The Political Theory of the Future: Paolo Virno and Bifo Berardi

Political Action finds its redemption at the point where it creates a coalition with public Intellect (in other words, at the point where this Intellect is unchained from waged labor and, rather, builds its critique with the tact of a corrosive acid). Action consists, in the final analysis, in the articulation of general intellect as a non-State public sphere, as the realm of common affairs, as Republic. The Exodus, in the course of which the new alliance between Intellect and Action is forged, has a number of fixed stars in its own heaven: radical Disobedience, Intemperance, Multitude, Soviet, Example, Right of Resistance. These categories allude to a political theory of the future, a theory perhaps capable of facing up to the political crises of the late twentieth century and outlining a solution that is radically anti-Hobbesian.

– Paolo Virno, Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics

It was Bifo Berardi that coined the term cognitariat to splice together the moment when information technologies and the workers who use such technics for their livelihood took center stage upon the world market. This is also the moment when the cognitive functions of our society were divorced from both daily life and corporeality, when the production workers of signs were captured by capital. This is the alienation of cognitive labor. The cognitariat is the social class that experiences this separation. Both Berardi and Virno would have those who have been so captured to retreat, to withdraw from this global menagerie of both State and Corporate monopoly and forge new links, new coalitions of political action and public intellect, create new autonomous zones in which to share and communicate within a new sphere, a realm of the commons, a Global Republic that moves beyond ethnic, social, and cultural forms.

Virno sees this as a sort of exodus, a great movement of the multitude beyond the State, anti-statist in intent and method. The tools that might help with this he breaks down as a series of categories of resistance: Disobedience, Intemperance, Multitude, Soviet, Example, Right of Resistance: “a political theory of the future, a theory perhaps capable of facing up to the political crises of the late twentieth century and outlining a solution that is radically anti-Hobbesian.” Virno tells us that what we need at the moment is a sense of the “Miracle”, a sense of the unexpected, the uncharted, the awaited moment when that which is a surprise and an exception appears.

In the movement of the crisis of capital going on all around us, in this Post-Fordist era of social cooperation, that is eliminating the frontier between production time and personal time, not to mention the distinction between professional qualities and political aptitudes, we seem to be creating a new species, which makes the old dichotomies of “public/private” and “collective/individual” sound farcical. Neither “producers” nor “citizens,” the modern virtuosi attain at last the rank of Multitude.1

As Virno remarks this “new Multitude is not a whirlpool of atoms that “still” lacks unity, but a form of political existence that takes as its starting point a One that is radically heterogeneous to the State: public Intellect. The Many do not make alliances, nor do they transfer rights to the sovereign, because they already have a shared “score”; they never converge into a “general will” because they already share a “general intellect”(Kindle Locations 2580-2583). One of the qualities on this new Multitude is that it obstructs and dismantles the mechanisms of political representation. It expresses itself as an ensemble of “acting minorities,” none of which, however, aspires to transform itself into a majority. It develops a power that refuses to become government.2

As interpreted by the post-Keynesian State, the structural weakening of representative democracy comes to be seen as a tendency toward a restriction of democracy tout court. It goes without saying, however, that an opposition to this course of events, if conducted in the name of values of representation, is pathetic and pointless-as useful as preaching chastity to sparrows. Democracy today has to be framed in terms of the construction and experimentation of forms of nonrepresentative and extraparliamentary democracy. All the rest is vacant chitchat.3

Instead of a Civil War among nation states over the corpse of the earth, we move toward a new Republic wherein the multitude have the Right of Resistance: “the Right of Resistance has a very subtle and specific meaning. It authorizes the use of violence each time that an artisanal corporation, or the community as a whole, or even individual citizens, see certain of their positive prerogatives altered by the central power, prerogatives that have been acquired de facto or that have developed by tradition”.4


One of the problems I’ve always had with such seductive ideas as presented above is the sheer idealism behind it, the idea that such Ideas can suddenly pull up the masses of people out of their stupor, forge links among disparate minds across great distances to suddenly create a new way of being and living, a new social arrangement out of what? The sheer logistics of such an undertaking, the actual material and psychological pressure of actually withdrawing from the machine, not only the State, but the military-industrial world that supports it, the corporate and political machines in place around the planet. Hell, as far as I can see, we have a hard enough time seeing those who want change, the supposed philosophers and cyberintellectuals across the planet, even agreeing on just basic strategies much less taking in the actual hardships and long-term degradation of human life that such a revolution would entail. What’s interesting is that I see a lot of these supposed radical philosophers and activist wandering the global lecture circuit, each captured by the very system they so vaunt to be radically against. Why does the academic world these days seem to be so much smoke? So little action?

