A cursory reading of Deleuze, and more specifically his political philosophy, reveals a thinker associated at best with abstract anti-utopianism, and at worst, with active support for capitalism. His invention of concepts such as the minority points towards a reading of Deleuze as the progenitor of the collapse of revolutionary Marxism, and with it the hopes of the middle of the twentieth century, into contemporary liberal identity politics.1


To accept such a reading, however, would constitute blind submission to the dominant bourgeois interpretation of Deleuzean philosophy. Worse, it would fail to acknowledge the deep complexity of Deleuzean politics. In a 1990 interview with Antonio Negri, Deleuze declared that both Guattari and himself had ‘remained Marxists.’2 And let’s not forget, Deleuze’s next planned book was to be entitled La Grandeur de Marx or The Greatness of Marx. Recall some of his other book titles dedicated to individual philosophers: Bergsonism, Empiricism and Subjectivity, Nietzsche and Philosophy and Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, to name just a few. Every one of these thinkers were major influences for Deleuze. He even went so far as to refer to Spinoza as ‘the ‘prince’ of philosophers.3 Yet none of these titles mention the grandeur that Deleuze seemed to see in Marx. From this alone, it would appear that Marx occupies a special place in Deleuzean political thought. There is, however, another similarly titled journal article written by Deleuze: The Grandeur of Yasser Arafat.4 The Yasser Arafat mentioned here being the former chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Given that this article was clearly pro-Palestinian, referring to ‘the Zionists’ as having spread the ‘evil’ of the holocaust to innocent Palestinians, it is highly likely that The Greatness of Marx would have been similarly pro-Marxist.5


I will therefore seek to chart the resonances between Marx and Deleuze. Specifically, I will examine a conception of political philosophy common to both; their common political ontologies and their relation to Deleuzean desiring-production, alongside the relationship between Deleuzean minoritarianism and the revolutionary proletariat. Doing so will reveal Deleuze’s continual use of, and adherence to, Marxist political theory, and will illustrate that Deleuzean politics is not a break with Marx, but rather an expansion and intensification of Marxist theory.


Before initiating this engagement with Deleuze and Marx, it is important to clarify what Deleuze meant when he maintained that he had ‘remained’ a Marxist. In Deleuze’s time, the intellectuals of the French academy had a critical relationship with Marx. A general push against Marx, or at least against a sober, orthodox Marxism had taken place – as it had across the world. Liberatory ideologues (think Foucault) had taken an almost pro-capitalist turn, singing the praises of neoliberalism as a new economic-political form that was more respectful to the liberty of both the individual and the oppressed minority.6 In this regard, Deleuze’s attempt to cast himself as a Marxist was a particularly radical break with the intellectual norm. It can be read as a conscious attempt to revivify the old Marxism that once had a foothold in French society, from the political importance of the French Communist Party and the Gauche Prolétarienne to Althusserian structuralism. Hence, Deleuze’s claim that he had ‘remained Marxist’ can be understood as an argument that he had resisted the intellectual tide that slowly sought to undermine Marxism.


Perhaps due to widespread criticism of the Hegelian aspects of Marx, Deleuze did not seek to espouse any form of orthodox Marxism. Instead, Deleuze’s work is fundamentally transformational, selectively reading Marx and reinventing a Marxist analysis.7 Two questions then arise. Which Marxist concepts did Deleuze reject? What did Deleuze transform Marxism into? Briefly put, I will contend that Deleuze leveraged a Marxist analysis of capitalism, alongside a slightly altered form of revolutionary communism throughout his work, while simultaneously vehemently rejecting what he believed to be remnants of Hegelian teleology and philosophy that persisted within Marx’s thought.


Both Deleuze and Marx grounded their philosophy in the material. For Marx, moral, philosophical, and religious ideas do not arise due to the presence of eternal, immutable values, but rather as a product of ‘the course of historical development’, and more specifically the class structures that constitute history.8 This is not to undermine philosophical thought, as Marx engaged in a form of political philosophy in his writing. Instead, Marx maintained that philosophy has a radically subversive role, since it can analyse dominant structures of power and herald new forms of social organisation. This conception of philosophy is not only reflected, but expanded upon in Deleuze. For Deleuze, philosophy is fundamentally a struggle against doxa (opinion), or more broadly the dominant, striated set of beliefs, in an attempt to ‘tear open’ the dogmatic image of thought and initiate a ‘plunge into the chaos.’9 In this regard, philosophy continually seeks to synthesise new concepts out of a virtual, chaotic totality, which always occurs in relation to dominant power structures. While this may appear to be a primarily epistemological and methodological engagement, it is in fact radically political. For Deleuze, as it is for Marx, the philosophical mode of thought is a fundamentally interventionist act which heralds a future that is inherently unknowable while still operating within the dominant paradigm.10 As such, while some of Deleuze’s work may appear apolitical, his entire philosophy is in fact a radically political project that critiques and analyses overarching political-economic power structures within a fundamentally Marxist framework.


