- The Riddle of Identity Politics
… the sudden grasping and holding together, in one decisive paradox, of the impossible riddle of the equation (how can one thing be the "same" as another) and its resolution, if not solution, in the ultimate "crystallization" of the money form (whose unity then assembles the various "crystals" of labor).—Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One
Out of historical necessity, Fredric Jameson argues in Representing Capital, his careful—part by part, if not quite chapter by chapter—reading of Marx's first volume of Capital, thinking politics in and for our time must commence in a very specific place. In the contemporary moment, politics must begin with or as an address to the question of representation. This is a question, Jameson recognizes, as much for literary theory as it is for philosophy, as much for history as it is for the postmodern, that raises "dilemma of representation as such. It is now around the question of representation that contemporary interrogations of truth must turn, as well as those [End Page 19] concerning totality or the Real" (Jameson 2011, 4). Let us acknowledge from the outset, without losing sight of Jameson's critique, that representation as such is a political and philosophical problem of immense proportions. Representation, as such, must be understood as the political necessity of absence—that condition that allows the One to substitute for, to stand in for or to stand as, the Whole.
This is a question that has generated centuries of critique, but I will restrict myself here to that of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their most recent work, Assembly. I do so in part because Assembly provides such a counterpoint to Jameson's call in at least, as we will see shortly, one significant way. Hardt and Negri are committed to delineating politics as an enabling or empowering leftist social practice. This is a project that they, of course, first embarked upon in Empire, their critique of sovereignty, and elaborated on in later works. In Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, they set the multitude the task of "discovering the common that allows them to communicate and act together. The common we share, in fact, is not so much discovered as produced" (2004, xv).1 Jameson, needless to say, is no less dedicated to renovating the Marxist project. We see this most imaginatively, and, it must be said, provocatively, in his call for "universal conscription," which will be discussed in more detail momentarily. For his part, Jameson is set directly against politics as such because he sees it as an impediment to achieving, in the strictest sense, "communism."
In Assembly's critique of Rousseauean sovereignty, which is an extension of the critique they outline in Empire, Hardt and Negri restate their argument for the multitude, economically explicating the difference between the two: "The people or the nation or the proletariat can only be sovereign when it speaks with one voice," whereas, "In contrast, a multitude, since it is not one by many, can never be sovereign" (2017, 26). However, and this is of course in no way unexpected, Hardt and Negri's argument converges again with Jameson's in their shared Marxism; specifically through their explanation of what Rousseau's "eighteenth century theory" ultimately defends. Rousseau's "regime of representation… supports and protects private property against democracy and the commons" (28). To renovate democracy, Assembly calls for a new mode of decision making, a mode of being political that recognizes the need for (tactical) leadership, for re-created, [End Page 20] vibrant institutions, and for a multitude charged with the responsibility of thinking strategically (and not only tactically).
For his part, Jameson makes the case—an entirely unexpected one at that, as to hear Jameson advocate it takes one by surprise—for universal conscription as the most effective way to constitute "the common." Jameson argues that an Assembly-like "the common" will compel people from all walks of life, all from the ages of 16 to 60, to "communicate and act together." Drafted into service they cannot refuse, people will have to work with each other in...