Bifo Berardi tells us that humans during the Modernist era have become less and less aware of the process that they themselves initiated. Our dependencies on the technosphere, the realm of modern industrial and post-Fordist technologies that support this realm of late capitalism go almost without notice as if they were natural, as if they had always been a part of our lives. He tells us we are not going through a crisis, that instead we are now in process of going through a catastrophic morphogenesis. “The capitalist paradigm, based on the connection between revenue and work performance is unable to frame the present configuration of the general intellect” (212).5 For Berardi what we need is new forms of life, that the economic collapse in process around the globe is a blessing in disguise, what we need now is a “massive reduction in work-time, a prodigious liberation of life from the social factory, in order to reweave the fabric of the social relation” (213). What is the wisdom in this? If a husband or wife who supports a family comes home and says: “Yes, I lost my job, but now I am liberated for other things, I can begin to reweave my creative potential with the multitude.” I’m being facetious. But here we have a final admonitory note from Berardi: “Until the majority of mankind is free from the connection between income and work, misery and war will be the norm of the social relationship.”(214)

Just think on that last statement. Think of the planet wide system of economics that seems to encompass our global civilization, of every creature that is both a producer and product within that system, humans, animals, machines, etc. That if we ever broke the connection between income and work, economics and production, what would truly happen? Think of the technosphere itself, of the organized security systems in place all over the planet to enforce the sovereignty of capital whether in the West or East, America, Europe, Russia, China, or any other nation on this planet, all are in one form or another tied into this system through affiliation or asymmetrical warfare and opposition. In my own mind we haven’t even begun to think through the actual material day to day strategies we will have to embark on to create global coalitions against such a system. So far we’ve had our troubling failures in programmed oppositional sit-ins and protests through the Occupy Movement and global opposition etc. But if we ever decided to truly withdraw from the State and Coroporate Global Grid, the system of socio-cultural forces worldwide, permanently how would we fare? How would we survive the day to day trivialities of feeding ourselves, clothing ourselves, finding water, and all the other necessities, etc. We are so dependent on the worldwide distribution systems of goods and services that to suddenly decided to withdraw from this would entail suffering on a scale never before seen. We don’t even have the basic savvy and know how of people a hundred years ago on how to survive in the wilderness. And, is that even what people want, a luddite vision of life without the machine?  If you unhooked from the system that is destroying the planet where would you go, what autonomous zones would open their cracks and allow you in? And, where are these zones of freedom, anyway? And, what of the ethnic, religious, and other oppositional aspects of a worldwide withdrawal? Is this truly a feasible alternative?

Has the capitalist system become so ingrained and invisible within the infrastructure of our minds and lives that to even think the idea of withdrawal thinkable? Capitalism is more than economics, it is a complete way of life. It will take a pedagogy, a new paideia, a resocializtion of the human animal to truly build a future worth living in cooperation with ourselves and the earth which supports us.

1. Paolo Virno;Michael Hardt. Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics (Kindle Locations 2578-2580). Kindle Edition.
2. ibid. (Kindle Locations 2583-2584).
3.  ibid. (Kindle Locations 2591-2594).
4.  (Kindle Locations 2657-2659).
5. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The Soul At Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. (Semiotext(e) 2009).

23 thoughts on “The Political Theory of the Future: Paolo Virno and Bifo Berardi

  1. yep, and given the vast resources and ever widening reach of monied interests and the limits to date (and frankly likely ever) of our abilities to overcome our cognitive-biases/limitations these sorts of pipedream blueprints are more like fantasy books than sci-fi.


    • Yea, funny… something popped into my mind, a sort of parody of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress… but with a reversal, Pilgrim’s Regress and instead of a religious vision, a vision of the regress of civilization into barbarism. Dang, will we ever learn? Or is it going to be that either Freud or Lacan were right after all and we do tend toward self-destruction as a species (death-drive, etc)? The repeatable farce of humanity… we need a positive vision without the farce.


