Foucault on the Biopolitics of Socialism

One thing at least is certain: Socialism has made no critique of the theme of biopower, which developed at the end of the eighteenth century, and throughout the nineteenth; it has in fact taken it up, developed, reimplanted, and modified it in certain respects, but it has certainly not reexamined its basis or its modes of working. Ultimately, the idea that the essential function of the State, or whatever it is that must replace the State, is to take control of life, to manage it, to compensate for its aleatory nature, to explore and reduce biological accidents and possibilities…it seems to me that socialism takes this over wholesale.

Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended” p.261

Foucault is being pretty down on socialism, but there’s a way in which Marx pre-answers this critique of socialism (and implicitly communism) in Capital with a massive “no shit.” The entire point of a communist or socialist revolution is to wait until capitalism has created its own gravediggers by creating industrial machines and then training the populations of workers to use those machines. Marx’s ideas need a system of population management already instated so that communism can effectively manage that population. So not only does socialism not “critique” the mechanisms of biopower, it actively desires and needs those mechanisms in order to come into being.

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1 Response to Foucault on the Biopolitics of Socialism

  1. When talking about biopower, I think Foucault most accurately sums up the goal of biopower in The Birth of Biopolitics where he talks about the “coefficient of threat” when referring to the state’s use of reinvesting of certain populations over others. Socialism and communism see the upper class as a threat so they must manage the entire population. Neoliberalism has less defined threats, and as of such increase in complexity overtime. Foucault sort of apologizes for classical liberalism by saying it used economics to create a mode of Power without coercion and sees regulations as a form of incitation, not punishment. This seems to be a much more positive mode of Power to Foucault.

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