To Govern Socially
When, in June 2010 (1), I first made use of the concept of governmentality, I did so in order to pose a question that seemed crucial and urgent at the time: what does it mean to govern socially?
At that time I identified at least three situations:
On the one hand, anti-Chávez had very recently abandoned confrontational and violent tactics to adopt a discourse that revolved around criticism of government management; “socialism” had completely colonized the official discourse, which was denounced by anti-Chávez as a sort of ideological “excess”, as a demonstration that the government was moving further and further away from the “real problems” of the population, and therefore unable to solve them;
In the face of this discourse, a tendency towards the “gestionalization” of politics soon became very evident in Chavismo: in order to defend government management, we find ourselves defending a sclerosed, inefficient, excluding, classist and anti-popular state apparatus;
In other words, in order to carry out the radical, informed, updated questioning of the bourgeois state, we had to carry out a concrete analysis of the specific type of government that the functioning of the state entails: we had to “discover” what it means to govern socially.
It was not, as one might think from the most puerile and rude anti-intellectualism, an exquisite and sought-after philosophical disquisition that would distract us from the urgencies of the historical moment, associated with the gigantic task of exercising state power. It was an invocation to praxis: to be able to appeal to the practice and thought of transforming vocation, to keep alive the commitment to the reinvention of revolutionary politics, in this particular case inventing the “socialist art of governing” (2).
In the nine years since then, a good part of my political and intellectual work, many of the theoretical and practical problems that I have raised together with numerous comrades, have been oriented at times implicitly and at other times explicitly to the resolution of that problem: how to govern socially?
Thus, for example, in January 2014, at the head of Communes and Social Movements, I took stock of our work in the following terms: “Perhaps we are learning what it means to govern “socially”. Because socialism is an entelechy if it is not expressed in specifically socialist government practices. What does it mean, then, to govern “socially”? Here are some clues: 1) to socialize precise, detailed information that allows us to continue socially producing it (people and Government); 2) to always place politics before the administrative, work processes before the goal: this is never a number (which, having reached it, allows me to cling to a position or obtain quotas of power), but the revolutionary transformation of society, which is expressed in social happiness. We put politics before “management” because politics is revolutionary, that is, it is at the service of social change. We make “managements” to deploy our revolutionary politics. The effectiveness of our politics is measured by the change it produces in our people, by the social happiness it produces. The social happiness of our people depends on their ability to “self-manage,” which implies a profoundly revolutionary way of understanding the problem of management. The Communes must aim there: at popular “self-government”, at “full sovereignty,” as it is written in the Homeland Program” (3).
In December 2015, this time as head of Culture, I wrote a very rudimentary decalogue on what it means, in my opinion, to “govern in a revolutionary way”. We had just been defeated in the parliamentary elections and it seemed appropriate to me to remember that, instead of “distributing blame”, our “analysis must start from our practices, and in no case can they become a parade of generalities”. I then made a very brief summary of what had been, in part, my apprenticeship as a minister, alluding, of course, to questions that I had previously written, and incorporating other very specific ones, such as the critique of tutelage, of which I reproduce a fragment: “There is no repoliticization without the protagonist people. But there is tutelage disguised as repoliticization. The tutelage is profoundly conservative, unpopular. Whoever practices it believes he is the only one who knows how to make a revolution. For those who arrogate to themselves the right of tutelage, the burden of proof always falls on the people, who are obliged to prove, to infinity, their condition of political subject, of citizen” (4).
In each case, I tried to partially answer Michel Foucault’s question: “Is there an adequate governmentality to socialism? What governmentality is possible as a strict, intrinsic, autonomously socialist governmentality? Like Foucault, I was fully convinced that the answer would not be found in any book: “In any case, let us limit ourselves to knowing that if there is an effectively socialist governmentality, it is not hidden within socialism and its texts. It cannot be deduced from them. It must be invented” (5).
Having reached this point, and before continuing, it is necessary to ask another question, what does Michel Foucault understand as governmentality? And then, what is it that makes governmentality such a powerful, valuable, effective, suggestive, and therefore indispensable concept?
