Book Reviews

Historical-Machinic Materialism

 A Review of Politique et État chez Deleuze et Guattari by Guilleme Sibertin-Blanc


Jason Read

Philosophy Department, University of Southern Maine


Guilleme Sibertin-Blanc considers the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari not via a direct relation to Marx, either in terms of lineage or deviation, but in terms of their particular response to the question of politics and the state. In doing so his work not only reveals the affinity between Deleuze and Guattari’s thought and Marxist theories of the state, especially those considering the question of violence in light of primitive accumulation, but also the usefulness of the latter for the former. Sibertin-Blanc makes a case for the overdetermined reading of the concepts of Deleuze and Guattari, understanding them as simultaneously concepts of material conditions and their expression in ideas.


Marx – Deleuze – primitive accumulation – Spinoza – capital – state

Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, (2013) Politique et État chez Deleuze et Guattari. Essai sur le matérialisme historico-machinique, Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

That Marx and Marxism are central concerns of Sibertin-Blanc’s book should perhaps be obvious from the subtitle, ‘Historico-machinic Materialism’, but it is perhaps equally clear that this relation is oblique. This is not a study of influence, an examination of the way in which Marx’s conception of capital underlies Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of abstract machines and axiomatics, nor is it an examination of the extent to which the latter fits into some pre-existing idea of Marxist theory or politics, however unorthodox. Turning from the subtitle to the title we can see that the central concern of Sibertin-Blanc’s book is not capital, nor the mode of production, but the state and politics. The encounter between Deleuze & Guattari and Marx is framed by what is often seen as a constitutive lacuna in each. It approaches Marx from a sort of blindside; as much as Lenin, Gramsci, Poulantzas and others have offered a theory of the state, Marx’s own remarks are just that: remarks, a few metaphors about machines and the role of the state and of class, but not a fully-developed theory. In a different manner, for better or worse, Deleuze and Guattari are often read as offering very little to politics, at least as it is conventionally understood, constituting something like a minor or micro-politics. Sibertin-Blanc approaches the relation between Marx and the work of Deleuze and Guattari not directly, via influence or orthodoxy, but obliquely through a set of problems having to do with the state, violence and the economy. Thus it is possible to say, following Deleuze and Guattari, that they approach this relation in the middle, in the space between Marx and Deleuze & Guattari, which is also the space between politics and economics.

          One last word on the title, or rather the subtitle: ‘Historico-machinic Materialism’ suggests an attempt not only to read Deleuze and Guattari as within, or at least heterodox to, the Marxist tradition, but also to read the former systematically and, more importantly, as a materialist philosophy. Historico-machinic materialism takes its place alongside dialectical and historical materialism. Sibertin-Blanc’s earlier publication Deleuze et L’anti-Œdipe: la production du désir pushed beyond the clichés ofAnti-Oedipus as a schizophrenic text, or, asPensée ’68, to see it as a materialist analysis of the constitution of desire and subjectivity. Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of psychoanalysis and the family is oriented towards situating the production of desire within conditions that exceed the family, seeing it as a product (and necessary reproduction) of the mode of production rather than as an expression of oedipal dynamics.[1] ‘Machinic’ in this sense becomes the matter of an understanding of the immanence of desire to the mode of production, its univocity – desire is neither a simple effect of the mode of production, nor is it a cause; it is always cause and effect, structured and structuring. Politique et État chez Deleuze et Guattari is focused on neitherAnti-Oedipus norA Thousand Plateaus, but upon both texts understood as simultaneously the development of a single philosophical perspective (historico-machinic materialism) and divided by eight long years of history, years in which French philosophy went from the conflicts over the events of May to the rise of the ‘new philosophers’. It was a decade of depoliticisation asPensée ’68 gave way to ethics, Christianity, and a retreat into philosophy. As much as the two volumes ofCapitalisme et Schizophrénie can be understood to traverse the decade of their conception, constituting something like a counter-history, or, as Deleuze and Guattari would probably prefer, a ‘becoming’ that passes beneath the shift from radicalism to conservatism, there is also something fundamentally anachronistic about the books (even before one gets to the nomads). The emphasis on fascism, on both its historical emergence and its micropolitical legacy, orients the books towards the interwar period even if they are often seen as exemplifying the intersection of political radicalism and ‘high theory’ that typified post-’68 thought. Sibertin-Blanc argues that it is precisely this anachronism at the time of their writing that makes the books relevant today (p. 12).