      • only if a “death” drive means that our creative/technological powers greatly outstrip our reflective capacities (not to mention our limited capacities to care) to get a grip on aspects like complexity or other matters of large/long scales. So really it is our generative “life” drives that are doing us in, oh the irony…


  2. I tend to agree with Lanier that what we’re seeing is repetition of the same, a second order creativity destined to repeat the mistakes rather than a first order creativity that actually invents possibility…


  3. In my search for actual ideas of late I’ve been reading all the banned Russian writers under the hood: Victor Serge (Conquered City, Memoirs of a Revolutionary), Zazubrin (Chip), Rodinonov (Chocolate), Platinov (The Foundation Pit, etc.), Ribakov(Children of Arbat), Grossman (Life and Fate), Sinyavski (The Trial Begins), and Daniel (This is Moscow Speaking).

    Along with the later post-wall ficition of Andzrejewski, Dery, Fuks, Hlasko, Orkeny, Vaculik, and Mrozek… or, Kafka’s heirs Kilima’s (The Castle), Karva (The Big Wig), and Havel (Memorandum).

    And those of the downward entropic spiral: Konwick (A Minor Apocalypse), Dery (Mr. G. A.), and Zinoviev (The Radiant Future)…

    Seems those who lived through Stalinism have more truth to offer these days… will we learn? Can we create a future without bureaucracies and dictators? I mean even Zizek is promoting a Thatcherite of the Left, another strong arm Communist leader. Maybe that’s why he has a poster of Stalin on his bedroom wall: is he a secret admirer after all? Or was he always in that camp? Or is this one of his private jokes? Just another typical humor piece to provoke and enrage his critics? Either way, I’ll continue pondering between the lines of his texts for possibilities, but the rest can sink into the cesspool of time.

    No more Masters in my own motto. Ever since I left Christianity in my twenties I realized the truth of standing alone without the support of that whole apparatus of Guilt and Shame culture. It may be lonely but it is a path that has lead me neither into the optimist nor pessimist camp. To my dying day I’ll be some kind of realist that seeks a way beyond the religious bigotry of any mythological utopianism or apocalyptism. Somehow humans have got to face each other and except certain limitations, otherwise as you said we will be doomed to our own entropic nightmares of second order creativity that leads to destruction. Where are the truly creative thinkers today? Who are they? Why are we going in circles again?


    • I’m afraid that we are going in the same loops because we are truly limited in/by our grasp/make-up, so while we can enhance/magnify various aspects/capacities of our critterly natures we cannot really overcome them. The “alien” presences that larval-levi and others project onto external reifications/deifications are much closer to home (un-canny if you will).


      • afraid that I have never read Lovecraft but like the sound of dark precursors, really our more powerful adaptive capacities are just over-achieving/metastasizing, just think of our sugar cravings and how that now plays out, so as with most horrors/monsters the realities are all too familiar if not banal, differences of magnitude rather than kind I think.


  4. Yea, it made me think of Zizek on Stalin and the purges (in trying to escape his own betrayal he ensures that it will haunt him forever). Are we not doing the same? Are we not trying to escape our selves (Christian apocalyptism, transhumanism, utopianism, etc.), but in the end producing the very seeds of destruction that will haunt us instead? Zizek on Stalin’s betrayal and Mao’s permanent revolution:

    “One can discern very precisely the superego dimension of these events: this very violence inflicted by the Communist Power on its own members bears witness to the radical self-contradiction of the regime, i.e. to the fact that, at the origins of the regime, there was an “authentic” revolutionary project – incessant purges were necessary not only to erase the traces of the regime’s own origins, but also as a kind of “return of the repressed,” a reminder of the radical negativity at the heart of the regime. …the very heart of the Stalinist phenomenon: purges are the very form in which the betrayed revolutionary heritage survives and haunts the regime… So what about the Leader itself who, while setting in motion and secretly pulling the strings of the self-destructive carnival, nonetheless remains exempted from its shifts: at no moment was there ever a serious threat that Stalin (or Mao) himself should be ritualistically deposed, treated as “yesterday a king, today a beggar”? One should specify here the role of the Leader: he was exempted from these shifts of fortune because he was not the traditional Master, but the “Lord of Misrule”:

