Note: The following text by Raúl Sánchez Cedillo describes the current traits of the relationship between democracy and capitalism on the basis of the global and European upheavals that have occurred since 2011. The author addresses the theoretical and political possibilities of going beyond that relationship, and emphasises the possibility of decoupling the definition of a real democracy from the ever-happening renewal of the relationship between the living → labour of the multitude and the capitalist command over life and society. The following text is a transcription from his keynote lecture at Liverpool John Moores University, School of Art and Design, Liverpool, UK on 2 March 2016. The lecture was followed by a two-day seminar on Constituencies.
In the English language the term “constituency” is not very interesting, since it deals with a territorial division of voters or the clientele interest groups around a political system. For that matter, I think we should shift to Latin in order to explore it in a more interesting way. For instance, Antonio Negri has begun to use a term in Italian – coming directly from Latin – costituenza, which points to something rather different than the plain workings of the term in the political market. Instead, it is more about the active vectors of constituent power, and I will rely on that relationship in my talk.
The key to this relationship is “constituent power”, which is an equally entangled and disputed term, because it belongs to a longstanding juridical tradition that has its origin in the period between the English Revolution and Sieyès notion le pouvoir constituant de la nation; it belongs to the radical democratic revolutionary tradition. But at the same time it belongs to the foundations of the rule of law, and democratic constitutionalism, the bourgeois capitalist democracy, which stands in opposition to any notion of popular or radical or anti-capitalist democracy. At this point we have to make a reference to the work of Antonio Negri and his book El poder constituyente, which was translated in English as Insurgencies, but both in Italian, Spanish and French it is Constituent Power. It is a very difficult book, not only because of its profound and really extensive analysis of the occurrences, emergencies and transformations of the notion, but also because its main issue is to produce or to create a concept of constituent power adequate to its radicality; to its belonging to a notion of → radical democracy and to its relationship with a much-hated concept and reality among almost all political theorists – the notion of the “multitude”. That is the notion of political subject that cannot enter into any constitution of political order, who has to be tamed, who could turn into a hydra, a monster. I am quoting Hegel, for instance, another philosopher that really did not like “the multitude”.
Baruch Spinoza, in his theological-political treatises, relied on this notion in opposition to Hobbes, to the reactionary theorist of the recuperation of the English Revolution in favour of the gentry, of the aristocracy. Spinoza is the only reference we have, if we want to really dwell on this radical notion of constituent power, and at the same time on this political possibility of the multitude.
That is where the title “The Rest is Missing” comes up. Antonio Negri uses it in one of his best short essays on the notion of democracy in Spinoza in a Latin phrase reliqua desiderantur. This notion appears at the end of an unfinished political treatise which Spinoza wrote right before his death. Maybe it is really unfinished due to his death, or maybe he just didn’t know how to go on. The unfinished book is now open to conjecture. At the beginning of the last chapter Spinoza really starts to limit the notion of the multitude, stating in Latin “omnino absolutum imperium”, that is “a democratic state considered as absolute”, which means that the multitude commands absolutely. It is not mediated; it is not represented by another class of people, nor by patricians, nor experts, nor priests. It commands by and for itself when it is led as if it were one mind, a → common mind. How does then Spinoza limit the multitude in democracy that should be the whole self-governed social body? In this final chapter, he excludes the foreigners/pilgrims that belong to another country/sovereign, and don’t have the right to vote. But most of all – and this is where Spinoza really makes a blunder – he excludes all women, because for him, there is no historical experience that would prove that they are able to participate in government (not even the Amazons).
If we address the issue of the “constituent power of the multitude” and its constituencies as actors or vectors that are currently recreating and renovating constituent power, we have to admit that we still don’t know what the constituent power could actually be. In all historical emergencies and transformations the constituent power never really managed to arrive at something different than the command of one over many (like Hobbes wanted), or the command of one class over another, or the command of a → bureaucratic police state over the mass of workers. From the English Revolution to the Soviet Revolution to anything similar, the multitude has failed to express something different from a total perfection of the state machine, a total generalisation of political obedience.