Sibertin-Blanc’s other major publication of this period, Philosophie politique XIXe–XXe siècles, is an examination of the various vicissitudes of the state, its foundation, justification and bureaucracy, etc., and thus it is possible to see Sibertin-Blanc’s work on Deleuze and Guattari as situated between a scholarly exegesis and a practical intervention. Such an itinerary characterises Sibertin-Blanc’s work in general. He is a member of the International Center for the Study of Contemporary French Philosophy as well as a contributor to Actuel Marx, writing on both the history of French philosophy, and the intersecting problems of race, violence and nationalism. Here it is possible to note the proximity of Sibertin-Blanc’s teachers, Pierre Macherey and Étienne Balibar, who seem to have imparted less a lesson in doctrinaire ‘Althusserianism’ than attentiveness to the difficulties of conceptualising the conjuncture. Sibertin-Blanc is not the first to note Deleuze and Guattari’s Marxism, but perhaps the first, or at least the most resolute, in drawing a connection between Deleuze and Guattari and the Marxist tradition that is less about cultural theory, ideology, the commodity and desire, than it is about political practice and intervention.

The common theme that Sibertin-Blanc isolates in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, the point of intersection of their work with political philosophy, is violence, or, more specifically, the intersecting themes of arché-violence, the formation of the state; exo-violence, the violence of the war-machine outside of the state; and endo-violence, the violence of capital and axiomatics. The focus on violence, especially in terms of violence as something that traverses the space between the state and capital, sets up points of comparison with Étienne Balibar’s work on violence, something which has become the explicit focus of Thibault Masset’s La violence chez Deleuze-Guattari et Balibar: mode de production, subjectivation, et politique. In each case it is a matter of understanding the different modalities of violence, from the violence of the state, exceptional and sovereign, to the regular violence of capital, or what Balibar calls ultra-subjective or ultra-objective violence.[2] Violence is understood not just in terms of its putatively exceptional character, as something that appears sporadically in moments of crisis and chaos, but in terms of the way in which it permeates the state and capital, constituting both the institution of violence and the violence of institutions. As Masset argues, the task of a critical political philosophy is making manifest the violence that is concealed in day-to-day existence.[3]

Starting from Marx on primitive accumulation, Deleuze and Guattari insist on not only the fundamentally violent nature of the state, but also its necessary role in constituting capitalism. As Deleuze and Guattari write, ‘It is not the state that presupposes a mode of production; quite the opposite, it is the state that makes production a mode.’[4] The state’s necessary role in constituting capital, in constituting social relations, is pushed farther and farther back in time, a historical displacement that begins with Anti-Oedipus and continues withA Thousand Plateaus. It is not just, as it was for Marx, that the state is the necessary midwife of colonisation, the destruction of the commons, and the overall separation of the emergent workers from the means of production, rather the state is the very condition of labour as such. Labour as an activity separated from other activities, and subject to its specific exploitation and organisation, presupposes the state as the necessary condition of the abstraction and separation of activity. This materialisation of the state then leads to its opposite, to its idealisation. The state is not just a material condition of exploitation, it is also an image of thought; it is an image that stresses interiority, identity and totality. It can only be one if it is the other; the state’s ability to secure and maintain the mode of production is predicated on its claim of totality and universality, and its totality and universality are in part based on its actual efficacy in the realm of forces (p. 29). Even Hegel would not have posited the state as the Idea in history if the state did not have effects in history. The state can be idealised, can become the very figure of the Idea, because it has functioned as a materialisation of power. As Sibertin-Blanc argues, this materialisation and idealisation of the state, its role as both condition of production and figure of thought, makes it hard to place in the history of philosophy. It becomes necessary to think in terms of the materiality of ideality. To think the manner in which the very image of the state, of totality, has material conditions and effects (p. 29).

