Crack-Up

katak

“Rotted by digital contagions, modernity is falling to bits”.

Via The Guardian:

It is the most talked about viral scare story of the year so far, blamed for child suicides and violent attacks – but experts and charities have warned that the “Momo challenge” is nothing but a “moral panic” spread by adults.

Warnings about the supposed Momo challenge suggest that children are being encouraged to kill themselves or commit violent acts after receiving messages on messaging service WhatsApp from users with a profile picture of a distorted image of woman with bulging eyes.

[…]

The rumour mill appears to have created a feedback loop, where news coverage of the Momo challenge is prompting schools or the police to warn about the supposed risks posed by the Momo challenge, which has in turn produced more news stories warning about the challenge.

Tremlett said she was now hearing of children who are “white with worry” as a result of media coverage about a supposed threat that did not previously exist.

“It’s a myth that is perpetuated into being some kind of reality,” she said.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

 

 

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Techno-Industrial Diagonal (#2)

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In the previous post on Proudhon, Marx and Sorel I offered three stripped-down summaries of the distinctions between these figures, with an eye to how the cycle of critique unfolded and to the way in which Sorel’s anticipated future—industrial civilization intensifying through the proliferation of ‘prodigiously productive workshops’—appears in some respect as distillation of certain arguments of his two predecessors. Here, I’d like to go back to these summarizes and dump a series of quotes from each figure to better trace the argument.

Proudhon

“political economy is value-neutral and akin to the natural sciences”

The Poverty of Philosophy (Chapter 1): Political economy is a collection of the observations thus far made in regard to the phenomena of the production and distribution of wealth; that is, in regard to the most common, most spontaneous, and therefore most genuine, forms of labor and exchange.

The economists have classified these observations as far as they were able; they have described the phenomena, and ascertained their contingencies and relations; they have observed in them, in many cases, a quality of necessity which has given them the name of laws; and this ensemble of information, gathered from the simplest manifestations of society, constitutes political economy.

Political economy is, therefore, the natural history of the most apparent and most universally accredited customs, traditions, practices, and methods of humanity in all that concerns the production and distribution of wealth. By this title, political economy considers itself legitimate in fact and in right: in fact, because the phenomena which it studies are constant, spontaneous, and universal; in right, because these phenomena rest on the authority of the human race, the strongest authority possible. Consequently, political economy calls itself a science; that is, a rational and systematic knowledge of regular and necessary facts.

“Rigorous adherence to its discoveries will undermine capitalism”

The Poverty of Philosophy (Chapter 1): Labor, we say, is being organized: that is, the process of organization has been going on from the beginning of the world, and will continue till the end. Political economy teaches us the primary elements of this organization; but socialism is right in asserting that, in its present form, the organization is inadequate and transitory; and the whole mission of science is continually to ascertain, in view of the results obtained and the phenomena in course of development, what innovations can be immediately effected.

Socialism and political economy, then, while waging a burlesque war, pursue in reality the same idea, — the organization of labor.

But both are guilty of disloyalty to science and of mutual calumny, when on the one hand political economy, mistaking for science its scraps of theory, denies the possibility of further progress; and when socialism, abandoning tradition, aims at reestablishing society on undiscoverable bases.

Thus socialism is nothing but a profound criticism and continual development of political economy; and, to apply here the celebrated aphorism of the school, Nihil est in intellectu, quod non prius fuerit in sensu, there is nothing in the socialistic hypotheses which is not duplicated in economic practice. On the other hand, political economy is but an impertinent rhapsody, so long as it affirms as absolutely valid the facts collected by Adam Smith and J. B. Say.

General Idea of Revolution in the Nineteenth Century: To deduce the organizing principle of the Revolution, the idea at once economic and legal of reciprocity and of contract, taking account of the difficulties and opposition which this deduction must encounter, whether on the part of revolutionary sects, parties or societies, or from the reactionaries and defenders of the statu quo; to expound the totality of these reforms and new institutions, wherein labor finds its guaranty, property its limit, commerce its balance, and government its farewell; that is to tell, from the intellectual point of view, the story of the Revolution…

When I agree with one or more of my fellow citizens for any object whatever, it is clear that my own will is my law; it is I myself, who, in fulfilling my obligation, am my own government.

Therefore if I could make a contract with all, as I can with some; if all could renew it among themselves, if each group of citizens, as a town, county, province, corporation, company, etc., formed by a like contract, and considered as a moral person, could thereafter, and always by a similar contract, agree with every and all other groups, it would be the same as if my own will were multiplied to infinity. I should be sure that the law thus made on all questions in the Republic, from millions of different initiatives, would never be anything but my law; and if this new order of things were called government, it would be my government.

Thus the principle of contract, far more than that of authority, would bring about the union of producers, centralize their forces, and assure the unity and solidarity of their interests. Two producers have the right to promise each other, and to guarantee reciprocally for, the sale or exchange of their respective products, agreeing upon the articles and the prices…

The same promise of reciprocal sale or exchange, under the same legal conditions, may exist among an unlimited number of producers: it will be the same contract, repeated an unlimited number of times.

The system of contracts, substituted for the system of laws, would constitute the true government of the man and of the citizen; the true sovereignty of the people, the REPUBLIC.

“and deliver socialism in the form of productive decentralization not unlike that of the pre/early capitalist era of craft production. Insofar as large-scale industrialization proves intractable, it will be managed by free associations of workers via a federative structure.”

Philosophy of Poverty (Volume II): The theory of mutuality, or mutuum, that is to say exchange in kind, of which the simplest form is the loan for consumption, where the collective body is concerned, is the synthesis of the notions of private property and collective ownership. This synthesis is as old as its constituent parts since it merely means that society is returning through a maze of inventions and systems, to its primitive practices as a result of a six-thousand-year-long meditation on the fundamental proposition that A=A.

General Idea of Revolution in the Nineteenth Century: In cases in which production requires great division of labor, and a considerable collective force, it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among the workers in this industry; because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two industrial castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society. 

Such therefore is the rule that we must lay down, if we wish to conduct the Revolution intelligently.

Every industry, operation or enterprise, which by its nature requires the employment of a large number of workmen of different specialties, is destined to become a society or a company of workers…

But where the product can be obtained by the action of an individual or a family, without the co-operation of special abilities, there is no opportunity for association. Association not being called for by the nature of the work, cannot be profitable nor of long continuance…

I do not consider as falling within the logical class of division of labor nor of collective force the innumerable small shops which are found in all trades, and which seem to me the effect of the preference of the individuals who conduct them, rather than the organic result of a combination of forces. Anybody who is capable of cutting out and sewing up a pair of shoes can get a license, open a shop, and hang out a sign, “So-and-So, Manufacturing Shoe Merchant,” although there may be only himself behind his counter. If a companion, who prefers journeyman’s wages to running the risk of starting in business, joins with the first, one will call himself the employer, the other, the hired man; in fact, they are completely equal and completely free…

The Principle of Federation: Princes and kings, in the strict sense, are of the past: already we have constitutionalized them; the day is coming when they will be no more than presidents of federations. The same fate awaits aristocracies, democracies, and all the cracies, the gangrene of the nations, the bugbears of liberty. Is it only democracy — which thinks itself liberal and hurls curses at federalism and socialism, as its ancestors did in 1793 — that grasps the idea of liberty? We cannot wait for an answer indefinitely. Already we are beginning to turn our attention to the federal contract. We do not rely too much upon the stupidity of the present generation, surely, in expecting the return of justice from the cataclysm which will sweep it away.

As for me, whose views certain journalists have tried to suppress, either by calculated silence or else by travesty or slander, I throw down this challenge to my enemies.

