Deleuze and Guattari propose an outline of ‘universal history’ which in some respects resembles Marx’s materialist theory of history. For Marx, it is the mode of production of essential goods and services which explains the nature of society in each epoch. For Deleuze and Guattari, it is the abstract machines of desire and power which define the nature of a given society: ‘We define social formations by machinic processes and not by modes of production (these on the contrary depend on the processes)’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:435). While they distinguish three major kinds of social machine—territorial, despotic and capitalist—unlike Marx, they do not consider these to be successive stages in a single process of evolution. Rather, they are understood as virtual machines which may be operative in a given social field. Concrete social formations are then specified by the extent to which the different abstract social machines are actualised within them in varying combinations. In this respect, Deleuze and Guattari propose a form of philosophical knowledge of history which remains indebted to the structuralist Marxism of Althusser. Their aim is not primarily to describe particular societies but to present concepts, along with historical examples and illustrations, which may in turn be applied to the analysis of concrete social formations.
We noted in Chapter 4 that Deleuze and Guattari propose a concept of desire which treats it as a process of production, where the successive stages of this process parallel the stages of material production as these are described by Marx. In Part 3 of Anti-Oedipus (1977), this concept of ‘machinic’ production forms the point of departure for their theory of society as a machine. Social life is machinic in so far as it involves the differentiation and distribution of material flows, the recording of primary processes by the establishment of chains of signification, and the resultant differentiation of social subjects and ‘consumption’ of social being. In these terms, social life may be conceived as ‘a global system of desire and destiny that organizes the productions of production, the productions of