    In the European Middle Ages it was customary for great households to choose a ‘Lord of Misrule.’ The person chosen was expected to preside over the revels that briefly reversed or parodied the conventional social and economic hierarchies. /…/When the brief reign of misrule was over, the customary order of things would be restored: the Lords of Misrule would go back to their menial occupations, while their social superiors resumed their wonted status. /…/ sometimes the idea of Lord of Misrule would spill over from the realm of revel to the realm of politics. /…/ the apprentices took over from their guild masters for a reckless day or two, /…/ gender roles were reversed for a day as the women took over the tasks and airs normally associated only with men. / Chinese philosophers also loved the paradoxes of status reversed, the ways that wit or shame could deflate pretension and lead to sudden shifts of insight. /…/ It was Mao’s terrible accomplishment to seize on such insights from earlier Chinese philosophers, combine them with elements drawn from Western socialist thought, and to use both in tandem to prolong the limited concept of misrule into a long-drawn-out adventure in upheaval. To Mao, the former lords and masters should never be allowed to return; he felt they were not his betters, and that society was liberated by their removal. He also thought the customary order of things should never be restored.” [20]

    Is, however, such a “terrible accomplishment” not the elementary gesture of every true revolutionary? Why revolution at all, if we do not think that “the customary order of things should never be restored?” What Mao does is to deprive the transgression of its ritualized, ludic character by way of taking it seriously: revolution is not just a temporary safety valve, a carnivalesque explosion destined to be followed by a sobering morning after – it is by definition a PERMANENT revolution, the “misrule” is here to stay.”


  5. At the end of “Empire,” Hardt and Negri say that there is an incredible joy in having a will-that-is-against (the term they use is Communist, but for various reasons I’m reluctant to deploy it), and this is true – the feeling of being together, standing as a singular body against something, a body full of chance encounters and who knows what, affects circulating like blood, is something that can only be described as joyful. But their insinuations bothered me. Their proposition of Communism is the biopolitical body of the multitude, which at this stage is only a dispersed fog of potentials, a residue on the transnational system, i.e. those on the largely negative receiving end of the system. When you work your day away and can’t make ends meet, or are smothering in car/house/student debt, or are tethered to the sweatshops, or are the victim of institutional racism, or are plagued with health problems due to environmental degradation, or any combination of the above, etc., it could surely be hard read those words at the end of Empire with a straight face.

    I think Bifo, on the other hand, captures the situation perfectly: the sense of loss, hopelessness, the feeling that things are out of control, artificialization, panic, depression, “no future.” The experience of being in a collective will-that-is-against (or should I say becoming-a collective will?) is joyful, but the road there is paved with these bitter and crushing nihilisms. But what alchemy can we find that will change this dark pall into that kind of joy on a massive, transnational even, level?

    Maybe the early stages of Autonomism had it right: there is no sense in building towards the paradigm-shifting revolution; we must focus on the here and now and commit exodus in our daily lives, building the alternative structures in the midst of the collapsing superstructure that we’re stuck in. Community gardens in urban zones, Argentinian workers who seize the factory and transform it into a horizontal democracy, the suburban kid who hops on a train and rides across America, squatters, the municipal socialism in certain South American cities, commune culture – all these are very real examples of exodus from neoliberalism. Each is likely to be ephemeral, but they are coordinates none the less to a different world.


    • Yea, that sounds more like the exodus we took as hippies back in the sixties drop-out etc. That didn’t do much for us at that time, so how is all this talk of exodus going to help now? I guess I’m getting a little cynical in my old age with all this idealist bullshit…. so far I’m have a hard time finding any realists out there worth their meet with any real pragmatic solutions to our everyday life in the here and now… most of it is all pie in the sky pipe dreams as far as I can see. Great Stuff… but I think Aristophanes are any other comedic intelligence would see all this for what it is: farcical… sorry, but I don’t buy it… wish I could… but it’s what it is.

      I think history shows us where all this is leading… oh well… be positive, yes, yes, keep the aspidistras flying as Orwell remarked… haha 🙂


      • Yeah, good points there for sure – Hardt/Negri’s ‘joy of being communist’ is certainly corollary to their view on the 60s countercultural exodus: they argued that this exodus was a revolutionary passage out of the Fordist-Keynesian state-enforced class compact that had transformed society into a stagnant factory. The outcome of this was the realization of the Communist ideal in the multitude – its only held back by the transnational forces of “Empire” – and if we can only shed Empire in a fell swoop then will the passage be actualized. I don’t buy it. They were writing in 2000, at the tail end of the brief neoliberal supremacy with the fabled Clinton surplus in America and the digital utopia with the proliferation of the internet. The bursting of the dot-com bubble, 9/11 and the ensuing Long War, and the ongoing financial crises were all just around the corner, but they had yet to be seen.