Government, Biopower, State
In his course at the College de France from 1977-1978, entitled Security, Territory and Population, Foucault explains that the dimension he designated with the “ugly name” (6) of governmentality alludes to at least three things:
“the conjunction constituted by institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics that make it possible to exercise that very specific, although very complex, form of power that has the population as its main target, the greater form of knowing the political economy and the security devices as an essential technical instrument”;
“the tendency, the line of force that, in the whole West, did not cease to be conducive, and for a long time now, to the pre-eminence of the type of power that we can call ‘government’ over all others: sovereignty, discipline, and that induced, on the one hand, the development of a whole series of specific apparatuses of government, and on the other, the development of a whole series of cognitions”;
“the process or, better, the result of the process by virtue of which the State of justice of the Middle Ages, converted into an administrative State during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was ‘governmentalised’ little by little” (7).
What Foucault proposed, among other things, was an analysis of power in general, and a way of dealing with the problem of the State in particular. Regarding the issue of power, and in order to understand the concept of governmentality it is necessary to review what Foucault understands by biopolitics or biopower, another central concept in his work.
In his course at the College de France from 1975-1976, entitled Defending Society, Foucault asked himself: “What is the central interest in this new technology of power, this biopolitics, this biopower that is being established?”. He then replied: “It is a set of processes such as the proportion of births and deaths, the reproduction rate, the fertility of the population, and so on. These processes of birth rate, mortality and longevity constituted, in my opinion, precisely in the second half of the eighteenth century and in connection with a whole mass of political and economic problems […], the first objects of knowledge and the first targets of control of this biopolitics” (8).
Two years later, in Security, Territory and Population, Foucault refers to biopower as “the set of mechanisms by means of which that which, in the human species, constitutes its fundamental biological features may be part of a policy, a political strategy, a general strategy of power”. Once again, he affirms that from the 18th century onwards “modern western societies took into account the fundamental biological fact that man constitutes a human species” (9). But he immediately warns that with the analysis of this general strategy of power he does not intend to elaborate “a general theory of power”, but that “it is simply a question of knowing where the thing happens, between whom, between what points, according to what procedures and with what effects”. He argues that power is not “a substance, a fluid, something flowing from this or that, but a set of procedures whose role or function and theme, even if they do not achieve it, consist precisely in securing power” (10). This analysis of the “mechanisms of power” would have as its purpose “to show what are the effects of knowing that are produced in our society by the work of the struggles, the confrontations, the combats that are waged in it, as well as the tactics of power that are the elements of that struggle” (11).
A year earlier, in the first volume of his History of Sexuality, entitled The Will to Know, Foucault had elaborated his famous formulation of biopower, related to the mutation of the general economy of power that took place in Western European societies in the 18th century, which since then would be governed fundamentally through technologies or security mechanisms: “It could be said that the old right to cause death or allow life to continue was replaced by the power to make life live or reject death” (12).
Again in Security, Territory and Population, he describes “in a global, crude and therefore inaccurate way” what he identifies as the “great power economies of the West”:
“Above all, the State of justice, born in a feudal-type territoriality and corresponding broadly to a society of law – customary laws and written laws – with a whole set of compromises and litigation;
“Second, the administrative State, born in a territoriality of border type and no longer feudal, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, an administrative State that corresponds to a society of regulations and discipline;
“Finally, a State of government that is no longer defined in essence by its territoriality, by the surface occupied, but by a mass: the mass of the population, with its volume, its density and, of course, the territory over which it extends, but which in a certain way is only one of its components. And that State of government, that falls essentially on the population and refers to the instrumentation of the economic knowledge and uses it, would correspond to a society controlled by the security devices” (13)
We then have a definition of governmentality situated in time and place (modern Western societies), associated with a way of conceiving power and its study (tactics, strategy, procedures, mechanisms, devices, effects), in turn related to the concept of biopower (a general economy of power revolving around the power to enable life and death).
