to itself. Far from the caricature of
homogenous or totalitarian unity, Dean argues that the party and the Leninist party in particular should be
understood as constituting a vehicle for maintaining a specific gap of desire, the collective desire for
collectivity (Dean 2012, 207). She further argues that such a dynamic has already been evident in the
achievements of Occupy, whatever the anti-verticalist claims sometimes made on its behalf. In a related vein,
Jan Rehmann (2013) has argued that the nascent counter-hegemonic dimensions of Occupy, alongside
regroupment processes on the European left, have prepared the ground for a serious reproposal of the question
of the mass political party. In particular, Rehmann argues that a renewal of the party will involve
experimentation in new party forms, including notions such as those of a mosaic left (Urban 2009) or a
connective party (Porcaro 2012).

These are positions close to those advocated by one of the original proponents of the debate on communism, the
sadly departed Daniel Bensad, who repeatedly argued over many years that the concept of the party remains
central to any coherent reflection on the nature and form of politics in the contemporary world, whether or not
the word party itself is used to describe those processes of unification, coordination and decision. For Bensad,
it is the specificity of the overdetermined field of political relations and its irreducibility to the social that
continually reproposes the question of the party-form not as a solution, but as a problem that each upsurge of
social and political struggle involving diverging and sometimes conflicting component elements inevitably
confronts. This constitutive tension generates the need for continuous interpretative and analytical labor, in the
attempt to discover the party-form adequate to the specificity of the social movements to which it gives
expression, at the same time as it transforms them by translating their demands into the distinctive register of
politics (Bensad 2002, 112 et sq).

Above all, however, it has been practical experience of the contradictory processes of left regroupment on an
international scale from reconfigurations over the last decade on the Latin American left, to the varying
success of coalition parties in Europe such as Die Linke in Germany, Izquierda Unida in Spain, Syriza in Greece
and the Front de Gauche in France, to the tentative emergence of new political formations across North Africa
and the Arab world that has firmly placed the question of the party back on the contemporary agenda. The
communist horizon thus now confronts its own horizon of intelligibility not simply in a discussion of the party-
form, but in the dialectical relation between such theoretical debates and the organizational innovations of the
real movements of today, to paraphrase the now oft-quoted words of the German Ideology, that aim to abolish
the present state of affairs (MECW 5, 49).

The Horizon of the Party-Form

In this text, I want to explore some of the consequences of the notion of a communist hypothesis in relation to
these organizational debates, and in particular, to the emerging debate regarding the adequate party-form for
radical politics today. First, I will argue that the sometimes obscure organizational implications of the generic
affirmation of communism become clearer when we situate this discussion historically, as a transposition and
continuation by philosophical means of some of the central debates of the alternative globalization movement.
For despite the exaggerated claims to novelty of both friend and foe alike, the debate on communism did not
emerge from nowhere. Rather, I argue that it should be understood as representing the displacement into a
theoretical register of central themes of the previous sequences of struggles against the new world order in the
late 1990s and early 2000s. In the same way, the new movements that have fortuitously coincided with the
debate on communism student movements across North America and Europe from 2009 onwards, the global
wave of Occupy, the ongoing Arab revolutions and growing anti-austerity movements around the world
throughout 2012 represent not a return or rebirth of history, but its revenge.
They should be understood as
expressions of the accumulation, displacement and transformation of tendencies from the previous cycle of mass
struggles that that have been surreptitiously burrowing away, like Marxs old mole, under the surface of what
we can now see was only an apparent and decidedly temporary pacification of the interregnum of the middle
years of the last decade. The spontaneous rediscovery by the moment of Occupy of the aporiai that plagued
the alternative globalization and anti-war movements, however, indicate a substantial continuity of unresolved
problems across the different conjunctures of the ebbs and floods of the social and political movements of the
last 15 years. As a formalized response and proposed resolution to some of these themes, the discussion of
communism can help to clarify both the strengths and limits of these debates, particularly those that are still
strongly operative in the post-Occupy conjuncture.

Second, I then aim to explore some significant models of organization that emerged in previous periods in
which the renewal of communist politics was closely linked to attempts to rethink the party-form. For from the
Manifesto of the Communist Party onwards, communism, as word, idea and hypothesis, has always been
inseparably tied to the forms of political organization necessary for its realization: in the terms of the classical
Marxist debates, the question of organization [die Organisationsfrage]. The models that I will consider are,
first, the notion of the compositional party derived from the experience of Italian operaismo, recently and
perhaps surprisingly reproposed in Hardt and Negris Commonwealth; second, the conceptualization of the
party as a laboratory in which a unitary political subject could be forged, theorized most coherently in the
work of the early Lukcs; and third, Gramscis call for the formation of a modern Prince as a harnessing of the
inherent conflictuality of political modernity in a constituent party-form. Each of these models can be regarded
as a mirror in which we can see reflected some of the challenges of the organizational questions that have
marked both the alternative globalization movement and the rebellions and revolts of today. Hardt and Negris
notion of a compositional party composed of insurrectional intersections of irreducible singularities responds
to the problem of thinking the party-form in a period of the proliferation of demands and movements grounded
in diverse experiences of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Lukcss proposal of the party as a laboratory
for the forging of a totalizing political subject poses the question of the party-form as one of the unification and
coordination of political initiatives. Both of these models, I will argue, ultimately confront the limitations of a
political formalism, which runs the risk of invoking a political party-form as the resolution of the contradictions
of the social practices that are thereby interpellated as its subaltern content. Gramscis modern Prince, on the
other hand, integrates both compositional and totalizing dimensions, while avoiding the temptation of a
formalistic resolution of the contradictions that are the necessary preconditions and enduring challenge of
political organization. Rather than the elimination of difference, the assertion of identity or the dominance of
political form over social content, the modern Prince represents the outlines of a party-form that would be
capable of valorizing contradiction and conflict, harnessing them as the motor of its totalizing development. In
these sense, the modern Prince can be understood as a proposal for a type of expansive party-form that might
be able to respond productively to the challenges of contemporary movements.

Die Organisationsfrage at the Millennium

While the recent revival of philosophical discussions of the Idea of Communism has been able to draw upon
the legacy of theoretical debates over the last 40 years for some of its central propositions and vocabulary, these
discussions should be properly understood as responding to primarily political determinants. Although the
connections have not always been immediately apparent, I would suggest that the vindication of the idea of
communism of the last years emerged as a response to impasses in the organizational debates that had
characterized the alternative globalization, social fora and anti-war movements. Albeit sometimes falling into
overly dichotomized positions that were themselves reflected in the practices of what was sometimes known as
the movement of movements overly abstract oppositions between movements-parties, antipower-
counterpower, and micropolitics-macropolitics, as faint echoes of the classic couplet of spontaneity-organization
debates between figures such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, John Holloway, Daniel Bensad
nevertheless had the redeeming merit of providing a new generation of activists with a re-actualization of
some of the classic organizational debates of the workers movement (Hardt and Negri 2000; Holloway 2002;
Bensad 2005). Theories of the nature of state power, of the relationship between social movements and political
forms, and different traditions of organization of mass politics, from the mass strike to the United Front, were
central themes.

