Communists Like Us isn’t all that good. It is sloppy, vague, jargony, and contradicts itself. It seems very much like Negri and Guattari often couldn’t agree, and at those points they obfuscated their argument with hard-to-parse sentences.
But they do have some very good lines on the relationship between the communist movement and the State. “The traditional workers’ movement,” they say, “wanted…the conquest of state power [and] then the progressive disappearance of the State.” G&N argue that
the first basic task of the revolutionary communist movement consists in having done with this sort of conception and affirming the movement’s radical separation not only from the state but…more fundamentally, from the very model of the capitalist state and all its successors…(p. 96).
Communists must develop their own forms of organization, and they must manage their economic and political affairs directly, for themselves.
The state, for its part, can live out its days in the isolation and encirclement reserved for it by a reconstructed civil society! [Echoes of ‘On the Jewish Question’ here.] But if it appears about to come out of retreat and to reconquer our spaces of freedom, then we will respond by submerging it within a new kind of general mobilization (p. 98).
We do not confront, fight, and smash the state. We do not seize the state and then use it to create the conditions by which it withers. Rather, we engage, starting now, in the positive project of building a viable alternative way of life, another polity without the state [Virno: ‘non-State republic’]. We lose ourselves in this project. Over time, we so develop our common ability to rule ourselves that we look up one day from our work and notice the state, over in the corner, living “out its days in isolation,” having fallen into disuse, having become obsolete, having been put out to pasture. And we wonder what we ever used it for, why we ever thought we needed it in the first place.
This might seem like a grand hope, a bit of fantasy, but I think we should not waste time wondering whether it is possible, we should just get to work. We should work on augmenting those projects to govern ourselves that are already underway, in whatever guise, in whatever arena.
Certainly the examples of this abound, but the one I am feeling most acutely these days, one I feel as I write this, has to do with my move from Windows (proprietary, corporate, profit-driven) to Linux (open-source, shared, often-not-corporate). When I first began I worried extensively about what I would no longer be able to do, about whether I could really live (and work) outside the mainstream, outside the comfort and security of the software-that-everyone-uses. I set up all my machines to dual boot, thinking I would try my best to run Linux most of the time and then run back to Windows when Linux failed me. How silly those fears seem now. I could not have ever imagined how stable, solid, efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and functional Linux would be. It is a joy to come to learn and work with. I never boot windows. I never need to. It never comes up. When I find myself in a Windows environment (on some other computer), I have that feeling, the feeling of wondering why I ever thought I couldn’t live without this software. Windows (and Apple, it goes without saying) is made utterly unnecessary by the many, many different open-source and free software projects that have created, on their own and outside the state and outside the corporate environment, a thoroughly better way to live. Really. Entirely better. It is a slam dunk. I myself am particularly indebted to Debian, Crunchbang, Tint2, Openbox, X.org, LibreOffice, XFCE (for Thunar), Geany, and many others. And there are many, many other projects beyond these, most of them not corporations. There is a whole multitude of people together producing code that is ours, that belongs to everyone, and that is rock-solid stable (usually) on the back end and totally gorgeous on the front.
So however obvious it seems that we can’t govern ourselves without the state, or that we can’t produce without capital, it’s not true. We can. We already do. We’re not there yet, to be sure, but the day is coming when we will look at the State the way I am now looking at Windows. Put them out to pasture. Let’s get back to work.