More importantly, Foucault uses the concept of governmentality to delve into the thorny discussion of the state: “We know how much fascination is exerted today by love or horror for the state; we know how much energy is put into the birth of the state, its history, its advances, its power, its abuses”. Nevertheless, says the philosopher with polemic spirit, the problem of the State has been overestimated. And this has been done, fundamentally, in two ways:
“In an immediate, affective and tragic way: it is the lyricism of the cold monster in front of us.
“We have a second way of overestimating the problem of the State, and in a paradoxical way, because it is apparently reductive: the analysis consisting of reducing the State to a series of functions such as, for example, the development of productive forces, the reproduction of production relations; and that reducing role of the State with respect to something else does not fail to consider it, however, as an absolutely essential target of the attacks and, as you know, as a privileged position that needs to be occupied” (14).
However, Foucault continues, “the State did not have, at present or, undoubtedly, in the course of history, the unity, individuality, or rigorous functionality, and I would dare to say that it never had that importance […] What is important for our modernity, that is, for our present time, is not then the nationalization of society but rather what I would call the ‘governmentalization’ of the State” (15). More than in the State, the analytical emphasis had to be placed on the question of governmentality.
As Michel Senellart correctly points out in Foucault’s work, “the consideration of the question of the State is inseparable from the critique of its current representations: the State as a temporary abstraction, a pole of transcendence, an instrument of class domination or a cold monster” (16).
As Foucault himself would explain in his 1978-1979 course, entitled Birth of Biopolitics: “The State is not a universal, it is not in itself an autonomous source of power. The State is nothing other than the effect, the profile, the mobile cutting of a perpetual nationalization or perpetual nationalizations, of incessant transactions that modify, displace, disrupt, insidiously slip, little matter, the sources of financing, the modalities of investment, the centers of decision, the forms and types of control, the relations between local powers, central authority, etc. In short, the State does not have entrails, as is well known, not simply because it lacks feelings, good or bad, but it does not have them in the sense that it has no interior. And he then proposed what I consider to be the most important: “The State is nothing more than the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities. That is why I propose to analyze, or rather, to retake and put to the test, that anguish for the State, that phobia of the State that seems to me to be one of the characteristic features of the habitual themes of our time, without trying to tear from the State the secret of its essence, in the way Marx tried to tear the secret from commodities. It is not a question of removing its secret, it is a question of putting oneself outside and examining the problem of the State, of investigating the problem of the State on the basis of governmental practices” (17).
In The Birth of Biopolitics, without completely abandoning a historically situated definition of governmentality, Foucault offered a concept if one wants to be more “abstract”, but at the same time more suggestive: “The very term of power does nothing but designate a sphere of relations that remains to be analysed completely, and what I proposed to call governmentality, that is, the way in which men’s conduct is conducted, is nothing more than the proposal of a grid of analysis for these relations of power” (18).
Once governmentality has been defined in such terms (“the way men conduct themselves”), Foucault then develops an extraordinarily lucid analysis of German neoliberalism. It is worth noting that this is the only course in which the philosopher entered fully into the analysis of the general economy of contemporary power, studying nothing less than a phenomenon as current as neoliberalism.
Foucault explains that he decided to dwell on the detailed analysis of German neoliberalism for two reasons: a question of method and a question of “critical morality”. As for the method, he states that, continuing what he had been working on in Security, Territory and Population, he was encouraged to “test this notion of governmentality and, secondly, to see how the grid of governmentality, that can be supposed to be valid when analyzing how to channel the behaviour of madmen, the sick, delinquents, children, can also be valid when the question involves dealing with phenomena of a very different scale, such as an economic policy, the administration of an entire social body”. In short, he wanted “to see to what extent it could be admitted that the analysis of micropowers or governmental procedures is not, by definition, limited to a precise scope that is defined by a sector of scale, but must be considered as a mere point of view, a method of deciphering that can be valid for the whole scale, whatever its magnitude” (19). In other words, he wanted to verify whether the grid of analysis associated with the concept of governmentality could be effective in addressing the question of the State.