These debates configured the question of organization in at least three distinct registers, which corresponded not
simply to theoretical or political traditions, but more broadly to some of the most significant structures of
feeling, in Raymond Williamss sense, that informed the participants who were active in these movements.
First, the question of organization was debated as a question of political form, or the type of political
organization that was best able to express and strengthen the demands and goals of the movements, ranging
from supposedly horizontalist networks to an ostensibly verticalist and traditional party-form. Second, the
alternative globalization movement in particular formulated the question of organization as a question of utopian
prefiguration within current political struggles; the anti-Thatcherite slogan that another world is possible posed
the challenge of thinking the valorization of existing organizational practices as the potential beginning of such
an alternative, already in the midst of these struggles. Finally, as in any period of the revival of social
movements, the question of organization appeared urgently as a question of concrete forms of active
remembrance, or the construction of the institutions in which traditions of struggle could be bequeathed,
inherited and re-actualized.

Traces of each of these themes have been operative in the debate on communism, though often transposed in
theoretical formulations rather than posed as immediate organizational tasks. The question of political from has
perhaps been the most immediately obvious, particularly if we follow the seductive Platonic models suggested
by some of the debates most prominent advocates, from Badiou to Groys (cf. Groys 2009). In some of Badious
more stridently philosophical formulations in particular, the Idea of Communism seems to represent a type of
neoplatonic war of position; blocked on the terrain of history itself, Communism retreats to the stronghold of
the Idea, awaiting the moment of its renewed emanation or even incarnation in a Programme, before its
final realization in a mimetic chain as Organization, according to a tripartite schema of grades of political
In other contexts, particularly in response to criticisms, Badiou effectively argues that the Idea of
Communism functions as a place holder for a type of Platonic courage, a central notion in his concept of
subjectivation since at least The Theory of the Subject.
Formulated in these terms, fidelity to the Idea of
Communism against all odds and historical disappointments thus constitutes not simply the only worthy
foundation of emancipatory political engagement today, but also its formal condition of possibility in any

As inspiring and necessary as such figures of optimistically stubborn resistance may be after 40 years of
neoliberal hegemony and the death of supposedly actually existing communist regimes,
it nevertheless
remains hard to see how such a strongly programmatic proposal, on its own, represents an advance upon the
alternative globalization movements emphasis in the late 1990s on the need for new forms of radical politics
(whether conceived as a new party, or forms of post-party organization). In particular, it is not clear what
specific organizational consequences can or should be drawn from the generic affirmation of the Idea of
Communism, in a new conjuncture of proliferating zones of social and political contestation. Arguably,
participants in these movements today require less an assertion of subjective conviction, as the precondition for
organization, than the articulation and strengthening of practices of collective organization that are already
clearly operative.

Bruno Bosteelss enticing description of the current conjunctures speculative leftism suggests an alternative,
modern philosophical tradition by means of which we might try to grasp other dimensions of the communist
hypothesiss import for organizational debates:
namely, the long trajectory of German idealism, with its
foundation in the status of spectatorship in Kants reflections on the world historical significance of the French
revolution, and its end in the status of the speculative for Hegel. Remobilizing a concept from the early
Rancire, via Badiou, Bosteels regards speculative leftism as a name for the philosophical appropriation of
radical emancipatory politics (Bosteels 2011, 33). It is a theoretico-political strategy powerfully operative
particularly in contemporary post-Althusserian thought, which, in the post-68 conjuncture, seems set upon
repeating German idealisms foundational philosophical appropriation of the politics of its own time. Yet an
alternative appropriation is equally conceivable: at stake here would be the possibility, if not of leftist
speculation, then at least of the political appropriation of philosophical motifs, for the purposes of theoretical
clarification. To the extent that theoretical reflection can operate by way of metaphors, as Althusser once not
unproblematically suggested (cf. Althusser 1976, 107, 140), we might thus wish to think the extent to which
some of the fundamental strategies and conceptual motifs of the long arch of German Idealism might be
deformed in order to provide alternative metaphors for considering the communist hypothesis in terms of its
organizational implications.

One such non-Platonic comparison has already been essayed and immediately disavowed by !i"ek, while
rhetorically rehearsing the charge that the Idea of Communism risks falling into the indeterminateness of a
Kantian regulative idea.
For Kant, of course, a regulative idea constitutively lacks empirical referent; it is
deployed in a heuristic sense merely in order to regulate enquiry, but explicitly does not figure as a telos that
such an enquiry could attain. As Kant says, it directs the understanding towards a certain goal upon which the
routes marked out by all its rules converge, as upon their point of intersection (CPR, B 672). Were the Idea of
Communism to be understood as such a regulative idea that is, not as a presently deferred goal towards which
programme and organization strive, or as a hypothesis open to revision in the course of research, but as
constitutively unattainable heuristic guide we would be left, as !i"ek rightly observes, with the revival of an
ethical socialism taking equality as its a priori norm-axiom (!i"ek 2009a, 87).
In other words, maximalist
programme would here quietly transmogrify into social democratic minimum common sense, returning us to a
theory of historical stages as prelude to an unattainable non-historical goal. In this sense, the Idea of
Communism could be understood as continuing the focus upon utopian prefiguration of the moment of Seattle
in 1999, with its militant assertion, in the face of appeals to neoliberal realism, of the possibility of another
world. It would not necessarily, however, provide any clearer indications regarding the means by which such an
alternative could be realized. In an inversion of Bernsteins famous maxim, the goal would be everything; the
movement, much less, if not simply a continuous re-assertion of the goal itself.

Another conceptualization inspired by German Idealism of the organizational import of the discussion of
communism might be found in the figure of a reconstructive transcendental style. I have elsewhere argued that
much contemporary radical thought seeks to find the conditions of possibility for future political engagement
by reconstructing them on the basis of a (more or less implicit) comparison to previous political formations
(cf. Thomas 2009b). Rather than in the present indicative of classical transcendentalism, this transcendental
style proceeds retrospectively, departing from conditions of possibility formulated as a memory, in order then
to repropose them in the conditional future. Thus, this transcendental question would not be radical political
engagement exists: how is it possible?, but rather, we remember that radical political engagement once existed;
how was it/could it become possible again, beyond the limits of the possibility of the current situation? This is
not a question of melancholic brooding over past defeats, but a type of militant nostalgia that seeks in the past
traces of potential futures, constructing a type of selective tradition of genuinely emancipatory politics running
from ancient slave revolts through to the present day. It aims at re-actualization of the strengths of the past,
rather than a pursuit of lost time as panacea for the paucity of the present. The conceptual structure of the
classical transcendental argument la Kant is thus in a certain sense historicized; rather than aspiring to
identify the conditions of any possible political action ex-ante, it is reconfigured as instead a strategic decision
and intervention into a specific conjuncture, whose conditions are not given but must be actively constructed, in
part, by the imaginative terms of such an intervention itself.
This configuration of the idea of communism as a
communist hypothesis, as a criterion of historico-political experimentation and research, could thus be
understood as a transformative continuation of the alternative globalization movements emphasis upon the
question of organization as one of active inheritance, whatever skepticism some currently prominent figures,
such as Badiou, may have expressed regarding the earlier movement.
Both conjunctures represent, in different
practical and theoretical registers, the conscious renewal of traditions of resistance after the long retreat in the
face of the neoliberal offensive from the late 1970s onwards. In this perspective, contemporary movements
could be viewed as signaling a new phase of incorporation of a communist hypothesis, which both precedes
and exceeds them.

