Marx, Foucault and Power.

The new issue of Viewpoint features a translation of Foucault’s The Mesh of Power. In the talk Foucault makes some very interesting comments about volume II:

How may we attempt to analyze power in its positive mechanisms? It appears to me that we may find, in a certain number of texts, the fundamental elements for an analysis of this type. We may perhaps find them in Bentham, an English philosopher from the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, who was basically the great theoretician of bourgeois power, and we may of course also find these elements in Marx, essentially in the second volume of Capital. It’s here, I think, that we may find some elements that I will use for the analysis of power in its positive mechanisms.

First, what we may find in the second volume of Capital is that one power does not exist, but many powers.6 Powers, this means forms of domination, forms of subjugation that function locally, for example in the workshop, in the army, on a slave plantation or where there are subservient relations. These are all local and regional forms of power, which have their own mode of functioning, their own procedure and technique. All these forms of power are heterogeneous. We may not, therefore, speak of power if we wish to construct an analysis of power, but we must speak of powers and attempt to localize them in their historic and geographic specificity.

A society is not a unitary body, in which one and only one power is exercised. Society is in reality the juxtaposition, the link, the coordination and also the hierarchy of different powers that nevertheless remain in their specificity. Marx places great emphasis, for example, on the simultaneously specific and relatively autonomous – in some sense impervious – character of the de facto power the boss exercises in a workshop, compared to the juridical kind of power that exists in the rest of society. Thus, the existence of regions of power. Society is an archipelago of different powers.

Second, it appears that these powers cannot and must not simply be understood as the derivation, the consequence of some kind of overriding power that would be primary. The schema of the jurists, whether those of Grotius, Pufendorf, or Rousseau, amounts to saying: “In the beginning, there was no society, and then society appeared when a central point of sovereignty appeared to organize the social body, which then permitted a whole series of local and regional powers”; implicitly, Marx does not recognize this schema. He shows, on the contrary, how, starting from the initial and primitive existence of these small regions of power – like property, slavery, workshop, and also the army – little by little, the great State apparatuses were able to form. State unity is basically secondary in relation to these regional and specific powers; these latter come first.

Third, these specific regional powers have absolutely no ancient [primordial] function of prohibiting, preventing, saying “you must not.” The original, essential and permanent function of these local and regional powers is, in reality, being producers of the efficiency and skill of the producers of a product. Marx, for example, has superb analyses of the problem of discipline in the army and workshops. The analysis I’m about to make of discipline in the army is not in Marx, but no matter: What happened in the army from the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century practically right up to the end of the 18th century? An enormous transformation in an army that had hitherto been essentially constituted of small units of relatively interchangeable individuals, organized around one commander. These small units were replaced by a great pyramidal unit, with a whole series of intermediate commanding officers, of non-commissioned officers and technicians too, essentially because a technical discovery had been made: the gun with comparatively rapid and calibrated fire.

Does any have an inlking of what part of volume II Foucault is referring to?

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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10 Responses to Marx, Foucault and Power.

  1. eratostene98 says:

    Actually, here Foucault refers to the chapter XV (chapter XIII in german edition) of volume I, Machinery and Modern Industry (more or less the same references that there are in Discipline and Punish).

    • HR says:

      Yeah, that makes much more sense. its been a while since i read volume II but i could not for the life of me remember any passages like that.

  2. Asad Haider says:

    you’re right, it’s due to a mix-up in the editing of Dits et écrits; footnote #6 has been updated to address this.

  3. Asad Haider says:

    will pass your thanks on to the translator Christopher Chitty, whose introduction is itself a substantial analysis of the Foucault-Marx relation:

  4. Jura says:

    It’s interesting that Foucault always had quite a lot of positive things to say about Marx in interviews, but not so much in his actual writings :).

    • Not only that, but to the Frankfurt School as well. In his introduction to Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological, he practically refers to the Frankfurters as co-thinkers.

      It’s funny, considering that so much Marxist niche-carving in Anglophone academia is premised upon these phoney-baloney dichotomies of Spinozan vs. Hegelian, Foucault vs. Adorno, “rhizomatic” vs. “dialectical”, “French” vs. “German.”

  5. Atle says:

    From what I can remember, the edition Foucault had of Vol. 1 was in two parts, with the second part beginning somewhere around the production of surplus value.

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