It is precisely this question of the state that forms the basis of the second reason for analysing German neoliberalism, that of “critical morality”. Foucault says: “… we could say that what is being questioned today, and from extremely numerous horizons, is almost always the state; the state and its indefinite growth, the state and its omnipresence, the state and its bureaucratic development, the state with the germs of fascism it entails, the state and its intrinsic violence under its providential paternalism… In this whole subject of state criticism, I believe that there are two elements that are important and that we find again and again” (20 218-219, NB). These elements are:
“The idea that the State possesses in itself and by virtue of its own dynamism a kind of power of expansion, an intrinsic tendency to grow, an endogenous imperialism that pushes it ceaselessly to gain in surface, in extension, in depth, in detail, to such an extent and so well that it would come to take full charge of what for it constitutes at the same time its other, its exterior, its target and its object, namely, civil society”;
“the second element that we constantly find in these general themes of state phobia is the existence of a kinship, a kind of genetic continuity, of evolutionary implication between different state forms, the administrative state, the welfare state, the bureaucratic state, the fascist state, the totalitarian state, all of which are […] the successive branches of a single and same tree that grows in continuity and unity and that is the great state tree” (21).
For Foucault, these recurrent ideas about the State, converted into common sense, “put into circulation a certain critical value, a critical currency that we could describe as inflationary” (22). This “critical currency” is “inflationary” for four reasons, which I believe it is necessary to reproduce at length, as Foucault explained them, including examples:
“This theme makes the interchangeable character of the analyses grow, and with a speed that accelerates ceaselessly. From the moment, in fact, when it can be admitted that between the different state forms there exists this genetic continuity or kinship, and since it is possible to attribute to the State a constant evolutionary dynamism, it is possible not only to support the analyses one on the other, but to refer them to each other and make them lose the specificity that each one of them should have. In short, an analysis, for example, of social security and the administrative apparatus on which it rests will lead us, from a few landslides and thanks to a play on words, to an analysis of concentration camps. And from social security to concentration camps, the specificity – necessary, however – of the analysis is diluted. Therefore, inflation, in the sense that there is growth in the interchangeability of analyses and loss of their specificity”;
“It allows us to practise what we could call a general disqualification for the worst, since, whatever the object of the analysis, whatever the tenuity, the exiguity of the object of analysis, whatever the real functioning of the object of the analysis, it can always be referred to, in the name of an intrinsic dynamism of the State and of the ultimate forms that this dynamism can assume, to something that is going to be the worst… [To situate us a little imagine, that in a system like ours, the unfortunate destroyer of a cinema window goes to the courts and receives a somewhat heavy sentence; We will always find people who will say that this condemnation is the sign of a fascization of the State, as if, long before any fascist State, there were no such condemnations, and much worse;
“These analyses make it possible to avoid paying the price of the real and the present, insofar as, in fact, in the name of the dynamism of the State, one can always find something like a kinship or a danger, something like the great ghost of the paranoid and devouring State. In this sense, it does not matter what influence one has on what is real or what current profile it presents. It is enough to find, through suspicion, and as Francois Ewald would say, of the ‘denunciation’, something similar to the phantasmatic profile of the State, so that it is no longer necessary to analyse the current situation”;
“He does not, in my opinion, carry out his own criticism or analysis. In other words, we are not seeking to know where this kind of anti-state suspicion really comes from, this phobia of the State that circulates today in so many different forms of our thinking. Now, it seems to me that this type of analysis – and this is why I insisted on the neoliberalism of the 1930s and 1950s – this critique of the State, this critique of the intrinsic and apparently irredeemable dynamism of the State, this critique of the state forms that fit into each other, call each other, support each other and generate each other, we already found it formulated in a concrete, perfect and very clear way in the 1930s and 1945s, this time with a very precise location. At that time it did not have the circulation force it has today. It was very localized within the neoliberal elections that were being formulated at that time. We found