For both thinkers, any philosophical system – or combination of ‘various intermingled codes and flux’ – is the product of the material and ideological flows of a given society.11 In Marxist parlance, these are the class structures of capitalism. Deleuze articulated the same concept by maintaining that machinic assemblages, intimately connected with both the mode of production and unconscious structures of desire, allow for the expression of a certain societal superstructure and the formation of ideology.


Examining this relationship between Marxist class analysis and Deleuze’s anti-Freudian notion of desiring-production (wherein creative desire is ontologically fundamental) reveals a common post-humanist political ontology shared between the two. At the most basic level, both posited an immanent ontology that rejects a distinction between economic, social and political reality; or, perhaps better put, an ontology that rejects the anthropomorphic separation between nature and humanity.12 This is found within the young Marx, who maintained that the ‘fact that nature and man exist on their own account is incomprehensible’, and that, even further, ‘human essence’ is found in the ‘ensemble of the social relations’.13 Hence, Marx denied a fundamental essence to both humanity and nature, and instead argued that humanity is formed as an assemblage of contingent social relations that are inseparable both from their natural grounding and the economic relations which constitute them. This kind of political ontology is reflected in and is politically congruent with the Deleuzean conception of the unconscious. For Deleuze, the unconscious is ‘within the order of production’, in that it is fundamentally embedded within economic and social infrastructure, and continually reproduces itself in a process of ‘auto-production’.14 As such, Deleuze maintains that there is no separation between the universal productive order and the faculties of unconscious desire.15 It is through this principle that Deleuze’s concept of desiring-production should henceforth be read, with desire as the immanent principle that continually produces and reproduces the prevailing social order. Deleuze can therefore be interpreted not as breaking from a Marxist core, but rather as extending and intensifying Marxist discourse by immersing not only culture, economics and politics but also unconscious desire into the ongoing production of social life. In this regard, Jacques Donzelot’s now-infamous declaration that Deleuzoguattarianism reflected a kind of ‘hyper-Marxism’ can now be properly understood: Deleuze did not shave Marx’s beard, but rather induced a rhizomatic burst of growth.16


The archetypal forest biome works to exemplify the concept of ontologically fundamental machinic production and vitalist desire I have discussed above. Perhaps surprisingly, complex terrestrial ecosystems composed of perennial plants (such as trees) have been far from ubiquitous in geologic and evolutionary history, even during the Cambrian and post-Cambrian periods of the Phanerozoic.17 This changed rather rapidly during the Devonian and especially the Carboniferous periods, as tree ferns and lycophytes began colonising earth's continents.18 However, the fertile and nutrient-rich soil that is usually associated with forest ecosystems was not present in sufficient quantities to support such ecosystems.19 Soil as we know it is composed of a combination of weathered minerals and decaying biomass, neither of which had the time to build up in large quantities. Even further, inland areas received little to no rain, as most storms expelled all of their water relatively quickly after leaving the ocean.20 These limiting factors would not be overcome by some third party mechanism, but by forest ecosystems themselves. Growing along coastal and river areas, proto-forests were large enough to slowly allow for the production of sufficient levels of biomass as nutrients were brought into the ecosystem by specialised organisms and carbon was recycled from the atmosphere into plant life.21 Further, large amounts of plant cover encouraged the re-evaporation of water into storm clouds and prevented the runoff of rainwater into oceans and rivers, allowing rain to move even deeper into Pangaea.22 The forest, operating as an eco-imperialist in the truly Leninist sense, hence actively created the conditions for its own survival.