Political form, prefiguration, and inheritance and renewal: these were some of the central themes and energies
that I would suggest have flowed in subterranean channels from the alternative globalization and anti-war
movements into the formulation of communism as both idea and as hypothesis. Just as significantly, as I have
argued, these themes can also be detected both in the organizational implications that would seem to follow
from the terms in which the discussion of communism has been conducted thus far, as well as, in related forms,
in the debates that have accompanied recent movements. The transition from the affirmation of communism to a
consideration of the viable forms of its instantiation in contemporary struggles, however, requires different
figures and metaphors, drawn from other political and theoretical vocabularies. Rather than the generic
affirmation of an untimely communism, what is needed today are specific proposals of organizational forms
that respond to the demands of the present. I therefore now propose to turn to examining some of the significant
models of organization that emerged in previous periods in which the renewal of communist politics was closely
linked to attempts to rethink and to renew the party-form.

The Compositional Party and the Multitude

The renewal of the party-form as a compositional party was one of the fundamental concerns of the experience
of early Italian operaismo. At first sight, this claim may seem paradoxical, particularly given the widespread
perception that this tradition of heretical Marxism was defined by a rejection of classical Marxist
organizational positions. Yet despite a selective international and particularly Anglophone reception focused
upon (a particular interpretation of) a particular moment of Autonomia in the second half of the 1970s, Italian
workerism, in its historical context, was not opposed to the political party as such.
On the contrary, as Mario
Tronti has recently recalled, a fundamental dimension of the Italian workerist tradition was the attempt to
reinvigorate the political party as an organization of political struggle, rather than administrative apparatus (cf.
Tronti 2012).
This focus was already present in the pioneering works of Raniero Panzieri and Romano
Alquati, in which the key methods of workerist research particularly those of co-research [conricerca] and
workers enquiry [inchiesta operaia] were first and arguably most coherently elaborated. For Panzieri, it was
necessary to study the contemporary levels and forms of technical composition of the working classes in the
relations of production in the broadest sense, in order to be able to determine the possible forms of their
political composition in institutions and formations of political struggle. The divisions among workerists that
emerged already in the 1960s and intensified in the 1970s into an opposition between perspectives emphasizing
the possibility of a conjuncturally-determined autonomy of the political, and an other current insisting upon
the (transformative) continuation of so-called first [primo] or classical workerist themes, primarily regarded
disputes over the type of political party that would be adequate for the growth of anti-systemic politics during
Italys long 1968.

Tronti, Cacciari and others argued for the need for the workers political formation to exert control over an
increasingly bureaucratized state apparatus and rationalized course of capitalist development, a task that the
bourgeoisie was held to be no longer capable of fulfilling. In so doing, they arguably ended up proposing a
model of political organization that, in practice, could only be distinguished with difficulty from the Togliattian
conception of the Italian Communist Party as privileged bearer of a progressive democracy precisely the
conception and form of politics with which the early workerist experiment had attempted to break.
On the
other hand, the experience of Potere operaio in the late 1960s and early 1970s, involving Negri and others,
attempted to continue the attempt to think and practice the possibility of a party of a new type. The critique of
the party-form that gained wider currency in the 1970s should be seen in the political context of the broader
critique of the Italian far left of the PCIs notorious Compromesso storico, and as a critique of the particular
party-form that, in those years, was clearly functioning as a form of the state.

Hardt and Negris Commonwealth renews this tradition of research when they call for the necessity of the
becoming prince of the multitude, in a process they describe as governing the revolution (Hardt and Negri
2009, vii, 361 et sq.). Commonwealth (and its mini-sequel, Declaration) has not enjoyed anywhere near the
success of Empire. This seems to me unfortunate, because in many respects this book represents a much more
politically focused intervention than their preceding collaborative works.
One of the significant advances of
Commonwealth is that it immanently breaks with the spontaneist and arguably even economistic exaggerations
of Empire and Multitude, according a much more prominent position to the question of organization. In
Commonwealth, explicitly political organization figures not as a superfluous supplement to an already
ontologically fulfilled political subject, as seemed to be the case in the previous books. Rather, political
organization is here configured as the necessary solution to the multitudes constitutive lack; the multitude is not
given, but must be actively made, through a strategy of developing the revolutionary parallelism of a manifold
of identities into insurrectional intersections. Making the multitude, however, is not a process of fusion or
unification but rather sets in motion a proliferation of singularities that are composed by the lasting
encounters in the common (Hardt and Negri 2009, 350). The organization of such lasting encounters, of
making them endure, in a Machiavellian sense, constitutes something akin to a cathartic process of purification
of the juridical corruptions that have hitherto prevented the multitude from becoming itself. The aim of this
process is to enable the multitude to make the transition from a subaltern technical composition within the
Republic of Property to self-determining political composition within the common. Political organization
thus figures for Hardt and Negri in Commonwealth no longer as something external or additional to the
multitude. Rather, organization is now posited as the practice potentially internal to the multitude by means of
which it could finally throw off the constraints imposed upon it by the terrains of the public and the private
alike. It is from this process of achieved political liberation, and not as an already given plane of immanence
(as Hardt and Negri sometimes still seem to suggest, in continuation with the Deleuzian vocabulary deployed in
Empire and Multitude), that the common emerges, as an artificial construction defined by its negation of the
determinations of the Republic of Property. Rather than a political ontology, or an attempt to ground political
action in the already given, the notion of the common should thus be understood as a political imaginary, in the
fullest sense of the term; that is, as a forcing of the new, or as the elaboration of a project of intervention into
existing relations of force, in order to transform them.

Perhaps paradoxically, or at least for those readings of Negri that continue to depict him as an arch-anti-
constitutionalist, this notion of the common represents a theory of (active) institutionality as an ineluctable
moment in the formation of an emancipatory political project.
In other words, Commonwealth ultimately
proposes, albeit implicitly (and sometimes while explicitly repudiating certain historical formulations of the
party-form), a theory of the necessity of the political party, conceived as a dynamic process of political class
It should thus be understood as an effective return to the project of thinking the contours of a
neo-organization outside the paradigm of (sovereign) representation, after the long detour of the conjuncture of
debates on the obsolescence of the party-form that occupied the energy of so many on the European far left in
the 1970s and 1980s, and which continues to cast its shadow on the question of organization even today (as was
notable in the alternative globalization movement and as has continued to mark debates in Occupy and some,
though not all, anti-austerity movements the rise of Syriza in Greece constitutes a clear exception that
disproves the longevity of the rule).