All my economic ideas, developed over the last twenty-five years, can be defined in three words: agro-industrial federation; all my political views may be reduced to a parallel formula: political federation or decentralization; and since I do not make my ideas the instruments of a party or of personal ambition, all my hopes for the present and future are contained in a third term, a corollary of the first two: progressive federation.

Marx

“political economy is bourgeois mystification and the Proudhonists, while making pretenses of following a scientific methodology, consistently fail to exit the past’s metaphysical prison.”

The Holy Family (Chapter 4): As the first criticism of any science is necessarily influenced by the premises of the science it is fighting against, so Proudhon’s treatise Qu’est-ce que la propriété? is the criticism of political economy from the standpoint of political economy. — We need not go more deeply into the juridical part of the book, which criticizes law from the standpoint of law, for our main interest is the criticism of political economy. — Proudhon’s treatise will therefore be scientifically superseded by a criticism of political economy, including Proudhon’s conception of political economy. This work became possible only owing to the work of Proudhon himself, just as Proudhon’s criticism has as its premise the criticism of the mercantile system by the Physiocrats, Adam Smith’s criticism of the Physiocrats, Ricardo’s criticism of Adam Smith, and the works of Fourier and Saint-Simon.

All treatises on political economy take private property for granted. This basic premise is for them an incontestable fact to which they devote no further investigation, indeed a fact which is spoken about only “accidentellement”, as Say naively admits. But Proudhon makes a critical investigation — the first resolute, ruthless, and at the same time scientific investigation — of the basis of political economy, private property. This is the great scientific advance he made, an advance which revolutionizes political economy and for the first time makes a real science of political economy possible. Proudhon’s treatise Qu’est-ce que la propriété? is as important for modern political economy as Sieyês’ work Qu’est-ce que le tiers état? for modern politics.

Proudhon does not consider the further creations of private property, e.g., wages, trade, value, price, money, etc., as forms of private property in themselves, as they are considered, for example, in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (see Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy by F. Engels), but uses these economic premises in arguing against the political economists; this is fully in keeping with his historically justified standpoint to which we referred above.

The Poverty of Philosophy (Chapter 1): In the automatic workshop, one worker’s labor is scarely distinguishable in any way from another worker’s labor: workers can only be distinguished one from another by the length of time they take for their work. Nevertheless, this quantitative difference becomes, from a certain point of view, qualitative, in that the time they take for their work depends partly on purely material causes, such as physical constitution, age and sex; partly on purely negative moral causes, such as patience, imperturbability, diligence. In short, if there is a difference of quality in the labor of different workers, it is at most a quality of the last kind, which is far from being a distinctive speciality. This is what the state of affairs in modern industry amounts to in the last analysis. It is upon this equality, already realized in automatic labor, that M. Proudhon wields his smoothing-plane of “equalization,” which he means to establish universally in “time to come!”

All the “equalitarian” consequences which M. Proudhon deduces from Ricardo’s doctrine are based on a fundamental error. He confounds the value of commodities measured by the quantity of labor embodied in them with the value of commodities measured by “the value of labor.” If these two ways of measuring the value of commodities were equivalent, it could be said indifferently that the relative value of any commodity is measured by the quantity of labor embodied in it; or that it is measured by the quantity of labor it can buy; or again that it is measured by the quantity of labor which can acquire it. But this is far from being so. The value of labor can no more serve as a measure of value than the value of any other commodity. 

The Poverty of Philosophy (Chapter 2): Just as the antithesis was before turned into an antidote, so now the thesis becomes a hypothesis. This change of terms, coming from M. Proudhon, has no longer anything surprising for us! Human reason, which is anything but pure, having only incomplete vision, encounters at every step new problems to be solved. Every new thesis which it discovers in absolute reason and which is the negation of the first thesis, becomes for it a synthesis, which it accepts rather naively as the solution of the problem in question. It is thus that this reason frets and fumes in ever renewing contradictions until, coming to the end of the contradictions, it perceives that all its theses and syntheses are merely contradictory hypotheses. In its perplexity, “human reason, social genius, returns in one leap to all its former positions, and in a single formula, solves all its problems.” This unique formula, by the way, constitutes M. Proudhon’s true discovery. It is constituted value.

Hypotheses are made only in view of a certain aim. The aim that social genius, speaking through the mouth of M. Proudhon, set itself in the first place, was to eliminate the bad in every economic category, in order to have nothing left but the good. For it, the good, the supreme well-being, the real practical aim, is equality. And why did the social genius aim at equality rather than inequality, fraternity, Catholicism, or any other principle? Because “humanity has successively realized so many separate hypotheses only in view of a superior hypothesis,” which precisely is equality. In other words: because equality is M. Proudhon’s ideal. He imagines that the division of labour, credit, the workshop – all economic relations – were invented merely for the benefit of equality, and yet they always ended up by turning against it. Since history and the fiction of M. Proudhon contradict each other at every step, the latter concludes that there is a contradiction. If there is a contradiction, it exists only between his fixed idea and real movement.

Henceforth, the good side of an economic relation is that which affirms equality; the bad side, that which negates it and affirms inequality. Every new category is a hypothesis of the social genius to eliminate the inequality engendered by the preceding hypothesis. In short, equality is the primordial intention, the mystical tendency, the providential aim that the social genius has constantly before its eyes as it whirls in the circle of economic contradictions. Thus, Providence is the locomotive which makes the whole of M. Proudhon’s economic baggage move better than his pure and volatized reason. He has devoted to Providence a whole chapter, which follows the one on taxes.

Results of the Direct Process of Production: It is puzzle of this kind which confuse Proudhon, because he looks only at the price of the individual, independent commodity, and does not view the commodity as the product of the total capital, hence does not consider the proportions in which the overall product with its respective prices is divided conceptually… 

The weekly money which the class receives, and with which it has now to buy the means of subsistence, etc., is expended on a mass of commodities of which the price, viewing them individually and all together, contains in addition to a part which = wages, another part, which = surplus value, of which the interest referred to by Proudhon only forms a single part, and perhaps a small proportional part relatively speaking. How then is it possible for the working class, with its weekly income, which only = wages, to buy a quantity of commodities which = wages + surplus value. Since the weekly wage, seen from the point of view of the class as a whole, only = the weekly amount of the means of subsistence, it follows, as night follows day, that the worker is unable to buy the necessary means of subsistence with the sum of money he has received. For the sum of money he has received = the weekly wage, the weekly price of his labour which has been paid to him, while the price of the weekly necessary means of subsistence = the weekly price of the labour contained in them + the price in which the unpaid surplus labour is expressed. Ergo: “it is impossible for the worker to be able to buy back what he himself has produced. To live by working”, given these presuppositions, is, therefore, implicitly “self-contradictory”. Proudhon is entirely right, as far as appearances are concerned. But if he were to view the commodity as the product of capital, instead of independently, he would find that the weekly product can be divided into one part, the price of which, = the wage, = the variable capital laid out during the week, contains no surplus value, etc., and another part, the price of which only = the surplus value, etc.; although the price of the commodity includes all these elements, etc. But it is precisely, and only, the first part, which the worker buys back. (Whereby it is irrelevant for the present purpose that he may be, and is, swindled by the épicier, [grocer] etc., when buying back.)

This is the usual position with Proudhon’s apparently deep and inextricable economic paradoxes. They consist in the fact that he expresses the confusion created in his brain by economic phenomena as the law governing these phenomena.

