Paolo Virno and Bob Marley on ‘Exodus’

Paulo Virno has done his time in radical politics, in fact he has literally done his time in Italian prisons following the repression of the ‘Movement of ’77’.  In writings such his Virtuosity and Revolution (1996 – quoted below) he has developed a notion of a politics of Exodus, drawing on the Biblical story to reflect on the possibility of a collective withdrawal from the state and the constitution of new social relations:

‘I use the term Exodus here to define mass defection from the State, the alliance between general intellect and political Action, and a movement toward the public sphere of Intellect. The term is not at all conceived as some defensive existential strategy – it is neither exiting on tiptoe through the back door nor a search for sheltering hideaways. Quite the contrary: what I mean by Exodus is a full-fledged model of action, capable of confronting the challenges of modern politics… Exodus is the foundation of a Republic. The very idea of “republic,” however, requires a taking leave of State judicature: if Republic, then no longer State. The political action of the Exodus consists, therefore, in an engaged withdrawal. Only those who open a way of exit for themselves can do the founding; but, by the opposite token, only those who do the founding will succeed in finding the parting of the waters by which they will be able to leave Egypt…

Because the Exodus is a committed withdrawal, the recourse to force is no longer gauged in terms of the conquest of State power in the land of the pharaohs, but in relation to the safeguarding of the forms of life and communitarian relations experienced en route. What deserve to be defended at all costs are the works of “friendship.” Violence is not geared to visions of some hypothetical tomorrow, but functions to ensure respect and a continued existence for things that were mapped out yesterday. It does not innovate, but acts to prolong things that are already there: the autonomous expressions of the “acting-in-concert” that arise out of general intellect, organisms of nonrepresentative democracy, forms of mutual protection and assistance (welfare, in short) that have emerged outside of and against the realm of State Administration. In other words, what we have here is a violence that is conservational’.

Of course this notion of Exodus as flight from oppression has inspired many in past couple of thousands of years, not least Bob Marley:

Open your eyes and look within:
Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?
We know where we’re going;
We know where we’re from.
We’re leaving Babylon, 
We’re going to our Father’s land

Exodus, Movement of Jah people!

(OK we will overlook the fact that the Biblical Exodus was from Egypt not Babylon!)


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