          The state must be thought of as a kind of antinomy, or as several antinomies; at once material and ideal, historical and outside of history, and it is only by grasping it as an antinomy, which is to say as overdetermined by the specific ways in which this tension is articulated, that one can understand its effects. This is why the writings on primitive accumulation are the most important texts of Marx’s for Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the state. It is through the transitional dimension of the state that it is possible to grasp its constitutive antinomies. The central antinomy of primitive accumulation is that of the status of the state, as simultaneously legal and illegal, contingent and necessary. ‘Hence the very particular character of state violence: it is very difficult to pinpoint this violence because it always presents itself as preaccomplished.’[5] The state is simultaneously the limit of one system, the destruction of feudalism and multiple powers, and the beginning of another assemblage, one constituted by an apparatus of capture. As reorganisation, a new assemblage, it is still constituted of the violence that constituted the old system, the old power (p. 61). Its existence as something that stands outside of violence, constituting order, is only because it is a reorganisation of that violence. Monopolistic appropriation proceeds, and makes possible, a direct comparison of that which it appropriates. This is the ultimate antinomy of the state, the one that is the kernel of its definition, that the monopoly precedes and constitutes what it is a monopoly of. Hierarchy and asymmetry is not a deviation from an originary equal exchange, but rather the latter’s necessary condition.

Sibertin-Blanc’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari stands thus in sharp contrast with another Marxist reading, that of Fredric Jameson. For Jameson Anti-Oedipus can be considered properly materialist, or at any rate influenced by Marx, at least in terms of its historicisation of desire, butA Thousand Plateaus, in which the state, like many concepts and categories, becomes part of a conceptual opposition positing the nomad against the state, is increasingly idealist, even moralistic. Materialist analysis gives way to dualisms of moralising distinctions. As Jameson writes,

But this may furnish the occasion for saying why the emergence of this or that dualism should be a cause for complaint or critique in the first place. Dualism is, I believe, the strong form of ideology as such, which may of course disguise its dual structure under any number of complicated substitutions. This is so, I want to assert, because it is the ultimate form of the ethical binary, which is thus always secretly at work within ideology.[6]

Jameson’s critique is borne out by the various readers of Deleuze and Guattari that have turned concepts like the nomad, the rhizome, or even immanence itself into something to be unproblematically celebrated. In contrast to Jameson’s interpretation, Sibertin-Blanc not only reads the two volumes together, overcoming the dualism of original radical project and ethical deviation, but in doing so also sees its various dualisms not so much as reducible to an ethical binary, but as expanding into a series of displacements. Thus his reading in some sense echoes Deleuze and Guattari’s methodological approach to dualisms,

We invoke one dualism only in order to challenge another. We employ a dualism of models only in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models. … Arrive at the magic formula we all seek – pluralism=monism – via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging.[7]

Even primitive accumulation changes its fundamental antinomies in the two texts. It appears in the first as a figure of contingency, of universal history understood as contingency, while in the latter the antinomy is turned towards that of the particular nature of state violence, as simultaneously constituting right and violence. Thus it is possible to see the first as more materialist, concerning the effects on the economy, while the latter is more ideological, or conceptual, concerning the very constitution of the state as a figure of thought. Sibertin-Blanc makes it possible to see these two aspects as constituting a kind of addition, or transformation; it is not a matter of shifting from material effects to conceptual binaries, but of recognising that there are no conceptual binaries without material conditions, and vice versa. It is the same state, the same social relation, thought in terms of its material relations or its conceptual relations, as power and as concept.