“Communism exists on the far end of a road paved by the dissolution of all past social forms through continually intensifying industrial progress, mechanization, and scientific rationalization”

The Communist Manifesto (Chapter 1): The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

On the Question of Free Trade: …the protectionist system is nothing but a means of establishing large-scale industry in any given country, that is to say, of making it dependent upon the world market, and from the moment that dependence upon the world market is established, there is already more or less dependence upon free trade. Besides this, the protective system helps to develop free trade competition within a country. Hence we see that in countries where the bourgeoisie is beginning to make itself felt as a class, in Germany for example, it makes great efforts to obtain protective duties. They serve the bourgeoisie as weapons against feudalism and absolute government, as a means for the concentration of its own powers and for the realization of free trade within the same country.

But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Preface): The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.

Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence – but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.

Grundrisse (Fragment on Machines): Real wealth manifests itself, rather – and large industry reveals this – in the monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labour, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends. Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself… 

The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them. Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.

Capital Volume 3 (Chapter 15): The periodical depreciation of existing capital — one of the means immanent in capitalist production to check the fall of the rate of profit and hasten accumulation of capital-value through formation of new capital — disturbs the given conditions, within which the process of circulation and reproduction of capital takes place, and is therefore accompanied by sudden stoppages and crises in the production process.

The decrease of variable in relation to constant capital, which goes hand in hand with the development of the productive forces, stimulates the growth of the labouring population, while continually creating an artificial over-population. The accumulation of capital in terms of value is slowed down by the falling rate of profit, to hasten still more the accumulation of use-values, while this, in its turn, adds new momentum to accumulation in terms of value.

Capitalist production seeks continually to overcome these immanent barriers, but overcomes them only by means which again place these barriers in its way and on a more formidable scale.

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.

Capital Volume 3(Chapter 23): The labour of supervision and management, arising as it does out of an antithesis, out of the supremacy of capital over labour, and being therefore common to all modes of production based on class contradictions like the capitalist mode, is directly and inseparably connected, also under the capitalist system, with productive functions which all combined social labour assigns to individuals as their special tasks. The wages of an epitropos, or régisseur, as he was called in feudal France, are entirely divorced from profit and assume the form of wages for skilled labour whenever the business is operated on a sufficiently large scale to warrant paying for such a manager, although, for all that, our industrial capitalists are far from “attending to affairs of state or studying philosophy.”

It has already been remarked by Mr. Ure that it is not the industrial capitalists, but the industrial managers who are “the soul of our industrial system.” Whatever concerns the commercial part of an establishment we have already said all that is necessary in the preceding part.

The capitalist mode of production has brought matters to a point where the work of supervision, entirely divorced from the ownership of capital, is always readily obtainable. It has, therefore, come to be useless for the capitalist to perform it himself. An orchestra conductor need not own the instruments of his orchestra, nor is it within the scope of his duties as conductor to have anything to do with the “wages” of the other musicians. Co-operative factories furnish proof that the capitalist has become no less redundant as a functionary in production as he himself, looking down from his high perch, finds the big landowner redundant

“At the historical summit, seemingly endless mechanization collides with irreversible centralization and concentration of capital and productive forces”

Grundrisse (Fragment on Machines): …once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour pass through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.

Capital Volume 1 (Chapter 15): A system of machinery, whether it reposes on the mere co-operation of similar machines, as in weaving, or on a combination of different machines, as in spinning, constitutes in itself a huge automaton, whenever it is driven by a self-acting prime mover. But although the factory as a whole be driven by its steam-engine, yet either some of the individual machines may require the aid of the workman for some of their movements (such aid was necessary for the running in of the mule carriage, before the invention of the self-acting mule, and is still necessary in fine-spinning mills); or, to enable a machine to do its work, certain parts of it may require to be handled by the workman like a manual tool; this was the case in machine-makers’ workshops, before the conversion of the slide rest into a self-actor. As soon as a machine executes, without man’s help, all the movements requisite to elaborate the raw material, needing only attendance from him, we have an automatic system of machinery, and one that is susceptible of constant improvement in its details. Such improvements as the apparatus that stops a drawing frame, whenever a sliver breaks, and the self-acting stop, that stops the power-loom so soon as the shuttle bobbin is emptied of weft, are quite modern inventions. As an example, both of continuity of production, and of the carrying out of the automatic principle, we may take a modern paper mill. In the paper industry generally, we may advantageously study in detail not only the distinctions between modes of production based on different means of production, but also the connexion of the social conditions of production with those modes: for the old German paper-making furnishes us with a sample of handicraft production; that of Holland in the 17th and of France in the 18th century with a sample of manufacturing in the strict sense; and that of modern England with a sample of automatic fabrication of this article. Besides these, there still exist, in India and China, two distinct antique Asiatic forms of the same industry.

An organised system of machines, to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton, is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have, in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motions of his giant limbs, at length breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs.

Capital Volume 1 (Chapter 25): Commensurately with the development of capitalist production and accumulation there develop the two most powerful levers of centralisation — competition and credit. At the same time the progress of accumulation increases the material amenable to centralisation, i.e., the individual capitals, whilst the expansion of capitalist production creates, on the one hand, the social want, and, on the other, the technical means necessary for those immense industrial undertakings which require a previous centralisation of capital for their accomplishment. Today, therefore, the force of attraction, drawing together individual capitals, and the tendency to centralisation are stronger than ever before. But if the relative extension and energy of the movement towards centralisation is determined, in a certain degree, by the magnitude of capitalist wealth and superiority of economic mechanism already attained, progress in centralisation does not in any way depend upon a positive growth in the magnitude of social capital. And this is the specific difference between centralisation and concentration, the latter being only another name for reproduction on an extended scale. Centralisation may result from a mere change in the distribution of capitals already existing, from a simple alteration in the quantitative grouping of the component parts of social capital. Here capital can grow into powerful masses in a single hand because there it has been withdrawn from many individual hands. In any given branch of industry centralisation would reach its extreme limit if all the individual capitals invested in it were fused into a single capital. In a given society the limit would be reached only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company.

Centralisation completes the work of accumulation by enabling industrial capitalists to extend the scale of their operations. Whether this latter result is the consequence of accumulation or centralisation, whether centralisation is accomplished by the violent method of annexation — when certain capitals become such preponderant centres of attraction for others that they shatter the individual cohesion of the latter and then draw the separate fragments to themselves — or whether the fusion of a number of capitals already formed or in process of formation takes place by the smoother process of organising joint-stock companies — the economic effect remains the same. Everywhere the increased scale of industrial establishments is the starting point for a more comprehensive organisation of the collective work of many, for a wider development of their material motive forces — in other words, for the progressive transformation of isolated processes of production, carried on by customary methods, into processes of production socially combined and scientifically arranged.

Capital Volume 3 (Chapter 15): At any rate, it is but a requirement of the capitalist mode of production that the number of wage-workers should increase absolutely, in spite of its relative decrease. Labour-power becomes redundant for it as soon as it is no longer necessary to employ it for 12 to 15 hours daily. A development of productive forces which would diminish the absolute number of labourers, i.e., enable the entire nation to accomplish its total production in a shorter time span, would cause a revolution, because it would put the bulk of the population out of the running. This is another manifestation of the specific barrier of capitalist production, showing also that capitalist production is by no means an absolute form for the development of the productive forces and for the creation of wealth, but rather that at a certain point it comes into collision with this development. This collision appears partly in periodical crises, which arise from the circumstance that now this and now that portion of the labouring population becomes redundant under its old mode of employment. The limit of capitalist production is the excess time of the labourers. The absolute spare time gained by society does not concern it. The development of productivity concerns it only in so far as it increases the surplus labour-time of the working-class, not because it decreases the labour-time for material production in general. It moves thus in a contradiction.