this criticism of the polymorphous, omnipresent, all-powerful State in those years, when for liberalism or neoliberalism or, more precisely, for German ordoliberalism, it was both a question of detaching oneself from Keynesian criticism, criticizing policies, say, dirigists and interventionists of the New Deal or Popular Front type, criticizing the economy and national-socialist politics, criticizing the political and economic decisions of the Soviet Union and, finally and more generally, criticizing socialism. There, in that climate and, if we take things in their narrowest or almost meanest form, in that German neoliberal school, we find that analysis of the necessary and somehow inevitable kinship of the different state forms and the idea that the state has in itself a dynamic of its own that can never stop at its enlargement and its coverage of the whole of civil society. (23)
In the same way that I considered it necessary to reproduce in extenso Foucault’s textual words on the “inflationary” character of this “critical currency” on the State, I will transcribe in extenso the two theses he proposes below:
“the thesis that the provident state, the welfare state, does not have the same form, of course, nor, to my mind, the same strain, the same origin as the totalitarian, Nazi, fascist or Stalinist state. I would also like to point out that this State, which we can describe as totalitarian, far from being characterized by the intensification and endogenous extension of state mechanisms, this so-called totalitarian State is not at all the exaltation of the State, but rather constitutes, on the contrary, a limitation, a diminution, a subordination of its autonomy, its specificity and its characteristic functioning. With respect to what? With respect to something different that is the party. In other words, the idea would be that the principle of totalitarian regimes should not be sought on the side of the intrinsic development of the state and its mechanisms; to put it another way, the totalitarian state is not the administrative state of the eighteenth century, the Polizeistaat of the nineteenth century taken to the extreme, it is not the administrative state, the bureaucratized state of the nineteenth century taken to the limit. The totalitarian state is something different. It is necessary to seek its principle not in the statist or statified governmentality whose birth we witnessed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but precisely on the side of a non-state governmentality: in what we could call a party governmentality. The party, that very extraordinary organization, very curious, very novel, the very novel governmentality of the party that appeared in Europe at the end of the 19th century, is probably […] what is at the historical origin of something like totalitarian regimes, like Nazism, like fascism, like Stalinism”;
“What is in question today in our reality is not so much the growth of the State and the reason for the State but rather, and much more, its decrease, which in our twentieth century societies we see emerge in two forms: one is precisely the decrease of the governmentality of the State by the work of the governmentality of the party, and, on the other hand, the other form of decrease is that which we can see in regimes such as ours, in which an attempt is made to seek a liberal governmentality. I hasten to add that, in saying this, I try not to make any value judgments. When I speak of liberal governmentality, I do not want, through the use of the term ‘liberal’, to sanctify or value this type of governmentality from the beginning. Nor do I intend to say that it is not legitimate, if you will, to hate the State. It seems to me, however, that what we should not do is imagine that we are describing a real, current process that concerns us, when we denounce nationalization or fascization, the establishment of state violence, and so on. All those who participate in the great phobia of the State should be well aware that they are following the current and that, in fact, for years and years there has been an announcement everywhere of an effective reduction of the State, of nationalisation and of nationalising or nationalised governmentality […] I say that we should not deceive ourselves about belonging to the State of a process of fascisation which is exogenous to it and which is much more in keeping with its reduction and dislocation. I would also like to say that we must not deceive ourselves about the nature of the historical process that makes the State both intolerable and problematic in our times. And that is why, for that reason, if you will, I had intended to study a little carefully the organization of what we might call the German model and its diffusion, bearing in mind, of course, that such a German model, as I tried to describe it […], is not the model so often disqualified, banished, vilified, vomited of the Bismarckian state in the process of becoming Hitlerian. The German model that is spreading, the German model that is in question, the German model that is part of our present time, that the structure and outlines it in its real cut, is the possibility of a neoliberal governmentality” (24).