Our late period of total global turmoil since the Iraq War brought about an end to the political process of imperialism, the system that governed the market beyond a traditional state, and was followed by a financial crisis. Maybe because this turmoil has some emergencies – maybe only because it is in the making – it can give some new meanings or even a more accomplished realisation of constituent power, as the very name democracy suggests, as an absolute procedure, as the capacity to innovate productively and creatively the social field by the participation of everybody. This means something like a transformation or even perishing of the state as we know it, and also a transformation (not necessarily violent or abrupt) of constitutional democracy.
These emergencies have to do with the 2011 cycle of struggles (the Occupy Movement, the 15-M anti-austerity movement in Spain, the Arab Revolutions or even the insurrections in Turkey and small emergencies in Portugal and so on). I can say that in Spain we are still anticipating huge political changes in the spirit of the multitude. If I paraphrase Kant, the event of revolution in spite of its failure is something that has already changed people’s minds, and has embedded a new horizon of political possibility for humankind. In 2011 we witnessed something like that, which still has a practical reality in the → South of Europe and most of all in Spain. The movement in Spain was about “real democracy”. What this means is still quite enigmatic, because the whole EU is considered to be an example of democracy – or at least it used to be – as Spain is an example of political transition. In a combination of the total surrender of the Zapatero government concerning social changes and the harsh reality of the Euro crisis, the people organising 15-M spontaneously produced the expression “real democracy”, which has put democracy again on the political field, as something which is yet undefined, a new concept, a neologism. In contrast, the constitutional democracy would be an “unreal democracy”, something that was usurped or stolen in the name of democracy. And this is something that needs to be considered in depth to explore the features of the constituencies of the new constituent power. But before we can do that, I think we have to dwell a little on the notion of constituent power, as Negri says at the end of his book that constituent power has been neutralised by three traditions, not all of them reactionary, also progressive.
One is the tradition is the Jewish-Christian tradition of creativity. Since we are made in the image of God, we are able to express beauty, goodness and so on. This creativity is the hidden foundation of any democratic expression, so the actual historical, finite contingent subjects are merely manifestations of this eternal creativity. In this sense constituent power is never absolute, but a derivative.
The other tradition would be, and it is very related to the first, the use of a naturalistic conception of the social field that is separated from the political field. Constituent power would be just a manifestation of something that was underlined in the social field and social relations. This is expressed, for example, in the hype with regard to the cultural hegemony of a subject.
And another tradition is the constituent power as a never reached transcendental foundation, which would be the Kantian idea of practical reason or Rousseauian idea of general will, which is always the best expression of the will of everybody, but it is not reduceable to the singularities, to the parts that compose it, it is never fully perfect, but instead like an ideal of reason. So the actual historical constituent power is always something relative, that has to be structured by an external agent, be it the representation of the state, or a force of moderation.
At the same time – even in the revolutionary democratic context – we have three problems about constituent power that have manifested through the history of the political, historical and conceptual expressions of the concept. These are aporias of the concept.
The first one is: “What is power?” In English, we have the same problem as with “constituencies”, because the word “power” has no distinction as it does in Latin and Romance languages between “potentia” and “potestas”. We can make this difference by saying “constituted power” and “constituent power”. But at the same time power is always there. When it manifests itself as a constituent power, even when being extra-juridical at the beginning, it turns into something creating law, norms, and regulations. The organisation of power has always turned into a one. The problem is that we are not able to practice, not even conceive of power as something that involves a multiplicity, which is never reduced to one. Even Spinoza says ambiguously that the multitude is democratic when it lets itself be as one mind. The problem is that the multitude which opposes power turns into one, it has this → tendency.