We have seen that the growing accumulation of capital implies its growing concentration. Thus grows the power of capital, the alienation of the conditions of social production personified in the capitalist from the real producers. Capital comes more and more to the fore as a social power, whose agent is the capitalist. This social power no longer stands in any possible relation to that which the labour of a single individual can create. It becomes an alienated, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as an object, and as an object that is the capitalist’s source of power. The contradiction between the general social power into which capital develops, on the one hand, and the private power of the individual capitalists over these social conditions of production, on the other, becomes ever more irreconcilable, and yet contains the solution of the problem, because it implies at the same time the transformation of the conditions of production into general, common, social, conditions. This transformation stems from the development of the productive forces under capitalist production, and from the ways and means by which this development takes place.

Sorel

“political economy is utopian and thus to be vigorously critiqued”

Reflections on Violence (Letter to Daniel Halévy): A myth cannot be refuted since it is, at bottom, identical to the convictions of a group, being the expression of these convictions in the language of movement; and it is, in consequence, unanalysable into parts which could be placed on the plane of historical descriptions. A utopia, on the other hand, can be discussed like any other social constitution; the spontaneous movements it presupposes can be compared with those actually observed in the course of history, and we can in this way evaluate their verisimilitude; it is possible to refute it by showing that the economic system on which it has been made to rest is incompatible with the necessary conditions of modern production.

Liberal political economy is one of the best examples of a utopia that could be given. A society was imagined where everything could be reduced to types produced by commerce and operating under the law of the fullest competition; it is recognized today that this kind of ideal society would be as difficult to realize as that of Plato; but several great statesmen of modern times have owed their fame to the efforts they made to introduce something of this ideal of commercial liberty into industrial legislation.

“but the Marxists also make appeals to a scientific methodology that they do not adhere to (particularly in regards to the development of techno-industrial systems)”

Critical Essays in Marxism: The concentration of fortunes appeared to him [Marx]… under a very simple form of ‘landlordism’. Capitalist magnates, as he says, are the leaders of all the branches of industrial activities; concentration of revenue and the enlargement of enterprises were then regarded as synonymous. Today, it is entirely different, and it has become impossible to compare Marx’s forecasts with reality, because there is no basis of comparison between two absolutely different regimes…

Marx and his disciples were hardly concerned with the technical reasons that produced the formation of great enterprises. This is curious in Marx, who attached such great importance to conditions of technology. In his long dissertation, Kautsky does not speak of this crucial question at all. Pecqueur, in 1838, saw clearly that the steam engine is, as he said, an “agglomerator”, as Professor Reuleaux, in our days, regards the use of steam as one of the most compelling causes of enlargement. Industries which utilize heat are obliged to work at a rapid rate and with huge apparatuses in order to use fuel effectively. Almost everywhere advantage is found in using great mechanical speed and consequently in accelerating the daily productivity of various jobs. Here we have technical explanations that have great weight.

Illusions of Progress: Modern engineers are very much attentive to the dissipation of energy. That is why they make such great efforts to obtain very powerful motors at high speeds, in which the cooling losses are substantially reduced. Furthermore, in a general way we can say that in all the industries that use heat it is good to have mechanisms of large dimensions and very rapid output. 

Related to the same order ideas is the capture of gases that metallurgical furnaces formerly lost, and their utilization for the heating of boilers.

The questions related to the dissipation of energy offer an interest of the first for the economist, for immense present-day installations have, from this point of view, an enormous superiority over former systems. The advantage of the powerful steam engine was impressive from the very beginning of large industry, and all the progress accomplished in the chemical arts has better shown the value of size. Authors (and especially socialist authors) have often forgotten the technical origin of this value of size. Thus they have attributed to any extended enterprise a superiority they would have much difficulty justifying scientifically. It is most extraordinary that so many so-called Marxists have reasoned about statistics concerning industrial concentration without going back to the technical bases of this concentration.

Illusions of Progress: If we agree with the historical philosophy of Marx, we must say that in spite of all the talk of Kautsky and of the admirers of Pierpont Morgan, the trusts do not characterize an era of superior capitalism unless it can be demonstrated that these organizations, so deplorably usurious, give rise to incontestable progress in the instruments of production. Now here is the opinion of Walker, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “the trusts destroy competition and the ‘invention-power’ of the people. I consider them absolutely pernicious. They constitute a veritable tyranny, and America will rid herself of them as she knows how to rid herself all tyrannies. By what means this will take place I do not know, but I have confidence in the enormous force of public opinion in this country”. Against such an authoritative opinion of the admirers of the trusts would have to bring solid proofs, but they have no done so. In order to utilize all the by products of the refining of petroleum, large establishments are necessary. But it is a long way from such a concentration to the monopoly of the Standard Oil Company. We do see what technical progress an ‘ocean trust’ could introduce into naval art. 

Numerous American socialists have greeted the success of the trusts with enthusiasm because it seemed to them that the trusts constituted a forward step on the path to the nationalization of large industries. The matter seems simple enough to people used to resolving historical problems with abstract formulas. But when facts and men are considered such as they are in reality the socialist beneficence of the trusts no longer seems as evident as it does to Kautsky. According to Marx’s hypothesis the bourgeoisie will deliver to the revolution an industry in which the factories will be subject to truly scientific direction. One can say that in current scientific work individuals are jut about interchangeable. Thus it will be easy for the socialist regime to maintain good management over production, thanks to the cooperation of groups whose members will have received a serious scientific education – management under which the good methods learned in the schools will be continuously applied and in which esprit de corps will eliminate the inefficient workers. Thus the transition will be brought about by an economic bridge, whose solidarity we must be careful not to undermine during the years of preparation for socialism. According to Kautsky’s hypothesis this economic bridge does not exist, since until its dying day industrial capitalism would not be able to give a predominant place to science in its factories.

“Intensification of class struggle in its syndicalist form—of which both Proudhon and Marx were the great prophets—will throw industrial progress into overdrive” 

Reflections on Violence: The day when the bosses perceive that they have nothing to gain by works which promote social justice or by democracy, they will understand that they have been badly advised by the people who persuaded them to abandon their trade of creators of productive forces for the noble profession of educators of the proletariat. Then there is some chance that they will rediscover a part of their energy and that a moderate or conservative economy may appear as absurd to them as it did to Marx. In any case, the separation of the classes being more clearly attenuated, the movement of the economy will have some chance of developing with greater regularity than today.

The two antagonistic classes therefore influence each other in a partly indirect but decisive manner. Capitalism drives the proletariat into revolt, because in daily life the bosses use their force in a direction opposed to the desires of their workers; but this revolt does not entirely determine the future of the proletariat; the latter organize themselves under the influence of other causes, and socialism, inculcating the revolutionary idea, prepares it to suppress the enemy class. Capitalist force is at the base of this entire process and it operates in an imperious manner. Marx supposed that the bourgeoisie had no need to be incited to employ force; but we are faced with a new and very unforeseen fact: a bourgeoisie which seeks to weaken its own strength. Must we believe that the Marxist conception is dead? By no means, because proletarian violence comes upon the scene at the very moment when the conception of social peace claims to moderate disputes; proletarian violence confines employers to their role as producers and tends to restore the class structure just when they seemed on the point of intermingling in the democratic morass.

Not only can proletarian violence ensure the future revolution but it also seems the only means by which the European nations, stupefied by humanitarianism, can recover their former energy. This violence compels capitalism to restrict its attentions solely to its material role and tends to restore to it the warlike qualities it formerly possessed. A growing and solidly organized working class can force the capitalist class to remain ardent in the industrial struggle; if a united and revolutionary proletariat confronts a rich bourgeoisie eager for conquest, capitalist society will reach its historical perfection.