Yet if Commonwealth can be understood as making a contribution to the renewal of the discussion of an
adequate party-form today, its specific proposal nevertheless remains ambiguous. This is highlighted by Hardt
and Negris continuing uncertainty regarding the formal nature and agent of this party composition, and in
particular, the terms in which they attempt to think the question of organization as one of an organic transition
between technical composition in the social relations of production, and political composition at the level of
organization. In his contribution to the volume Lenin Reloaded, deriving from a conference at the height of the
alternative globalization movement (2001), Negri had clearly outlined the alternatives. Would the multitude
prove capable, he asked, of being the demiurge of its own body, almost like Baron Munchausen lifting itself
up by its own bootstraps? In other words those of Commonwealth would the becoming prince of the
multitude be possible by means of an act of formalization of spontaneity? This would correspond to a political
ontologist model of tautological immanence spontaneity is spontaneity is spontaneity, in an indeterminate
repetition, suddenly becoming organization through an excess of its own spontaneity reflecting upon itself.
would it instead require, in what Negri presented as supposedly classically Leninist terms, a need for
consciousness to be brought from the outside?
In a certain sense, Commonwealth marks a shift in
preferences. While Empire and Multitude expressed the hope that the multitude might organizationally
determine itself in a unitary and expressivist fashion, Commonwealth seems to recognize that the constitutive
divisions within the multiple-singularity of the multitude or in an older vocabulary, the contradictory
development of socialization within the various levels of the working classes means that its composition
always occurs in uneven forms, both temporally and spatially, an unevenness expressed also at the
organizational level. The solution offered in Commonwealth thus attempts to resolve the Kautskian aporia by
means of a decision, which arrives from outside to transform the flesh of the amorphous multitude into the
body of the general intellect: a postmodern Prince, conceived as a type of proletarian kairos.

Hardt and Negris answer to this antinomy is not adequate, not least because Lars Lihs recent path breaking
work has more than problematized the traditional reading of Lenins adoption of Kautskys formulation
regarding the exteriority of socialist consciousness to the working classes (cf. Lih 2006). Hardt and Negri also
fail to indicate what this outside from which an organizational form might be imposed could be. They thus
ultimately fall back into a concept of the party as a formalistic instance that effects the almost miraculous
transubstantiation of constituent power into constitutional form on the basis of an excess of itself.
Commonwealths advocacy of organization can thus only finish with an abstract invocation of a party of a new
type, rather than a demonstration of its feasibility and possible concrete forms in the present. Despite
significant advances, the analysis of Commonwealth therefore remains firmly wedded in the last instance to a
dichotomized external opposition between spontaneity and organization, movement and political form.
Overcoming such a schematism is one of our central political tasks today.

The Laboratory Party and the Political Subject

Is it possible to think the dynamic dimensions of political organization not from above or outside, in what is
ultimately a governmental paradigm, but as a processual political form that condenses in Poulantzass sense
and therefore also intensifies and coordinates, existing social and political relations? The question here is that of
thinking the process of constitution of political form not as exterior formalization of a content that fortunately or
regrettably escapes it, but precisely as a dynamic process, as the constituent rather than constitutional practices
that make up the warp and weft of any durable political organization from within. In other words, it is a question
of thinking a constituent process that is not exhausted in an instance of formalization (constitution), but which
renews itself continuously, in a dialectical relation between spontaneity and organization grounded in
institutions of self-governance. This is not simply or primarily a case of affirming the necessity of the political
party; rather, much more, it is a question of thinking a potential contemporary political party-form in terms that
would be immanent to the content of contemporary movements. Such a potential immanent party-form should
not be regarded as a simple expression, or appearance, of a primordial spontaneity that would play the role of
its Hegelian essence. Rather, it is a question of attempting to discover the precise concrete forms that, today,
could be mobilized against the recurrent temptation of the descent into political formalism, as a guarantee of and
against the vagaries of history. In other words, our contemporary task is to attempt to determine the process of
the material (rather than formal) constitution of the political party as a laboratory for new practices of
socialization (cf. Sotiris 2013).

The Lukcs of the final phases of the theoretico-political journey charted in History and Class Consciousness
provides one powerful model of such a process. The concluding essay of that astounding collection of
interventions, Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organization, was written in late 1922, in the midst
of the broader debate in the international Communist movement on the United Front, and before the imposition
of the limited party-form associated with the Comintern-directed process of Bolshevization (a monstrosity, in
the classical sense of the term, that continues to deform communist political practice even today). Lukcs argues
that organization is the form of mediation between theory and practice (Lukcs, 1971, 299). It is a mediation
that operates not in a merely linear fashion, in a teleological sense (the word-become-flesh, or a movement from
Idea to Programme to Organization). Rather, this mediation reacts back upon that which it instantiates. As
Lukcs argues, only an analysis oriented towards organization can make possible a genuine criticism of theory
from the point of view of practice (300). The question of organization for Lukcs involved a dialectical
integration of spontaneous action of the class and conscious regulation by the party (317). Sometimes, he
argued, this process could even involve a temporary detachment of the party from the broad mass of the
Yet as he immediately emphasized, this notion of provisional separation does not imply a Blanquist
strategy of substitutionism; rather, such a distance taken is determined by the uneven nature of the social
formation, which Lukcs conceives in subjectivist terms as so many different layers and levels of an uneven but
potentially unitary consciousness. The momentary distinction between party and class is representative of the
processes of distinction that constitute the class as a class; it is itself a function of the stratification of
consciousness within the class, but at the same time the party exists in order to hasten the process by which
these distinctions are smoothed out at the highest level of consciousness attainable (326). Thus, the party
relates to the class as a laboratory in which the future of the class is essayed, an autonomous form of proletarian
class consciousness that prefigures, in a particularist form, the disciplined communist freedom that it is the
task of the revolution to make universally attainable (330). Lucio Magri provides a precise characterization of
this conception of the party, which does not represent a mere instrument of action in the hands of a pre-
existent historical subject with its own precise character and goals, but instead represents the mediation through
which this subject constitutes itself, defining its own aims and historic goal (Magri 1970, 100-101).