The second problem – and it is related – would be: “What is otherness to constituted power?” What is the antagonistic force in dialectical terms if we do not rely on metaphors about top/down or social/political, because they are incoherent with the concept of constituent power, which is about the reunion of the political and the social? What is the Other opposing constituent power? How does the Other evolve or transform itself into power, which is different to the constituent power? This is a problem of the relationship between revolutionists and reformists, which has never been solved. We don’t know what defines the Otherness of constituent power, because in the tradition, the more powerful it gets, the more similar to the former power it becomes.
And the third is “How do we impose constituent power? How can it win? In tradition, as Kant and the German reactionaries viewed the French Revolution, the notion of revolution is about terror. In the Soviet Revolution the idea of a separate political avant-garde necessary to accomplish rupture, and definite strike against the constituent power, constituted power.
What would be the other option? The other option would be our second aporia, the idea of otherness that somehow insinuates, evolving through the holes that exist in the constituted power. This aporia is cynical, Machiavellian. If we refer it to the current examples, this aporia is populism as it is known in the Latin America, or in the case of Podemos in Spain. Pablo Iglesias, for example, said that first you seize power and then you apply your programme, but first you have to seize power. And to do that you have to do whatever it takes to act on the imaginaries of fragmented people. But simplifying it is about the idea of the people as something opposed to the multitude, as something that is always ignorant and fragmented, therefore it needs an external operator that through a chain of equivalences creates “a one” that is embodied in the significant – or in Lacanian terms we would say the small aid object of the leader – and that would be for the people to have a progressive, favourable government. However, this is cynical, since those doing that operations are beyond the ignorance of the people, they are the avant-gardes, the educated, the élite. So this is the rest that is missing! We don’t know how the multitude can overcome this aporia. We don’t know how political change can create radically new creative conditions, beyond any political order, which is able to sustain itself and is created by a subject that has created itself throughout the process.
The multitude is always new and at the same time always there. But as a political construction it creates itself through the communalities or constituencies that are created in its struggles. For the multitude the struggle is always a creation, a metamorphosis, an excess of being, there is always something more there, after the struggle that was there before. So the idea for the multitude, and constituent power of this common notion of accumulation of forces, is different. It is always an accumulation of power in the sense of potentia as the capacity to express an innovation in being intended as a reproduction of → subjectivity, of new modes of living, feeling, affecting others and being affected by them, of an interdependence and a modification of the subjects.
Nonetheless, I think that the 2011 cycle has presented very interesting features, that allow us to think of the possible renewal and also the actuality of this idea of constituent power as something that can really recuperate, renovate, and liberate democracy from its current discredited condition, because that is what we are living now in Europe and throughout the world. The people don’t believe anymore in constitutional democracy, and that explains the situation in the rest of Europe. It is a really tragic situation that we are living now in Europe, and it has to do with this discredited democracy. And the Left is absolutely responsible for that!
We can already enumerate some constituencies as vectors or matrices of innovation, which practice the notion of constituent power.
The first (not present in the historical examples and theorisations of constituent power) would be “the postcolonial matrix”, which is reflected by “the contemporary metropolis”: the reality of the accumulation of colonial exploitation. In this sense the idea of sovereign people or democratic sovereign subjects who are unified by → common belonging has no more bearing, and this is one of the keys to the crisis in France, for instance, where both the far right and the left are sovereignist, whilst several million French citizens come from the colonies and a few million residents are not French nationals, and these people are excluded from the political system. The postcolonial dimension absolutely breaks down the idea of unified people. Anything that relies on sovereignty is in my opinion always suspected of this kind of exclusion. It is a project of hegemony of the upper classes over the lower classes, the subalterns. I think that in spite of their failure the so-called Arab Revolutions immediately established a relationship between the → South and the North because the South is in the North, in the metropolis, and it is there to stay. Any democratic issue has to rely on that, and has to catch up with this historical irreversibility.