Thus proletarian violence has become an essential factor in Marxism. Let us add once more that, if properly conducted, it will have the result of suppressing parliamentary socialism, which will no  longer be able to pose as the leader of the working classes and as the guardian of order.

 “It will not lead to the Marxian vision of centralization and concentration, however, but to the the rapid decentralization of productive forces—the proliferation of ‘prodigiously productive workshops’”

Reflections on Violence: Marx supposes, exactly as the syndicalists do, that the revolution will be absolute and irrevocable, because it will place the forces of production in the hands of free men, i.e. of men who are capable of running the workshop created by capitalism without any need of masters.

Reflections on Violence: The preceding explanations have shown that the idea of the general strike, constantly rejuvenated by the sentiments provoked by proletarian violence, produces an entirely epic state of mind and, at the same time, bends all the energies of the mind towards the conditions that allow the realization of a freely functioning and prodigiously progressive workshop; we have thus recognized that there is a strong relationship between the sentiments aroused by the general strike and those which are necessary to bring about a continued progress in production. We have then the right to maintain that the modern world possesses the essential motivating power which can ensure the existence of the morality of the producers.

Illusions of Progress: The same Hegelian biases inspired in Marx the idea of a technological development in modern production resulting in the disappearance of small enterprises, which would be crushed by industrial giants. It is certain that, in many cases, industrial concentration represents a superior stage in technology. But I have said earlier that the Marxists generally fail to examine the basis for this superiority. They reasoned in an abstract way in admitting the superiority of what impressed them by the enormity of its dimensions. The socialists seem to be in agreement today in recognizing that concentration does not make sense for agriculture as it does for metallurgy. But by the way in which they talk of small rural property, it is obvious that they understand very little about the reasons for its prosperity: they remain slaves to the biases that Marx had borrowed from Hegelian teachings, whose nature they do not understand.

The biological idea found in the romantic evolution makes any return to the early forms of society improbably. Marx thought that, when production had reached the stage where commerce is subordinated to industry, the forms he called antediluvian would never again appear in a country in the course of serious progress. In America, however, we have seen usury conquer under the name of trusts a large place in the economy. He never would have thought that the great factories could be replaced by the work of small family workshops; at the present time, however, we wonder if the use of small electrical motors is not likely to product (in certain regions at least) this transformation. It is advisable to make a less rigid model of capitalism than Marx has done.

Illusions of Progress: Reuleaux long ago affirmed that engines using hot air, waterfalls, or gasoline, and easily usable in applications of 1 to 3 horsepower, should be included “among the most important modern machines and regarded as carrying the seed of a complete transformation of a part of industry” that would return to a regime of craftsmen.

Katasonix

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A nostalgia trip from twitter icon VOIDCOMM plummets us back to the heady days of #Rhetttwitter and Unconditional Acceleration: “This list was selected from key theorists and shitposters to select for music they view was influential to the aesthetic or (writing of) these theories”. No doubt the list will grow as time goes on (it’s already beginning for a spotify playlist), but what stands out to me if her perfect invocation of 2017—the unity of theory and shitpost.

Techno-Industrial Diagonal

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Here’s an ultra-compressed offering on the distinctions in the triad of Proudhon-Marx-Sorel, inspired by my recent reading of William Clare Robert’s Marx’s Inferno (which offers one of the best—if not only, insofar as I’ve seen—serious treatments of the Proudhon-Marx conflict) and a series of feverish, subterranean conversations:

Proudhon: political economy is value-neutral and akin to the natural sciences. Rigorous adherence to its discoveries will undermine capitalism and deliver socialism in the form of productive decentralization not unlike that of the pre/early capitalist era of craft production. Insofar as large-scale industrialization proves intractable, it will be managed by free associations of workers via a federative structure.

Marx: political economy is bourgeois mystification and the Proudhonists, while making pretenses of following a scientific methodology, consistently fail to exit the past’s metaphysical prison. Communism exists on the far end of a road paved by the dissolution of all past social forms through continually intensifying industrial progress, mechanization, and scientific rationalization. At the historical summit, seemingly endless mechanization collides with irreversible centralization and concentration of capital and productive forces.

Sorel: political economy is utopian and thus to be vigorously critiqued, but the Marxists also make appeals to a scientific methodology that they do not adhere to (particularly in regards to the development of techno-industrial systems). Intensification of class struggle in its syndicalist form—of which both Proudhon and Marx were the great prophets—will throw industrial progress into overdrive. It will not lead to the Marxian vision of centralization and concentration, however, but to the the rapid decentralization of productive forces—the proliferation of ‘prodigiously productive workshops’.

Psychedelia

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Gregory Marks has an excellent analysis of Fisher’s Acid Communism up on his blog (which, unfortunately, I’m just now discovering). As it pays close attention to the question of temporality—special care is given to elucidating the identity of capitalist realism with the postmodern condition—it’s deeply relevant to the question of time, myth and class struggle: “Time stands still. Out of joint doesn’t even cover it”.

How do we escape?

Acid reveals another order of time that works against the time of purposeful production. Against the days of labour are the nights spent under florescent lights, and the repudiation of the workday for this night. Akin to Rancière’s workers of nineteenth-century Paris, whose nights were spent in creative work and refuge from the strictures of labour, twentieth-century psychedelia was a rejection of the predetermination of life by work and toil, and the “the revelation of a different world and the initiation of a new kind of relationship between beings”

[…]

Fisher makes clear that the altered perception of psychedelia is not an individuated escape from this rhythm, but a political refusal to participate. Far from being a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, and ultimately assimilable to capital, psychedelia is a libidinal re-wiring of desire and re-weirding of experience. As Acid Communism, this refusal is also what dispels our capitalist realist stupor, and opens us to the arrival of something new. It is the making weird of our lives and our worlds, which uncovers the absurd machinery which keeps us in servitude.

[…]

The weird does not wake us, but makes us disturbingly aware that we have never been truly awake, and that other dreams are still possible. The weird does not transcend the psychic and libidinal structures that it disturbs, but remains immanent to them in its stark lucidity. The experience of the weird can be horrifying, but it can just as easily fascinate us as it draws us out of our preconceptions and awakens in us an awareness of the unnatural forces which inhabit us.

In this very last quote, we catch a glimpse of the continuities that stretched across Fisher’s thought, with the constructive implex of (re)weirding calling back directly to the the Spinozist core of the Cold Rationalist program. As he described in a 2004 post titled—so appropriately, in retrospect—Psychedelic Reason, the philosophy of Spinoza “tells you not to get out of your head but how to get out through your head”. Given that this ego-annihilating process was to intended to make one a conduit for the Lemurian signal (“the ultimate interests of any body lie in having no particular interests at all – that is in identifying with the cosmos itself as the BwO, the Spinozist God, the Lemurian body of uttunul”), what is happening here can be described as not only something truly weird, but something that is approachable through “awe, wonder and dread”. Since this horizon itself cannot be truly achieved, as Deleuze and Guattari are quick to remind us, these become not the openings to the howling void, but the implements for plateau-work.