Why reproduce in extenso Foucault’s textual approaches? For several reasons. Firstly, to offer the reader unfamiliar with his work, or with a still very general idea about it, a tight and very schematic summary of the way he conceives the analysis of power in general, and the analysis of the state in particular. Secondly, because I think it is important to discuss the relevance of his critique of the “overvaluation” of the state, which clearly concerns the way this issue has traditionally been approached since Marxism. Thirdly, because it seems to me that Foucault is right when he affirms that the State is not a universal, an abstraction, a cold monster, or simply an instrument of class domination (which it also is), but fundamentally “the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities”, and that therefore the emphasis must be placed on the analysis of the state.
Why reproduce in extenso Foucault’s textual approaches? For several reasons. First, to offer the reader unfamiliar with his work, or with a still very general idea about it, a tight and very schematic summary of the way in which he conceives the analysis of power in general, and the analysis of the State in particular. Secondly, because I think it is important to discuss the relevance of his critique of the “overvaluation” of the state, which clearly concerns the way this issue has traditionally been approached since Marxism. Thirdly, because it seems to me that Foucault is right when he affirms that the State is not a universal, an abstraction, a cold monster, or simply an instrument of class domination (which it also is), but fundamentally “the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities”, and that therefore the emphasis should be placed on analyzing these governmentalities. Fourth, more or less for the same reasons of “critical morality” that Foucault wielded, while we continue to reproduce the same common sense about the State, which permanently prevents us from understanding its functioning. In our case, for example, it became common currency to denounce the bureaucratism of the State, or its bourgeois character, and we assumed that this was enough to account for the reality about the State, to discover its essence, leaving aside the main task: to analyze which logics govern the Venezuelan State, which governmentalities stress it and, if it were the case, which type of governmentality defines it. Fifthly, and this also has to do with reasons of “critical morality”, because subscribing some kind of phobia to the State, ignorant of the general economy of power that neoliberal governmentality supposes, it can happen that one unfortunate day we discover ourselves “following the current”, that is to say, swearing that we are going against the current when we denounce, for example, the dangers of nationalization, when in reality we are repeating the same ideas that, as far as in the period between wars, wielded by the German neoliberals. Ideas that have undoubtedly become predominant today, and hence the indisputable actuality of the warning that Foucault opportunely made four decades ago. It is worth noting, incidentally, and to state it more explicitly, that we are following the current when we assume as fact that requires neither demonstration nor the slightest discussion, the failure of public management in general, and we place our trust in the “self-regulating” force of the market, no matter how much we insist on talking about socialism.
Finally, perhaps, because without being an expert in his work, something that does not interest me at all, since I am by no means interested in going through his exegete, I think it is necessary to claim Foucault’s “greatness”, more or less in the same terms that Gilles Deleuze claimed the “greatness of Marx” (25). Because in the same way that Marx has been turned into a grotesque caricature by many Marxists, there is a cobbled Foucault or, better said, a cobbled intellectuality that has made the philosopher a sort of champion of the micro-powers, an impenitent defender of the marginalized and the mad, thus subtracting any subversive power from his analysis. To paraphrase Deleuze, I do not understand what people mean when they say that Foucault has made a mistake. There are urgent tasks: one of them, to make use of concepts that allow us to understand the logics that govern the State. And to do so, we have to go through Foucault.
Since it can rightly be objected that it would be difficult for Foucault’s historically situated analysis of the general economy of power to be transferred, without further ado, to Venezuelan current affairs, it is necessary to point out some questions. On the one hand, and as we have already seen, from The Birth of Biopolitics, Foucault appeals to a somewhat more “abstract” definition of governmentality. For Michel Senellart, in the philosopher’s work, “the concept of ‘governmentality’ gradually slips from a precise, historically determined sense to a more general and abstract meaning […]. In 1979, the word no longer designates only the governmental practices constituting a particular regime of power […], but ‘the manner in which the conduct of men is conducted’; it thus serves as ‘a grid of analysis for power relations’ in general” (26). On the other hand, and in any case, instead of simply trying to transfer not only Foucault’s analysis, but for example that of Marx or that of any other or other, what would have to be proven is the effectiveness of their respective “grids of analysis” in realities different from those studied by these authors, in addition without fear that this or that concept will be subjected to the risk of “contamination”.