This is an interesting story. But in what way is it even remotely related to Deleuze and Marx? The key point is that the forest biome was engaged in an innate process of automatic self-production. The term production is used here not as an analogy to contemporary industry, but to illustrate that natural and economic processes are metaphysically and analytically the same thing. Just as an industrial machine takes in a set of material inputs and produces a commodity as its output, thereby transforming human society both economically and culturally, a plant would take in carbon, water, amino acids, energy from the sun (and so forth) and produce organic molecules both for itself and the (re)production of its offspring. Similarly, just as capitalism produces and deterritorializes economic and political conditions to allow for its expansion and ongoing survival, a forest must initiate the relative reterritorialization of geological and physico-chemical strata upon its continuing survival and expansion. Forests are composed of trees and other peripheral plants, while capitalism has as its constituents private individuals, companies and the commodities they produce. All are fundamentally arborescent. Relations between these individuals, however, are quintessentially rhizomatic, as they are mediated by mycorrhizal fungi and the flows and axioms of capital, respectively.23 This analogy works so well precisely because it is not an analogy: they are organisationally the same.


Thus, both economics and ecology operate in a manner which renders them functionally inseparable. During the Medieval Warm Period, for example, manorial feudalism was centred upon the ability for peasant villages to deterritorialize the productive capacity of forest ecosystems upon the medieval socio-economic assemblage.24 Agricultural produce derived from ecological production thereby allowed for the religious, architectural and military accomplishments of the Middle Ages. It is not just a case of ecology grounding economics and politics, as these alloplastic strata themselves enable extreme changes of the ecological. For the medieval era this extreme change took the form of the Great Famine caused by the unsustainability of slash and burn agriculture. For the contemporary age, which is the paradigmatic case, it is the effect of economics and industrial production on the climate, and in turn climate change upon human society. Geology is integrated with ecology which is itself integrated with economics and politics. Deleuzo-Marxism is hence the first true theory of geoeconomics.


Building upon this ontological foundation, it is possible to chart the complementary conceptions of the state, and its relationship with class structures, found within both Marx and Deleuze. For both thinkers, the state is a political and social formation that reproduces, supports and codes the dominant economic structure and mode of production, in the interests of both a ruling political class and, perhaps more significantly, a propertied economic class (although these two groups are often inseparable).25 This development is prehistorical, as it was the emergence of agriculture that enabled a dominant ruling class to build State apparatuses that aided in the continual extraction of surplus-value.26 This is easily found within both Deleuze and Marx. However, Deleuze again expanded upon this point, and argued that all expressions of sovereignty and statehood are inherently manifestations of a ‘quite perfect, quite complete’ Urstaat 27 that acts as an eternal system of governmentality to suppress flux and exteriority.28 This conception of the state was used by Deleuze to analyse the geopolitics and international relations of his time. Doing so allows for the identification of a capitalist ‘megamachine’ in which isomorphic capitalist states attempt to realise, reproduce and expand capitalism and by extension the dominance of the world market.29 Marx is thereby activated in this Deleuzean version of political theory, as specific forms of statehood are said to arise primarily from the movement and flow of capital, or more broadly the mode of production of a society.


A final point must be acknowledged here before proceeding, as it represents one of Deleuze’s (surprisingly rare) breaks from Marx. Deleuze conceptualised the antithesis to the state – similarly eternal, perfect and virtually unchanging – in the form of the nomadic war machine. The nomadic war machine is a form of pure exteriority that exists in and through the enactment of metamorphosis, deterritorialization and flux, which is fundamentally opposed to the role of the state in maintaining identity and empire.30 As we shall see, this almost Platonic conceptualisation of change and movement (paradoxical as that may be) will allow for a Deleuzean understanding of revolutionary overcoming.


This break with Marx over the status of the state, however minor, produces a key difference between the two thinkers. While both share a similar, if not identical, political ontology, Marx follows Hegel in emphasising a set of internal contradictions as being key in the development of struggle and the eventual overthrow of capitalism. Deleuze differs in this analysis, as he maintains that revolutionary potential is latent not primarily due to internal contradictions, but is rather found in the ability of disaffected groups to act upon lines of flight that destroy the class relations that define capitalism.31 It is important to note that neither one entirely disagrees with the other. A Marxist could conceptualise the proletariat as taking a Deleuzean line of flight, just as Deleuzoguattarians believe that revolutionary groups become such due to their exclusion from the dominant codes; their very presence within a social system is itself a contradiction for the mode of production.