One of the most common critiques of supposedly Leninist conceptions of organization such as that advocated
by Lukcs is that it implies an elitism of a party that remains above and outside the movement, in a
hierarchical relationship. The limits of Lukcss conception, however, seem to me not to reside in its ostensible
vanguardism, which is an inevitable dimension of any political process, just as it is an enabling feature of the
pedagogical relationship. As Terry Eagleton judiciously reminds us, a vanguard is precisely not an external or
permanent elite, but merely a temporally distinct element within a broader movement, to which it must remain
integrally linked in order to be defined as a vanguard at all (cf. Eagleton 2007). Rather, the limits of the
organizational figure proposed both in the conclusion of History and Class Consciousness and in Lukcss
slightly later study of Lenin (cf. Lukcs 1970) seem to me to consist in its reliance upon a figure that can be
legitimately regarded as Lukcss own invention: namely, the figure of a political subject. Today, following
the exhaustion of the theoretical anti-humanist moment of the 1960s and the widespread return of the subject
in broader philosophical discussions, a renovated concept of the subject (albeit one distinct from the subject-
as-essence valorized by philosophies of consciousness) is regularly deployed by theorists from a wide variety of
otherwise antagonistic political traditions, in order to describe the distinctive revolutionary potentials of a
particular political actor or agent. Working class, proletariat, multitude, cognitariat, precariat, rabble; all can and
have been nominated as the privileged political subject of past or future revolutionary politics. We have
become so (re-)accustomed to this vocabulary that one rarely pauses to problematize its presuppositions. Yet the
concept of a political subject, taken literally, represents something of an historical anomaly, if not a
philosophical monster. It is arguably either a tautology insofar as for one tradition of modern thought
descending from Hegel to Althusser, the subject is always-already political, as a function of the ethical life
[Sittlichkeit] of the state or a contradiction in terms insofar as, according to the anthropological
presuppositions of modern bourgeois philosophy, the subject is precisely that which is pre-eminently pre-
political, constituting the Trger of a political process that can only begin on the basis of the subjects prior

Despite its widespread current usage, one searches in vain for either the word or the concept itself of the
political subject in the so-called classical Marxist tradition, prior to Lukcss seminal intervention. Literally,
the notion of a political subject is not to be found in the political texts of Marx and Engels. They instead most
often use a vocabulary in which notions of political actors, interests and above all relations of force are central.
Indeed, it is notable that, after discussions of the subject in his philosophical critiques in the 1840s, Marx rarely
uses the concept in his later political texts; when the word subject does appear in the successive drafts of the
critique of political economy, culminating in Capital, it is used in relation not to the proletariat, as a political
subject of revolutionary praxis, but in relation to capital itself, as an automatic and dominant subject whose
expansion is driven by its mode of positing all relations as merely its relation to itself (Marx 1990, 255).

Similarly, Lenin does not theorize the party as a political subject, whether collective or singular, but rather, as
the site of the construction and intensification of knowledge; such a learning process is embodied for Lenin in
the concrete form of the agitational slogan, an objective correlative capable not of comprehending or
reproducing its time in thought, in Hegelian fashion, but of intensifying the contradictions of socio-economic
relations via their articulation with and expression of determinant interests.
Nor is the notion of a political
subject prominent in the works of Korsch and Gramsci, supposedly Lukcss co-founders of the tradition of
Western Marxism in the 1920s and 1930s.

It was thus arguably not Western Marxism in its totality that embarked upon a search for a missing
revolutionary subject (!i"ek 2009b, 51). Rather, this concept represents the young Lukcss own distinctive
addition to the Leninist programme: namely, its translation into the conceptual vocabulary of what is arguably
more neo-Kantian than post-Hegelian philosophical thought.
For Lukcs in the early 1920s, the class is forged
into a subject in the laboratory of the party; but this can occur only on the basis of the prior implicit formalist
redefinition of the term class itself. Rather than corresponding to common but non-identical practices and
interests, a nominalist description of real multiplicity, the term class becomes the indicator of an existing or
potential unity. The class, that is, is thought as a potentially unified and tendentially homogenous subject
capable of coordinated and purposive action. In this perspective, it is the party-form that enables the full
realization of the political subject, in a paradigm of political formalism. Organization thus ultimately arrives
from without; if not as a demiurge, to use Negris surprisingly Platonic term, crafting the missing body of the
political subject, it is at least a process that is additional to the class, the supplement that can both complement
and complete it.

Hardt and Negris notion of the becoming political subject of the multitude inherits this position, just as do so
many other currents of contemporary radical thought, in different forms, from Badious call for a non-
essentialist subjectivity without a subject to Mario Trontis call for the formation of a new mass party that
might save us (cf. Badiou 2005; Tronti 2008). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lukcs should be regarded as the theorist
of the current politico-philosophical conjuncture, defining in advance positions that we are merely rediscovering
again today.
Precisely insofar as his response to the question of organization ultimately falls back into the
assertion of privileged political form that can comprehend social movements, rather than the immanent
development of the political forms within them, it starkly presents us with an image of one of the most
significant limits that confronts attempts to rethink the party-form.

The Modern Prince and the Expansive Party-Form

An alternative model of the political party as both compositional process and totalizing laboratory can be found
in Gramscis very different formulations in the Prison Notebooks regarding the complex process of formation of
a Modern Prince. It has often seemed to commentators that Gramsci is also, like Lukcs, a theorist of a unitary
party-form, conceived as a political subject. As Gramsci famously argued, The modern Prince, the myth-
Prince, cannot be a real person, a concrete individual. It can be only an organism, a social element in which the
becoming concrete of a collective will, partially recognized and affirmed in action, has already begun. This
organism is already given by historical development; it is the political party, the modern form in which the
partial, collective wills that tend to become universal and total are gathered together (Q 8, 21, 951-3; written
in January-February 1932).
This formulation, however, only appeared in the Prison Notebooks after Gramsci
had undertaken a long period of reflection on the differential forms of bourgeois and proletarian political
organization, and needs to be placed in its historical and political context if we are to understand its full

An old and widely influential interpretative tradition notwithstanding, the notion of the modern Prince was not
intended by Gramsci to be a code word for a supposedly classical and already known party-form (of the
Leninist party), which he merely sought to hide from the prison censors (a fear much exaggerated in many
commentaries on the admittedly difficult, often culturally specific but always precise vocabulary of the Prison
Notebooks). Indeed, the emergence of this concept in the Prison Notebooks can be regarded as, in part, an act of
undeclared self-critique regarding Gramscis own earlier role in the process of Bolshevization of the Italian
Party. With the metaphor of the modern Prince, Gramsci aimed to outline an alternative party-form to the
bureaucratic monolith affirmed in the Stalinization of the international Communist movement. The notion of the
modern Prince is not in fact present in Gramscis carceral reflections from the beginning of his imprisonment
in the late 1920s. Rather, Gramscis first notebooks, from 1929-1932, are dominated by the elaboration of the
concept of passive revolution, in its relation to the emergence of the specific organizational forms of the
bourgeois integral state.
In an increasingly intense way from 1932 onwards, Gramsci then turns his attention
to analyzing the specificity of a proletarian hegemonic apparatus, while the deepening of his encounter with
Machiavelli provides him with a political vocabulary to formulate its novelty and distinction.
The formulation
of the notion of a modern Prince was Gramscis attempt to think the coordinates of communist political
organization in its almost complete absence, in a period in which the Italian working class had been politically
decomposed by the Fascist regime, and in the face of the Stalinist catastrophism of the Third Period, against
which Gramsci continuously polemicized throughout the 1930s. It should be understood as the theoretical
expression and distillation of Gramscis consistent practical call in his final years for the formation of a
constituent assembly, or renewed united front, of anti-fascist forces already within and against the Fascist

The notion of the modern Prince is one of the means by which Gramsci attempted to elaborate this project of a
new conception and practice of the party as an organization of struggle. There are at least four decisive
elements of this dense Machiavellian metaphor that seem to me to be directly relevant to the tasks of exploring
the communist hypothesis as an organizational question, and of rethinking the party-form in relation to
contemporary movements.