Beliefs and Desires

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In homage to Gabriel Tarde (1843- 1 904): his long-forgotton work has assumed new relevance with the influence of American sociology, in particular microsociology. It had been quashed by Durkheim and his school (in polemics similar to and as harsh as Cuvier’s against Geoffroy SaintHilaire). Durkheim’s preferred objects of study were the great collective representations, which are generally binary, resonant, and overcoded. Tarde countered that collective representations presuppose exactly what needs explaining, namely, “the similarity of millions of people.” That is why Tarde was interested instead in the world of detail, or of the infinitesimal: the little imitations, oppositions, and inventions constituting an entire realm of subrepresentative matter. Tarde’s best work was his analyses of a minuscule bureaucratic innovation, or a linguistic innovation, etc. The Durkheimians answered that what Tarde did was psychology or interpsychology, not sociology. But that is true only in appearance, as a first approximation: a microimitation does seem to occur between two individuals. But at the same time, and at a deeper level, it has to do not with an individual but with a flow or a wave. Imitation is the propagation of a flow; opposition is binarization, the making binary of flows; invention is a conjugation or connection of different flows. What, according to Tarde, is a flow? It is belief or desire (the two aspects of every assemblage); a flow is always of belief and of desire. Beliefs and desires are the basis of every society, because they are flows and as such are “quantifiable”; they are veritable social Quantities, whereas sensations are qualitative and representations are simple resultants. Infinitesimal imitation, opposition, and invention are therefore like flow quanta marking a propagation, binarization, or conjugation of beliefs and desires. Hence the importance of statistics, providing it concerns itself with the cutting edges and not only with the “stationary” zone of representations. For in the end, the difference is not at all between the social and the individual (or interindividual), but between the molar realm of representations, individual or collective, and the molecular realm of beliefs and desires in which the distinction between the social and the individual loses all meaning since flows are neither attributable to individuals nor overcodable by collective signifiers. Representations already define large-scale aggregates, or determine segments on a line; beliefs and desires, on the other hand, are flows marked by quanta, flows that are created, exhausted, or transformed, added to one another, subtracted or combined. Tarde invented micro sociology and took it to its full breadth and scope, denouncing in advance the misinterpretations to which it would later fall victim. [Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 218-219]

See also: D/G: Capitalism/The Thing/Fictional Quantities.

History, Myth and the Time of Struggle

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In our times, the idea of development, of evolution, has almost completely penetrated social consciousness, only in other ways, and not through Hegelian philosophy. Still, this idea, as formulated by Marx and Engels on the basis of Hegel’s philosophy, is far more comprehensive and far richer in content than the current idea of evolution is. A development that repeats, as it were, stages that have already been passed, but repeats them in a different way, on a higher basis (“the negation of the negation”), a development, so to speak, that proceeds in spirals, not in a straight line; a development by leaps, catastrophes, and revolutions; “breaks in continuity”; the transformation of quantity into quality; inner impulses towards development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society; the interdependence and the closest and indissoluble connection between all aspects of any phenomenon (history constantly revealing ever new aspects), a connection that provides a uniform, and universal process of motion, one that follows definite laws — these are some of the features of dialectics as a doctrine of development that is richer than the conventional one. (Lenin, “The Marxist Doctrine”)

I.

In the second chapter of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze breaks the flow of his argument to deliver something of a digression. Titled ‘Note on the Three Repetitions’, the digression tracks a tripartite model of historical repetition occurring across a range of different philosophical and theoretical approaches to the phenomenon of historical development. Deleuze’s goal, which he ultimately finds to be tenuous and problematic, is to uncover a commonality in the figures, so scattered and dispersed across time and place he offers up: the medieval millenarian Joachim of Fiore, Enlightenment philosopher Giambattista Vico, and Pierre-Simon Ballanche, a largely forgotten French philosopher who managed, intriguingly enough, to settle himself in the double-pincer of both the progressive and counterrevolutionary camps in the wake of the French revolution. The primary anchor for these three figures, however, is Marx, and most specifically the Marx of the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), with his formula—one that, Deleuze says, has yet to be properly understood by historians—that “all great world-historical facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice… the first time as tragedy, the second as farce”.

Also Deleuze summarizes, Marx here draws forth two forms of historical repetition that run in different directions, but are yet aligned in the sense that they appear as distinction moments in the series (or, more properly, the circuit) that composes historical evolution. The tragic moment is a tragic metamorphosis: a repeating occurs that unleashes something new into history, producing a jagged fracture between the emergent time and what came before. The farcical or comic moment, however, is a repetition that “falls short” and fails to offer any sort of “authentic creation” (D&R, 114). In Marx’s schema, itself a dynamic confrontation of Hegel’s own insights concerning historical repetition with Aristotle’s distinction between the tragic and the comic (which ultimately pivoted on whether or not the characters were a ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ type, respectively), the tragic precedes the comic, thus providing the provocative diagram of the comic as a repetition of the tragic, a repetition of the repetition, which can only ever fail…

In Deleuze’s hands, this order is reversed, and he presents the tragic as succeeding the comic in the most generalized, abstracted form of the series. In the matrix of historical production, the comic does easily follow the tragic, but in the abstract form the ultimate metamorphosis comes in the aftermath of the failure of attempted transformation. From here, we close in on Deleuze’s ultimate goal, the revelation of the third moment in the series, which is the Eternal Return, difference-in-itself, which comes clashing through the spiroform of the comic-tragic to open the very possibility of the future (understood, in the case of Vico and others, the resetting of the cycle in order for it to advance, itself a distinctly spirodynamic formulation). This curious temporal architecture, however, is not the chief concern here, though its ghost continues to hover close, just out of sight. Its mention here is only to install it in the back of the mind. Instead, it is Marx’s own treatment of the tragic-comic cycling in the context of historical evolution, as well as the commentary offered by Harold Rosenberg—American Trotskyite and art critic (known for his early commentaries on what would later be called abstract expressionism) and Deleuze’s primary interlocutor when discussing the Eighteenth Brumaire—that should be stressed at the current juncture.

As Deleuze notes, Rosenberg foregrounds the importance of myth in his discussion of the tragic-comic repetition (this discussion, incidentally, is to be found in his essay ‘The Resurrected Romans’, though it can also be found in the volume of collected writings called The Tradition of the New (highly recommended)). It is the myth that loops together the strange dynamism of historical repetition with what is perhaps the most famous insight from the Eighteenth Brumaire: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”. The present, and the possibilities of the future contained in the present, are colonized by the past. Historical lock-in reigns supreme and the “tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”. In the grip of possession, the revolution that is capable of creating the new—by which we mean a temporal order distinct from the present—itself “conjure[s] up the spirits of the past to their service”.

In his restaging of Marx’s argument, Rosenberg describes how “In the act of creating new social forms men had ceased to behave ‘realistically’. They lost touch with the time and place they occupied as living men—they became, more or less automatically, actors playing a part” (The Tradition of the New, 154). The revolutionaries were thrown out of joint with their time, not out individual volition or collective choice, but because of the historico-temporal wall that conditioned their range of actions—and, as a result, their very identities melted away, precisely in order to gain new ones as mythic characters. “Social reality”, wrote Rosenberg, “gave way to mimesis because history did not allow humans to pursue their own ends… It was the pressure of the past that took revolutions out of the ‘naturalistic’ prose of the everyday and gave them the form of a special kind of dramatic poetry” (The Tradition of the New, 154-155). Or, as Marx himself put it:

Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.

When we think about this conjuring up of the dead of world history, a salient difference reveals itself. Camille Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre, St. Just, Napoleon, the heroes as well as the parties and the masses of the old French Revolution, performed the task of their time – that of unchaining and establishing modern bourgeois society – in Roman costumes and with Roman phrases. The first one destroyed the feudal foundation and cut off the feudal heads that had grown on it. The other created inside France the only conditions under which free competition could be developed, parceled-out land properly used, and the unfettered productive power of the nation employed; and beyond the French borders it swept away feudal institutions everywhere, to provide, as far as necessary, bourgeois society in France with an appropriate up-to-date environment on the European continent.