The possibility of a synthesis quickly arises. In order to integrate these ideas into a Deleuzo-Marxist fusion, what must now be considered is Marx’s reasoning for declaring the proletariat to be the revolutionary class. The first point has already been made: the proletariat has been disenfranchised on an unprecedented scale and has interests that are fundamentally separate from the ruling class – the bourgeoisie. Alone, however, this is insufficient for the identification of a revolutionary subject. While the class categories of bourgeois and proletarian are the two main camps under capitalism, other classes can and do exist, and they are often disaffected themselves. It is not difficult to imagine one of these classes thereby attempting to seize power. The issue is, however, that upon taking power they would merely morph into a (likely political-bourgeois) ruling class. Hence, the second reason for Marxist support of the proletariat arises: upon seizing power, they will ‘win the battle of democracy’, taking control of capital and seizing the means of production from the bourgeoisie, eventually ushering in a classless society.32 In Deleuzean language, the proletariat is the only group capable of decoding the flows of capitalism and thereby breaking the productive assemblages and class structures that maintain it.


A final obstacle remains that prevents the wholehearted acknowledgement and acceptance of this Deleuzo-Marxist conception of politics: the Deleuzean formulation of the minority. Simply put, a minority is any group that lacks a stable identity and undermines dominant power structures, thereby harbouring latent revolutionary potential. This is a microcosm of all hitherto identified issues revealed by this paper, as it is at a cursory glance the predecessor of anti-Marxist liberal identity politics. The universality of the revolutionary proletariat is so important to Marxist politics that if Deleuzean minoritarianism truly is a mere liberalism in disguise, then all points of resonance already identified are almost rendered irrelevant. Careful examination is thus required. For Deleuze, while the majoritarian is a ‘constant and homogenous system’ that is striated, codified and dominant, minoritarians are ‘crystals of becoming’ that initiate ‘uncontrollable movements and deterritorializations’ within the dominant majority.33 Already, Deleuze is breaking with identity politics, as the minority is not defined in terms of relatively small identity groups, or even a vague understanding of oppression, but by its potential to break with dominant structures. Ultimately, the category of minority is still intimately tied to class, as it is defined by its position in a set of historical and material conditions. This also explains why numerical superiority or inferiority is irrelevant to the Deleuzean minority, as it refers to ‘subordinate groups’ in a given system, not their size.34 Still, this only supports the compossibility of the Marxist proletariat and the Deleuzean minoritarian – these concepts can be legitimately read together, and this may be a worthwhile endeavour, but Deleuze himself remains only tangentially Marxist at best, and entirely non-Marxist at worst. For Deleuze to be legitimately declared to be a Marxist, he would need to explicitly support the revolutionary proletariat as the sole means of destroying capitalism and achieving socialism. What a relief it is, for those of us who propose to rescue Deleuze from the dominant bourgeois reading, that he does, in fact, identify a ‘revolutionary’ minority that has the ability to ‘carry within them a deeper movement that challenges the worldwide axiomatic.’


What is this minority? ‘The power of minority, of particularity, finds its figure or its universal consciousness in the proletariat.’35 Finally, what must this minority, the revolutionary proletariat, achieve? Its goal, its mission, is ‘that of smashing capitalism, of redefining socialism, of constituting a war machine capable of countering the world war machine by other means.’36 Note the term ‘redefining’: Deleuze operated in a climate where the Soviet Union was considered the ultimate manifestation of socialism: he therefore desired a form of socialism that remained Marxist, but that radically broke with the Soviet model. Deleuze thereby emphatically argued for the proletariat as the universal revolutionary subject, with the destruction of capitalism and the creative development of socialism as its object. What is this, but the very essence of revolutionary Marxism?


As a result of this analysis, it is clear that Deleuze explicitly espoused and identified with revolutionary Marxism. Not only did he agree with Marx on key political-ontological and meta-philosophical points, he also clearly endorsed and supported the revolutionary proletariat as the driving force of history that was to destroy capitalism and achieve socialism. From this, it is obvious that the question is not to synthesise Deleuze and Marx. Rather, Deleuzean politics is best understood as an expansion and intensification of Marxist politics and Marxist class analysis. To be clear, I am not arguing that Marx was somehow a Deleuzean, this would be absurd, given that Deleuze was writing almost a century after Marx. Rather, I am arguing that Deleuzoguattarian political philosophy is fundamentally Marxist.