First, Gramscis modern Prince signifies no pre-existing form of the political party, but rather, just as in the not
yet existing example of Machiavelli, a proposal for a new form of political organization. The modern Prince is
not a concrete individual, and still less a political subject. Rather, it is a dynamic process, which aims at
nothing less than a totalizing expansion across the entire social formation, as a new organization of social and
political relations. The modern Prince thus ultimately represents the simultaneous point of departure and
summation of the process of the immense concentration of hegemony that Gramsci had indicated as the goal
of an offensive war of position against the logic of the passive revolution, and of a properly proletarian type of
hegemony, or social and political leadership. For this reason, the modern Prince cannot be limited to its
articulation as a new party-form, as decisive as this institutional dimension is to its process of historical
becoming and efficacy. Rather, the modern Princes distinctive nature as a party-form consists in the fact that
this institutional level represents only the tip of the iceberg of a broader process of collective political activation
of the popular classes, in all of the instances of deliberation and decision-making throughout the society. It is
precisely for this reason that modern Prince as party-form is not an instance of political formalism, for it is a
form that constitutively and continuously exceeds its own limits. It thus cannot be conceived in terms of
constitutional law, of a traditional type, but only in the non-statal terms of an expansive constituent power (Q
5, 127, 662).

Second, the Modern Prince, unlike at least one other reading of its Machiavellian ancestor, does not emerge
from a void in order to impose unity upon it in a process of transcendental ordering, either in an act of self-
validating charisma or miraculous decision.
Rather, it is an historical and even civilizational process of the
emergence of increasingly articulated forms of self-governance throughout the society.
It gathers up the partial
collective wills already in motion, not in order to fuse them into identity or submit them to a sovereign instance,
but in order to further the process of their becoming concrete, that is, their becoming effective as instances of
socio-political leadership. This is to say that the modern Prince is not a Hobbesian figure of a communist
Leviathan that seeks institutional stabilization in the form of an irrevocable sovereign constitution. It thus does
not signify an organizational form that can be reduced to one of the common figures of modern state theory. For
the tradition that runs from Hobbes, via Rousseau, Hegel, Weber and Rawls, the state is that type of social
organization in which unity and stability dominate over difference and conflict, which can then only appear as
un- or pre- political, as the social chaos that (state) politics must organize. Gramscis proposal for a new
party-form is not developed as the mirror image of the existing bourgeois state. On the contrary, it seeks to
develop the notion of the party as a social relation that goes beyond the neutralizations of the modern state. No
unity closed within itself, the modern Prince is conceived instead as a terrain, or even as a categorical
imperative, the organiser [of a popular-national collective will] and simultaneously active and effective
expression of the same (Q 13, 1, 1561).

Third, the Modern Prince includes within it processes of disaggregation and conflictuality as constitutive
moments. As both political party formation and broader civilizational dynamic, the modern Prince functions not
simply as a organization of a political struggle external to itself, but institutionalizes political struggle within
itself as the very form of its historical existence; a fully and properly political organization that valorizes the
conflictuality inherent to political modernity as one of its immanent expansive dynamics. Gramsci thus does not
think unity in terms of identity and homogeneity, but rather, in terms of constitutive difference as the
precondition of processes of unification that necessarily always remain incomplete. There can be no
unification of the identical, which is always already present to itself; unification in fact presupposes and requires
irreducible differentiation, in an expansive dialectic without definitive synthesis. It is only on the basis of the
differences and conflicts that constitute the modern Prince that it can continue to grow, with the productive
harnessing of conflict as motor of totalizing expansion, rather than its expulsion or exclusion by the delimitation
of distinct subjects ranged one against the other, in a vision of politics that effectively reduces the party-form to
a vehicle of militarized parliamentarianism.

Fourth, the modern Princes institutional articulation as party-form functions as an active organizational
synthesis of all the levels and instances of the struggles of subaltern social groups, in Gramscis creative
formulation, or the working classes in the broadest sense.
The modern Prince was a proposal for the political
recomposition of the decimated Italian working classes within and by means of an expansive party-form, which
integrates the strengths of both the compositional and laboratory party models. On the one hand, Gramscis
modern Prince represents a proposal for a mass party capable of effecting the political recomposition of the
class, representing, expressing and thereby transforming its myriad interests and forms. In this sense, it can be
interpreted as including important dimensions of a compositional party. On the other hand, the modern Prince
is also conceived as a laboratory for processes of unification of these differences, recognizing that a vanguardist
emphasis upon dynamic leadership is a necessary consequence of and potential solution to the unevenness and
contradictoriness of the capitalist stratification of the subaltern social groups.
This party-form thus represents
no political formalist outside in relation to the social instances its aims to organize, but instead, their
valorization and mobilization within an ongoing constituent process of politically overdetermined recomposition
of the subaltern classes. Both prefiguration and process, the modern Prince should thus be understood as an
enduring constituent process: the Revolution in Permanence invoked by Marx after 1848 as the foundation for
an autonomous working class politics, and continually recalled by Gramsci as the original formulation of
hegemonic politics,
or the expansive party-form finally discovered, to echo Marxs reflections on the Paris
Commune, in which to work out the emancipation of the subaltern social groups.

From the alternative globalization movement to the Communist Hypothesis to the renewed discussion of
political organization: the struggle against the new world order over the last 20 years has been characterized by
ebbs and floods, as concrete struggles and mobilizations have alternated with moments of theoretical reflection
and consolidation in a progressively expanding dialectic. The emerging discussion of the renewal of the party-
form today occurs in a context of radical experiments in organizational forms around the world, from networks
to coalitions to old and new conceptions of the United Front. The real Organisationsfrage today is not the
affirmation or negation of the party, conceived in the abstract, but rather, the question regarding the particular
type of party-form that could help these movements to continue to grow. Gramscis notion of the modern Prince
as an expansive political form, integrating compositional and laboratory dimensions in a renewal of the political
party as a formation and practice of partisanship, provides a name for this process of collective experimentation.