To paraphrase Foucault himself, our analyses must be able to afford the price of the real, the present and, beyond, the praxis. The opposite is to limit ourselves to “inflationary” analysis or, as Marx warned in his second thesis on Feuerbach, “scholastics”: “It is in practice where man has to demonstrate the truth, that is, reality and power, the earthiness of his thought. Litigation over the reality or unreality of a thought that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic problem” (27).
With regard to the Foucauldian work, something very similar can be said to what Miguel Mazzeo pointed out well about Marx’s work and the “immersions” of Marxism in our realities: “it can come out whole, coherent, fragrant, disinfected, impeccable like a theorem, consistent like a dogma, coagulated in a doctrine. It can preserve its virgin and immaculate symbolic system, as well as its syntax, its phonetics, its lexicon. But he will probably pay the cost of infertility and dead letter. It will not make possible the emergence of new meanings. And so, Marxists, with their odorless, colorless and tasteless knowledge, may come close to enjoyment as a non-subjectivizing way of relating to others, but they will not know the experience of pleasure and happiness. (28)
There exists, who can doubt it, and one could almost say that it prevails, a type of analysis that claims to be foucaultian, entirely infertile, that avoids at all costs any immersion in reality, that prefers the neatness of books, that cultivates price, which is the expression of the worst academicism, whose main aspiration is the writing of papers, who feels a particular repulsion for politics, being therefore depoliticizing, who feels at home learning the history of modern Western societies, but who feels alien and disoriented in his own house.
On the reception of Foucault’s work in the global South, the analysis of neoliberal governmentality, and on the famous Foucauldian definition of biopower (making people live and let them die), Athena Athanasiou warned: “I don’t think it’s possible to be exact if we argue that what determines our particular neoliberal phase is an ‘anachronistic’ configuration of power centred on death rather than on life”. It is necessary, he proposes, to carry out “a non-linear critique of contemporary formations of power and modes of constitution of subjectivities that gives rise to contemporary and inseparable manifestations of desubjectification and subjectification, dehumanization and humanization: ‘letting live’ and ‘making die’, ‘making live’ and ‘letting die’, to use the terms of analysis of Foucaultian rhetoric”.
Athanasiou is opposed to a “reductive reading of the genealogy of Foucault’s biopolitics, which tends to put in brackets or minimize one modality of power in favor of another”, it being necessary, and here is the central point of his proposal, “to critically take into account the integral co-implication and the degree of contemporaneity of ‘repressive’ and ‘productive’ formations of government of oneself and of others”. On the one hand, neoliberal governmentality, “in all its force of repressive, subjugating, brutal and tanatopolitical profit extraction, has not lost its performative bio-productivity in the training of ways of living subjectivity as well as the inculcation of normative fantasies and effects of truth related to the ‘good life’ in subjects who own themselves (a definite life, for example, by the possession of property, fetishism of merchandise, incitement to consumption, security regimes, national membership, bourgeois self-education and biopolitical normality)”. On the other hand, however, “bankruptcy and economically exhausts certain subsistences, cancelling them, transforming them into something disposable and perishable” (29). Athanasiou is a good example of the kind of non-reductive readings of Foucault that should be done, insofar as it rescues, rather than cancels out, its subversive potential.
In Search of Socialist Government
Is there such a thing as a socialist government? Foucault says no. In Nacimiento de la biopolítica even states that, plus a theory of the State, what socialism lacks is “a governmental reason, the definition of what a governmental rationality would be in socialism, that is, a reasonable and calculable measure of the extent of the modalities and objectives of governmental action”. It can be said that it proposes, continues to propose, an economic rationality, a historical rationality, even an administrative rationality: it possesses “rational techniques of intervention, of administrative intervention in fields such as health, social insurance, etc.”. Nevertheless, he affirms, “I believe that there is no autonomous socialist governmentality.
