As the subject of constituent power, the multitude is productive. Hence both its centrality and its ambivalence from the point of view of constituted power. For the multitude is not only economically productive but also socially productive; indeed, the multitude produces everyday life itself. Its activity is immediately biopolitical. Biopower’s parasitical relationship to this productive power is like capital’s relationship to labor, characterized both by indebtedness and by an anxiety that leads to denial. The multitude cannot be acknowledged directly but has to be misrepresented as a dependent subject in an inversion that posits the state and political society as the sole source and arena for power’s exercise. The state is fetishized and hegemony is thereby substituted for any other conception of politics, and civil society presented as a steering mechanism for the efficient control of state power. The multitude is recast in identitarian terms: as people, as class, or as a set of discrete social identities. But these categories are unstable, and they break down as the nomad takes flight in Exodus, while in the insistence of conatus the multitude constitutes a resonant community through quotidian encounters.
Insistently productive and self-organizing, the multitude is more than merely some subaltern remainder or excess. Like the multitude, the subaltern is beyond representation, an insurgent betrayal of constituted power. Moreover, as Alberto Moreiras puts it, “subaltern negation” is posthegemonic in that it constitutes a “refusal to submit to hegemonic interpellation, an exodus from hegemony.” (The Exhaustion of Difference 126). But the subaltern is a limit concept, “the absolute limit of the place where history is narrativized into logic,” in Gayatri Spivak’s words (“Subaltern Studies” 16), whereas for Negri the multitude is both central and beyond limit. The subaltern is defined negatively: for Ranajit Guha, it is the “demographic difference” or what is left when the elite are subtracted from the total population (“On Some Aspects of the Colonial Historiography of Colonial India” 44). The multitude, by contrast, is defined positively: it is “the ontological name of full against void, of production against parasitical survivals” (Negri, “Towards an Ontological Definition of the Multitude”). The subaltern is more abject than subject; indeed, Moreiras describes subalternity as “the non-subject of the political” (“Children of Light I” 12). But despite these differences, subaltern excess is an index of the presence of the multitude, indicating the failures of representation and so the asymmetry between constituent and constituted power. So subaltern insurgency can be a gateway to the multitude, whose positive sense of commonality may start in subaltern negation, in what John Holloway calls “a scream of refusal” (Change the World without Taking Power 1).