For a survey of the debate thus far, cf. Roberts 2013.
For a representative example of this claim, cf. Balakrishnan 2009. Both !i"ek and Badiou argued in different
ways that end of the last decade represented a zero point for a new beginning of radical politics, encapsulated
in the notion that this pre-political conjuncture bore decisive similarities to the Vormrz of the 1840s. Cf.
!i"ek 2009a, 87 and Badiou 2010, 258-60.
Although it has become widely identified as a debate on the Idea of communism, with Idea frequently
understood in a (caricatured) Platonic sense, Badious formulation in The Meaning of Sarkozy had emphasized
the notion of a communist hypothesis, as a proposition in need of demonstration and historical actualization (a
similar formulation can be found in the much earlier Peut-on penser la politique of 1985; cf. Walker 2013). The
exploratory sense of a collective research project was also emphasized by Bensads preference for the notion of
communism as a strategic hypothesis (Bensad 2009). Arguably, such an experimental metaphor is better
positioned to capture the key political stakes of the discussion, whilst the formulation of an Idea risks allowing
the debate to be too easily sidetracked by accusations of idealism, abstraction and so forth as has indeed
sometimes occurred.
The notion of a Communist horizon, conceived not as limitation but as potential, is strongly emphasized by
Jodi Dean and Bruno Bosteels, both of whom draw upon the concept in Garca Lineras work. Cf. Bosteels 2011
and Dean 2012.
The interventions of Badiou and !i"ek have been followed by a wide range of contributions and special
journal issues, on an international scale. Among many others, these include the proceedings of the 2009 London
and 2011 New York conferences (collected in Douzinas and Slavoj !i"ek 2010, and !i"ek 2013), alongside a
similar event in Berlin; an issue of the journal ContreTemps under the editorship of Daniel Bensad in 2009, and
subsequent conference in Paris in January 2010 (Puissance du communisme); the conference Quale
comunismo oggi? held at the University of Urbino in December 2010; and the special issue of Utopia (Athens,
2012), in which a previous version of this text was published.
For analyses of the emergence in Badious thought in the 1980s of the notion of politics without a party, cf.
Toscano 2008 and Bosteels 2011, 105-6 and 118-28.
As Alberto Toscano emphasised at the London conference on the Idea of Communism, communism as the
name for a form of political organization is the necessary complement of, rather than alternative to, a
philosophical comprehension of the tasks of a communist politics today. Cf. Toscano 2010, 202.
As both Spinoza (cf. Theological-Political Treatise, Chapter 6) and Lenin continuously emphasized, the
miraculous is only another name for ignorance of the mundane. As Lenin argued in early 1917, There are no
miracles in nature or history, but every abrupt turn in history, and this applies to every revolution, presents such
a wealth of content, unfolds such unexpected and specific combinations of forms of struggle and alignment of
forces of the contestants, that to the lay mind there is much that must appear miraculous (Lenin CW 23, 297). I
am grateful to Warren Montag for pointing out to me Lenins profound Spinozism on this point.
Badiou speaks in a distinctive and precise fashion of the incorporation of the Idea of Communism in
processes of subjectivation (Badiou 2010, 234). Cf. the development of this distinctive vocabulary Logics of
Worlds and Second Manifesto for Philosophy, and most recently, in Badious hypertranslation of Platos
Republic. !i"ek employs a similar vocabulary when he argues that what is missing today is a privileged link of
the Idea to a singular historical moment; surviving the failure of its realization as a specter, the communist
idea thereafter subsists as an endless persistence (!i"ek 2009a, 125-6).
Badious recourse to Platonic terms in order to think this dimension of political subjectivation (albeit with his
own significant, post-Lacanian modifications) arguably tends to obscure as much as it clarifies. In particular, it
prevents him from providing a full account of the relation between such generic courage, as a foundation of
political engagement, and the distinctive model of political power that distinguishes a dominant current of
twentieth century political thought from all previous traditions, whether ancient or modern: namely, the notion
of the self-foundational capacity of charismatic power, as formulated by Weber and pursued to its logical
conclusion in Schmitts transcendental formalism (cf. Farris 2013). The potential decisionism of such a
configuration is also a risk run by Peter Hallwards calls for a dialectical voluntarism, as an immediate
instantiation without delay of a communism of the will. Cf. Hallward 2010, 112. For a more extended version
of this argument, cf. Hallward 2009.

The main political virtue we need to fight [] now is courage (Badiou 2010, 66). It will always be a
question of communism, even if the word, soiled, is replaced by some other designation of the concept that it
covers, the philosophical and thus eternal concept of rebellious subjectivity (Badiou 2003, 131).
As a number of critics have now noted, a significant and regrettable limitation of both Badious and !i"eks
interventions has been the lack of a rigorous analysis of the non-communist nature of the historically existing
regimes that appropriated its name for an entire historical period; in the absence of such an account, the re-
assertion of the idea of communism today will continue to be haunted by its misappropriation in the past.
The concept of speculative leftism is an organising thesis in Bosteels 2011. For an earlier version of this
argument, cf. Bosteels 2005.
It was Badiou himself who originally suggest the Kantian comparison, which he just as quickly retracted,
though without elaborating a detailed rationale or suggesting a more convincing alternative metaphor (cf.
Badiou 2010, 246).
A wide range of other theorists, such as Daniel Bensaid and Alex Callinicos, has voiced similar objections.
In the case of Badiou, this strategy of historicisation arguably remains undertheorised. Badious notion of
different phases of the Idea of Communisms historical existence certainly implicitly invokes and presupposes a
broader theory of history, but his (post-Althusserian) reliance upon an undifferentiated critique of historicism
tends to work against its coherent presentation. At times, Badiou seems to comprehend history in a purely
formal manner, as a symbolic place (Badiou 2010, 252), into which the Communist Idea projects the
individual that has become a (political) Subject (237), or as a narrative constructed after the fact (238). As he
remarkably writes, in a quasi-Benjaminian tone, in Logic of Worlds (recalling a formulation in Theory of the
Subject), History does not exist. There are disparate presents whose radiance is measured by the power they
preserve to unfold a past that matches up to them (Badiou 2009, 509). In this formulation, at least, it seems to
me that the post-Althusserian Badiou ironically runs the risk of falling into what Althusser himself had
condemned as the type of expressivist historicism that conceives of each present as an essential section,
which can be retrospectively articulated into a series of discrete conjunctures by what is effectively a theory of
periodization, but cannot, on these terms, be concretely studied in terms of the causal relations that define their
interrelationship and mutual constitution (cf. Althusser and Balibar 1970, 132). For critical reflections on the
tension between historicity and historicism in contemporary radical thought, see the conclusion to Bosteels
For critical reflections on Badious relationship to the debates of the movement of movements, cf. Toscano
This judgment has been codified in the analytically unhelpful notion of autonomism, supposedly
characterized by a rejection of the Leninist conception of organization as such (Callinicos 2001). Practically,
the term tends to be deployed in a polemical fashion, grouping together indiscriminately a wide variety of
contemporary political positions that would be better comprehended on the basis of their particular
organizational proposals, which vary just as much as do different understandings of the Leninist conception of
organization itself.
Cf. also the important Panzieri-Tronti Theses of 1962: 4.3 The class party as indispensable moment of
revolutionary strategy (Panzieri and Tronti 1975). For an overview of the political determinations of classical
Italian workerism, and an emphasis upon its distinctive notion of class composition, cf. Wright 2002.
On the division in the 1970s between an operaismo of the left and of the right, cf. Corradi 2011.
Trontis fundamental contributions to this debate were collected in Tronti 1977.
A partial exception is represented by the more directly political focus of the Labor of Dionysus (Hardt and
Negri 1994), which includes some of Negris earlier texts investigating the juridical overdetermination of labour
in the postwar Italian constitutional process. Cf. in particular the important text Labor in the Constitution (53-
For a survey of Negris changing conception of the party and political organization, cf. Murphy 2012, 65-103.
For Hardt and Negris periodization of party-forms in the twentieth century, and emphasis upon a
compositional method for deriving a party-form adequate to the current phase of the capitalist mode of
productions expansion, cf. Hardt and Negri 2009, 161-2, 276-7.
I would thus suggest that the real difference between Badiou and Negri today consists not in a (philosophical)
opposition of the formers materialist dialectic to the latters democratic materialism, as Badiou has
polemically suggested (Badiou 2009, 2), but rather, in a political difference. While Badiou seems to be keeping
faith with a far leftist moment of the late 1970s and early 1980s that felt the need to move beyond the party-
form as such, Negri appears to be attempting to re-articulate the question of the party-form in Machiavellian
terms, as a question of partisanship. Cf. the brief but suggestive attempt to think the notion of the organization
of difference in Negri 2008, 129-144.
This was Negris formulation of the problem in his book on Lenin from 1977: Organization is spontaneity
that reflects upon itself (Negri 2004, 42). For an analysis of similarities and differences in Negris formulation