None of this is to say that Deleuze wholeheartedly agreed with the entirety of Marx’s work: he retained a deep dislike for Hegelianism throughout his philosophical career. In fact, a defining characteristic of Deleuze is his tendency to ignore ideas he disagrees with, rather than attempting to disprove them. This explains his appreciation for Althusser, as he sees the Althusserian project as a disinfectant that identifies and removes Hegelianism from Marx. If Marx did in fact reject Hegelianism, and effectively removed the vestiges of Hegel’s thought from his own, by himself, then the resonances between the political and philosophical thought of Deleuze and Marx are even stronger. This potential philosophical disagreement should not distract from the core point, however, as from a close reading it is obvious that Deleuze maintained every defining tenet of Marxism in his political work. Further, in understanding philosophy to be a fundamentally political endeavour, Deleuze’s entire corpus must be read as a part of the ongoing philosophical and political development of Marxism. As such, the one central idea that has been illuminated by this entire undertaking is that Marx is not only utterly inseparable from Deleuze, but also that Deleuze represents a new apex in Marxist political philosophy.



Footnotes

  1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (London; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 105-6.
  2. Antonio Negri, “Control and Becoming (Interview with Gilles Deleuze),” Blackout, published 1990.
    Available here
  3. Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 11.
  4. Gilles Deleuze, “The Grandeur of Yasser Arafat,” trans. Timothy S. Murphy, Discourse 20, no. 3 (Autumn 1998): 30-33. Available here
  5. Deleuze, “The Grandeur of Yasser Arafat,” 30.
  6. Michael Merlingen, “Why Foucault Embraced Neoliberalism,” Academia.edu, published December 2016, pg. 19. Available here
  7. Simon Choat,Marx Through Poststructuralism: Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze(New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010), 128-9.
  8. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Marx/Engels Selected Works Vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 120. Available here
  9. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 202.
  10. Choat, Marx Through Post-Structuralism, 130-1.
  11. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 117.
  12. Isabelle Garo, “Deleuze, Marx and Revolution: What It Means to ‘Remain Marxist’,” in Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism, eds. Jacques Bidet and Stathis Kouvelakis (Boston: Brill, 2008), 610; Jae-Yin Kim, “Deleuze, Marx and Non-Human Sex: An Immanent Ontology Shared between Anti-Oedipus and Manuscripts from 1844,” Theory and Event 16, no. 3 (2013): 2.
  13. Karl Marx, “Private Property and Communism,” in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1959). Avaliable here. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach (6th Thesis),” in Marx/Engels Selected Works, Vol. 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969). Available here
  14. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 100; Kim, “Immanent Ontology”, 5.
  15. Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 8-9.
  16. Jacques Donzelot, “An Anti-Sociology,” Anarchist Without Content (blog), pg. 14 Available here. Nicholas Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics (London; New York: Routledge, 2003), 11.
  17. Thomas J. Algeo, Stephen E. Scheckler, and J. Barry Maynard, “Effects of the Middle to Late Devonian Spread of Vascular Land Plants on Weathering Regimes, Marine Biotas, and Global Climate,” in Plants Invade the Land: Evolutionary and Environmental Perspectives, eds. Patricia G. Gensel and Dianne Edwards (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 213-14.
  18. Algeo, Scheckler, and Maynard, “Spread of Vascular Land Plants,” 213-14.
  19. Ibid, 215.
  20. Ibid, 225.
  21. Algeo, Scheckler, and Maynard, “Spread of Vascular Land Plants,” 223-25.
  22. Ibid, 225-27.
  23. Tancredo Souza, Handbook of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, 2015), 48-58; Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 434-6.
  24. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 89; for more information on the relationship between the Medieval Warm Period and feudal society see William Rosen, The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century (New York: Viking Press, 2014).
  25. James Juniper. “Deleuze and Guattari's Political Economy of the State,” in Constraints to Full Employment: Fiscal and Monetary Policy ed. Graham Wrightson (Newcastle: University of Newcastle: Centre of Full Employment and Equity, 2006), 138.
  26. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 360-1; Juniper “Political Economy,” 139.
  27. “Original-state”
  28. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 360.
  29. Ibid, 436.
  30. Ibid, 360-1.
  31. Thoburn, Deleuze, Marx and Politics, 2.
  32. Marx and Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” 120.
  33. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 105-6.
  34. Timothy Laurie and Rimi Khan, "The Concept of Minority for the Study of Culture," Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 31, no. 1 (Feb 2017): 95-96, doi:10.1080/10304312.2016.1264110.
  35. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus em>, 472. Emphasis mine.
  36. Ibid. Emphasis mine.

Further Reading

  • Choat, Simon, Marx Through Poststructuralism: Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010).
  • Thoburn, Nicholas, Deleuze, Marx and Politics (London; New York: Routledge, 2003).