Revolution, then—and it is important that what Marx is describing here are the bourgeois revolutions, which set in motion the historical mission of capital—blows across the desert of history in the form of a mythic wind that bears within itself a complex and knotted time structure. The future is obstructed by the domination of the present by the past, but it is exactly through a return to the past, the resurrection of something in the past in the form of some weird simulation, that breaks these temporal bindings. Once these loops have been followed, the time of the myth melts away and history restabilizes; what was previously out of joint is recoded, and the dramatic character masks are discarded for those of the everyday. As for Marx, his pen betrays a sense of a restlessness in the face of this transference into the epoch of bourgeois harmony:

Once the new social formation was established, the antediluvian colossi disappeared and with them also the resurrected Romanism – the Brutuses, the Gracchi, the publicolas, the tribunes, the senators, and Caesar himself. Bourgeois society in its sober reality bred its own true interpreters and spokesmen in the Says, Cousins, Royer-Collards, Benjamin Constants, and Guizots; its real military leaders sat behind the office desk and the hog-headed Louis XVIII was its political chief. Entirely absorbed in the production of wealth and in peaceful competitive struggle, it no longer remembered that the ghosts of the Roman period had watched over its cradle.

Rosenberg suggests that because of this, the subversiveness of history, with its ruses and capacity for sudden reversals, is to be understood as ironical. One is transformed into oneself by being transformed into something else—and it is in this sense that history defeats the actors that seek to break from it. For this reason, he continues, the myth itself is denigrated: “Marx, having admitted the myth into history, refuses to concede to it the power to affect history’s direction” (The Tradition of the New, 161). It’s hard to see, however, how Roseneberg stands to make this claim, given precisely the function of the myth that he draws out from the pages of the Eighteenth Brumaire. In the case of the bourgeois revolutions the myth appears as the vital component in engendering a direction to history; primary to their enrapturing by its templex machinery, the revolutionaries were paralyzed. Men might not make history as they choose, but history proceeds immanently through their actors, perhaps precisely because of the twists, reversals, catastrophic breaks and bizarre surprises that constantly dog the smooth expectations of how events will play out. The myth, for the revolutionaries, was the fuel needed for combustion, for the cascade of cruel ironies that propel pre-history towards its conclusion.

The dissipation of the myth and the advent of the ‘new normal’ of the bourgeoisie is what sets the stage for the comic repetition. Marx saw this shambolic ghost appearing in history in his own moment, as the radical spirits attempted to recreate the events of the French Revolution during the course of the revolution of 1848. The repetition of the repetition:

From 1848 to 1851, only the ghost of the old revolution circulated – from Marrast, the républicain en gants jaunes [Republican in yellow gloves], who disguised himself as old Bailly, down to the adventurer who hides his trivial and repulsive features behind the iron death mask of Napoleon. A whole nation, which thought it had acquired an accelerated power of motion by means of a revolution, suddenly finds itself set back into a defunct epoch, and to remove any doubt about the relapse, the old dates arise again – the old chronology, the old names, the old edicts, which had long since become a subject of antiquarian scholarship, and the old minions of the law who had seemed long dead. The nation feels like the mad Englishman in Bedlam who thinks he is living in the time of the old Pharaohs and daily bewails the hard labor he must perform in the Ethiopian gold mines, immured in this subterranean prison, a pale lamp fastened to his head, the overseer of the slaves behind him with a long whip, and at the exits a confused welter of barbarian war slaves who understand neither the forced laborers nor each other, since they speak no common language. “And all this,” sighs the mad Englishman, “is expected of me, a freeborn Briton, in order to make gold for the Pharaohs.” “In order to pay the debts of the Bonaparte family,” sighs the French nation. The Englishman, so long as he was not in his right mind, could not get rid of his idée fixé of mining gold. The French, so long as they were engaged in revolution, could not get rid of the memory of Napoleon, as the election of December 10 [1848, when Louis Bonaparte was elected President of the French Republic by plebiscite.] was proved. They longed to return from the perils of revolution to the fleshpots of Egypt, and December 2, 1851 [The date of the coup d’état by Louis Bonaparte], was the answer. Now they have not only a caricature of the old Napoleon, but the old Napoleon himself, caricatured as he would have to be in the middle of the nineteenth century.

It is at this point that Deleuze’s third repetition—which he identifies not only with Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, but also (with varying degrees of asymmetry) the turning of Vico’s ricorso and Ballanche’s third age, characterized by regicide, the late-stage voyage of Oedipus and the reign of the “Man without a Name”—hovers closer. For Marx, comic repetition is doomed to failure because what is not needed is a repetition of the repetition, but something that angles beyond the historical space-time of bourgeois society: proletarian (the class without a name?) revolution, not a bourgeois one.

In Rosenberg’s reading, the proletarian revolution is viewed at this point as proceeding through a repudiation of the myth’s essential role. “The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future”, wrote Marx. “The former revolutions required recollections of past world history to in order to smother their own content”. To this, Rosenberg adds that “[d]eprived of the myth the proletarian revolution would have to take place without passion, or with a kind of passion altogether different from the ecstasy of the doubled time which ‘drugged’ the revolutionary middle class” (The Tradition of the New, 163). This reading, however, seems to run into two problems. In the first case, it’s not clear that myth itself vanishes from Marx’s account, as for Marx the term ‘poetry’ acts as a cipher for what Rosenberg identifies as the myth. In the Eighteenth Brumaire, the poetry which flavors the proletarian revolution—which is to say, of course, what lends it its passions—flows not from the past from the future: the future-myth. This leads us, quite naturally, to the second case, which is that the temporality of proletarian revolution is still seen by Marx as a time doubled, one that is out of joint. It’s a restaging of the incredible temporal schizzing that opens the preamble of the Communist Manifesto: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism”.

II.

Dickering over this sort of minutia in Rosenberg’s reading of Marx is ultimately immaterial, particularly when we contextualize these multi-faceted mechanisms into the present moment. When Marx described the poetry or myth of communist futurity igniting the passion of revolution in the present, comic repetition was viewed as occurring within a historical trajectory that still maintained a telic structure, albeit one that, as Etienne Balibar describes in The Philosophy of Marx, forced him back to his drawing boards and notebooks. But even as he was plunging himself into the white-hot maelstrom of churning industrialization and the delirious loops of commodity circulation, he could glimpse the ghost of the possible futures radiating backwards into the darkness of bourgeois society. It was, in fact, the maelstrom and the loops themselves that allowed this light to pierce the vale, drawing the class war towards itself…

This situation is, of course, not reflective of current postmodern conditions. Much more of this is to be said in a series of in-progress posts, but what is worth remarking on is that the present, while shut off from the radiance of the future, does not appear as being colonized by the past. Instead, past, present and future all appear as if smeared across a singular, infinite field, in turn effectively obliterating the time-structure of history by cancelling out all three. One might reach for Zizek’s handy quote about imagining the end of the world being easier than imagining the end of capitalism, but this seems radically insufficient in grappling with the endless scroll of postmodernity. Imagining isn’t enough, for it already conjures a faint outline of the necessary time-structure—one must push through from imagining to believing. It’s readily apparent that belief in the end of capitalism, despite the rapid cooling of its revolutionary flames, isn’t accessible in any meaningful sense. By the same token, it’s hard to see that people truly believe in the end of the world—at best, there is a great pretending to believe in the end of the world, which is something entirely different from believing that one believes in the end of the world, much less the end of capitalism.† If one finds exaggeration in these words, a quick assessment of the relationship between climate discourse and action is recommended (going in a somewhat but intimately related direction, see the splintering conversations unfolding here, here and here—to which some posts in the immediate future will be dedicated).