        At the same time, they seem to have missed out on the lessons that Deleuze put forth in his writings on the Control Society, that the so-called victory of the exodus only meant better mechanics for command, monitoring, and modelling. Once it seemed that desire could save us; now we live in a world where desire binds us, where we can’t decipher the difference between the desires that we hold and the desires that are custom built for us on assembly lines in factories across the seas (factories, I might add, that would shock even Marx). Yesterday’s drop-out revolutionaries are today’s corporate monoliths, our cops, our politicians, our stewards of Control…

        But if we talk of the here and now, I think that micropolitical organizations can count as a very real and pragmatic solution to certain problems and could even lay the groundwork for greater developments down the line. Maybe generally not the kid who rides the rails, but community-based work focused on horizontalism – we entrust things like this to state management, I believe, to ensure more time for the mindless cycle of consumption, which breeds its own kinds of apathy towards positive manifestations of the social.


  6. Pingback: attempts at living

    • Got to love Rushkoff his last one, Life, Inc. I cracked up when he described being mugged in the heart of a posh area of Brooklyn, then made a small post on a local internet site about it thinking it might help a few people to beware, but instead of sympathy gets lambasted by a few of the rich cats in the neighborhood for mentioning the name of the street he lived on because their property values would surely go down now.

      Yea, Rushkoff’s got some bitter satire with a point.. Life Inc. was a small history of corporatism and its fascist worlds from warlords to ceolords… take your pick its all hierarchy with pin cushion kings.


  7. @Edmund Yea, I still stick by my old mentor Murray Bookchin and his The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy and Social Ecology. There are problems in his thought, but he had at least some pragmatic steps toward what is needed.


  8. Maybe more time should be spent with activists that academics/intellectuals? There are people all over the world working hard to figure out answers to these questions that are not restricted to textual exchanges. I’m talking about pragmatic attempts to compose functioning systems that are based on non-capitalist modes of production: open source, p2p, commons-oriented solutions. The P2P Foundation blog does a good job of documenting these efforts and discussing the issues/questions/challenges/problems they raise. They are – and need to be even more – linked to the various struggles that are taking place to resist the encroachment of capital onto the few remaining spaces where its hold is not yet established or where its hold is being directly challenged. In this sense, the autonomists are correct in that the construction of alternatives in the here and now are essential activities in the composition of (and in learning to compose and practice) non-capitalist modes of co-existence. Just because we are in a state of war it does not mean that we shouldn’t attend to the basic necessities of life and create non-capitalist operating systems for sustaining ourselves… But beyond this, we should remain aware that we ARE talking about a state of war and that this will, ultimately, demand that people take up radical, militant positions and that they should be ready to take up weapons when the time comes in order to protect and fight for what they cherish. There is a lot of work to be done to weave together and support the multiple local struggles unfolding across the globe and to create networks of solidarity and possibilities for coordinated action between them. Why isn’t that what we are spending our time doing if we recognise it is so urgent?


    • Yea, I’m beginning to sour on the supposed cutting edge of academia of late… might be a time to turn my own focus elsewhere for a while, or at least begin opening up to more pragmatic efforts of day to day real world examples.



    • I don’t think it could have been said better than this! The abyss that is academia is threefold: A) it remains far too isolate within itself, with its separation of the disciplines form one another, B) the rigid parameters that are to set to define what constitutes an “academic” and bureaucracy it takes to become one, i.e, the corporatization of knowledge, and C) academic theory no longer comments on the world, but itself, no longer reflecting the materialism that it claims to hold so often on a pedestal. Capitalism accelerates into the stratosphere riding on largely fictitious symbols and codes; modern theory does the exact same thing. If we’re going to keep using the term “theory” as if it means ANYTHING (and I’m not so sure it does), it must be reattached to social practice.


  9. Pingback: The Fourth Revolution: Technology, Capitalism, and the Eclipse of the Human | noir realism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s