The second one would be “the techno-political matrix”, as we named it in Spain because of the extensive use of the social networks during the 15-M and Indignados movements. The techno-political matrix is about doing politics through the interfaces and interaction of something that is not the usual political subject, not the liberal rational decision subject, nor it is the collective trade-unionist or party-like conscious → agency, but rather the interface of bodies, brains and computers through the mediation of algorithms. This is something that happened first through the so-called Arab Facebook Revolution, or the small and suddenly vanishing Portuguese February 2011 anti-austerity movement Geração à Rasca, organised by a small group that brought 200,000 people onto the streets and really surprised everybody. In May in Spain, again, the movement was organised through such networks as a political protest. It adopted the swarming technique of cooperation among separated individuals, which is in a way connected to the idea of the interface between computers and brains. The idea is not original with regard to the decade-long appearance of flash-mobs, but I think the 15-M movement through these techno-political practices created a threshold of an open network system that has characteristics of emergence in terms of the theory of complexity, in which new properties of the system that were not there before emerge unexpectedly. And at the same time this network system has been able to be autopoietic, which means that it innovates, and creates stable new properties that interact with previous components and transform the underlying structure. In political terms, they create a profound transformation of the → subjectivity of the people, in the sense that they create a deep and standing revolutionary aspiration, which wasn’t absolutely on the agenda before. This network system also involves something that wasn’t clear in the theories of swarming or intelligent mobs by theorists like Howard Rheingold. The difference is that the techno-political matrix creates affects – the transformation of bodies and minds, which are so important to Spinoza. The involvement of affects and emotions is the qualitative difference of the techno-political practices that 15-M introduced. These opened up a new political realm, because they involved separated, isolated, and also disabled people, who were using a computer to create affects and also be affected by many others through social multileveled network: mobile phones, computer systems, mails, applications. The network system in the Spanish case had a huge intensity of affects that was able to last because it was led by one main affect: “indignación”, indignation or outrage. For Spinoza indignation in Latin is the hate we experience when we see somebody doing harm to another who we think of as an equal to us. In this process the Left wasn’t there, the NGOs weren’t there, the traditional media wasn’t there, because they tried to deny its legitimacy by saying “this is just Facebook bullshit”. What they missed out is that this network system is not only about the internet. Through this techno-political circuitry, for instance, in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, people did not just stay at home tweeting, they were actually physically present on the square, and of course also were tweeting there. They were both physically facing the police and at the same time affecting others by livestreaming what they were doing. This huge concentrated dance and circulation of affects creates profound transformations of subjectivity, which is hypothetically what can explain the May 15 movement. I think that this is something that is yet to come, because once you have the indignation, a real production of affects, which all struggles produce (such as a workers’ strike, like the dockers’ strike here in Liverpool), they are very difficult to recover from. In the past it was very difficult to circulate and communicate this, even among trade unions. Today, even a single small struggle is able to inspire huge → solidarity [→ solidarity, → solidarity] throughout the world. This involves the transformation of bodies and brains affectively reticulated through algorithms. This is something I think is a real constituency.
The third matrix of innovation is related to the transformation of production or reproduction. I call it “the symbio-political matrix”, or “anthropogenic matrix”, and in the simplest way it has to do with the fact that contemporary societies rely on a huge amount of unpaid and unrecognised → labour, and most of it is care labour. Caring is about → lobbying, about ineffective labour, about the whole industry of health services, educational services, and so on, which are the main forces of productivity today. One of the keys of the capitalist crisis is that the system doesn’t want to pay for care, whilst at the same time wants to profit from it. And the way to achieve this is the process of financialisation, and the hegemony of rent instead of profit. This is completely new, and adds a new feature to the multitude. Symbio-political is different to biopolitical, because it stresses strongly that you need more than yourself to live in this society. The multiplicity is always relational, and one has to give recognition to the other who produces new social beings. We cannot imagine constituent power without the revolution of care and the recognition of it as an institution of reproductive and at the same time productive care work. The economist Christian Marazzi calls it the anthropogenetic or anthropogenic mode of production, and explains it as the main forces of production – or surplus value – in the current time; and as we know education, health, art and culture were the most affected by budget cuts or neoliberal austerity. Without changing this image no change is possible, and at the same time by changing it a new political subjectivity is going to emerge. This is apparent in Latin America, in the way people are able to resist or even seize constituent power through the involvement of communities, care relationships, → self-managed services, through the multitude of informal labour and unpaid work that sustains society.