of the question of organisation, particularly in relation to Lenin, from the 1970s to the present, cf. Mandarini
In order to make the event real, what is required is a demiurge, or rather an external vanguard that can
transform this flesh into a body, the body of the general intellect. Or perhaps, as other authors have suggested,
might the becoming body of the general intellect not be determined by the word that the general intellect itself
articulates, in such a way that the general intellect becomes the demiurge of its own body? (Negri 2007a, 302).
In another text from the same period, Negri discussed the possible body of the multitude, and its struggle for
self-governance of itself. Cf. Negri 2007b, 144.
In terms that seem remarkably similar to those sometimes adopted by Badiou and !i"ek, Negri argues that
the revolution is an acceleration of historical time, the realisation of a subjective conditions, of an event, of an
opening, which contribute to making possible a production of an irreducible and radical subjectivity (Negri
2008, 142). Though he insists that this subjectivity needs to be distinguished from individual acts of will, and its
constituent (as opposed to instituted) dimensions valorised, his proposal to think this problem in terms of the
constitutive elements of a collective or common decision remains frustratingly underdeveloped.
For Lukcs, this temporary detachment did not lead to the affirmation of an autonomy of the political, as
was later the case in Tronti and Caccari, but was instead an argument regarding the specificity of the political
moment, and thus ultimately an advocacy of the primacy of politics, as decisive instance of transformation.
On the inherently political nature of the modern concept of the subject, Cf. Balibar, Cassin and de Libera
Interestingly, the concept of subject, let alone political subject, does not appear as a discrete entry in
Labica and Bensussans 1982 Dictionnaire critique du marxisme. The ascription of the concept of the political
subject to Marx should, in my view, be regarded as a paradigmatic instance of what Olivier Boulnois has
referred to as the retrospective illusion of the interpreters and translators who slip the new concept into old
texts (Boulnois 2004).
On the status of the slogan in Lenin, cf. Lecercle 1990 and 2007.
Regarding the absence of the philosophical vocabulary of the subject in Gramscis Prison Notebooks, cf.
Thomas 2009a, 386 et sq.
For a discussion of the neo-Kantian dimensions of the young Lukcss thought, cf. Rockmore 1992 and Rose
2009, 29-39. For a critique that characterizes Lukcss theory of the party as a kind of communist
Cartesianism, cf. Fracchia 2013.
Unsurprisingly, because many of the key features of radical thought over the last decade, particularly in its
decisionist and voluntarist dimensions, were influentially formulated in !i"eks rediscovery and championing of
Lukcss vindication of History and Class Consciousness against its condemnation in the 1920s. Cf. !i"eks
Afterword in Lukcs 2002.
References to the Prison Notebooks [Quaderni del carcere] follow the internationally established standard of
notebook number (Q), number of note (), followed by page reference to the Italian critical edition (Gramsci
The concept of passive revolution, in its articulated development between the years of 1929 to 1932, can be
regarded as Gramscis proposal for a rational translation of a Weberian notion of modernity as a process of
rationalization. On the development of the concept of passive revolution in the Prison Notebooks, and its
relation to Gramscis critical-Hegelian notion of the integral state, cf. Thomas 2009a, 133-58. For suggestive
comparisons of Webers and Gramscis concepts of modernity in their respective political histories, cf.
Portantiero 1981 and Rehmann 1998.
On the temporalities of Gramscis encounter with Machiavelli, cf. Fiorillo 2008.
On the centrality of the notion of an offensive anti-fascist constituent assembly in Gramscis last years, and
its integral relation to the development of the philosophy of praxis as a refoundation of Marxism, cf. Frosini
2003. The most recent historical research is synthesized in Vacca 2012.
This is effectively the reading proposed by the late Althusser, in a continuation of some of the central
interpretative themes of the Risorgimento tradition, against which Gramscis reading was developed. Cf.
Althusser 1999.
Self-governance is one of the central themes of Gramscis political theory and theory of organisation in
particular; cf. in particular, Q 5, 127, 656-62.
For this reason, among others, Gramscis relational thought cannot be reduced to the dualistic formalism of
Carl Schmitt, who theorises politics in subjectivist and ultimately statist terms (insofar as opposed subjective
positions can only be configured on the basis of a prior ordering of the social formation by statal Gewalt). Cf.
Morfino 2009, 79-100. For an alternative view that synthesises Gramsci and Schmitt precisely on this point, cf.
Kalyvas 2000.
The complex notion of subaltern social groups in the Prison Notebooks, as Marcus Green (2011) has
stressed, should not be regarded as a mere codeword for (economic) class, but should instead be understood as

a novel addition to the political vocabulary of Marxism that attempts to analyse the articulation of (socio-
political) oppression and (economic) exploitation.
As Lucio Magri noted, Gramsci inherited and developed the concept of the vanguard [party] even more
rigorously, stressing the capacity of the party to imprint every particular struggle with universal value (Magri
1970, 115).
On the notion of the actualization of the Revolution in Permanence in the concept of hegemony, cf. Q 13,
7, 1565-7; Q10i, 12, 1235.


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