The parallel yet distinct relation of the material force of the state and its idea is only one aspect of Sibertin-Blanc’s argument (p. 41). First, and foremost, there is its affirmative nature: social relations or social formations are defined not by their contradictions but by their creative movements of transformation. Gilles Deleuze’s earlier work on Spinoza argued that the relationship between bodies and ideas, the order and connection of ideas and things, is best characterised as parallelism, as the identical order of two different attributes, the order and connection of things and ideas. It is precisely this same process that defines Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of what constitutes social relations, or, in their terms, an assemblage. An assemblage is both a collective assemblage of enunciation and a machinic assemblage of bodies; it is both an intermingling of bodies and an organisation of acts or statements.[8] These two aspects, bodies and statements, actions and events, do not determine or affect each other, but are each affected or determined by their relative deterritorialisation or reterritorialisation, by their processes of abstraction and concretisation. It is this process of differentiation and transformation that constitutes the order and connection of bodies and ideas, actions and statements. Spinoza’s ontology, the ontology of substance grasped in terms of two different attributes, is marshalled in the service of the solution to a problem of political, economic and social theory, the Marxist problem of determinism, of the base and superstructure. Bodies and enunciations, forms of content and expression, must be seen as distinct, as having their own specific causalities and effects. They are connected not by a causal order, i.e. by their effects on each other, but by the general process of deterritorialisation, of abstraction and displacement. Between Spinoza’s substance and Deleuze and Guattari’s process of deterritorialisation is Marx’s mode of production; the latter makes it possible to think of the order and connection not as metaphysics but as a social relation. A mode of production must be thought simultaneously as an organisation of bodies and an order of statements.

Sibertin-Blanc’s reading stresses this innovation, but pushes it in a different direction, one influenced by a different reading of Spinoza. For Sibertin-Blanc it is not the parallelism but rather the overdetermination of the different assemblages, of the different conceptual oppositions, that defines Deleuze and Guattari’s account of social relations. In doing so, Sibertin-Blanc proliferates the various oppositions and dualisms rather than reducing them to a central ethical opposition. Instead of seeing everything reduced to a Manichean opposition between the war machine and the state, the state and its nomads, Sibertin-Blanc argues that it is necessary to grasp the way in which this opposition, an opposition over territory, necessarily intersects with the different strategies and assemblages, with the state as an apparatus of capture, and with the conflict of smooth and striated spaces (p. 102), all of which have their own tensions and oppositions. That the state both constitutes a spatial logic, a domination of space according to the striation of space, the subordination of space to lines, and an apparatus of capture, as well as being an image of thought means that any concrete state, any existing state, can only be thought as the overdetermination of different assemblages. Given that Sibertin-Blanc’s books on Deleuze and Guattari are the product of a thesis written under the direction of Pierre Macherey, it is possible to see this as a conflict of different Spinozisms. Deleuze’s parallelism versus Althusser’s overdetermination (even if overdetermination is a concept defined more through references to Freud and Marx than to Spinoza). In the first, what is stressed is the identity and difference of things and ideas, machinic assemblages of bodies and collective assemblages of enunciation, which must be grasped simultaneously as distinct and as two different perspectives on the same substance, or, in Deleuze and Guattari’s case, on the same process of deterritorialisation. Causal autonomy is maintained along with mutual implication. While in the second, what is stressed is the sheer multiplicity of different causal series, different assemblages; the state must be thought simultaneous as an apparatus of capture and as a phenomenon of overcoding, as both an organisation of political space and the constitution of an image of thought. These multiple assemblages, multiple strategies, must be thought of in terms of their specific articulation, their specific actualisation in a given historical situation (p. 106). Sibertin-Blanc stresses the conjunctural definition of the different assemblages, shifting their opposition from not only any ‘ethical’ opposition of good and bad, but also the residue of base and superstructure or its idealist inversion. There are not just bodies and enunciations, machines and discourses, two different orders, but multiple effects of different assemblages.