At this seemingly intractable impasse, another strange twist presents itself: the mythic loop that was unique to the bourgeois revolution, which the proletarian revolution was meant to eschew, appears as the potential ground for an exit from postmodernity (which is to say that it appears as the precondition for the proletarian revolution). After the repeat failures of the postmodern politics of the occupation and the multitude, which for Fredric Jameson entailed the replacement of the “politics of duration” with the “politics of the instant” (An American Utopia, 13), a falling backwards in time is required in order to actualize the future—and once this formula is in play, so too is the specter of the myth.

The time-structure was recognized, perhaps inadvertently, by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek in their 2013 #Accelerate Manifesto, where they wrote of the “need to revive the argument that was traditionally made for post-capitalism: not only is capitalism an unjust and perverted system, but it is also a system that holds back progress” (it’s telling that this manifesto was penned in part as a direct reaction to the politics of the occupation and multitude). While there’s much to quibble about concerning the distinction between Williams and Srnicek’s mode of analysis and conclusions and that of Marx—and this blog certainly veers hard to the latter—this is far less important than the signal that is covertly bleeding through their words. It’s a signal that is picked up by Nick Land, who sees in their retroprogressivism a left-wing mirror-image to the temporalities of Neoreaction, which itself conforms quite well to time-tangledness captured by Marx in the Eighteenth Brumaire. Citing the same quote as above, Land points out that

it’s a revival, it’s a return to tradition, it’s an invocation of postcapitalism, it’s absolutely templex in this sense of being deeply ambiguous or schizoid in terms of its temporal structure. And I think this goes deep into their project. The project of left accelerationism as outlined in the MAP is retroprogressivist, and actually has exactly the same retroprogressivist time structure as right accelerationism in the sense that it is both kind of hyper-futurist and drawn back particularly to something like the 1920s. It’s like art deco, it’s a return to this point at which modernization was lost. Obviously from the right it’s lost because of the New Deal and the destruction of classical liberalism. From the left it’s lost by the disappointments of Soviet Communism and the betrayal from that point of view of these socialist dreams contemporary with the Bolshevik revolution.

Elsewhere we can find the instructive identification of Williams and Srnicek’s marriage of the “command of The Plan” to the “improvised order of The Network” with an abstracted view of the developmentalist moment in the evolution of modernity—and here, too, the signal holds (indeed, the sort of socialist dreams identified by Land above flood through the developmentalist imperative as much as capital itself).

Left accelerationism never elevated itself to the level capable of breaking postmodernity. Even as they actively identified their project as hyperstitional, a tool to bootstrap a future-oriented movement into existence, the escalation via self-excitation never same: its function as myth was not realized. Two reasons that bear immediately on matters here. The first of these is movement from mythopoesis to myth construction,† † which can be traced along a line running from the engagement with the time-structure to its subsequent abandoning in later iterations of the program. The second is the issue of an evolving technocratic orientation, which follows in parallel to the two previous transition. While it is indeed present in the Manifesto—developmentalism, it seems, is always shot through with technocratic impulses of varying degrees—its appearance in the guise of The Plan is mitigated by The Network. The Manifesto proposes their marriage, but perhaps a more interesting and instructive way of viewing it would be as two elements in constant tension, not unlike the Maoist dialectical formula of the Two proceeding from the One (it’s not by coincidence that the formula originates not with Mao, but in Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks). This tension ultimately falls away, and with it dissipates the very thing that the myth is supposed to infuse itself with: the class war.

In a post on ‘left hyperstition’ Mark Fisher took up Badiou’s demand for “great fictions” capable of engendering “great politics” with the following “intensely compressed suggestions”:

The first hypothesis we might hazard is that, counter-intuitively, only fictions are capable of generating belief. ‘The final belief must be in a fiction,’ Badiou quoted Wallace Stevens as writing. The belief at stake is clearly not a propositional but an attitudinal belief; which is to say, not a belief that a particular factual state of affairs obtains but belief as a set of commitments.

Secondly, since capitalism is itself inherently fictional, it is essential that counter-capitalist fictions be produced. Fiction here would not mean an ‘imaginary’ (in a Lacanian or any other sense) alternative but an already-operative generator of possibilities.

Fiction ensures that things are not only themselves. Capital is the most effective sorcery operative on the planet at the moment because it is adept at transforming banal objects into a sublimely mysterious commodities. Trans-substantiation. The allure of the commodity arises from the non-coincidence of the object with itself. (cf Zizek’s famous analysis of the ‘nothingness’ of Coke.) Anti-capitalism needs to take the form not only of a demystifying, depressive desublimation but of the production of alternative modes of sublimation.

If class struggle is to be re-ignited—and make no mistake, this conflagration is necessary to end postmodern decadence—this line appears as a fertile zero for its emergence. And that, as we have seen, is a question of time.

____________

† After some though, it occurs to me that the distinction drawn here, between an ineffective pretending-to-believe versus an effective believing-to-believe, is in need of further elucidation and clarification, as what is common to each is unbeliefIn his discussion of the film The Skeleton Key (link above), Fisher draws out how the main character is forced into a situation in which they must act as if they believe (in this case, old hoodoo rituals), which in proper Pascalian form leads them to real belief (correspondent with the realization of a ‘truth’ wholly distinct from that offered by cool postmodern skepticism). In this case, it is indeed the pretending to believe that makes it possible believe—behavior, even if one is acting under the auspices of a fiction, allows for actualization. From this position, my distinction between the two becomes untenable. Perhaps we should look instead to an active-passive axis, as opposed to the hard distinction between pretending and faith-before-faith.

† †  Another way the distinction between mythopoeisis and myth-construction (which no doubt bears on the complicated relationship between unbelief and belief touched on above) can be worked through is by looking at the following comments by Xenogoth in his post ‘Comrades’:

As with Mark and Jodi, I don’t agree that we need to change the word “communism” at all, not least because of its past associations. To call it something else is to desire something else, as Dean pointed out. It makes sense in the most rudimentary of ways and its structure, even at the level of its etymology, is perfect for encapsulating what is desired.

This was a big deal for me during my postgraduate studies — a new awareness of the importance of the “com-” prefix to the etymology of leftist discourses. A basic and simple point perhaps but one which, through its very simplicity, was very powerful to me. It’s everywhere. Communism, community, communication, commune, comrade, complement, complete, compassion, commemoration. It means “with”, “together”, “in association” whilst likewise denoting an intensity and a fulfilment, and an awareness of this has enriched my understanding of all of these words above. So the word “communism” doesn’t need changing one bit. It is “the communist myth” that must be challenged.

What is being described here as the “communist myth”, which XG analyzes in Barthesian terms, would correspond here to myth-construction. This is because the naturalistic sense that the ‘myth of communism’ is imbued with must be assessed from a temporal view. Simply put, it is always inscribed retrospectively, a tradition cobbled together from the (un)ground of postmodernism itself. This is not unlike the diagnosis of the various fundamentalisms as postmodern projects, as offered by Hardt and Negri: “visions of a return to the past are generally based on historical illusions… It is a fictional image projected onto the past, like Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, constructed retrospectively through the lenses of contemporary anxieties and fears” (Empire, 148). They will, of course, ultimately affirm the postmodern condition, leading them to precisely the faulty politics outlined above—and it is exactly the dialectic of myth construction and mythopoiesis that allows us to deepen and complicate their astute analysis.

Mythopoiesis, in contrast to myth-construction, can be rendered as thus: abandoning the retroactive myth that cements the tradition as timeless block, fixed in place, a spatialized time (which itself is the very core of the postmodern condition), and a return to a living, mutable tradition, the sort that exists where space is annihilated by time. Or, more simply: not going back to find bits and pieces for recombination, but going back in order to make possible the truly new.