There is no governmental rationality of socialism. In fact, socialism – and history has shown this – can only be put into practice if it is connected to various types of governmentality. Liberal government, and at that moment socialism and its forms of rationality play the role of counterweight, corrective, palliative to its internal dangers. Also, Foucault continues, socialism has functioned in governmentalities that suppose a “hyper-administrative State” (30) or, as we already saw, in non-state governmentalities, as the “governmentality of party”.
Before giving in to the temptation to concentrate all our efforts on elucidating whether Foucault was right or not, I think that what is important, I insist, is to analyze the rationalities that govern the Venezuelan State, the governmentalities that stress it.
For the moment, just a point and a question that must remain open. The first one refers to the State: it can be affirmed that, from the beginning, Chavismo settled the question of the “taking of power” of the State, distancing itself from the various political tax positions of what Foucault called State phobia. But let’s say that he did it without turning it into a fetish, without believing that occupying the State already meant, in itself, a revolution in the strict sense, and without believing that occupying the State was enough to make the revolution. The State had to be occupied in order, as Chávez said on several occasions, to transform it: it had to reach the Government, then the revolutionary forces had to be capable of preserving it, but above all they had to be capable of transforming the forms of government, and not only the forms, but the structures of the Government and, beyond, of the State. This task implied, of course, the deployment of an entire strategic policy, an endless number of tactics, measures, decisions, initiatives, policies, governed in turn by logics or rationalities that we would have to analyze.
Then, the question that refers to the popular subject, at the same time protagonist, object, but above all point of support, in the Archimedean sense, of the transforming policy: can it be affirmed that such a strategic policy had as its purpose not only to conserve the power to transform it, but fundamentally no longer to make die and let live, nor to make live and let die, but to make live what was condemned to die?
(1) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Since the arrival of socialism, in: Wild chavismo. Editorial Trinchera. Caracas, Venezuela. 2016. Pages 112-116.
(2) Michel Foucault. Birth of Biopolitics. FCE. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2007. P. 119.
(3) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Communes: to make the new emerge. (A balance of 2013). 3 January 2014. https://elotrosaberypoder.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/comunas-para-hacer-que-emerja-lo-nuevo-un-balance-de-2013/
(4) Reinaldo Iturriza López. Repolitizar: to govern in a revolutionary way. December 23, 2015. https://elotrosaberypoder.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/repolitizar-gobernar-revolucionariamente/
(5) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 120.
(6) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. FCE. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2006. P. 139.
(7) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. P. 136.
(8) Michel Foucault. Defending society. FCE. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2000. P. 220.
(9) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. Page 15.
(10) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. P. 16.
(11) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. P. 17.
(12) Michel Foucault. History of sexuality 1. The will to know. Twenty-one Century Editors. Mexico. 1999. P. 167.
(13) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. P. 137.
(14) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. P. 136.
(15) Michel Foucault. Security, territory, population. P. 136-137.
(16) Michel Senellart. Situation of the courses, in: Security, territory, population. P. 438.
(17) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 96.
(18) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 218.
(19) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 218.
(20) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 218-219.
(21) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 219.
(22) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 219.
(23) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 219-221.
(24) Michel Foucault. Birth of biopolitics. P. 223-226.
(25) The “I remember” by Gilles Deleuze. Interview by Didier Eribon in 1993. P. 232. Contrasts. Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy. Vol. VII (2002). University of Malaga, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. Spain.
(26) Michel Senellart. Situación de los cursos, en: Security, territory, population. Pages 447-448.
(27) Karl Marx. Thesis on Feuerbach, en: Friedrich Engels, Georgi Plejanov. Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of German Classical Philosophy. Notes to Ludwig Feuerbach. Past and Present Notebooks. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 1975. Page 71.
(28) Miguel Mazzeo. Marx Populi. Fundación Editorial El perro y la rana. Editorial El Colectivo. Caracas, Venezuela. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2018. Page 112.
(29) Athena Athanasiou, Judith Butler. Desposesión: lo performativo en lo político. Eterna Cadencia Editora. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2017. Pages 47-49.
(30) Michel Foucault. Birth of Biopolitics. Pages 117-118.