Reading Deleuze and Guattari as theorists of overdetermination poses a particular problem when it comes to capital. Capital, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is defined by the destruction of the various codes and apparatuses that have come before. It is defined by its decoding, by the way in which previous forms of social belonging, with their attendant customs, traditions and modes of belonging, are reduced to axioms, to the quantifiable exchange of money and labour-power. This, Sibertin-Blanc argues, is precisely the challenge, a challenge pertaining to any concept of capitalism, or the capitalist mode of production, that is non-teleological; it is a matter of thinking the way in which the capitalist mode of production must be thought of as both a destruction of what came before, of feudalism, and of its own particular transformation, of its continuing to hold itself together in its very destruction (p. 152). In other words, this is the classical problem of reproduction, social reproduction framed against the backdrop of a mode of production that is defined by its constant transformation. This problem could be traced back to Marx’s assertion that with capital, ‘all that is solid melts into air’, which, in an often-cited and memorable way, posed the problem of capitalism as defined by transformation. The capitalist mode of production is not just defined by transformation, but by reduction of the heterogeneity of different assemblages, a heterogeneity that could define the state, to the economy as one overarching axiomatic. Once again this problem is to be found in Marx, specifically in the passages on primitive accumulation. As Marx writes, ‘The silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker. Direct extra-economic force is still of course used, but only in exceptional cases.’[9] As is often the case, both of these propositions become intensified in Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of Marx, less the quotable passages and specific arguments than the general ontology of social relations, an ontology defined by abstraction and transformation. Reproduction must be thought of as a particular organisation of this abstraction and transformation. As Deleuze and Guattari write,


There ensues a privatization of the family according to which the family ceases to give its social form to economic reproduction: it is as though disinvested, placed outside of the field; in the language of Aristotle, the family is now simply the form of human matter or material that finds itself subordinated to the autonomous social form of economic reproduction, and that comes to take the place assigned to it by the latter.[10]


The privatisation of the family does not mean that it is entirely outside of the field of social reproduction; rather it is precisely because it is outside, privatised, that it functions. Whereas previous modes of production, or social production, were defined by the directly political and economic, which is to say productive, dimension of the family. In capital, the family becomes simply reproductive; it can no longer determine or affect status in the relations of production; it can only represent them, which is to say reproduce these relations.

          The dualisms that are the most irresolvable for Deleuze and Guattari are the ones that they inherit rather than invent; they concern the division between capitalism and precapitalism and between production and reproduction. These divisions, themselves integral to Marxism, are reconceptualised by Deleuze and Guattari to become the division between codes and axioms, in the first instance, and that between social production and desiring production, in the latter. In each case the neologisms express a fundamental transformation of Marx’s thought, shifting it more towards questions of subjectivity and desire. They are also divisions more strongly at work in Anti-Oedipus than inA Thousand Plateaus. While axioms continue to play a fundamental role in the latter text, it is less a matter of the distinction between axioms and codes, than the relation between axioms and the nondenumerable, the minority, that are not subject to axioms. The entire language of desiring production and social production also disappears from the second volume ofCapitalism and Schizophrenia, and with it any real focus on the family as a site of reproduction. In its place there is a return to the opposition of molecular and molar in which it is stressed that this opposition is not one of scale; there is a molecular politics of the state just as there is a molar politics of the family. Thus it is possible to see Deleuze and Guattari moving away from the limits of the categorial opposition between capitalism and non-capitalism.

The question remains, however: do the various forms of violence that Sibertin-Blanc charts, the originary or arché, exoviolence or nomad, and endoviolence or capital, make it possible to think beyond the opposition of capitalism and precapitalism, understanding their specific temporal heterogeneity, and the opposition between production and reproduction? The first is a theoretical question, one, it is worth noting, that was posed most rigorously by Louis Althusser in Lire le Capital, an important point of reference for Deleuze and Guattari (as well as Sibertin-Blanc). Althusser subjected to rigorous critique any temporal historicisation that saw the present as fully present to itself; insisting instead that historical time must be constructed from the specific mode of production, including its tensions, lags and anticipations. Deleuze and Guattari are not unaware of this aspect of Althusser’s thought;Anti-Oedipus engages with the phenomenon of recoding, of the way in which capital continually resuscitates the codes it decodes, revitalising past beliefs, to become ‘a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed’. However, this tendency to grasp the differential temporality of the present is subordinated to an overarching tendency or direction, hence the term ‘archaisms’. In contrast to this,A Thousand Plateaus offers a more complex temporal structure, especially in terms of the state, which is preceded by attempts to ward it off.[11]