The fourth and last matrix that involves the first postcolonial one, is “the post-national matrix”, which is currently very pertinent in the UK with the referendum on leaving the European Union. The whole world system is transforming and is affected by the postcolonial struggle. How do we deal with the phenomena which we are witnessing today, with the fact that – wanted or not – several millions of people coming from Syria and the Middle East are going to have to live in Europe for a long time because their countries are going to be totally destroyed, and perhaps become uninhabitable. How do we deal with this, if we adopt a more or less moderate, not Nazi-Fascist, hypothesis? I assume that democracy cannot be linked to the nation state anymore, because it represents homogeneous population. If we talk about democracy, we have to talk of heterogeneous multilingual society. This is something that also applies to the US, which is experiencing a huge problem with this Latino emergence, which amongst other things tends to break the homogenous official language of politics and businesses – which is English. And we still haven’t seen a political democratic society that is based on this assumption. I am not talking about multiculturalism, but the fact that there is a multitude of people, or rather “peoples” in plural, which means that you don’t have any traditional popular sovereignty anymore.
I think that these matrices of innovation are elements that enable us to define what we could think of as putting constituencies into practice, or create a constituent process. It seems that a majority of people want to change the political system in terms of not just transparency, representation (there must be something more than political representation and parties), social justice, accountability, and participation, but also the integration of all citizens in the political process. But a nation state or a failed nation state like Spain still wants to have one traditional nation state. It doesn’t work anymore! It has to be at least European. I would say that this is a European constituent process that began in Spain – maybe failing – but a constituent process, nevertheless.
For the conclusion, what could be the main features of a political constituent process? I think it would foremost be that it doesn’t belong to anyone, or else it belongs to the multitude. Since it is an extra juridical force, it can never be abolished or suspended by any political actor, nor the king, nor the supreme court, and so on. It is a disruptive force. I would not like to think of it in terms of an avant-garde Bolshevik party, but at the same time it has to be disruptive, it has to radically disobey. At the same time constituent process shouldn’t be state centric. This means that we have the possibility to define the ideas of reconstructing and recreating a society which doesn’t put the state or some state-like entity at the centre. We don’t yet know how to abolish the state, but we can reasonably think of putting the state a little to the side. The idea of the state as a central, unique sovereign actor in society, which defined the welfare state transformation and the current constitutional democracy, or even the so-called European social model, that puts the state as managing the common reproduction of the population, has to be cut off. As they are already cutting the welfare state off with austerity measures, we should take the opportunity to rebuild it as something different to the welfare state and create instead a “commonfare” society. That means the → self-managing of the → common production and re-production of society by common political entities created by the multitude, that are not state-like in terms of an absolute or undiscussed command, of an absolute sovereignty about what is legal or illegal. This is also a critique of the constitutional check and balances rule of law. We know the way things are discussed in social networks, we have proven that the multitude is able to decide, and through the mediation of a recursive computing process you have different converging outputs about political decisions. For instance, deciding on the ending of the Acampada in Puerta del Sol was a very long and boring process, but finally through this complex discussion that involved the people and their networks this recursivity of decisions through technopolitics allowed the multitude to decide, considering all possibilities. This is what we can rely on in order to have a non-state-centric constituent power. We have seen this problem in Latin American processes in the case of Venezuela, which is so state-centric that it was not been able to transform the modes of production or to pass from an oil-based rentier economy to something different – like common anthropogenic processes, which would be based on education and health industries. In Venezuela’s case the state only wanted to reproduce itself, which means that in the class struggle process everything tends to “the one”, to the state over the multitude.
