From Marx’s draft of a A Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:
The ‘state formalism’ which bureaucracy is, is the ‘state as formalism'; and it is as a formalism of this kind that Hegel has described as bureaucracy. Since this ‘state formalism’ constitutes itself as an actual power and itself becomes its own material content, it goes without saying that the ‘bureaucracy’ is a web of practical illusions, or the ‘illusion of the state.’ The bureaucratic spirit is a jesuitical, theological spirit through and through. The bureaucrats are the jesuits and theologians of the state…
Since by its very nature the bureaucracy is the ‘state as formalism’, it is this also as regards its purpose. The actual purpose of the state therefore appears to bureaucracy as an objective hostile to the state. The spirit of the bureaucracy is the ‘formal state spirit.’ The bureaucracy therefore turns the ‘formal state spirit’ or the actual spiritlessness of the state into a categorical imperative. The bureaucracy takes itself to be the ultimate purpose of the state. Because the bureaucracy turns its “formal” objectives into its content, it comes into conflict everywhere with ‘real’ objectives. It is therefore obliged to pass off the form for the content and the content for the form… The bureaucracy is a circle from which no one can escape. Its hierarchy is a hierarchy of knowledge. The top entrusts the understanding of detail to the lower levels, whilst the lower levels credit the top with understanding of the general, and so all are mutually deceived.
The bureaucracy is the imaginary state alongside the real state– the spiritualism of the state. Each thing has therefore a double meaning, a real and bureaucratic meaning, just as knowledge (and also the will) is both real and bureaucratic… The bureaucracy has the state, the spiritual essence of society, in its possession, as its private property. The general spirit of the bureaucracy is the secret, the mystery, preserved within itself by the hierarchy and against the outside world by being a closed corporation. Avowed political spirit, as also political-mindedness, therefore appear to the bureaucracy as treason against its mystery. Hence, authority is the basis of its knowledge, and the deification of authority is its conviction. Within the bureaucracy itself, however, spiritualism becomes crass materialism, the materialism of passive obedience, of faith in authority, of the mechanism of fixed and formalistic behaviour, and of fixed principles, views, and traditions.
Kafka can be read as a cartogropher of these jesuitical or theological illusions. A couple more passages:
The fact is that the state issues from the multitude in their existence as members of families and as members of civil society. Speculative philosophy [Hegel’s system] expresses this fact as the idea’s deed, not as the idea of the multitude, but as the deed of a subjective idea different from the fact itself
Marx argues that the State is constituted from the multitudes, not the multitude from the State. Here there are strong resonances with Deleuze’s theory of individuation and Badiou’s ontology of multiplicities. Deleuze’s theory of individuation pertains to the process by which individuals are individuated or produced, not what allows us to distinguish one substantial individual from another. Like Badiou, identity, for Deleuze, is always a product come second, an effect, a product, a result. Identities must be constituted. Similarly, for Badiou, the Same is only ever constituted through the operation of the count-as-one. As such, these two accounts of entity provide fertile ground for an ontology of historical materialism, as historical materialism rejects any idealistic thesis of ahistorical essences– viz., an essential human nature, for instance –underlying being. We also encounter one of the major problems with Luhmann’s social systems theory here. Insofar as Luhmann places individuals outside social systems, he reproduces the optical illusion whereby the State is an entity in its own right over and above those that constitute the state. More on this in a moment. Marx makes a similar point regarding individuation a moment later in his Contribution, when he writes:
If Hegel had set out from real subjects as the bases of the state he would not have found it necessary to transform the state in a mystical fashion into a subject. “In truth, however,” says Hegel, “subjectivity exists only as subject, personality only as person.” This too is a piece of mystification. Subjectivity is a characteristic of the subject, personality a characteristic of the person. Instead of conceiving them as predicates of their subjects, Hegel gives the predicates an independent existence and subsequently transforms them in a mystical fashion into their subjects.
In short, Hegel fails to attend to the manner in which individuals are individuated or produced; or as Marx will much later put it in the Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure, and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness… Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.
The network of production, exchange, distribution, and consumption will each produce its own specific social organizations and forms of subjectivity. For instance, production is not just the production of goods, but also requires the production of subjectivities. For instance, there is a qualitative difference between a Greek or Roman slave, a Serf, and an Industrial Laborer, such that all these forms of subjectivity must be produced or individuated. To discern this it will be necessary to analyze the network within which these forms of embodiment and affect emerge. In Grundrisse, Marx will go so far as to say that production is immediately consumption and consumption is immediately production. In this connection, he is speaking of the manner in which the body and tools are consumed in producing. However, he also alludes to how forms of art must produce their audience so that they might be “consumed”. Here, already, Marx anticipates Baudrillard’s critique in For a Critique of the Political Economy of Signs.
Returning to Contributions to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx goes on to remark that,
Democracy is the truth of monarchy; monarchy is not the truth of democracy. Monarchy is necessarily democracy inconsistent with itself; the monarchial element is not an inconsistency in the democracy. Monarchy cannot be understood in its own terms; democracy can. In democracy none of the elements attains a significance other than what is proper to it. Each is in actual fact only an element of the whole demos [people]. In monarchy one part determines the character of the whole. The entire constitution has to adapt itself to this fixed point. Democracy is the genus Constitution. Monarchy is one species, and a poor one at that. Democracy is content and form. Monarchy is supposed to be only a form, but it falsifies the content.
In monarchy the whole, the people, is subsumed under one of its particular modes of being, the political constitution. In democracy the constitution itself appears only as one determination, that is, the self-determination of the people. In monarchy we have the people of the constitution; in democracy the constitution of the people. Democracy is the solved riddle of all constitutions. Here, not merely implicitly and in essence but existing in reality, the constitution is constantly brought back to its actual basis, the actual human being, the actual people, and established as the peoples own work. The constitution appreas as what it is, a free product of man.
In this passage Marx plays brilliantly on the two senses of the signifier “constitution”. On the one hand, constitution, of course, refers to a political document. Yet on the other hand, “constitution” is a verb signifying “to constitute”, “make”, or “produce”. In constitution we make, set up, or establish a structure. Marx is here drawing on Feuerbach’s critique of religion and applying it to Hegel’s political philosophy. If democracy is the “truth” of monarchy, then this is because that which is veiled in monarchy becomes clear in democracy. Monarchy is premised on an optical illusion in which the monarch rules by virtue of power that flows directly from his being. However, the monarch only has power as a monarch insofar as he is recognized as a monarch. It is the multitudes– in this case multitudes that have been counted or individuated as subjects –that recognize the monarch as a monarch. Yet these subjects experience themselves as subjected and do not recognize that the power of the monarch issues from them. By contrast, in democracy, this optical effect disappears and the multitudes constitute themselves through themselves or their own action.
I realize all of these thoughts are very scattered and disjointed, but I thought I would throw them up here anyway. It seems to me that Marx’s remarks here are an important reminder of the aims of any sort of revolutionary practice. Increasingly, in works of political theory and about the blogosphere, we have heard heroic flirtations with strong State forms as necessary for political intervention. This comes especially from the Zizek camp. We have also heard dismissals of certain forms of politics surrounding feminisms, queer movements, various minority movements, etc., as if the principles of historical materialism have been entirely forgotten, i.e., that while we should engage in ruthless critique we must nonetheless ask why these political forms are emerging in precisely these circumstances and what truly revolutionary potentials they might contain. The Marx of Contributions to a Critique of Hegel, of course, is the humanist Marx, well preceding the Marx of Grundrisse and Capital. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this conception of multitudes, of the demos, remains. The question is how it might be thought. I would cautiously suggest that we have never seen democracy.