The second question, however, is as much political and historical as it is theoretical; the opposition between production and reproduction framed entirely in terms of the psychoanalytic representation of desire overlooks a more-materialist understanding of the family, not as theatre of the unconscious, but as part of the social factory. At the same time that Deleuze and Guattari were arguing that ‘desire is part of the infrastructure’, Marxist-feminists associated with the wages-for-housework movement were arguing that the family, as a site of the production and reproduction of labour-power, must be understood as part of the infrastructure as well. Since the writing of their initial critique, the boundaries of production and reproduction have blurred, as care-work, emotional labour, and affective labour have become part of the functioning of capital. ‘Desire is part of the infrastructure’ sounds less like a radical critique of Marx and Freud than the slogan of a viral-marketing firm! These are the transformations that risk making Deleuze and Guattari themselves anachronistic; what is perhaps most untenable in their work is the opposition between codes – qualitative, embodied and indirect – and axioms – quantitative, abstract and direct. Sibertin-Blanc has done an excellent job of arguing for the overdetermination of their concept of the state, seeing it as made up of both material and ideal dimensions, of multiple assemblages constituting power, space and identity. What perhaps remains to be done is an overdetermination of their concept of capital, of the economy – the economy cannot be simply identified with production, nor with purely quantitative axioms of labour and money; it must be thought of in terms of its material and ideal aspects, its affective and subjective dimension. This seems like a strange criticism to bring before Deleuze and Guattari, whose entire project is one of thinking the immanence of desiring-production to social production, molecular relations to molar politics. However, much of the role of reproductive work, of the family, and desire, is theorised primarily as an ‘archaism with a current function’ in Anti-Oedipus, and despiteA Thousand Plateau’s emphasis on the minor and molecular, the centrality of the axiom continues this tendency towards abstraction. Thus it is possible to see the way in which two limits of Deleuze and Guattari’s thought intersect, their tendency to periodise history without residual tension or remainder, and their tendency to posit reproduction as archaic with respect to production, limit their efficacy in the present. What is needed is a more overdetermined and asynchronous account of capitalism, and an understanding of how its axioms and social relations, its ultra-objective violence, intersect with and are sustained by the codes of social reproduction, and their corresponding forms of ultra-subjective violence. In this task Sibertin-Blanc’s book provides an immense guide, showing how a rigorous reading of Deleuze and Guattari can produce not just new concepts, but new relations between concepts.



Balibar, Étienne 2010, Violence et civilité. Wellek Library Lectures et autres essais de philosophie politique, Paris: Éditions Galilée.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari 1983 [1972], Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by Robert Hurleyet al., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari 1987 [1980], A Thousand Plateaus, translated by Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Jameson, Fredric 2009, ‘Deleuze and Dualism’, in Valences of the Dialectic, London: Verso.

Marx, Karl 1977 [1867], Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One, translated by Ben Fowkes, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Masset, Thibault 2013, La violence chez Deleuze-Guattari et Balibar: mode de production, subjectivation et politique, Kindle Edition, Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Sibertin-Blanc, Guillaume 2010, Deleuze et L’anti-Œdipe: la production du désir, Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

[1] Sibertin-Blanc 2010, p. 98.

[2] Balibar 2010, p. 34.

[3] Masset 2013, location 2042.

[4] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 429.

[5] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 447.

[6] Jameson 2009, p. 198.

[7] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 20.

[8] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 88.

[9] Marx 1977, p. 899.

[10] Deleuze and Guattari 1983, p. 263.

[11] Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 431.