There have been some proposals about this non-state-centric approach. For instance, a more evolutionary approach was proposed by Michel Bauwens, the theorist of the → commons, who talks and writes about the idea of a “partner state”, a state that is managing things which are still difficult to deal with, like security, borders and so on. But the assumption is that it should be under the command of the multitude, of the counter-power. What is opposing this diminishing state, which is an inversion of “the minimal state” of the neoliberals, but for the better? It is a network of counter-powers, not any absurd identity; we shouldn’t call it Soviet, because that would be misleading, but it is something like that. This is a political entity of the very citizens themselves that are able to network, institutionalise, to be accountable and legal in a conventional way – in the sense that law is always a convention, pact, covenant, which doesn’t have the characteristics of transcending the production of the law. Laws are contingent, discussable, renewable and nobody is on the top to say: “this is the law”. The law is about discussion, dialogue, and the relationships among forces.
So what about obedience? As Spinoza says, obedience is something that is automatic when society is led by the “guide of reason”, which is the best thing for the common, the multitude. But this obedience is not absolute, there is the right to disobey and it can be regulated. Any constituent power of the new multitude has to paradoxically “constitutionalise disobedience” under some conditions that should always be evolving. Disobedience has to be defined by the common notion – and this is common knowledge – of what is intolerable in society. And what is intolerable in society, as we know, has never been the same. But what is intolerable for society today? Like child labour, rape, patriarchal oppression, maybe wage-labour, but this is something that goes beyond any historical experience of constituent power, which has always imposed obedience as a command. I remember particularly those awful lines of Lenin and Trotsky from the period of the civil war, about shooting those refusing forced labour. The possibility of any constituent power entering into war with those belonging to the privileged who constitute power is always there, and must be avoided.
Another feature of the constituent process is that it must involve others, it has to avoid any Leninist or Schmittian notion of the friend and foe relationship as something definitive. That means it has to regulate and limit the antagonisms that would destruct the common. How does one do that? It is a problem of “common decency”, like Orwell said, and it is a problem of the common notion of the transformation of the multitude through struggle. It is an ethical problem, but not ethical in the sense of something that you take into account after the event, but ethical in the sense of a real guide for the behaviour of the people, as something fundamental, that is embodied in the working of the constituent power, which means that there are no enemies in society. Nobody can be excluded from rights or the law, and there cannot be any wars, in terms of sovereign war, which regulate the relationships among states. In the Arab War we learned about the “penal law of the enemy”, which applies to the Guantanamo people, and a civil citizen at any point can be considered an enemy of society and destroyed, and that is what revolutions have always made too.
Finally, the constituent process has to be carried out in a political realm. In Spain we now have new political parties like Podemos, Guanyem, and Barcelona en Comú. For spectators looking from afar it could seem like: “well, this is going back to normal” or “this is a change of élites”. I am not convinced. Why? In contrast to the classical relationship between struggles and political output in Spain, the multitude is always active and vigilant, and it has constituted itself politically. To have such a constituent process something must happen in society. We can call it an “→ event”, in German “Ereignis”, or in Spanish “acontecimiento”, and May 15 was such an event, a total turmoil in society, a total qualitative transformation of what was right and wrong. Before any modification of the political order the constituent process of the society must be set in motion. If Europe is going to have such a constituent process, something must happen beforehand (social struggle, turmoil). But I do think we have to expect for this political turmoil to happen in unexpected places, maybe Britain, maybe France, which seem totally dominated by xenophobic, reactionary thinking. This is the condition, otherwise, it will only be a spectacle, made from above, like the European Union was made from above, and now we are paying the price for that technocratic and bureaucratic construction process.